Saturday, June 01, 2019

How a Two-Year-Old Solves the Trolley Problem

Newman on Opinion Journalism

Most men in this country like opinions to be brought to them, rather than to be at the pains to go out and seek for them. They like to be waited on, they like to be consulted, for they like to be their own centre. As great men have their slaves or their body-servants for every need of the day, so, in an age like this, when every one reads and has a voice in public matters, it is indispensable that they should have persons to provide them with their ideas, the clothing of their mind, and that of the best fashion. Hence the extreme influence of periodical publications at this day, quarterly, monthly, or daily; these teach the multitude of men what to think and what to say. And thus is it that, in this age, every one is, intellectually, a sort of absolute king, though his realm is confined to himself or to his family; for at least he can think and say, though he cannot do, what he will, and that with no trouble at all, because he has plenty of intellectual servants to wait on him. Is it to be supposed that a man is to take the trouble of finding out truth himself, when he can pay for it? So his only object is to have cheap knowledge; that he may have his views of revelation, and dogma, and policy, and conduct,—in short, of right and wrong,—ready to hand, as he has his table-cloth laid for his breakfast, and the materials provided for the meal.

Bl. John Henry Newman, "Christ Upon the Waters--Part 2", Sermons Preached on Various Occasions.

Iustinus Martyr

Today is the feast of St. Justin Martyr, who is in a sense the patron saint of this weblog, which I first decided to get on St. Justin's Day, years ago. A re-post from 2010, lightly revised:


Around about 90 BC Antiochus of Ascalon reacted against the skepticisms of the New Academy by founding what came to be called the Old Academy. The name 'Old Academy' and the peculiarity of its being newer than we call the New Academy is quite deliberate; Antiochus regarded it as intolerable that the School of Plato was so very un-Platonic, and thus advocated a return to Plato. Such reform movements are never merely reactionary; rediscovery in response to opposition to one's project is inevitably innovative. The new movement drew from Peripatetic and Stoic sources in order to defend itself, attack Academic skepticism, and form connections to the philosophical positions of other schools. Like any reform movement, it simultaneously identified itself with a past purity -- the original Academy of Plato and his first three successors -- and used this as a framework for developing new solutions to more contemporary problems. The resulting project was Platonic and Peripatetic and Stoic, which while eclectic is less eclectic than it is usually made to sound, because returning to the root made it possible to find genuine commonalities. The Peripatetics were an early offshoot of the Academy, through Aristotle; and many of the ideas we associate with Stoicism first found their basic form in the successors of Plato.

We don't have much on Antiochus, although what we do have suggests that he was better at articulating a vision than developing it. But the challenge was taken up by many others over the next several centuries, the most important of whom were Eudorus of Alexandria, Plutarch of Chaeronea (the best known of the three), and Philo of Alexandria. The third of these is especially intriguing and important, for Philo was a Jew (hence the other name he is known by, Philo Judaeus). Philo's integration of Jewish belief and Middle Platonism would set the stage for centuries to come. For Christianity partly grew up in the crucible of Middle Platonism, of the Philonic type, although in many cases it would not have been Philo himself so much as his general context and perhaps other Middle Platonists about whom we know less.

There are parts of Paul's letters and the Epistle to the Hebrews in which one might see such influence, but the influence is most marked in the Gospel of John (and it is notable that Hellenistic Jews come up explicitly a couple of times in the book, e.g., 7:35, 12:20ff). One of the most important means Philo had used to integrate Jewish and Greek thought was his developed account of the Logos. Logos, reason or word, was a common term in Greek philosophy, and was associated with the divine; it also occurs quite often in the Septuagint to refer to God's word. On Philo's account the Logos is a power in God; it is the divine Mind containing the Platonic Ideas and is active and effective as God's Word:

[I]n the one living and true God there were two supreme and primary powers, Goodness [or Creative Power] and Authority [or Regent Power]; and that by his Goodness he had created every thing; and that by his Authority he governed all that he had created; and that the third thing which was between the two, and had the effect of bringing them together was the Logos, for it was owing to the Logos that God was both a ruler and good.(Cher 1.27-28, qtd here)

It's the general Philonic idea of divine Logos that is in the background of the opening words of the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Logos
and the Logos was with God
and the Logos was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life,
and that life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
but the darkness does not comprehend it.

And, he continues, the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us. Thus Christianity from its early days built on the vocabulary, or, rather, vocabularies, of Middle Platonism.

It is then unsurprising that many Middle Platonists found Christianity to have its attractions, and this brings us to the saint whose feast-day it is, Justin the Martyr. Justin was born to a pagan Greek family in Samaria (as he calls himself, he was "Justin, the son of Priscos, son of Baccheios, of Flavia Neapolis, in Palestinian Syria") in the early second century. He became a philosopher of Middle Platonist stamp, drawing now from Stoicism, now from Pythagoreanism, now from Aristotelianism, eventually making his way to Ephesus. He converted at some point to Christianity, in part, it seems, because he found them to be less morally objectionable than people in other schools of philosophy (particularly in terms of their courage and charity to others); and much of the argument in his works is that philosophy, especially as conceived by Socrates and Plato, finds its natural culmination in Christianity. Both philosophy and Christianity share in their love of Logos, but Christians hold that Logos so reciprocated as to become man. Justin explicitly mentions Socrates as a proto-Christian in his argument that it is unjust for the Empire to persecute Christians:

We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Logos of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we know it would be tedious. So that even they who lived before Christ, and lived without Logos, were wicked and hostile to Christ, and slew those who lived according to Logos.

