Saturday, November 27, 2004


I've recently had two responses to arguments I put forward that are worth reading. The first is at Pharyngula and Grupp has responded to my musings on his article in Dialogue. I don't have time to respond in detail to either at the moment, and I'll have to consider the Grupp response more carefully than I've been able, but they are both worth reading.

[UPDATE: I suppose I should say something about the Pharyngula post. What strikes me about Myers's unfolding of what he sees as the real argument is that it really shows how 'indistinguishability' does no work whatsoever in an argument like this (which is, he is right, not erroneous). In fact, the whole tendency of the argument is in directly the opposite direction: it is an argument that even where apparently indistinguishable, ID is on closer rational inspection highly distinguishable from evolutionary theory, as distinguishable as shoddy imitation and real deal. And that is precisely the right way to argue. It is the introduction of 'indistinguishability' that garbles the argument: at best it is a misleading distraction, at worst it makes a perfectly good argument incoherent. ]

Kant's Wager

An interesting passage in Kant, both because it reminds one of Pascal, and because it clarifies a great deal what Kant sees himself as doing:

The usual touchstone as to whether something asserted by someone is mere persuasion, or at least subjective conviction--i.e., firm belief--is betting. Often someone pronounces his propositions with such confident and intractable defiance that he seems to ahve entirely shed all worry about error. A bet startles him. Soemtimes the persuasion whihc he owns turns out to be sufficient to be asssessed at one ducat, but not at ten. For although he may indeed risk the first ducat, at tend ducats he first becomes aware of what he previously failed to notice, viz., that he might possibly have erred after all. If we conceive in our thougths thte possibility of betting our whole life's happiness on something, then our triumphant judgment dwindles very much indeed; we then become extremely timid and thus discover for the first time that our belief does not reach this far. thus pragmatic belief has merely a degree, which according to the difference of teh interest involved may be large but may also be small.

Even if we cannot undertake anything at all concerning an object, and the assent regarding it is therefore merely theoretical, we can still in many cases conceive and imagine an undertaking for which we suppose ourselves to have sufficient basis if there were a means of establishing the certainty of the matter. And thus there is in merely theoretical judgments an analogue of practical judgments, and for an assent to such judgments the word faith is appropriate. We may call this a doctrinal faith. I would indeed bet all that I own--if this matter could be established through some experience--that there are inhabitants on at least one of the planets that we see. Hence I say that this view--that there are inhabitants also on other worlds--is not mere opinion but strong faith (on whose correctness I would surely risk many of life's advantages.

Critique of Pure Reason, A825/B853; Werner Pluhar, tr. (This is from the Hackett abridged edition, which is easier to lug around.) Kant then goes on to discuss how this relates to questions like God's existence and the future life. On the inhabitants of other worlds things, not only was Kant certain that they exist, but the third part of the Universal Natural History, if I recall correctly, is devoted to laying down precisely what the inhabitants of Saturn must be like.

A Small Contribution to the Eventual Resolution of the Evolution Dispute

The aspect of philosophy of science that most interests me is that of scientific education in a very broad sense; in other words, the diffusing of scientific information through society over time. There really has been very little done about this sort of thing, though; it's not a nonexistent amount, but it is very little explored. So, given that I had been asked to clarify my comment on the role of biologists in causing the 'evolution debate' to go on and on, this is a good occasion to look a bit at this point. People have been complaining about the dispute for a very long time; but surprisingly little work has been done to try to clarify what's really going on in the problem. Burke's letter {link} at Cliopatria suggested some lines of investigation. Since Burke is a sociologist, his suggestions have to do with the social mechanisms involved. This is, as it were, the material approach. Being more philosophically than theologically inclined, I prefer to look at the patterns of argumentation. This can be called the formal approach. A useful way to go about the formal approach is to treat the problem as a sort of very complicated socially distributed cognition problem, and in particular, to examine what is going on at the 'exploratory frontier' that has made the issue so attrition-like. In this post I won't be looking at this whole question (there needs to be far more work done to be able to answer the whole question) but I will be looking at one aspect of it about which I am fairly certain.

Introduction. The material involved consists of quotations of, or allusions to, scientists. We need to distinguish between (1) quotes/allusions expressing qualifications that in context cannot be understood as problematic but that out of context and (2) quotes/allusions in which blurrings of scientific/theological/philosophical issues occur. The former are common, and need to be sharply rebuked more often than they are (and especially when biologists and philosophers of biologists do this, e.g., the quote by Darwin I mentioned earlier, which is, it seems, inaccurately interpreted by practically everyone in creation). Now, thinking more fully on the matter, it seems to me that I was a little hard on the biologists; it is, I think, philosophers of science who have been some of the worse offenders, and at some point in the future I'll probably have to look at how philosophers of science have aggravated the situation. But for now I'm looking at the biologist contribution to the tangle. The quotations used by 'creation-scientists', naturally, tend to be from popular or widely-diffused works - these form the primary frontier along which the popular understanding of science develops. The out-of-school lay public does not, as a rule, read journals of molecular biology; they get their information from (1) newspapers; (2) magazines; (3) popular introductions, lectures, television specials, etc. Because of this some exaggeration tends to develop; I think this might be true, for instance, with regard to Julian Huxley's tendencies to eugenics - he did support eugenic programs, but with qualifications that are not usually acknowledged. Qualifications tend to drop out. This is a problem with the soundbite nature of quotations, which tend to circulate among the public as basic points on which to hang information. This is, I'm afraid, unavoidable; and it often is the case (scientific popularizations by scientists are a good example) that some statement that is considered by the scientist himself to be mere rhetorical fluff or a side opinion will be taken as the basic point by people who really don't have the expertise to be able to sort out accurately what is salient and what is not, and sometimes don't have the time if they did.

Now, the real place to look for this on this issue is in 'creation-science' materials, to see the quotations and allusions in action; but I don't really have much in the way of access to them at the moment, and I certainly don't keep them just lying around for research purposes. I did, however, look into this issue a bit a few years ago, so here are some basic examples I have seen thrown about by them as paradigm cases, i.e., as examples of times when evolutionists 'took the mask off' and showed their real agenda, from some brief notes I compiled when I was looking at it. While there is likely to be some shifting in the quotes and allusions used over time, you should be able to find these or similar quotes and allusions still in play in the discussion.


I will set aside metacomments on evolutionary theory itself, although a number of these talking points are derived from biologists themselves, too; e.g., the claim that evolutionary arguments don't play a large role in biological research derives at least in part from some comments made by Crick in What Mad Pursuit. These make an interesting study, too, but as I need to clarify my comment about 'absurd' and 'ridiculous' positions, I'll focus on a few of the most obvious examples. There are, of course, lots of positions where the question of whether they are ridiculous would be more controversial; these also play a role in the problem. But I want to indicate what I think the clearer and more basic issues are.

Consider the following quotations:

"Before Darwin, we thought that a benevolent God had created us." (Gould S.J., "So Cleverly Kind an Animal," in "Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History," [1978], Penguin: London UK, 1991, reprint, p.267).

"...although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.6)

One of the things quotations like these have in common is that they are repeated over and over again with considerable relish by those Gould and Dawkins oppose. Another person often quoted in this connection is Will Provine who is regularly quoted as claiming that science has proven that God, free will, etc. do not exist. This is one of the absurd and ridiculous positions that I mentioned previously. What makes it absurd and ridiculous is not the atheism, but the view that somehow one can just read atheism directly off the data and structure of evolutionary theory. It is possible, of course, to argue for atheism or whatever on the basis of some scientific fact or theory; but only by way of an entire string of non-scientific suppositions about what is being rejected, what it takes to reject it, &c. Failing to see this just shows, at best, considerable naivete about the nature of the question. What quotations like the above seem to do is confirm the association of evolutionary theses, in the minds of evolutionary scientists themselves, with the pop-philosophy of Provine's claim.

Now, that this is all put in terms of atheism might suggest that the primary issue is religious; and one finds this in all the silly cant about 'science' (in some vague, mumbo-jumboistic, undefined sense) and 'religion' (in an equally vague, mumbo-jumboistic, undefined sense). But I think that religious issues are, in fact, simply aggravating factors, and that the core of the issue is a set of unalleviated ethical worries. I will just take a particular issue that often gets quoted or alluded to, namely, eugenics. Sometimes it's Dobzhansky's "Natural selection must be replaced by eugenical artificial selection. This idea constitutes the sound core of eugenics, the applied science of human betterment" in Heredity and the Nature of Man in 1964, or Julian Huxley's association with the eugenics movement, or even the following quotation from T. H. Huxley in Lectures and Lay Sermons in 1875 or so:

It may be quite true that some negroes are better than some white men; but no rational man, cognisant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the average white man. And, if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his disabilities are removed, and our prognathous relative has a fair field and no favour, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to compete successfully with his bigger-brained and smallerjawed rival, in a contest which is to be carried on by thoughts and not by bites. The highest places in the hierarchy of civilisation will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins, though it is by no means necessary that they should be restricted to the lowest.

