Saturday, March 28, 2020

Music on My Mind

The Petersens, "I Am the Man, Thomas". Probably the classic version of this old song is that of Ola Belle Reed.


If our mind should be dead like Lazarus, then our material flesh and nobler soul must approach Christ with a confession, like Martha and Mary, and ask for his help. He will stand by us and command the hardness that lies upon our memory to be removed, and he will cry out with the loud voice of the trumpet of the gospel: "Come out of the distractions of the world!" He will loose the cords of our sin so that we can move vigorously toward virtue.

[Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Volume 1, IVP Academic (Downers Grove, IL: 2013), p. 95.]

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Structure of the Summa

There are lots of ways to approach the structure of Aquinas's Summa Theologiae. For instance, I think it's helpful to recognize its exitus-reditus structure (creation comes out from God and returns to Him), and also to recognize that the theological order is roughly that of the Creed. But one should always return to Aquinas's specific comments about it. The Summa begins not with Part I, Question I, but with a comment about purpose and structure:

Because the doctor of Catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but also to instruct beginners (according to the Apostle: As unto little ones in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not meat), we purpose in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the Christian religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners. We have considered that students in this doctrine have not seldom been hampered by what they have found written by other authors, partly on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments, partly also because those things that are needful for them to know are not taught according to the order of the subject matter, but according as the plan of the book might require, or the occasion of the argument offer, partly, too, because frequent repetition brought weariness and confusion to the minds of readers.

Endeavouring to avoid these and other like faults, we shall try, by God's help, to set forth whatever is included in this sacred doctrine as briefly and clearly as the matter itself may allow.

Most of Aquinas's proemia are very business-like and do little more than divide up a topic, but occasionally, as here, he explains the structure of what he is doing. I think it's notable, and not fully appreciated, that Aquinas does not state that the purpose of the work is to instruct beginners (incipientes) but to hand down (tradere) whatever belongs to the Christian religion in such a way as is appropriate (congruit) to the education or cultivation (eruditio) of beginners. The purpose of the work is not to fit some conception of what a beginner is, but to teach the Christian faith, keeping beginners in mind. (I think a very common problem today is the failure ever to avoid the mistake that Aquinas avoids right here at the beginning. Catechesis, for instance, is not about teaching what you think high school students, say, can understand; it's about teaching the Christian faith in such a way as takes into account that you are teaching high school students. If you want to make the liturgy more accessible, the goal should be to provide the liturgy, taking advantage of whatever would make it more accessible, not changing the liturgy to fit what you think is accessible. And so forth. In my view, this is actually a general problem with how modern society approaches education in any field, and you find similar errors far beyond any religious question.) And Aquinas very admirably tells us exactly what this means: he's going to cut down on the ever-multiplying branches of arguments, he's going to follow the order that comes from the subject-matter itself, not discussions about it, and he's going to cut out repetition that creates loathing (fastidium -- the word is quite strong) and confusion in the audience. Thus the goal is to include what's relevant, briefly (breviter) and distinctly (dilucide), to the extent the material allows. You can learn a lot about teaching beginners from Aquinas.

He then, in Part I, Question I, discusses what is involved in sacred doctrine (sacra doctrina), the topic of the work, specifically what insofar as they will establish the limits of what is being discussed.

Part I, Question II gives the general structure of the work's content. The primary purpose of sacred doctrine is to hand down acquaintance with God (cognitio Dei) not just in Himself but insofar as He is the source and end of things (principium rerum et finis earum) and especially of the rational creature. Thus we get the basic structure of the Summa; as Freddoso translates it:

Therefore, since our intention is to lay out this doctrine, we will deal first with God (Part 1); second, with the rational creature’s movement toward God (Part 2); and third, with Christ, who, insofar as He is a man, is our way of going to God (Part 3).

With the Prima Secundae we get another proemium:

Since, as Damascene states (De Fide Orthod. ii. 12), man is said to be made to God's image, in so far as the image implies an intelligent being endowed with free-will and self-movement: now that we have treated of the exemplar, i.e., God, and of those things which came forth from the power of God in accordance with His will; it remains for us to treat of His image, i.e., man, inasmuch as he too is the principle of his actions, as having free-will and control of his actions.

There are several important things here that are often overlooked. Part II is specifically about what it means for human beings to be made to the image of God. Being made to God's image implies having a ruling power in one's own right (per se potestativus) that works intellectually (intellectuale) and by free choice (arbitrario liberum), or, in other words, it means being a source of one's own works (suorum operum principium). Aquinas is usually read as downplaying exemplar causation, but he explicitly takes the relation between the first and second parts to be describing God as our exemplar cause and human beings insofar as God is our exemplar. How is God our exemplar, how are we in His image? God out of His power creates the world so that it proceeds from Him; and we likewise have a power that makes us the source of works.

Since a power is defined by its end, Aquinas will then begin look at what the end of this power is (beatitude, union with God). He will then start looking at its exercise. Structure will be even more important for this part than the previous, and we get another major structural proemium at ST 2-1.6, in which he says that the point is to look at ways in which we achieve or fail to achieve this end; but practical knowledge (operativa scientia, knowledge having to do with our works), needs to examine particulars. What is required for moral examination (moralis consideratio) is to look at human acts both generally and in particular. This is the distinction the First Part of the Second Part (human action in general) and the Second Part of the Second Part (human action in particular); it's also why the Secunda Secundae is so much larger than the Prima Secundae -- looking at particulars is necessarily much more complicated than looking at general matters. The Prima Secundae will look at human action itself, ways we are acted upon that are relevant to our actions (passions), the sources of our actions either in the sense of what in us tends toward those actions (second nature like skill, virtue, and vice, with a focus on the latter two because they are more directly related to beatitude) or in the sense of sources outside ourselves that we need in order to act for our end of beatitude (law and grace).

That takes care of what in general is required to live as being in the image of God, but, again, we need to see particular. So what in particular do you have to do in order to act as the image of God (which, of course, is what we really need to know)? This brings us to one of the longest structural proemia in the Summa, and it is longer not because Aquinas is suddenly getting chatty but because he really does have to do more to explain why the book has the structure it does. Aquinas divides these particulars into two parts: particular virtues, which are common to all of us, and specific human states, which are different kinds of life. This is another thing that I think is often missed: only looking at the virtues gets us only a partial view of the particulars that are needed for moral life. We also need to look at our roles. I hadn't really thought of this before (and I am kicking myself for not recognizing it until writing this paragraph, because it is a point I have made in other contexts), but there is an old distinction between virtues and officia or offices that is quite clearly what St. Thomas has in mind here -- indeed, if you look at the Latin, when he actually talks about them, he relates status to officium and to gradus (rank), although he regards each of these as different. 'Officium' is often translated as 'duty', which is an OK translation if you understand by that a requirement for a role. One of the regular problems in modern virtue ethics, and it has been a problem since Hutcheson pointed out that Hume, the first major modern virtue ethicist, was guilty of it, is jumbling together virtues and offices. Everyone must be virtuous, but virtue does not and cannot express itself in the same way in everyone, because not everyone is living the same kind of life. Virtues we have in common have to be applied to our different places in life, and the tendency of virtue to particular kinds of actions in those contexts or roles or states of life is an officium. Some people are in charge, some are not; they need the same virtues but the requirements (duties or obligations, if you prefer) will be different. Some people are called to an active life, some to a contemplative life: same virtues, different offices expressing them due to different states of life. Some people are beginning in the virtuous life, some people are progressing in it, some people are virtuous; all the same virtue, but it's a sign of stupidity to demand the same things from each. In any case, you need to consider both virtues and officia, otherwise your moral examination is going to be flawed.

The second thing Aquinas takes into account is that when we look at moral particulars, there are several different ways to do it, and Christian theology in particular provides quite a few different ways to look at moral life. We can look at it in light of particular virtues, in light of particular vices, in light of particular gifts of the Spirit, in light of particular moral precepts (like the Ten Commandments), in light of the Beatitudes, etc. But, as Aquinas notes, if you treat all these individually you end up repeating yourself again and again, which, if you recall, is one of the things he explicitly said he was trying to avoid. So he says, he is going to go about things in the shorter and quicker way (compendiosior et expeditior), organizing it by virtue, and just adding the other things insofar as they relevant to each virtue. A major reason for doing this is that vices in particular are very unruly, and so whatever organization you pick, it needs to allow for the compendious and brief discussion of vices; but the most natural way to get the vices in order is to relate them to their opposed virtues. Then he concludes in his summing up:

Accordingly we may reduce the whole of moral matters to the consideration of the virtues, which themselves may be reduced to seven in number. Three of these are theological, and of these we must treat first, while the other four are the cardinal virtues, of which we shall treat afterwards (Question 47). Of the intellectual virtues there is one, prudence, which is included and numbered among the cardinal virtues. Art, however, does not pertain to moral science, which is concerned with things to be done, for art is right reason about things to be made, as stated above (I-II:57). The other three intellectual virtues, namely wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, agree, even in name, with some of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Therefore we shall consider them while considering the gifts corresponding to those virtues. The other moral virtues are all in some way reducible to the cardinal virtues, as was explained above (I-II:61:3). Hence in treating about each cardinal virtue we shall treat also of all the virtues which, in any way whatever, belong to that virtue, as also of the opposite vices. In this way no matter pertaining to morals will be overlooked.

Note the last sentence, which is the essential point here: Et sic nihil moralium erit praetermissum, and thus nothing of morals will be missed. I think one thing that people often fail to recognize is that Aquinas is very explicitly picking one way to look at the moral life out of many legitimate ones, and he is guided by one very specific purpose, namely that this is the best way to cover everything without repeating yourself in a way that makes things unnecessarily tiresome for beginners. This is an action with trade-offs; covering everything without repeating yourself, although valuable for some things, is not always the best way to discuss a matter. One thing I've noted before, for instance, is that Aquinas's way of handling things leads to people not recognizing just how important the Beatitudes are for Aquinas (they are indeed in some sense more important than the virtues), because structurally they just get added to discussions of virtues and people are tempted to treat those discussions as mere appendices.