We don't know the full details of how it is that Justin became a martyr; certainly he was never hesitant to insist in public that Christians were right, although he is largely quite irenic when it came to pagans. There is some indication that in his wandering about first Ephesus and then Rome engaging in philosophical arguments he may have made enemies; he explicitly says at one point that he expected it to happen, and even named one Crescens, a Cynic philosopher, as a likely person to cause problems for him. Thus Crescens perhaps did get to him, or someone like Crescens, although we don't really know for sure. We do know that he was tried with six others in a standard trial under the prefect Rusticus during the persecutions under Marcus Aurelius and was put to death. It is perhaps an irony that the parataxis, the obstinacy, that the philosopher Marcus Aurelius loathed in Christians, the philosopher Justin exalted as showing the paradoxical summit of a good life, a life that put truth before life. The emperor probably never knew the teacher, but for different reasons they would both have considered Justin's death appropriate to his views.

Justin lived in the evening of Middle Platonism. In the very next century people like Plotinus would begin to push for major systemization, and the Neoplatonic phase of philosophy would begin. Much of Middle Platonism would survive, but the doctrines became less eclectic, more systematically integrated, at times reinterpreted; philosophical criticism of other positions became more developed and thorough; and the questions about the relation between philosophy and religion became more complicated than they were in the days of Justin and Clement of Alexandria and others of their kind who took Christianity to be divine philosophy. But the role of Middle Platonism in early Christian life, as witnessed by people like Justin, would have significant consequences for centuries to come.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Dashed Off XI

the political principles 'no punitive procedure without fair evidentiary procedure' & 'no punitive procedure without procedure for recourse/appeal' & 'no punitive procedure without procedure for self-defense (broadly construed)'

In politics as in chemistry, the dose makes the poison.

As a principle is increasingly seen as necessary, it is increasingly seen as normative, for both theoretical and practical reason.

Sometimes factional politics seems an endless story of people not learning that he who digs a pit falls into it.

"He who reads much and also understands is filled; he who has been filled sheds water upon others." Ambrose, Ep. 15 to Constantius

Scientific inquiry must deal with idealizations because it materially draws principles form particular circumstances of observation and experiment, but teleologically seeks for these principles to be illuminating outside those circumstances. Thus one draws from the motion of a body in the gravitational field of earth an account of how it moves that one wishes to apply to all the motions of heaven and earth, if possible, and as widely as possible if it is not universal; it must be stripped of its local conditions and made into an ideal type, the point particle with mass-information without any particular obstruction or impediment; all situations may then be related to this type, taking the precautions of use required by the local circumstances. (The latter is actually important -- physicists do not generally deal with idealizations as such but with idealizations used with qualifications derived from the evidence of the situation's particular quirks.)

All mediate action must be explained in terms of immediate action.

The one thing we seem to know to give us excellent educational results, in every context, is the student's sense of the value of initiative in learning, active docilitas. We know things that stifle or impede it, we know things that work better once it is had; but we have no method for cultivating it if it is lost or if it is never developed.

People often conflate 'sense of humor' with 'good humor'.

Specific freedoms are traditional privileges.

NB Euler's argument for divine revelation, Letter XVIII to a German Princess
Euler's mechanical definition of a miracle Letter XXXVII

"The words of a language express general notions; and you will rarely find one which marks only a single individual." Euler, Letter CI

"Virtue is the only means of rendering a spirit happy; to bestow felicity on a vicious spirit is beyond the power of God himself." Euler, CXI
"Real happiness is to be found only in God himself; all other delights are but an empty shade, and are capable of yielding only a momentary satisfaction." CXIII
"The holy life of the apostles, and of the other primitive Christians, appears to me an irresistible proof of the truth of the Christian religion." CXIV

"If thou reachest after and seekest nothing but the will of God and the benefit of thy neighbour, thou wilt entirely enjoy inward liberty." Imitatio Christi 2.4

sharp (focused) wonder vs. muddled (vague) wonder

When we attend a ritual, the ritual is the primary thing, and the feelings it evokes a coloring of it.

Note Newman's analogy between Church and Army in the English constitution. This seems confirmed by the parallel vestigiation of both.

"A scientific concept is the more fruitful the more it can be brought into connection with other concepts on the basis of observed facts; in other words, the more it can be used for the formulation of laws." Carnap

Part of the charm of Much Ado About Nothing is that it does well in showing the clever outsmarting themselves -- Benedick and Beatrice talk themselves into love, and John's scheme turns on itself through its own cunning. The foolish things of the world confound the wise.

Translations are not bare translations but always for a purpose.

The Church has the right to:
(1) evangelize (divine commission)
(2) constitute itself through the sacraments (divine commission)
(3) worship the Lord and regulate such worship (priestly authority)
(4) own property, exercise political presence, and exercise patronage consistent with its mission (royal authority)
(5) speak freely as the people of God (prophetic authority)
(6) be in itself independent of the state and have the cooperation of the state in this where it is appropriate (social end)

"Gracefulness consists especially in the excellence of the sensible, as the sublime lies in the excellence of the intelligible." Louis of Poissy (adapted by the Christian Brothers)

the union of the graceful and the sublime as a symbol of the Incarnation

matrimony as pre-eminently the graceful-sublime sacrament

If the Church is to build churches, it must be a patron of crafts; if it is to print Bibles, it must be a patron of printers; if it is to translate the Bible, it must be a patron of translators; if it is to study the Bible, it must be a patron of scholarship; if it is to aid the poor in an organized way, it must be a patron of charities.

"The aesthetic experience of love is expressed in that 'gaze' which contemplates other persons as ends in themselves." Francis, Amoris Laetitia

iconodoulia & the aesthetic experience of love

An ethical system is inadequate unless it is coherent, rooted in personal nature, ennobling, and vast of scope.

