Saturday, March 16, 2019

Garland Roark, The Lady and the Deep Blue Sea


Opening Passage:

The big clipper was slanting her masts alee when the captain's wife appeared on the quarter-deck and braced herself for the snap roll to windward. As the ship roared on for Boston harbor, Jenny Broadwinder found her sea legs, moved to the lee rail, and stood gazing out over the water.

At a glance, one might believe her sea-weary and dreaming of land and flowers after a long voyage from India; or one could imagine that she was thinking of a home which the handsome captain on the weather side might have promised her after four years of married life at sea. (p.11)

Summary: In 1856, Jenny Broadwinder, the wife of Captain Philip Broadwinder, comes to one of the owners of her husband's ship with a proposal. Captain Broadwinder had been challenged by Captain Mayo Keys, from another shipping firm, to a race; Jenny proposes to the owner, Cartwright, that Cartwright work with the other firm to establish the race as a matter of friendly business rivalry and publicity; in exchange, if Philip wins the race, he will get the half-ownership in his ship, towards which he has been working. Cartwright, unimpressed by Philip but struck by Jenny, agrees -- in theory on business principles but in practice because of Jenny -- and the race is set up.

Captain Philip Broadwinder is a talented captain in many ways. There is no captain who more thoroughly has the admiration of his men. He makes his firm quite a bit of money, because his dash and style makes him popular everywhere he goes. He knows his trade quite well, although Cartwright thinks, with some truth, that he relies a great deal on his luck, which has never run out. He means no harm and is altogether honest. But one of the things we learn during the race is that Captain Philip Broadwinder of the Calcutta Eagle is excellent a captain as he is because of his wife. He sometimes forgets substance in the pursuit of style, and she reminds him of what he's forgetting; she aids him in various ways in dealing with the crew; and she quite clearly does a lot of the behind-the-scenes bookkeeping parts of the captain's life, not because Broadwinder is incapable or unwilling to do it but because it's the sort of thing he would never prioritize. Captain Broadwinder married to Jenny Broadwinder is a smarter, steadier, more effective captain than Captain Broadwinder would be alone.

It's less obvious, but I think important to the story, that Jenny Broadwinder also benefits from the arrangement. She has a life that she enjoys, she gets along very well with Philip with never more than an occasional marital spat of the usual sort, and he gives her a venue for her talents that she would not have at all without him. And, as important, but I suspect harder for more recent readers to appreciate, 'Captain Philip Broadwinder', as known to the public, is as much an expression of her as it is of Philip himself, and she likes it that way. She does not have his flamboyant charm, his ability to be the distillation of everyone's image of a sea captain; she neither is able nor wants to be the public face of the 'Prince of Sea Captains', but the 'Prince of Sea Captains' is something she thinks worthwhile, a creative work that Philip himself, for all his flaws, can undeniably make possible to her. Looking at many online reviews of the work, a lot of readers don't like the ending. But it's an ending consistent with what we know of Jenny Broadwinder: to break the 'Prince of Sea Captain' image would be a loss as great for her as it would be for Philip, perhaps even more so. It would destroy everything she had been working for.

I confess I found the husband-wife banter to be a bit much; it is done very well but there is a limit, I think, to how much one can appreciate such a thing as a spectator. But there is a very real sense in which this is a story about the marriage itself, and about how a healthy, even if imperfect, marriage is not merely something that you happen to have, but something that contributes part of who you are.

Favorite Passage:

"The ship that will race another soon? OF course. Of course." The old man contemplated this for a time. "The captain's wife, friend, is a lovely creature. Indeed, and I am wondering fit he great achievement of my life could be an agent of unhappiness. It must not be, for the object of one's life on this earth is to do good in order to prepare for the next reincarnation. I promised Buddha of the great Shwe Dagon pagoda of Ragoon that I would look deep lest my artistry do evil."

