Saturday, October 02, 2004

Fischer on Frankfurt examples

Clark Goble at Mormon Metaphysics provides this link to an interesting paper on Frankfurt examples in free will by John Fischer. I am utterly unimpressed by Frankfurt examples, and I disagree entirely with the conclusions, but Clark is right that the paper is good.

As to why I'm unimpressed, I'll have to blog about that some time (hint: it has to do with the way choice itself is characterized in them); and then perhaps will see if my being unimpressed is a function of my ignorance or my savvy. But right now I'm going home to bed, so that's for a later time.

"Professor Mama"

A very interesting post on people (especially academics) with and without children at Bitch Ph.D.: Professor Mama. (Link via Majikthise, who has a good comment on it.)

One of several good lines: "We all, every last one of us, with and without kids, need to resist the idea that the other person's 'choice' is somehow unfair to us."

On the grocery store thing, I've never been bothered by people with kids, even screaming ones. (I was a pest in stores when I was a kid myself.) I am, however, often bothered by people with shopping carts, who sometimes need to have a bit of courtesy knocked into them.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Revolutionary Revelation and My Vague Speculations about Apocalyptic Literature

There's an interesting post at Crooked Timber on apocalyptic Christianity - interesting, with interesting comments, but I must confess that, having had some acquaintance growing up with the sort of people they are talking about, I always find many of the pontifications on the matter as silly as some of the views that are talked about. The comment by James Kabala is a good one, though, since it corrects a number of misconceptions. Misconceptions about apocalyptic religious views are always common; there is, for instance, the common view that they are usually somewhat hysterical and paranoid whereas I think in practice the views usually serve a function that is more moral in nature: they provide a framework for thinking of issues of moral law, political justice, and moral providence by way of mythos or imagery. Something like this is, I think, actually necessary; and if we didn't have it in apocalyptic imagery, some other imagery would have to rise to take its place, with issues and problems of its own. One could argue, perhaps, that apocalyptic's great rival for this is gnostic imagery; after entertainment journalism, perhaps!

I find that people who call other people 'fundies' are not any more likely to understand the people they are talking about than any other sort of name-callers; I suppose it's my naivete, but I really can't understand the mentality of appealing to critical thought in one sentence while stereotyping people with derogatory labels in the next. That seems naive to me; but, as I said, perhaps I'm just missing something.

Incidentally, I think it's important to recognize the politically subversive character of the apocalyptic genre; apocalyptic literature is by its nature revolutionary, a sort of populist revolt against the powers that be in the name of a greater justice: it's a refusal, at the level of an imaginative picture of the world (we all have some sort of imaginative picture of the world), to allow the political categories to be imposed from above by other human beings. It's difficult, I think, to find a discourse or rhetoric that is more capable of taking a forceful stand against oppression and injustice. Can you really get much more unequivocal than Revelation 18? Some of the criticisms of the Bush government, I think, have been extremely limp and feeble gropings after something like this discourse; I sometimes want to say, "Come out and call it the Whore of Babylon already; you know that's what you're really trying to say!" And you'll find, I think, that a lot of people who have apocalyptic tastes in the U.S. really do have at least an occasional nagging worry that the U.S. sounds a lot like Babylon, "the great city that rules over the kings of the earth," with whose adulteries and wealth kings and merchants have become intoxicated. Were some of the people who like to consider themselves progressives more interested in understanding people than mocking them, they might learn enough of the language to bring a genuinely progressive message home to the people who use that language. It's certainly well-suited for it. Apocalypse is about revolution, sometimes forceful (Revelation), sometimes rather gentler (Shepherd of Hermas), but it's about changing things that need to be changed.

Since we're on the subject, the blog "Obsidian Wings" has a discussion of what is perhaps the latest dangerous temptation toward Babylon-style adultery with the tyrants of the earth (my terms, of course, in keeping with the apocalyptic theme; the technical term is 'extraordinary rendition'). At least, it is if the analysis there is right; I don't have quite the patience for law codes I should. (Hat-tip to Cliopatria for the link.)

And no, I'm not going to make it a regular thing to talk apocalyptically about politics; there's certainly too much of that already, feeble as it may be. But some things, perhaps, require it. Sometimes, perhaps, one needs the lion to roar against the kine of Bashan and the princes of the earth.

A Clarification on Reduplication in Christology

My Jottings on Reduplication have caused some perplexity, so I thought a clarificatory post was in order. So here's my thought on the general 'lay of the land' when it comes to reduplication.

First, it needs to be understood that the original context of 'the reduplicative strategy' really isn't the question of whether the Incarnation as understood by Chalcedon is contradictory. On the contrary, reduplicative phrasing is something that comes very naturally to anyone who comes from a background based on the Chalcedonian Definition and the Tome of Leo. Its primary purpose is simply to avoid sounding like an Arian, Nestorian, or Monophysite in various contexts. (Aquinas, for instance, is often associated with 'the reduplicative strategy', but he doesn't, so far as I know, use it to deal with accusations of contradiction. On the contrary, he is simply interested in it for itself, because of its value for clarifying Christological language. It makes it easier to talk about the sense in which Christ is subject to the Father, and the sense in which He is not, for instance.)

