Saturday, August 28, 2004

Definitely a Contender for Best Blog Carnival....

Take a moment to peruse the Carnival of the Recipes at "She Who Will Be Obeyed". If you try any of them out you can review them in the comments to this post. The Khachapuri and Roast Lamb look good; I'm not really a baking person, but I've been intending to do roast lamb for a while. I might adapt the "Five Meals out of One Chicken" to the use of turkey, when Thanksgiving comes around. I recently did pork roast (roasting and stewing are about the limit of my cooking skills) that turned out only so-so; I wish I had had the stuffed pork roast recipe.

And that's just skimming off the top!

My Mystery Skill of the Day

Houyhnhnm Land is one-hundred-percent valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional.

I don't, I must confess, know entirely what that means; I already knew the site was fairly accessible, since I checked in several browsers, including a text-based one. Validation doesn't guarantee that your site will be accessible; and not being valid will not necessarily interfere with the accessibility of your site. But someone somewhere said these are the things that should be done.

I have accomplished it. I feel validated.

Shepherd on the First Cause, Part IV: Reasoning upon Experiment

My series on Lady Mary Shepherd's causal theory is continuing on its rambling way. For what has gone before, see Part III.

One of Shepherd's key complaints against Hume has to do with his attempt to make causal reasoning entirely a matter of custom rather than reason, in the sense that the basic causal principle (for every beginning of existence there must be a cause) is not due to reason but to custom. She attempts to show, contrary to this, that the basic causal principle is due to reason, in combination with what she calls an experimentum crucis. Her analysis of our causal reasoning goes something like this:

 1. A new quality appears to my senses.

 2. New qualities are differences; and thus the appearance of a new quality is the introduction of a difference; the introduction of a difference is causation.

 3. This new quality could not be caused by itself (it would not then be an introduced difference).

 4. In the environment of this new quality there are not any surrounding objects except such-and-such object(s) that could affect it.

 5. Therefore such-and-such occasioned it, because there is nothing else to make a difference and a difference cannot begin of itself (3 and 4).

This is a rough characterization, although it is very close (see Cause and Effect pp. 43-44); it is one of the many things in Shepherd scholarship that has not yet been adequately examined.

She says of her analysis (p. 44):

This is an argument, which all persons, however illiterate, feel the force of. It is the only foundation for the demonstrations of the laboratory of the chymist; which all life resembles, and so closely, in many instances, that the philosopher, and the vulgar, are equally sure of what cause is absolutely necessary to the production of certain effects; for instance, each knows that in certain given circumstances, the closing of the Eye will eclipse the prospect of nature; and the slight motion of reopening it, will restore all the objects to view. Therefore, the Eye (in these circumstances,) is the Cause or Producer of vision.

She is insistent that, in general, only one trial is necessary. It is because of this that she uses the term 'experimentum crucis', which is used also by Boyle and Newton, and indicates a single experiment sufficient to decide an issue. Because only one trial is necessary, our causal reasoning cannot be based on custom. On the basis of this 'reasoning upon experiment' we derive the notion of 'power'.

(3) is a significant move in the analysis, so it is worthwhile to look more closely at her reasoning on this point. Suppose we have an object that 'begins its existence of itself', i.e., just begins, uncaused. This beginning of an object is "an action, which is a quality of an object not yet in being, and so not possible to have its qualities determined, nevertheless exhibiting its qualities" (p. 35). In other words, she thinks "beginning to be, uncaused" involves a contradiction; beginning to be is necessarily an introduction of a difference, and therefore requires something from which it may be introduced. As she puts it elsewhere, objects cannot begin their existences except as having the nature of effects.

One of the criticisms Shepherd makes of Hume is that he attempts to distract from this conclusion by shifting suddenly from the question of the existence of the causes to the question of how the nature of the causes may be determined. It is this sort of sophistry, she thinks, that enables him to pretend that "whatever begins to exist has a cause" is not a necessary truth.

The above analysis connects with her account of causation as mixture of qualities through her conception of what is involved in introducing a difference (p. 63):

A Cause, therefore, is such an object, as shall enable it, in conjunction with another, to form a new nature, capable of exhibiting qualities varying from those of either of the objects unconjoined. This is really to be a producer of new being....An Effect is the produced quality exhibited to the senses, as the essential property of natures so conjoined....An object may be defined, a combined mass of qualities; the result of proportional unknown circumstances in nature, meeting with the human senses.

