Saturday, July 17, 2004

Thoughts on the Philosophy of History

Since I've come across, through Sharon's "Early Modern Notes," a number of history blogs I probably would never have otherwise read, I've been thinking about the philosophy of history (discipline). Not that there is, at present, all that much to think about -- most of what's out there is scattered at best. There's Maritain's lovely little work On the Philosophy of History, which actually attempts to rough out the laws of history (course of events). There are a number of works that, in one way or another, are concerned with the same sort of thing Maritain's little text is; but none of them, including Maritain's, ever really gets beyond a very preliminary sort of rough draft. And they only indirectly reflect on the philosophy of history (discipline). One occasionally runs across a more direct discussion; but it just isn't common.
What philosophy of history needs is its William Whewell (see here for yet another site). Whewell is the best candidate for a Father of Philosophy of Science; there were people prior to him discussing the subject (John Herschel is the most notable case), but he really got the ball rolling. He did it by publishing two rather massive works, The History of the Inductive Sciences and The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. Both titles are self-explanatory. Were there to be a Whewell of the philosophy of history one could expect him to do the following.
1. Extensively research the history (course of events) of history (discipline) -- from the early stages to the present day. Whewell's history of science is still almost unrivaled in scope and competence; there are some, like Pierre Duhem, who have been in his league on these two points, but most of the 'greats' in the field are footnotes in one way or another -- they modify or extend rather than rival.
2. Determine a historical (discipline) equivalent of Whewell's 'Fundamental Antithesis'. The basic point of Whewell's Fundamental Antithesis is that inductive sciences are a meeting of mind (reason) and data (experience). Something analogous could be reasonably expected for history's (discipline) study of the data of history (course of events).
3. On the basis of (1) and (2) build a comprehensive philosophy of history (discipline). This would include:
a. A historical topics, i.e., an overarching logic of the dicipline in terms of whatever would be analogous to Whewell's Fundamental Ideas.
b. A methodology, connected with the topics, in virtue of which historians do what they do.
c. Discussion of the handful of prior works.
d. Some notion of the links between the philosophy of history (discipline) and other, related areas, e.g., the philosophy of history (course of events), anthropology, sociology, etc.

With that philosophy of history would really have begun. Then we can do the heavy work....

(BTW, while I like WYSIWYGs, this WYSIWYG editor they've added to the Blogger post editor has to be the most messed-up WYSIWYG I've ever come across; undoing things is unnecessarily confusing, and the stupid thing does the blockquotes wrong - every time I use them I have to go to the HTML editor and edit out all the things that will make the template go crazy. I generally catch it, but if this page ever looks odd, you know why....)

Parableman's Top 15

Parableman has put up his Top 15. They're all worth reading. Those I enjoyed most were #13 (Does the Bible Count as Evidence for Christianity?), #5 (Matthew's Use of Scripture), #7 (My Amazing Wife), #14 (Review of Bible Translations),  and #1 (Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?), in that order.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Shepherd on the First Cause, Part III: The Elements of the Critique of Hume

This is the sequel to two posts, here and here, on Shepherd's theory of causation. I haven't actually reached the point of talking about Shepherd's views of the First Cause; I'm working my way thither in a roundabout way. The first of the prior posts presents some passages that I am, at least indirectly, clarifying in these posts. The second gives a brief discussion of the core idea of Shepherd's positive theory of causation, i.e., that causation is the mixture of qualities. In this post I'll briefly look at Shepherd's criticisms of David Hume's theory of causation. There are more investigative posts to come on Shepherd's causal theory, when I get around to them; in particular, I'll probably look more closely (in no particular order) at some of the arguments against Hume, at the general outlines of her positive theory of causation, at her use of experimentum crucis, at her conception of science, at her use of the design argument for the existence of God, at her speculative conception of God-as-cause, and at the causal reasoning involved in examining testimony about miracles. So there's lots left to examine; and I won't stop until I've traced through all the major parts of Shepherd's views of causation.
Shepherd is not at all impressed by Hume. She calls his theory "unstable and confused"; she says it involves "every species of illogical sophistry"; she considers it part of her work "to show that Mr. Hume's reputation for logical correctness has been overrated"; she expresses astonishment that Hume's definition of causation has "continued so long, admired, adopted, and unanswered" (Cause and Effect, pp.  129, 131, 135, 192). Her view is that Hume's position is a tissue of sophisms that are given an air of knowledge and elegance, thus misleading the casual reader. To counteract this, she attempts to strip Hume's position down to its essential elments. This is her result (I have simplified, reordered, and broken it up quite a bit to streamline her summary for this post):
a. No idea can be had except derived from an impression.
b. Experience only shows certain similar sensible qualities frequently (but not invariably) followed by other sensible qualities.
c. Thus in nature events are entirely unconnected and therefore incapable of conveying an impression of necessary connection or power.
d. In certain cases, however, there are invariable sequences of sensible qualities, on the basis of which a definition of cause and effect as invariable sequence might be built.
e. Since we are acquainted only with sensible qualities, they alone can be causes; but they have no connection with the secret powers of objects on which the effects would entirely depend.
f. Therefore like sensible qualities not being like causes might be followed by different effects.
g. It is reasonable to suppose, that an invariable sequence might be interrupted, for there is no contradiction in imagining an arbitrary change in nature's course. "Yet should a contrary imagination resist reason, and not conceive in fact this interruption as possible to take place; she may again reconsider the possibility of nature altering her course, forming no contradiction to reason" (p. 131)
h. Hence the custom of observing similar sequences of sensible qualities can alone convey the impression from which we get the idea of necessary connection.
i. Thus necessary connection is a 'fancy of the mind,' not a natural relation.
Shepherd identifies no less than seven problems with this line of thought.
1) From an examination of a particular instance, a general negative conclusion is drawn. He also deduces a general affirmative conclusion, that the future shall invariably resemble the past, from particular instances alone.
2) It claims we should deny the general relation of cause and effect on the basis of a proposition completely consistent with it, "namely, that like sensible qualities, NOT being like Causes, might be followed by DIFFERENT Effects" (p. 132).
3) A general negative conclusion is drawn from negative premises alone, "for it is concluded there is no proof for the existence of the general relation of Cause and Effect between objects;--because experience shows that like sensible causes are not like Causes; and are therefore not necessarily connected with like efects.
4) Hume shifts the discussion from examining the general relation of cause and effect to examining the criterion for ascertaining the presence of like causes.
5) The proposition that is disputed is used in making this argument: "first, in the statement that impressions are the productive Causes of ideas;--secondly, in supposing the secret powers of an object to be alone the real productive Causes of its future properties; thirdly, in conceiving Nature may alter her course for the express purpose of changing the secret powers; and that they are changed by such an alteration;--and lastly, in alleging custom to be the sole Cause (i.e. producing generating principle) of the IDEA of causation" (pp. 133-134).
6)  The proposition, "The course of nature may be supposed to change," is used ambiguously; since it can mean either an uncaused alteration of the subsequent sensible qualities or of the antecedent secret powers.
7) Hume attempts to establish that custom, not reason, is the principle of causation, but allows reason to be the sole ground and necessary cause of this belief. (I presume this is part of the point of what I've listed as (g).)
Looking this over just very briefly, it looks, just at a glance, like it might be a mixed bag. I'm inclined to think that (1-3) might be fair enough, although Hume usually can be interpreted so as to overcome formal problems like these. (4) could very well be exactly right, and I'll probably look more closely at this one fairly soon. I think she's right about (5) and (6), too, but I'm not so sure as she that any of these actually are problems with the logic of the argument. She has, however, put her finger here on several aspects of Hume's formulations that make Hume very difficult to interpret on this point;  a number of them are, in one form or another, still discussed in the secondary literature on Hume today. (7) is entirely too subtle for me, at least without further inquiry. There needs to be further inquiry on all of these points (my thoughts here are just first suggestions). While the summary is short enough, the overwhelming bulk of Cause and Effect is devoted to detailed arguments supporting these criticisms; and actual evaluation would have to look more closely at each of them. There is more here than meets the eye, although my claim is that what meets the eye is immensely promising.