Is the reduplicative strategy relevant in allegations of contradictions in traditional Christology? Absolutely, because the natural reply to any such allegation is reduplicative. If someone says, "There is a contradiction in your Christology because it requires that Christ be both mutable and immutable," it is an entirely reasonable reply to say, "The contradiction is only apparent; Christ is mutable as man and immutable as God." And so on with any other similar allegation.

Now, my Jottings were primarily concerned with pointing out that there is no structural flaw whatsoever with a reduplicative reply. It is a reasonable reply and not, as Morris claims, "a muddying of the waters"; it is not, as is sometimes claimed, simply a complicated way of stating the contradiction. First, because there are perfectly reasonable reduplications which are clearly not contradictory, e.g., "As father, Tom does not have a responsibility for the city, but as mayor he certainly does." Second, because on an explanatory account of reduplication it can be seen that reduplications like these are, in fact, claims that the predicates apply "in different respects." Any attempt to try to draw out a contradiction from the reduplication itself will simply fail, because reduplication itself blocks any such attempt.

Now, reduplication is not a Christology; it is one relatively minor element of any Christology of the Incarnation. And thus, it is entirely possible to deny that we can reduplicate in the case of Christ. This, however, is an entirely different argument; it is not an argument about reduplication itself but about one person possessing two natures, and what that would mean. It is not a contradiction drawn from the reduplication but an argument that reduplication is impossible. This, indeed, is required by reduplication itself, since one of the effects of reduplication is that it shows where the real issues lie. For example, if we say "Christ as man is mutable but as God is immutable," this shows that the real issue is not that Christ is both mutable or immutable, but the way in which we can talk about Christ's manhood being distinct from His Godhead.

My own view is that any position that allows that Christ is both God and man must necessarily allow some sort of reduplication (or claim that there is no distinction between being God and being man at all). If this is so, the real issue when people are talking about reduplication is not reduplication at all, but conciliar Christology itself.

Wisdom from Matteo Ricci

The Christian religion instructs us perfectly on these rules, but men do not understand what is in front of their eyes. Everything they cannot see seems opaque to them. If a pregnant woman is thrown into prison, and gives birth in a dungeon, her son will grow up knowing neither sun nor moon, ignorant that there are such things as mountains and rivers, a human race, a universe. A large candle serves as his sun, and a small one as his moon. The few people he sees in the prison are the human race to him. He can think of nothing better than this. He is not aware there is hardship in his prison, he stays there peacefully, he does not think of leaving. But if his mother should speak to him of the splendor of the stars, of the fine objects owned by the wealthy, of the wide expanse and wonder of the world, of the loveliness and the loftiness of the sky, he will come to understand that he has only seen some pale echoes of the sun, that his prison indeed is narrow, dirty, stinking. From that time on will he not cease wanting to make his home there? Will he not think, day and night, of freeing himself and going to live in joy amid his parents and friends?

[Matteo Ricci, True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven (Tianzhu shiyi) translated in Jonathan D. Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci Penguin (New York: 1985) p. 159. Spence notes that the final sentence is well-chosen to appeal to the upper-class of the Ming dynasty.]

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Monogamy and Nonmonogamy

A bit of a rant. One of the things that annoys me is the application of marriage-related terms to dating. The most common culprit is the word 'monogamy'. If two people are dating, and they are exclusive, they are not monogamous unless they are also married to each other and only to each other. Further, if two people are married, and the marriage is an open marriage so they are not exclusive, they are monogamous if they are not also married to each other. A bigamist who has a sexual relationship with only one of his wives is not monogamous. The next time you see a news article about a study that has shown seagulls (or whatever) not to be monogamous, think a moment about whether you thought they ever got married in the first place. The next time someone tells you about how gophers (or whatever) have or lack genes for 'monogamy' ask, "Do they have genes for white wedding dresses?"

The application of 'monogamy' to agamous situations (yes, 'agamous' is a word, although I'm adapting it in this case) is one of a number of instances in which we have a sort of 'creeping monogamy', in which just ordinary dating comes to be burdened more and more with the expectations that only make sense in the context of the peculiarities of that very peculiar institution, marriage. (This is one of the great irritations I have with this imperialism of the word 'monogamy', although by no means the only one.) There are so many better words for whatever you want to say than 'monogamy'. I am not monogamous because I am not even married. I cannot be monogamous until I marry. I can be faithful, loyal, exclusive, but not monogamous. If I become married, I will be monogamous unless I become polygamous. This all makes perfect sense. Using 'monogamy' in any other way makes no sense whatsoever.

Jottings on Parts, Wholes, Subjects

The Analytic Group here at Toronto had a guest speaker, Ted Sider, who gave a paper on parthood, which you can find here:

Parthood (PDF)