"Evil? Do evil?" Cartwright began. "Now you look here--"

He got no further. The other raised a hand and said, "If honor exceeds all else in you, we can trade. But honor is not a virtue when one argues that he is the possessor of it. So I place you at a disadvantage, for which I beg a thousand pardons even as I await some word from you." (p. 170)

Recommendation: Recommended; it's an interesting, swift read.


Garland Roark, The Lady and the Deep Blue Sea, Doubleday (Garden City, NY: 1958).

Lent X

We may likewise gather the number of the sacraments from their being instituted as a remedy against the defect caused by sin. For Baptism is intended as a remedy against the absence of spiritual life; Confirmation, against the infirmity of soul found in those of recent birth; the Eucharist, against the soul's proneness to sin; Penance, against actual sin committed after baptism; Extreme Unction, against the remainders of sins—of those sins, namely, which are not sufficiently removed by Penance, whether through negligence or through ignorance; Order, against divisions in the community; Matrimony, as a remedy against concupiscence in the individual, and against the decrease in numbers that results from death.

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.65.1.]

Note that the difference between this remedial scheme and the previous one is that this one is concerned with the 'parts' of every sinful action, moving from their bad root (absence or weakness of spiritual life) through the actual sins to their sinful effects.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Diagramming Syllogisms

Ruggero Pagnan, in two articles ["A Diagrammatic Calculus of Syllogisms", Journal of Logic, Language, and Information, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Summer 2012), pp. 347-364; "Syllogisms in Rudimentary Linear Logic, Diagrammatically", Journal of Logic, Language, and Information, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Winter 2013), pp. 71-113], develops a very nice diagrammatic system for syllogisms. It's particularly handy in that, unlike most of the other good diagrammatic systems, it can easily be typed.

First, for the basic categorical propositions:

All X is Y
X → Y

No X is Y
X → • ← Y

Some X is Y
X ← • → Y

Some X is not Y
X ← • → • ← Y

All of these are commutative; you can do them backwards (this helps for putting them together). So, for instance, you can always change X → Y to Y ← X.

We add two principles that let you add new premises in any argument:

X → X

X ← • → X

We need to be able to link diagrams by terms. For instance, starting with the premises,

X → Y
Y → Z

You can get

X → Y → Z.

In essence, we just overlap the Y's. And last, we need a rule that lets us delete mediating terms, so that by deleting Y and collapsing the arrows we can change this to

X → Z.

The major restriction is that we cannot delete bullets.

Given this, we can establish the Barbara syllogism:

1: M → P
2: S → M
S → M → P (by concatenation)
S → P (by deletion)

And so on with all the others.

Lent IX

...a perfect cure requires the perfect and complete expulsion of sickness. Now in this case there is a sevenfold disease, comprising three forms of sin -- original, mortal, and venial -- and four forms of penalty -- ignorance, malice, weakness, and concupiscence. Furthermore, as Jerome says, "what heals the foot does not heal the eye." And so it is appropriate that a combination of seven remedies are needed to drive out completely this sevenfold disease: against original sin, Baptism; against mortal sin, Penance; against venial sin, Extreme Unction; against ignorance, Orders; against malice, the Eucharist; against weakness, Confirmation; against concupiscence, Matrimony, which both tempers and excuses it.

[St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Monti, ed. and tr., Franciscan Institute Publications (St. Bonaventure, NY: 2005) p. 219. The quotation of St. Jerome is from the Commentary on Mark 9:28.]

Aquinas calls the four forms of penalty the "wounds of sin" (ST 2-1.85.3) and attributes the list to St. Bede, although we don't know why (it's not in any work by Bede that we know).

St. Thomas also has this scheme, but he mixes it with another scheme, the virtue scheme.

Thursday, March 14, 2019


Spiritual life has a certain conformity with the life of the body: just as other corporeal things have a certain likeness to things spiritual. Now a man attains perfection in the corporeal life in two ways: [I] in regard to his own person; [II] in regard to the whole community of the society in which he lives, for man is by nature a social animal.

With regard to himself man is perfected in the life of the body, in two ways: [IA] per se, i.e. by acquiring some vital perfection; [IB] per accidens, i.e. by the removal of hindrances to life, such as ailments, or the like. Now the life of the body is perfected per se in three ways.