The real way to consider it is that moral life is like a tesseract, but we can only talk about it in slices or by projections. Different slice, different angle, and it can look very different despite being the same thing; different slices or projections are useful for different things. This means that you can go about discussing it different ways. You could talk about the moral life entirely in terms of the Beatitudes; this would have many advantages, including keeping the end directly in view. It's not the most straightforward way to talk about virtues and vices, since it would become difficult to keep track of how they all hold together, although you could in fact relate all virtues and vices to the Beatitudes. All of the other ways also have advantages and disadvantages. What you can't do -- at least without repeating yourself in a way that would quickly grow mind-numbing -- is cover the moral life completely by virtue and by vice and by Beatitude and by precept and by gift. The moral life is undeniably stunning in its infinite richness. What you don't want if you are trying to keep beginners in mind, however, is literally to stun them into blank-minded, eye-glazed educational comatoseness at the infinity of it. Since Aquinas has to cover the whole thing, he picks the one that's least likely to break the brains of beginners. Of course, even Aquinas's sketch of the virtue-projection of the moral life, one of his true claims to fame, is sometimes a bit mind-blowing. But there is more than one way to project that hypercube onto a flat surface; he is deliberately selecting one possible structure out of many, in order to achieve his specific purpose.

Part III of the Summa also has its structural proemium, of course:

Forasmuch as our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ, in order to "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21), as the angel announced, showed unto us in His own Person the way of truth, whereby we may attain to the bliss of eternal life by rising again, it is necessary, in order to complete the work of theology, that after considering the last end of human life, and the virtues and vices, there should follow the consideration of the Saviour of all, and of the benefits bestowed by Him on the human race.

I've been talking about features that Aquinas explicitly builds into his structure that have often missed, and there is an obvious one here, namely, one of the reasons why he has the huge double-epic Part II before Part III. Christ in His resurrection shows us the beatitude of undying life (beatitudinem immortalis vitae) and because of this, the last end of human life and virtues and vices naturally leads into the Christ and the benefits given by Him to humankind. In order to understand the beatitude Christ shows, you need to understand that human beings, as made to the image of God, are directed toward the ultimate end of beatitude, and in order to understand what good human beings receive from Christ, you have to understand what is good for human life (which we learn from seeing how the image of God is expressed in particular in the works of the virtues and vices). And this seems entirely right, and something that people often fail to grasp: our understanding of the good Christ has done for human beings is heavily limited by our understanding of what is good for human beings in the first place.

In any case, Aquinas's plan is to discuss first the mystery of the Incarnation, then the life of Christ as the Incarnate Word, then the sacraments as effects of the Incarnate Word, and no doubt ultimately to get to the ultimate benefits given to us by Christ -- heaven and salvation from hell and resurrection from the dead, as Reginald suggests in building the Supplement out of Aquinas's earlier writings. But, of course, he never finished and it was left incomplete. And so is all our good work on this mortal earth.


Intending to strengthen the human soul with the hope of eternal reward, Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain. There, He revealed to them the mystery of the Trinity, foretold the humiliation of His passion, and showed them, through His transfiguration, the glory of His future resurrection. The Law and the Prophets bore witness to Him in the apparition of Moses and Elias; the Father and the Holy Spirit bore witness also, manifest as a Voice and a Cloud. And truly the soul devoted to Him, now established in the truth and raised to the summit of virtue, could make Peter's words its own and exclaim with him: "Lord , it is good for us to be here"--here, that is, in the peace and joy of seeing Your face; here, where the spirit, in a state of heavenly and ecstatic rapture, can hear secret words that man may not repeat.

Bonaventure, The Tree of Life 1.12.

[Bonaventure, The Works of Bonaventure I: Mystical Opuscula, José de Vinck, tr., Martino Publishing (Mansfield Centre, CT: 2016), p. 111.]

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Lent XVI

And besides, Moses and Elijah stood at Jesus' side, and spake with one another of His departure, which He was about, it says, to accomplish at Jerusalem: by which is meant the mystery of the dispensation in the flesh; and of His precious suffering upon the cross. For it is also true that the law of Moses, and the word of the holy prophets, foreshewed the mystery of Christ: the one by types and shadows, painting it, so to speak, as in a picture; while the rest in manifold ways declared beforehand, both that in due time He would appear in our likeness, and for the salvation and life of us all, consent to suffer death upon the tree. The standing, therefore, of Moses and Elijah before Him, and their talking with one another, was a sort of representation, excellently displaying our Lord Jesus Christ, as having the law and the prophets for His body guard, as being the Lord of the law and the prophets, and as foreshown in them by those things which in mutual agreement they before proclaimed. For the words of the prophets are not at variance with the teachings of the law. And this I imagine was what Moses the most priestly and Elijah the most distinguished of the prophets were talking of with one another.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Sermon 51.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Caramuel on Signification

'Baroque Scholasticism', sometimes 'second scholasticism', is the name generally given to the brief resurgence of scholastic thought in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the way that the history of philosophy is usually presented, this is treated as the period when scholasticism was collapsing, but this is not really very accurate; scholastic forms of philosophy were actually doing very well. There was an immense amount of creativity, continuing scholastic methods but also confronting new discoveries and ideas. But this creativity was itself perhaps the limitation of most of its major forms; massive creativity in philosophy involves a lot of improvising, and it is very difficult to study Baroque scholastics because, for instance, they will use words in new and unusual ways and propose ideas that they never have time to develop fully. This is not a sustainable way to do philosophy. At the same time, studying them is sometimes very interesting precisely because of this creativity.

Of all the Baroque Scholastics, one of the most creative was Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz (1606-1682). A child prodigy with an extraordinary talent for languages, he quickly rose to everyone's attention and, after receiving his doctorate in theology, was moved around from place to place as needed until he died as Bishop of Vigevano in Italy. His literary output was truly vast, with over two hundred books, many of them not small, and covering practically every field of human knowledge. He was impressively polymathic even in an age of polymaths, and he liked to try out new ideas.

One of his many interesting proposals is found in his philosophical discussions of signification. He holds that signification is moral transubstantiation. Physical or natural transubstantation, of course, is found in the sacrament of the Eucharist, when the presence of Christ destroys the substance of bread while maintaining its accidents. Words gain meaning by moral transubstantiation. Thus the word 'anthropos' is just a vibration in the air (or lines on a page, if we are talking about written words). Man is a rational animal. So what does one have to do with the other? Just that the Greeks agreed that 'anthropos' should act in the context of common language just as if it were man; 'anthropos' is virtually man, not air, and thus it was transubstantiated virtually or morally: under the appearances of this vibration of the air is (morally, not physically) a different substance, man. Human beings by imposing meanings convert vibrations of air into appearances of other substances, so that for the purposes of language they no longer are air but those other substances, and thereby the appearances of this vibration of air become a sign of those substances. This is signification. To be more exact, people by agreement morally transubstantiate things into signs so that the change, the transubstantiation itself (what Caramuel calls formal transubstantiation as opposed to efficient transubstantiation), is what we call signification.

Obviously it does not matter whether we are talking vibrations of air, lines on a page, gestures, or anything else. This leads Caramuel to make a break with a common view, going back to Aristotle, that written words are in some way signs of spoken words which are in some way signs of concepts. If signification is moral transubstantiation, it will happen the same way regardless of which of these hosts we are talking about. The lines making up the word 'anthropos', referring to a man, will be morally transubstantiated not into the substance of air (which is the spoken word) but into the substance of man. Of course nothing stops us from using 'anthropos' to mean only the sound, since moral transubstantiation occurs by convention, but there is no requirement that the writing have any connection to spoken language. Similarly, if we take some other kind of sign, like the cross, we will get the same story. This, of course, has significant theological consequences. Why do Catholics adore the cross? Well, what is the cross here? It's not as if a crucifix on the wall or a cross on a chain is the True Cross itself; it's just a vertical bar crossing a horizontal bar. What is really being done is that the cross is being morally transubstantiated so that is an appearance not of two bars but of Christ, who is to be adored. This is in fact the only reason why one would adore the True Cross itself, for that matter. And likewise, when we use words like 'God', 'angel', these are for the mind verbal appearances of God, angels, etc. The name of God is virtually God.

It's important to grasp, of course, that moral or virtual or significative transubstantiation is not natural or physical transubstantiation; as the names imply, moral transubstantiation is a matter of will, natural transubstantiation a matter of nature. Human beings cannot do natural transubstantiation; that could only be done by a cause that makes things have the natures that they do, which is not true of our wills. The word 'Deus' does not have a divine nature; its nature remains a vibration of air. But Caramuel argues that there is an analogy between the realm of the will and the realm of nature. The vibration of air can occur in the context of human action, and in that context, it virtually contains under the appearance of sound this or that substance.

There are several obscurities in this account, as there usually are in Baroque Scholasticism. For instance, the rejection of the Aristotelian hierarchy of signs is much more radical a move than Caramuel seems to suggest, and scholastic discussions of what happens moraliter or virtualiter are usually difficult enough without adding in the extra complication of how this can virtually cease to be this substance and become that substance. But it's an interesting line of thought.

Echoing on the Music of Glorious Gabriel

Feast of the Annunciation
by Christina Rossetti

Whereto shall we liken this Blessed Mary Virgin,
Faithful shoot from Jesse's root graciously emerging?
Lily we might call her, but Christ alone is white;
Rose delicious, but that Jesus is the one Delight;
Flower of women, but her Firstborn is mankind's one flower:
He the Sun lights up all moons thro' their radiant hour.
'Blessed among women, highly favoured,' thus
Glorious Gabriel hailed her, teaching words to us:
Whom devoutly copying we too cry 'All hail!'
Echoing on the music of glorious Gabriel.