It was interesting, although I found parts very difficult to follow, not having had a chance to read the paper before it was presented (alas, they did not provide the URL beforehand). In any case, I don't have much to say about the talk itself. It did start me thinking about a number of completely different issues in mereology, and one is that we should perhaps pay more attention to the part-subject relation than we do. We do pay quite a bit of attention to part-whole relations; but the part-subject relation seems to be different, or at least potentially. This can be seen in the case of temporal parts (assuming there are temporal parts). Suppose you have an object O with temporal parts t1, t2, t3, etc. Now when we are talking about O, we can be talking about two entirely different things. Some people mean the whole sum of t1, t2, t3, etc. This is O-as-whole. But we can also mean the thing that has t1, etc, as the subject of the parts rather than as the whole. For instance, let t1 be Brandon yesterday; let t2 be Brandon today; let t3 be Brandon tomorrow, etc. Now, I can either take the whole of Brandon (t1 + t2 +t3 etc.), or take Brandon as a subject (the one has temporal part t1 at t1, etc.). It can also be seen in the case of spatial parts. Talking about the subject-part relation, I am wherever any part of me is. But this is not true of the whole-part relation (the whole of me is not where my finger is, for instance). We could perhaps express it by distinguishing between the relation 'part of' and the relation 'part belonging to' (or something along those lines. So in thinking about parts and wholes, we should perhaps think in terms of a triad rather than a dyad: in terms of subjects-parts-wholes rather than just parts and wholes. I'm sure someone else must have suggested something like this; I'll have to look into the matter a bit more - I have only a rough acquaintance with analytic mereology. Any suggestions for further reading?

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Banned Books Week

Apparently it's Banned Books week, and this is going around. There are, of course, many more books that people have tried to keep off of library shelves at some point somewhere - Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain come to mind - but it's interesting to go through the list and see what I've read (and, more interestingly, what I've liked). I confess I'm not too worried about 'banned books' issues; there are a lot of stupid challenges, but contrary to the way the ALA likes to make it sound, they really pose virtually no threat to intellectual freedom. The challenge campaign that would have to be mounted to do so would have to be massive. Moreover, book challenges fall under the category of intellectual freedom, too, even if one considers them to be abuses. And most challenges are put forward with school libraries in mind; and there are entirely reasonable arguments that might be put forward for a more restricted and focused selection of material in school libraries. Nonetheless, as I said, it was interesting to see which books I've read and liked. Books I've read, I've bolded; those I enjoyed, I've italicized. (via Rebecca Writes via Jen Speaks via the Llama Butchers via All Things *Lucy Republican via the ALA)

Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling (the first one, anyway)
Forever by Judy Blume
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Giver by Lois Lowry
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Dieby Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Sex by Madonna
Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
The Witches by Roald Dahl (I think, anyway)
The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
The Goats by Brock Cole
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
Blubber by Judy Blume
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
Final Exit by Derek Humphry
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (extremely stupid book)
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
Deenie by Judy Blume
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
Cujo by Stephen King
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Fade by Robert Cormier
Guess What? by Mem Fox
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Native Son by Richard Wright
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Jack by A.M. Homes
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
Carrie by Stephen King
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
Family Secrets by Norma Klein
Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
Private Parts by Howard Stern
Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
Sex Education by Jenny Davis
The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

Hume, Perception, and Time

It is sometimes suggested that Hume thinks unchanging impressions are instantaneous. The idea seems to come from Treatise 1.2.3:

I know there are some who pretend, that the idea of duration is applicable in a proper sense to objects, which are perfectly unchangeable; and this I take to be the common opinion of philosophers as well as of the vulgar. But to be convinc'd of its falsehood we need but reflect on the foregoing conclusion, that the idea of duration is always deriv'd from a succession of changeable objects, and can never be convey'd to the mind by any thing stedfast and unchangeable. For it inevitably follows from thence, that since the idea of duration cannot be deriv'd from such an object, it can never in any propriety or exactness be apply'd to it, nor can any thing unchangeable be ever said to have duration. (paragraph 11)

Since we cannot derive an idea of duration from unchangeable objects, and cannot "in a proper sense" apply it to those objects, the thought is that unchanging impressions are instantaneous. This, however, cannot be right, because Hume immediately goes on to say:

Ideas always represent the Objects or impressions, from which they are deriv'd, and can never without a fiction represent or be apply'd to any other. By what fiction we apply the idea of time, even to what is unchangeable, and suppose, as is common, that duration is a measure of rest as well as of motion, we shall consider afterwards.

In other words, we can (and do) apply the idea of time to unchanging objects by a "fiction". As he clarifies in Section 5, to which this refers:

But tho' it be impossible to shew the impression, from which the idea of time without a changeable existence is deriv'd; yet we can easily point out those appearances, which make us fancy we have that idea. For we may observe, that there is a continual succession of perceptions in our mind; so that the idea of time being for ever present with us; when we consider a stedfast object at five-a-clock, and regard the same at six; we are apt to apply to it that idea in the same manner as if every moment were distinguish'd by a different position, or an alteration of the object. The first and second appearances of the object, being compar'd with the succession of our perceptions, seem equally remov'd as if the object had really chang'd. To which we may add, what experience shews us, that the object was susceptible of such a number of changes betwixt these appearances; as also that the unchangeable or rather fictitious duration has the same effect upon every quality, by encreasing or diminishing it, as that succession, which is obvious to the senses. From these three relations we are apt to confound our ideas, and imagine we can form the idea of a time and duration, without any change or succession. (last paragraph)

This shows that, despite the idea's not properly applying, we do in fact distinguish out different 'moments' in our perception of unchanging objects. This does not sound like instantaneity. Note the importance of tracing the idea of time to its originating impressions. This clarifies what Hume is actually doing. The reason we cannot derive an idea of time or duration from an impression of an unchanging object is that there is nothing in such an impression identifiable as time: there's just an unchanging object. In a changing object, however, we recognize the succession involved in the change, and this is, according to Hume, whence we derive the idea of time. We can apply this idea to unchanging objects only by treating the unchanging object as if it had changed, i.e., the object in which there is no discernible succession as if it had discernible succession. But there is nothing in the impression that prevents us from attributing succession to it, by fiction. This would not be possible if these impressions were genuinely instantaneous.