"Granted the presence of an all-beneficient providence over things, we can trust in it for assurance that the material error in which we necessarily fall without our intervention is one of the many accidents directed by the all-wise and all-powerful goodness governing all things." Rosmini
"Persons who do not admit a supreme guide cannot reasonably believe they will avoid errors, nor that someone will free them from the harm arising from errors."

the problem of doctrinal positivists who do not recognize customary doctrine

The tendency of civil terror is to bloody revolution or to government terror.

A possibility with regard to the kinds of union: the Church patient lays in the passive/'material' aspect of beatitude, the dispositive aspect, and the Church Triumphant adds the active/'formal' aspect, the perfective. Thus Purgatory is a sort of dispositive beatitude, a beatitude in preparation, and the Beatific Vision perfective beatitude or beatitude proper.

Hume tends to talk as if what was external, continuing, and independent were primarily the sensible content; but Shepherd is surely right that it is primarily efficacy. And Hume's agnosticism about the causes of impression eliminates sensible content as well as efficacy from any certainty on this matter.
-- Does this cause a problem for Hume's account of constancy, which is certainly content-focused?

the combinatorics of possible philosophical positions + causal-epistemic account of development of philosophical positions (constraints & contributions) + analysis of structural and functional analogies = abstract history of philosophy

Toulmin's model as the model of a philosophical position

abstract HoP as higher-order metaphysics
concrete HoP: historical -> classificatory -> nomological/counterfactual
HoP = abstract + concrete + metaHoP

etiological, nomological, and teleological aspects of HoP

"All evidence may be referred to four titles, Consciousness, Perception, Testimony, and Inference." Ferguson

Ferguson's response to the problem of evil is interesting: perceiving physical evil is just part of being active in the physical world, and perceiving moral evil is just part of being progressive in the moral world.

We tend to think of moral progress as linear, but it is expansive and multidimensional.

"The means of acquiring any right may be referred to four principal heads: Occupancy, Labor, Convention, and Forfeiture." Ferguson
"The safety of the people consists in the secure employment of their rights."

The apostles are unique not merely in the sense of being most proximate to the original revelation, but in the sense of being commissioned by Christ as part of the original revelation.

the three primary magisterial acts of the Church: definition, organic transmission, counsel

Note that violation of the original contract was explicitly the theoretical justification for the Glorious Revolution.

sources of normal divergences between stories with shared root
(1) attribution shift
(2) narrative extrapolation
(3) teleological reordering
(4) simplifying paraphrase
(5) simplifying reduction
(6) narrative melding
(7) divergence of understanding

a very crude taxonomy of science funding
(1) open
---- (a) for prestige of discovery: patronage
---- (b) for interest of solution: subscription
(2) centralized
---- (a) for social/political end: subsidy
---- (b) for directed profit: investment

'felt value' as presential awareness of inclination to something as good

Ages of fraud follow ages of violence, and violence fraud; throughout history, humankind wars against the Truth and the Life by which we are in the image of God.

Animals live; but to be human is to have a life that in some way proceeds from understanding.

artistry vs artisticism
science vs scientisticism
romanticism vs romanticisticism
poetry vs poeticism
religion vs religionism

"people are shy of granting what an opponent's case really requires." Aristotle Top VIII.1
"do not be insistent, even though you really require the point, for insistence always arouses the more opposition"
"a learner should always state what he thinks"
"some people bring objections of a kind which would take longer to answer than the length of the discussion at hand."

four kinds of objection (Aristotle)
A. solution finding
---- 1. demolishing premise
B. obstacle creating
---- 2. objecting to the questioner
---- 3. objecting to the question
---- 4. protesting time

Interpretation of a major thinker begins with details and coalesces them into a unity only by gradual steps, which is why interpretations by competent interpreters can differ in significant ways.

Note that Simplicius indicates that Aristotle's Categories were sometimes titled, 'Introduction to the Topics', among other titles used for the work.

The aporetic method works precisely because perplexity is due to lack of resources.

Agriculture is the conversion of otherwise wasted energy into food.

If something comes to be, there must be something that is coming to be and something from which it is coming to be.

idealism of inference (the position that one can only infer to and from propositions)

The intellectuals of a small enclave are not radically different from those of a big population, but with lots of small enclaves, one will occasionally by statistics have an extraordinary excellence, the right people connecting in the right numbers in the right ways.

The exchangeability of money is one reason why it can virtually never be on its own a reason for denying otherwise reasonable care: there are almost always less important things from which the money could be taken, so it is only when this is genuinely impossible that mere cost could be a reason. This contrasts with (e.g.) actual medical supplies tha tneed to be extended as far as possible, thus sometimes creating a rationing situation.

Sometimes we need to see a truth stated to see how obvious it is.

- the possibility of an Epicurean objection to Benthamism
- in general, Epicurus does in fact seem to be superior to Bentham on the subject of pleasure

Standing armies get their attractions from their usefulness for (1) garrison, (2) frontier work, and (3) expedition. They run the risk of (1) alienation from what is to be defended, (2) excessive expense, and (3) numbers inadequate for defense.

The force with which the people are entrusted is a measure of the actual value they have in a political system.

alienation as a problem of involuntary exchange with an other not interested in common good or mutual benefit

the worker as an end in himself

(((production + possession -> distribution) + communication of needs) -> exchange -> money) + regulation -> circulation -> market -> economy

Freedom in America is not a good intention but an interlocking set of freedom-systems, many inherited from England, some homegrown: sheriff system, jury system, militia system, electoral system, etc.