[IA1] By generation whereby a man begins to be and to live: and corresponding to this in the spiritual life there is Baptism, which is a spiritual regeneration, according to Titus 3:5: "By the laver of regeneration," etc.

[IA2] By growth whereby a man is brought to perfect size and strength: and corresponding to this in the spiritual life there is Confirmation, in which the Holy Ghost is given to strengthen us. Wherefore the disciples who were already baptized were bidden thus: "Stay you in the city till you be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).

[IA3] By nourishment, whereby life and strength are preserved to man; and corresponding to this in the spiritual life there is the Eucharist. Wherefore it is said (John 6:54): "Except you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you."

And this would be enough for man if he had an impassible life, both corporally and spiritually; but since man is liable at times to both corporal and spiritual infirmity, i.e. sin, hence man needs a cure from his infirmity; which cure is twofold.

[IB1] One is the healing, that restores health: and corresponding to this in the spiritual life there is Penance, according to Psalm 40:5: "Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee."

[IB2] The other is restoration of former vigor through appropriate diet and exercise: and corresponding to this in the spiritual life there is Extreme Unction, which removes the residue of sin, and prepares man for final glory. Wherefore it is written (James 5:15): "And if he be in sins they shall be forgiven him."

In regard to the whole community, man is perfected in two ways.

[IIA] By receiving power to rule the many and to exercise public acts: and corresponding to this in the spiritual life there is the sacrament of Order, according to the saying of Hebrews 7:27, that priests offer sacrifices not for themselves only, but also for the people.

[IIB] In regard to natural propagation. This is accomplished by Matrimony both in the corporal and in the spiritual life: since it is not only a sacrament but also an office of nature.

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.65.1; I have made a number of modifications to the translation. Note, incidentally, since it is often missed, that the propagation Matrimony concerns qua sacrament is propagation in the spiritual life.]

A slight variation (particularly with regard to extreme unction and with spiritual propagation being given to Order rather than Matrimony) on this scheme is found in St. Thomas's catechetical writings:

First, man needs regeneration or re-birth which is brought through the Sacrament of Baptism.... Secondly, it is necessary that man develop perfect strength, which is, as it were, a spiritual growth, and this indeed comes to him in the Sacrament of Confirmation. This is like the strengthening which the Apostles received when the Holy Ghost came upon them and confirmed them.... The third similarity is that man must be fed with spiritual food.... Fourthly, man must be healed spiritually through the Sacrament of Penance.... Lastly, one is healed both in soul and in body in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.... Two of the Sacraments, Orders and Matrimony, are instituted for the common good of the Church. Through the Sacrament of Orders the Church is ruled and is spiritually multiplied; and through Matrimony it is increased physically in numbers.

It is worth comparing this to the similar scheme (same with also a slight, and different, modification for extreme unction) of St. Robert Bellarmine:

Now, the reason why there are seven is that God customarily proceeds, in the way in which spiritual life is given, in an incorporeal manner. In as much as He considers the corporeal life: 1) it is necessary to be born; 2) to grow; 3) to be nourished; 4) whenever one must fight, he must be armed; 6) it is necessary that there be some head that rules all men after they are born and increased; 7) that there would be some to whom the duty to propagate the human race would fall, otherwise, if others were not born to succeed the dead the human race would forthwith go out of existence.In the same way, God also constituted this arrangement in the spiritual life. 1) It is necessary for us to be born in the grace of God through Baptism; 2) Confirmation makes it so that grace will grow and be fortified; 3) the Most Holy Eucharist is given so that grace might be nourished and sustained; 4) that whenever the medicine of Penance is received, the grace lost to the soul will be recovered; 5) that when a man is at the point of death he arms itself against the infernal enemy who attacks us more at that time than in any other time, which is done with Extreme Unction; 6) that there would be someone in the Church that rules and governs us in the spiritual life, which is done by one in Orders; 7) that there would be some in the Church who look to the spiritual propagation of the human race, whereby the number of faithful could be increased in this way, which duty is carried out in the Sacrament of Matrimony.
[St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctrina Christiana: The Timeless Catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine, Grant, tr. Mediatrix Press (pp. 153-154).]