But isn't there reason to believe that Hume thinks that all our perceptions ultimately break down into instantaneous impressions, in his discussion of infinite divisibility? Not at all. Hume's discussion of the divisibility of time requires us to conclude that there are (as it were) temporal points: but these temporal points are simply the smallest noticeable succession:

The same reasoning will prove, that the indivisible moments of time must be fill'd with some real object or existence, whose succession forms the duration, and makes it be conceivable by the mind. (Section III, last paragraph)

Hume does allow us to talk about instants - again, by fiction - but these are a matter of "loose" ideas, rather than impressions. On Hume's account we do not have, and cannot have, instantaneous impressions.

Dissertation Week, Part II

I have twice put parts of drafts of passages from my dissertation on this weblog. So, in keeping with Dissertation Week, the two cases are:

Malebranche's Infinity Challenge (from Chapter One)

Hot Off the Presses (from Chapter Two)

Both of these have undergone some changes since I put them up; but I'd still be interested in any comments or questions. For the chapter-context of these passages, see the summary I recently put up, here.

Jottings on Ad Hominem Fallacies

Leiter responds to charges of committing ad hominem fallacies with an analysis of ad hominem fallacies:

An "ad hominem" is a kind of argument, that is fallacious (though, in some contexts, may actually be fairly reliable: more on that in a moment). The argument has the following structure: X asserts Y; you attack X to undermine Y, e.g., you argue that because X is a certain kind of person, Y is false and/or ought not to be believed. (Note: the fallacy, strictly speaking, would be to conclude from facts about X that Y is false; concluding that Y ought not to be believed based on an attack on X can be reasonable, a point to which we'll return.)

While it is true that many ad hominem fallacies take the form Leiter suggests, this is certainly not true of all. An ad hominem occurs whenever one substitutes an (irrelevant) characterization of someone's reputation, abilities, or character where a (relevant) argument would be required. Ad hominem fallacies are fallacies of irrelevance: they do not apply to the argument at hand, but are mere distractions from it. I don't understand Leiter's parenthetical remark; it doesn't matter, as far as whether something is an ad hominem is concerned, whether the conclusion is that Y is false or that Y ought not to be believed; in either case, if there is a substitution of personal characterization for relevant argument, there is an ad hominem fallacy. In cases where argument is called for, the only case I can see in which an attack on X would be relevant (and thus not a fallacy) is a case in which Y is put forward on X's authority, and therefore depends in some way on X's credibility or reliability.

Leiter is right that an insult is not necessarily an ad hominem fallacy; some insults are put forward as insults under conditions that don't require argument. Likewise, it is possible to phrase premises or conclusions of relevant arguments in insulting ways; this is not ad hominem, either. Interestingly, Leiter's example of an ad hominem that might serve as a good epistemic rule of thumb is not an ad hominem (unless it were used in a place where it just didn't apply). This is because it is actually part of a general argument about credibility or reliability; it would then be applicable nonfallaciously (and thus not as an ad hominem fallacy) in any case in which the warmonger's credibility or reliability were genuinely in question. Since an ad hominem fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance, any time in which a person's character, reputation, or abilities is genuinely relevant to the argument, characterization of that character, reputation, or abilities cannot be an ad hominem fallacy.

One of the difficulties with ad hominem fallacies, as with many other informal fallacies, is that people can at times reasonably disagree about whether a particular case is genuinely an instance of the fallacy. This is because identifying the fallacy requires an assessment of whether argument is really required. If we are going to ask ourselves, for instance, whether Leiter in using the label "InstaIgnorance" to refer to InstaPundit is just a description (however insulting) or a case of poisoning the well (i.e., pre-emptive ad hominem), we would have to look at each particular case to assess relevance, and whether argument was required instead. There can potentially be disagreement about whether argument was required. For instance, someone might say that, given that Leiter is a well-known academic, and given that he does work in philosophy, one can reasonably expect him to focus more on clear reasoning, which would increase the number of cases in which argument could reasonably be demanded. Leiter's own defense does not, I think, work; the issue for ad hominem is not whether a description is true or false, but whether it is relevant. That "InstaIgnorance" is an apt name for InstaPundit has no bearing on whether Leiter's uses of the label are cases of ad hominem fallacy. (Ironically, because of this irrelevance Leiter's defense of his use of "InstaIgnorance," in which he argues that it is not an ad hominem fallacy, is itself a case of an ad hominem fallacy. Were Leiter simply arguing that InstaPundit should be called InstaIgnorance, it would not be; but as a defense against the ad hominem fallacy of irrelevance, it commits that fallacy. This is true whether one agrees with Leiter's actual argument or not; one can have a sound argument used in a fallacious way.)