(I'm not sure whether these are to be taken as definitions in strict generality, or as accurate descriptions under normal conditions. Yet one more thing that needs to be studied.)

Friday, August 27, 2004

Houyhnhnm Land

Houyhnhnm Land is now at a new place; update your links. Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvements.

Does anyone know how to put up a "Recent posts" list in WordPress?

Early Modernists' Carnival

Sharon at Early Modern Notes is floating the idea of an early modern weblog carnival. This is a great idea; if anyone blogs and has a post that relates in any way to early modern, you should consider sending the link to Sharon. I'll have to do the same myself.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Osculetur me

I just came across this beautiful historiated initial opening the Song of Songs. Besides the initial, I found the gloss (The voice of the Church desiring the coming of Christ) interesting.

In some editions one sometimes sees attempts to divide the parts of the Song among different characters (apparently it goes back a long way). I wonder, however, if this isn't a bit misguided. Parts of the Song are clearly the man, parts the woman, but there is a sense in which it is all one voice. Are the Daughters of Jerusalem characters, or are they simply part of the poetic discourse? Is it intended to be a dialogue, or merely suggest it? It becomes difficult to say. Perhaps this is the point? What has always struck people about this book is the unitive character of the love it depicts; it is a Song of union, and this is why it lends itself so easily to mystical commentary.

My Beloved has gone down to his garden, to the terraces of spices, to feed in the gardens and to gather lilies.
I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine. He feeds among the lilies.
O my Love, you are as beautiful as Tirzah, as lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as bannered armies.
Turn away your eyes from me, because they have overcome me.

Update (29 August 2004): Claire at Time Travel is Easy has a post that points out this useful Song of Songs site.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Paperwork is a good excuse to go walking....

I've been swamped with paperwork the past several days, and since I needed to get passport photos for some ID-thingy or other, I went on a nice long walk from my apartment, just north of Trinity-Bellwoods park, to a good photo place on Yonge Street (you might have to zoom out one to see Trinity-Bellwoods Park). It was great to get out. On my way back I stopped by at Abelard Books on Queen Street and found two books I've been trying to find for some time: J.R.R. Tolkien's translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo, and Dorothy Sayers's The Man Born to be King. They will certainly conduce to my reading pleasure for some time. I'm especially looking forward to the character development of Judas Iscariot in the Sayers book; she has an interesting dramatic approach to him.

I think I caught something, though, since I was feeling pretty bad last night; so I just finished my puzzlement post on Vallicella and went home rather than (as I was intending to do) staying up to finish some revisions on a chapter. In retrospect, it was probably not a good idea to write a post on the doctrine of the Incarnation while tired and feverish. So, having slept on it, here's a bit of clarification.

The triad is:

1. Necessarily, if two things are identical, they share all their (non-intentional)properties.
2. God the Son and Jesus do not share all their (non-intentional) properties.
3. God the Son and Jesus are identical.

Vallicella considers this to be an inconsistent triad; and then goes on to argue that (3) is false. All three statements of the triad are supposed to be part of orthodox Chalcedonian Incarnationalism (OCI).

(3) is to be understood as saying that God the Son and Jesus are numerically identical as persons, i.e., they are one and the same person. If this is so, however, (2) has to be interpreted in a certain way in order to create an inconsistency in combination with (1) and (3). That is, the properties under consideration have to be personal properties, properties necessary to being this person. But if this is how we interpret it, it seems (2) is not part of OCI.

There is a way (2) can be interpreted in order to apply to OCI, namely, if we interpret it as indicating natural properties. But then it will not generate inconsistency in combination with (3), unless we were to interpret the identity in (3) as stronger than just numerical sameness of person. I tended to slip into this interpretation in my original post; but it's ruled out by what Vallicella actually says in the article (and by his response to my original post).

So I'm puzzled about the argument.

