Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Scotistic Argument in the Mouth of a Mouse
This cartoon is very similar to an argument by Scotus, based on a different argument by Avicenna. Avicenna famously defended the principle of noncontradiction by saying that those who denied it should be whipped until they admitted that to be whipped and not to be whipped were not the same thing. Scotus adapted this argumentum ad baculum to another purpose: roughly, those who think that all things are necessary should be whipped until they admit that it would have been possible that they not be whipped.

Gallup on Paul
Statguy also notes that George Gallup has responded to the news reports that were touting Gregory Paul's study on the harmful effects of religiosity.

Baldur the Beautiful is Dead
Via Rebecca Writes. As the opening of the LW&W movie comes closer, the smear campaign against Narnia begins in earnest. What always strikes me about the criticisms made against the Narnia books is that they fit very clearly the Vigilante school of criticism that Lewis discusses in An Experiment in Criticism, and are entirely lacking in the myth-induced joy that C. S. Lewis himself always felt about non-Christian myth, e.g., the death of Baldur. I've known many atheists who enjoy the Narnia books as myth, without any commitment to Christian theology at all; but there are always people who lack the relevant taste to do that, and some of those are always bent on ruining the enjoyment of others. There are questions that could be asked, of course, (e.g., whether the Calormenes get a fair shake), but it is one thing to say the question is worth asking and another thing to set out to attack (as many of these criticisms implicitly do) the people who enjoy the stories. It's noteworthy, though, that this vigilante puritanism (for lack of a better term) against Narnia is something that can spring up regardless of one's views; one occasionally finds Christians who indulge in it as well as non-Christians. Conversely, one finds non-Christians as well as Christians who are enthusiastic about the stories as stories. It's a matter of bad taste vs. good taste rather than (as the vigilante puritanists often try to make it) of bad morals vs. good morals.

Life of Berkeley
Aaron Cobb has two posts relevant to the life of Bishop Berkeley. One is about Berkeley's meeting with Malebranche. It's apocryphal (Berkeley did put in his journal that intended to meet Malebranche, but we don't know if he actually did; and this would have been several months before Malebranche's death), but it's one of those apocryphal stories that should be true. However, the old story about how Jonathan Swift used to tell his servants not to unlock the door for Berkeley because, the door being all in Berkeley's mind, he could think his way through it, appears to be true. (Berkeley and Swift were good friends, and interacted quite a bit when Berkeley was in London.) The second gives biographical details about Berkeley, including a statement by his wife. It isn't surprising that Plato was one of Berkeley's principal authors; as I've noted on this weblog before, Berkeley was a Platonist. As to how he manages to be both a Platonist and a nominalist -- I'll have to post about it at some point. Berkeley is a very interesting person. Richard Steele (I think) once said of him that Berkeley was the only person he had ever met who had both an angel's intellectual ability and an angel's moral character. He spent much of his life trying to help the poor (in fact his fascination toward the end of his life with tar-water was due to his desire to find a way for the poor to have access inexpensive medical treatment).

Feminists and Real Feminists
Hugo Schwyzer has an interesting post at Cliopatria on bringing people into the fold vs. remaining true to commitments in the case of feminism.

UPDATE: Todas Mentiras
As Ralph Luker says at Cliopatria, Chris Bray's reading of the Iraqi constitution is itself worth reading. I was talking once with a Mexican school teacher, very proud of her Mexican heritage, about the Mexican constitution (which in its discussion of the rights of citizens promises a lot); she summed up the constitution as todas mentiras, all lies -- i.e., it was full of good intentions, but the good intentions were without any efficacy. I wonder if the Iraqi constitution will turn out to be the same. I worry about this when I read assertions like, "Iraq shall observe the principles of a good neighborliness," and "The State shall undertake combating terrorism in all its forms" or "Equal opportunities are guaranteed for all Iraqis" or "Work is a right for all Iraqis so as to guarantee them a decent living." A written constitution, I think, while it should be principled in its discussion, should in itself be largely a matter of procedures rather than principles, i.e., it should restrict and apportion powers rather than make grandiose claims. Rather than say that work is a right, or in addition to saying that work is a right, it should provide the mechanisms that make it possible to treat work as a right, and if it can't, it should use restraint in its claims. One of the most important features a written constitution can have is credibility; one of the chief strengths of the U.S. Constitution, for instance, is that it has such immense credibility for Americans that they can almost take it for granted. Such is the credibility of the U.S. Constitution for many Americans that they have difficulty even thinking outside its terms. That's real constitutional strength; and it's what you should aim for in developing your constitution. If the constitution promises things on which it can't deliver, however, it loses credibility; people not only have no difficulty thinking of other ways things could be done, they are faced with them every day. Further, the more grandiose claims your constitution makes, the more dependent you become on the courage, integrity, and rationality of the judges in your court system. Which is perhaps fine, if you already have an astoundingly good judicial system, which is both efficacious and self-restrained; but it's not something you should generally assume will be readily available.

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