Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas

God's good grace be with you all during this remembrance of the one who is a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to the Jews.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways,
God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,
whom he appointed the heir of all things,
through whom also he created the world.
He is the radiance of God's glory and the exact imprint of his nature,
and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
After making purification for sins,
he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
having become as much superior to angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Stabat Mater Speciosa

This is very, very rough, but given the day I couldn't forebear posting it. It's my translation of the medieval hymn Stabat Mater Speciosa, the companion piece to Stabat Mater Dolorosa, of which I have already given a rough translation and which should be read in conjunction with it.

Stabat Mater Speciosa

The lovely mother was standing here,
Joyful with the cradle near
Where lay her baby boy,
Whose soul with joyful ecstasy,
Happy with great fervency,
Was pierced by jubilation.

O how blessed and how elated
Was that fair immaculated
Mother of the sole-begotten;
Who was laughing and joyful being,
Who was exulting in her seeing
The birth of the one she bore.

Who is the one who will not have joy
To see the mother whose baby boy
Was Christ, in such great solace?
Who cannot be happy made
Watching the mother as she played,
Pious, with her son?

For the sins of Gentiles, Jews,
Jesus with lowly beasts she views,
Subjected to the cold.
She sees, so sweet, the one she bore,
The Son which she does so adore,
Crying, swaddled tight.

Christ, now born, laid in a stall
The citizens of heaven's halls
Praise with endless joy;
The old man stands, wholly dazed
Without speaking, heart amazed,
Beside the girl in wonder.

Pious mother, love's great source,
Make me feel your ardor's force,
Make me sense it deep with you,
Make my heart be set alight
With the love of Godly Christ
And be made to please Him well.

Holy mother, if you will,
Put the blows and wounds you feel
Deep within my heart;
The pains with my own soul dividing
Of your child from heaven gliding,
Deigning to be born.

Make me to rejoice with you,
Share the love of Christ with you,
For as long as I shall live.
In me set up your ardor's light,
In your Son make me delight
While wayfaring I am.

With this ardor make me commune,
And make me never at all immune
From this great desire.
Splendid maiden of all maidens,
With bitter thought be never laden,
Let me take your baby up.

Make me bear the strength and worth
Of Him who conquers by His birth
All death, giving up His life.
Make me like you be satiated
With the one you bore intoxicated,
In such holy rite.

Raised on high and set ablaze,
All my senses He does daze
By such generous gift.
May the one that you now bear
With word of Christ protect and care
And conserve me with His grace.

When my flesh is no longer living,
Grant me grace of my soul's giving
To vision of the one now born.

Blue Sapphire Clasping All the Lights

From George MacDonald's Diary of an Old Soul for December 24:

A God must have a God for company.
And lo! thou hast the Son-God to thy friend.
Thou honour'st his obedience, he thy law.
Into thy secret life-will he doth see;
Thou fold'st him round in live love perfectly--
One two, without beginning, without end;
In love, life, strength, and truth, perfect without a flaw.

And for December 25:

Thou hast not made, or taught me, Lord, to care
For times and seasons--but this one glad day
Is the blue sapphire clasping all the lights
That flash in the girdle of the year so fair--
When thou wast born a man, because alway
Thou wast and art a man, through all the flights
Of thought, and time, and thousandfold creation's play.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Beginning of a Transition

For those of you interested in these sorts of things, I have begun to make some of the changes to Houyhnhnm Land. It is nowhere near done (indeed, it is just barely started), and I still want to put in tabs, rework the sidebar, modify the entry-format a bit, etc., etc. But you can get a bit of a feel for the direction I'm going. I'm not a big fan of green, but I find it much easier on my eyes. I have a slight color deficiency in the red spectrum; now that I've changed from dark red to bright green, I can see the links more easily than I could before. I had never really noticed the problem, until I had something to contrast it with. There's lots and lots still to do, with the color scheme and whatever else. But you can see what's going on, if you want. (At this point, of course, I can't guarantee how it will look in every browser.) Naturally, I'm interested in any thoughts you might have.

UPDATE (Dec 24): For cool stuff I'm trying out at HL, run your cursor over the links in the navigation box. Also, refresh your browser while looking at the post pictures.

Carnival of the Reformation and Some Verbal Remarks

The Second Carnival of the Reformation is up at "Jollyblogger"; the theme is Solus Christus. There are some interesting posts.