The Hidden Treasure of the Interior Castle

Saint Teresa of Avila has a fascinating discussion of the soul and self-knowledge in her work, The Interior Castle (which can be found on-line here), a spiritual classic written in 1577 or shortly before. There she pictures the soul as a castle made of diamond or crystal, in which there are many rooms (aposentos), "just as in Heaven there are many mansions" (moradas) (1.1.1).   The 'rooms' of this castle are connected with self-knowledge, for Teresa immediately goes on to say:  
It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or his mother was, or from what country he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls. As to what good qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells within them, or how precious they are -- those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul's beauty. All our interest is centred in the rough setting of the diamond, and in the outer wall of the castle -- that is to say, in these bodies of ours. (1.1.2)
So the idea is this: The soul is the castle itself; but the soul also in a sense occupies different rooms of itself through its knowledge of itself. As she notes, linking the issue of self-knowledge with prayer,  
But you must understand that there are many ways of "being" in a place. Many souls remain in the outer court of the castle, which is the place occupied by the guards; they are not interested in entering it, and have no idea what there is in that wonderful place, or who dwells in it, or even how many rooms it has. You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself: and that is exactly what this means. (1.1.5)

Most of our self-knowledge is purely superficial - the outer wall of the castle, i.e., our body. Teresa is very insistent that there are many, many, many rooms in the castle; but the rooms also fall into rough groupings that can be distinguished according to interiority. The innermost room of the castle is the room "where the most secret things pass between God and the soul" (1.1.3). The Interior Castle is a guide to moving, through prayer, from the sort of self-knowledge we have in the outer part of the castle, to the sort we have in the inner part of the castle. (She divides the groupings into seven; of these we cannot get much farther than the second on our own - beyond that we need humility, prayer, and considerable reflection and meditation.)   One of the interesting aspects of this whole picture is that Teresa was not the last to make use of it. Edith Stein uses it in Finite and Eternal Being. Edith Stein (1891-1942), for those who don't know, was a student of the philosopher Husserl. Jewish by background, she eventually converted to Catholicism and entered the Benedictine Order as a Carmelite. In 1942 the Nazis arrested her and sent her to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she died. She was canonized a few years back (1998), and so is known variously as "Saint Edith Stein" or "Saint Teresa Benedicta a Cruce," which was the name she took in honor of Teresa of Avila. (Her feast day, by the way, is coming up: August 9.)   The interior castle is introduced in part VII, section 3. There she notes (quotations are from Finite and Eternal Being, Kurt Reinhardt, tr., ICS Publications, Washington D. C., 2002):  

The soul as the interior castle--as it was pictured by our holy mother Teresa--is not point-like as is the pure ego, but "spatial." It is a space, a "castle" with many mansions in which the I is able to move freely, now going outward beyond itself, now withdrawing into its own inwardness. And this space is not "empty," even though it can and must receive and harbor a fullness in order to become capable of unfolding its own individual life. (p. 373)

