Monday, January 24, 2022

The Gentleman Saint

 Today is the feast of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church. From An Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter II:

The world, looking on, sees that devout persons fast, watch and pray, endure injury patiently, minister to the sick and poor, restrain their temper, check and subdue their passions, deny themselves in all sensual indulgence, and do many other things which in themselves are hard and difficult. But the world sees nothing of that inward, heartfelt devotion which makes all these actions pleasant and easy. Watch a bee hovering over the mountain thyme;—the juices it gathers are bitter, but the bee turns them all to honey,—and so tells the worldling, that though the devout soul finds bitter herbs along its path of devotion, they are all turned to sweetness and pleasantness as it treads;—and the martyrs have counted fire, sword, and rack but as perfumed flowers by reason of their devotion. And if devotion can sweeten such cruel torments, and even death itself, how much more will it give a charm to ordinary good deeds? We sweeten unripe fruit with sugar, and it is useful in correcting the crudity even of that which is good. So devotion is the real spiritual sweetness which takes away all bitterness from mortifications; and prevents consolations from disagreeing with the soul: it cures the poor of sadness, and the rich of presumption; it keeps the oppressed from feeling desolate, and the prosperous from insolence; it averts sadness from the lonely, and dissipation from social life; it is as warmth in winter and refreshing dew in summer; it knows how to abound and how to suffer want; how to profit alike by honour and contempt; it accepts gladness and sadness with an even mind, and fills men’s hearts with a wondrous sweetness.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Undefeated Enemy

by Hilaire Belloc 

It freezes: all across a soundless sky
The birds go home. The governing dark's begun.
The steadfast dark that waits not for a sun; 
The ultimate dark wherein the race shall die.
Death with his evil finger to his lip
Leers in at human windows, turning spy
To learn the country where his rule shall lie
When he assumes perpetual generalship.

The undefeated enemy, the chill
That shall benumb the voiceful earth at last,
Is master of our moment, and has bound
The viewless wind itself. There is no sound.
It freezes. Every friendly stream is fast.
It freezes, and the graven twigs are still.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Strangest Whim Has Seized Me

 A Ballade of Suicide
by G.K. Chesterton 

 The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours -- on the wall--
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me. . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day. 

 To-morrow is the time I get my pay --
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall --
I see a little cloud all pink and grey --
Perhaps the rector's mother will NOT call --
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way --
I never read the works of Juvenal --
I think I will not hang myself to-day. 

 The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall;
Rationalists are growing rational --
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
So secret that the very sky seems small --
I think I will not hang myself to-day. 

 Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall --
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Democratic Governance and Majorities

 A common view about the relation between democratic governance and majorities is majoritarianism, which is that democratic governance occurs when decisions are made by the majority. It's so common that people slip into it without even thinking about it. And people in majorities tend to assume that this is the way things should work, no matter how many times they've been burned by it when they were in the minority. But there are many problems with it, not least in that, if the point of democratic governance is to represent and give power to the people, bare majority dominance does not do this well at all. This has been known for ages, but majoritarianism is the only view of democratic governance that one can always count on being accepted by people.

A more plausible account of how democratic governance and majorities should relate has no name, as far as I know, so I will just call it democratic generalism. The essential idea is that democratic governance should represent and give power to the people not partwise but generally or overall. More specifically, the idea is that in democratic governance, the goals of the majority should have greater weight, but minority goals should receive as much accommodation as is consistent with this. This guarantees, to the extent that it can be guaranteed, a bit of something for everyone, but the primary problems with it are (1) practical problems of guaranteeing it, given that majorities tend to take advantage of being the majority to ignore minority preferences, and (2) people are remarkably averse to it, and inclined to talk as if the only democratic thing were always winner-takes-all, despite that being the least democratic thing that can still reasonably be called 'democratic'. Institutions and practices whose very purpose for existence explicitly includes accommodation of minority goals are often vehemently attacked as being anti-democratic--- in the U.S., the obvious current examples are the Senate, the Electoral College, the filibuster, and any number of conscientious objection accommodations. I'm not sure what to make of this, beyond the rather commonplace point that people often participate in politics to get whatever they can get, and accommodating other people's differing goals is often not an obvious way to do that in the short run -- that is to say, democratic generalism, while having more claim to represent and give power to the Demos as a Demos, is just often not going to be popular with the Demos, which consists of people who prefer, if they can get it, that their own policies be enacted without negotiation, modification, or compromise.

Music on My Mind

 Marvin Lee Aday, better known as Meat Loaf (a nickname he got when he gained weight while playing high school football), died yesterday. One of the best-selling musical artists of all time, he was famous for his highly theatrical shows and intensely melodramatic but story-driven music.

Meat Loaf, "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad".

