Thursday, November 26, 2020

National Prosperity

The only true basis of national prosperity lies in a constitution founded on just principles—in just laws—in an educated, moral people, who will do and defend the right—in good magistrates, who will do justly at any expense; who will flee a bribe as they would the coiled reptile. When, with these, the people are educated into simple, prudent, temperate habits, the prosperity of a nation will flow on like a majestic river, which gathers strength and depth as it flows. A nation with such a constitution—with such laws and magistrates—with an intelligent, moral, simple people, will be united at home--will be respected abroad. It knows its rights, and will assert them; it is just, and will withhold no right from others. Doing justly by all nations, it will be respected by all. There will be no cause of resorting to the last argument of kings; and when that argument is rendered necessary, it will have the sympathy of the world, and will be sustained by the united energies of its citizens. The very things that tend to the prosperity of an individual, or a family, are those which form the true basis of national prosperity.

Nicholas Murray, American Principles on National Prosperity: A Thanksgiving Sermon Preached in the First Presbyterian Church, Elizabethtown, November 23, 1854.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020


Today is the feast of Queen St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Great Martyr, patron saint of philosophers.

Giovanni Cariani (c.1485-1547) - The Virgin and Child with Saint Joseph and Saint Catherine of Alexandria - 1420362 - National Trust
Giovanni Cariani, The Virgin and Child with Saint Joseph and Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Four Poem Drafts

Shankara Sings in Kedarnath

As the name to the thing,
as the ring to the gold,
as the shimmer to the mother-of-pearl,
so the soul to the supreme;

as the blue to the sky,
as the mirage to the sand,
as the face in the wood-grain,
so the universe to Brahman;

as the ghost in empty space,
as the city in the clouds,
as the doubled moon in the night,
so the world to Brahman;

and Brahman appears through the world
as water shows in waves,
as copper shines in pans,
as clay is named by 'pot',

and the universe is in Brahman,
this possible because that actual,
this effect because that cause,
this appearance because that substance,
this seen and therefore that known.

Brahman is not in the world,
but the world's beginning is in Brahman,
and the world's enduring is in Brahman,
and the world's dissolving is in Brahaman,

for the world is all modification
and Brahman is without modification,
and the world is all variation
and Brahman is changeless and unchanged,
and the world is all appearing,
but Brahman is being and is knowing.

Knowing Brahman, the world fades
like dreaming in the waker,
like bubbles in the water,
like shape on flawless fire-living gold,

for the flame of being lights the darkness,
for the flame of knowing burns off ignorance,
for the flame of bliss rises forever
from Brahman unto Brahman. 


The People We Never Met

You walked in the rain, umbrella-bold,
the rivulets streaming, the clouds above thundering,
and I think you and I would have plenty to say--
but I never met you,
you never knew me.

They were laughing in sunlight,
the freshly cut grass an incensing perfume,
listening to children play in the park--
but we are not there,
we never knew them.

An endless mass of lives, roads that never meet,
untouched hands, unseen rainbows,
unfelt breezes, words that find no sentence,
sands on ocean-distant shores--
I never met them;
we never knew them.

Sing for those who never hear it,
laugh with those we never saw or heard,
and perhaps in some far un-Euclidean heaven
parallel lines will finally come to touch.

Floating Dream

In ancient day of misty yore
I met the floating dream;
through book and scroll my eye would pore
until she came who none ignore
and gave my eye a gleam.

It seems at times the world is small,
a poor, unrising earth,
but in a marble-laden hall
where echoes born of footstep fall
I found the crown of worth.

It hurts, this old and aching wound,
it calls with sorrow's voice;
as sailor on far sand marooned,
my heart with loneliness is runed
against my will and choice.


The Conversion of St. Damaris

The city is full of unknown gods,
unknown thoughts strange and odd,
unknown paths to unknown ends,
philosophers groping like blinded men
after brilliant light too bright to see,
like caged birds dreaming of flying free.

In busy forums are the arguing men;
which of them is to truth a friend?

Hetairai chat of modish fads
and strange experiences they have had
as truths and beauties are sold at fairs--
the subtle merchants sell subtle wares!

This city is full of unknown gods;
its thought alludes to more than thought.

But now the unknowing season ends
and revelation, bright, begins,
and you, O holy woman wise,
did not the given word despise,
but, given faith, like heifer led,
believed that Christ rose from the dead,
with faith like Tamar's reached your hand
to grasp the truth most sought by man,
and, like a halo on your brow,
wear godly penance like a crown.

Monday, November 23, 2020


 It should go without saying -- but quite obviously cannot -- that no one can be 'President-elect' until they have actually been elected President, and that in the United States nobody can be elected President until the Electoral College elects them. The Electoral College meets on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December, which this year is December 14. Indeed, arguably no one is formally President-elect until Congress counts the Electoral College votes and declares the results, which occurs on January 6, although unless there are controversial slates this is just the final stamp. There is currently no President-elect; Biden is projected by unofficial sources, based on still-being-finalized official information, to become President-elect, which is significant but not the same thing. There would be no point in saying this, and people might be allowed their sloppiness, except that in a republic the actual process of the election matters, and it continues to matter regardless of how much anyone might want to short-circuit it.

This pet peeve of mine is particularly irritated right now because the GSA recently opened the transition process for the Biden campaign. This does not represent any kind of status change for Biden, nor does it represent any acknowledgement of Biden as President-elect; it is purely an administrative procedure by which Biden gets access to certain funding and administrative resources that are set aside to facilitate transitions. But of course there were reporters who were shocked, shocked, that the letter starting the process didn't refer to Biden as 'President-elect'. It's not surprising that it wouldn't -- 'President-elect' is not an official title of the United States, and there is in any case no President-elect yet, so there's no requirement that it would have to do so -- but such is the genius of some reporters that if an entirely routine administrative process takes place they can invent a scandal out of it.

Anchored Cross

 Today is the feast of Pope St. Clement of Rome, one of the Apostolic Fathers. He is traditionally regarded as the fourth bishop of Rome (after Peter, Linus, and Anacletus) and to have been consecrated a bishop by St. Peter himself. He is associated with the symbol of the cross shaped like an anchor, a reference both to hope (Hebrews 6:19) and to legends of his having been martyred under Trajan by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea. From the forty-second chapter of I Clement, his letter to the church at Corinth:

The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture in a certain place, "I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith."


Sunday, November 22, 2020

Fortnightly Book, November 22

 The next fortnightly book is one that I've been intending to do for a while, the seventh century The Life of the Virgin, the first extant hagiography devoted specifically to the Virgin Mary, and one of the most influential hagiographies of all time. It is attributed universally in the manuscripts to St. Maximus the Confessor; modern scholars have occasionally attempted to question this attribution, but beyond the fact that it would be the only extant hagiography written by Maximus, whose other works are more technical works in theology, there's not really any reason to deny the attribution.

Unfortunately, the original Greek version of the work no longer exists; the extant version is a translation of the Greek into Old Georgian. So I will be reading an English translation (by Stephen Shoemaker) of the Old Georgian translation of Maximus's original Greek work. Despite the Greek being missing, the work would have considerable influence on the course of Mariology, and is perhaps the single most influential early work on the Virgin Mary. As a fortnightly book, though, I will be reading it less as a mariological work and more as a story. This is in any case as good a time to read it as any; yesterday was the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and a fortnight will take us to December 5, just before the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8; between two Marian feasts, one ancient and one more modern, seems a propitious time for reading it.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Richard Adams, Watership Down


 Opening Passage:

The primroses were over. Toward the edge of the wood where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog's mercury and oak-tree roots. On the other side of the fence, the upper part of the field was full of rabbit holes. In places the grass was gone altogether and everywhere there were clusters of dry droppings, through which nothing but the ragwort would grow. A hundred yards away, at the bottom of the slope, ran the brook, no more than three feet wide, half choked with kingcups, watercress and blue brooklime. The cart track crossed by a brick culvert and climbed the opposite slope to a five-barred gate in the thorn hedge. The gate led into the lane. (p. 3)

Summary: Hazel and Fiver are rabbits in the Sandleford Warren, but Fiver has a vision of terrible death coming on the warren. Unable to convince Chief Rabbit, they head out with a number of others to find a safer place to live. The way is long and perilous, and they are nearly destroyed in a treacherous warren where death continually looms, but eventually the come to Watership Down, an excellent place for a warren, and settle down to address their next problem: they have no does. They manage to liberate some hutch rabbits, but they still need more. With the help of a seagull that they befriend, Kehaar, they learn of a large warren to the east with plenty of does. An embassy fails miserably, and they discover that the warren, Efrafa, is a terrible place under the iron rule of a mighty warlord, General Woundwort. With ingenuity and a lot of luck they pull off an extraordinary doe raid, but Woundwort is not the kind of rabbit who simply gives up.