Lent XV

Nothing then is more blessed than the apostles, and especially the three, who even in the cloud were counted worthy to be under the same roof with the Lord.

But if we will, we also shall behold Christ, not as they then on the mount, but in far greater brightness. For not thus shall He come hereafter. For whereas then, to spare His disciples, He discovered so much only of His brightness as they were able to bear; hereafter He shall come in the very glory of the Father, not with Moses and Elias only, but with the infinite host of the angels, with the archangels, with the cherubim, with those infinite tribes, not having a cloud over His head, but even heaven itself being folded up.

John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew 56.7.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Devil's Verse

'The devil's verse' is a name you sometimes find popularly given to a famous palindrome:

In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni.

Sometimes you find it in a slight variation,

In girum imus nocte, ecce! et consumimur igni.

'Girus' is not a common Latin word; it's generally read as the Latinization of a Greek word, and if so it means 'circle' or 'ring'. Thus the translation would be, "Into the circle we go by night and are devoured by fire." The popular name perhaps arises from the sinister sound of it, but the saying is also often associated with moths circling a flame, which is what Augustus De Morgan explicitly had in mind when he applied to would-be circle-squarers in A Budget of Paradoxes:

The feeling which tempts persons to this problem is that which, in romance, made it impossible for a knight to pass a castle which belonged to a giant or an enchanter. I once gave a lecture on the subject: a gentleman who was introduced to it by what I said remarked, loud enough to be heard by all around, 'Only prove to me that it is impossible, and I will set about it this very evening.'

This rinderpest of geometry cannot be cured, when once it has seated itself in the system : all that can be done is to apply what the learned call prophylactics to those who are yet sound. When once the virus gets into the brain, the victim goes round the flame, like a moth, first one way and then the other, beginning again where he ended, and ending where he begun: thus verifying the old line

In girum imus nocte, ecce! et consumimur igni.

'Rinderpest' is also called cattle plague or steppe morain. It was a brutally nasty viral disease affecting the group of animals called 'even-toed ungulates', which includes cows, buffalos, giraffes, deer, and warthogs; in some populations fatality approached 100%. A vaccine was eventually developed in the twentieth century, well after De Morgan's comment. There are no known cases of rinderpest currently in the world, and have not been since 2001, due to a sustained half-century long eradication campaign; if this holds, it and smallpox are the only viral diseases that have ever been eradicated in the wild by human effort.

Lent XIV

Just as in the Baptism, where the mystery of the first regeneration was proclaimed, the operation of the whole Trinity was made manifest, because the Son Incarnate was there, the Holy Ghost appeared under the form of a dove, and the Father made Himself known in the voice; so also in the transfiguration, which is the mystery of the second regeneration, the whole Trinity appears—the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud; for just as in baptism He confers innocence, signified by the simplicity of the dove, so in the resurrection will He give His elect the clarity of glory and refreshment from all sorts of evil, which are signified by the bright cloud.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.45.4ad2.

Monday, March 23, 2020


The miracles worked by Christ were arguments for the faith which He taught. Now, by the power of His Godhead He was to rescue those who would believe in Him, from the power of the demons; according to John 12:31: "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out." Consequently it was fitting that, among other miracles, He should also deliver those who were obsessed by demons.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.44.1.

Sunday, March 22, 2020


As medical issues have become more salient, I've seen a lot more of one of the most dangerous equivocations, the conflation of 'triage' in the loose sense of 'a system for allocating medical treatment' and 'triage' in the strict and proper sense of 'the system of allocating medical treatment wholly on the basis of present medical need'. The latter is a normative and justificatory concept; if something is triage in this sense, it is justified by actually identified necessity, and there is no need for any further justification beyond that. That was the whole point when Larrey started the triage revolution. No longer would medical decisions be made on the basis of evaluating patient's lives or value to society; the one consideration became, "Can this person in need be healed, and what's required to do it?" No longer would some be given special preference over others; the one consideration became, "Does this person need help more urgently than that one?" Faced with a footsoldier and a general, if the general's condition could wait and the footsoldier's couldn't, the footsoldier got the preference, simply because of that. Let politicians play politics with people's lives, weighing them and prioritizing them according to abstract schemes of preferability; the doctors did medicine. There was a rectification of names and everyone benefited.

However, as is unfortunately common with ethical terms in the modern era, it is increasingly common for people advocating their own dubious approaches to allocating medical treatment to give those approaches cover by also calling them 'triage'. 'Triage' in this loose sense does not justify anything; but, of course, that's the sophistry of it -- by calling your scheme of distribution 'triage', even if it is entirely antithetical to triage itself, you can pretend that you require no further justification. You can pretend, as some Italian doctors recently have, that scarcity of resources means you can deny the elderly medicine that can heal them, medicine that they might need more than a younger person with a stronger immune system, because it's a 'triage situation'. It's as morally odious as claiming that it's OK for police to go into the bank with guns blazing because it's a 'hostage negotiation'. The situation may be an emergency, but the proposed solution is neither necessary nor even appropriate for that situation.

In any case, here are some comments I made in 2012 in response to some similar sophistry.


The entire point of triage is that only need is considered. Triage systems were originally developed in a military context when field doctors started giving medical treatment not on the basis of rank but on the basis of need, as determined by purely medical criteria. This is what genuine triage is: it is a system, operating under a scarcity of resources significant enough to require careful discrimination of who actually receives those resources (most clearly in emergency or disaster, but resources do not necessarily have to be anywhere near that scarce to become an issue), where distribution of those resources is done purely on the basis of actual medical need according to established principles that only consider medical issues. Remember, it has always been the case that doctors have had to make hard choices based on scarce resources. Actual triage systems only developed when the principles governing those choices were no longer official rank, social status, subjective assessment, or any other nonmedical criterion. We can call those other resource-management systems 'triage' in a loose sense, but they are radically different for moral purposes, and cannot all be lumped together as if the justification for one were justification for another. Just as genuine triage management cannot, by its nature, be indiscriminate in the use of medical resources, so it cannot, by its nature, take into account anything other than medical need. And precisely the reason why triage is an important ethical as well as medical concept is that it operates in conditions of necessity according to principles wholly geared to dealing with the necessity; it's the medical necessity, and the proportion of means to the end of dealing with that particular necessity, that justifies triage decisions.

Make Friends with the Doctor

Make friends with the doctor, for he is essential to you;
God has also established him in his profession.
From God the doctor has wisdom,
and from the king he receives sustenance.
Knowledge makes the doctor distinguished,
and gives access to those in authority.
God makes the earth yield healing herbs
which the prudent should not neglect;
Was not the water sweetened by a twig,
so that all might learn his power?
He endows people with knowledge,
to glory in his mighty works,
Through which the doctor eases pain,
and the druggist prepares his medicines.
Thus God’s work continues without cease
in its efficacy on the surface of the earth.

My son, when you are ill, do not delay,
but pray to God, for it is he who heals.
Flee wickedness and purify your hands;
cleanse your heart of every sin.
Offer your sweet-smelling oblation and memorial,
a generous offering according to your means.
Then give the doctor his place
lest he leave; you need him too,
For there are times when recovery is in his hands.
He too prays to God
That his diagnosis may be correct
and his treatment bring about a cure.

Sirach 38:1-14 (NABRE)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Higher Engagements

Providence has fitted mankind for the higher engagements which they are sometimes obliged to fulfil; and it is in the midst of such engagements that they are most likely to acquire or to preserve their virtues. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties, not in enjoying the repose of a pacific station; penetration and wisdom are the fruits of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure; ardour and generosity are the qualities of a mind roused and animated in the conduct of scenes that engage the heart, not the gifts of reflection or knowledge. The mere intermission of national and political efforts is, notwithstanding, sometimes mistaken for public good; and there is no mistake more likely to foster the vices, or to flatter the weakness, of feeble and interested men.

Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Part VI, Section IV.

Music on My Mind

Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler". Kenny Rogers died in hospice care yesterday at the age of eighty-one. He had 39 studio albums and twenty-one singles that reached number one on the country music charts.

Lent XII

He is the Lord who alone does wondrous deeds; who changes material substances, multiplies the loaves, walks on the waters and calms the waves; who restrains the demons and drives them to flight; who cures the sick, cleanses the lepers, and raises the dead; who makes the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk; who restores sensation and motion to the palsied and the withered.

Our sinful conscience cries out to Him, now with the faithful leper: "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean"; now with the centurion: "Lord, my servant is lying sick in the house, paralyzed, and is grievously afflicted"; again, with the woman of Canaan: "Have pity on me, O Lord, Son of David"; with the woman suffering from hemorrhage: "If I touch but His cloak, I shall be saved"; and with Mary and Martha: "Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick."

Bonaventure, The Tree of Life 1.11.

[Bonaventure, The Works of Bonaventure I: Mystical Opuscula, José de Vinck, tr., Martino Publishing (Mansfield Centre, CT: 2016), pp. 110-111.]

Friday, March 20, 2020

Dashed Off V

This ends the notebook that was finished in December 2018. A fair amount about Boole's logic and Mill's philosophy of religion here.

the felt experience of something qua something, and of another qua another
-- the experience of being one with something that is another

The modernist error, Self-identification is identity, is a variant of a more general error, Freedom is self-creation.