Sometimes it's more recent, with quotations from or allusions to sociobiologists. Whatever may be the particular quotation or allusion in play, it doesn't take much work to find that there is a rather considerable set of things floating about that are there to imply that evolutionists are ethically suspect, that, whatever they may say, they are, in fact, just eugenicists of one sort or another in disguise, or some other equally suspect type of person, who are just interested in furthering their own agenda even when they justify it (as the eugenics movement did) with promises of wiping out vast tracts of disease. We can call this the poisoned carrot line of thought. And whether one likes it a lot, it's a common view; and whenever biologists, not really watching their step on these ethical and ethics-related issues, say things that can be interpreted in keeping with this, it gets repeated. (Quotes and allusions about atheism serve primarily to confirm this; the stronger they are, the more often they are quoted. And, indeed, some people don't seem to recognize that the stronger the terms in which they talk about opponents of evolution, they more likely they are to be quoted by them as confirmations of some ethical failure deep at the heart of the approach. A study of the Dawkins quote, "It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)" would be interesting in its own right for examining this phenomenon.) In other words, the way quotations and allusions are used suggests that arguments associating evolutionists with ethically suspect positions are successful; and in this light it is rather disturbing at how little biologists actually do to put people's minds at rest on this issue. I've already pointed out some problems with the way they handle the stem cell research issue (it seems extremely difficult to find clear information on the relevant scientific issues from authoritative sources, there seems very little awareness in the biological community about what the lay public actually does and does not know about the research, almost the whole ethical case put forward by advocates is based on one type of utilitarian argument - which, if I am right about the ethical nature of the problem is potentially damaging, because the eugenics movement made very similar arguments, etc.). I see no evidence that the issue is being handled properly; and this will only magnify the problems for evolutionists.

I don't claim that this is the whole issue, although I think it runs deep (how deep I am not sure); for one thing, as I noted, there are others (philosophers and the like) who are guilty along the same lines. Further, there are lines of research like those suggested by Burke, into the more social and policy aspects of the problem. But the first step to moving forward to a solution is actually taking the time to figure out the character of the problem you are trying to solve. And, whatever the rational status of the ethical concern, it appears to be a genuine and very common concern. Surprisingly, everyone seems to think this problem, despite its being pervasive and apparently systemic and social in nature, can be resolved entirely by ad hoc means. Whenever I teach history of philosophy I try to get my students to stop looking at individual arguments in isolation and begin looking at them strategically, i.e., within the context of the entire 'exploratory frontier' (or at least a good portion of it). I would recommend that everyone do the same here; merely assuming things about the problem will accomplish nothing. The problem - its material aspects as a social phenomenon and its formal aspects as an argumentative phenomenon - need to be studied if it is to be ever resolved. Hit-and-miss will not suffice; and I suspect the one thing everyone is agreed upon in this dispute is that resolving the problem entirely by chance is just not the right way to go about handling an issue of this importance. Yet everyone's actions seem to be tailored to the problem in a haphazard way, so chance is what we are getting. Know the problem, tailor your response in light of the problem in order to achieve the optimum solution.

And we (by which I mean 'we philosophers') should be ashamed that we have managed to do so little to shed light on the actual character of the problem.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Closing of the Pageant

Veni, electa mea, et ponam in te thronum meum, alleluja.

We bring to a close the St. Catharine's Day Pageant here at Siris. It has, I hope provided something a bit different from the usual course of blogging. If you've only just come upon our celebration, here is the course of the pageant (in order from the beginning):

10. Intermission (with links to the first half of the pageant)

11. The Assumption of Saint Catharine

12. Blog Tableau IV

13. St. Catharine and Other Women

14. Lady Mary Shepherd on Martyrs

15. Saint Catharine of Alexandria

16. Blog Tableau V

17. A Thanksgiving Day Story

18. The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catharine

19. Master of Those Who Know

20. The Closing of the Pageant

Ista est speciosa inter filias Jerusalem.

Master of Those Who Know

In Dante's Inferno Canto IV, Dante has a description of Aristotle:

When I had lifted up my brows a little,
The Master I beheld of those who know,
Sit with his philosophic family.

All gaze upon him, and all do him honour.
There I beheld both Socrates and Plato,
Who nearer him before the others stand;

Democritus, who puts the world on chance,
Diogenes, Anaxagoras, and Thales,
Zeno, Empedocles, and Heraclitus;

Of qualities I saw the good collector,
Hight Dioscorides; and Orpheus saw I,
Tully and Livy, and moral Seneca,

Euclid, geometrician, and Ptolemy,
Galen, Hippocrates, and Avicenna,
Averroes, who the great Comment made.

I cannot all of them portray in full,
Because so drives me onward the long theme,
That many times the word comes short of fact.

"The teacher of those who know." The first book of the Metaphysics famously opens with the words All men by nature desire to know. In Aristotle we can find such a natural yearning for knowledge in an eminent degree, and we cannot count the number of those who have been taught at his feet and been the better for it.

Born in Stagirus on the Chalcidic peninsula of Greece, Aristotle was the son of a Stagirite doctor who became the personal physician of the Macedonian king, Amyntas III. His father died when he was only ten years old. In those days, medical lore was an esoteric tradition; it passed from father to son in secret. Aristotle was probably taught something of the trade. But since Aristotle was so young when his father died, this intelligent young boy was diverted from the path of medicine to a higher calling: the teacher of those who know. He was brought up by his uncle, or perhaps a family friend, who taught him not medicine but literature and rhetoric. The horizons of the boy were being forced to expand.

At the age of seventeen, Aristotle began to study in the Academy, although when he joined Plato was not currently teaching but away in Sicily. Since Plato was gone, he probably studied under the likes of Eudoxus, the great Greek mathematician, and a few others of Plato's students and friends. After studying in the Academy, Aristotle began to teach there. We know almost nothing about what he taught this period, but rhetoric was probably one of the subjects. So it was for twenty years. Then, suddenly, he left the Academy, and we do not know why. Perhaps he disagreed with the views of Speusippus, Plato's nephew, who had succeeded Plato as the head of the Academy; perhaps he left because he himself was not named head of the Academy; perhaps he left for political reasons. We do not know. He traveled to Assos, near the Isle of Lesbos, where, welcomed by the king, he gathered a following around him and, likely as not, began to develop his researches into animal anatomy and his views on politics. It was not to last; political turmoil forced Aristotle to leave. He returned to Macedonia. It is said he was tutor to the young Alexander the Great; perhaps instead Philip of Macedonia simply saw him as a potential replacement for the anti-Macedonian Speusippus as head of the Academy. In any case, it did not immediately pan out, and after seven years he returned to Stagirus; however, Alexander seems to have had ideas similar to those of Philip, and when he became king of Macedonia, he sent Aristotle to Athens to form a rival to the Academy. This was the famed Lyceum. There he taught for thirteen years on a broad range of subjects, until the death of Alexandria forced him to leave again.

I do not know whether all the details of the above story are true; whoever knows when sources are so sketchy as those we have in Aristotle's case. But what strikes me about the life-itinerary of the teacher of those who know is that it really was an itinerary: it was a long, wandering journey. It was nothing other than a voyage of discovery. His native intelligence served as the material, but the form that made that intelligence to be the intelligence of the one later ages would call the Philosopher and Master of those who know - this was the pattern of his life. And all this contingency brought that native ability to an extremely high pitch of genius.

It has sometimes been said, following Whitehead, that the whole history of philosophy consists of footnotes on Plato. But there is another sense in which one can say that historically even Plato was simply a set of footnotes on the Philosopher. For Plato's great value through the course of ages has often been that he intimates ways in which Aristotle is incomplete, as footnotes intimate that there is more to the world than the text itself. And as such Aristotle, footnoted by Plato and those who came after, has in a sense been the great organon, the instrument, of all the rolling centuries of Christian philosophical thought, with its strong affirmation of the reality and importance of the world into which the Word was born, the Word who is, as Augustine saw, the Master or Teacher of those who know in the truest and deepest sense. Aristotle could have made no sense of the Incarnation; but he was part of a great preparatio evangelii. And of all the compliments that might be applied to a pagan philosopher by us Christians, there is none greater than that.

So let us take a moment to recall the excellence of the teacher of those who know; perhaps imitating his interest in logic and the natural world. And we who believe in the Logos made flesh may perhaps say a prayer for the Philosopher, he who has most taught us the importance of that natural desire to know.