The soul 'dwells' in various aspects of itself: in the body, as sentient; in the spirit, as extending outside itself to recognize a world of persons, events, and things; and in "the personal I" or "pure ego". Stein is careful to indicate the point at which she is going beyond Teresa, saying, "St. Teresa was not interested in the question fo whether the structure of the soul, aside from being the abode of God, has an independent meaning of its own and whether there is perhaps another entrance 'portal' to the soul's inwardness besides contemplative prayer" (p. 598 n. 33). In Stein's understanding of the interior castle, the dwelling-places are a significant fact about the very nature of the soul's 'inwardness' or self-consciousness; and the other entranceway is what she calls the "awake and conscious ego-life" (p. 375). It plays an important role in her attempt to clarify what it is to be a person. We have a genuine sort of soul-structure,  a multifacetedness in our self-knowledge; spatial metaphors are an attempt to characterize this, given that we don't have convenient words for what is being discussed.  She agrees with Teresa that the "ego which apprehends, observes, and works upon its own self as if this self were a purely external thing evidently does not have its seat in the interior of the castle" (p. 433), and that self-knowledge is closely related to interiority. As she says:  
In its innermost being the essence of the soul is completely overt to itself. When the ego lives in this interiority, i.e., in the ground of its being where it is truly at home and in its own, it experiences in some measure the meaning of its being and feels the collected power that precedes the division into individual powers or faculties. And when the ego's life issues from this interiority, it lives a full life and attains to the height of its being. (p. 438)
This transformation to interiority is a gradual process; in particular, it is a gradual process in which the person becomes more fully what they are called to be:  the call to interiority is an appeal to the person, to the intellect, to the free will. And we do experience a call to interiority. It does not compel, but to dwell in our castle in a more interior way is to understand ourselves more fully and to be more at home with who we are; the call to interiority is the call to 'take a stand' with respect to what sort of persons we will be, the voice of conscience: "Reason and faith are both appeals of the soul, calling it 'to enter into its own self' and to mold human life from the innermost center" (p. 440).

This only barely scratches the surface of the investigations of the two Teresas on this point. I find it immensely interesting from a philosophical perspective; in part, because I think they are both on to something very important about the nature of self-knowledge, and in part because it highlights that there is an immense amount of moral psychology and philosophical anthropology locked in spiritual classics. It's perhaps worth noting, too, that recognition of this is important to doing more justice to the actual participation of women in the Colloquium of Ages that is the history of philosophy. There are many important philosophical insights from women located in works of piety and spirituality with which, for various reasons, they often were in more of a position to write than they were to write any treatise that would be more stereotypically 'philosophical'. So the purpose of this post is to begin calling attention to that hidden treasure.

More on Priestcraft and Enthusiasm

This is a follow-up to my "Wisdom from Campbell" post. It occurs to me that, while in practice the use of the priestcraft-and-enthusiasm locus is very vague, and more social in application than anything, both of the words seem to have something to do with way in which revelation is mediated. In 'priestcraft' revelation is entirely mediated by a magisterial hierarchy; in 'enthusiasm' revelation is entirely mediated by personal inspiration, conscience, or inner light. This is likely the origin of the Scylla-and-Charybdis notion; the establishment churches of Britain would have seen themselves - in different ways, obviously - as avoiding either extreme. The social aspect would have come from the actual groups that would receive these labels, and thus would tend to indicate those advocating, from a religious perspective, either hierarchialism (if that's the right word for it)or libertariarianism, in contradiction to the establishment compromises. Thus Quakers, of all people, could be seen as dangerous to society (which some people certainly did consider them to be): their religious views, springing from their notion of 'inner light', would have been seen as a religious excuse for anarchy.
Such is my hypothesis, anyway. The facts I build it on are 1) the way philosophical thinkers in the period actually use the topos, and 2) the sort of conclusions they draw from it. But I'm sure there's some intrepid historian out there who, from the more purely historical side, has touched on this distinction in some way that would allow for a more precise filling out (or correction) of this suggestion. If anyone has come across anything in this regard that might be of some use, let me know.

Absolute Proof of My Geekiness

"Gnostical Turpitude" has a post referring back to an earlier post on the issue of whether chess and quizbowl should be considered sports. I agree with him that it's silly to consider them such. But I must confess...
In high school I lettered in quizbowl.
Now that's the most embarrassing thing I've ever had to admit.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

A Taxonomy of Evidentness

From Beattie's Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, 1.2 (I have slightly changed the exact format to make it easier to post):
A. Of abstract ideas & their relations (certain) -- a.k.a. mathematical evidence
  • intuitive evidence (i.e., the self-evidence of first principles)
  • evidence of strict demonstration (from first principles)

B. Of things really existing

  • from our own experience (certain): (1a) external and internal sense; (1b) memory; (1c) legitimate causal inference.
  • from our own experience (probable): (2a) based on uniformity, i.e., inference from facts experienced to unexperienced facts of the same kind; (2b) based on analogy, i.e., inference from facts experienced to unexperienced facts of a similar kind.
  • from the experience of others -- evidence of testimony.


Beattie then goes on to defend each of these from what he sees (with some justification) as Hume's skepticism about them.