I cannot recall who said it, but someone said that the twentieth century gave us two great prose epics in English: The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down, and I think the latter certainly is a legitimate candidate for such a role. Everything in it is epic in scope, and the work has repeated echoes of the Odyssey and the Iliad. The fact that its characters are rabbits does not harm this at all. We in fact get an excellent sense of the characters and temperaments of the different rabbits: quiet and unassuming Hazel, with that extraordinary talent for cooperation with others that in a difficult situation becomes leadership; Fiver, a runt who lives half in this world and half in another; Bigwig, stalwart, an extraordinary fighter as long as someone else is developing the strategy; brilliant Blackberry, his mind always running quickly down another track; all-around rabbit Dandelion, very swift and the one to whom you go when you want the old rabbit folktales told right; timid but passionately loyal Pipkin; ever-joking Bluebell. In some ways it's very much like the story of a military unit, a bunch of disparate people welded together by adversity, able to accomplish more together than any of them could achieve alone, in some ways very ordinary and in some ways the stuff of legend.

There are many passages throughout the work that are brilliantly done. Coming to Cowslip's warren, we are quickly struck, as are the characters, with the creepy, eerie, unrabbity air of the rabbits there. The great doe raid on Efrafa is as exciting as a battle in an epic should be, and the constraints of rabbit life, far from dragging this down, makes the solutions seems all the more cunning and triumphant. Woundwort is a well-rounded villain, and both of his face-offs with Bigwig are extraordinarily painted. But the scene that I think most consummately captures the skill with which it is all done is the one of which I've put part below, when little runt of a rabbit Fiver, as unimposing a rabbit as you could ever find, faces down Vervain, one of Woundwort's toughest and most ruthless captains, and the latter breaks and flees at a quiet comment from Fiver -- and it is, given everything we've been following in the story up to that point, entirely plausible that he would, because Efrafa has been outmaneuvered so many times in ways that have often seemed practically supernatural, and here is a rabbit that everyone had thought dead a few moments ago quietly telling him, "I am sorry for your death," in a voice that cannot be disbelieved. It's a beautiful weaving of plotlines that brings us into the climax of the story.

I also watched the classic 1978 animated movie, which has John Hurt as the voice of Hazel. The movie is one of the great animated movies of all time, and deservedly so. One thing that was very noticeable is that it moves very, very quickly; there are certainly many parts of the book that are shortchanged in the movie. Yet the movie works. The abridgements are in general extremely well-chosen. And I think another reason it works is something for which the movie was actually harshly criticized: it does not shy away from the violence of the book. In a very short time we see rabbits killed in all sorts of ways, and rabbits keep dying. But the result is that it makes every victory really and truly significant. For after all, this is a story about rabbits in an epic adventure, doing heroic things. But rabbits live in a world of danger; it is not for nothing that their folk hero is El-ahrairah, the Prince with a Thousand Enemies. And how do you present rabbits as heroes, whether to children or to adults? In the same way you present men as heroes, and in the way the book presents them: as facing, with courage and cleverness, a world of woe while never being conquered by it.

Favorite Passage:

"Blame you?" answered Vervain. "Blame you for what?"

"For your death. Believe me, I am sorry for your death."

Vervain in his time had encountered any number of prisoners who, before they died, had cursed or threatened him, not uncommonly with supernatural vengeance, much as Bigwig had cursed Woundwort in the storm. If such thing shad been liable to have any effect on him, he would not have been head of the Owslafa. Indeed, for almost any utterance that a rabbit in this dreadful situation could find to make, Vervain was unthinkingly ready with one or other of a stock of jeering rejoinders. Now, as he continued to meet the eyes of this unaccountable enemy -- the only one he had faced in all the long night's search for bloodshed -- horror came upon him and he was filled with a sudden fear of his words, gentle and inexorable as the falling of bitter snow in a land without refuge. The shadowy recesses of the strange burrow seemed full of whispering malignant ghosts and he recognized the forgotten voices of rabbits done to death months since in the ditches of Efrafa. (pp. 452-453)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.


Richard Adams, Watership Down: A Novel, Scribner (New York: 2005).

Friday, November 20, 2020

Evening Note for Friday, November 20

Thought for the Evening: St. Paul at the Areopagus

In his most famous speech, in Acts 17, St. Paul speaks to the people gathered at the Areopagus in Athens, apparently at the behest of the Stoics and the Epicureans. He begins his speech by saying that the Athenians were in everything divinity-fearing (deisidaimonesterous). When passing through he looked at the things worshiped (sebasmata), he had seen an altar inscribed to the Unknown God (Agnosto Theo). What they unknowingly (agnoountes) worship, Paul proclaims. The proclamation involves several claims:

(1) The God who made the cosmos and all in it does not inhabit hand-made temples;

(2) as He gives all life, breath, and everything, he is not cared-for (therapeuetai) by human hands as if he needed things from us;

(It's worth noting that this is precisely one of the issues that comes up in Plato's Euthyphro, which raises the problem that piety (eusebeia) cannot be caring (therapeia) for the gods because that would mean that it it would consist in giving the gods things they need.)

(3) God made from one every nation of the world, determining their times and bounds

(4) so as to seek God (zetein ton theon), that they might grope after (pselepheseian) Him and find Him (heuroien);

(5) and indeed He is not far from us, 'for in Him we live and move and are'

(The quotation is from Epimenides' Cretica, which is not extant, but which Paul also quotes in the letter to Titus. The likely context would have been the Cretan claim that the tomb of Zeus was in Crete, a claim that the ancient world found as thoroughly mind-boggling and impudent as we would if someone tried to sell tickets to God's grave. But Zeus, contrary to the lying Cretans, lives everlastingly, for in Him we live and move and are.

It is not an accident that Paul would be quoting Epimenides. From Diogenes Laertius's Life of Epimenides:

And when he was recognized he was considered by the Greeks as a person especially beloved by the Gods, on which account when the Athenians were afflicted by a plague, and the priestess at Delphi enjoined them to purify their city; they sent a ship and Nicias the son of Niceratus to Crete, to invite Epimenides to Athens; and he, coming there in the forty-sixth Olympiad, purified the city and eradicated the plague for that time; he took some black sheep and some white ones and led them up to the Areopagus, and from thence he let them go wherever they chose, having ordered the attendants to follow them, and wherever any one of them lay down they were to sacrifice him to the God who was the patron of the spot, and so the evil was stayed; and owing to this one may even now find in the different boroughs of the Athenians altars without names, which are a sort of memorial of the propitiation of the Gods that then took place.

Thus the altars to the unknown god(s) near the Areopagus were due to Epimenides.)

(6) and as some of your poets say, 'We are His offspring.'

(The quotation is from Aratus's Phaenomena:

From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood.

It cannot be an accident that, having begun with the reference to the Unknown God, Paul builds on Aratus's argument that we do not leave Zeus unnamed, i.e., uninvoked, and that He is not far from us. Recall Diogenes Laertius's description of the altars as 'altars without names'.)

(7) As we are the offspring of God, we ought not to confuse God with idols made by the skill and thought of man.

(8) God has overlooked times of unknowing (agnoias) but now commands everyone everywhere to repent,

(9) for He has set a day in which He is about to judge in justice,

(10) through a Man appointed, giving faith to all, having raised Him from the dead.

The Areopagus sermon sets a template for all Christian interaction with pagan philosophy, since these are the essential components on which a Christian must insist when interacting with pagan philosophy: first the three first steps that Christians have continually had to repeat in the face of opposition: God is the Creator (1), being Providence requires nothing from us (2), and all human beings are from Him and are one stock (3). Given this, we can recognize that God has made us to seek Him, and that pagan philosophy is a feeling after Him that can in a sense find Him because God is not far from us (4). Thus we must recognize the ways in which pagan philosophy is a groping after God, and ways in which it has found Him (which Paul does, 5-7). But here, of course, there is a break, because while pagan may find God in an unknowing way, Christians proclaim Him; the Age of Unknowing passes and God calls all to repent (8), for there is a final judgment (9) that has been set through a Man appointed to it, one in whom we believe because He was raised from the dead (10).

And, of course, the reaction people had to Paul is the reaction people always have to this. Hearing of the resurrection of the dead, some mock, but others want to hear more, and some join us and believe.

Various Links of Interest

* Samuel Moyn, You have misunderstood the relevance of Hannah Arendt

* Melas & Salis, On the Nature of Coincidental Events (PDF)

* Becca Rothfeld, At-will Employment is the Real "Cancel Culture"

* Taylor Patrick O'Neill, Doctor of Providence, discusses Julian of Norwich

* Ben Conroy interviews Jennifer Frey

* The Pink Trombone lets you play around with the sounds that a mouth can make.

* The town that was taken over by libertarians and then was taken over by bears. Bears always beat libertarians, I imagine; the perpetual flaw in libertarianism is not expecting bears.

* Alexander Rose on long-lived institutions.