Barna da Siena's The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catharine

Naturally, paintings on the theme of Saint Catharine's mystical marriage are about her consecrated virginity. You can get more details on this one here. Because of Catharine's association with Jesus as a baby, paintings of the mystical marriage sometimes portray her as marrying the Infant Christ - an arranged marriage one might say, arranged by Heaven. You can find some examples at the online iconography webmuseum.

The theme of the mystical marriage plays an important role in traditions about Saint Catharine of Alexandria (it celebrates the Virgin aspect of her Virgin-Martyr status), and is a basis for the tendency to see Catharine as a symbol of the Church (the Bride of the Lamb). This aspect of the Catharine tradition is discussed in a two-part article by Paul Carus. Part I. Part II.

A Thanksgiving Day Story

Something worth reading, since it is Thanksgiving. (Hat-tip: Rebecca Writes)

Blog Tableau: Christian Carnival XLV

For something different in our tableaux, let's look at the Christian Carnival rather than a particular weblog. Christian Carnival XLV is up at "Cow Pi Journal". As always, there are some interesting posts:

* Remove Your Sandals at "in the outer" on divine holiness

* Examining the Job Narrative at "Philosophical Poetry"

* The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King: a post at "Quenta Narwenion" for the Feast of Christ the King (which was this past Sunday)

* The Death Penalty at "Proverbial Wife"

* Thomas Chatterton at "semicolon" on the eighteenth century poet.

* Jesus' Tears No. 2 at "3:17", discussing the second of three occasions on which Jesus is said to have wept

Raphael's Saint Catharine of Alexandria

I don't have access to a non-copyrighted picture of the painting, but you can find a picture of the most famous painting of Saint Catharine of Alexandria at the National Gallery in London.

Lady Mary Shepherd on Martyrs

Shepherd has the following interesting passage in one of her essays on matters related to the perception of the external universe:

The second objection is, “That as martyrs have believed false religions, therefore the sufferings of other martyrs cannot afford the proof of a true revelation.” (344)

This objection arises from an erroneous view of the nature of the circumstance proved by martyrdom. It is not the TRUTH of a revelation, but it is the sincere belief of the martyr in his own profession; the circumstance of martyrdom affords a proof against hypocrisy, not against enthusiasm, or delusion. Now to have a proof that a man is not an impostor, is a great point gained; for if he deliver a doctrine, of consequence, it obliges every honest mind to open his books and examine it with impartiality; and to consider seriously, whether with respect to those events which he professes to have witnessed, his senses, and his understanding could have been deceived as to their real occurrence.

To me it appears impossible that the first Christian preachers could be impostors, when I read of their sufferings; or that they could be deluded when I read the history (for instance) of the raising of Lazarus; and if but one miracle be overwhelming in its (345) evidence, the rest which are associated with it in the same cause, are included in that evidence, and yield the same additional force in their testimony to the senses, and to the judgments of those that witnessed them, (and by parity of reasoning, to those who hear of them afterwards,) as do the frequent return of the external objects of sense, support the belief of that independent existence, of which the first vivacious impulse on the senses had originally created the impression.

In short, if the Gospel be a mystery, yet that it should be untrue would be a greater;—however, what I have said with respect to martyrdom as applicable in the way of forming an argument, is only needful for succeeding generations. It is necessary for us who live at this day, that the Apostles should have suffered, and have sealed their books with their blood.

There are several interesting points here. If we want to see how martyrdom fits into the epistemology of testimony, Shepherd provides something of an answer to this: it is proof of sincerity. Now, sincerity of itself does not necessarily indicate the truth of the position held sincerely; however, in matters of testimony, sincerity does play a major role in our evaluation of the testimony. In matters of testimony, the seal of sincerity can sometimes be the entire deciding factor.

St. Catharine and Other Women

Besides being the patroness of philosophers, theologians, and orators, Catharine is a patroness of young women and married women. Historically her legend, which was widely known, has been at times an inspiration to women. One of the saints to whom Joan of Arc appealed was Catharine; and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz has several poems in which Catharine is put forward as a model (and, perhaps more importantly, a justification) for women who are involved in intellectual matters. You can read a lecture that discusses this aspect of Sor Juana's oeuvre here.

As it turns out, I find that today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. You can read more about it at Natalie Bennett's Philobiblion.

Blog Tableau: Parableman

The next weblog in our series of tableaux is Parableman, authored by Jeremy Pierce. Given that he is fairly consistently good in examining philosophy and theology, and posts quite a bit, it is hard to make a selection for the tableau. Or, at least, it would be, if he hadn't already done part of my work for me by putting together link-lists of his own favorite posts.

* Theology Posts

* Apologetics Posts

* Race Posts

You should also check out the post in which he hosts Christian Carnival XXXI, and arranges the posts according to a Kansas theme (Kansas the band, not the state).

Melchiore Caffa's The Assumption of Saint Catharine

Here's a marble sculpture for a change. You can see another picture of it at this online iconography webmuseum. According to one St. Catharine legend, after her death her body was born off to Mount Sinai by angels, which is depicted here. The bones were later discovered and a monastery was built in the reign of Justinian to house them. You can explore the monastery online. Fittingly, given its patron saint, the library of St. Catherine's is the largest collection of Christian manuscripts outside the Vatican; the Codex Sinaiticus, an important fourth-century manuscript for Biblical scholars, was discovered there.


I'm taking a bit off, but I should be back later. In the meantime, if you're just now coming on the St. Catharine's Day Pageant, this is what you have missed (in order from the beginning):

1. Opening Convocation

2. Legend of the Broken Wheel

3. Blog Tableau I

4. Saint Catharine of Alexandria at Prayer

5. Blog Tableau II

6. The Triumph of Saint Catharine

7. Aquinas's First Way

8. Blog Tableau III

9. Coronation of the Virgin

As I said, there will be more. Expect, at the very least, more blog tableaux, another painting or two, and that old St. Catharine's Day tradition, an encomium of the Philosopher (Aristotle, of course). I've never written any encomia before, but my skills will have to do.

If you decide on the spur of the moment that you want to contribute something to the St. Catharine's Day Pageant, trackback to this post so people can follow the link back to your own weblog. If you want, you can put the St. Catharine's Day Pageant emblem on your post. To do so, click the emblem on this post to get the address. I have temporarily disabled my hotlink protection, but it will probably be enabled again by Saturday. If, however, you've trackbacked to this post, I'll add your post address to the link-access list.

Fra Angelico's Coronation of the Virgin (Louvre)

Can you identify Saint Catharine in the audience? Hint: Catharine is identified by a distinctive emblem. You can also see this painting at the Louvre website.

Blog Tableau: Rebecca Writes

The next tableau is Rebecca Writes. Rebecca is a Yukon blogger who writes on theology from a Reformed perspective. She also edits David Brainerd's Blog, posting journal entries and letters from the eighteenth-century missionary.

Two of her theological series at "Rebecca Writes" are especially worth noting:

* The Purposes of Christ's Death. To access the posts, you can either follow the links on her sidebar, or you can start with the summary. Read Part I first, then use the links in Part II.

* The Attributes of God. To access the posts, begin here.

Both are a delightful crash course in the theological basics of certain aspects of the Christian faith and how those basics affect how we Christians should live our lives.

Some interesting recent posts, in no particular order:

* Isaiah 10 and Reconciling Friends

* Say What?? (on the 'descended into hell' article of the Apostles' Creed)

* Grace

* What to Do When Someone You Know Dies

And a quick sample from "David Brainerd's Blog":

* Letter III (Jan 21, 1743-44)

Aquinas's First Way

Given the occasion, I thought it would be fitting to post some old notes about Aquinas's First Way to God. Here's my (rough) translation of the argument:

Prima autem et manifestior via est, quae sumitur ex parte motus. But the first and more manifest way is, that which begins from motion.

1. Certum est enim, et sensu constat, aliqua moveri in hoc mundo. For it is true, and the senses establish, that some things are moved in this world.

2. Omne autem quod movetur, ab alio movetur. But every thing that is moved, is moved by another.

3. Nihil enim movetur, nisi secundum quod est in potentia ad illud ad quod movetur, movet autem aliquid secundum quod est actu. For nothing is moved, save according as it is potential to that to which it is moved; but it moves something according as it is actual.

4. Movere enim nihil aliud est quam educere aliquid de potentia in actum, de potentia autem non potest aliquid reduci in actum, nisi per aliquod ens in actu, sicut calidum in actu, ut ignis, facit lignum, quod est calidum in potentia, esse actu calidum, et per hoc movet et alterat ipsum. For moving is nothing other than drawing forth something from potency into act, for something cannot be reduced from potency into act, save through some actual being; thus actual heat (as fire) makes wood (which is potential fire) to be actually hot, and thereby moves and alters it.