The miracle argument for scientific realism would also be an argument for axiological realism with respect to values of scientific inquiry.

"The most equitable laws on paper are consistent with the utmost despotism in administration." Ferguson

Liberal institutions tend to treat themselves as universal rather than as the subsidiary supports they are.

the epistemologically fundamental character of the familiar

catechesis as perambulation (beating the bounds)

Voyages Extraordinaires #48: Le Village aérien

"And the American Congo," asked Max Huber, "is that out of the question?"

"To what end, my dear Max?" replied John Cort. "Do we lack vast spaces in the United States? What of the new and empty regions between Alaska and Texas? Before colonizing abroad, it is better to colonize at home, I think...."

"Ah, my dear John, the European nations will eventually divide Africa, if things continue -- an area of three billion hectares! Will the Americans leave them all to the English, the Germans, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the French, the Italians, the Spaniards, the Belgians?..."

"The Americans will have nothing to do with it, any more than the Russians," said John Cort, "and for the same reason...."

"Which is?"

"It is pointless to tire your legs when you only have to extend your arms."

[My translation.]

Le Village aérien, known in English under the title, The Village in the Treetops, is Verne's Dark Continent tale, and I was surprised at how well it held up as a story. Obviously the science in this science fiction is the kind of evolutionary anthropology you would expect in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (the book was published in 1901), but Verne is clearly skeptical of a lot of features of it, so while he accepts the essential features for narrative purposes, he also at several points in the narrative raises questions about how it should be interpreted even if true. In the Fitzroy edition, I. O. Evans says that Verne takes the opposition between the 'Missing Link' idea that there is no sharp line between man and animal and the view, found in Verne's own Catholic background, that there is a sharp difference between the two, and he gives a "somewhat inconclusive suggestion of the manner in which the problem might be solved", and I think this is right. Verne is more interested in the questions raised, I think, than this or that particular account of the relationship between the human and the nonhuman, and he's not interested in coming up with a definitive answer to them so much as he is with highlighting the significance that they can be raised.

Max Huber, a Frenchman, and John Cort, an American, are residents of Libreville, where their families own a factory. They are taking an expedition into the relatively unexplored regions of the Ubangi river in Central Africa. With them are Llanga, a native orphan whom they have essentially adopted, and Khamis, an African of Arab descent. They also have a number of native porters, but the porters abandon them after an unfortunate run-in with a herd of raging elephants, and they are forced to make some hard choices about the best way to reach the nearest missionary outpost. As they follow the river, a number of mysteries start piling up -- they occasionally hear what seems to be a voice crying out a Congolese word, Ngora, meaning 'mother' (according to Verne), and it eventually becomes clear that there are traces of a previous expedition that disappeared, that of Dr. Johausen. Dr. Johausen had had the theory that the higher simians were already capable of language, and had taken an expedition into the jungle in order to prove it, but had never returned. And they will eventually come across a tribe of creatures, not quite human but more advanced than apes, living in a treetop village.

It's nicely constructed, storywise, but not very complicated; a short adventure there and back. It's not as exciting a story as Burroughs would later write, nor as rich a story as Haggard had written earlier, but as a rough early foray into the same genre, it works fairly well.

Thursday, May 30, 2019


Eternal Monarch, King Most High
by John Mason Neale

Eternal Monarch, King most high,
Whose blood hath brought redemption nigh,
By whom the death of Death was wrought,
And conquering grace’s battle fought.

Ascending to the throne of might,
And seated at the Father’s right,
All power in Heav’n is Jesu’s own,
That here His manhood had not known.

That so, in nature’s triple frame,
Each heav’nly and each earthly name,
And things in hell’s abyss abhorred,
May bend the knee and own Him Lord.

Yea, angels tremble when they see
How changed is our humanity;
That flesh hath purged what flesh had stained,
And God, the Flesh of God, hath reigned.

Be Thou our joy and strong defense,
Who art our future recompense;
So shall the light that springs from Thee
Be ours through all eternity.

O risen Christ, ascended Lord,
All praise to Thee let earth accord,
Who art, while endless ages run,
With Father and with Spirit One.

A translation of a thirteenth-century Latin hymn.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Presence of Christ on the Altar

Peter L. P. Simpson has an interesting article at Commonweal, Have You Tried Scotus? I'm by and large sympathetic with the idea of the article -- as I always say, the Church does not need Thomisms as much as it needs St. Thomases, nor Scotisms as much as Bl. John Duns Scotuses. But I think the article takes the wrong way about to do this. For one thing, it's frankly absurd to suggest that there's any vast number of people who are "exclusive Thomists"; actual Thomists are themselves relatively thin on the ground, and most of them are hardly purists. The reason people do not make any extensive use of Scotus is not exclusivity but accessibility; St. Thomas, difficult as many people find him, is infinitely easier to find and follow than Bl. John, so naturally they are much more likely to consult Aquinas than they are to consult Scotus. Scotus is slowly become more accessible, due in part to people like Simpson, in fact, but that has happened very, very slowly, and Scotus is probably never going to be as accessible as Aquinas, because he tends to be more technical. But that's an infrastructural problem, a difference in the cost and difficulty of studying one rather than the other, not because there are any great numbers of people deliberately being "exclusive Thomists".