Christian Carnival XXXVII

The 37th Christian Carnival is up at Intolerant Elle. My submission is the Sayers post. Some posts I found especially striking:

* There's a good critique at "The Journey" of the Church of England's sense of itself

* An interesting post at " the outer..." about the relation (or non-relation) between relationship with God and material success

* a post about fictional sermon stories at ""

* I like Fringe's The Brothel Creeper post because my favorite Biblical character is Rahab the harlot; she needs more and better press

* A post about welcoming one another at "The Grey Shadow"

* A great story about a little boy and hockey at "Domestic Excellence and Specialty Housekeeping"

* Rebecca continues her series on divine attributes with God's Goodness at "Rebecca Writes"

* "Parableman" has an interesting post on contraception

As usual, they are all of interest in one way or another; so go see.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Smart Fables

Kit Smart was one of the most brilliant English poets of the eighteenth century. He is most famous for his poem, Jubilate Agno, written while in the madhouse; and, more particularly, for the praise of his cat Jeoffry in Fragment B3:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer....

And so on. He has a number of other poems, however. Here are three poems from his poetic translation of Phaedrus's Fables:

(Fable IV from Book I: The DOG in the RIVER)

The churl that wants another's fare
Deserves at least to lose his share.
As thro' the stream a dog convey'd
A piece of meat, he spy'd his shade
In the clear mirrour of the flood;
And thinking it was flesh and blood,
Snapp'd to deprive him of the treat--
But mark the glutton's self-defeat
Miss'd both another's and his own,
Both shade and substance, beef and bone.

(Fable II from Book IV: The FOX and the GRAPES)

An hungry Fox with fierce attack
Sprang on a Vine, but tumbled back,
Nor could attain the point in view,
So near the sky the bunches grew.
As he went off, 'They're scurvy stuff,
(Says he) and not half ripe enough--
And I've more rev'rence for my tripes,
Than to torment them with the gripes.'
For those this tale is very pat,
Who lessen what they can't come at.

(Fable XVIII from Book IV: The MOUNTAIN in Labour)

The Mountain labour'd, groaning loud,
On which a num'rous gaping crowd
Of noodles came to see the sight,
When lo! a mouse was brought to light!
This tale's for men of swagg'ring cast,
Whose threats, voluminous and vast,
With all their verse and all their prose,
Can make but little on't, God knows.

(I chose this last because one of my favorite Latin quotations is Horace's parturiunt montes, nascitur ridiculus mus : the mountains are in labor, a ridiculous mouse is born.)

Jottings on Reduplication

There is an interesting post that touches on the reduplicative approach to the Incarnation at Prosblogion. In particular, it gives what seems to have become a common objection to the reduplicative strategy, in the quote from Morris. A reduplicative phrase is the 'as A' in 'x as A is N' or 'x as B is not-N'. The reduplicative strategy essentially distinguishes between properties that pertain to Christ as God and those that pertain to Christ as man. The Morris objection is:

"If the subjects of the conjuncts are the same and the substituends of N are univocal across the conjunction, then as long as the reduplication predicates being A of x and predicates being B of x, and being N is entailed by being A, and not being N is entailed by being B, then the reduplicative form of predication accomplishes nothing except for muddying the waters, since in the end the contradiction stands of x being characterized as both N and not N."

In other words, if the subject (x) is the same, and the property (N) is the same then 'x as A is N and x as B is not-N', when A implies N and B implies not-N, just is to say 'x is N and not-N'.

The problem with this objection is that it is simply wrong. I hold for an explanatory account of reduplication, in which the reduplicative phrase explains how or why the predicate applies to the subject. This means that while the term N might have the same meaning on both sides of the conjunction (and thus be univocal in that sense), it does not follow that the predicate 'is N' is predicated univocally. To put it in other words, using the same term with the same meaning doesn't entail using it in the same way. Reduplicative phrases mark difference in predication. There are many other sorts of phrases besides reduplicative ones that do the same sort of thing. For instance, I can say "Tom is strong when healthy and not strong when sick". This does not imply a contradiction because 'when healthy' and 'when sick' explain the application of 'is strong' (or 'is not strong') to the predicates in such a way that they apply to the subject in different respects. The predicate 'is strong' applies to Tom when he is healthy; the predicate 'is not strong' applies to Tom when he is sick. There is no contradiction.

As I said, there many similar sorts of instances. Reduplication is an example of this: reduplicative phrases explain the way in which the predicates apply to the subjects. Thus, when we say, "Christ is omnipotent as God and not omnipotent as man," we are tracing two different explanatory paths, saying (in effect): Christ is omnipotent in a sense and not omnipotent in another sense. The only way you can pull a contradiction out of this statement is by arguing that it is contradictory for a single subject to be both God and man: in other words, the different explanatory paths block contradiction unless the explanatory paths are themselves in contradiction. It is impossible to draw a contradiction from "Christ is omnipotent as God and not omnipotent as man" unless there is a contradiction in "Christ is God and man".

There is also the further point that being man does not entail not being omnipotent; being only a man, or being human and nothing else, does. If a human being can only be human, and not something else as well, then there would be a problem for the reduplicative approach - but again, only because such a claim would be tantamount to saying "Christ is God and man" entails a contradiction.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Sayers, Judas Iscariot, and Intellectual Humility

I have recently been reading Dorothy Sayers' play-cycle The Man Born to be King. The plays, twelve in all, were written for BBC radio, and were first performed from December 1941 to October 1942. When they came out (but beginning before they had actually come out!) they were extremely controversial, people condemning them (without having heard them) for being "irreverent," "blasphemous," "vulgar," and the like. But they were also very popular.