On the Electoral College

There's a great (very informal) debate going on at All Day Permanent Red on the Electoral College. I'm very much pro-EC; I think the EC is one of the niftiest ideas since the invention of the vote. There are (of course) things that can be said against it as well as for it, since it's an imperfect institution. I think the argument may ultimately come down to the question of whether Federalism or one-person-one-vote in Presidential elections is more important for the common good (whenever I use the term 'common good', by the way, I mean it in the medieval sense: not a separate collective good but the good each individual has in virtue of being a rational and therefore social/communal creature). A tricky sort of question, because one can always ask, On what basis would one decide the issue? And that's rather hard to say. I am very much Federalist-inclined, in part because I am very suspicious of Congress; in part (probably) because, being Texan, I have an exalted view of the importance of States; and in part because I'm not ready to throw out an important traditional connection with our Founding Fathers on a matter of abstract principle, unless there are clear abuses. But I would be inclined to argue the EC is the Constitutional institution with the least likelihood for abuse.

Of course, all arguments on Constitutional matters quickly get into very deep waters very quickly, so, as I said, it's a tricky sort of question. Anyway, go and see.

Christian Carnival XXXII

The Christian Carnival is up at "Patriot Paradox". My contribution is here. Some of the notables:

* Wheat vs. Rice: A Response to Critics at "Fringe".

* Open Source Theology at "View from the Pew"

* Should We Pray to the Dead? at ""

* God's Immutability at "Rebecca Writes" (this is a great post, highly recommended; I've been enjoying Rebecca's series on the divine attributes, but this is my favorite so far)

Women in the Military

Interesting stanzas from Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Book III, Canto II:

Here haue I cause, in men iust blame to find,
That in their proper prayse too partiall bee,
And not indifferent to woman kind,
To whom no share in armes and cheualrie
They do impart, ne maken memorie
Of their braue gestes and prowesse martiall;
Scarse do they spare to one or two or three,
Rowme in their writs; yet the same writing small
Does all their deeds deface, and dims their glories all.

But by record of antique times I find,
That women wont in warres to beare most sway,
And to all great exploits them selues inclind:
Of which they still the girlond bore away,
Till enuious Men fearing their rules decay,
Gan coyne streight lawes to curb their liberty;
Yet sith they warlike armes haue layd away:
They haue exceld in artes and pollicy,
That now we foolish men that prayse gin eke t'enuy.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

A Thought on the Holy Incarnate Word, Addendum I

Bill Vallicella at Maverick Philosopher has posted an interesting response (and some nice compliments) to my thought on the Incarnation. He is right that my terminology is a bit rough and loose (most things written here are rough and loose, since Siris is, in effect, my notes and jottings opened to be read for whomever might be interested, with all the advantages and disadvantages of that). It's clear that I made a rather serious error in discussing his argument; although I confess this leaves me rather puzzled about the argument itself. I'm a bit hesitant on this point because, having received Vallicella's reply, it seems clear to me that I must be completely missing something essential to his argument, and I don't know what it would be. So in this post I will give not so much a response (in the sense of an answer) to Vallicella as a set of notes in the attempt to formulate my puzzlement; if he's still interested in continuing the discussion, he can help me out a bit, or if anyone else has anything that might help, they can chime in. But before I get into this I just want to clarify something that wasn't clear in the original post; I said "Contradictions can only arise if X is A and Y is ~A in the same respect" -- this was assuming, although it wasn't adequately clear in the post, that we are already supposing that X is the same as Y -- i.e., in parallel to the problem at hand. Now, I'll rough out my puzzlement a bit. He says:

True, Brandon is one and the same person whether clothed or unclothed just as the Son is one and the same person whether unincarnate or incarnate. But Brandon unclothed is identical to Brandon clothed. They are one and the same person.

I can agree with this. What worries me about 'identical' here is that Brandon unclothed and Brandon clothed are not indiscernible (there is one way they are, and this the way Vallicella intends - I will get to that below; bear with me - I think it will become clearer later why I'm taking a preparatory route before getting to his actual claims). I can, remaining the same person, have properties that would be contradictory if I had them in the same respect, as long as I don't actually have them in the same respect. For instance, I can be both clothed and unclothed if I am clothed now and unclothed later. (Pierce, I think, says somewhere that time is that in virtue of which contradictories can be predicated of the same subject). Therefore the mere attribution to a subject of properties that, if they exist in the subject in the same respect, would be contradictories, does not constitute a contradiction unless A) they can be shown actually to be attributed in the same respect; or B) the respects in which they would need to be differentiated cannot be attributed to the same subject without contradiction.

If one is considering whether the Chalcedonian formula is consistent, (1) is irrelevant, since the formula is the denial that they are attributed in the same respect. So it's (2) that's in play; in other words, the question at hand is nothing other than the very question of whether one person can be both God and man without contradiction.

