Saturday, March 26, 2005

Reading for the Holy Days

* Some Lines from John Donne at "Ralph the Sacred River"

* Easter Poetry Weekend: Good Friday (George Herbert) and Easter Poetry Weekend: Saturday (John Donne) at "Early Modern Notes" [Sunday Update: Easter Sunday (Anna Letitia Barbauld) and Easter Monday (William Barnes)]

* What the Resurrection Proves to the World and What the Resurrection Means for Believers at "Rebecca Writes"

* Resurrection: The Origin of the Early Church and The Resurrection: The Authenticity of the Women Witnesses and The Resurrection: 1 Cor. 15:3-5 at "Fides Quaerens Intellectum" [Monday Update: The Resurrection: Naturalistic Explanations?.]

* Good Friday and Terry Schiavo by Ralph Luker at "Cliopatria"

* Death (George Herbert) at "Mode for Caleb"

*****Added later as I find them:

* Seven Last Words at "Laudator Temporis Acti"

* Litany of the Resurrection (Newman) at "Quenta Narwenion"

* Holy Saturday - The Harrowing of Hell at "The Commonplace Book of Zadok the Roman"

* The Ethic of Good Friday at "21st Century Reformation"

* Holy Saturday: Christ in the Tomb at "Beyond the Rim"

* The Commandment of Love at "Faithlog"

* A primer on Triduum at "a voice from eden"

* Waiting for Light at "Dancing With The Spirit"

* Cheating Death at "AnotherThink" [added Sunday]

Crux stat dum volvitur orbis.

Higher Brain Death and Personhood

Chris at "Mixing Memory" responds to my recent posts on personhood with a post that is very helpful for clarifying the sort of position being discussed.

Whewell on the Fundamental Antithesis of Philosophy

A passage from Whewell's Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences:

In all cases, Knowledge implies a combination of Thoughts and Things. Without this combination, it would not be Knowledge. Without Thoughts, there could be no connexion; without Things, there could be no reality. Thoughts and Things are so intimately combined in our Knowledge, that we do not look upon them as distinct. One single act of the mind involves them both; and their contrast disappears in their union. (PIS Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 2, Section 1)

This antithesis of Thought and Thing serves as the foundation of the antithesis of Theory and Fact, although the two are not strictly identical. To explain this it is useful to go to yet another antithesis that depends on the antithesis of Thought and Thing: that of Ideas and Sensations:

There are other modes of expression also, which involve the same Fundamental Antithesis, more or less modified. Of these, the pair of words which in their relations appear to separate the members of the antithesis most distinctly are Ideas and Sensations. We see and hear and touch external things, and thus perceive them by our senses, but in perceiving them, we connect the impressions of sense acording to relations of space, time, number, likeness, cause, &c. Now some at least of these kinds of connexion, as space, time, number, may be contemplated distinct from the things to which they are applied; and so contemplated, I term them Ideas. And the other element, the impressions upon our senses which they connect, are called Sensations. (

He then later explains:

That which is a Fact under one aspect, is a Theory under another. The most recondite Theories when firmly established are Facts: the simplest Facts involve something of the nature of Theory. Theory and Fact correspond, in a certain degree, with Ideas and Sensations, as to the nature of their opposition. But the Facts are Facts, so far as the Ideas have been combined with the Sensations and absorbed in them: the Theories are Theories, so far as the Ideas are kept distinct from the Sensations, and so far as it is considered still a question whether those can be made to agree with these. (

(The edition from which I am quoting is published by John W. Parker in 1847). Whewell tends to be influenced by Kant, and there are some aspects of this influence that I don't particularly like. But one thing I find interesting is his insistence that the mind cannot be regarded merely as a passive spectator of the world; it must act on the sensations it receives to make them intelligible. It is this active aspect, by which the mind actively makes sensations intelligible, that he intends to indicate by the word 'Idea'; Ideas are not objects of mind but "Laws of Thought" or "different forms fo teh impulse of the mind to generalize" or "Forms of Intuition". As he says at one point, we do not usually see Ideas; we see through them. One way he describes this is as the interpretation of nature; another way is as the information of (or formation of) sensations.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Leave the Poetry Alone

Can I just say how much this tactic irritates me?