Analytic Intuitions

There is apparently considerable discussion at present on the role of intuitions in analytic philosophy. Good examples of this discussion can be found at the philosophy weblog, "Experimental Philosophy," here. It's an interesting sort of debate; I find myself a bit perplexed by aspects of it, though. Here's why.
When I say I do history of philosophy, that's what I do. That is, that's where I start; and I start floating around various texts in the history of philosophy (usually early modern and medieval) and look at analytic philosophy in light of that background. As far as I can tell, this is fairly rare; most people who would say they do history of philosophy start with the more modern stuff, and examine the historical stuff in light of it. What this difference means in my case is that, despite a considerable interest in many of the things analytic philosophers do, especially these days, I am often puzzled by the assumptions made by analytic philosophers, and by the methods they sometimes employ. This whole 'intuition' thing is a case in point.
There was a time when 'intuition' would have conveyed something fairly precise. Intuitive cognition would be, roughly, thinking about something that was present. It would be distinguished from abstractive cognition, thinking about something absent. When Cartesians use 'intuitio' or its cognates, they are probably heavily influenced by this usage; we have an intuition of our being because when we think, well, there we are. Here and there you can find analytic philosophers using the term in something like this way, but it's not the common usage.
More common is something like what Berkeley and the Scottish common sense philosophers would call 'the plain dictates of common sense'. But it seems to me that the Scottish common sense philosophers were far more sophisticated in their appeal to common sense than analytic philosophers ever are in their appeals to intuition. For one thing, there was a clear criterion, derived from Berkeley, of what got to count as a 'plain dictate of common sense', namely, the principle under consideration had to be essential for practical life, i.e., for making any sense of life at all. Thus, 'Bodies exist' is a dictate of common sense. 'I exist' is a dictate of common sense.  'Memory under normal conditions is at least roughly reliable' would be a plain dictate of common sense. And so forth. It was a very pragmatic notion. And the Scottish common sense philosophers were not satisfied with vague appeals to common sense; rather, they attempted to formulate, as exactly as they could, the principles that common sense embodied, and to show (Beattie, for instance, devotes considerable time to this)  that rejecting those principles, or throwing doubt on them, leads to a sort of practical absurdity. Skepticism about these particular principles, in other words, falls prey to the old apraxia objection, that it would make practical life impossible.
Analytic philosophers do not do this, or if they do, do so much more rarely. And indeed, while 'intuitions' as used by analytic philosophers sometimes seem a lot like 'plain dictates of common sense', in many cases they are very different. Sometimes it seems to mean just 'spontaneous judgment'. Sometimes it seems to mean 'common platitude'. Sometimes, indeed, it seems almost to mean the oracular pronouncements of some magical faculty that just knows the way things are. Sometimes it seems to mean just 'my considered opinion'. Sometimes it means 'what people would ordinarily say'. Perhaps I'm just missing something, but there seems no commonality here. 'Intuition', in effect, just means, 'I want this taken for granted (in some relevant way) because I don't want to be bothered with actually arguing for it right now.' Or so it seems.
I remember one night after a class I was hanging with some of my students at the GSU pub and the subject of analytic philosophy came up in the discussion. I don't remember all the details, but I do remember part of the exchange. One of my students, a top-notch student with a strong interest in analytic philosophy happened to say in the midst of the discussion:
I think one of the differences between the analytic approach and other approaches is that the analytic approach involves fewer assumptions.
Oh! I said, dropping my jaw (half-tongue-in-cheek, half-genuinely-surprised). And you actually believe that?
I always think of that when I hear anyone doing analytic philosophy appeal to intuitions.

Elders of Pherae Draft

Here is the second scene to the Alcestis verse-play I've been writing off and on. It's in a slightly earlier stage of draft than the Lament of Alcestis, the first scene, which I posted here. The characters are the Chorus of Elders, of which three, designated by numbers in square brackets speak here.
Elders of Pherae
[1] Today's the fatal day, the time --
[2] The house is quiet, cold, and dark
With all death's pall, and yet no sign
Of dirge, procession through the park,
Nor voices raised in sorrowed rhyme --
[1] Today's the day, I know the stars --
Lies are foreign to their dance;
This day was seen from well afar;
God's wisdom leaves no path to chance.--
[3] May God save all from mortal glance!
Alas! Our queen, so good and kind!--
[2] No mourning meets our open ears,
No flowers for the dead we find;
Perhaps 'tis but our shying fears
That bring this coldness to our minds?--
[1] The cold of death, not fear, this is,
the cold of dank, the cold of tomb,
the cold - alas! - of Hades' mists;--
[3] Alas! You speak such words of doom,
And yet they fit too well this gloom!
You speak, I fear, the dreaded word
That truth makes into ruthless law;
Not mage's stars nor augur's birds
Show mortal man such cause to awe --
[2] The fear we feel may yet be found
To be the mist of fog and mind
And all the tracks of silent sound
That fancy's phantoms have designed.

Wisdom from Campbell

Nothing is more common with polemic writers, than to complain of the pride of those who impugn their theories. It requires no great penetration to discern, that the pride of the writer is the source of the complaint. The charge is commonly reciprocal, and just on both sides. Would you know which is the proudest? You will not mistake the matter greatly in concluding, that it is he who on this topic makes the loudest clamour. But of all the species of pride and presumption that have ever yet appeared, it is certainly the most extravagant, for a puny mortal, the insect of a day, a reptile of the dust, to arrogate the prerogative of omniscience, to ascend the throne of the Most High, and to point the thunders of Almighty power. Is it to be wondered that such a disposition should produce a spirit of persecution? It would be miraculous if it did not. Can the man who does not hesitate to usurp one function of Omnipotence, hesitate to usurp another? Would he who scruples not to pronounce sentence, scruple to execute it if it were in his power? Yes, upon reflection I am persuaded, that far the greater part of those blind zealots themselves would stop here. We are however too amply warranted by experience to say at least, that they will not scruple to consign him to a stake in this world, whom they do not scruple, in their usurped capacity of judges, to hell-fire in the next.
We sometimes hear much of Antichrist amongst our controvertists. Who is Antichrist? It is an usurper, who, under pretence of honouring Christ, supplants him, perverting the power he has assumed to the seduction of the disciples, 2 Thess. ii. 3, &c. We have seen already, that, in the political artifices we have been combating, there is a double usurpation of the prerogatives of our Lord, both as the only infallible instructor of the people, and as the supreme judge of the world. This is therefore that malign spirit of Antichrist, whose baleful influences, have, alas! been but too widely diffused, to the unspeakable hurt of that godlike charity, without which, with all our pretensions to faith, and zeal, and knowledge, we are at best but sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, 1 Cor. xiii. 1-3.
What then shall we say of those who differ from us in important articles? What shall we say? That, in our judgment, they err, not knowing the Scriptures. What more should we say? It belongs to the Omniscient, the Searcher of hearts, and to him only, to say whether their error, if they be in an error, proceeds from pravity of disposition, or from causes in which the will had no share. Is it for us to determine, how much wood, and hay, and stubble, may be reared up on the only foundation, Jesus Christ? Though the foreign materials, by the apostle's account, will be consumed in the fiery trial they must undergo, yet the builder himself will be saved, 1 Cor. iii. 15. We are ever, like Peter, turning aside from the point in hand, (which is what immediately concerns ourselves,) and, by a curiosity much less justifiable than his, inquiring, what will become of this man? When such a question arises in thy mind, O my fellow-Christian, think thou hearest the voice of thy divine Master checking thy impertinence in the words addressed to the apostle, What is that to thee? Follow thou me? John xxi. 22.
George Campbell,  "The Spirit of the Gospel a Spirit Neither of Superstition Nor of Enthusiasm," preached before the synod of Aberdeen, 9 April 1771.
I've taken this from (to give it its full name) A Dissertation on Miracles: Containing an Examination of the Principles Advanced by David Hume, Esq., in An Essay on Miracles; with a Correspondence on the Subject by Mr. Hume, Dr. Campbell, and Dr. Blair. To Which are Added, Sermons and Tracts. A New Edition. Thomas Tegg (1839) 191-192.
"Enthusiasm" in the title of the sermon doesn't mean what we would mean by it. It was common among establishment Protestants in this period to distinguish true religion from the two opposing vices of superstition (also called priestcraft) and enthusiasm. Thus, theologians of both the Church of England and the Church of Scotland saw themselves as occupying the golden mean or happy medium between Catholicism and the more radical forms of Protestantism (Baptists, Methodists, and Quakers, mostly); the former was considered excessively rigid, and the latter excessively loose, in religious and social structure (and usually doctrine as well). It was a common polemical trope, which Hume takes up for his own use in several places.