Recall the triad at the root of the discussion:

1. Necessarily, if two things are identical, they share all their (non-intentional)properties.
2. God the Son and Jesus do not share all their (non-intentional) properties.
3. God the Son and Jesus are identical.

I think I was a bit sloppy in discussing this; Vallicella, in retrospect and in his response, clearly means (3) to indicate the same as my consideration that the Son and Jesus are one person. I slipped into treating (3) as being stronger than it was really meant to be; the reason I made this error, I think, is that if (3) is taken simply to mean that the Son and Jesus are one person, it only generates inconsistency in combination with (1) and (2) if they are considering only sameness of person as well. In other words, not every non-intentional property that might be identified as belonging to the Son or to Jesus is relevant; only those properties that are necessary for being this person, the Son, and for being this person, Jesus. If this is the case, though, then Chalcedon is not really in question at all; what is in question is all of the conciliar formulations, since they all identify Jesus as the Son of God. I'm not saying this to quibble, because the philosophical issues don't change much; I bring it up to clarify why I may have confused something about Vallicella's argument. I made the mistake of considering too closely what was distinctively Chalcedonian rather than the whole of the Chalcedonian formula - I defended the two natures formula; and (3), concerned only with sameness of person, doesn't pose any danger to the two-natures formula itself via (A), which is a common complaint against Chalcedon. Vallicella sometimes seems to be making this sort of complaint; but if I took him in this sense (looking over my post again I must have, but perhaps not consistently) I must have misunderstood him in this (and thus slipped, unfortunately, into taking the identity involved as being stronger than 'numerical identity of person', thus requiring an indiscernibility with regard to more properties than Vallicella intended), because taking (3) as a statement of the sameness of person, his argument can't be that divine properties and human properties contradict [i.e., if taken in the same respect] but simply that one person can't be both divine and human. And if this is true, (2) must mean something like:

The non-intentional properties necessary for being this person, the Son, and the non-intentional properties necessary for being this person, Jesus, are not the same.

But if the only concern is sameness of person, then on the conciliar view of the Incarnation this is false because the only non-intentional properties necessary for being this person, strictly speaking, are those necessary for being this divine person (who becomes incarnate).

So my puzzle is this: I don't see an interpretation on which the three members of the triad can all apply to Chalcedonian incarnationalism. If we take (2) in the sense in which it would apply to Chalcedon, it must mean, "There is a difference in non-intentional properties between the Word in itself and the Word as incarnate" (i.e., the incarnate properties themselves). If this is so, however, no inconsistency is generated unless (3) is meant to indicate that the Word in itself and the Word incarnate are simply the same thing, i.e., the Word cannot, without contradiction, be non-incarnate. I took it to be something along these lines, although perhaps not consistently. If this is the case (3) is inconsistent with (2), but (3) is not orthodoxy. But this is not what Vallicella intended, so it can be set aside.

If (3) is applicable to Chalcedon, it can only be because it simply means "God the Son and Jesus is the same person"; but if this is the case, the whole triad, to be inconsistent, must generate an inconsistency with this in Chalcedonian incarnationalism itself. But it can't, because if we are considering only whether God the Son and Jesus is the same person, (2) does not apply to the Chalcedonian doctrine, because it would have to be taken in a sense that would be exactly equivalent to saying that God the Son and Jesus are not the same person. In this scenario (2) would be inconsistent with (3), but it wouldn't be orthodoxy.

One reason I think I'm definitely missing something is that on both these scenarios (2) and (3) turn out to be direct contradictions; (1) doesn't really add anything. I can't think of a scenario in which it would, however, because I can't think of a scenario in which it would not be both the case that (A) (2) and (3) are direct contradictions; and (B) one of the two contradicts Chalcedonian Christology. This is ultimately why I got a bit sloppy and made my error; I find the argument to be shifty in this way, and can't find an interpretation of the triad that both generates an inconsistency and applies to Chalcedon. Thus my perplexity; I seem to have failed to understand some move in the argument.

Now to other issues. Given my perplexity on the bigger issue I just discussed, I don't know how far off I am in understanding him on these; but I present them in the hopes that, if the preceding doesn't help clarify my perplexity, something in the following might.