With regard to the post at "CoffeeSwirls," on the 'descended into hell' part of the Apostle's Creed, I'm not sure the problem is so much anything to do with the Creed as it is with unbiblical notions of what hell (hades) is; in particular, with the tendency to conflate mentions of hades with those of the second death; 'hades' and 'second death' are entirely distinct. If we have good reasons for confining the word 'hell' to a usage different from 'hades', we will need to be consistent about it. We could go this route; being very conservative about this sort of thing, I'm not inclined to it, but if that's the best way it would be fine with me (after all, there's nothing particularly significant about the English translation, whatever value you put on the original). It's a good post, though.

The Crusty Curmudgeon has an interesting post as well. I'm not really convinced by his argument to extend the solus Christus to a rejection of Marian mediatricity, but Catholics do get in their heads the oddest sorts of justifications for their practices sometimes, such as the one noted there (which seems, alas, quite common). The real point of the title 'Mediatrix', I take it, is the rather universally orthodox point that Mary through her submission as handmaiden of the Lord 'mediated' Christ to us in that Christ was conceived of her body (she was truly Theotokos), combined with the claim of Marian intercession (in which she 'mediates' in the way anyone does in praying for someone) as part of the perfectly orthodox communion of saints (although admittedly by an inference that not everyone makes). I can't help but think this is one of those severe verbal misunderstandings that tend to arise in theological matters. In Latin 'mediator' just means someone who serves as a middle in some way; the NT Greek 'mesites', despite its similar etymology, seems to be a stronger, narrower word. Of the six times it is used in the NT, it is always used to indicate the one who mediates in the giving of a covenant; four times it is used explicitly of Christ; the other two, in Galatians, are a bit obscure but seem to refer to Moses. And I don't know of any Catholics who hold that Mary is mediatrix in the sense of being the one who mediates the actual giving of the covenant. But this was a good post, too, with much that's of interest.

UPDATE (12/22 evening): clarified one or two points, and corrected one or two things that slipped by revision, so that I don't sound entirely like an illiterate.

The Real Divide

See the county map here (hat-tip: prosthesis). I refuse to let those 'pop' people gain power in this country. (Although, I do admit, it does sometimes get confusing, in some of those dark-red counties of Texas, when people ask you for a Coke and get annoyed that you don't bring them a Dr. Pepper.)

ubi venit plenitudo temporis

Rebecca has a good post on the phrase "in the fullness of time" as applied to Christ's birth.


Ralph Luker has an interesting post at "Cliopatria" on the Martin Luther King Jr.'s plagiarism. In some (vague) ways it reminds me of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's plagiarism of Schelling in Biographia Litteraria, although in a sense King's is a bit more egregious given the context in which it occurs.

Plagiarism is a curious sort of failing, because it is difficult to define outside particular contexts. Charges of plagiarism make only very little sense in oral cultures. Which is not to say that they, or equivalents, don't exist; it's just that the spoken word requires more flexibility about matters of imitation (think of the last time you gave a joke you had heard from someone else without attributing it), and tends to bring up fewer issues with authorship. Further, a lot of what is repeated at the level of the spoken word is, for all practical purposes, common patrimony; and there are lots of cases where corporations or people have to fight quite hard to prevent even copyrighted material from becoming treated as part of that common patrimony (Kleenex, Coke, Xerox, Betty Boop, etc.).

Even when dealing with the written word, plagiarism isn't always easy to define. A lot of the written word is common legacy, too (Shakespeare, Bunyan, etc.), and to the extent authorship is important at all, people are expected to do the work of recognizing echoes, allusions, and even outright repetitions themselves. And it isn't always clear where to draw the line between what is and what is not common legacy. And literarily speaking, plagiarism is scarcely an issue at all; Coleridge's Biographia Litteraria loses not one whit of its literary excellence by the pages that are undeniable translations of Schelling. Even philosophically speaking it need not be an issue; Hume uses a few Malebranchean arguments without attributing them to Malebranche, for instance. Anyone who had reads Malebranche can easily recognize them, since they are (taking translation into account) virtually word-for-word appropriations. But Hume is not being any less brilliant or philosophically original in his use of the arguments.