Being the preferred scheme of Aquinas, the most widely read Doctor of the Church, and the scheme used by Bellarmine in his catechism, which for a long time was the most widely read Catholic catechism (and influenced a number of other catechisms), this scheme based on analogy with natural life is far and away the most common one. But, as we shall see the next few days, there are others based on analogy with medicine, with moral life, and with equipping an army.

With regard to the slight variations, all of them seem to work as they are; my own view is that Aquinas's catechesis on the sacraments has the best account of Unction (the Summa seems to give us only an indirect analogy, and Bellarmine seems to give us a secondary feature), but both Bellarmine and the Summa give a better account of Matrimony than it does (because spiritual propagation should in fact be assigned to Matrimony rather than Order). The reason is that sacramental theology in Church documents has stabilized in primarily thinking of anointing the sick as based on overflow of grace from spirit to body, while there has been an increasing recognition of the importance of Matrimony as the sacrament that forms the 'domestic church'; Order, on the contrary, is more concerned with maintaining and protecting the integrity of the whole sacramental economy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Four Kinds of Nonsense Words

We can distinguish different kinds of nonsense words (including in that category nonsense phrases as well); not all nonsense words are equally nonsensical. Here's a rough classification, moving from most nonsensical to only borderline nonsensical.

(1) Arbitrary Gibberish: Examples might be 'sgjkdf' and 'wiouein' or 'dabalobidra'. These nonsense words have no meaning, no association, and are just an artifact of our ability to run through combinations that our language does not in fact use.

(2) Mock Vocabulary: Mock vocabulary has no sense in itself, but exists in a context that makes it work as if it does. Mock vocabulary is distinguished by Alice's Test: "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas -- only I don't exactly know what they are!" An obvious example is 'vorpal' from Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky":

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

Alice's Test distinguishes mock vocabulary from arbitrary gibberish, which doesn't "fill my head with ideas". It also distinguishes mock vocabulary from the next kind of nonsense word, which does fill the head with ideas, but which depends on your knowing exactly what they are.

(3) Incompatible Combination: Examples of nonsense associated with definite ideas would be 'goat-stag', 'round square', and the like. This kind of nonsense has definite sense, arising from the component parts; it's just that those parts should not go together. You know what a goat is; you know what a stag is; you can't have something that is both simultaneously.

(4) Representative Gibberish: Gibberish is not completely divorced from language. Sometimes you want to say that something is gibberish, and one way you can do that is by labeling it with gibberish. 'Blah blah blah' is possibly of this sort; 'blictri' in logic examples is certainly of this sort. It's supposed to be gibberish; but because it is representative gibberish, it functions as a real word standing in for other kinds of gibberish, or (sometimes) for things that are not gibberish but practically speaking might as well be gibberish -- which means that even though it is nonsense it practically has a meaning. Everybody knows what 'blah blah blah' means in the Gershwin lyrics:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah your hair
Blah blah blah your eyes
Blah blah blah blah care
Blah blah blah blah skies

The whole point is that 'blah blah blah' is gibberish; it conveys that while lover's songs (especially those in movies) may put meaningful words in the place of 'blah blah blah', none of that meaning really makes much of a difference; and because it does convey this, in a paradoxical way it has meaning. That is what representative gibberish is: nonsense words that remain nonsense, but because they stand in for other things, act in language as if they had senses.

Lent VII

Regarding His human nature, Christ received His fullness, such that through Him it is derived to all. Jn. 1:14: 'Full of grace and truth'. And a little later: 'And of His fulness we all have received, and grace for grace'. And 3:34: 'For God doth not give the Spirit by measure'. And so baptism and the other sacraments do not have efficacy except by virtue of the humanity and the passion of Christ.