It is an error to conflate what someone deserves of society and what someone deserves simply; the former depends on the responsibilities of society.

multitudo as transcendental
explicitly: De spir. creat. 8.15; In III Phys 8.352; In III Phys 12.394; ST 1.30.3; ST 1.50.3
compare also: I Sent 24.1.3; CT 1.72; Super De Trin. 4.1ad3

whole & part : one :: act & potency : being

res : aliquid :: ens : unum
res : aliquid :: self: other

'Fibonacci' as a name was invented by the French historian Guillaume Libri in 1838; his real name was Leonardo, often Leonardo Pisano.

Dimitri Gutas, "Greek Thought, Arabic Culture"
-- Note that the usual House of Wisdom stories are myths, but they also underplay the massiveness of the Abbasid translation movement, which was not confined to any particular institution; the bayt al-hikma seem to have had a narrow function as a minor part of this, and the term likely is a generic term for any sort of state library, and always associated with Persian history and poetry.

Fuller's inner morality of law requires recognizing the distinction between aspiration and minimal duty. (Cp. Nicholson)
-- Note also that Fuller is not talking about *particular* laws.
What Fuller opposes is the notion that law is a "one-way projection of power downward" rather than a cooperative activity that requires giving people something they can abide by.

Sometimes we argue not for a further end but just because we can't not argue the point.

translations of ∃x(Fx)
There is at least one x that is F.
There at least is an x that is F.
Something that is x is an F.
Posit an x that is F.

Civilization is built out of layers and layers.

In impetratory prayers there is a difference between praying for what you'd like and praying for what you want.

the relation between nationalization of religious life and iconoclasm (as states intrude in the prerogative of churches they tend toward different versions of iconoclasm)

In analysis of argument, order of cogency is more important than cogency itself; that is, it's "this could be persuasive given that" that matters most.

The spread of vaccination through Japan in 1849 suggests that a key element in the later swift modernization of Japan was the existence of already developed efficient networks of intellectuals.

association of text with picture
(1) by immersion
(2) by caption
(3) by illustration

Mill is in a sense right that the assent of others is "second-hand evidence" but fails to do justice to the fact that it is nonetheless evidence. Every kind of second-hand evidence is first-hand evidence of a more nuanced thesis.

Boole takes all the uses of language in reasoning to be reducible to (1) identifications (2) compositions and resolutions (3) equations.

Boole's uninterpretables are uninterpretable in the sense that any interpretation (if possible) would necessarily have to go beyond the vocabulary of classes. In the step x-2xy+y=0, x and y are class designators; xy would normally be a class designator, but 2xy cannot be a class designator in the same sense. Boole's logic handles class relations by shifting in and out of the system of classes itself, as recognized by the logic.

2xy should be seen as a bookkeeping comment, or a pile of miscellaneous information about classes that we need to track for the action we are in the midst of performing.

x^2=x is not for Boole a general rule for reasoning but a general rule for classes/terms.

liberality : magnificence :: chastity : virginity

eutrapelia as a guardianship of meaningfulness

"Whatever opinion a person may adopt on any subject that admits of controversy, his assurance if he be a cautious thinker cannot be complete unless he is able to account for the existence of the opposite opinion." Mill
"As the human intellect though weak is not essentially perverted, there is a certain presumption of the truth of any opinion held by many human minds, requiring to be rebutted by assigning some other real or possible cause for its prevalence."

-- Look more closely at Mill's use of 'experience' in "Theism" -- it seems to expand or contract as he wishes. For instance, we have no more direct experience of force or matter qua permanent than of permanent mind, but the former get classed as 'experience' and the latter not.

Mill makes at least four mistakes in his criticism of consensus gentium (despite rightly recognizing its structure):
(1) He falsely assumes that the Intuitionist, as such, requires that the mind be made by God. The reason for this seems to be overassimilating all intuitionists to Descartes.
(2) He falsely slanders the religion of "barbarous tribes", completely failing to regard the beauties, excellences, and even rationalities that can be found there.
(3) He falsely assumes the Intuitionist would agree that evidence for something contrasts with an internal tendency for mind, such that having the one can immediately exclude the other.
(4) He overshoots in his conclusion, claiming the argument cannot establish an inherent tendency of mind *even as a hypothesis*, solely on the gorund of an unproven lack of such tendency in some. (It's as if one denied a natural ability to count large numbers on the ground that some people only count to three or so.)

Note that Mill's rejection of marks of moral design is based on his assumption that it would have to consist entirely of moral ends in the sense of good for sentient creatures; the stabilities of things are excluded explicitly; and there is no sense of suitabilities for moral life beyond the very limited one he allows (of our being able to feel pleasure). It's a very utilitarian line put forward to block the idea that we can be sure God is a utilitarian, but even on such terms the scope of his argument is too narrow for his conclusions.

There is a perfectly straightforward sense in which health is natural to an organism even if it is always unhealthy.

Mill is right that anything of natural theology that succeeds, even if only in probabilities and analogies, is capable of strengthening the case for revelation: one has phenomena of apparent revelation, and then any indications and suggestions, however slight, can give support or clarification to the idea that it may be more than merely apparent. And this is why, incidentally, it is a mistake to ignore everything less than proof (although Aquinas is right that one should not treat such things as if they were proofs).

Mill's argument against internal evidences for revelation seems to fit quite poorly with the fact that he is already committed by his utilitarianism to progress in morality, and thus to change in moral standards. The latter makes it possible to consider (e.g.) possible cases of extraordinary anticipation or leaps-ahead, beyond a certain cultural level.

NB that Mill does not know there are nonreductive nomological accounts of what a miracle would be, in terms of a higher law, as we see in (e.g.) Malebranche. (But how could he have missed it in Butler? Perhaps he is simply leaving out the moral providence points that he rejects; but as the miracle could itself be treated as evidence of such a thing, this is problematic.) He's aware of similar accounts, but seems to regard them as ad hoc, rather than (as could be argued) one of the positions contributing historically to the spread of the idea that all is under law; and he immediately treats it as reductive. There is no sense that you could have laws concerned with antecedents that are themselves sporadic and rare. It is, regardless of whether the nomological accounts work, very certainly true that few if any alleged miracles are wholly sui generis in their features or circumstances. We get recurrences here as in other cases where things recur conditionally on a large number of things coming together. And Mill's account of laws can't rule out laws of this sort, by its very nature.
-- Note also the rejection of a reductive nomological account like Babbage's.
-- Mill's argument seems to be based on the assumption that 'miracle involving and depending on means' is an oxymoron, despite the great variety of views that take it to be perfectly intelligible.

Mill's character-of-Christ argument is effectively an internal-evidence-of-revelation argument, and his hopeful outlook a religious-tendency-of-mind argument, despite the fact that he seems not to recognize this.

"The idea of Providence, as affirmation of the divine governance of the world, is the opposite of the idea of Revolution, aimed at achieving its complete human governance." Del Noce

Where the festive is not embraced, the sordid reigns.

The root notion for 'axiom' is a kind of worthiness (cp. 'dignitas').

three elements of the modernist conflation of identity and self-identification
(1) confusion of declarative and performative
(2) confusion of membership and assignment to a class
(3) confusion of that which is classified with artifacts of classification

Academic theology's weird obsession with 'eschatological fulfillment', which pervades so much of the academic work of the twentieth century, seems to be a desperate attempt to mimic talk about the proletarian revolution.

Ayn Rand's atheism is exactly the same as that espoused by Karl Marx in the 1844 manuscripts.

'is' as rotated 'ought'

When Boole derives the principle of noncontradiction from his fundamental law of thought, he doesn't explain why the latter should be regarded as more fundamental -- why, for instance, the success of x^2=x should not be explained by its derivability from (representation of) noncontradiction.

Boole gets his indefinite class by representation nondistrubtion: All men are mortal = All men are some mortals, thus (y=vx). But E propositions are still converted to A.

The linguistic turn should have led to a greater recognition of the importance of authority for keeping argument intelligible -- even the most abstract metaphysicians or rigorous scientists in communicating their results depend on the standards established by the many and the wise for vocabulary and the like -- but it seems to have been a series of missed opportunities.

four kinds of mire
bog: peaty ombrotrophic
fen: peaty minerotrophic
marsh: herbaceous
swamp: woody (forest-canopy)

Were doxastic voluntarism false, it would be surprising that people are so bossy about belief.

the natural family as "the noble symbol and, through Christ, the compendium, as it were, of theocratic society" (Rosmini)

dichotomy x+(1-x)=1

Can one modalize Boole by taking ≤0 to be 'impossible' and ≥1 to be necessary?
- the uninterpretability of terms in process complicates things
- M is a problem, although D works, i.e., (x≥1) → (x>0).

"...the mind assumes the existence of a universe not a priori as a fact independent of experience, but either a posteriori as a deduction from experience, or hypothetically as a foundation of the possibility of assertive reasoning." Boole

"as we are baptized, so also do we believe; as we believe, so also do we glory." Basil Ep. 159
"that which is different according to its nature would not share the same honors."

pantokrator → omnitenens

As we cannot adore the Father and the Son unless our adoration is given by God, the Holy Spirit's being co-adored with the Father and the Son is a divine act the Holy Spirit shares with the Father and the Son.

"Every city, even the best governed, teems with tumult and indescribable disturbances that no one could abide after having been once guided by wisdom." Philo

the modal logic of strong and weak plausibility (M fails but D works)

The doctrine of the resurrection of the body requires that the body be taken seriously in its own right, and not be treated as a mere means; its being intrinsically a means cannot be taken as a license for treating it as existing only to be malleable to the will.

As certainty of its execution increases, imperative approaches assertion.

Faith and hope tend toward the Trinity as object; charity tends from the Trinity as the Trinity's expression in us.