5. Non autem est possibile ut idem sit simul in actu et potentia secundum idem, sed solum secundum diversa, quod enim est calidum in actu, non potest simul esse calidum in potentia, sed est simul frigidum in potentia. For it is not possible for the same thing to be at once actual and potential inasmuch as it is the same, but only inasmuch as it is diverse, for what is actually hot cannot at the same time be potentially hot, but is at the same time potentially cold.

6. Impossibile est ergo quod, secundum idem et eodem modo, aliquid sit movens et motum, vel quod moveat seipsum. It is therefore impossible that, in one and the same way, something could be moving and moved, or that something move itself.

7. Omne ergo quod movetur, oportet ab alio moveri. Therefore every thing that moves, must be moved from another.

8. Si ergo id a quo movetur, moveatur, oportet et ipsum ab alio moveri et illud ab alio. If therefore that by which it is moved, be moved, it must be moved by another, and that from yet another.

9. Hic autem non est procedere in infinitum, quia sic non esset aliquod primum movens; et per consequens nec aliquod aliud movens, quia moventia secunda non movent nisi per hoc quod sunt mota a primo movente, sicut baculus non movet nisi per hoc quod est motus a manu. But this is not to proceed infinitely, because then there would not be some first mover; and consequently neither some other mover, because second movers do not move save through being moved by a first mover, just as the stick does not move save through being moved by the hand.

10. Ergo necesse est devenire ad aliquod primum movens, quod a nullo movetur, et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum. Therefore it is necessary to come through some first mover, that is moved by nothing, and this all understand to be God.

You can find an alternative translation at New Advent.

Aquinas's argument has, I think, the following general structure:

A. Some things are moved. (this is #1)
B. Every thing moved is moved by another. (this is #2=#7)
C. Either there is a first mover or nothing is moved by another. (this is #9)
D. There is a first mover. (from A, B, & C; this is #10)

Then, as an interpretive comment on the argument as a whole: This all understand to be God, i.e., this fits the requirement of an argument for the existence of God, because something that is a first mover is something that has been considered to be God.

This is set up as a disjunctive argument; it could also, of course, be set up as a reductio ad absurdum (since the negation of the conclusion, combined with C and B, would conflict with A). It is valid.

While there are views that would question A (Humean views of causality, for instance, don't allow for an act/potency distinction, which is essential to the Aristotelian notion of 'motion'), clearly the premises that most need support are B and C. Sentences 2-7 are devoted to supporting B. Nor do I think it makes much sense to deny B; that would be like saying that something can change from potential to actual without there being anything actual that makes the change possible--in other words, giving up B in its Aristotelian sense is a fairly serious price to pay for rejecting the argument. Note that Aquinas considers the issue of infinite regress (#8 & #9) only as part of a subargument for the truth of C. In these he argues that, given the nature of the dependence involved in B, assumption of infinite regress would result in contradiction. It is worth pointing this out, because the importance of the infinite regress to the argument is sometimes exaggerated. It does play an essential role, since it supports the key premise; but the First Way itself is not structured as an infinite regress argument.

C is usually found by readers of the argument to be a bit puzzling--hard to interpret, and not very developed here. The reason for it is stated briefly as "second movers do not move save through being moved by a first mover", with the additional argument (in scholasticism, I find, examples are generally used as arguments, not as clarifications: an example is to induction as an enthymeme is to deduction) of the stick in the hand. It's common to accuse Aquinas of begging the question here, but I don't think he is--he's just being more concise than modern readers can usually follow.

In discussing (in SCG 1.13) Aristotle's reasons for rejecting the infinite regress, Aquinas gives the following as the third of those reasons:

** Id quod movet instrumentaliter, non potest movere nisi sit aliquid quod principaliter moveat. Sed si in infinitum procedatur in moventibus et motis, omnia erunt quasi instrumentaliter moventia, quia ponentur sicut moventia mota, nihil autem erit sicut principale movens. Ergo nihil movebitur. What moves instrumentally, cannot move unless there be something that principally moves. But if one were to proceed infinitely in moving and moved, all would be like instrumental movers, because they would be posited as moved movers, and nothing would be a principal mover. Therefore nothing would be moved.

And in the Compendium Theologiae (1.3), he says something similar. The point: to be a moved mover is to be an instrumental cause; but if there is no first cause, everything is an instrumental cause and nothing is an instrumental cause.

Consider the causal chain:

A <- B <- C <- D <- E..., where A is moved by B, and B by C, and C by D, and so on. In such a chain B mediates between C and A, and so is an instrumental cause for C; C mediates between D and B, and so is an instrumental cause for D. But, because we are dealing with moved, movers, one can say the same of cause-complexes: {B, C} is an instrumental cause mediating between D and A, for instance; {B, C, D} is an instrumental cause mediating between E and A. So we have two options: 1. We can trace it back to some principal cause; and then everything between the principal mover and A will be a mover moved by the principal mover. 2. We can trace it back infinitely; and then everything that moves A must be an instrumental mover, but what moves A will not be an instrumental mover, because it will not be moved by anything. In other words, on the infinite regress, we have a mover (what moves A) that is both moved and unmoved; and, as well, given that to be a moved mover requires that it be moved by something, the nonexistence of that thing means that it is both a mover and not a mover. This contradiction, I think, is the problem Aquinas sees with infinite regress. A similar result can be obtained by thinking in terms of intermediate rather than instrumental movers. Removal of a first cause from the series, then, seems to introduce a contradiction in which things would have to be both moved and not moved by a mover that is both moved and not moved, and therefore a mover and not a mover. The whole First Way could in principle be reconstructed in terms of actuality and potentiality, since motion is a particular case analyzed in terms of those concepts, although it would be complicated to do so. In other words, the Argument from Motion is not an argument from 'motion' in our sense of the term, but an argument from motus, in the scholastic sense. Motion is analyzed by Aristotle in terms of actuality and potentiality. It's the act of the potential insofar as it is potential. Because of this, Aquinas reads 'motion' as an imperfect actuality--it's the actuality of something insofar as it is potential to being something actual (other than it already is). Because act or actuality is a more fundamental principle than motion (as one of the things in terms of which motion is defined), acts are not motions (although beginnings of acts are). The act is to motion as the final result to the process geared to producing that result; it is the limit of motion, not itself a motion. Thoughts in themselves, being acts, are not motions (although beginning to think this or that is a motion). Thus for God to be self-thinking thought by nature would not indicate motion but pure actuality. Aquinas holds that the Platonists would call both motion and actuality 'motion', and allows that in this large, improper Platonistic sense of 'motion' God is self-moving mover. But in the stricter, proper Aristotelian sense, He is not, because is purus actus, pure act unmixed with any potentiality. It is this that is meant by "unmoved first mover". The argument is about actuality.

Note that what this means is that the First Way does not require that the world have a beginning. Aquinas agrees that the eternity of the world is a possibility. He thinks it is false, for reasons of faith, but thinks demonstrations on the subject are not possible. See the (for the Summa) long discussion at ST 1.46.1. But this is a different issue; the question of whether the world (or matter or motion) began is a temporal issue. Aquinas's concern in the First Way, however, is causal, and it is a causal question that is not dependent on whether the world began or not. This is especially clear in the longer discussion in the Summa Contra Gentiles (1.13), where Aquinas explicitly recognizes that Aristotle held the eternity of the world, and that "Catholics suppose this to be false". But "to this it must be said that the most efficacious way to prove that God exists is on the supposition of the eternity of the world," because if the universe began it would already be more obvious that God exists, but if the proof shows God to exist even supposing that the world never began to be, it is that much more forceful. So Aquinas would deny that the proof presupposes either position (the world began or the world has always existed); but would also insist that on the latter supposition you can see just how strong the proof really is. All that is really in play in the First Way is the actuality and potentiality of things.

The Triumph of Saint Catharine

Behold the worldy-wise bent down,
the brilliance of the earthly minds,
the best of all the men who know,
all brought to shame, refuted all,
all answered with the purest truth
and conquered by a woman's word!

The vestige of the Spirit's power,
its print upon the sands of time,
is here, the maid, the queen who knows,
who overcomes the present age,
the darkness in high places!

They seek to break, the rack they bring,
to torture truth to fit their whims;
the rack she breaks! She overcomes!
God bless Queen Catharine, Spirit-wise!

They seek to burn, to turn to ash,
to make as nothing Gospel truth;
they set the virgin on the wood
and light the flame - she does not burn!
The flames can only purify,
but in God's love she is most pure!
God bless Maid Catharine, Spirit-wise!

Behold the godless Caesar's host
of answer-men and scholars wise,
all wordly men who serve the gods
of lucre, politics, and death,
bent down and puzzled by this truth:
Queen Catharine, Church-like in her faith,
cannot be broken, cannot burn!