Blogger has been infuriating me on every side the past week and a half; it's been inconstant and what seemed an endless trial of my patience. Despite having several things to post yesterday, I had to limit myself to one post each on Siris and Houyhnhnm Land because it was giving me so much trouble. But I go to create a post today and lo! they have decked out the interface with many delightful additions. So all is forgiven.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Cosmological Arguments

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has put an article, by Bruce Reichenbach, on-line here. It's worth reading. I do find it a bit disappointing, however, in some ways. Cosmological arguments are all causal arguments. It is, however, simply no longer the case that everyone means the same things when they are talking about causes. So there's a sense in which any discussion of the cosmological argument, at least any that does not discuss in some detail the different sorts of causation to which people are appealing (and how they are doing it), is of limited use. An example. Reichenbach lays out Craig's Kalam argument, then says, "The basis for the argument's first premise is the Causal Principle that undergirds all cosmological arguments." What would such a Causal Principle be? It would have to undergird all of Aquinas's distinct proofs, Craig's Kalam argument, and Leibniz's sufficient reason argument. Reichenbach glosses the principle as "every contingent being has a cause of its being," but contingency only appears in one of Aquinas's arguments (and it's not clear he means it in the same way Reichenbach does - Aquinas's Third Way is the hardest of his arguments to interpret). The others rely on motion, efficacy, maximality in a genus (which is as much a causal argument as others, but would be very difficult to put in a form using Reichenbach's Causal Principle), and intentio or disposition of causes. None of these uses, so far as I can see, Reichenbach's principle. To be sure, some of them use similar principles; but they appeal to different characteristics of different sorts of causation. To say that this one principle "undergirds" all cosmological arguments seems to imply that all cosmological arguments appeal to it in some way. But they don't seem to do so; some might, but most appeal to other principles that allow similar sorts of causal inferences.

There is another problem, this one less important. Reichenbach says:

Although Aquinas was quick to make the identification between God and the first mover or first cause, such identification goes beyond the causal reasoning that informs the argument. Instead it requires a lengthy discussion of the supreme beings that are found in the diverse religions and careful correlation of the properties of a necessary being with those of a religious being like God, to discern compatibilities and incompatibilities (Attfield).

This is often said; but it has never made any sense to me as a complaint against Aquinas. Aquinas is actually very careful and reasonable on this point. The usual point of an argument for the existence of God is that you argue for something that at least some people have traditionally called 'divine' or 'God' or somesuch. Or else, failing that, you argue for the existence of something having a description someone could reasonably consider to be a divine attribute. 'God' is not a proper name; it is a common noun that is treated as a proper name because people (even atheists) have gotten used to the idea of its applying to only one actual thing. If by 'God' you mean the one actual thing to which this description would refer if Christianity is right, then the cosmological arguments don't conclude to the existence of God in that way; they only do so under limited types of description. Nor would it be reasonable to expect otherwise. I cannot fault an argument, designed to show the existence of the Prime Minister of Canada, on the basis that the argument doesn't conclude 'This particular man, Paul Martin, with all these particular sorts of properties, exists' but only 'There is a Prime Minister of Canada'. The latter is all you need from the existence argument. If you are interested in other things, then you take the existence argument and use it to move on and look at other things. And this is precisely what Aquinas does; nor is he "quick" to do it, unless you think the entire Treatise on God in the Summa Theologiae or the entire first book of Summa Contra Gentiles can be called "quick" discussions. The existence arguments only yield something(s) with properties that can reasonably be called 'divine'; that's all he actually needs in the argument itself, and that's all he asks we recognize - because he can use these properties to deduce other properties and start filling out the details of what you actually can know about this 'God' you've shown to exist. And this is exactly what one would expect. But, as I said, this is a relatively minor beef; it only affects Aquinas.

My real complaint about the article (it is not alone) is that it spends way too much time on Craig's Kalam argument and nowhere near enough time on the traditional arguments, which get massively shortchanged. This is unfortunate, because actual objections relevant to the traditional (especially medieval) arguments are hard to find - all three of the people from whom the main objections to the traditional arguments tend to be taken (Russell, Hume, and Kant) can fairly easily be shown not to have had any considerable acquaintance with the traditional arguments; and it's unclear how any of the three objections Reichenbach gives actually are relevant to (say) Aquinas's or Scotus's arguments, since those arguments are arguments to the effect that, if you allow that there are certain properties that are caused, to deny there is a first in each of these causal series leads to contradictions. And they actually have arguments for such a conclusion (sometimes in other places). The vague handwavings of Hume, Kant, and Russell do nothing in comparison with that, even on the assumption that they are more-or-less right.