* James Clark reviews Junius Johnson's The Father of Lights

Ashok on Descartes's comment about weak minds in the preface to the Meditations

Currently Reading

Richard Adams, Watership Down
Michael Flynn, Lodestar
David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature
Alasdair MacIntyre, Ethics and Politics

On Dembroff and Payton on Race and Gender

 Robin Dembroff and Dee Payton have an interesting argument for an asymmetry between transgenderism and transracialism. I don't see, however, how their argument is supposed to work the way they think it does. It's possible I'm missing something, but I think there are independent reasons to expect their argument to be untenable. Of course, if any of the following is right, we can't draw much conclusion from this untenability; this particular argument against transracialism will have failed and this particular argument that transracialism is significantly different from transgenderism will have faile, and that is all.

They consider an analogy: If we have a reparations program for indigenous people, we would not regard self-identification as an indigenous person to be sufficient for receiving reparations, "because the goal of the program is to concretely assist those who were harmed by a historical injustice." This is no doubt true, but what is very obvious is that this is so because of the teleology of a very specific program. Since Dembroff and Payton reject essentialist accounts of race and gender, it's utterly unclear what would be the analogue of this teleology in the racial case. And this problem with the analogy is exacerbated rather than alleviated by their main argument.

The argument is based on 'intergenerational accumulation of inequality':

Being Black in the United States is similar to being a person who qualifies for IRSSA reparations in at least one important respect: being Black isn’t simply a matter of internal identification; it is also a matter of how your community and ancestors have been treated by other people, institutions, and governments. Given this, we think that race classification should (continue to) track—as accurately as possible—intergenerationally inherited inequalities. 

One problem is that we don't, in fact, track intergenerationally inherited inequalities in race in this way. We don't for most purposes make a clear separation between American descendants of slaves and later immigrants from Africa; we might for specific programs, but if you're an African who just arrived in the United States, there's nothing that makes you racially different. If anything, you'll just be deemed a member of the local Black community -- whom you may know nothing about, and with whom you may have no identifiable cultural commonalities -- because people will take you to be part of the Black community. And in practice for racial reparations, we don't make much of a distinction most of the time between people who are descendants of those who actually suffered the injustice and those who came later. Part of it is practical; in programs where we do try to keep track of these things, like specific programs for Native Americans, it's a never-ending headache, so unless there's some very specific reason not to do so, it's just easier to handle matters at a more coarse-grained level. But the argument given by Dembroff and Payton really does seem to need us to do the fine-grained analysis.

There is a further complication in talking about "community and ancestors" because these are not exactly the same thing. African immigrants who share no known ancestors with American descendants of slaves don't become part of the same ancestry, but they could be said to join the same community, although the community attribution clearly follows the racial classification and not vice versa as Dembroff and Payton would require. But it's unclear how 'community' is working here. If a baby of white ancestry is adopted by a Black family, it's unclear what we mean by saying that they aren't part of the same community as their Black family, unless you just mean that they don't change their ancestry or color of their skin. If someone discovers to their surprise that they have a black ancestor a few generations back, so that, for instance, they are 1/128th Black, they have the ancestry, but it's unclear what it would mean to say that they have, unbeknownst to them or anyone else, been part of the Black community all their lives -- or, indeed, what it would mean to say that they have suddenly become part of the Black community despite until yesterday having been assumed by themselves and everyone else not to be Black. If we take 'community' to be tied to ancestry, we don't get transracial identification for the adopted infant and the person who turns out to everyone's surprise to have a Black ancestor, but then it's pretty clear that what tracks "as accurately as possible" any intergenerational inequalities is not race but something much finer-grained. (Indeed, almost all of their actual argument on this point implies this.) If we take 'community' to be a matter of vested interest due to social classification, we get the descendants of American slaves and the later African immigrants in one group, but then it's not clear how we could hold that a baby with no Black ancestors who is adopted by a Black family inherits nothing of the family's intergenerational burden from inequality. And the problem with the community talk is that it isn't clear why people couldn't voluntarily join the community and, by participating in it for a long time, be affected by that same intergenerational burden. None of this is a significant problem for particular programs or organizations or the like, which often deal with matters from any boundary. But Dembroff and Payton are arguing that there is an impermeable boundary, and their characterization of it doesn't obviously rule out transracial identifications.

The other part of the argument given by Dembroff and Payton is that there is an asymmetry with transgenderism: women do not have inherited intergenerational inequalities as women: "Gender inequality, unlike racial inequality, does not primarily accumulate intergenerationally, if only for the obvious reason that the vast majority of households are multi-gendered." There are, of course, multiracial households that do not prevent people from being regarded by themselves and others as Black, and there doesn't seem any obvious reason why women can't be considered part of an intergenerational community (indeed, all the evidence seems to suggest that they can) that can as a community inherit burdens from prior generations, and individual women do seem at least sometimes to inherit the burdens  of prior inequalities between men and women, so the claim seems to reduce to individual women being at least usually unable to inherit the effects of inequality between men and women in a way that accumulates. And this seems to come down to the question of how 'inherit' is understood: "While parents often are responsible for ingraining patriarchal ideas and rigid gender norms in their children (it is extremely difficult to avoid!), this is not a 'passing down' of socioeconomic inequality itself but, rather, of a socialization that perpetuates gender inequality." So this requires that we understand the 'passing down' of socioeconomic inequality in racial matters as something other than a socialization that perpetuates racial inequality. I confess I'm not completely sure what this is supposed to mean. Given that their rejection of racial essentialism means they also can't essentialize racial inequality, I suppose it means that Dembroff and Payton want to say that the difference is whether you receive it as a community or individually; as they say, there are no universal truths about experiences of misogyny, but the experience of it is impacted "by socioeconomic class, race, age, ethnicity, ability, body type, and geographic location". No doubt there are differences between race and gender in this respect. I'm not sure how the necessary asymmetry is supposed to arise from this, though; experience of racism is certainly impacted by whether you are grew up dirt-poor in Alabama or in a wealthy Manhattan family, despite the fact that neither determines your race.

It's clear that Dembroff and Payton do need to be arguing that, whatever inequality is inherited by women, you can inherit it by self-identifying as a woman, whereas whatever inequality is inherited by blacks, you cannot inherit by self-identifying as black. The weight of this argument falls on the notion of intergenerational accumulation of inequality. But this does not appear adequate for creating the asymmetry, for two reasons:

 (1) This does not actually seem to give us a good criterion for race, because while there is undeniably intergenerational accumulation of inequality, the boundaries of race do not precisely track this and it does not precisely track the boundaries of race, despite the fact that the whole question here is exactly where the boundaries are. 

(2) While women don't inherit being a woman as a race, there's good reason to think that women do inherit, as women, inequality that accumulates over generations, and if it occasionally appears otherwise, it's only because we have been doing a lot of work in undoing the inequalities themselves, and probably have been rather more successful at it than we have been at undoing racial inequalities.

And we run further in to the problem, previously mentioned: inherited accumulation of inequality may be quite sufficient for making a major and important distinction for some purposes. But Dembroff and Payton need these to be the only relevant purposes, and it's not clear what teleology could force them to be so. Being Black and being a woman are not like being potential recipients of a precisely defined program; both of them affect your lives in uncountably many different ways.

There is a more general problem with trying to link the boundaries of race too closely to racial injustice. The reason is that it's not just any racial classifications that are linked to racial injustice; the racial classifications that are most closely linked to racial injustice are explicitly racist racial classifications. That's obviously going to be the case. And racist racial classifications are incoherent and ill-founded, and always have been, so if you start trying to trace the boundaries of race with considerations of racial injustice you are going to get boundaries that don't make sense and often have no basis in anything but a racist's fantasy. If you start with non-racist accounts of race, however, that is, with accounts of race that are not structured by any attempt to treat anyone as inferior, you are quickly going to find that racism won't track those boundaries exactly, because, again, racism is generally incoherent and is not noted for grounding itself in actual evidence. To take just the very obvious example, there have been people of white ancestry who have experienced racism directed against Blacks; the Ku Klux Klan, for instance, was notoriously promiscuous about whom they considered to be black, and caused Polish and Czech families no end of misery for generations on the ground that they were Europeans degenerating in a blackward direction. Racial injustice is heavily determined by extremely racist people, and extremely racist people are never going to be the people on whom you want to rely if you want rational distinctions and reasoned boundaries. Trying to build an account of race out of racial injustice is absolutely guaranteed to fail because racial injustice originates with stupid and inconsistent classifiers.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Electoral Trust

Lots of talk about "trust in elections" these days, some of which is defensible but has only very narrow application, and a lot of which is obvious nonsense. A few reminders:

(1) 'Public trust in elections' is not a magical quality adhering to election systems; indeed, it doesn't even concern any one particular thing, as all election systems have multiple working parts that have to come together. The only thing of any importance with regard to the term is whether people, as a whole or in large groups, think any concerns they have about illegalities are being at least fairly considered. There is one and only one way it can be undermined: by refusing to consider and address concerns that people have.