I also wish he were a little less sloppy in his set-up, since his discussion of Aquinas on the real presence is not quite right, and I doubt many people without a fair amount of background would have an easy time figuring out what Kenny's problem actually was. On the first point, that he muddles Aquinas's account up a bit, he mixes up discussion of transubstantiation, real presence, and location, which while related points are distinct. Aquinas distinguishes the first two, although he thinks they are related; that's why he considers them in distinct questions -- transubstantiation is the account of the change when the elements become the sacrament, and real presence is something that has to be further argued. Aquinas completely separates the second and the third, because he doesn't think that all presence is local, and, as he points out, treating Christ's presence as local raises the puzzle of how Christ could be located here on this altar, wholly present, and also located at some other altar, wholly present. Thus Aquinas, pace Simpson, does in fact have a response to Kenny's problem: while the bread and wine has accidents that locate it, in the sense of containing it in a place, in transubstantiation the substance of these accidents is replaced by Christ Himself, but he does not take on the accidents of the bread and wine (so far we have Kenny's set-up) -- but obviously that includes the accidents that contain it in a place. There is no problem of how Christ can have the where of the bread and the wine if he doesn't take on the accidents that remain; he doesn't have the where of the bread and the wine. He is present there, but not localized there. (This is explicitly discussed in ST III.76.5.) Kenny is making the mistake of assuming that all presence is local presence. Consider the soul, what it is that makes you a living thing; it is present in your hand, but it would be an error to assume that your soul is localized in your hand, for the obvious reason that it's present elsewhere, too. Likewise, a cause that has localized effects can by way of those effects be present in their location without the cause itself being located there. So too Christ is wholly present under the accidents of both bread and wine, and on this altar and that altar, because Christ does not become bread and wine, and so doesn't take on, Himself, the location of bread and wine any more than he takes on the flavor and consistency of bread and wine. Christ's Body is present where the host is located; that location was in a sense a measurement of the bread, but it is not a measurement of the Body of Christ.

Now, while Scotus's discussion is not particularly easy to follow, he is quite aware of all these distinctions, despite his differences from Aquinas in discussing them; he denies that transubstantiation is the foundation of the doctrine of the real presence (the difference from Aquinas that Simpson notes, since Aquinas starts with transubstantiation and moves from there to discussing the real presence) and he treats the question of location as a further question beyond that of presence. I am not a scholar of Scotus by any means, but it seems to me that Scotus's insistence on separating the question of transubstantiation and that of real presence is that he wants to insist that Christ's ability to be present is not limited, so that you cannot say (for instance) that Christ can only be really present by transubstantiation or under some kind of sensible signs in a sacrament. Christ's doing this is for our sake, not because He is in any way limited to doing it this way; Christ could be present in the very same way even without transubstantiation. Thomists, I take it, are perfectly free to agree that Christ's ability to be present is not limited to transubstantiation, but would insist that that is necessarily a different kind of presence. Which is right is, I think, a more interesting question than Kenny's, which makes an assumption that both Aquinas and Scotus reject, that Christ could only be present on the altar by being Himself localized on it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Voyages Extraordinaires #43: Clovis Dardentor

When they had both left the train at the Cette railway-station -- the train from Paris to the Mediterranean -- Marcel Lornans, addressing Jean Taconnat, said to him: "What are you going to do until the boat starts?"

A comic novel, Clovis Dardentor tells of Marcel and Jean, cousins who are heading off to Algeria to join the French army, because, while they have inherited enough not to be in immediately dire straits, they do not have the income for a sustainable lifestyle. On the ship, they meet the Desirandelles, who are heading to Algeria with their son, destined to marry a lovely young woman by the name of Louise Elissane, and their very wealthy, very jovial friend, Clovis Dardentor. On the way, Jean, who seems to have a head for trivia, hits upon a plan for a better life than army life, based on the complicated provisions of French adoption laws, which are usually very restrictive, but, as it happens, if certain other circumstances are met, also require wealthy older men to adopt those who have saved their lives from fire, flood, or fight. Since Algeria is not always especially safe, Jean convinces Marcel to delay their entrance into the army, instead touring Algeria with the good-natured Dardentor in the hopes of an opportunity arising in which they can save -- or even just 'save' -- Dardentor from fire, flood, or fight; then Dardentor would have to adopt them, and their financial problems would be solved. They and Dardentor get along very well, but there's one thing they are not properly taking into account: Dardentor is as wealthy as he is because he is, first, very lucky, and, second, very competent and coolheaded, and a man like that is more likely to be savior than saved when accidents arise.

It's a charming tale, not very long. I wish we had more of Louise Elissane; we get her only in bits and pieces, and although she has by far the best scene in the book, it would have been nice to get more of her character.

Twofold Charity

Holy Scripture commends a twofold charity to us, namely, of God and of neighbour; charity of God, that we may love Him so as to rejoice in Him; charity of neighbour, that we may love him not so as to rejoice in him but with him in God, that is, so as to love God on account of Him, Himself, but our neighbour on account of God. Now God must be loved on account of Himself for the reason that He himself is our good. Now our neighbour must be loved on account of God for the reason that with him our good is in God. We love the One that we may go to Him and rejoice in Him. We love the other that we may run with him and arrive with him. The One as joy, the other as an ally of joy; the one as rest, the other as a consort of rest.

[Hugh of St. Victor, On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith (De Sacramentis), Deferrari, tr., Ex Fontibus (2016) pp. 378-379.]