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentaries on St. Paul's Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Baer, ed. and tr., St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN: 2007) p. 189. This is part of his commentary on Titus 3:6.]

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Lent VI

What has been said up to this point indicates not only the source of the sacraments but also their function and their fruit. Their source is Christ the Lord; their function is to prompt, to instruct, and to humble; their fruit is the healing and salvation of humankind. It is also clear that their efficient cause is their divine institution, that their material cause is their representing by a sensible sign, that their formal cause is gratuitous sanctification, and that their final cause is the medicinal healing of humankind. And because a thing's name comes from its form and its end, these signs are called 'sacraments,' as being remedies that sanctify.

[St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Monti, ed. and tr., Franciscan Institute Publications (St. Bonaventure, NY: 2005) p. 214.]

Monday, March 11, 2019

Politics, Academia, and Expertise

I have a theory, not very popular among most of my fellow academics, that academia has a natural tendency to corrupt politics and reduce it to a husk. There are a number of reasons for this. For instance, as any academic knows, academics (including administrators involved in academia) have a tendency to talk about problems rather than solve them; every academic sooner or later is faced with a problem that arises and the response of faculty and administrators alike is to have a committee meeting and talk about how bad the problem is, at the end of which no one has actually solved the problem, so that what solution the problem gets is likely worked up at last minute by whoever is left holding the bag. And social media has made this even worse, because this is something social media already tends to encourage, leaving us with what we sometimes seem to have, an entire nation of people who think they are addressing a problem by gossiping about it on Facebook or on Twitter. Progressivism and conservatism get replaced by chatter. But it's already something implicit in academia itself, theorizing the problems instead of solving them.

A much more serious problem is the fact that, academia being a realm heavily governed by considerations of reputation and symbolic gesture, academics tend to reduce all political problems to problems of self-identification and symbolic gesture -- it's about associating yourself with the right group, saying the mandatory things, checking off the right boxes, presenting yourself in the right way. I remember right after the election of President Trump, when people were just starting to talk about 'the Resistance', a number of academics in social media talking about what they were doing to be part of 'the Resistance'. And if you looked carefully at what they were doing to be 'the Resistance' it was -- exactly what they would be doing anyway. Their lists closely conformed to professional and contractual obligations that they already had. And when it went beyond, it was mostly talking or holding a sign in a protest, or some such thing. Now, it's true that these are things that could be minor contributions to some kind of act of defiance, on occasion. But this is not what was happening; it wasn't as if they were breaking down their real acts of defiance into their atomic parts. Rather, they were doing what we academics have a tendency to do when calls for action go out: they re-interpreted what they were already doing as symbolic defiance. And anyone who hangs around academics when talking about politics knows that this is very common.

An even more serious problem is that the modern educational system is structured by class oppositions. The whole point of the modern university system is to create an official educated class as distinguished from the uneducated class; if everyone were educated in the same way, it would be impossible to sell degrees for the price at which they are sold. And as a teaching institution, it is very, very tempting for both faculty and administrators to fall into the notion of a 'civilizing mission' -- that one's purpose is to teach the savage natives what they need to be civilized. While obviously people put it in less bald terms, nobody in academia manages consistently to avoid thinking of the broader public as the people who need to be taught civilization by academics. One sees it in mission statements and proposals that treat the purpose of education, or of liberal arts, as 'disorientation' or 'de-familiarizing the familiar' or 'teaching students to see the world differently'. These are all civilizing-mission notions. And this colonialism-at-home kind of thinking makes it very easy to be patronizing or even dismissive of the larger public, despite the fact that all of academia depends crucially, every day, on the good will of the public at large. We only exist because farmers and factory workers and people working in the fast food industry think it is, overall, good for us to exist. But it's very easy to forget that. I've occasionally had to point out to a colleague that if they don't think it's acceptable (even if not ideal) for their vote to be outvoted by two uneducated fast food workers who get their knowledge of the world from the alien programs of the History Channel, then they don't believe in democracy and should stop pretending that they do. Everybody knows that this is how democracy is supposed to work, everyone with the dignity of a contributing voice; history shows over and over again that academics forget it and think that they can dismiss the contributing voices of non-academics who disagree with them.