(2) Because of (1), the robustness of an election depends entirely on its welcoming any concerns people might have, for whatever reasons, and assessing them in as fair and impartial way as is possible. If your election system needs to be protected from people crying foul -- for whatever reason -- there are only two possibilities: either your election system is corrupt (and you are trying to protect its corruption from being exposed) or your entire society is on the verge of immediate and unavoidable collapse (and you are simply buying some time). There's not actually a third option here. An election system that cannot endure challenge, even extended challenge, is not robust and is already either corrupt or collapsing. The American election system is not even remotely in the vicinity of collapse at present; we haven't even finished counting the votes, all the problems so far are problems foreseen by statute or manageable by courts, and none of our constitutional back-up systems are even at present in danger of needing to be engaged. What is more, the American system is very, very robust; contrary to the way some of the chattering classes talk, we have recounts and litigations and accusations of unfair practices every single election, and the whole thing is still standing just fine. And the whole thing is still standing just fine because (unlike apparently some of the chattering class) elections are designed to weather these kinds of challenges, and this is how they establish their trustworthiness.

(3) Again, again, people, the American presidential election is a multistage election that has not been completed yet. It's inappropriate for presidential candidates to assume that they've won an election that isn't over, yes, but whether it's Trump claiming that Democrats are trying to steal the election he actually won or Biden flat-out lying about being President-elect of an election that literally can't have actually elected him yet, it isn't a 'threat to democracy'. It's not all in grave danger just because politicians play to their supporters with over-the-top rhetoric; it is, crass though it may be, exactly what one would expect them to do.

(4) Concessions are not a part of the actual election election process, for the obvious reason that it would be moronic to make voluntary concession a part of your election system. It was a polite courtesy that developed to show good sportsmanship and, eventually, a way to address one's supporters when it became clear that one had lost, and that is it. It is a campaign signaling a step down, and that is all. Whether a candidate concedes or not has no bearing on the election whatsoever; whether and when and how to concede is purely a matter of political calculation on the part of a campaign.

(5) Some people have been worrying about 'the transition'; this seems to me to be an example of how the chattering classes can talk themselves into irrational priorities. The transition serves the election, not the election the transition. Before the Electoral College votes, the statutory transition phase begins when the General Service Administrations recognizes a candidate as likely enough to be elected to be given certain administrative accommodations to facilitate the actual transition when the President takes office. As of yet, Biden has not been designated probably President-elect by the GSA, and it doesn't really matter what the reason is, because it doesn't really matter. Biden is an ordinary citizen until he takes office and is not entitled to anything; 'President-elect' is not an office of the United States, and the only constitutional responsibility a President-elect has is to show up to be sworn in. There are obvious reasons why it's convenient to start preparing for a transition as early as one can; the Office of President will not collapse if the transition period is shorter. A competent campaign will have most things ready to go in any situation that might arise, and if they don't, it doesn't affect anything but themselves.

People are, of course, perfectly free to complain about lack of courtesy, or lack of honesty, or lack of good will, or inconvenience, or the absurdity of some of the accusations, or what have you; there's certainly plenty to complain about in politics even in the best of times, and there surely is much to complain about here. But none of these things have much to do with trust in the election system, and none of them have any bearing on its course at all. People need to get a grip and stop jumping immediately to the most hysterical rhetoric they can; it makes them sound delusional. If there are any legal issues anyone wishes to raise, they need to be assessed and addressed, and it doesn't matter what grounds they raise them on; if people demand recounts and audits, it's not a threat to democracy to have recounts and audits; if people litigate, it's not a violation of 'democratic norms' for courts to assess whether officials actually followed election law as they were required to do; it's not a constitutional crisis that Trump refuses to concede, nor that Biden (like Trump and Obama before him) goes around claiming to be the occupant of the entirely fictional 'Office of the President-elect'; no matter how much states that are efficient are to be praised, it's not a problem that it takes a while sometimes to get the tally on votes, because the American election system has literally been designed to handle even worse and more controversial delays than this; and we still have two major steps in the election to go.

Part of the problem, of course, is that we all have difficulty dealing with the politics that actually is, which is tedious and boring and sometimes takes forever and takes some focus, and we all find it much easier to freak out about wild fantasies in our heads, whether about what we fantasize our opponents will do (no matter how many endless numbers of times our predictions fail), or about what our opponents are doing behind the scene (no matter how many times we show that we actually haven't the faintest clue what our opponents are actually thinking), or about that thing that Betty said Tom heard that Joe whispered had been evilly done. But our fantasies are irrelevant to how the election system is going, and it is still going, quite as it is supposed to, right down to the challenges that people have every right to bring if they think it will give them a fairer shake to do so. The election system is only strengthened by challenges, and it's not going to be toppled by opinions or rhetorical posturing, no matter how stupid you think the challenges or opinions or rhetorical posturing are.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Quasi Tertium Quid

 When discussing arguments for and against the existence of God, it is often assumed that the options are always to reject them or to accept them, and, holding certain other things constant, this is often true. But in reality here, as with other arguments, there is also room for a distinguo, and some discussions of the subject would be greatly improved for considering it. A handy example of what is meant by this is found in the atheist Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity.

I've talked before about the general features of Feuerbach's view of religion. Feuerbach takes religion to be an expression of a necessary alienation from ourselves. To know ourselves, we have to take our nature as object; religion is taking our nature as object simply. Thus theology on his view reduces the anthropology; what people are doing in religion is treating pictorial representations of human nature as if they were independently existing things. The divine attributes are really human attributes, considered abstractly as if they existed independently of any human being. The divine infinity is a projected reflection of the infinity of human understanding, for instance, treated as if it were standing alone in actual existence. Feuerbach takes the alienation to be necessary for human self-understanding, but the recognition of it as self-alienation to be part of the natural trajectory of human progress. He thus takes his reduction of God to man as a next step up from Protestantism. We see this in a number of ways. For instance, in the Catholic Mass, man is sacrificed to God as real sacrifice to God; in the Protestant Lord's Supper, God gives a gift to man, and it is seen ever more symbolically until we get to Zwingli; the natural next, and Feuerbachian, step is for it to become a gift of man to man, eating and recognizing the work of human hands for human life. So with everything else.

It's clear that on this kind of view evaluation of arguments for the existence of God will have to be split. If we are talking of God as an alienated object separate from human nature, all such arguments would fail. However, since God is alienated human nature, such arguments also succeed when recognized as being about human nature alienated as an object:

At the same time, however, their result is to prove the nature of man. The various proofs of the existence of God are nothing else than various highly interesting forms in which the human nature affirms itself. Thus, for example, the physico-theological proof (or proof from design) is the self-affirmation of the calculated activity of the understanding. Every philosophical system is, in this sense, a proof of the existence of God. (p. 199)

Feuerbach does not, as far as I recall, explicitly recognize it, but the same in reverse would have to go for arguments against the existence of God; they may work against God conceived as separate, but they also show a failure to recognize the features of human nature being alienated into a God so conceived. There's a straightforward sense in which this is an atheistic assessment of the arguments, but it's also not a simple rejection.

We can find similar sorts of distinction on other grounds -- e.g., Iris Murdoch on the ontological argument. They will arise generally on broadly Kantian grounds (due to the division of noumena and phenomena) and on positions that allow some distinction between appearance and reality. And, of course, the reversals are also possible -- one can have a 'reverse Feuerbach' in which all arguments for features of human nature  in general are really describing forms of the human reflection of God and so are indirect arguments for the existence of God. Then every philosophical system is indeed, and not just in a sense, a proof of the existence of God. Indeed, it's not difficult to imagine such a thing, given that Feuerbach's own position is often a reversal of Christianity. The closest overall 'reverse Feuerbach' in actual existence would probably be something like a 'High Church' (Evangelical Catholic) Lutheranism, but on the question of the existence of God in particular, the direct reversal would be something a lot like an approach more commonly associated with Reformed Protestantism (Calvinism), namely, presuppositionalism.

How stable all of these distinction-based evaluations are is another question, and probably a complicated one. And, as the previous paragraph might well suggest, they will tend to emphasize one side of the distinction over the other. But this suffices to make clear that they actually exist. And it is worthwhile, even for those who (like myself) take a more straightforward evaluation for such arguments, to remember that they exist.

[Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, George Eliot, tr., Harper (New York: 1957).]

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Some One Person at Least

In all creatures, that prey not upon others, and are not agitated with violent passions, there appears a remarkable desire of company, which associates them together, without any advantages they can ever propose to reap from their union. This is still more conspicuous in man, as being the creature of the universe, who has the most ardent desire of society, and is fitted for it by the most advantages. We can form no wish, which has not a reference to society. A perfect solitude is, perhaps, the greatest punishment we can suffer. Every pleasure languishes when enjoy’d a-part from company, and every pain becomes more cruel and intolerable. Whatever other passions we may be actuated by; pride, ambition, avarice, curiosity, revenge or lust; the soul or animating principle of them all is sympathy; nor wou’d they have any force, were we to abstract entirely from the thoughts and sentiments of others. Let all the powers and elements of nature conspire to serve and obey one man: Let the sun rise and set at his command: The sea and rivers roll as he pleases, and the earth furnish spontaneously whatever may be useful or agreeable to him: He will still be miserable, till you give him some one person at least, with whom he may share his happiness, and whose esteem and friendship he may enjoy.