Monday, May 27, 2019

On Katsafanas on Fanaticism

Paul Katsafanas has an interesting paper on fanaticism at Philosophers' Imprint. In it he argues against what he calls in the Enlightenment account of fanaticism (which in the Enlightenment would have often been called 'enthusiasm'), which he characterizes as involving the following three elements:

(1) unwavering commitment to an ideal
(2) unwillingness to subject this ideal to rational criticism
(3) presumption of non-rational sanction for the ideal

I think you could criticize this as an account of actual Enlightenment views of the matter in a number of ways -- 'non-rational' is too vague, and while there is no single account of enthusiasm in the early modern period (and I am not as inclined as Katsafanas to think that Locke, Hume, Shaftesbury, and Kant are as much in agreement as he suggests), people discussing the matter tended to think of it in terms of principles, not ideals, and it tends to be important for how the word 'enthusiasm' functions in discourse that it is not merely a rejection of rational criticism but also a rejection of authority. Enthusiasts got the bad name they did because they were seen to subvert the structures of authority maintaining society. Hume, for instance, often uses this aspect of the idea in his historical explanations in the History; it's also why people were often nasty to Quakers and Methodist revivalists. They were seen as disrupting the order of society, and it's not merely that their grounds were seen as non-rational but (which is a different thing) that they could not be reasoned with. To be sure, there was a common notion of a 'harmless enthusiast'; but not everyone would have accepted such a view, and the harmlessness would be because they were, as we would say, a bit crazy -- authority and reason don't work on them but not because they are deliberately trying to overturn them.

This is not a purely historical issue, not that there are ever any such in matters of philosophical analysis; Katsafanas's immediate criticism of the 'Enlightenment account' is that it does not capture the intolerance and dangerousness that these very thinkers thought was attributable to enthusiasts. But the obvious reason for that is that the 'Enlightenment account' he gives is incomplete. But one can imagine someone trying to generalize an account of enthusiasm/fanaticism based on various early modern comments and coming up with something like this as a first approximation, so it's not an immediate issue for analysis.

As Katsafanas notes, however, 'the Enlightenment account' will not work as an account of fanaticism itself, because it includes too much. It covers anyone who is a 'true believer', in the colloquial sense. Katsafanas still regards 'being a true believer' as a rational defect, but it's so common that I'm not sure you can even go this far. We usually think of sports fans and music fans as 'fans', i.e., fanatics, by a figurative and hyperbolic extension of the term, but most fans of anything would count arguably count as 'true believers' in this sense. People are just resistant to criticism of their likes and dislikes in matters they regard as closely intertwined with who they are, even if reason didn't itself have much to do with their liking/disliking it or regarding it as a part of who they are. And while this can no doubt lead in bad directions, in itself this nonreasoning resistance seems to have nothing unreasonable about it. It's not a rational defect merely to have strongly decided tastes.

In any case, Katsafanas goes on to argue that we need to add several additional elements to get an adequate account:

(4) adoption of one or more sacred values,

where 'sacred values' means 'values that are associated with characteristic emotions like love or dread and are regarded as uncompromisable and indubitable',

(5) treating these sacred values as necessary for preservation of self-unity,

where this is his somewhat odd and controvertible way of saying what would perhaps more colloquially say as conveying that these sacred values are 'essential to your identity'.

I take it that Katsafanas is using these as steppingstones to try to build up an account where one can see how the elements would combine to make fanaticism dangerous; it's certainly not the case that these on their own add much. I take it that most people would have already assumed that element (1) implied something more or less like these, with these at most clarifying it so that we can cut out some marginal cases. So far we still don't have anything to distinguish fanaticism from many cases of (say) wholehearted love of one person for another. Katsafanas continues, however:

(6) taking these sacred values to be threatened if not widely accepted
(7) identification with a group that has these sacred values as shared values.

These both are definite advances; they give us an account of fanaticism that is social in character.

Katsafanas often talks about his account as taking fanaticism to be characterized by (1)-(7), but I'm honestly not sure why he doesn't take (4)-(7) to replace rather than add to (1)-(3); that is, given his arguments for them, I don't see what is missing in (4)-(7) that would require (1)-(3) specifically. At the end he seems to suggest that (4)-(7) introduce something like a disposition to violence, but, as I will go on to say, I don't see how that is supposed to work. This should be kept in mind as a qualification for the rest of my criticism of his account -- it's conceivable I'm not grasping something about how this account is supposed to fit together.

It seems to me that all Katsafanas has done is taken the 'true believer' of the original and made him or her a 'socially participant true believer'. What he has not given is what he promised to give, an account in which it would be clear why intolerance and dangerousness tend to be associated with fanatics. Consider a person who is not a fanatic but a fatalist. They have some sacred value -- say, liberty under a certain conception -- and they see the upholding of this value as essential for making sense of who they are as a person, and they recognize (as you usually have to with conceptions of liberty) that this liberty is threatened and not widely accepted, and they participate with groups that take this liberty as a shared value, but they honestly don't think they or the group have any ability to change things. Perhaps they are a dwindling minority and the fatalist just thinks that, alas, society is by this point doomed and there is nothing that can be done about it -- they will certainly lose, and no action they can take will change that, but because the value is uncompromisable and true, they will stay the course to the end. Now, this person by Katsafanas's definition is a fanatic, but it's really odd to classify them as such, because we don't think of merely being resigned to failure as a fanatical attitude, and obviously we don't because it isn't. As we might put the point, intolerance and dangerousness are associated with fanaticism because fanatics do things, but the resigned fatalist isn't doing anything. Being resigned in the face of (as you see it) the whole of society going mad isn't fanaticism. That is, the only component of Katsafanas's account that is not purely a matter of mental belief and attitude is identification with a group, but mere self-identification, even combined with the mental components, doesn't give you any fanatical acts. It's compatible with almost anyone you know being a fanatic, which they express entirely by having a poker night with other fanatics. I mean, there are groups with a history of breeding fanatics that often do a lot of social events together, like the KKK or Antifa, but it's not having brunch at the local eatery together that makes them identifiable as fanatics, but rather the willingness to engage in terroristic acts and assaults.