I had said that the (orthodox) doctrine of the incarnation "is the doctrine that the unincarnate Word took on incarnate properties." He suggests that I might not have understood the doctrine, and says:

But the Incarnation is not a case of a thing acquiring an accidental property, or a set of accidental properties; the Incarnation is a case of a particular being -- indeed a necessary being -- becoming identical to a particular contingent being.

I'm afraid, however, that the Chalcedonian doctrine is the doctrine that the Word became man by taking on properties, namely, the properties of human nature. In Chalcedonian orthodoxy, the Incarnation is a case of a particular person, who is a divine and necessary being, without ceasing to be a divine necessary being, assuming the properties of contingent human nature so as to be this human being born of Mary who died on the cross. This is the whole point of the two-natures doctrine. This is the whole raison d'etre of the Chalcedonian formula: The divine (and thus necessary) person did not become a contingent (and thus non-divine) person, the divine (and thus necessary) nature did not become a human (and thus contingent) nature; but the person with the necessary nature also assumed or took on a contingent nature.

The Chalcedonian doctrine, in other words, is that something necessary became identical to something contingent only if you mean that something necessary remains identical in the relevant way to that same necessary thing with something contingent added. (I think this is another way of stating the point above.) I don't think I've misunderstood it on this point.

So, for instance, when the question is asked, "how can the Son, who is spatially unlocated also be spatially located?" the answer would be: the Son's being spatially unlocated simply means that the Son has no spatial location in virtue of his divine nature. When He becomes incarnate, He gains a spatial location, but it's not in virtue of His divine nature, but in virtue of His human nature. Likewise, His divine nature is an impassible nature; it remains an impassible nature throughout. The Son cannot suffer in virtue of His divine nature, or perhaps I should say for clarity, the Son cannot suffer-in-virtue-of-His-divine-nature; but He can suffer in virtue of His human nature (or, for clarity again), He can suffer-in-virtue-of-His-human-nature. In other words, impassibility is a natural property; talk about impassibility indicates something about the divine nature. By adding a passible human nature, the Son becomes passible, but in a different respect. It would be possible to argue that it is a contradiction for Him to have both respects. This would be a more direct line of argument than the incompatible triad argument, since it wouldn't be an argument for Chalcedon's inconsistency but for the straight-out falsity of its claims. But I don't see at all on what basis one could argue for this (i.e., that would not be answerable by the reduplicative strategy); so I don't really have anything to say on that point.

So, to sum up, I'm considerably perplexed (hence both the length and the wavering in the post). But I am enjoying the chance to talk about this, and so I thank Bill Vallicella for his response, which has given me further food for thought. I occasionally read his weblog in browsing the philosophy blogs on the web, and it's always a stimulating read. I wish I had his talent for precision while blogging; I have difficulty, I'm afraid, keeping blogging and rambling apart (this post is perhaps an example!). I don't think I really realized that the article and the blog were authored by the same person until I came across the Philosophers' Carnival post; but the reason I picked the article to discuss was that it was a good discussion of the subject. Lots worth thinking about!

Update (25 August 2004): I've given a simpler and clearer summary of my puzzlement here.

Mary Astell on Malebranche's Vision-in-God Thesis

From her masterwork, The Christian Religion, as Profess'd by a Daughter of the Church of England (1705) pp. 83-85:

"I will not Conjecture what makes some People so warm against the Hypothesis of seeing all things in GOD, nor why after so much discourse about Ideas, they are so hard to be reconcil'd to an Ideal World. But this I may say with due submission to better Judgments, that that Hypothesis and what is built on it, gives a better answer than any Hypothesis I have met with to the trifling and unreasonable Objections, for so I will presume to call them, tho' they are the strongest that can be made by the greatest pretenders to Reason, against the Divinity of the Son of GOD. Some have told us that the chiefest good of Man is the best Design of God [Ladies Religion, p. 5]; I cannot answer for the Thoughts they seem to have of GOD and of themselves: But this I know, That those who are conversant in that Hypothesis, have too aweful a sense of the Divine Majesty to endure so presumptuous a Supposition. They know that GOD is His own Design and End, and that there is no other Worthy of Him. For since there neither is nor can be, any comparison between the Creator and His Creatures, far be it from us to think so unworthily of GOD, and so arrogantly of our selves, as to suppose that His Wisdom contriv'd all things for our Use, or supports them for our satisfaction, who are before Him as nothing, who are counted to Him as less than nothing and vanity [Esay. 40.17.], who are not worthy of His notice but in and thro' His Son our Lord, by whom, and for whom, were all things Created, and by whom all things consist [Colos. 1.16, &c.]. The Relation we bear to the Wisdom of the Father, the Son of His Love, gives us indeed a dignity which otherwise we have no pretence to. It makes us something, something considerable even in GOD's Eyes. And in this respect and upon this account, the Creation and chiefest Good of Man is a design worthy of God, I know not how we shall be able to prove it so upon any other."