I don't want to give the impression that it's a bad article. It's actually quite good, well worth reading, particularly given how condensed it has to be as an encyclopedia article. The fact is, 'cosmological arguments' is an immense and complicated subject whose surface can barely be scratched by a discussion this short. I would say: it's a good place for people to start. And that's exactly what an encyclopedia article should be.

(My attention was called to this entry by a post by Matthew Mullins at Prosblogion.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

'Bubled' Is a Great Word

I'm starting a collection of comments by Samuel Johnson on David Hume.

Quoted in Sharbo, Samuel Johnson's Critical Opinions, p. 44.
"a man who has so much conceit to tell all mankind that they have been bubled for ages and he is the wise man who sees better than they, and has so little scrupolosity as to venture to oppose those principles which have been thought necessary to human happiness....I know not indeed whether he has first been a blockhead and that has made him a rogue, or first been a rogue and that has made him a blockhead."

The rest are from Boswell's Life of Johnson:

Wednesday 20 July 1763
The conversation now turned upon Mr. David Hume's style. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, his style is not English; the structure of his sentences is French....'

Thursday 21 July 1763...JOHNSON. 'We can have no dependence upon that instinctive, that constitutional goodness which is not founded upon principle. I grant you that such a man may be a very amiable member of society. I can conceive him placed in such a situation that he is not much tempted to deviate from what is right; and as every man prefers virtue, when there is not some strong incitement to transgress its precepts, I can conceive ofhim doing nothing wrong. But if such a man stood in need of money, I should not like to trust him; and I should certainly not trust him with young ladies, for there there is always a temptation. Hume, and other sceptical innovators, are vain men, and will gratify themselves at any expence. Truth will not afford sufficient food to their vanity; so they have betaken themselves to errour. Truth, Sir, is a cow which will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull. If I could have allowed myself to gratify my vanity at the expence of truth, what fame might I have acquired. Every thing which Hume has advanced against Christianity had passed through my mind long before he wrote. Always remember this, that after a system is well settled upon positive evidence, a few partial objections ought not to shake it. The human mind is so limited, that it cannot take in all the parts of a subject, so that there may be objections raised against any thing. There are objections against a plenum, and objections against a vacuum; yet one of them must certainly be true.'

I mentioned Hume's argument against the belief of miracles, that it is more probable that the witnesses to the truth of them are mistaken, or speak falsely, than that the miracles should be true. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, the great difficulty of proving miracles should make us very cautious in believing them. But let us consider; although GOD has made Nature to operate by certain fixed laws, yet it is not unreasonabe to think that he may suspend those laws in order to establish a system highly advantageous to mankind. Now the Christian religion is a most beneficial system, as it gives us light and certainty where we were before in darkness and doubt. The miracles which prove it are attested by men who had no interest in deceiving us; but who, on the contrary, were told that they should suffer persecution, and did actually lay down their lives in confirmation of the truth of the facts which they asserted. Indeed, for some centuries, the heathens did not pretend to deny the miracles; but said they were performed by the aid of evil spirits. This is a circumstance of great weight. Then, Sir, when we take the proofs derived from prophecies which have been so exactly fulfilled, we have most satisfactory evidence. Supposing a miracle possible, as to which, in my opinion, there can be no doubt, we have as strong evidence for the miracles in support of Christianity, as the nature of the thing admits.'

February 1766
He said, 'no honest man could be a Deist; for no man could be so after a fair examination of the proofs of Christianity.' I named Hume. JOHNSON. 'No, Sir; Hume owned to a clergyman in the bishoprick of Durham, that he had never read the New Testament with attention.' I mentioned Hume's notion, that all who are happy are equally happy; a little miss with a new gown at a dancing school ball, a general at the head of a victorious army, and an orator, after having made an eloquent speech in a great assembly. JOHNSON. 'Sir, that all who are happy, are equally happy, is not true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally satisfied, but not equally happy. Happiness consists in the multiplicity of agreeable consciousness. A peasant has not capacity for having equal happiness with a philosopher.'

Spring 1768
His prejudice against Scotland appeared remarkably strong at this time. When I talked of our advancement in literature, 'Sir, (said he,) you have learnt a little from us, and you think yourselves very great men. Hume would never have written History, had not Voltaire written it before him. He is an echo of Voltaire.'

September 1769
I told him that David Hume had made short collection of Scotticisms. 'I wonder, (said Johnson,) that he should find them.'

Thursday 26 October 1769
When we were alone, I introduced the subject of death, and endeavoured to maintain that the fear of it might be got over. I told him that David Hume said to me, he was no more uneasy to think he should not be after this life, than that he had not been before he began to exist. JOHNSON. 'Sir, if he really thinks so, his perceptions are distrubed; he is mad: if he does not think so, he lies. He may tell you, he holds his finger in the flame of a candle, without feeling pain; would you believe him? When he dies, he at least gives up all he has.'

Tuesday 16 September 1777
I mentioned to Dr. Johnson, that David Hume's persisting in his infidelity, when he was dying, shocked me much. JOHNSON. 'Why should it shock you, Sir? Hume owned he had never read the New Testament with attention. Here then was a man, who had been at no pains to inquire into the truth of religion, and had continually turned his mind the other way. It was not to be expected that the prospect of death would alter his way of thinking,unless GOD sould send an angel to set him right.' I said, I had reason to believe that the thought of annihilation gave Hume no pain. JOHNSON. 'It was not so, Sir. He had a vanity in being thought easy. It is more probable that he should assume an appearance of ease, than that so very improbable a thing should be, as a man not afraid of going (as, in spite of his delusive theory, he cannot be sure but he may go,) into an unknown state, and not being uneasy at leaving all he knew. And you are to consider, that upon his own principle of annihilation he had not motive to speak the truth.'