David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature 2.2.5 (SBN 363).

The Artless Art, the Untaught Dignity

by Maurice Baring

The sunshine, and the grace of falling rain,
The fluttering daffodil, the lilt of bees,
The blossom on the boughs of almond trees,
The waving of the wheat upon the plain—
And all that knows not effort, strife or strain,
And all that bears the signature of ease,
The plunge of ships that dance before the breeze
The flight across the twilight of the crane:
And all that joyous is, and young, and free,
That tastes of morning and the laughing surf;
The dawn, the dew, the newly turned-up turf,
The sudden smile, the unexpressive prayer,
The artless art, the untaught dignity,—
You speak them in the passage of an air.

Monday, November 16, 2020

A System of Teaching by Practical Jokes, Mostly Cruel

It is by surprises that experience teaches all she deigns to teach us.

In all the works of pedagogy that ever I read,--and they have been many, big, and heavy,--I don't remember that any one has advocated a system of teaching by practical jokes, mostly cruel. That, however, describes the method of our great teacher, Experience. She says,

Open your mouth and shut your eyes
And I'll give you something to make you wise;

and thereupon she keeps her promise, and seems to take her pay in the fun of tormenting us.

[C. S. Peirce, "On Phenomenology", The Essential Peirce, Volume 2 (1893-1915), Peirce Edition Project, ed. Indiana University Press (Indianapolis: 1998) p. 154.]

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Teacher of the Universe of Knowledge

Today is the feast of St. Albert of Lauingen, Doctor of the Church, most often called Albert the Great (an epithet he was given in his own lifetime), often called the Doctor Universalis or Universal Doctor. He is the patron saint of scientists and engineers, and his great gift to the Church is, perhaps more than anything else, an unabashed enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge. He studied everything -- the entire universe of knowledge that was available to him -- everything from falcons to ant lions, from minerals to morals, not just from books (although he commented on almost all of Aristotle's works) but by experiments. The experiments were often crude and unsystematic, and sometimes inconclusive (to test the common claim that ostriches ate rocks, he tried to feed an ostrich gravel, but reported that he couldn't get it to eat any), but they were part of a genuinely empirical approach to the world. He advanced embryology, for instance, by doing simple experiments on chicken eggs. He is also usually given credit for having been the first person to isolate the element arsenic, in the sense that he is the first person on record to isolate chemically what can be clearly identified as a pure form of arsenic. 

The Silent Rain-Drops Bend the Long Rank Grass

To November
by Charles Lloyd

Dismal November! me it sooths to view,
At parting day, the scanty foliage fall
From the wet fruit tree; or the grey stone wall;
Whose cold films glisten with unwholesome dew.
To watch the yellow mists from the dank earth
Enfold the neighbouring copse; while, as they pass,
The silent rain-drops bend the long rank grass,
Which wraps some blossom's unmatured birth.
And through my cot's lone lattice glimmering grey
Thy damp, chill evenings have a charm for me,
Dismal November! for strange vacancy
Summoneth then my very heart away!
'Till from mist-hidden spire comes the slow knell,
And says, that in the still air Death doth dwell!

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Dashed Off XXX

natural simplicity, enlightened self-interest, prudence, holiness

NB that Kant equates metaphysics with the pure a priori principles of physics in their universality (CPrR 5:138).

"But it is impossibly through metaphysics to proceed *by sure inferences* from knowledge of this world to the concept of God and to the proof of his existence, for this reason; that in order to say that this world was possibly only through a *God* (as we must think this concept) we would have to cognize this world as the most perfect whole possible and, in order to do so, cognize all possible worlds as well (so as to be able to compare them with this one), and would therefore have to be omniscient." Kant CPrR 5:138-139
→ this is a very interesting argument
-- Note the Leibnizian rationalism implied here as the target (Perhaps Wolffian in particular?).

"Doing things at the whim of human beings is not a safe standard (i.e., a safe rule), since the human will is often unreasonable and unjust." Aquinas

"Within the 'we' of the family emerges the 'I' of the child." Lonergan

Snow falls, and is white;
the falling is a process,
the whiteness is too.

"There is experience and a fortiori distinction from experience must be admitted: Nobody experiences an experience of a pillar, a wall, etc.; rather people have experience of objects of experience, as a pillar, a wall, etc." Shankara

the indefinite mineness of the world

'Two supreme authorities cannot without contradiction be subordinate one to the other' -- but Church and state are not absolutely supreme, but only each in a certain respect, and both are subordinate to God, the Church more eminently so.

To be non-aliud is to be intellectual and volitional.

"The Triune God is definition defining itself and all things." Cusanus

three forms of History of Philosophy: occasional, eclectic, systematic

design & layered multifunctionality

If there is no progress in philosophy, there is no such thing as human progress.
(1) Since we do not have an innate idea of what progress is, to recognize anything as progress requires that we make philosophical progress in understanding progress.
(2) Progress requires ends; in human life, ends are understood and clarified by philosophical inquiry.
(3) Philosophy is the progress of the mind to the point of being able to set in order, which progress requires.

- a logic with a removing rather than a positing operator

Nicholas's terms for the Trinity; This, It, Same. (Cp: This is the Same as It/That.) More abstractly: Oneness, Equality, Union.

* freedom as inherent (power); freedom as causality; freedom as interaction
* freedom as integrity; freedom as alternativity; freedom as selection from a whole
* freedom as act; freedom as lack of impediment; freedom as boundary of self
* freedom as permissible-or-impermissible; freedom as willing-or-nilling; freedom as obligation-or-nonobligation

We cognize ourselves as intelligible, not merely sensible.

Kant's postulate of immortality would be better grounded if he based it on the nontemporality of moral law, without the intermediary of endless progress. But the latter can work if one thinks not of bare conformity but of a good (God) that moral law requires us always to seek, and which is inexhaustible.

By virtue of their baptism and confirmation, the motherhood of Christian mothers is a type of the motherhood of the Church; the typical mulier fortis symbolizes the archetypal mulier fortis. And especially in terms of their confirmation, each Christian mother is co-mother with Mary, the highest type of the motherhood of the Church, and themother of all Christ's disciples by Christ's assignment on the Cross, so that each Christian mother assists Mary in her work as Mother of the Church. (We see in all human motherhood that one of the works of motherhood is to draw on assistance for help in the work of motherhood.)

In the Church we see the power, wisdom, and goodness of Christ who made her.

the picturesque sublime (compositional sublime in a frame)
the picturesque as a particular species of the striking
the picturesque as especially conducive to memory

the beautiful grotesque (Sagrada Familia, the growing cave)

the moral law considered theoretically rather than practically (as evidence for that which one postulates for it)

Kant's challenge to the natural theologian at CPrR 5:138 boils down to a challenge to do natural theology, and is thus question-begging for Kant's purposes.

Therapeutic conceptions of philosophy drastically overestimate the importance of skepticism.

Liberalism as practice is often impressive; liberalism as theory is often fan fiction: liberal theology is theology done as fan fiction, liberal political theory is political theory done as fan fiction, etc.

intrinsic hierarchy of holiness (based on sanctity as such) vs instrumental hierarchy of holiness (based on performing a role or function as a means to holiness)
-- the split between these is quite important for the history of the Church
-- the ecclesial hierarchy is an example of the latter

the continuous and the periodic, the plotted and the episodic

The primary and proper meaning of persistence (as in persistence through time) is stability of final cause; other senses are derived from this by analogy.

The creation is part of God only in something like the sense that the child is part of the parent, or the painting is part of the painter.

"The word 'light' can be used for Brahman, which manifests the world even as light manifests objects." Shankara (Brahm. Sut. 1.1.24)
"The assignation of a definite locality to the all-pervading Brahman only serves the purpose of meditation."
"If the individual soul is something different from Brahman, then the knowledge of Brahman would not give knowledge of the individual soul. Therefore the individual soul is different, yet not different, from Brahman." (1.4.20)
"Everything in the world is, and this quality it gets from Brahman, which is being itself. Again, the intelligence of Brahman lights the whole universe." (2.1.6)
"The effect exists in the cause before its origination as well as after it. It can never exist independent of the cause either before or after creation. Therefore the world exists in Brahman even before creation and is not absolutely nonexistent." (2.1.7)
"The effect is not experienced in the absence of the cause, which shows that the effect is nondifferent from the cause.' (2.1.15)

Where translations of Shankara say 'material cause', substitute 'principiating substance' -- i.e., a substance in its aspect of quasi-material cause, as the scholastics say, not material cause in the ordinary sense, despite the lump of clay metaphor.