"That which comes through reason in the form of utterance is uncertain, since it is dual, but the contemplation of the Existent without speech in the soul alone is firmly secured, because it arises in accordance with the Indivisible Monad." Philo

"The divine legislation is then in a manner a unified creature, which one must examine carefully through and through with utter precision and clarity, neither destroying its harmony nor breaking its unity." Philo

Story is more fundamental than language.

language as a means of story-building

Boole takes propositions to apply to moments of time or time-slices.

Lent XI

During the course of the wedding the wine ran out. The wine is interior devotion, about which Psalm 103:15 says: "Wine cheers the human heart." And Matthew 9:17 reads: "No one places new wine in old wineskins." This wine runs out when men and women become arid and lacking in devotion, as the holy soul says in Psalm 142:6: "My soul is like earth without water in your regard."-- But at the petition of the Virgin who commiserates with those in misery, God filled the water jars with the water of compunction, which is changed into the sweetness of devotion. Thus it is said in Exodus 15:25 that the waters of Meribah "were changed into sweet water."

Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Karris, ed. and tr. Franciscan Institute Publications (Saint Bonaventure, NY: 2007) p. 147.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Lent X

When a wedding feast is held (and this is clearly done with all reverence), the mother of the Savior is there, and he himself is invited and comes with his disciples, though he comes to work miracles rather than to feast with them, and even more to sanctify the very beginning of human birth -- I mean so far as it pertains to the flesh. It was fitting for the one who was recapitulating human nature itself and refashioning the whole of it in a better condition not only to impart his blessing to those already called into existence but also to prepare his grace for those not yet born and to make holy their entrance into existence.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Volume 1, IVP Academic (Downers Grove, IL: 2013), p. 90

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Evening Note for Wednesday, March 18

Thought for the Evening: Scruton on Corporate Persons

In doing the tedious work of going through tweets to find any interesting links and papers, I happened to come across a tweet radically misrepresenting Roger Scruton's position on corporate personality. Since his paper "Corporate Persons" (with John Finnis, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 63 (1989), pp. 239-274) is one of his more important non-aesthetic works, I thought I would say a few things about this important argument.

Scruton notes that we have good reason to distinguish between orderly group behavior arising wholly from individual interactions (like the outcome of a market) and orderly group behavior involving some sort of unified deliberation (like the work of a committee). This he takes to be related to the historical concept of the corporate person. "Committees, as a rule, are corporate persons; markets are not, and cannot be" (p. 240). Scruton thinks that corporate personhood is in fact a fundamental concept, one that is necessary for an adequate account of responsibility and action, and even goes so far as to argue that human persons get their own personality in part from corporate persons.

Most of the work done on corporate personality at the time of Scruton's paper (and, indeed, this is still to some extent true) is concerned with the theory of the firm, i.e., the business corporation. Most of this has tended to be concerned with arguing that the corporate personality of the firm is entirely a legal construct corresponding to no moral reality. Scruton doesn't think this is accurate, but he doesn't want to focus on the firm, because firms have two qualities (they exist for a specific purpose and they are constituted by contractual relationships) that could indeed be taken to suggest that they are purely fictions of convenience. This is not, however, true of corporate persons in general, and even most of those who argue against the corporate personality of the firm tend to assume mistakenly that if there are any corporate persons, they could only have these qualities found in the firm. When we look at other examples of corporate persons, we find that firms are not paradigmatic, and it actually makes a great deal of sense in this context to distinguish between those kinds of association that are built contractually and those that are not. A good example of the latter is a church, which cannot be wholly constituted by contractual relationships.

To cut a long story short, we should distinguish among associations between the voluntary, the involuntary and the non-voluntary; between the contractual and the non-contractual, and, within the contractual, between those constituted by a contract among their members, and those which contract with their members; between those with an independent purpose, those with an internal purpose (e.g. the Church), and those with no purpose at all; and, within all those, between the personal and the impersonal. (p. 245)

Corporate persons in general can deliberate, make decisions, act responsibly, have rights and duties, and more. Some are tempted to argue that a corporate person, whether a firm, a church, or a club, cannot be anything other than the members it has at a time; but this does not fit the actual phenomena as we find them, in which it is entirely intelligible for these corporations to remain the same even when gaining and losing members. In some cases, like the church, for instance, remaining the same while gaining new members is entirely the point, while it's in fact possible for a corporate person to continue to exist even though it has no members, as in the case of a vacant crown or see. One argument often put forward for the artificiality of the corporate person is that we have other ways of safeguarding continuity of action and the rights of associations, like the English law of trusts, but Scruton argues that even things like trusts only arise because recognizing personality and features associated with it is natural and reasonable to law -- even if the law does not call something like a trust a 'person', it can only fully develop the concept of a trust in light of personal characteristics. Thus Scruton argues, for instance, that it is absurd that English law was not explicitly recognizing the corporate personality of trade unions, which was contrary to the natural tendency of common law and could only result in injustices for those interacting with trade unions (whether as members or as opponents). It's this, actually, that seems to motivate the tendency to argue for some usable concept of 'legal personality' while simultaneously insisting that this is purely a fictive construct created for legal convenience.

Scruton considers a number of arguments that these legally recognized corporate persons cannot also have have moral responsibility like persons, but rejects them. The fundamental problem with them all is that they fail to recognize that corporate responsibility and individual responsibility are not an exact match; corporate entities can engage in action far beyond the capacity of any individual, and need to be recognized as doing so if justice is to be maintained. We are tempted to attribute the evil deeds done by (say) Nazi or Communist Parties to individuals, like Hitler or Stalin, but while these individuals no doubt bear blame for their participation, it needs to be recognized that the evil done in such cases is a corporate evil far beyond the capacity of any individual. Not even Hitler could do all of the evil that was done by the National Socialist Party; not even Stalin could all the of the evil that was done by the Communist Party. This is why we can say that such corporations themselves ought not to exist; their evil is not wholly attributable to the individuals that make them up.

When people really try to press the difference between natural and corporate persons, three properties in particular come up.

(1) The natural person endures as a unified animal.

(2) The natural person is a rational agent.

(3) The natural person is self-aware.

Scruton accepts that all three of these are points on which one could potentially distinguish natural and corporate persons; but the lack of these does not create any particular problems for the concept of corporate personhood. If any thing, they show that natural personhood and corporate personhood won't conflict -- there is, for instance, no corporate self-awareness that can interfere with individual self-awareness -- and that corporate personhood is the easier concept to grasp. None of the three features is easily given a plausible account; if you want to understand persons, you should be starting with corporate persons rather than natural ones, because they don't have the features that make natural persons so difficult to understand.

One could also argue that the ontological priority of individuals to institutions somehow counts against the real moral personality of corporate persons:

The thesis of the 'ontological priority' of the individual seems to involve two claims: First, if corporations have moral personality, it is only by virtue of the moral personality of their members; secondly, there could be individual persons without corporations, but no corporations without the individuals which act for them. (p. 254)

To this Scruton proposes (a bit more tentatively) his strongest claim: "we are natural persons only in that we are disposed by nature to become persons,and we become persons only by creating personal institutions and the ties of membership which join us to them" (p. 255). Human beings are natural embryonic persons; we must develop ourselves as persons; and we do this development as persons by fellowship with others, without which we could never be anything more than persons-in-embryo, a person-beginning-to-be. But part of how this self-development as a person works is learning to understand how corporate persons work; and this is especially true of corporate persons that are not contractually based, like the household or the church. We as natural persons grow up as persons within the tutelage and framework of the corporate persons of which we are a part, and learn our own duties and rights as persons from the duties and rights of these corporate persons. This is why, in fact, the firm is not the most basic kind of corporate person; it gives the illusion that corporate persons are things that are merely made, but there are corporate persons that contribute to making us.

A corporate person can have a rather robust moral personality even without any legal recognition -- Scruton gives as examples the Catholic Church in the Ukraine, the Polish union Solidarity, and the Jazz Section of the Musicians' Union in Czechoslovakia as three examples in which Communist states had unjustly denied legal personality to something that clearly had corporate personality. Churches are the most obvious examples of corporate entities with robust personalities; other corporate persons may have personality in greater or lesser degree.

And this ties into the reason why Scruton is particularly concerned about the matter at all -- totalitarianism is in great measure a war against corporate personality. This is something that Scruton derives particularly from his experience with the struggle against Communism in Eastern Europe. The greatest threat to dictatorship in Poland was the trade union, Solidarity, precisely because it had robust personal powers far beyond what could be accomplished by any individual. Every totalitarian regime systematically attempts to devour corporate persons, either destroying them entirely or leaving only a puppet-institution that is an expression of the regime itself. The farm must be centrally controlled; the firm must be nationalized so that it expresses only state policy; churches must be subordinate to state actions. Only one corporate person is left standing, the Party or the Regime.

But it is a monstrous person, no longer capable of moral conduct; a person which cannot take responsibility for its actions, and which can confess to its faults only as 'errors' imposed on it by misguided members, and never as its own actions, for which repentance and atonement are due. The moral personality of this all-encompassing Leviathan is impaired: unable to view others as ends in themselves, it lacks such a view of itself. It has set itself outside the moral realm, in a place of pure calculation, blameless only because it denies the possibility of blame. (pp. 263-264)

In contrast to this Frankenstein-monster of a corporate person, at which totalitarian regimes aim, a free society is one in which corporate persons are respected:

The true corporate person is as much bound to respect the autonomy of individuals as they are bound to respect the autonomy of groups. A world of corporate persons is a world of free association: it is the antithesis of collectivism, which imposes a world of conscription, where all association is centrally controlled, and all institutions are things. Collectivism involves a sustained war, not on the individual as such, but on the person, whether individual or corporate. (p. 264)

(Parts of this argument are not exclusive to Scruton. To take an example of someone with a very different politics than Scruton, the socialist Harold Laski also argued, in "The Personality of Associations", that reductionist accounts of corporate personality failed to fit the facts, and that recognition of corporate personality serves as a block against the tendency of the state to absorb everything else.)