I have put the marginal notes in brackets. "Esay", of course, is Isaiah. There is, I think, more going on this passage than might be entirely obvious from the selection alone (a problem with philosophical selections in general). Astell is currently in the midst of a critique of Lockean positions, of which the Ladies Religion is an example (she calls it, rather scathingly, "little else but an Abstract of the Reasonableness of Christianity, with all those disadvantages that usually attend Abridgments"). There is, I think, something of an ad hominem here; this abstract of Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity does not support the reasonableness of Christianity so well as this hypothesis Lockeans are constantly treating as unreasonable. This little passage, though, gives a bit of the flavor of Astell at her best: in particular, she has a flair for polemic rhetoric. The crack about having difficulty with an Ideal World after so much talk about Ideas is exquisite; it definitely will get a footnote in my thesis. Later, when she is criticizing Locke's view that God might "superadd" thought to matter, thus making a thinking material thing, she says after some criticisms:

So that, in fine, I utterly despaire of meeting with a Triangle equal to a Square, and that can Eat and Discourse, and I find it equally impossible for Body to Think. (p. 259)

This allows for all sorts of jokes about discoursing over breakfast with an equilateral triangle, against anyone who thinks that an extension-only view of matter (which was the most common view in the early modern period) allows for the possibility of thinking matter.

Monday, August 23, 2004


Stuart Buck has a post on what baby names mean at "The Buck Stops Here."

It reminds me a bit of a story Hume tells somewhere (I can't remember where - comment if you know) about names. There was a fashion (Puritan, I think) of giving children names that were meaningful from a Christian perspective. Most of them were simple, straightforward names like Chastity, Charity, Patience, Prudence, Temperance, &c. Occasionally, however, the parents got a bit more creative. Hume liked to tell of a man in the Scottish Parliament whose parents had named him something like Had-Christ-not-been-you-would-surely-have-been-damned Barebones. To save time people would refer to him as "Damned Barebones."

I'm going to have to remember to look up the source and and precise details of this story next time I'm in the library....

When Philosophers are Carnies....

The first-ever Philosophers' Carnival is up at Philosophy, etc. There are some great submissions that make my modest little offering seem rather elementary. Of special interest:

* Paradox vs. Surprise at "Certain Doubts"

* The God-Man Identity Theory by William Vallicella at "Maverick Philosopher".

Those who are interested in this post might want to check out my previous post on the Incarnation; there I criticized Vallicella's article, to which his post here is a follow-up. I agree with his basic arguments, taken against the position he sets up as OCI; I don't think, however, that his formulation of OCI is accurate.

* Jeremy Pierce, as might be expected, has an excellent contribution in Open Theism and Evil, Part I, at Prosblogion

Jeremy has put up Part II here.

* Tom at "Legalistic Fingerpointing" contributes Don't throw out our philosophy just yet, a well-argued and very readable essay that from an atheistic perspective defends philosophy from the charge of being just "a refuge for wooly-thinking theism-collaborators"

I will be hosting the next Philosophers' Carnival (September 6). The general information on the Carnival can be found here. You don't have to be a philosopher to submit; all you need is a post that is philosophically interesting (and that's a very vast field). Only one submission will be accepted from a given author for each Carnival. Submissions should contain the words "Philosophers' Carnival" in the subject heading, for easy identification. The address to which they should be submitted is:


with @ for {at} and . for {dot}. I would prefer to have the submissions by 11 pm EST, but this is a preference, not a hard-and-fast deadline.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Malebranche on Divine Concourse