All of these are probably unavoidable. They follow from the kind of institution academic institutions are, and from the kind of people who tend to become attached to them. No academic avoids falling occasionally into these traps, because the temptations are always there. It does mean that academics should not consider themselves political leaders, and should be very careful not to go about (as has regularly happened in my lifetime) co-opting political movements; and that they should probably not, in most cases, consider themselves as contributing to politics qua academics but just as citizens among citizens, people among people. But there is one kind of corrupting influence that is very definitely avoidable, and that we are very definitely not avoiding, which aggravates all the others, and that is the tendency to associate universities with expertise.

Now, obviously there are a great many experts about a great many things in universities. But this is trivial. Here's a game anyone, academic or not, can play; I call it World's Greatest Expert. Identify something in which you are probably the world's greatest expert, other than yourself and things directly related to you, and give the reason why. For instance, I'm probably the World's Greatest Expert on William Whewell's ethics of Purity. The reason is that very few people study Whewell in particular; of those who study Whewell, very few study his moral philosophy; and there is so much to his moral philosophy that probably no one in the world has studied Whewell's discussions of Purity as much as I have, simply because I find them interesting and other people are interested in other things. When I did my dissertation, I was definitely and undeniably the World's Greatest Expert on Malebranche's account of our knowledge of the external world; I'd done a dissertation on it, and the reason I'd done a dissertation on it was because no one else had worked through the whole thing, so I had to do it. (My original intent had been to do a dissertation on Hume's account of the external world in its historical context; I ended up doing Malebranche because almost nothing had been done on his views of the topic of the kind that I needed for the 'historical context' part.) It would be a bit harder to argue today, since a bit more work has been done in the long ages since, but I'm still a candidate for being the World's Greatest Expert on the subject. I could spin these out all day -- and so could you. Some people will have an easier time of it -- I have a very easy time of it because I tend to study things other people haven't even heard about, and wouldn't study if they had -- but everyone is the World's Greatest Expert, if you just draw the boundaries right. And the reason is that all it takes to be the World's Greatest Expert is to have spent a bit more time, or studied at greater length, or even to have been in the right place at the right time to find, accidentally, the solution to a problem most people haven't even thought about.

Universities are often said to produce experts; this is kinda true, and highly misleading. They are very badly designed as institutions for expertise, for the simple reason that they were never designed for it at all. They exist for exploration and teaching, neither of which requires any sort of expertise, but both of which tend to produce expertise in exactly the same way that everything in the world tends to produce it -- if you spend enough time exploring or teaching, you eventually become an expert of some kind about something. Academics become experts on something because they spend an extraordinary amount of time doing something. But this is true of absolutely everyone who is not just flitting around doing in a dilettantish way what other people are doing more seriously. It's even more obviously true in politics, where we have to remove the restriction not to include things relating directly to yourself. As Mill argues, everyone tends to be the world's greatest expert on what's beneficial for them. That doesn't mean they are right -- experts, as we all recognize when we are thinking about it, are often wrong -- but it does mean that we are all usually the people best positioned and best informed on the subject. Other people may be more right, at times; no one is ever more of an expert on it.