"Someone who, a hundred years from now, falsely repeats something evil about me, injures me right now." Kant

In "If X, do Y", we usually take X to be indicative, as it seems to be; but perhaps it should be seen as an implicit imperative (a test- or check-imperative).

living assent vs bookish assent

"Only the descent into the hell of self-cognition can pave the way to godliness." Kant

The defects of Kant's ethics are especially seen in his discussions of humility and friendship.

the duty to associate the graces with the virtues

the Church as effect of Christ
the Church as quasi-inherent in Christ (Body, branches)
the Church as in community with Christ (Bride, flock)

All natural rights are transfigured by Christianity, so that each has a new aspect.

Even in peace, states need something like unto victory.

the Church as a domestic society, as a society of friends, as a liturgical commonwealth, as a complete society

Nobody exercises virtue solely as an individual, but always as a participant in a community.

'Slob' began as a word for muddy land or mire; it began to apply to people through the metaphor 'slob of a man' in the late nineteenth century.

A robinsonade is like an equation:[wealth of prior knowledge] + [wealth of external resources] + [wealth of local resources] = [survival requirement] + [further benefit]. Each individual variable can be more or less, but the equation must plausibly balance. Robinson Crusoe has a fair amount of PK, ER, and LR; the Swiss Family has a superabundance of all three; those stranded on the Mysterious Island have a superabundance of PK, a very minimal amount of ER, and a fair amount of LR; the variations give different flavors to the stories, but the equation structures it. A significant factor is how much FB you get, since SR is roughly the same in most cases. The Swiss Family finish with the FB of an incipient colony, whereas The Martian doesn't need to have any FB left at the end, because he's leaving it all behind anyway.
-- Time is also a significant factor and needs to be considered (the equation is different for different allowed times).

Friday, November 13, 2020

Confusion of Ideas

 A common diagnosis of problems with various kinds of reasoning is that they involve a confusion of ideas. What exactly is going on when we say that two ideas are confused? On Hume's account, the primary explanation of confusion of ideas is an easy transition between two separate ideas. This is not the most obvious way of understanding the problem. One could very well think, as the very term 'confusion' suggests, that confusion of ideas involves some sort of blurring of different ideas together. Another possibility that fits some of the ways we talk about this confusion is that it involves ideas that are by their nature interrelated in some way so that we have to distinguish them at a more abstract level. Another possibility is that ideas themselves can be unclear, so that they don't provide enough information to admit of a definite distinction. Explaining confusion of ideas in terms of facile transitions doesn't fit many of the ways in which we talk about confusion of ideas. And an obvious problem is that transitions between ideas are extremely common, so it's not exactly clear how much the transition theory explains to begin with.

However, Hume needs something like a transition account, because he can't accept any of the more plausible candidates. Two key principles of Hume's method are the copy principle and the separability principle. According to the copy principle, all of our ideas are copies of impressions from which they derive. According to the separability principle, everything distinct is separable. These two principles together sharply restrict what explanation we can have for confusion of ideas.

If all of our ideas are copies of impressions from which they derive, we can't attribute confusion to ideas themselves being unclear; each idea is just a copy of what it derives from, and there is no identifiable information loss. Hume thinks ideas are less vivid or forceful than impressions, but his entire method requires that we only genuinely have a kind of idea if we can identify the kind of impression it exactly copies. Impressions themselves, however, can't be vague or indistinct. There are no vague ideas in Humean empiricism. We can have words that are vague in the sense that it's unclear to what ideas they refer. Ideas themselves, however, don't admit of any internal vagueness.

If everything distinct is separable, we can't explain any confusion of ideas by the internal interrelation of ideas; as Hume repeatedly says, no ideas imply the existence of any others, all ideas are separable from each other. They only have relations in experience and custom.

Given both the copy principle and the separability principle, ideas can't 'blur' together, they can't fuse, they can't meld. Simple ideas are indivisibles of mind; they can't be related by overlay or by blending.  So in confusion of ideas, we can't be blurring them together. And it follows from both principles together that we can't distinguish distinguishability of ideas from their actual distinction (this plays an important role in Hume's account of space).

Thus Hume has a transition theory of confusion of ideas because he doesn't have many other options, and the big thing he has to explain is how the kind of transition involved in confusing two ideas is different from other kinds of transition. Hume tells us (T (SBN 60-61)),

I shall therefore observe, that as the mind is endow’d with a power of exciting any idea it pleases; whenever it dispatches the spirits into that region of the brain, in which the idea is plac’d; these spirits always excite the idea, when they run precisely into the proper traces, and rummage that cell, which belongs to the idea. But as their motion is seldom direct, and naturally turns a little to the one side or the other; for this reason the animal spirits, falling into the contiguous traces, present other related ideas in lieu of that, which the mind desir’d at first to survey. This change we are not always sensible of; but continuing still the same train of thought, make use of the related idea, which is presented to us, and employ it in our reasoning, as if it were the same with what we demanded.

This 'imaginary dissection of the brain' to some extent doesn't require the brain; that is, the point of it is that the when there is an easy transition between two ideas with respect to their objects, due to resemblance, causation, or contiguity, there can develop an easy transition between the two ideas with respect to our habit of having and using them. As he puts it more clearly in a later passage (T (SBN 202-203)), using the most obviously confusion-relevant association, resemblance, as an example:

Nothing is more apt to make us mistake one idea for another, than any relation betwixt them, which associates them together in the imagination, and makes it pass with facility from one to the other. Of all relations, that of resemblance is in this respect the most efficacious; and that because it not only causes an association of ideas, but also of dispositions, and makes us conceive the one idea by an act or operation of the mind, similar to that by which we conceive the other. This circumstance I have observ’d to be of great moment; and we may establish it for a general rule, that whatever ideas place the mind in the same disposition or in similar ones, are very apt to be confounded. The mind readily passes from one to the other, and perceives not the change without a strict attention, of which, generally speaking, ’tis wholly incapable.

Neither dispositions nor acts of mind have a particularly well-defined place in Hume's account of mind, but this does give us an account of confusion of ideas that is consistent with the copy principle and the separability principle, and which at least gives us some kind of answer as to what distinguishes easy transitions that involve confusion of ideas from other easy transitions: the relevant easy transitions are those that allow us to think of two different ideas in the same disposition or attitude or manner of thinking.

It's a clunky account for what generally is taken to be a fairly simple phenomenon; it has the curious feature that you can never, strictly speaking, be confusing two ideas at a single time (there needs to be a transition), and another curious feature that you cannot confuse two ideas due simply to their newness or lack of familiarity, because the only confusion of ideas it allows is that which arises from already having developed a habit of moving from one idea to another. But it is perhaps the simplest possible account for someone who accepts both the copy principle and the separability principle.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Two Poem Drafts


Powers born of sea and sky,
cloud and current, surge and tide;
let my hope be not denied:

Thought I cast upon the sea,
foam and wave, wind and rain,
cast my thought and secret pain--
may it not return to me!

Let my sadness fall away,
bring again the sunny day,
light that will not dim or fade:

Thought I cast upon the wave,
spray and shower, rush and roar,
never let it ail me more--
may I be from sorrow saved!

Hall of Bones

Here we sit in a hall of bones,
cold and damp and all alone,
all alone, where stones had wept,
no sun had shone,
and darkness crept,
down in the cold,
the trickle-cold that flows down walls,
chill and wet in the sunless halls,
black as night and darkness-old.
Black as night and darkness-old,
the chill is deep in the cavern-fold,
crease of time, and it smells like grave,
alone as death, with none to save,
alone as night when darkness falls
where no beast sings, where no bird calls,
down in the depths of the deathly halls.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Cistercian Number System

 Numberphile recently had a fun video on the number system developed by Cistercian monks, primarily for dates, page numbers, and things like that:

On Spiegel on Anti-Hypocrisy

 A short while back, Susanna Spiegel had an op-ed critical of hypocrisy-focused criticisms in politics. I've long had the view that most hypocrisy-hunting in politics is counterproductive, so expected to agree with it, but I find I don't. I think part of the problem is that by the end of the article it has become clear that what Spiegel is in fact doing is accusing anti-hypocrites of hypocrisy on very thin grounds; that is, Spiegel can't get through even a short op-ed on the importance of skepticism about anti-hypocrisy without engaging in some very un-skeptical anti-hypocrisy. This is because, I think, of a failure to recognize the reason why hypocrisy-hunting is so entrenched in modern politics: namely, broadly democratic or liberal social norms force people to argue on an ad hominem (in Locke's sense of 'on the opponent's principles', not the fallacy sense) basis, rather than on the basis of established principles or of authority, and doing this guarantees that the most effective criticism will usually be pointing out your opponent's inconsistency. In recognizing the real problem is usually not hypocrisy as such but what one is being hypocritical about, Spiegel comes close to recognizing this, since what she gives is effectively an argument for the superiority of (to use Locke's terminology again) ad iudicium argument, but the fact of the matter is that Spiegel has no actual means or mechanism for making ad iudicium more effective than ad hominem. And how could there be any such means or mechanism? It would require a non-democratic society to guarantee it. In a democratic society you have to accept divergence and disagreement from the beginning, and thus can't always appeal to a mutually recognized framework, whether of principle or of authority, rising above the disputing mass.