Sayers, who had written several other religious radio plays before being approached for this project, using John to reconcile any apparent discrepancies in the Synoptics, translated large selections directly from the Gospel Greek into a very colloquial, readable English dialogue; she builds her dramatic apparatus around these selections. As one might expect, there were plenty of people who complained about both the colloquial English and the dramatic apparatus. In one scene she has Herod tell his court, "Keep your mouths shut." Someone wrote in protesting that such coarse expressions shouldn't be attributed to anyone "so closely connected with our Lord". To this Sayers replies sarcastically:

Sacred personages, living in a far-off land and time, using dignified rhythms of spech, making from time to time restrained gestures symbolic of brutality. They mocked and railed on Him and smote Him, they scourged and crucified Him. Well, they were people very remote from ourselves, and no doubt it was all done in the noblest and most beautiful manner. We should not like to think otherwise. (The Man Born to be King, p. 22)

Part of Sayers's intention in the plays is to refute the notion that the people who did all this "were people very remote from ourselves."

One of the most interesting aspects of the play-cycle is her characterization of Judas Iscariot. For dramatic purposes there is some need to develop his character beyond the minute amount we find in the Gospels themselves. This she does by starting Judas out as a disciple of John the Baptist, and building the story of a sort of running debate between him and Baruch, a Zealot, on the course Israel's future should take. In her first characterization, she calls him "infinitely the most intelligent of all the disciples" (p. 69), and, in fact, makes him almost understand Jesus through sheer native intelligence alone. But always there is a serious problem with intellectual pride. Judas has an idea in his head about how Messiah should operate; he approves of Jesus because Jesus conforms to it. But he never allows that his idea could be flawed. As Sayers says of him:

He means to be faithful--and he will be faithful--to the light which he sees so brilliantly. What he sees is the true light--only he does not see it directly, but only its reflection in the mirror of his own brain; and in the end that mirror will twist and distort the reflection and send it dancing away over the bog like a will o' the wisp. He has all the gifts--both the practical and imaginative; and his calculating friend the Zealot is quite right in saying that he will fall, like Adam, by the sin of spiritual pride. (p. 114)

Sayers does an excellent job of portraying Judas as she intends. There is always a hint, even when Judas is at his most sincerely devoted to Jesus, that it is always in his eyes Judas standing in judgment of Jesus (even if only to approve him) and never once Judas standing before Jesus in order to be judged. Judas knows what Israel needs; the question on Judas's mind all along is: Does Jesus know what Israel needs? He is walking, as Sayers says of him later, by sight and not by faith: so long as Jesus obviously seems conforming to his standards, Judas is the most loyal of followers. Once Jesus doesn't seem to be, however, Judas assumes that Jesus has sold out (and, worse, it turns out that Judas was simply mistaken in his interpretation of Jesus' actions).

This struck me as very powerful. In June I wrote a post on the book of Job, in which I suggested that the problem with Job's friends is that they reasoned something like this. As I said:

They take a truth with which everyone in the book agrees (Job 9:2, 12:3, 13:1-2), namely, that God who is just and wise, gives affliction to the wicked as just punishment. They see a fact before their eyes: Job has been afflicted. They fallaciously conclude: Therefore Job is wicked. Job denies this, of course. The three friends, taking this reasoning as solid, take the original principle, which the book is clear should not be held in doubt, to depend entirely (by modus tollens) on the claim (which we, God, Satan, and Job all know to be false) that Job is wicked. Therefore, to preserve the justice and wisdom of God, they must prove that Job is wicked....

And it never really occurs to them that they might not be as knowledgeable as they think they are, nor that they might be making a mistake in their original reasoning (despite the fact that it certainly is fallacious: from God's punishment of the wicked they cannot validly conclude anything about Job). And so with Sayers's characterization of Judas Iscariot. It seems to me that this is always a very deep danger; and that the more educated and intelligent people are, the more likely they are to make it. Hence the need for us all to cultivate the virtue of intellectual humility.

For Those of You Who Are More Political...

...there's a good post at Cliopatria by Oscar Chamberlain on academics occasionally taking a step back from the politics to find understanding.

Dissertation Week

I learn from Sharon at Early Modern Notes that it's Dissertation Week at Chapati Mystery, and I thought I'd join in the fun. I wrote the following sometime back to help me keep in view the whole argument of my thesis while doing revisions. Having done it, I would strongly recommend that people who are doing philosophy dissertations do something like this as early as possible, and revise it while revising the real thing. I've found it helps keep things remarkably clear and on-track. It doesn't have to be beautiful or in-depth, just involved enough that you can see all the large steps in your argument (in other words, bigger than a proposal or abstract). If anyone has any questions about my summary, I'd love to hear them.

Reason and the External World:
Malebranche's Account of Our Knowledge of the Existence of Bodies

In recent years considerable work has been done to uncover Nicolas Malebranche's views on causation and ideas. One likely reason for this is that scholars have come to Malebranche in order to determine how he has influenced major debates of the time, and causation and ideas are the two most obvious cases. His views on other matters, however, such as how we know the existence and nature of bodies, have been relatively neglected. In this work I propose a new understanding of Malebranche in order to clarify his difficult and unusual account of our knowledge of bodies. The argument begins by laying down a general foundation for understanding Malebranche's system, then looks at successively more precise issues, thus making it possible to understand the account within its Malebranchean context.