Monday 22 September 1777
Talking of Dr. Johnson's unwillingness to believe extraordinary things, I ventured to say, 'Sir, you come near Hume's argument against miracles, "That it is more probable witnesses should lie, or be mistaken, than that they should happen."' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, Hume, taking the proposition simply, is right. But the Christian revelation is not proved by the miracles alone,but as connected with prophecies, and with the doctrines in confirmation of which the miracles were wrought.'

He would not allow Mr. David Hume any credit for his political principles, though similar to his own; saying of him, 'Sir, he was a Tory by chance.'

My Two Cents on Delayed Presidential Elections

There's been some talk recently of potentially delaying the Presidential elections if there is a terrorist attack soon before them; some of this talk has been interesting, although most (as is often the case when political partisanship enters the discussion) is a bit childish.

My thought on the matter is this. The elections should not be delayed. The only reason for delay would be fear of excessive foreign influence on the election process. The Electoral College was set up by the Founding Fathers in part in order to shield the Presidential elections from such influence. A terrorist attack would put the Electoral College to the test as it has never been put to the test before; but it is there for precisely this sort of reason. And so long as the states have their election laws in order, it will work.

-> As it turns out, I'm not the only one to think so; see this op-ed at the Washington Times.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Yes, and I Too Was Born Full-Grown from the Mind of Zeus


?? Which Of The Greek Gods Are You ??
brought to you by Quizilla

-> But really, is "Education" the only thing the gray-eyed goddess is putting on her resume these days? She invented olives, beekeeping, weaving, and military strategy; but I guess that just doesn't get a pagan deity hired like it used to.

-> And she really wouldn't have made a good God of Education; she was notorious for her distaste for women--she taught all her arts to men, and only taught women lessons in the sinister sense of the word.


I promised to say a bit more about Novalis, so after a brief refresher, here goes. Novalis was born Friedrich von Hardenberg in 1772; he became a major figure in the German Romantic movement in the 1790s; and he died young of tuberculosis in 1801. His most famous works are his poetic cycle, Hymns to the Night, and the fictional works, The Apprentices at Sais and Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Hymns to the Night can be found here; it's an updated version of George MacDonald's 1897 translation, which would make it worth reading on its own; the unmodified version can be found at The Golden Key, one of the best on-line sites about George MacDonald, here. The most famous passage from Heinrich von Ofterdingen, on the Blue Flower, can be found here. The Blue Flower became an extemely important symbol in the Romantic movement. (The same site is slowly building up the only on-line translation of Heinrich von Ofterdingen here.) The penname 'Novalis', which means something like 'breaker of new ground', was first used, as near as I can tell in his collection of fragments, Pollen, also called Miscellaneous Observations (which, besides Hymns to the Night, a few other of the fragmentary works, and excerpts from the others, is the only Novalis I've actually managed to read). Thomas Carlyle's 1829 essay on Novalis is here.

The Romantics saw themselves as engaged in what they called Symphilosophie, i.e., philosophy as a genuinely collaborative enterprise. The fragmentary genre was, particularly by Novalis, seen as a way of engaging in symphilosophy; he saw the fragments in his fragment-collections as 'literary seedings' (hence the name Pollen for one of them).

The following are some fragments from his various fragmentary collections that I found especially of interest. The translations are those of Margaret Mahony Stoljar, in her edition of Novalis: Philosophical Writings, SUNY Press, 1997.

From Miscellaneous Observations

16. We are close to waking when we dream that we are dreaming.

19. How can a person have a sense of something if he does not have the germ of it within himself. What I am to understand must develop organically within me--and what I seem to learn is only nourishment--stimulation of the organism.

38. Man has his being in truth--if he sacrifices truth he sacrifices himself. Whoever betrays truth betrays himself. It is not a question of lying--but of acting against one's conviction.

50. Every beloved object is the center of a paradise.

62. Humanity is a cosmic role.

84. The most intimate community of all knowledge--the republic of learning is the high purpose of scholars.

92. The historian endows historical beings with living form. The data of history are the mass which the historian shapes--giving it life. It follows that history also obeys all the principles of animation and of all living form, and until these principles are in place there are also no real products of the historian's art--but only traces here and there of chance animations, where involuntary genius was active.

96. Where children are, there is a golden age.

100. The wisdom of story-telling contains the history of the archetypal world--it embraces times past, present, and future.
The human world is the common instrument of the gods. Poetry unites them as it does us.

104. The art of writing books has not yet been invented. But it is on the point of being invented. Fragments of this kind are literary seedings. Many among them may indeed be steril--still, if only some grow....

125. The true reader must be an extension of the author. He is the higher court tha treceives the case already prepared by the lower court. The feeling by means of which the author has separated out the materials of his work, during reading separates out again the unformed and the formed aspects of the book--and if the reader were to work through the book according to his own idea, a second reader would refine it still more, with the result that, since the mass that had been worked through would constantly be poured into fresh vessels, the mass would finally become an essential component--a part of the active spirit.
Through impartial rereading of his book the author can refine his book himself. With strangers the particular character is usually lost, because the talent of ully entering into another person's idea is so rare. Often even in the author himself. It is not a sign of superior education and greater powers to justifiably find fault with a book. When receiving new impressions, greater sharpness of mind is quite natural.

From Logological Fragments I

7. When one begins to reflect on philosophy--then philosophy seems to us to be everything, like God, and love. It is a mystical, highly potent, penetrating idea--which ceaselessly drives us inward from all directions. The decision to do philosophy--to seek philosophy is the act of self-liberation--the thrust toward ourselves.

12. In the truest sense doing philosophy is--a caress. It bears witness to the deepest love of reflection, to absolute delight in wisdom.

14. Sophists are people who, alert to the weakness and errors of philosophers, seek to use these to their advantage or generally for certain unphilosophical, unworthy purposes--often philosophy itself. Thus they actually have nothing to do with philosophy....