The key thing that Scruton proposes as distinguishing institutions that are corporate persons from those that are not is the stable long-term view; that is to say, corporate persons are capable of binding together the living and the dead and the unborn, the past and the future. It is precisely this that makes the corporate person something that can contribute so much to "the ecology of rational agency" (p. 266).

Various Links of Interest

* Scott Edgar, Hermann Cohen, at the SEP

* Edward Feser, Keep It Simple, discusses William Lane Craig on divine simplicity.

* A tutorial on Greek Paleography and another on Latin Paleography, from the Vatican Library.

* Murray Rothbard's satire on Ayn Rand and the Objectivists, Mozart Was a Red.

* George Orwell's intended introduction to Animal Farm.

* Ewoks are the most tactically advanced fighting force in Star Wars.

* Kevin Durst, The Rational Question, criticizes attempts to argue on the basis of cognitive science that human beings are naturally irrational.

Currently Reading

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Hard to Be a God
Vladimir Solovyov, The Philosophical Principles of Integral Knowledge
Simon Winchester, The Map that Changed the World

Lent IX

The miracle indeed of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby He made the water into wine, is not marvellous to those who know that it was God's doing. For He who made wine on that day at the marriage feast, in those six water-pots, which He commanded to be filled with water, the self-same does this every year in vines. For even as that which the servants put into the water-pots was turned into wine by the doing of the Lord, so in like manner also is what the clouds pour forth changed into wine by the doing of the same Lord. But we do not wonder at the latter, because it happens every year: it has lost its marvellousness by its constant recurrence. And yet it suggests a greater consideration than that which was done in the water-pots. For who is there that considers the works of God, whereby this whole world is governed and regulated, who is not amazed and overwhelmed with miracles? If he considers the vigorous power of a single grain of any seed whatever, it is a mighty thing, it inspires him with awe. But since men, intent on a different matter, have lost the consideration of the works of God, by which they should daily praise Him as the Creator, God has, as it were, reserved to Himself the doing of certain extraordinary actions, that, by striking them with wonder, He might rouse men as from sleep to worship Him.

Augustine, Tractate 8 on the Gospel of John

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

At the Grocery Store

I had intended to make chili this week, but discovered that I had stupidly forgotten to get the beans for it when last I was in the store, so I headed off the grocery store this morning to see if beans were in stock. Going to the grocery store generally doesn't feel like an adventure, but it did today. It actually wasn't bad; there was a long line in front of the store, but that was because they were pacing entry. It went fairly quickly. Inside, shelves were scanty but not unstocked; it was pretty clear that they were prioritizing milk, bread, meat, rice, and beans in the stocking, so it wasn't actually difficult to find what I needed. And I was able to get more than few minor luxury items, since a lot of my self-indulgences are things that Americans tend not to like -- wedge of bleu cheese, check; can of sardines, check -- or things that Americans tend not to know about -- Lion bars from the international aisle, check. They were totally sold out of bacon, which I expected, and totally sold out of Braunschweiger, which I did not (I suppose there's a strong German strain in central Texas, but who would guess it was more popular than cotto salami?). The frozen dinner aisle was hardly touched, which was a little odd, but I suppose it's more cost-effective to make your own. Everyone was polite and patient -- more polite and patient than usual, actually -- and it didn't take any longer than it usually takes, although it's also the case that I didn't dawdle.


At that time, then, Jesus made of water wine, and both then and now He ceases not to change our weak and unstable wills. For there are, yes, there are men who in nothing differ from water, so cold, and weak, and unsettled. But let us bring those of such disposition to the Lord, that He may change their will to the quality of wine, so that they be no longer washy, but have body, and be the cause of gladness in themselves and others.

John Chrysostom, Homily 22 on the Gospel of John

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Look, a Word, a Deed, a Friend

“Let us tell Quiet Stories of Kind Eyes”
by Geoffrey Bache Smith

Let us tell quiet stories of kind eyes
And placid brows where peace and learning sate:
Of misty gardens under evening skies
Where four would walk of old, with steps sedate.

Let’s have no word of all the sweat and blood,
Of all the noise and strife and dust and smoke
(We who have seen Death surging like a flood,
Wave upon wave, that leaped and raced and broke).

Or let’s sit silently, we three together,
Around a wide hearth-fire that’s glowing red,
Giving no thought to all the stormy weather
That flies above the roof-tree overhead.

And he, the fourth, that lies all silently
In some far-distant and untended grave,
Under the shadow of a shattered tree,
Shall leave the company of the hapless brave,

And draw nigh unto us for memory’s sake,
Because a look, a word, a deed, a friend,
Are bound with cords that never a man may break,
Unto his heart for ever, until the end.


The is the fast of the First Born, the first of his victories.
Let us rejoice in his coming; for in fasting he has overcome.
Though he could have overcome by any means,
He revealed for us the strength hidden in fasting, Overcomer of All.
For by means of it a man can overcome that one who with fruit overcame Adam;
He became greedy and gobbled it. Blessed is the First-Born who encompassed
Our weakness with the wall of his great fasting.

Ephrem the Syrian, Hymn 1 on Fasting.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Fortnightly Book, March 15

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky were brothers who lived much of their lives in the Soviet Union; they became science fiction writers (although some of their work is only loosely science fiction), always skirting the line between what the censor would allow and what would get them seriously into trouble. I recently got hold of translations of three of the works, and these will be the next fortnightly books.

(1) Hard to Be a God (1964) is set in the far future. An operative from Earth is trying to blend into the society of a medieval-ish planet. He is supposed to be merely an observer, but when the kingdom he is observing begins to turn into a police state, having a higher-level perspective on what the society is going through makes it more and more difficult not to use his superior knowledge to intervene. As the title says, it's hard to be a god.

(2) Monday Begins on Saturday (1965) satirizes Soviet research institutions. Far in the Russian north is a hidden-away institution established for research into magic, and a young programmer becomes involved in its workings. He discovers that the institute is more than a little dysfunctional. Everyone has to work almost constantly (hence the title), and researches who do their work dishonestly grow hairy ears.

(3) The Doomed City was written in the seventies, but the Strugatsky brothers deliberately did not try to get it published then, because they did not think that they could get it past the Soviet censor; it was only published in 1989. A great city has been built by an unknown group of people, surrounded on all sides by impassability; they have brought to it volunteers from different societies and times for an experiment, but none of the volunteers know what the purpose of the experiment is. The book is generally considered a very dark and bitter novel, encapsulating all of the contrast between the promises of Soviet Communism and the reality of Soviet life, between the young idealist and the perpetual sell-out he seemingly always becomes.

Julian of Norwich, The Showings


Opening Passage:

This is a revelacion of love that Jhesu Christ, our endles blisse, made in xvi shewynges, of which the first is of his precious crownyng of thornes. And ther in was conteined and specified the blessed Trinitie with the incarnacion and the unithing betweene God and man's sowle with manie fayer schewynges and techynges of endelesse wisdom and love, iin which all the shewynges that foloweth be groundide and joyned. (p. 3)

Summary: On May 8, 1373, Julian, having prayed for union with Christ by recollection of the Passion, bodily sickness to endure with Christ, and three 'wounds' (contrition, compassion, and longing for God), became ill and began receiving a series of sixteen spiritual experiences in a variety of modes:

1. A vision of Christ's crown of thorns, by which she understood better the ways in which Christ's Passion was a divine act.
2. A vision of the the discoloration of Christ's face, through which she saw that we ultimately need nothing but God.
3. An awareness of God 'in a point', i.e., by pure intellectual understanding, showing that God's providence includes all things.
4. A vision of the scourging of Christ's body, indicating the efficacious plentifulness of Christ's blood.
5. A revelation that the devil is overcome by Christ's Passion.
6. A revelation in which the Lord thanks all of His servants, including Julian, for their service; the Lord's combination of 'homeliness', i.e., intimate approachability, and courtesy, i.e., lordly nobility, being a considerable part of the honor bestowed on those who, as part of His house and court, serve Him.
7. A series of alternating feelings of security and weariness, to indicate that it is necessary for us to experience both.
8. A vision of Christ's painful dying, which can only be understood properly by a combination of pained compassion and calm joy.
9. A brief conversation with Christ, in which Christ emphasizes that He is glad to suffer for us.
10. A vision of Christ's heart broken evenly in two, showing His love for us.
11. A spiritual awareness of the soul of the Holy Virgin as a model of humility and charity.
12. A vision of Christ glorified, saying, "I it am"(p. 39), indicating that He is "all sovereyn being" (p. 4).
13. A revelation in which she is made aware of her sins. It is in this context that we have the extensive discussion of how, despite the wrongness of sin, "alle shalle be wele, and alle shalle be wele, and all maner of thynge shalle be wele" (p. 39).
14. A revelation of God as the foundation of prayer, which will lead to the extended discussion of image of the Lord and the Servant.
15. An assurance that pain and sorrow will be taken away. In this context we have her most developed discussion of Christ as Mother, an idea found also in the Ancrene Wisse; a mother's work is most natural, most loving, and most true, thus making it "nerest, rediest, and suerest" (p. 94), a solid foundation for comfort.
16. A revelation on the following night of how the Trinity indwells the soul, so that the faithful will not be overcome.

While The Short Text primarily focuses on the content of the revelations and what Julian immediately or shortly thereafter learned from it, The Long Text, which I read, is the fruit of long years of reflection on the underlying themes, and makes especially clear that these revelations are not separate, and not understandable individually, but are a unity. Julian regularly uses one showing to help explain another. Even if you were to bracket the highly interesting and often excellent theological discussion, Julian's Showings is an extraordinary look at the nature of interpretation, showing how much depth of meaning you can find when you don't just take images and ideas to exhibit themselves individually, but read them together as mutually interpreting.