Spiegel regularly appeals to 'democracy' (which she opposes to 'authoritarianism'), by which (as far as I can tell) she means her own preferred politics. As she puts it:

But anti-hypocrisy can be hacked. It can present hypocrisy itself as the problem. Instead of being a tool for opposing violations of valued democratic principles, charges of hypocrisy can be a tool to confuse or paralyze, creating a set of options only an authoritarian could love.
This is a second problem with her argument, namely, that everybody in a democratic society thinks their opponents a threat, or at least more of a threat, to democracy. A democracy is a society in which people accuse each other of abetting the slide into tyranny practically every day. The people Spiegel criticizes in her op-ed are not going about cackling maniacally about usurpation of power; they appeal to 'the people', they appeal to 'democracy', they appeal to the need to 'overturn corruption' which is robbing people of their 'rights'. Thus it's no good to try to present the contrast like this; it ends up looking very much like an argument that Spiegel should be allowed to be against the hypocrisy of her opponents and nobody should be allowed to be against her own. It's a common problem with academics talking politics: they are always tempted to rationalize the politics of their social circle as if it were the One True Political View, the universal politics whose perspective should be assumed in diagnosing others. And it's easy to forget that other people are not assuming your One True Political View, but their own.

There is a more complicated problem with the core idea in the argument, which is that criticizing hypocrisy leads to indifferentism:

These remarks divert attention away from the vices of social inequality and political murder, and redirect it to hypocrisy. “Don’t criticize my side, because yours is no better.” If both parties endorse racism, then there can be no basis for criticizing racism — we are simply stuck with it. If everyone is a killer, there can be no basis for criticizing killers. If purported democracies act like autocracies, there is no real difference between these regimes.

 I'm usually regarded as a cynic about people in politics, but I am apparently more optimistic about people than Spiegel is. I don't think it's usually the case that the point of the hypocrisy allegations is "Don't criticize my side, because yours is no better". Rather, I think the point is, "I know that you are only criticizing my side on this because you are trying to slime me, not because you want to address the actual problem. Show that you are genuinely serious about the same problem on your side at the same time if you want me to treat it as more than just a rhetorical tactic; I'm not going to take your criticism as a real issue in this argument until you show that you are treating it as a real issue yourself." If everyone is a killer, you can still criticize killing; what you cannot do is treat killing as if it were a ground for treating yourself as superior to other people. If we are all killers, it's pointless to try to attack anyone for being a killer; since it's a common problem, the only reasonable solution is to try to work with people to solve it rather than use it to score points in debate. If I am attacking you for being racist, treating your views as views to be dismissed because you are racist, that pretty clearly suggests that I think I am not a racist; and it is a reasonable defense at least to try to show that, by my own standards or at least common standards, I am as racist as you. In short, Spiegel is confusing 'no basis for criticizing racism' with 'no basis for trying to disadvantage me in this argument specifically on the grounds of racism'. Indeed, the anti-hypocritical argument would usually assume that racism is criticizable; the claim is usually more that the mote in my eye does not make you righteous given the beam in yours.

 Again, Spiegel comes close to recognizing this:

If we can’t choose sides on the basis of what either party does, we must instead choose on the basis of loyalty: With whom do we identify? And if you don’t identify with either figure, you won’t be motivated to choose at all. As one glum undecided voter from Maine put it recently, slouching toward apathy: “It doesn’t matter who we choose, we’re pretty much screwed either way.”

 What Spiegel is not, I think, seeing, is that the anti-hypocritical defense is operating precisely on the assumption that the other side is already only acting on the basis of loyalty. If I don't think you are a partisan hack, we can sit down and give our reasons for our views; if you start attacking my party for things I think your party does, I'm not going to see you as giving reasons for choosing but as trying to smear me through a blind loyalty to your own party. And yet again, this is an assumption that will turn out true quite often in a broadly democratic or liberal society, where you overcome opposition by seizing the rhetorical advantage.

It is possible that Spiegel is right about anti-hypocritical arguments being something that can be high-jacked by authoritarianism. I'm myself inclined to the Platonic view that all democratic rhetoric and argument can be twisted in an authoritarian direction; the reason why people in democratic societies end up obsessing so much about authoritarianism is not that they are opposites but that democracy easily tips over into authoritarianism. It's a recurring problem: tyrants rarely take over in the name of tyranny but often take over in the name of 'the people'. And it's certainly possible that anti-hypocritical arguments contribute to this. But anti-hypocritical arguments are pretty clearly an unavoidable feature of democratic politics, and nothing in democratic politics makes it so that only one side can use them. Everything Spiegel criticizes is just how democratic politics will usually work.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Lion of Rome

Today is the feast of St. Leo the Great, Doctor of the Church. From his Sermon 95:

The nature then of Christ's teaching is attested by His own holy statements: that they who wish to arrive at eternal blessedness may understand the steps of ascent to that high happiness. Blessed, He says, are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It would perhaps be doubtful what poor He was speaking of, if in saying blessed are the poor He had added nothing which would explain the sort of poor: and then that poverty by itself would appear sufficient to win the kingdom of heaven which many suffer from hard and heavy necessity. But when He says blessed are the poor in spirit, He shows that the kingdom of heaven must be assigned to those who are recommended by the humility of their spirits rather than by the smallness of their means. Yet it cannot be doubted that this possession of humility is more easily acquired by the poor than the rich: for submissiveness is the companion of those that want, while loftiness of mind dwells with riches. Notwithstanding, even in many of the rich is found that spirit which uses its abundance not for the increasing of its pride but on works of kindness, and counts that for the greatest gain which it expends in the relief of others' hardships. It is given to every kind and rank of men to share in this virtue, because men may be equal in will, though unequal in fortune: and it does not matter how different they are in earthly means, who are found equal in spiritual possessions. Blessed, therefore, is poverty which is not possessed with a love of temporal things, and does not seek to be increased with the riches of the world, but is eager to amass heavenly possessions.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Consequentialism and Victimhood

 We live in a consumerist society, which means that we are primed, so to speak, to think of good and bad in terms of consequences. Let consequentialism be understood as the following:

(1) Things are good and bad wholly insofar as they result in overall good or overall bad consequences.

We also have a tendency to think of social problems in terms of faction or party, broadly understood. Partisanship works on polemic, which involves assertion in advance of proof, presumptive evaluation according to one's faction's standards, and the attempt to achieve practical results despite opposition from other factions. To achieve practical results requires getting support for what one regards as good and resisting the opposition of those who try to prevent one from doing so. On the basis of these characteristics of partisanship, we can say that the following is going to be treated as true in a highly partisan context:

(2) The opposing factions are deliberately doing bad things.

From (1) and (2) it follows:

(3) Therefore, the opposing factions are deliberately achieving bad consequences.

But bad consequences are bad consequences for people, which can be called harmThus:

(4) To achieve bad consequences is to do something that harms someone.

From (3) and (4) it follows;

(5) Therefore, the opposing factions are deliberately doing things that harm people.

Now, we often make a distinction between doing something that harms someone and harming someone; but we do this when we are assuming that intention, not consequences, are the essential problem. If (1) is true, then there's no difference in badness between deliberately doing something that harms someone and deliberately harming them -- what makes something harming is the result, not the intention. And in partisanship, asserting in advance of proof and evaluating presumptively on one's own standards, not the opposing party's, (5) easily slides into

(6) Therefore, the opposing factions are deliberately harming people.

But who are they harming by being opposing factions? We got here by focusing on the fact that as partisans we are aiming at what we deem good and resisting the opposing faction's attempt to stop us from achieving good. This good may be for ourselves or for others. So:

(7) Therefore, the opposing factions are deliberately harming either us or people we are trying to help.

But we have a name for being the target of deliberate harm:

(8) People who are deliberately harmed by someone are victims.

Therefore from (7) and (8) we get:

(9) Either we or the people we are trying to help are victims of the opposing factions.

Now, of course, all of this is still in advance of proof; it is in the air; it is hypothesis without confirmation. So what do we do as partisans? We look for bad consequences, either for us or the people we are trying to help, which we can pin on the opposing factions, because we are resisting those opposing factions who are trying to stop us from doing good and achieving very good goodness.

Thus it seems that when we combine two things, a consequentialist view of good and bad, and partisanship or factionalism, we naturally get an incentive to start classifying people as victims of the opposing factions. Providing consequentialist justifications for partisan positions in a manner usable in practical politics inevitably involves simplification, so finer distinctions by which one might avoid the slide from (1) and (2) to (9) are hard to maintain; and the simplest consequentialist justifications for anything in politics are those that appeal to grave harms. It's not generally going to be sufficient to insist that the people opposing you are insisting on slightly inconvenient things. And in a factionalist context, you aren't waiting for proof of harm; faction works by polemic, and polemical assertions are in advance of proof. It is not proportioned to evidence by any strict standard, but asserts freely on the basis of what the evidence can seem to suggest.