The tendency to think of universities as having a special association with expertise has an especially detrimental effect, I think, on the interaction between academia and politics. And the reason it ends up being detrimental is that it leads academics to think their politics are intelligent when the truth is that everyone's politics are stupid, including their own. Note that this is not to say that everyone's politics are wrong. Your politics can be as right as rain, and the fact of the matter will be that it is not because of your extraordinary intellectual insights. Politics is complicated. That sounds trite, but nothing is more easily forgotten. You simply don't have the ability to consider all of the relevant possible points of view; you don't have the ability to foresee all of the negative effects of a proposal; you don't have the ability to investigate, thoroughly and properly, everything that politics covers. Nobody does. You might, due to your personal experience and background, have a better line of reasoning about this or that particular issue than other people. You have not reasoned better about everything; chances are very good that many of your political views are not based on any serious reasoning at all. If you're right about something in politics, the chances are very good that you are so because you happened to have copied someone who knew what they were talking about, simply because it sounded good. To muddle through politics, we all cheat off other people's tests. In other cases, you just might happen to have a background that put you in the right place to see something, by sheer luck. In other cases, you might have friends with good taste. To be sure, some of your political opinions are based on reasoning. But with a lot of the political opinions for which you can give reasons, you got the reasons after you got the opinions. There is nothing wrong with such rationalization; it's literally unavoidable. If we all only had political discussions about what we really and truly knew on rational grounds, we would all be silent most of the time, and practically speaking we would never be speaking up soon enough, to the perpetual aggravation of endless numbers of problems.

But the blurring of the notion of the academic as a specialized explorer (who might have come across things other people have not) and the notion of the academic as an expert (which, on any given point even in one's own field may or may not be very true) leads, I think, a great many people in academia to see their political views as more intelligent overall, rather than just having a better argument here or there, and thus as the template of other political views. And I think the same blurring often leads non-academics to think that if they can find an academic to dress up their arguments in academic jargons, or give additional arguments they can add to their own, that this shows that their views are really the intelligent and educated views. This is, I suspect, the root of the 'Historovox' that Corey Robin recently talked about: it's a genre for people who like to pretend that they have more rational foundations for their political positions than they actually do. Of course, everyone knows that there are academics who are crackpots outside their own field; for that matter, there are academics who are crackpots in their own field. But we still over-associate academic credential with expertise when the fact of the matter is that, at best, certain kind of academic resources and means make it easier to do the exploring that might lead to someone becoming an expert.

The fundamental test for an academic as to whether their politics is really reasonable is ultimately whether they treat their own politics as on the level with everyone else's, and thus whether they would be willing to admit that random people off the street, some of whose opinions they may think awful, probably sometimes have better arguments than they do about some things. Nothing about being an academic makes your politics superior. Nothing about being college-educated, for that matter, makes your politics superior. It just one of the things that makes it yours, if that happens to be your background.

It used to be that this was not so much of a problem; academics were an insular bunch. But I think that as time has gone on, people are learning their politics less and less from particular organizations (unions and societies devoted to particular causes) and more and more from being at college. It certainly seems to be the case that all of the academic corruptions of politics have been spreading. And we are all the less for it. Nothing is more dangerous than a society of lecturers; we lecturers aren't usually listening.

Lent V

[A sacrament] is a sensible thing that from the stable institution of Christ has a power for holiness, or for effecting and consequently signifying justifying grace....

For the essence of a sacrament is needed three things: (1) that it be a stable sign; (2) that it signify true holiness; (3) that it have its effect by the deed done [ex opere operato], that is, its use and application, by its own efficacy, not by the doer's doing [ex opere operantis], or by the act or disposition of the minister, or of the one who partakes -- which, although needed for the effect of the sacrament, is needed not as a cause but as a necessary condition [sine qua non].

[St. Alphonsus Liguori, Theologia Moralis, 6.1.1. My (rough) translation.]

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Passions and Reasons

We must renounce this idea that passion is murky (or obscure) and that reason is clear, that passion is muddled and reason is distinct. We all know passions that are as clear as fountain-springs and reasons, on the contrary, that always get tangled up in their own baggage train. One cannot even say that passion is rich and that reason and wisdom are poor, for there are passions as flat as billiard tables, and wisdom(s) and reasons as full and ripe and heavy as grapes.

[Charles Péguy, Notes on Bergson and Descartes, Ward, tr., Cascade Books (Eugene, OR: 2019) p. 28.]

To Do Without, Take Tosses, and Obey

Patience, Hard Thing
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.

Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
No-where. Natural heart's-ivy Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.

We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us wé do bid God bend to him even so.

And where is he who more and more distills
Delicious Kindness? - He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.