My first chapter examines Malebranche's theory of ideas, arguing that it needs to be seen as part of a larger theory of reason. The core of this theory of ideas is Malebranche's thesis that we see all things in God. I explain his major arguments for this thesis and in doing so argue that they all are constructed as arguments about a particular aspect of our relation to objective reason. In particular, his concern with infinity leads him to argue that objective reason can only be located in an infinite being, which as a Cartesian he considers to be divine. This is confirmed when we look at an issue that has puzzled much recent Malebranche scholarship, namely, the ontological status of ideas. When we see how Malebranche's theory of ideas is intended to be subserve a more fundamental theory of reason, we can understand why Malebranche chooses to characterize the nature of ideas the way he does.

There is more to Malebranche's theory of reason than ideas, however; and in my second chapter I turn to some of these additional elements. The elements are rather disparate, but they are unified by what Malebranche considers to be reason's teaching role. Reason teaches human beings not only by presenting them with ideas, but also by influencing our inquiry by giving us veridical sentiments. I clarify this by considering a puzzle in the literature proposed by Nicholas Jolley. Given the difficulties that face a theistic solution like Malebranche's vision in God thesis, would it not be better to posit an objective world of ideas along the lines of Plato or Frege? In this way one might be able to have a system that is consistent with Malebranche's arguments for his theory of ideas, but without the problems that face the conclusion that ideas are seen in God. Whatever might be the relative merits of the theistic and the Platonic solutions, I argue that Malebranche's understanding of the role sentiments play in rational inquiry gives him good reason to prefer the theistic solution. He does not regard ideas as purely logical objects of perception; he believes that we experience them exercising causal efficacy over us by making us feel pleasure or pain in various ways. These include pangs of intellectual and moral conscience. I then suggest some ways that make it easier to see how someone with Malebranche's understanding of sentiments would find it plausible to say that reason is a personal agent or, to use the phrase he borrows from Augustine, an "Interior Teacher".

To this point the discussion considers the theory of reason at a very basic level. There is, however, a complication. Despite reason's active teaching role, we have many experiences in which we seem to fall short of being ideal reasoners. Malebranche, however, has arguments requiring him to say that human beings were created in a rationally ideal condition. Determining how he reconciles these two aspects of his account is the concern of my third chapter. Assuming that we originated in ideal condition but are not in that condition now requires us to say that there has been some historical event that has changed matters. Malebranche uses this as an opportunity to appeal to the Christian doctrine of a Fall and original sin. Original sin plays a significant role in his philosophy, since he thinks it results in a defect that is not only moral but also epistemological. Much of this chapter discusses the way in which this defect is epistemological and the way in which Malebranche thinks it causes problems for philosophical thoughts. As an example I show how it influences in important ways Malebranche's better known views on causation.

Because Malebranche thinks reason in its teaching role is working to counteract the defect of original sin, any discussion of his epistemology needs to take into account the historical narrative that results: we begin as ideal reasoners, we fall into the defect of original sin, and reason begins to bring us out of this state. Given this, we cannot assume that what Malebranche says about one stage of this narrative applies to every other stage. In the fourth chapter I turn to sorting out how Malebranche's account of our knowledge of bodies differs depending on which stage of human history he is considering. He says several obscure things about the way knowledge works in the Garden of Eden. I resolve some of these obscurities and point out which of them are due to his failure to develop his notions beyond a set of scattered remarks. The two best known elements of Malebranche's theory of our knowledge of bodies are his ambiguous rejection of Descartes's argument for the existence of bodies and his appeal to faith and Scripture as part of his own argument. Using the background developed thus far, I argue that the key to understanding both of these elements is to see how they fit into the narrative structure created by our fall into original sin and reason's work in restoring us to our original state. When we do this the ambiguities of his refusal to follow Descartes are clarified and it becomes easier to see why he appeals to faith and Scripture as he does.

Bo-do-lo on the Waters

From Matteo Ricci, as quoted in Jonathan D. Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, Penguin (New York: 1985) 60-62:

After the Lord of Heaven was born on earth, and had taken human form to spread his teaching to the world, he first shared his teachings with twelve holy followers. The first of these was called Bo-do-lo. One day Bo-do-lo was on a boat when he saw the distant outline of the Lord of Heaven on the seashore, so he said to him, "I fyou are the Lord, bid me walk on the water and not sink." The Lord so instructed him. But as he began to walk he saw the wild wind lashing up the waves, his heart filled with doubt, and he began to sink. The Lord reached out his hand to him, saying, "Your faith is small, why did you doubt?"

A man who has strong faith in the Way can walk on the yielding water as if on solid rock, but if he goes back to doubting, then the water will go back to its true nature, and how can he stay brave? When the wise man follows heaven's decrees, fire does not burn him, a sword does not cut him, water does not drown him. Why should wind or waves worry him? This first follower doubted so that we might believe; one man's moment of doubt can serve to end the doubts of all those millions who come after him. If he had not been made to doubt, our faith would have been without foundation. Therefore we give thanks for his faith as we give thanks for his doubts.