They bring the sword to pierce her soul,
it enters in her tender side
and blood flows out as with Christ -
she is a witness in her death,
she mimics Him in sacrifice,
a martyr true attesting truth.
The blood by which she lives flows out,
and she is born amid the pains
of Christ who births us on the Cross
into His everlasting life!

All are silent, overcome,
uncertain what they saw that day:
the truth could not be made to break,
the truth could not be made to burn,
and blood itself, from stigma pierced,
seemed to witness to God's truth.

The vestige of the Spirit's power,
its print upon these changing sands,
is here, the maid, the queen who knows,
who overcomes the present age,
the darkness in the highest places!
She has the martyr's palm in hand -
God bless Saint Catharine, Spirit-wise!

Blog Tableau: Fides Quaerens Intellectum

The next weblog tableau in the Siris St. Catharine's Day Pageant is Fides Quaerens Intellectum. The author is John DePoe, or "Johnny-Dee" as he likes to call himself. He has an associated webpage, The Virtual Office of John DePoe, devoted to philosophy of religion resources.

Some recent blog posts of note, in no particular order:

* Human Freedom & Divine Foreknowledge: Divine Timelessness

* Human Freedom & Divine Foreknowledge: Augustinian Compatibilism

* Human Freedom & Divine Foreknowledge: Molinism

* Gratuitous Evil (Part 1)

* Gratuitous Evil (Part 2)

* Dealing with Life's Failures

Interesting articles from his virtual office:

* The Argument from Reason

* The Role of the Arguments for the Existence of God

* Who Was Jesus?

Titian's Saint Catharine of Alexandria at Prayer

Notice the sword and the martyr's palm of victory. To see the full painting in a better format, go here.

Blog Tableau: Maverick Philosopher

As part of the festivities for today, I would like to showcase some aspects of some of my favorite weblogs that deal with philosophy and theology. A sampling or impressionistic snapshot of some important elements of the philosophosphere and theologosphere. The first up: Maverick Philosopher.

"Maverick Philosopher" is a blogospheric extension of, run by William Vallicella, whose philosophical interests are unified by his onto-theological personalism (as he describes it, the view "that individual persons form an irreducible and ultimate ontological category, and that within this category self-subsistent existence is the prime person").

Various posts of note at "Maverick Philosopher", in no particular order:

* Enthymemes

* Creation: Ex Nihilo or Ex Deo?

* Creatio ex Deo and Pantheism

* A Common Misunderstanding of So-Called Cambridge Changes

* David Stove, Anti-Philosopher

Some interesting papers and essays at

* The Moreland-Willard-Lotze Thesis on Being, which he suggests can serve as an introduction to his book, A Paradigm Theory of Existence.

* God and Comfort

* Five Uses of Argument

* The Hume-Edwards Objection to the Cosmological Argument and the Regularity Theory of Causation

* Does Existence Itself Exist?

Legend of the Broken Wheel

Here is what the Roman Breviary says about Saint Catharine:

Catherine was a noble maiden of Alexandria, who from her earliest years joined the study of the liberal arts with fervent faith, and in a short while came to such an height of holiness and learning, that when she was eighteen years of age she prevailed over the chiefest wits. When she saw many diversely tormented and haled to death by command of Maximinus, because they professed the Christian religion, she went boldly unto him and rebuked him for his savage cruelty, bringing forward likewise most sage reasons why the faith of Christ should be needful for salvation.

Here is a legend of it. Picture to yourself a lovely, fiery young woman, unmarried not even twenty-five, devout and intelligent, of a noble family of Alexandria. From her earliest years she had studied all she could learn with great precociousness. Such a woman was Catharine.

During a great persecution of Christians, Catharine went to the king to upbraid him for his injustice, and lectured him with a long philosophical discourse on the iniquity of idolatry and the rationality of the worship of the one true God. The despot, astounded by her audacious behavior, but intrigued by her skill, summoned a group of orators to compete with her. And so they tried; but their worldly rhetoric could not compare with the eloquence of Catharine, simple, saintly, and wise. Several became Christian. They were slain.

Frustrated, the tyrant summoned a group of philosophers to persuade her of her folly. And so they tried; but their pagan reasoning, contaminated with superstition, could not compare with the reasoning of Catharine, simple, saintly, and wise. Several became Christian. They were slain.

It was unacceptable; the king ordered her put to death for sympathizing with his enemies. She was meanwhile thrown into prison, and there she was visited by one of the emperor's favored women, along with the head of the emperor's guard. She spoke to them of the needfulness of Christ, of the coherence of all the universe in Him, of the Word who was with God and who was God. They were converted and baptized in secret; but the emperor found out, and in a rage had them both killed. The despot knew he could not afford to delay. He ordered that she be immediately broken on the wheel, a terrible death of intense suffering. She was placed upon it and the wheel began to turn. Slowly, ever so slowly, with great force it began to pull her apart; but hardly had it started when it broke. Ever since the Broken Wheel has been the chief symbol of Saint Catharine. She was thrown into the fire; the fire would not burn around her. So a sword was brought, and some say it was thrust into her side, while others say she was beheaded with it. But the sword slew her, and thereby she gained the martyr's palm and crown.

You can read more about her legend at the Catholic Encyclopedia and also here.

Opening Convocation

Haec est Virgo sapiens, et una de numero prudentum.

Welcome, one and all, to the Saint Catharine's Day Pageant here at Siris. Today we celebrate the Feast of Queen Saint Catharine of Alexandria, Virgin and Great Martyr. I thought that, Patrick and Valentine have their days, so why not Catharine. There was a time when the Feast of Saint Catharine, Virgin Martyr, was one of the most celebrated holidays in Europe. No more, alas. But Saint Catharine is patroness of philosophers, orators, lawyers, and theologians, so (particularly in virtue of the first and last), it seemed a good thing to start up something, just to celebrate the good things that come from being one of those who have a passion to know. For a basic introduction to folklore associated with the Feast of Saint Catharine, see here. If it is not too impudent, I would like to put here the Collect of the Day:

O God, who on Mount Sinai didst give the law to Moses, and afterwards, through the ministry of holy Angels, didst mystically give rest thereon to the body of blessed Catherine thy Virgin and Martyr : grant, we beseech thee ; that, by her intercession, we may be brought unto that mountain which is Christ. Who liveth and reigneth with thee.

And close with an old poem-prayer about Catharine:

O, holy virgin, Catharine,
Thou who with science, all divine,
Didst foil the world's philosophy;
Oh, make our life and death like thine
In rule of holy discipline,
That like to thine, our crown may be!

Haec est Virgo sapiens, quam Dominus vigilantem invenit.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Brief Salute to All Linkers

This is the graph of incoming links within The Truth Laid Bare Ecosystem for the past month:

As you can see, the linking has been fairly steady. I figure that it deserves some sort of recognition. So, thanks to everyone who has shown interest in this weblog; even the mere fact of interest is a useful bit of feedback.

By the way, don't forget that tomorrow (November 25) is the St. Catharine's Day Pageant here at Siris. By coincidence it also happens to be American Thanksgiving, and it looks like the weather will be a bit bad here, so it might be a bit late and patchy in getting up. But if you stop in Thursday or (as many of you will certainly be busy with other things) Friday, you should find all sorts of posts of interest. It won't be super-spectacular; but it will be something special to mark the occasion.

Smith on the Impartial Spectator

If we examine the different shades and gradations of weakness and self-command, as we meet with them in common life, we shall very easily satisfy ourselves that this control of our passive feelings must be acquired, not from the abstruse syllogisms of a quibbling dialectic, but from that great discipline which Nature has established for the acquisition of this and of every other virtue; a regard to the sentiments of the real or supposed spectator of our conduct.

Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments Part 3, Chapter 3.