Perhaps Katsafanas assumes that adoption of sacred values combined with a sense of their being threatened always issues in definite outward actions, but this I think is just false, psychologically; at the very least, it would depend on the "characteristic emotions" involved and the opportunities for expressing them. Given his emphasis that fanaticism is a propensity to violence, not necessarily actual violence, I suspect that Katsafanas thinks more specifically that (1)-(7) tend to issue in violence, but this is a fortiori not true, as we see in the case of the resigned fatalist. You don't even have to go so far as resignation; sometimes people are still just trying to sort out what, if anything, they should do; sometimes people respond by not interfering with others but trying to move away from them and start over; and so forth.

I should say that, although Katsafanas doesn't consider these cases in particular, he ends the paper by considering the possibility that the content of the value might interfere, for instance if someone's sacred value were freedom from coercion, in which case you would have reason from the sacred value itself not to act violently toward other people over it. But since such people could meet (1)-(7), and he says that such people would not be fanatics "or at least not wholeheartedly", this seems to make his account defeasible, so that you could fit all of the criteria and yet not be a fanatic. And at least one argument he used to reject the 'Enlightenment account' -- that it would make peaceful Buddhists and tolerant Christians fanatics -- would seem to apply to his own account. It's not as if the difference between nonfanatical Buddhists and Christians and fanatics is that the former don't have deeply held sacred values, or that they don't join groups that share those values, and nothing seems to prevent them from thinking those values under threat, so we seem to be stuck in the same place we were, except with a social component that doesn't affect the original problem.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Fortnightly Book, May 26

Perhaps, were it possible to effect the total extirpation of novels, our young ladies in general, and boarding-school damsels in particular, might profit from their annihilation; but since the distemper they have spread seems incurable, since their contagion bids defiance to the medicine of advice or reprehension, and since they are found to baffle all the mental art of physic, save what is prescribed by the slow regimen of Time, and bitter diet of Experience; surely all attempts to contribute to the number of those which may be read, if not with advantage, at least without injury, ought rather to be encouraged than contemned.

The next fortnightly book is Fanny Burney's Evelina, published in 1778; an epistolary novel, it's generally considered a forerunner of the works of Jane Austen, and follows the adventures of a young woman raised in seclusion as she begins to interact with the finer portions of society. She makes many mistakes, but also discovers the hollowness of some social conventions. And, of course, you can be sure there is a possibility of marriage somewhere. This will be my first time reading it; I've read excerpts from Fanny Burney in looking at various issues in Austen, but not read any of her works all the way through.

Epistolary novels are sometimes difficult to read -- although it's not so much that they are difficult in themselves as that we no longer have all the reading habits required for them -- but Burney has a reputation for being quite humorous, and, although all her novels did reasonably well, Evelina was far and away her most successful one. She also has a reputation for excellence -- among those whom we know enjoyed her work are Austen, Burke, and Johnson. Her friendship with the latter is actually how she originally became known. Evelina was published anonymously, and she took great lengths to keep her authorship secret, including disguising her handwriting, creating secret identities, and once getting her brother to pose as the author and disguise himself so that he wouldn't be recognized. But of course her circle of close friends knew it, and things leak out to their friends, and word got back to a man named George Huddesworth, who in writing a comic poem, "Warley, A Satire", included a line,

Or gain approbation from dear little Burney?

On its own perhaps not so bad, but then he put in a footnote: 'The Authoress of Evelina', and thereby let the whole secret out to the world. In any case, it doesn't seem to have caused her any hurt more significant than embarrassment, and she did fairly well for herself afterward.

Charles Williams, Shadows of Ecstasy; The Greater Trumps


Opening Passages: From Shadows of Ecstasy:

Roger Ingram's peroration broke over the silent dining hall: "He and such as he are one with the great conquerors, the great scientists, the great poets; they have all of them cried of the unknown: 'I will encounter darkness as a bride, And hug it in mine arms.'" (p. 465)

From The Greater Trumps:

"...perfect Babel," Mr. Coningsby said peevishly, threw himself into a chair, and too up the evening paper."

"But Babel never was perfect, was it?" Nancy said to her brother in a low voice, yet not so low that her father could not hear if he chose. (p. 605)

Summary: In Shadows, Nigel Considine has discovered the ability to concentrate his energy so thoroughly that he can impose his will on others and influence their minds. With this power, and as representative of the 'schools' of African witchcraft, he has united African tribes against the colonial powers of Europe, threatens to start a new world order, and perhaps has overcome the power of death. Standing against him are mostly just a completely unexceptional Anglican priest, a good-natured skeptic and free thinker, and a Zulu king who has been rendered powerless by Considine's manipulations -- a weak and makeshift and somewhat unconvincing alliance of priest, prophet, and king against Considine. And who is Considine, really?

The best character in the novel is the Zulu king, Inkamasi, who gets remarkably little time given his overall importance. A true king, he is a convincing depiction of the charisma of kingship, even though he does not have the self-possession required to resist Considine's juggernaut energy. He has several of the best lines, and the reaction of other characters to him tells us more about them than about anything else. Of particular note is Rosamond, who is overwhelmed by Inkamasi's charisma, and in some sense falls in love, but reacts very poorly to him due to her prejudices about his black skin, which are shown to be quite common among the English throughout the story.

The novel is essentially a Fu Manchu story, but with Africa -- indeed, I've heard a story, which may be apocryphal (in the association with this novel in particular; the story itself comes from Williams), that Williams read one of Rohmer's novels, said, "I could do better than that," and wrote Shadows. There is a notable difference between the two, though. Fu Manchu, while in part Western-educated, is Chinese; Considine, while African-educated, is English. In the novel the colonized nations of Africa rise up against the colonizers with an apparently unstoppable force; but this uprising is itself the result of Considine, with the help of the 'schools', overthrowing, subverting, or dominating the legitimate rulers of Africa. What the colonial powers of Europe see only as the Black Peril turns out to be -- an Englishman's conquest of Africa.