This is an interesting little passage from Malebranche's Réponse a une Dissertation de Mr. Arnauld contre un Eclaircissement du Traité de la Nature et de la Grace (1685). You can find this at OC 7:545-546 (RD chapter X, section XIII). Again, my translation is rather rough. I hesitated a bit about the word "concourse"; as can be seen from the passage below it's often most easily treated as meaning "concurrence," which can translate both the French concourse and the Latin concursus it is translating. But "concourse" is a technical term, as well, being a scholastic theory of providence. (This excellent paper by Freddoso provides a brief intro to what motivated the theory; and this one a brief intro into some of the difficulties it faces.) One occasionally finds "concourse" used as a technical term in English, and Malebranche is certainly using it as a technical term here. So, since this passage is fairly short, I decided to keep it as "concourse"; you can mentally fill in "concurrence" if it helps. The third opinion Malebranche notes is, of course, his own, namely, occasionalism: God is the only agent, strictly speaking. In an Elucidation to the Search after Truth, Malebranche also opposes his occasionalism to concurrentism, on the very similar grounds that concurrentism concedes too much to pagan idolatry by allowing creatures their own causal efficacy. This worry about idolatry is what motivates Malebranche's entire philosophy of causation; and, ironically, leads to the arguments that Hume would later adapt to his even more skeptical theory of causation.

"There are only three opinions on this matter. The first, that creatures are able to act by their own efficacy without the concourse of God. The second, that they are only able to act with the concourse. The third, that they are not able to act by their own efficacy. The first opinion is rejected by the greater part of the Theologians, becase it renders creatures independent in their actions: and I do not believe that Mr. Arnaud wishes to uphold it.The second is more Christian, but it has many defects. I. It is not intelligible. If you examine it you will see this well. II. It is not in conformity with Scripture. For if one must take literally the passages that seem to attribute a proper efficacy to creatures, the first opinion would be the true one. Assuredly the Jews, to whom Scripture speaks, did not think of a simultaneous concourse....In the end, the concourse is good for nothing, save on the supposition that the Philosophy of Aristotle is true, and that the nature and the natural laws are something other than the efficacy of the will of God, and the laws that he has established in order to govern the world. But more than this, one should consider that, if the concourse of God is necessary, for the purpose of being able to act, certainly one cannot attribute to oneself a true power, if there is nothing but God, having made for himself a general law of always giving his concourse, that renders our actions efficacious. And so one necessarily falls again into the third opinion, which one wished to evade in order to defend a Philosophy and some prejudices that give to the creature what only pertains to the Creator."

Public Library of Science

I've been intending to do this for a while.

I Support the Public Library of Science

Above you will find a link to a really great organization, the Public Library of Science, which describes itself in the following terms:

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource.

Currently the only journal they have up and running is PLoS Biology, of which you can find the most recent issue here. This is a great journal, wonderful to browse. It is a scientific peer-reviewed journal, so it's the real deal. On the other hand, because of PLoS's commitment to being accessible to the public, every scientific article comes with an easy-to-read synopsis of the basic line of thought in the article. In addition, there are primers for those interested in a slightly more advanced look at the science of particular topics (e.g., gene transcription or the modeling of autoimmune diseases), occasional book and movie reviews looking at biology in the media, and essays on various unsolved scientific problems and what is being done to solve them. One of my favorite essays so far was this one in their occasional "Unsolved Mysteries" section, discussing the human sense of smell. Apparently, the human sense of smell is much better than most people think; we can outperform most animals whose sense of smell has been studied in all but a limited range of chemicals, despite the fact that we seem to have less developed physiology for this purpose. The author, Gordon Shepherd, suggests (as just the most likely current possibility) that it might have something to do with our ability to use language. PLoS Biology is always full of things like this.

Because PLoS Biology makes use of Creative Commons copyright license, one may freely copy and distribute any article in the journal, as long as it is properly cited.

They hope to put up another journal, PLoS Medicine, this October, and after that, at regular intervals, other journals for other fields. As I said, it's a great organization; tell your friends about it.

Hear That, League of Imitators?

Lord of the rings
J.R.R. Tolkien: Lord of the Rings. You are
entertaining and imaginative, creating whole
new worlds around yourself. Well loved, you
have a whole league of imitators, none of whom
is quite as profound as you are. Stories and
songs give a spark of joy in the middle of your
eternal battle with the forces of evil.

Which literature classic are you?
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(Via Harrison at All Day Permanent Red, via, via CultureCat. I'm trying to make occasional use of Richard Chappell's proposal of extended hat-tipping.)