"The real or supposed spectator" is an important part of Smith's moral theory; he argues that we improve and refine our moral sense by creating an objective viewpoint - that of the impartial spectator - and seeing our actions in that light as well as in our own more biased perspective. (Impartial spectator theory should not be confused, by the way, with 'ideal spectator theory', which is different altogether. In impartial spectator theory the idea is that the moral perspective is a normal human perspective; in ideal spectator theory, it is that the moral perspective is an unlimited perspective.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Over at Cliopatria, you can find a beautiful open letter by Timothy Burke on the subject of the public evolution debate in the U.S. It is, I think, dead-on in many respects, and recognizing that it is would be real progress toward ending the debate. As I've noted before, I think the real root of the dispute is ethical/political; and that I think biologists bear at least part of the responsibility for the fact that they can't make any headway. The self-policing would go a long, long way toward reversing this. Were I to have written something along the lines of Burke's letter, I would also probably have noted just how badly prepared many biologists show themselves to be for dealing logically and rationally with disputes. I once had a friendly discussion in an online reading group forum with a biologist who was presenting his argument against what has come to be called 'intelligent design theory' (in particular, that of Dembski); and his argument was that it was fatally flawed because it was indistinguishable from evolutionary theory. A little puzzled, I pointed out that, if evolutionary theory isn't fatally flawed, intelligent design theory can't be fatally flawed due to being wholly indistinguishable from it. He insisted, and so I spent the next several parts of the exchange trying to find some reasonable interpretation of his claim, and my every suggestion turned out not to be quite what he was going for. It turned out that he had somehow gotten it into his head that total indistinguishability was an asymmetric relation. When I pointed out it was symmetric, he didn't understand. So I ended up having to argue that if A is completely indistinguishable from B, it is necessarily true that B is completely indistinguishable from A. And then I pointed out that he might be better served by arguing that a major part of what seemed plausible in IDT was empirically indistinguishable from some of what you can get through ET, and that ET has additional advantages of its own.

It gets worse when ethical and political issues are in play; one occasionally hears intelligent, well-trained, deeply knowledgeable people give the most utterly bizarre and incoherent arguments, or (worse) give arguments that exactly parallel the bad arguments they recognize as bad when 'creation-scientists' use them in arguing against evolution. And when scientists get hot-tempered over some issue, they just make things worse by saying things that confirm to people who might otherwise have been persuaded that the position the scientist is putting forward is actually not based on reason but is (as it were) some sort of power play.

But the primary issue isn't really anyone's fault, at least not in particular. The fact of the matter is, most people have no convenient way to distinguish reason from quackery; they often have neither the time nor the interest to sort the matter out, and they don't have the latter in part precisely because they have no easy way to sort the matter out, in part because little effort has been made to clarify how being interested in sorting the matter out will help them do things like put food on the table or release the stress of their full-time jobs. So when it becomes necessary to decide the issue, they choose the option that seems on the face of it to be the least ethically and politically questionable. And if you don't recognize this, and don't act accordingly, the end result will inevitably be a mess. One of the reasons I think someone like Stephen Jay Gould made so much headway in the 'creation-science' dispute is that he had a fairly good feel for precisely these sorts of issues, and therefore he was able to phrase at least some things more correctly. For no matter how right you are on any subject, your way of communicating it can be entirely wrong. And I'm afraid that's often been the case here.

Burke goes about the matter somewhat differently, and makes a number of points that I would be inclined to make much better than I could. The fundamental problem is systemic and social. Rants about the ignorance, stupidity, or perversity of people just don't solve a problem like that. It's time for people actually to solve the problem by dealing with it in a progressive, constructive way. Such a progressive way involves some of the things Burke notes, and many other things. So I highly recommend Burke's letter; go read it. (Burke also has an interesting weblog of his own.)

UPDATE (11/24): The comments to Burke's letter are well worth reading; Myers's comment and Burke's reply is especially worth reading. I do think it is a little disingenuous to describe the situation as a case in which reason (i.e., presenting the data, evidence, and theory) just doesn't work - because it is clear that this simply isn't the problem at all. The problem, I think, is that in addition to reason biologists haven't been able to prevent themselves from putting forward things that countervail the tendency of the reasoning. It doesn't even take a very deep study of the issues to trace most of the talking points of the 'creation-science' movement to unthinking, silly, or even stupid argumentative moves by biologists themselves - absurd and ridiculous things that biologists put forward get repeated for decades after as a sign of just what sort of people, or what sort of reasoning, or what sort of attitude, is involved in evolutionary theory. Mark my words: Dawkins will be quoted religiously by the 'creation-science' movement as evidence for the stupidity, arrogance, and illogicality of evolutionists for the next thirty years.

It is entirely time for non-biologists to begin getting impatient with the way biologists have handled the situation. They are not the only ones who have to pay the piper when they do or say something misguided; and they have had plenty of time to deal with the issue, and have (quite frankly) only made things worse. (Although, to be fair, it isn't biologists alone but also philosophers, popularizers, etc. who deal with biological issues. We philosophers will have to start owning up to our stupidities in this whole affair, too; it's just harder to trace down our failures.)

UPDATE (evening 11/24): As noted in the comments, I hope to give a few examples of what I meant about the things that get repeated for decades. People tend to forget that while the scientific lay of the land is constantly changing, the social lay of the land still feels at least some minor reverberations from side comments and the like that are decades old. At the moment I have my hands full trying to meet a deadline and prepare for the Pageant tomorrow; but I should get to it Saturday or Sunday (probably Saturday).

My first update makes it sound like I think the only issue is this sort of issue; this isn't quite what I want to say. As I note above, I agree with a lot of Burke's suggestion, and that deals with different issues; it's a social problem, which means there are lots of things feeding into it. Burke, I think, has rightly identified a major line; then there's the filtering issue I noted above; and the quotation issue that I'll be clarifying this weekend, and others. I think the quotation issue is more important than is generally recognized, because it actually is sympomatic of deeper problems - which is the reason I'm interested in it.

You, Too, Can Be a Bayesattva

An excellent introduction to Bayesian reasoning (the proponents of which have replaced the Illuminati as the secret rulers of the world) can be found here.

And there's a good tutorial on Bayesian Networks here, with respect to a Bayesian net computer utility. Surprisingly, I understood a lot of it; partly because I have done some (very minor) stuff using directed acyclic graphs. (They are coming to be used somewhat in philosophy of causation, because they are very handy for representing relations of dependence.)

(Hat-tip to Franz Dill at Future Now.)

Play and Eutrapelia

A few passages from Aquinas on the subject of play. First, from a question on whether play can be virtuous:

Just as man needs bodily rest for the body's refreshment, because he cannot always be at work, since his power is finite and equal to a certain fixed amount of labor, so too is it with his soul, whose power is also finite and equal to a fixed amount of work. Consequently when he goes beyond his measure in a certain work, he is oppressed and becomes weary, and all the more since when the soul works, the body is at work likewise, in so far as the intellective soul employs forces that operate through bodily organs. Now sensible goods are connatural to man, and therefore, when the soul arises above sensibles, through being intent on the operations of reason, there results in consequence a certain weariness of soul, whether the operations with which it is occupied be those of the practical or of the speculative reason. Yet this weariness is greater if the soul be occupied with the work of contemplation, since thereby it is raised higher above sensible things; although perhaps certain outward works of the practical reason entail a greater bodily labor. On either case, however, one man is more soul-wearied than another, according as he is more intensely occupied with works of reason. Now just as weariness of the body is dispelled by resting the body, so weariness of the soul must needs be remedied by resting the soul: and the soul's rest is pleasure, as stated above (I-II, 25, 2; I-II, 31, 1, ad 2). Consequently, the remedy for weariness of soul must needs consist in the application of some pleasure, by slackening the tension of the reason's study.

It is noteworthy, by the way, that this argument implies that the more contemplative and intellectual our work, the more important it is to play. He goes on to conclude:

Now such like words or deeds wherein nothing further is sought than the soul's delight, are called playful or humorous. Hence it is necessary at times to make use of them, in order to give rest, as it were, to the soul. This is in agreement with the statement of the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 8) that "in the intercourse of this life there is a kind of rest that is associated with games": and consequently it is sometimes necessary to make use of such things.

He then notes three moral issues involved in play: (1) play should not be indecent or injurious; (2) while play should relax the tightness of the mind's harmony, it should not throw it out of balance altogether - i.e., while play is there to give us a bit of a break from perfect virtue and rationality, this does not make it an excuse to give up virtue and rationality altogether; even in taking it easy we shouldn't be taking a holiday from virtue and reason; (3) play should be appropriate to our circumstances. All three of these things require the direction of reason, however, so there is a sort of virtue that has to do with play as such; this he calls (borrowing from Aristotle) eutrapelia, which falls under the virtue of propriety (modestia); it is the virtue of "having a happy turn of mind, whereby one gives one's word and deeds a cheerful turn." It could also be called affability, pleasantness, etc.

If there is a virtue of play, there are concomitant vices pertaining to an excess of play, in which we do not have proper regard for the right circumstances or way of going about play, so that play becomes unruly; and to a deficiency of play, the vice of boorishness, in which a person becomes burdensome to others by being unable to appreciate moderate play. Boorishness is a lesser vice than frivolity, because the dangers of vicious play are more serious than those of being deficient in play. Austerity, insofar as it is a virtue, is in this sense closely related to eutrapelia, since such austerity opposes frivolity but does not exclude all pleasantness in life. Effeminacy and delicacy, on the other hand, insofar as they are vices, encourage cravings for excessive play and a general inability to do one's proper work when it gets difficult. In discussing the excess of play, Aquinas defends stage-acting, or more generally what we would call 'entertainment', "the object of which is to cheer the human heart," so long as it involves proper regard for circumstances and nothing indecent or injurious. (People who reward entertainers for indecent, injurious, or improper play, however, are sinning by encouraging vice. Decent entertainers who avoid the injurious and indecent, and have a good understanding of how to moderate their play according to audience, time, place, etc., are to be rewarded by us as a matter of justice, because their services are valuable.)