The consequentialist can indeed avoid all this; and, for that matter, partisanship does not automatically head in this direction, either. The combination of the two is a bad recipe for society. Factionalism is hard to stamp out; it is much easier to reject consequentialism. So, all other things being equal, in politics one should reject consequentialism.

Of course, there are genuine victims; but victimhood is going to be understood in a different way on a non-consequentialist approach; non-consequentialists will generally put more emphasis on intent and kinds of action, for instance, which makes the slide between (5) and (6) harder. 

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Fortnightly Book, November 8

 Whenever our family had to make a long journey in the car, I used to tell stories to my two little girls. Some of these were stories that everybody knows, such as Cinderella and Jack the Giant Killer; but a lot of them were stories that I made up myself, and my daughters particularly liked these, because they felt that they were their own stories and no one else's, made up for their own enjoyment.

One day, when we had to make a journey of over one hundred miles, they asked for a long story "which we have never heard before." (p. xii)

Thus began the first draft of Watership Down, by Richard Adams; it would undergo about two years of revision from there. It was rejected seven times before finally being published by Rex Collings in 1972 (it was Collins who settled on the title); it was a considered an immensely risky gamble, because it was a novel about rabbits, some of whom are psychic. While the work is often described as an allegory, Adams always denied this: it was just a story about rabbits that began to entertain children during a car ride. But it is inevitable, of course, that Adams's own experience with the world would show through in various ways; Adams was in the British Army during World War II, and while he never saw any direct action, his experiences would inform many of the characters in this, his most famous tale.

Set in Hampshire in southeastern England, the young rabbit Fiver has a terrifying vision of doom to come; he, his brother Hazel, and a small band of other rabbits set out to try to find a new home....

[Richard Adams, Watership Down: A Novel, Scribner (New York: 2005).]

Subtle Doctor

Today is the feast of Bl. John Duns Scotus. From the Ordinatio (III, D. 27, Q. Un).:
...loving God above all else is an act that conforms to natural right reason, which dictates that what is best should be loved the most, and consequently the act is right in and of itself. Indeed, its rightness is self-evident, as the rightness of a first principle in the domain of possible actions. For something should be loved the most, and that is nothing other than the highest Good, just as nothing other than the highest Truth should be most firmly held as true by the intellect. And this argument is confirmed by the consideration that moral precepts belong to the natural law; consequently, "You shall love the Lord your God," etc. belongs to the natural law, and thus the fact that this act is right is known [naturally].

From this it follows that there can be a virtue that naturally inclines to that act--and it is a theological virtue, since it has to do with the theological object: that is, it has to do immediately with God. And not only that, but it also depends immediately on the first rule of human acts and has to be infused by God; for this virtue is apt to perfect the highest part of the soul, which receives its full and complete perfection in only one way: immediately from God.

[John Duns Scotus, Selected Writings on Ethics, Thomas Williams, ed. and tr. Oxford UP (New York: 2017) pp. 162-163.]

R. Jonathan Sacks

 Rabbi Jonathan Sacks died of cancer yesterday at the age of 72. He was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013, and probably one of the most widely recognized and influential rabbis in the world. From his 2013 Erasmus lecture:

I believe Jews and Christians can and should work together to promote the values that we share and that we believe truly are universal: the sanctity of life as the gift of God, the dignity of the human person as the image of God, the covenantal virtues of tzedek, umishpat, chesed, ve-rachamim; fairness, justice, love, and compassion. Let us stand together in defence of the ecology of human freedom: the loving, stable family uniting parents and children in a bond of loyalty and care and supportive communities built on the principle of chesed, or caritas.

 A 2013 profile at The Tablet, in which he talks briefly about his previous bouts with cancer.

A YouTube video in which he discusses what it is to be Jewish:

Saturday, November 07, 2020

George du Maurier, Peter Ibbetson


Opening Passage:

The writer of this singular autobiography was my cousin, who died at the ——- Criminal Lunatic Asylum, of which he had been an inmate three years.

He had been removed thither after a sudden and violent attack of homicidal mania (which fortunately led to no serious consequences), from ——- Jail, where he had spent twenty-five years, having been condemned to penal servitude for life, for the murder of —— ——, his relative.

Summary: Pierre Pasquier de la Marière, known to everyone as Gogo, spends his early, happy childhood in Paris playing with a little girl, Mimsey Sesarkier, imagining that they are looked after by the Fairy Tarapatapoum and the Charming Prince. But little Gogo's mother dies, and he is taken away to England by his uncle, Colonel Ibbetson, who insists that he be renamed Peter Ibbetson and become a proper English gentleman. Uncle Ibbetson himself, however, is a crude and crass womanizer. Peter will grow up tall and handsome, and his life will change when one day he meets in passing at a party the beautiful Duchess of Towers, who, he will discover, is Mary Sesarkier, who had known in her childhood in Paris a little boy named Gogo.

Peter Ibbetson lives a life that is turned inward. He is quiet, generally gentle, and good-natured. And he is telling us the story of his life in a lunatic asylum for the criminally insane, having savagely beaten Uncle Ibbetson to death. We see warning signs that there is something dangerous about Peter's inwardness, here and there before the terrible event, a sort of ungrounded snobbishness that looks down on the sociability of others, an occasional flight into rage over someone's cruelty to another, and unhealthy preference for his own mind rather than the world around him. And there is a quality to the book -- I don't know how to describe it except to say that it is a kind of subtle weirdness -- in which, as Peter Ibbetson becomes more and more internally driven, one sometimes wonders how much of what we get in the story is real and how much of it is Peter Ibbetson losing himself in dreams, or else looking back at himself having already lost himself in dreams. But Peter Ibbetson does not wonder; he has no doubts; he knows that he has a special connection, which he finds in dreams, with Mary Seraskier, and that they are both able to 'dream true' and revisit their memories together. And the sheer force of his sincerity in this regard goes a long way toward making the reader suspend disbelief.

And there is another side to it. It is not for nothing that one of the descriptions we give for our closest relationships with other people is 'sharing dreams'; dreams let us step outside our lives and their circumstances; and dreams are what keep Peter Ibbetson alive through his long decades of imprisonment. Our dreams at least remind us that there is more to us than our immediate surroundings.

In some ways, the work reminded me of Le Grand Meaulnes, except that book builds on a pessimistic nostalgia of memory, whereas this one builds on an optimistic nostalgia of dreams.

I also watched the 1935 movie adaptation, starring Gary Cooper and Ann Harding, which I thought very well done, particularly in its use of visual echoes to tie Gogo's childhood interactions with Mimsey to Peter's adult interactions with Mary. They simplify the course of the story, which I think makes the story somewhat blander, and they are mostly interested in the dreaminess of the tale as an opportunity for cinematic effect, but it does capture some of the sense of the story, in which there is a distinction between dream and waking, but none at all between dream and reality, because it is a story in which dreams are, or at least can be, a kind of reality.

Favorite Passage: 

We have even just been able to see, as in a glass darkly, the faint shadows of the Mammoth and the cave bear, and of the man who hunted and killed and ate them, that he might live and prevail.

The Mammoth!

We have walked round him and under him as he browsed, and even through him where he lay and rested, as one walks through the dun mist in a little hollow on a still, damp morning; and turning round to look (at the proper distance) there was the unmistakable shape again, just thick enough to blot out the lines of the dim primeval landscape beyond, and make a hole in the blank sky. A dread silhouette, thrilling our hearts with awe—blurred and indistinct like a composite photograph—merely the type, as it had been seen generally by all who had ever seen it at all, every one of whom (exceptis excipiendis) was necessarily an ancestor of ours, and of every man now living.

There it stood or reclined, the monster, like the phantom of an overgrown hairy elephant; we could almost see, or fancy we saw, the expression of his dull, cold, antediluvian eye—almost perceive a suggestion of russet-brown in his fell.

Recommendation: Recommended, although you have to go in expecting a quiet and leisurely story.

Friday, November 06, 2020

The Human Body

 To the question "What is a human body?" I intend to propose seven preliminary answers: that it is an animal body with various powers of movement, some voluntary and directed; that it is a body whose movements afford expression to intentions and purposes that thereby possess a certain directedness; that, as an expressive body, it is interpretable by others and responsive to others; that, as an interpretable body, a variety of its characteristics are signs whose meanings others can understand; that its directedness has the unity of agency; that it cannot be adequately understood except in terms of the social contexts in which it engages with others and others with it; and that it is in certain respects enigmatic, a source of puzzlement, since alone among animal bodies it occasionally emits the question "What is a human body?" and directs its powers towards giving an answer to that question.

[Alasdair MacIntyre, "What is a human body?", The Tasks of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press (New York: 2006) p. 86.]

MacIntyre takes all of these as prephilosophical; that is, they are not an explanation of what the body is, but they are what we find the body to be in experience, and that of which a philosophical account would need to give an explanation. On this basis, MacIntyre argues that common modern philosophical accounts of the body fail by not adequately explaining precisely what they would need to explain about the body.