Plagiarism becomes genuinely egregious in cases where one or both of two things are involved: money and academics; because in both such cases plagiarism potentially threatens the integrity of the entire system. (I suppose one can add journalism; but I'm inclined to think that the reason plagiarism becomes an issue in journalism is entirely one of money.) And here I see no real alternative to taking it very seriously indeed. Yes, mistakes can happen; but there are many cases in which we will be penalized sharply for mistakes despite their being mistakes. Such is life. I take a hard line on this (and that's perhaps significant, since I'm not much of one for taking a hard line on anything): King's doctorate should have been revoked, since part of the requirements for it failed to meet academic standards. (Or perhaps, if there were any technicalities to allow it, another work could have been substituted for his dissertation. This would be less satisfactory, but perhaps more feasible.)

Another of My Favorites

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

--Henry W. Longfellow (1864)

Not only is this a good one; given events of recent years, it has taken on especially vivid meaning for me.

Monday, December 20, 2004


I will be giving Houyhnhnm Land a complete makeover at some point in the next month or so. The template I'm currently using has been OK, but it's really not well-adapted for H.L.'s needs. I'll be moving to a tabbed version, having gotten the idea from Harrison. Doing that will get the external resources links off the main page onto an easily accessible page of their own; and I can have an internal resources page to make the pages I'm putting up on Shepherd and Whewell (and eventually Malebranche and Astell) easier to access. I also intend to make several different styles available, so people can choose whatever they find easier to use. And I intend on reworking the comments system so I can open comments without fearing the flood of spam-robots that occasionally crawl over my site. I have a few other minor tricks I've come across that I'm thinking about trying out; it won't be fancy, but should be easier to use. If anyone has any additional suggestions, let me know.

On the Humean Analysis of Analogy

Tucked away at the very end of Treatise 1.3.12 we find Hume's analysis of analogy. At this point in the work, Hume is considering various sorts of nondemonstrative reasoning; he had started out earlier in Part III with causal reasoning, but concluded that this required looking more closely at various sorts of nondemonstrative inference. He makes a distinction between philosophical and unphilosophical probability; roughly, the former are the stable, constant inferences that are able to ground knowledge (hence, they are 'philosophical' or scientific) and the latter are inferences, that, while they depend on the same sorts of mental principles, aren't generally considered adequate for knowledge. ('Probability' here doesn't mean what it would mean in probability theory; nor is this surprising, since probability theory is a technical discipline looking at one aspect of what would have been called 'probability' at the time, and was in any case just starting out.) Thus, an example of unphilosophical probability would be our tendency to draw conclusions on the basis of how vivid something is in our memory. It's the sort of thing we all inevitably do, but we don't put much official weight on it.

While there are aspects of unphilosophical probability that are interesting (most notably some of the ways we use general rules), the real interest here lies in philosophical probability. Philosophical probability for Hume consists essentially in imperfect causal reasoning; it is distinguished from causal proof, which occurs when we are dealing with something that happens in exactly the same way with perfect regularity. Obviously, there are many cases in which we don't have such ideal conditions to go on, and this is where philosophical probability comes in. In philosophical probability, either the resemblance or the regularity (constancy of the conjunction of events) are imperfect. This brings us to the Humean analysis of analogy (I'll set aside the aspect of Hume's analysis that depends on features of his dubious theory of belief, and focus on the meat of the analysis, which is what he brings in the theory of belief to explain), which are summed up in three pregnant sentences:

1. In those probabilities of chance and causes above-explain'd, 'tis the constancy of the union, which is diminish'd; and in the probability deriv'd from analogy, 'tis the resemblance only, which is affected.

2. Without some degree of resemblance, as well as union, 'tis impossible there can be any reasoning: but as this resemblance admits of many different degrees, the reasoning becomes proportionably more or less firm and certain.

3. An experiment loses of its force, when transferr'd to instances, which are not exactly resembling; tho' 'tis evident it may still retain as much as may be the foundation of probability, as long as there is any resemblance remaining.

These three sentences combined indicate some interesting things about analogy.

First: Contrary to common philosophical myth, analogy, as such, is not a weak form of inference. The problems that arise with analogy are not that it is a weak form of inference, but that it is impossible to tell from its form alone whether it is strong or weak in any given case. In some cases analogy is a very strong form of reasoning. In others, it is not strong at all. Which is the case depends not on its being analogical, but on independent factors.

Second: Analogy holds in all cases, as long as you are not trying to draw an analogy between the existence and non-existence of something. This sounds like a strong thesis, but in fact makes considerable sense: for any case a and any case b, so long as a and b aren't related as existence to nonexistence, there is some resemblance R such that aRb at some level of description. The difficulty with analogy on this front is not that some analogies don't hold; the difficulty is to what degree an analogy holds, and in what ways it doesn't. But we can legitimately think of any case along the model of any other case at some level.