Apostle of Common Sense

An interesting article at The Rake on G. K. Chesterton (Hat-tip: Reason). It has some flaws, e.g., the claim that Chesterton's work contains "dismissals of science and technical progress," a claim that is sometimes made but never properly defended. In fact, such a claim requires taking Chesterton's statements out of context - a natural temptation with a quotable writer like Chesterton, but inexcusable nonetheless.

Two Poem Drafts

These are two older ones.

Before a Storm

The honeysuckle before the rain
sends out its scent;
the sky, a gentle gray with cloudy banks,
looks down in meditation.
Its philosophical study prepares the thunder,
rendering air electric,
charging it with the passion of the ages.
All is calm with consideration,
each blade of grass a scholar,
each blossom on the vine.


Set your stones upon the shelf;
who stones another stones himself,
for everything is always made
of everything and interplayed
with everything and turned to good
for everything, as it should.
Each work is but a holograph,
so in my laugh is every laugh,
and every tear and every word -
yes, ever said or ever heard
by every mouth and every ear
that in this laugh is gathered here.
And each and every bird that sings,
the dragons and ten thousand things,
are pendant in each joyful note:
each ray of light, each dusty mote,
each living thing, each bird in flight,
each cup of wine, each golden ring,
each jewel of hue incarnadine.
Turn now your violence to an end;
who fights a foe has fought a friend,
for everyone in everyone
will have his end and has begun
to be made goal of everyone,
to light the souls of everyone,
to bring to whole, yes, everyone,
to rise and roll through everyone
until each person in each part
of every person's beating heart
will look to each, and looking find
each person in each person's mind.
For every bit is made of all;
each atom is a chorus hall
of every world in every thought
which has each thing in thinking caught,
so that we are where we began:
all in each within the plan.
So who would make his person whole
cannot - save through his neighbor's soul.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Remembering the Dead

I just realized what day it is today: On November 22, 1963, C. S. Lewis died. It would perhaps have made international headlines had not another, more important death occurred the same day.

It really is interesting, if you think about it, how we tend to consider death-days important, like those of Lewis or Kennedy. Of course, there's a long religious tradition of remembering the deaths of martyrs and saints; but, strictly speaking, the tradition has always been that the death is remembered because it is their greater birthday: to die in this world is to be born in the next. We do, however, tend to remember death-days simply for their own sake, and to attribute to them some significance simply for being death-days. Part of our human tendency to ritualize things, I suppose.

Meet R. R. Marett

Admiration, however, does not in itself amount to fine art, which is, so to say, admiration become expresive instead of merely appreciative. Expression implies the use of a medium or vehicl which is artificial in the sense that it is new matter adapted to some lovable form in order the more clearly to bring out its intrinsic charm, the grace inherent in its formal quality. Paradoxical as it may sound,t he artist transfers the matter to the form, not the form to the matter; for we adapt the means to the end, and the form whether it be given in nature or in idea is always the final cause of the activity. This adaptation and transference of the matter to suit the form must be carried out adequately; and the skill shown in the preparation of the medium of expression is what we know as style. Thus style is not a primary, but a secondary or incidental, end of fine art; for, though it stands to reason that, if there is to be expression of the form, a certain measure of expressiveness msut be imparted to the vehicle, the latter result is attained by the way. Hence to look no further than the style, forgetting that it is but the minister of the form, is a short-sighted policy bound to lead to disaster. Stylism is the bane of art. It comes about chiefly when artists seek to outdo one another instead of seeking after the intrinsic beauty of the form which can never be outdone. Thus the true artist must ever concentrate on the form, and leave the style to look after itself. Great art has an air of innocence and freedom because it is on the face of it careless of style. It always looks as if the genius had never heard of art for art's sake.

R. R. Marett, Faith, Hope and Charity in Primitive Religion. Clarendon (Oxford: 1932), pp. 150-151.

R. R. Marett is a name that deserves to be known. He is one of the great anthropologists of religion, taking his place with people like Edward Tylor and James Frazer. Marett is most famous for noting that the phenomena required more than merely Tylor's notion of animism, i.e., the attribution of spirits/souls to things; there was another sort of issue anthropologists needed to recognize:

The question is whether apart from ideas of spirit, ghost, soul, and the like, and before such ideas have become the dominant factors in the constituent experience, a
rudimentary religion can exist. It will suffice to prove that supernaturalism, the attitude of the mind dictated by awe of the mysterious, which provides religion with its raw material, may exist apart from animism, and, further, may provide a basis on which animistic doctrine is subsequently constructed.

(In The Threshold of Religion, quoted from here.)

This additional doctrine he called 'animatism' or 'preanimism'. This discovery was in great measure spurred by his study of Melanesian religious life, particularly its concept of mana, discussion of which he was a major pioneer. One of the things I like about Marett is his strong recognition of the importance of religion as lived; as he once said, "religion is not so much thought out as danced out." Thus in criticizing associationist accounts of religious origins (e.g., Frazer's), he always insisted that association in the mind according to similarity, contiguity, or causation is only what happens from the passive perspective: the active perspective is attention or interest, which does the chief work. Marett's anthropological work thus often reads like a sort of phenomenology of religion; and this is certainly true of Faith, Hope and Charity in Primitive Religion, which is one part of his published Gifford Lectures. I haven't read the other part, unfortunately; Marett's books are rather tricky to find. I lucked out with FHPPR, since I came across a first edition in a used bookstore (where it cost me only Can$17.50). It is a beautiful little book, although with some of the standard faults of anthropologists of Marett's time. Here are the chapters, with the chapter abstracts, which show many of the strengths and weaknesses of Marett's approach:

1. The Religious Complex: On the hypothesis that his religion helps the savage to live, the qustion arises whether such help comes mainly by way of thinking, acting, or feeling. Now the thinking is of poor quality, to judge by primitive mythology. The acting, again, is symbolic, its efficacy being held to depend on the intervention fo a higher power manifested only for such as are in the right spiritual condition. Thus it is all-important that feeling should provide the necessary assurance of being in touch with this higher power, which, however, is only by gradual experiment revealed as a power making for righteousness.

2. Hope: If religion is taken as an intensified expression of the will to live, a positive hopefulness is seen to be the basic element in it. Such an attitude is characteristic of the ancient savage, who mastered fire, refused to recognize the finality of death, and anticipated the control of the animal kingdom in his spelaeolatric rites. The same moral is to be drawn from the rites of the modern savage, whether rites of participation or of projection. All such rites are not merely magical, but religious, in so far as they are normal developments of the social life, and apply an inward spur to tis essential activities.

3. Fear: Fear is secondary to hope, if equally fundamental in religion; its true function being to induce a needful caution, though in its craven form it is an enemy to strenuous living. Black magic illustrates this bad side; whereas its good side appears in those disciplinary terrorisms which religion employs in connexion with punishment, whether hereafter or on this earth, or again, with the educational system both at puberty and in later life. Thus fear, giving rise, as it does, to quasi positive attitudes such as purity and humility, exerts a chastening force directly helpful to the good life.

4. Lust: In seeking to regularize the violence of sexual emotion, religion has been less concerned to encourage than to restrain it. The repressions involved in the incest-taboo may go back to a matri-central form of the family, when the mother's blood, being regarded as the sole source of generation, provoked an awe that enabled her to enforce chaste relations within the home circle. In contrast marriage, being at first little more than a tolerated license, develops rites that are partly piacular, though partly making for communion between alien groups. As male ascendency grows, the fertility cult gives way to forms of religion that reflect masculine authority.

5. Cruelty: Hunting as the earliest mystery-craft must have helped to invest blood with a sacredness that may account for the origin of cooking as a purificatory rite; while the slaying of the animal, wild or domesticated, is felt to need apology. So too in human sacrifice, the victim, slave or enemy though he be, is never without a certain sacredness, which extending also to the slain criminal, transforms each into a kind of martyr, as is more obviously the case with the king slain at the end of his term of office, or the widow who undergoes suttee. These, then, vicariously represent a general habit of self-torture which, though sublimated into self-sacrifice, looks back to ugly beginnings.