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Azure Sky is Hid by Clouds of Snow

 Winter's Reign
by James Alexander MacGowan

The earth is dark and dreary, drenched with rain,
The azure sky is hid by clouds of snow,
Which bursts and whitens the dark plain below,
But 'twixt the river's banks it strives in vain,
Where each alighting flake is duly slain,
A moment white, then mingles with its flow;
Nor till the frosty winds, congealing blow,
Has it the power its mantle to enchain.
Frost, Winter's king, and Snow, his sovereign queen,
Upon a double throne their sceptre wield.
The king of Spring, ere long, war's flag unfurls,
Of Winter's reign no vestige soon is seen,
As Spring, luxuriant, sweet, clothes wood and field,
While, from high mountain crags, Winter defiance hurls.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022


 * Various Articles at the SEP
Margaret Schabas, Economics in Early Modern Philosophy
Karolina Hubner, Spinoza's Epistemology and Philosophy of Mind
Halla Kim, Korean Philosophy
Raphael Woolf, Cicero

* John Finnis & Robert George, Indictability of Early Abortion c. 1868 (PDF), discusses the legal status of abortion in nineteenth century America.

* Louis Caruana, The Jesuits and the Quiet Side of the Scientific Revolution (PDF)

* Paul Taborsky, Aristotle and Linearity in Substance, Measure, and Motion (PDF)

* Freelosophy is a new discussion forum for discussing papers in the PhilArchive.

* Sonny Bunch discusses the case of movies in which audiences take away different lessons than the movie-makers intend.

* Robert VerBruggen, How much leniency with criminals can we afford?, at City Journal

* Silvia De Toffoli, What Are Mathematical Diagrams? (PDF)

* Chiara Brozzo, Are Some Perfumes Works of Art? (PDF)

* Fabrizio Macagno, How can metaphors communicate arguments? (PDF)

* Zach Weber, This Paradoxical Life, discusses paraconsistent logic at One thing that I think is not sufficiently clear in the article is that paraconsistent logic is not necessarily dialethic -- i.e., paraconsistent logics can work with contradictions, but most forms don't 'accept' the contradictions but just are able to work around them because they don't have what's called contradiction explosion. Aristotle's logic has a number of features that make it paraconsistent (although some late medieval adaptations of Aristotelian logic are not), for instance, and it is very much not dialethic or accepting of contradictions. It's just that if you accidentally assume contradictory things, then the logic won't 'explode' (in part because you can't infer anything from a contradiction in Aristotle's logic).

* Michael Barkasi, Perceiving is Imagining the Past

* Carlo Lancelotti, The Idea of Tradition in Del Noce

* Paul Musgrave, What the Kids Are Reading. Unsurprisingly, the answer is 'not much'. It's a serious pedagogical problem, because reading is something you do best if you do it a lot, and for difficult readings, people who don't read much end up being practically illiterate; and, beyond that, reading is a very effective way to be able to go much deeper into arguments and ideas than you otherwise could, so being practically illiterate guarantees a shallow grasp of a large number of topics. My own view, which is different from Musgrave's, is that it's just not negotiable: for some things, you need people to read enough to handle texts that go into depth on the subject, and thus lightening the reading load is self-defeating in the long run (although there are exceptions, since sometimes you can substitute easier readings for the same purpose). In such cases the pedagogical problem becomes not, "How much reading should be assigned?" but "What support needs to be put into place to make sure the students do the reading and are able to get out of it what they need?"

* James Pogue, This is not how civil wars start, criticizes the tendency of some in contemporary politics to stir up fears of civil war.

* Andrew Dennis Bassford, Ought Implies Can or Could Have (PDF). Of course, 'could have' is just a further-modalized 'can'.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Blessed Passions

 For there are blessed passions and common activities of both the soul and body, which do not attract the soul to the body, but rather raise the body to the heights of the Spirit, convincing it to look upward. Which activities are these? These are the spiritual activities, which do not move from the body to the mind (as we said before), but which move from the mind to the body and through their activities and influence transform the body for the better and sanctify it. For as the divinity of the Incarnate Word of God is common to the body and the soul, having deified the flesh through the soul, so it is also in spiritual human beings, where the grace of the Holy Spirit is transmitted through the soul to the body. This allows the body to participate in divine things and to experience the blessedness which the soul undergoes. Because the soul can experience divine things, it naturally possesses a passionate aspect that is praiseworthy and divine, or rather, because our human nature has a singular passionate aspect, it is capable of assuming such a positive aspect.

St. Gregory Palamas, Triads in Defense of Those Who Practice Sacred Quietude, Chamberas, tr., Newfound Publishing (Hebron, NH: 2021), pp. 178-179 [Second Triad, Second Discourse, Section 12].