24. The poem of the understanding is philosophy. It is the greatest impetus tha thte understanding gives itself about itself--union of the understanding and the imagination. Without philosophy a person remains divided in his most essential powers. He is two people--one who has understanding--and one who is a poet.
Without philosophy a poet is incomplete. Without philosophy a thinker--or a judge--is incomplete.

31. Poetry is the basis of society as virtue is the basis of the state. Religion is a mixture of poetry and virtue--can you guess, then--what it is the basis of?

43. Genius in general is poetic. Where genius has been active it has been poetically active. The truly moral person is a poet.

87. To become a human being is an art.

99. Whoever sees life other than as a self-destroying illusion is himself still preoccupied with life.
Life must not be a novel that is given to us, but one that is made by us.

100. Everything is seed.

From the Teplitz Fragments

25. The world is a universal trope of the spirit--a symbolic picture of it.

41. Our whole life is divine service.

From the General Draft of an Encyclopedia

28. My book is to become a scientific bible--a real, and ideal model--and seed of all books.

35. Every branch of learning becomes poetry--after it has become philosophy.

45. Philosophy is actually homesickness--the urge to be everywhere at home.

48. A fairy tale is actually like a dream image--without context. An ensemble of marvelous things and incidents--for example, a musical fantasy--the harmonic products of an Aeolian harp--nature itself.
If a story is brought into the fairy talke, this is already an alien interference.

From the Last Fragments

12. Doing philosophy is only a threefold or double kind of waking--being awake--consciousness.

15. What is it that shapes a person if it is not his life history? And in the same way a splendid person is shaped by nothing other than world history.
Many people live better in the past and the future than in the present.
Even th epresent cannot at all be understood without the past and without a high degree of education--saturation with the highest products, the purest spirit of the age and of the past, and a digestion of this, from what source the human prophetic view arises, which the historian, the active, idealistic person who works with the data of history can as little do without as the grammatical and rhetorical storyteller.
In his discourse the historian must often become an orator. Indeed he speaks gospels, fo rthe whole of history is gospel.

26. Poetry is true idealism--contemplation of the world as one would contemplate a great mind--self-consciousness of the universe.

National Boundaries and Rainbows

There's an interesting post at "Early Modern Notes" on the issues with the label 'early modern'. I'm not sure I have any clear (or even consistent) view on the subject yet. History of philosophy is a peculiar sort of historical discipline; it is the only historical discipline I can think of which is itself, essentially and necessarily, a form of the thing it studies. All history of philosophy is, necessarily, a way of doing philosophy - the question can never be whether one will do philosophy by doing history of philosophy, but only whether one will do it badly or well. This leads to additional peculiarities, and I think a number of them have to do with how we divide up history. The primary trouble with labels in history of philosophy is not, I think, historical at all; historical labels potentially interfere with good philosophy, which in turn can make for bad history of philosophy. The reason is that labels can isolate a period and lead to putting blinders on. All historical change is continuous; even climactic events and catastrophes fit flush with what precedes and what comes after, in the sense that they can't be isolated from them. This is especially true, I think, in history of philosophy. In this sense there is a sort of expendability to the labels.

On the other hand, the 'early modern' label is also in a sense objective and real, a bit like national labels and boundaries are. National labels and boundaries are both arbitrary and imaginary, since they are simply made up by human beings, but they are objective and real in that, if you fail to take account of them in history, it can lead to distortion in your account. The divisions between 'early modern' and other periods are in this sense imaginary and arbitrary, and have all the vagueness and merely-approximateness (to coin a barbarism) that follow from being so; but, in history of philosophy, at least, they are real. For instance, philosophically speaking, in the early modern period the people involved explicitly see themselves as making a break with the past; there is a distinct period to which one can apply the label because the people involved in the history deliberately made the period as distinct as they could from the previous periods. There are a number of other signs - quick shifts in patterns of influence, topics discussed, descriptions of reason and philosophy, etc. The break isn't sharp; it varies from country to country (in Britain 'early modern' can reasonably be said to last well into the 19th century, but in Germany one can reasonably say it ends before the end of the 18th); you can use different criteria for where you put the endpoints (e.g., at the publication of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, at the French Revolution, there's even an argument to be made that it should end with Hume's publication of A Treatise of Human Nature in 1740); and it will vary from historical discipline to historical discipline (I've given common suggestions for history of early modern philosophy). But the (relative) suddenness of the change is real.

Further, even in the slowest and most gradual historical change (I suspect this would in some periods be exemplified by, e.g., the long-term stable changes in the socioeconomic conditions of peasants), there can be real differences that need to be distinguished out. The visible spectrum shades continually from very red to very purple. Color terms are notoriously arbitrary in how they divide the spectrum. But red is still very different from purple, and it's useful to have a way of speaking more precisely about the differences, even if the exact divisions between terms are picked out at random. So I suppose my thought is that the 'early modern' label is more than a convenience - but less than a real name. It doesn't pick out anything very distinct; but its value isn't in doing that anyway, but in doing something else, namely, making it possible to talk about the history in the first place.

Or something like that!

Sunday, July 11, 2004

In a Class of My Own: Useless Facts About This Blog

As near as I can tell from several searches on the web, I run the only two weblogs that regularly touch on topics in early modern philosophy.

In a Yahoo! search for "Siris," Siris came up #8. (Blast that Smithsonian Institute Research Information System!) For "Houyhnhnm Land" H.L. came up #2 (after Gulliver's Travels, of course). On Google, "Siris" turned up Siris in the #10 position. I am inclined to think that neither of these will be common search terms.

Searching for "Lady Mary Shepherd" Google gives Siris on the third page. Two of my class webpages turn up earlier. As near as I can tell, this weblog is the only source on the web for any information about Lady Mary Shepherd's philosophical work that goes beyond the Thoemmes Press entry by Jennifer McRobert. I hope in the next few days to continue my discussion of Lady Mary Shepherd's causal theory, so Siris is the happening place for Shepherd studies. More credit for me!