Saturday, June 04, 2005

Catching Up

* Discussion of a pragmatic argument for free will at "Philosophy, etc." I wouldn't put it in quite the form Richard does, but I think the argument is along the right lines. It is entirely rational to suppose free will as a practical postulate; and, what is more, it is entirely rational to do so even if you're a determinist. Determinists are reluctant, I think, to accept practical postulates whose value they can't explain on their own terms; but failure to do so is simply a lack of ingenuity (and such explanations do, in fact, already exist: Hume provides one, Spinoza provides one, etc.). Given how useful a doctrine of free will can be for practical ethics, it is only reasonable to make use of it, even if you do so purely as an instrument of abbreviation (i.e., with the attitude that 'I think there's actually a whole bunch of deterministic stuff going on here, but making use of this practical postulate simplifies the problem in a way adequate for practical purposes'). Of course we who are wise enough to see that determinism is usually simply a postulate itself, and not a very useful one at that, receiving as it does most of its appearance of usefulness from its parasitic relationship with causality and natural law, will insist that the value of the doctrine of free will as a practical postulate is best explained by taking the doctrine as true.

* Curt gives some great passages from Dorothy Sayers on logic and education at "North Western Winds".

* At "Mixing Memory", Chris has a long and very useful review of Buller's Adapting Minds, focusing on Chapter 4.

* At the Viking Name Generator, I am known as Ingjald the Comedy Sidekick (HT: EMN). If Vikings give me a name like that, it's not surprising that when I put in my first and last names, I get Þorgrím the Violent. Am I doomed to horrible names? Putting in my full name gives me Steinólf the Ill-Starred. Now even the stars are out to get me. This is why I don't pay much attention to my Nordic forebears.

* The History Carnival was at "Cliopatria" recently. Always good material there.

* Michael Gilleland at "Laudator Temporis Acti" gives several Catholic Worker links. Peter Maurin's Easy Essays, of which a good number are online, are a must-read. A brief sample, the essay "Houses of Hospitality":

We need Houses of Hospitality
to give to the rich
the opportunity
to serve the poor.

We need Houses of Hospitality
to bring the scholars
to the workers
or the workers
to the scholars.

We need Houses of Hospitality
to bring back to institutions
the technique to institutions.

We need Houses of Hospitality
to show
what idealism looks like
when it is practised.


I spent some time volunteering one summer at the Phoenix, Arizona André House of Hospitality. It's run, of course, by the C.S.C. (Congregation of the Holy Cross), which is how I became involved with it (I attended University of Portland, a C.S.C. school, and joined up through their excellent Volunteer Services program). It was one of the best experiences of my life. We do, indeed, need Houses of Hospitality.

* "Vomit the Lukewarm" has a post on Johnson and Berkeley. Much as I like Johnson, I think his kick misfires as a criticism of Berkeley. That's perhaps not too surprising, since he probably wouldn't have directly read Berkeley, and, if he had, would probably have mis-read him as most people do. But Berkeley's whole point (he is quite explicit about this) is to prove that the very thing you sense is the very body itself. So if you kick a stone, what you sense in kicking the stone is actually the stone, and not just a veil of mere sensations beyond which the (wholly unsensible) stone really exists. It is, I think, an unfortunate characteristic of education in early modern philosophy today that Berkeley is mis-taught. It is impossible to teach Berkeley correctly if you do not point out his emphasis on semiotics. That is, ideas have a very limited function in Berkeley's philosophy; the bulk of the actual work in his system is not done by his characterization of ideas but by his insistence that these ideas are linked and organized as signs. If we don't teach this semiotic side of Berkeley, we confuse our students with things like that ultimate cliche of a non-problem, i.e., his 'sudden' switching from talking about ideas to talking about notions when he discusses spirits. It is very clear, however, that there is no switch, and there is nothing sudden about it; from the beginning he insisted there was more to cognition than ideas, which, as he understands the term 'idea', just means the immediate objects of sensation. I agree with the shulamite, though, that one of Berkeley's weaknesses is his occasionalism (which is, in effect, what the post was criticizing).

* UPDATE: Rebecca at "Rebecca Writes" looks at God's Sovereignty.

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