But, of course, the theology is precisely the greatest attraction of the work, and the source of much of its beauty, as its obviously intelligent author in simple but vigorous language, and with a poetic knack for parallelism and metaphor, draws on a long history of anchoritic spirituality to argue that Christ through His Passion provides a sure basis for life.

Favorite Passage:

And fro the tyme that it was shewde, I desyerde oftyn tymes to wytt in what was oure Lord's menyng. And xv yere after and mor I was answeryd in gostly understondyng, seyen thus, "Waht, woldest thou wytt thy Lordes menyng in this thyng? Wytt it wele, love was his menyng. Who shewyth it the? Love. Wherfore shewyth he it the? For love. Holde the therin, thou shalt wytt more in the same. But thou schalt nevyr witt therin other withoutyn ende." (p. 124)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Julian of Norwich, The Showings of Julian of Norwich, Baker, ed. Norton (New York: 2005).

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Lent XVI

It was becoming that Christ should wish to fast before His temptation....For since we are all in urgent need of strengthening ourselves against temptation...., by fasting before being tempted, He teaches us the need of fasting in order to equip ourselves against temptation. Hence the Apostle (2 Corinthians 6:5-7) reckons "fastings" together with the "armor of justice."

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.41.3

Friday, March 13, 2020

Ethics and Reasoning VI (Aristotle)

III. Virtue Ethics

As consequentialism treats consequence-based reasoning as the fundamental form of moral reasoning and deontology treats obligation-based reasoning as the fundamental form of moral reasoning, so virtue ethics treats character-based reasoning as the fundamental form of reasoning. If you think of actions as proceeding from a person according to a standard so as to have a result, the virtue ethicist takes us back to the source of the action, not immediately diving into the question of whether the action is right or wrong but first asking, "What kind of person should one be, living what kind of life?"

We run into an immediate problem in attempting to understand virtue ethics: it is a truly vast field. There are many kinds of virtue ethics, some of which are millenia old and have a vast number of branches. The vocabulary is sometimes not standardized because the general approach has been accepted across so many different cultures. In addition, virtue ethics by its nature is going to be concerned with details. One might even say that a fully developed virtue ethics is a pack or deck of different ethical systems. For instance, in Confucian ethics a central idea is that of the five constant virtues: benevolence/humaneness (ren), righteousness (yi), propriety (li), wisdom (zhi), and sincerity (xin). But each of these has an independent foundation and each works in its own way. They are integrated, but in a sense each is its own ethical system. To work in a virtue ethics is in a way to work in multiple ethical systems simultaneously, coordinating their results.

However, virtue ethics must in some way, somehow, give us an answer to the question of how we know what is good for a person to be. Thus while I do not know if it is the best way to classify different kind of virtue ethics, one way that seems to be common, or is at least implied by how many people talk about virtue ethics, is based on the question: How do we sort good character traits from bad character traits?

Perhaps there are other answers, but two major answers are easy to find. According to one answer, we sort good from bad character traits because we have something like a sensation, sentiment, or feeling that has this very function -- a moral sense, perhaps, or perhaps it is a normal feeling or sentiment that also under the right conditions gives us a distinction between good and bad with regard to persons. This form of virtue ethics is generally called sentimentalism. The most influential sentimentalist virtue ethicist in the Western world is David Hume (1711-1776). Hume held that our ability to recognize good and bad character traits is based on a specifically and distinctively moral feeling of approval and disapproval. When we see someone acting a certain way, we have this feeling of approval or disapproval of them for having the trait that leads them to act this way. The reason for this is what Hume calls sympathy (we feel with the people around us), so seeing someone do something brings us to have a sort of feeling-with what we think led to that action, which we either like or don't. If there are any victims, we might feel with them, as well. So, for instance, if we see someone kick a puppy, we would feel bad for the puppy and be repulsed by what we imagine someone must be in order to do that. By sympathy we also coordinate our feelings with each other and eventually develop general moral rules for judging actions. Other people argue that perhaps we develop morality from other kinds of feeling; one of the most popular today is the feeling of caring.

The dominant form of virtue ethics in the West, however, has given a different kind of answer to the question of how we sort good character traits from bad character traits: we do this by reasoning. There is no standard name for this group, but we could call it 'rationalism'. There are several major kinds of rationalist virtue ethics -- Platonic, Aristotelian, and Stoic are the most obvious and long-lasting -- but when people think of a virtue ethics of this kind, the version they almost always discuss is that of Aristotle, which we will discuss here.

While sometimes it gives us clear, definite families of approaches, this classification in terms of sentimentalism versus rationalism probably has a number of limitations. For instance, by our definition, Confucianism is certainly a form of virtue ethics. Is it sentimentalist or rationalist, or perhaps some other third kind? It's hard to say, and depends on how you see the virtues as related to the 'shoots', i.e., the first beginnings of them in human nature, how you understand those shoots, and how you understand moral cultivation. Now, Confucianism is one of the major forms of virtue ethics and a classification that leaves us unclear about how it is to be classified is not really acceptable for understanding virtue ethics as a whole. Certainly more work needs to be done on this. But the sentimentalist/rationalist distinction is still useful for our particular purposes here, namely, ethics and reasoning, because rationalist virtue ethics, by its nature, has a lot to say about reasoning.

With this we turn to Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC) and Aristotelian virtue ethics.

Aristotle Altemps Inv8575
Roman copy in marble of a Greek bronze bust of Aristotle by Lysippos, c. 330 BC, with modern alabaster mantle

Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics begins with the widely recognized truth that in skill, inquiry, and action generally, we aim at some good; the goods we aim at are various, but Aristotle argues that there is a something that, by nature, organizes them all. He calls it politics, the knowledge concerned with the good of the city or (alternatively) of civilized life. We are rational and social, and thus the kind of knowledge that deals with human good is the kind that concerns rational society. If we ask what is the human good that politics considers, Aristotle answers that it is eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is often translated as 'happiness', sometimes as 'flourishing', but the important thing to grasp is that it is not subjective like 'happiness' in the sense utilitarians mean -- it is not a mere feeling, or a satisfaction of preferences. It is the complete good of a human life, chosen by human beings for its own sake and not for something further; it is to live and do well, not in a specific and derivative way, like living and doing well as a flute-player, but living and doing well as a human being. Virtues are human excellences contributing to our having eudaimonia; they aim at this in some way. There are virtue ethicists who hold that virtue is all that is required for eudaimonia or something like it (this is a position usually associated with Stoic virtue ethics), but Aristotle doesn't think this is the case. In addition to virtue we need other things, like friends, resources, leisure. But our control over these things is sometimes limited; virtue, however, we may develop.

The kinds of virtues we develop Aristotle divides into two groups, intellectual virtues and moral virtues. Intellectual virtues are things like wisdom, knowledge, skill. Moral virtues are what we primarily mean by 'virtue'. Nobody has moral virtue by nature; nature gives us the ability to have moral virtue, but virtue has to be cultivated. It requires training; in a paradoxical way, you gain virtue by exercising the virtue. A virtue arises from doing the actions appropriate to the virtue until you have the virtue. Aristotle gives a famous definition of virtue that captures its essential features, as he sees them. Virtue is

(1) a habit (in the sense of an acquired disposition or kind of second nature)
(2) concerned with choice (the word could also mean either decision or preference),
(3) consisting in a mean (or middle) relative to us
(4) as determined by reason
(5) in the way someone with prudence (or practical thoughtfulness) would determine it.

A habit (hexis, habitus) is not quite a 'habit' in the usual sense of the term; the best way to think of it is as a kind of second nature. First nature, of course, is what you have from birth: by first nature, you breathe, sense, think, etc. But everyone over time has some things that they do so often that they become as if they were natural. People don't come out of the womb walking, speaking, reading, writing, driving, etc., but these are things they do so often that (eventually) it's almost as if they did. The ability to do these things is learned but, once fully learned, is stable and consistent; this acquired ability doesn't absolutely guarantee that you'll do the right things, but it does mean that doing the right things will come easily to you, and keep coming easily to you.

The most obvious kind of second nature (hexis) is skill, but since moral virtues aren't skills (at least in the ordinary sense), we need to identify the difference. Aristotle says that the distinguishing feature is that virtue is a hexis prohairetike. Prohairesis, the root word here, is difficult to translate. It is often translated as 'choice', which usually works very well as long as you don't make too many assumptions about what choice requires; Aristotle describes it as desire involving deliberation and as the cause of actions. Skills don't structure what you desire; they will structure your action if you desire something. Virtues, however, structure your very desiring. Virtuous people don't generally want to do bad things, intend to do bad things, or commit to do bad things; as if it were natural, they want, intend, and commit to do good things.

But we need a little more, because vices also structure desire in this way, just for bad actions. So what is it about virtue that makes it good-directed? The rest of the definition concerns this, and also gives us one of the most famous ideas in ethics: the doctrine of the mean, also known as the golden mean. The doctrine of the mean can be stated easily enough: Every virtue consists in a mean between at least one vice of excess and at least one vice of defect. (The 'at least' in each case is important because there are sometimes several ways to go to an extreme -- for instance, you could let anger guide you in the wrong situations, or let anger shape your actions in the wrong ways, etc., and there may be good reason to distinguish these sometimes.) 'Mean' technically means a kind of middle. We have to be careful here in a number of ways, though. First, while there is a sense in which virtue is a 'just right' point between 'too much' and 'too little', we have to understand this in a way that doesn't lose sight of the fact that virtue is concerned with choosing; thus courage is 'just right' not in the sense that the courageous person has just the right amount of fear (which might not be possible to control) but that for the courageous person, fear plays a role in their deliberate desire and action that is just right. Likewise, a coward is not a coward because he experiences too much fear, but because he chooses in a way that makes (in some way) fear play too big a role in his choices. It's tempting to think of the relation between mean and extreme as purely quantitative, but Aristotle thinks it's actually not about weighing things out exactly but about finding a sort of balance appropriate to a function.