Of course, we do say that some analogies don't hold, and are being perfectly reasonable when we do. We do something similar when we talk about 'evidence': we often say that "there is no evidence at all for position p" when, strictly speaking, we mean, "there is no evidence above the relevant level of significance for position p." That is, we don't usually mean to imply that there really is nothing that could reasonably be taken under some circumstance for evidence of p, which would be a very strong position that could apply to very few positions at all. What we usually mean is that anything that could be considered evidence for p is, for whatever reasons, insignificant enough that it can effectively be discounted. And likewise, when we say an analogy doesn't hold, we don't generally mean that the two cases don't resemble each other at all, but that their resemblance really isn't significant or useful for our purposes. When we combine this with the first point, we can conclude that whether an analogy holds in this looser sense, it is entirely relative to whatever our purpose of putting it forward it is, because that is what determines whether something is significant or useful.

Third: Because of these elements, it is essentially useless to try to refute an analogy as such. What one can do is exploit the same aspect of analogy that makes it essentially irrefutable: resemblance, which always applies and admits of many degrees. Since all analogies hold at some level of description, one needs to compare it with its rival analogies. Some analogies will turn out to be much better than others for the particular thing being considered. Further, even when an analogy turns out to be better than its rivals, we need independent information to determine how strong or how weak the conclusion of the inference actually is.

Fourth: It is not possible to underestimate the importance of analogy to the Humean project. In the above statement (#2), Hume says that "Without some degree of resemblance, as well as union, 'tis impossible there can be any reasoning." This has the effect of making analogy a minimal condition for intelligibility; i.e., we can only understand something if we can at least think of it along the lines of a resembling case. Hume explicitly appeals to this aspect of analogy elsewhere. In discussing abstract ideas in 1.1.7, he says:

The most proper method, in my opinion, of giving a satisfactory explication of this act of the mind, is by producing other instances, which are analogous to it, and other principles, which facilitate its operation. To explain the ultimate causes of our mental actions is impossible. 'Tis sufficient, if we can give any satisfactory account of them from experience and analogy.

And in the Appendix, when discussing his theory of belief, he says:

For if it be not analogous to any other sentiment, we must despair of explaining its causes, and must consider it as an original principle of the human mind. If it be analogous, we may hope to explain its causes from analogy, and trace it up to more general principles.

In these passages Hume is presenting an aspect of analogical inference that is often mentioned in the early modern period: it is by analogy that we move from what we know to what we don't know. Since in the Appendix he goes on to give, as perhaps his primary argument for his theory of belief, the argument that it, unlike its rivals, makes belief analogous to other mental acts (and therefore intelligible), we can see how far wrong people are who occasionally attribute to Hume the claim that analogy is a weak form of inference. It is an uncertain form of inference, in the ways noted above; but it plays a fundamental role in our knowledge-seeking inquiries. It is, in other words, a genuine case of philosophical probability. Such are the basics of Hume's analysis of analogy.

For a snapshot of the sort of work being done in cognitive science on analogical reasoning, see Chris's fascinating post on it at Mixing Memory.

Made Flesh

Rebecca has a useful little post on various Scriptural passages relevant to understanding the notion of incarnation.

Another Great Christmas Carol

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light.


The shepherds feared and trembled,
When lo! above the earth,
Rang out the angels chorus
That hailed the Savior’s birth.


Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation
That bless├Ęd Christmas morn.


--John Wesley Work, Jr. (1907, but based on much earlier folk hymns)

Brrrr! It's Cold!

I intended to do some stuff on campus yesterday; but never got closer to campus than a few yards from my apartment door. Then, given the windchill, I decided that as it was the first cold alert day of the winter, I could forego on-campus stuff for a day.

As a result, I have lots of things to do today; but I hope to put up a post on Hume's analysis of analogy, since I briefly alluded to it recently, and it really is an aspect of Hume's thought that is underappreciated. Also coming soon: a post on A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Especial Boldness of Speech

[C]an we doubt that many a confident expounder of Scripture, who is so sure that St. Paul meant this, and that St. John and St. James did not mean that, would be seriously disconcerted at the presence of those Apostles, if their presence were possible, and that they have now an especial "boldness of speech" in treating their subject, because there is no one authoritatively to set them right, if they are wrong?

J. H. Newman, An Essay in Aid of A Grammar of Assent, Chapter VI, Section 2.