6. Faith: It is not inconsistent with the hopefulness inherent in primitive religion that it should rest on a faith in tradition, though this might seem to contradict the tendency of the immature mind to indulge in random play. Another trait of such a mind being to enjoy repetition by rote, it is on this that the static type of society seizes in order to obtain the rigid system of law that it needs. The cyclical view of life, reflected in the belief in reincarnation, implies a round of duties comprised in a sacred custom, and only faith in its infallibility can supply the moral effort needed to maintain it.

7. Conscience: Together with a blind allegiance to social convention goes sorrow at beign out of touch with the rest and a desire to be restored to the fold. Though some sins are irremediable, others admit of rites of penance which remove the pollution, sometimes as if it were a physical foulness, but also, as in the rite of confession, by identifying it with a state of the mind; while the publicity of the humiliation helps to cast down the sinner in his own eyes. At the same time, a forgiveness which goes beyond strict justice is apt to inspire the penitent to repay the debt with interest.

8. Curiosity: In treating the pursuit of knowledge as a mystery for which moral discipline must form a preparation primitive religion effectively refutes that shallow interpretation of tis rites which, because an appeal to a god is not always in evidence, deems them self-sufficent and arrogant in their underlying spirit. On the cotnrary, the novice at initiation, the member of the secret society, the theocratic ruler, and the craftsman must one and all purchase their enlightenment at the cost of a rigorous training, while the door of the sanctuary remains closed to unqualified persons.

9. Admiration: Religion is found in association with the desire to express beauty of form from the days of the cave-artists who, in the case of the animals represented, preserve a naturalistic style, though their masked human figures verge on the monstrous, as if the bestial still competed with the human in mystic value. Though stylized or purely geometrical art favours abstract thinking, emotion attaches more readily to concrete wholes, and in many ways fine art can assist religion in bringing out the quality of that which is worthy to be admired and loved.

10. Charity: Prehistoric times were no golden age in whcih peace and charity reigned throughout the earth, but within the primitive home the woman must have played her natural part of peace-maker; while her curse may well have been the primal sanction agains the shedding of kinly blood, even if her lamentations did must to stimulate blood-revenge. So, too, endo-cannibalism, cutting for the dead, and blood-brotherhood are rights making for consciousness of kind. As contrasted with a just but heartless legalism, charity gives freely without insisting on reciprocity.

Long Overdue Siris Quote

Wise words from Berkeley's Siris (section 368):

"The eye by long use comes to see even in the darkest cavern: and there is no subject so obscure but we may discern some glimpse of truth by long poring on it. Truth is the cry of all, but the game of a few. Certainly, where it is the chief passion, it doth not give way to vulgar cares and views; nor is it contented with a little ardour in the early time of life, active perhaps to pursue, but not so fit to weight and revise. He that would make a real progress in knowledge must dedicate his age as well as youth, the later growth as well as first fruits, at the altar of Truth."

Truth is the cry of all, but the game of a few: too true, always true, everywhere true.

Mary Astell on the Purpose of Rhetoric

For the design of Rhetoric is to remove those Prejudices that lie in the way of Truth, to Reduce the Passions to the Government of Reasons; to place our Subject in a Right Light, and excite our Hearers to a due consideration of it.

Mary Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies Part II, Chapter 3, section 5.

Readiness to Appear

As I note in the sidebar (which I am still intending eventually to rewrite), I have an interest in theories of the external world, particularly early modern ones. The early modern period has quite a few interesting contributors to the subject - Malebranche, Berkeley, Hume, Reid, etc. - and Shepherd has an entire book on it, which I have recently been re-reading (and thereby discovering the immense importance of re-reading for the study of history of philosophy, since I keep coming across things whose significance I have only just recently come to appreciate, which I don't remember from earlier readings). The three major questions in the field, which are explicitly noted by Shepherd (who is drawing from Hume) are:

1. By what means is it that we acquire the notion of continuous existences (as opposed to the interrupted sensations by means of which we know the things continuing to exist)?

2. By what means do we acquire the notion of external existences (as opposed to the internal existences of the mind)?

3. By what means do we acquire the notion of independent existences (as opposed to the existence of things that depend on our minds)?

These three questions are obviously interrelated, but they are not, strictly speaking, the same question. It is central to our understanding of the things around us that they continue to exist when we aren't perceiving them, that they be external to us rather than in our minds, and that they be independent of us rather than dependent on us. Shepherd's answer to the first question is particularly interesting. She argues that the human mind naturally (but rationally) infers that objects must continue to exist when we are not perceiving them because that is what is required to fit our experience:

For the mind perceives that unless they are created purposely, ready to appear, upon each irregular call of the senses, they must CONTINUE to exist, ready to appear to them upon such calls.
(EPEW, pp. 13-14)

We all know the phenomenon she is noting here: e.g., I look at the computer screen, look away and touch it, look back to it, touch it again, look away and touch it again, &c. If the computer continues to exist unperceived, this explains very well why it is that I can rely on it to be there at each "irregular call of the senses". It's not a mere pattern in my sensation (because it is irregular).

Strictly speaking, this doesn't tell us anything about the nature of the continued existence of the computer. Because it has a 'readiness to appear' that must be accounted for by an adequate cause, I know through my irregular calls of the senses that the cause of its appearing must be something that continues to exist when it isn't appearing, because it is only such a cause that can be ready when I am not looking at it to appear when I am. But this simple reasoning doesn't import much about the nature of the cause. And indeed, Shepherd is willing to allow that there's a lot we don't know about the cause. On her view, the sensory impressions we actually have - colors, shapes, sounds, etc. - are not the objects themselves but signs of the objects that we use quasi-algebraically to stand for the unknown causes of which they are the marks. Shepherd's account of causation does allow us to build up, slowly, over time, some notion of what these causes really are. But it does allow us to say that for every sign of the object we have from the senses there must be something corresponding to it in the object:

I repeat it, therefore, that the unknown causes of all our perceptions, are as the unknown quantities in algebra, which yet may be measured, valued, reasoned on by their signs; and the signs of these outward objects are the sensations they can create; and they may always be spoken of, and compared together, as though they did truly exist, in these forms in which they appear to the mind.

(EPEW pp. 47-48)

Her answer to the second question is also interesting (and closely related), since she argues that it has to do with the fact that all our sensations involve the being-affected of sensory organs, and that this causality is what distinguishes 'external' from 'internal'. Similar considerations show the origin of our notion of independent existence. (One of the strengths of Shepherd's account is that it explains why, despite the fact that they are not the same question, we tend to answer the above three questions in much the same way.)

As I've said before, Shepherd is perhaps the most underappreciated philosopher of the early modern period (or nineteenth century, depending on how you choose to divide the era and where you decide to place her: her dates are 1777-1847).

Private Plato

I recently came across an excellent post on history of philosophy at "Philosophical Fortnights". I know the post on the blog to which the author is referring; I had much the same reaction. (The format of the blog is a bit odd; I had to scroll over to get to the content.)

Incidentally, the author, Dennis Des Chene is a Significant Personage in the study of early modern philosophy.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

James on the Practically Real World

It is notorious that facts are compatible with opposite emotional comments, since the same fact will inspire entirely different feelings in different persons, and at different times in the same person; and there is no rationally deducible connection between any outer fact and the sentiments it may happen to rpovoke. These have their source in another sphere of experience altogether, in the animal and spiritual region of the subject's being. Conceive yourself, if possible, suddenly stripped of all the emotion with which your world now inspires you, of all the emotion with which your world now inspires you, and try to imagine it as it exists, purely by itself, without your favorable or unfavorable, hopeful or apprehensive comment. It willb e almost impossible for you to realize such a condition of negativity and deadness. N o one portion of the universe would hten have importance beyond another; and the whole colection of its things and series of its events would be without significance, character, expression, or perspective. Whatever of value, interest, or meaning our respective worlds may appear endued with are thus pure gifts of the spectator's mind. The passion of love is the most familiar and extreme example of this fact. If it comes, it comes; if it does not come, no process of reasoning can force it. Yet it transforms the value of the creature loved as utterly as the sunrise transforms Mont Blanc from a corpse-like gray to a rosy enchantment; and it sets the whole world to a new tune for the lvoer and gives a new issue to his life. So with fear, with indignation, jealousy, ambition, worship. If they are there, life changes. And whether they shall be there or not depends almost always upon non-logical, often on organic conditions. And as the excited interest which these passions put into the world is our gift to the world, just so are the passions themselves gifts,--gifts to us, from sources sometimes low and sometimes high; but almost always non-logical and beyond our control.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Lectures VI and VII: "The Sick Soul." James goes on to note that the withdrawal or degeneration of our own contribution to the interaction of the world introduces a pathological condition just as surely as the withdrawal or degeneration of the world's contribution.

James's book is, of course, the most famous and best-selling Gifford Lectures ever published (and still is an easy candidate for the top ten Gifford Lectures of all time).