Second, the mean is rarely if ever going to be the exact midpoint between two extremes. In most cases, the virtue is going to be 'farther' from one side than the other. This is often obvious. If people think of the opposite of courage, they almost always think immediately of cowardice, because cowardice (the vice of excess with regard to fear) is more obviously opposed to courage than recklessness (the vice of defect with regard to fear). Courage and recklessness, in fact, will often look alike; courage and cowardice rarely do, although courage will occasionally look like cowardice to reckless people, who because of their recklessness have an extreme perspective.

And third, Aristotle is clear that the mean is relative to us. You and I might both be courageous, but our forms of courage could be very different, just because we are very different people with very different backgrounds. Aristotle uses the analogy of the food eaten by Milo the Wrestler. Milo was one of the greatest athletes of Classical Greece, a man who obsessively devoted his life to greater and greater athletic achievements. Given that Milo is exercising everyday on an extraordinary scale, he needs to eat the right amount -- too little and he will not have the energy and nutrition he needs to be an athlete, too much and it will slow him down and impede his search for athletic excellence. But ordinary people who are not exercising on the scale that Milo is exercising should certainly not eat the amount of food that Milo eats when he is eating the right amount: it would be far too much for them. Likewise, the ordinary amount of food most people eat when they eat the right amount will not be enough to support Milo's athletic excellence. There's a right amount of food for everyone, but what it is depends on the person. So it is with virtue. Even if two people are both courageous, a courageous soldier on the battlefield and a courageous accountant in the office won't be doing exactly the same things, and they will have to find the mean with respect to fear that is appropriate for their situation. Excellence is destroyed by extremes, but exactly where it falls with respect to the extremes will be different in different cases.

Sometimes you find the argument that the doctrine of the mean is trivial. This is gravely mistaken; the doctrine of the mean is one of the most revolutionary ideas in ethics. While apparently simple in itself, it has extensive ramifications. Just a few of them:

(1) With the doctrine of the mean you can prove that there are virtues and vices for which we have no adequate vocabulary. This makes us less likely to overlook them just because we don't have common words for them. Even if you didn't have a term for the vice of recklessness, you could still figure out in general terms what the vice of recklessness would have to be, because there has to be a vice of defect to oppose both courage and cowardice: a vice in which you do not let fear play enough of a role in your decisions. Since one of the consistent problems we face in ethical reasoning is the limitation of our vocabulary in making ethical distinctions, this is a significant advantage.

(2) We often assume that virtue has one opposing vice. So, for instance, we will assume that the opposite of courage is cowardice. That is true, but the doctrine of the mean tells us that virtue has at least two opposites. If you assume that cowardice is the only opposite of courage, you will inevitably confuse courage and recklessness.

(3) It follows from the doctrine of the mean that the fact that you are not tempted by a vice does not mean that you are virtuous. It may, but it could also mean that you have the other vice. You might not be a coward, but this could be because you are at the opposite extreme, the opposite kind of bad. Sometimes we are saved from having a vice because we have the opposite vice. People are tempted to show that they are virtuous (or at least tending toward it) by listing off vices they don't have; but the doctrine of the mean proves that this will not necessarily work, because you might be vicious in the opposite direction. You need to avoid both opposing extremes. It takes no great experience of human beings to recognize that this will often change how people even go about their attempts to be good.

(4) In a similar way, it follows directly from the doctrine of the mean that it is impossible to have all vices, because vices are not only opposed by virtues but also by other vices.

Aristotle's virtue ethics involves much more than the doctrine of the mean; but the doctrine of the mean radically affects how we reason about virtue and vice, and affects every part of moral life.

There are probably many ways in which you could identify some kind of mean, but Aristotle is clear that the mean relevant to virtue must be determined by reason. If we think of something like a skill, every skill aims at some kind of good, a well-doing, which depends on the kind of task appropriate to that skill. We could think of being human as also involving a kind of task like this, one that is distinctive to human beings. Living is certainly in some sense a task of a human being, but this is something we share even with plants; sensation is also a sort of task, but we share that with other animals. The task that defines being human will have to be a rational task, one expressing reason; so the good of being human, human excellence, will have to be defined with respect to this task expressive of reason, as the excellence of a harpist is defined with respect to harping. The activity of humaning, we might say, is an activity of reason; excellence in humaning is a matter of doing this well. But reasoning well, in practical matters, is to act as does the person who thinks through what is, in the circumstances, appropriate to eudaimonia, since appropriateness to eudaimonia is where we find the mean; the person who does this stably and consistently has the virtue of prudence.

One of the implications of how Aristotle understands the role of reason in virtue is that ethics cannot be done wholly by rules or obligations. This is not to say that obligations are irrelevant; Aristotle, for instance, thinks laws play an important role in moral life. And Aristotle is perfectly happy to hold, for instance, that we can use rules as guidelines for action. What we cannot do is live a moral life wholly on the basis of them; they can at most give a structure or framework for moral living. It would be like trying learn archery from a book; it's not that books about archery cannot be useful but that they only become useful in a context of active exercise, practice, and, most of all, use of a bow. There is no algorithm or procedure for the good life; it is a target that can only be hit with practice. However, if we are practicing and training ourselves in virtue, we can find rules useful, either as telling us definitely what to avoid or as giving us hints about what to do. Aristotle, for instance, suggests three guidelines for our attempts to hit the mean in action: (a) Keep away from the extreme that is most opposed to the mean; (b) Learn what your own biases are and work against them; (c) Be especially wary with regard to pleasure, because it is the thing that is most likely to lead you to miss the mean. Plenty of other good advice could no doubt be given, especially for particular cases. But it is advice, one thing for reason to consider, and not the whole of moral action.

It follows from this that Aristotle's approach to living well is quite forgiving; the standards for good living are often not precise, and they can vary somewhat from person to person and time to time, so living well is largely a matter of consistently getting close enough, just as shooting well is not a matter of doing the same thing every time but of finding what makes consistent hitting of the mark possible. There is likewise room for people making somewhat different choices in the same situation and yet both being right enough.

Much of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is discussion of a set of virtues that he treats as particularly significant.

DefectMeanExcesswith respect to
CowardiceCourage/FortitudeRecklessnessfear and confidence
InsensibilityModeration/TemperanceIntemperancepleasure and pain
IlliberalityLiberality/GenerosityProfligacy/Wastefulnessminor giving and taking
MiserlinessMagnificenceVulgaritymajor giving and taking
Disinterest in honorA virtue with no standard nameHonor-lovingminor seeking of honor
PusillanimityMagnanimityArrogancemajor seeking of honor
A vice of defect with no standard nameA virtue such that people who have it are 'even-tempered'Irascibilityanger
BelligerenceA nameless virtue that seems like friendshipObsequiousness/Flatterypleasing and paining others
Self-deprecationA virtue that could be called truthfulnessBoastfulnesstruth and falsity in word and deed
BoorishnessQuickness of witBuffoonery/Frivolousnessamusement and relaxation
InjusticeJusticeA vice of excess with no standard nameequality

An obvious question is why these virtues in particular get singled out. I think the answer is obvious when one considers the point made above that Aristotle takes politics, i.e., civilized life, to be the organizing framework for goods at which we aim. All of these are matters that are especially important for the functioning of a Greek city-state. For instance, magnificence is an important virtue because it was standard practice in the ancient Greek city to expect the wealthy to contribute to the needs of the city; most of Aristotle's examples for magnificence -- outfitting a warship, leading a diplomatic delegation, supplying votive offerings and sacrifices, building a temple, funding a play -- are cases in which wealthy people would be expected or sometimes legally required to pay for something on behalf of the city, although he does also recognize examples of private magnificence -- weddings, special gift-giving occasions, furnishing one's house, feasting one's dining club. But notably even the examples of private magnificence are cases in which the giving has some benefit to the city at large. Obviously the best contributor to the city will be someone who will not skimp but will also not waste money on gaudy self-aggrandizing monstrosities, in short, the magnificent person. A similar reason is why eutrapelia, or quickness of wit, is a virtue of note; playfulness and humor are essential to the smooth functioning of the city. All of these virtues make one fit for participating in the civilized life that serves as a framework for pursuing what is good.

This also explains why one of the most extensive discussions in the Nicomachean Ethics is not about a virtue at all but about friendship (philia), which here means the relationship of mutual good regard we have with others on the basis of some mutual benefit. Aristotle thinks that there are three kinds of friendship: friendship of pleasure, friendship of use, and friendship of excellence, based on different kinds of mutual benefit. Sometimes we regard others well, and are regarded well by them, because of some pleasure we both receive from the acquaintance; sometimes we do so because of some usefulness each provides the other. Virtue is obviously relevant to maintaining these, although indirectly. Sometimes we have mutual regard with others precisely because of each other's virtue, which becomes, as it were, shared in the friendship. The latter are the best friendships, of course, although they are hard to find. But all three of these friendships make up the ties that bind the city together; without them the city stops being a city and becomes a collection of strangers and enemies. Part of what virtues do is make us fit to be friends, thus making sustainable a form of civilized life within which we can help each other pursue the complete good of a fully human life. In friendship we find, in a sense, the summary of the whole of Aristotle's virtue ethics.

Aristotle, however, is not the only Aristotelian virtue ethicist; that is, there are many other virtue ethicist who operate in the general tradition established by Aristotle, yet who often have their own positions within that tradition. Whenever Aristotelian virtue ethics is discussed, other names come up, and one comes up particularly often: Thomas Aquinas. To Aquinas we will turn when we get to the next post.