It is but one of many ambiguities in this strangely ambiguous novel, which has no hard lines, only opposing perspectives. And perhaps that is part of the point. The story is about the nature of power, which, as it is found among us, is inevitably ambiguous. If you only see power, you will never get more than ambiguity.

With The Greater Trumps, Williams seems to hit his stride as a novelist; in some ways it is the most cleanly structure of his books, and we start getting more realistic characters given more realistic characterization, without any sacrifice of the more Williams-ish aspects. Technically, it works very well and I think the description of the snowstorm is some of Williams's most impressive descriptive work. I think it ends up being somewhere in the middle of Williams's novels in terms of quality, however; novelistic techniques are employed better in the later novels, and The Place of the Lion's portmanteau Neoplatonism is a far richer source of theme and imagery of the Williams-ish side than the Tarot are or could be. I had noted that the latter's Neoplatonism also helps to give an appropriate context for Williams's tendency to describe things in terms of abstractions, one in which that abstracting makes perfect sense; that's missing here, and the lack is sometimes felt. Nonetheless, there is much that is engaging about the work.

Nancy Coningsby is likely to marry Henry Lee, not entirely to the approval of her father, Lothair Coningsby, because Henry is gypsy and Mr. Coningsby has a prejudice against gypsies. Mr. Coningsby has recently inherited a friend's collection of card decks (a very disappointing inheritance), but Henry discovers that one of these decks of cards is the deck of cards, the Tarot pack that tracks and manipulates the underlying order of the world. This Tarot pack does this because it is linked to a collection of moving images that were created by someone attempting to capture an image of that underlying order; this collection Henry's family has been protecting. The lesser suits of the Tarot pack track, and give power, over the material elements of the world; the higher suits give these elements forms, and the Greater Trumps are the ultimate principles of the whole world-order. Misusing them will inevitably lead to grave consequences, and setting things right requires uncovering something about the card that both is and is not a Greater Trump, the zero card, The Fool, which is linked to the central image that does not move and yet is everywhere in the dance of images.

The story takes place at Christmas, and this is quite important, although some parts of this thread are the weakest parts of the novel. There is a recurring phrase, "adore the mystery of love", from John Byrom's Christmas hymn, "Christians, Awake":

Christians, awake, salute the happy morn
Whereon the Savior of the world was born.
Rise to adore the mystery of love
Which hosts of angels chanted from above;
With them the joyful tidings first begun
Of God Incarnate and the Virgin's Son.

And Joanna, the crazy relative of the Lees who thinks that she is the goddess Isis, finds the 'child' she has been looking for in Nancy, who is sort of the 'Messias' for the events of the story. But the Christmas side of it is not as well developed as it could be, I think. I think we run into the problem that Williams, again, likes to talk about important things in abstractions, and Christmas is, of all holy days, the one that is least amenable to this sort of abstracting; it is not about abstractions but about Mother and Child (the Mother and the Child). The Egyptian mythology aspect to it, which links the Tarot, traditionally said to capture Egyptian wisdom, with the gypsies, who get their name according to folk etymology from Egypt, works much, much better; the myth of Isis even fits better with Christmas than anything the novel does with Christmas itself. This is the second time I've read the novel, and I'm still not entirely sure where Williams was going with the Christmas angle.

I confess I didn't like some of the characters so much in this novel, either, although Mr. Coningsby really grew on me; I suppose I also find it amusing that Mr. Coningsby, the representation of rational intellect in this work, is a peevish, obstinate, and unimaginative person who has difficulty understanding anything that is going on and who keeps wanting to deliver witty retorts but suffers from perpetual esprit d'escalier. I also like that nobody hates him for any of this; it's just who he is as a member of the family. Nancy and Henry aren't bad, but I didn't really get them as The Lovers, and Sybil is sometimes excellent and sometimes just dull. But the story itself is probably the most 'exciting' of Williams's stories -- it's a story where a lot of interesting things happen, and it has some of Williams's best descriptive work.

Favorite Passages: From Shadows of Ecstasy:

"If you can seize Considine," the king said, -- "I say, if you can -- it will not be easy. For the greatest energy is in him, he and he alone is the centre of all the schools; it is he who holds power, either by the initiation or by the sleep, over the royalties of Africa; he is the union of their armies; without him the energies of the adepts will be divided, the generals will quarrel, the armies will fight. I tell you this, because you have saved me twice, and because I do not think mankind can be saved without intellect and without God." (p. 532)

From The Greater Trumps:

The cry shook the golden light; it vanished. Amabel, gazing, saw Miss Coningsby in the hall and the old woman lying in a heap at the foot of the stairs, and before she had time to move she saw the other visitors coming flying down them. They cam very swiftly but as if they also came in order; the lovers first, still hand in hand, and after them Mr. Coningsby, still anxiously watching Nancy, and thinking as fast as he could that he must keep in touch with her, whatever happened. And after him again came Ralph and Stephen, distracted from their mutual hostility, but with all their strength ready and vigilant. The three great orders of grace and intellect and corporeal strength, in those immature servants of their separate degrees, gathered round the place where Sybil kneeled by Joanna, and the search within and the search without were joined. (p. 748)

Recommendation: Recommended, although neither is Williams at his strongest.


Charles Williams, Charles Williams Omnibus, Oxford City Press (Oxford: 2012).
Posted by Brandon at 6:08 PM