Bo-do-lo is Ricci's attempt to transliterate Peter into Chinese. Spence notes that Ricci deviates somewhat from the Gospel story, and shows that this is because he is writing comments on pictures for a book, and did not have a picture of the Walking on Water. He did have a picture of the disciples seeing Christ after His resurrection, so he adapted the picture and the story. What Spence doesn't answer, though, is why Ricci thought it was so important to have a picture of the Walking on Water in the first place. I have a hypothesis.

The other pictures Ricci contributed to the book are:

* The Road to Emmaus
* The Men of Sodom
* The Virgin and Child

As Ricci glosses the Road to Emmaus, it ends up being about the resolution of the righteous to endure suffering for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Men of Sodom, of course, is glossed as being about judgment and the salvation of Lot. (The Virgin and Child has no comment.) We can see a sort of theme building here: the righteous are resolved to endure, the wicked are damned and the righteous saved, and the way we are saved is Christ. What Ricci needs is a picture and story about how we are saved through Christ, i.e., he needs a story about belief. The Walking on Water story fits very well with the comments on the other pictures about resolution, condemnation, and salvation. So that's my hypothesis; it's just a hypothesis, but I thought it was interesting enough to post.

I'm enjoying Spence's book quite a bit. Highly recommended.

Philosophers' Carnival Plug

The next Philosophers' Carnival will take place at Philosophical Poetry next Monday, October 4th. You can submit a post at the Philosophers' Carnival website; and, if you are interested in hosting the Carnival, contact Richard Chappell.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Not Quite Right, I Think

Sorry to be doing so much Lakoff; but it's a disease that needs to be stamped out before progressives kill themselves with it. In any event, I'm done with it for a bit, I think; except I couldn't resist this little bit, being interested in just war theory. In an article on metaphor and the Iraq War, Lakoff said:

One of the most frequent uses of the Nation As Person metaphor comes in the almost daily attempts to justify the war metaphorically as a "just war." The basic idea of a just war uses the Nation As Person metaphor plus two narratives that have the structure of classical fairy tales: The Self Defense Story and The Rescue Story.

I'm glad Lakoff understands that, properly speaking, justice applies primarily to persons; but the reason we talk about 'just war' is not primarily metaphorical but historical. As I've pointed out before on the blog, 'just war' originally applied to the person who actually warred, i.e., the Prince or Magistrate of the City (or whatever political title and unit there was). The The question it answered was: Can this person go to war justly? And the answer was: Yes, if he is entrusted with the authority to do so, and he does so disposed in the right way for the right purpose. This has since been fuzzed up by lots of things (total war, nation states, military-industrial complexes), but I suppose the way to characterize that fuzzing would be metonymy rather than metaphor. In any case, people may occasionally use 'just war' as a metaphor in the way they describe what's happening; but what they are doing even then is not merely a metaphorical justification but also a confused literal justification of the War Magistrate (in the U.S. this is the President). 'Just war' has also become for many people simply a label, carried over and used in at least a loose accordance with certain features of the tradition; and in such cases, they are doing not a metaphorical but a literal justification of policies (which are allowed to be just or unjust by a non-figurative extension of the term from use for persons). Such is my thought, anyway. There is, no doubt, something of the metaphorical floating around in all these discussions; but let's not have any simplistic accounts of how the phrase 'just war' is used. A linguist should know better.

I'm a Bit Pathetic Sometimes

I went out for a simple walk today, and ended up spending more than I should have on books, at two used bookstores that I passed. Each time I thought, "Oh, it won't hurt if I just look around." But whenever I feel guilty about spending too much on books, I always remember the saying of Erasmus: Sometimes we have money for food and books, and sometimes just for books. My acquisitions, in no particular order:

Marco Polo, The Travels (Penguin)
Jonathan D. Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (Penguin)
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Tolkien Reader (Ballantine)
Thomas Aquinas, Quodlibetal Questions 1 and 2 (PIMS)
Thomas Aquinas, Faith, reason and theology (PIMS)
Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion (Frederick Ungar)
George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul (Augsburg)

All of them will be a delight to read. The two Aquinas books were such I could not pass them up; they are translations of works I do not have translations of (namely, QQ 1 & 2, and the Exposition of Boethius's De Trinitate). And the Tolkien Reader has Farmer Giles, Tom Bombadil, On Fairy Stories, and Leaf by Niggle. On Fairy Stories alone would have been enough for me to buy it.

Natural Sorting

We are sometimes misled by false analogies in the words we use. 'Natural selection' is an example of this, I think. The phrase 'natural selection' was chosen in order to parallel 'artificial selection'. This is great, since natural selection does parallel artificial selection; but the choice of the phrase has misled people into thinking that what natural selection and artificial selection have in common is selection, when in fact what they have in common is sorting. Artificial selection is sorting that involves selection; natural selection is sorting that is selection-like in some of its products, but does not involve selection.

This, incidentally, is why I have grave doubts that we can have any successful etiological account of function, i.e., an explanation of functions that involves natural selection picking out the function of something. Natural selection doesn't pick out anything; it doesn't even sort anything, because it is a sorting of a population (of whatever) by environmental factors that affect differential survival and differential reproduction. Systemic or 'cybernetic' accounts of function are much more promising; although they have more than their share of difficulties to face, as well.