As everyone who occasionally reads this weblog knows, I put up drafts of poems for various reasons. I can just imagine arguing some philosophical point some day in the future, and some moron coming along with the reply, "Aha, but you write poems about Yggdrasil and Superman and the Virgin Mary, so you're just a muddle-headed lunatic." It would be nice if people pretending to say rational things would also at least pretend to make rational arguments. Leave the poetry alone, people, and focus on the real issues.

UPDATE: OK, having cooled down and taking it less personally as an amateur poet, I'm in a much more equitable mood about the whole thing. Credentials - fair game; arguments - fair game. But you can't tell much from poetry about the credibility of someone's claims or worldview. One can, of course, rough out something (in the way, for instance, one can rough out something about Berkeley's poem "On Tar", which summarizes in poetic form the argument of his book Siris); but all this really tells you about is the poem. In other words: poems - not usually fair game, particularly in assessing someone's credibility in another field. I shouldn't have let it get to me quite so much; but it hit a nerve.

(This, incidentally, is why I've often thought Shaftesbury's dictum that ridicule is the test of truth is problematic; because people almost never ridicule positions, but only their accidents and incidental effects, thereby to cast aspersion on the position. But this can be done with just about anything, true or not; so it isn't clear how ridicule really moves us forward in any way.)

UPDATE: Hagaman explains here. I'm not sure what he means by not intending to debunk the doctor's metaphysics, because in an entirely standard usage of the term 'debunk' that's what he explicitly was doing. Even if he weren't, analyzing a poem as if it were an argument simply for the purpose of a joke is an odd thing to do, and normally would be taken as a criticism of the alleged argument (and the person to whom the argument is attributed, to the extent the argument is attributed to him); hence my misinterpretation of it as a mode of criticism. But on a weblog one certainly has the freedom to make strange jokes as one pleases; and my irritation at it was entirely an issue on my end, as I noted above. Sorry about the lapse in trackback, though; I tend to save it to the end of my blogging session and often forget.

Plantinga and Hegel and the Glorious Resurrection

Johnny-Dee has a post on Plantinga that's of some interest. Plantinga's position always reminds me a bit of Hegel's description of the struggle of Enlightenment consciousness with belief consciousness in the Phenomenology (I've quoted the surrounding context, but the bolded is what I think is particularly relevant):

As pure thinking consciousness belief has this Being immediately before it. But pure consciousness is just as much a mediate relation of conscious certainty to truth, a relation constituting the ground of belief. For enlightenment this ground comes similarly to be regarded as a chance knowledge of chance occurrences. The ground of knowledge, however, is the conscious universal, and in its ultimate meaning is absolute spirit, which in abstract pure consciousness, or thought as such, is merely absolute Being, but qua self-consciousness is the knowledge of itself. Pure insight treats this conscious universal, self-knowing spirit pure and simple, likewise as an element negative of self-consciousness. Doubtless this insight is itself pure mediate thought,, i.e. thought mediating itself with itself, it is pure knowledge; but since it is pure insight, or pure knowledge, which does not yet know itself, i.e. for which as yet there is no awareness that it is this pure process of mediation, this process seems to insight, like everything else constituting it, to be something external, an other. When realizing its inherent principle, then, it develops this moment essential to it; but that moment seems to it to belong to belief, and to be, in its character of an external other, a fortuitous knowledge of stories of [573] "real" events in this ordinary sense of "real". It thus here charges religious belief with basing its certainty on some particular historical evidences, which, considered as historical evidences, would assuredly not even warrant that degree of certainty about the matter which we get regarding any event mentioned in the newspapers. It further makes the imputation that the certainty in the case of religious belief rests on the accidental fact of the preservation of all this evidence: on the preservation of this evidence partly by means of paper, and partly through the skill and honesty in transferring what is written from one paper to another, and lastly rests upon the accurate interpretation of the sense of dead words and letters. As a matter of fact, however, it never occurs to belief to make its certainty depend on such evidences and such fortuitous circumstances. Belief in its conscious assurance occupies a naïve unsophisticated attitude towards its absolute object, knows it with a purity, which never mixes up letters, paper, or copyists with its consciousness of the Absolute Being, and does not make use of things of that sort to affect its union with the Absolute. On the contrary, this consciousness is the self-mediating, self-relating ground of its knowledge; it is spirit itself which bears witness of itself both in the inner heart of the individual consciousness, as well as through the presence everywhere and in all men of belief in it. If belief wants to appeal to historical evidences in order to get also that kind of foundation, or at least confirmation, for its content which enlightenment speaks of, and is really serious in thinking and acting as if that were an important matter, then it has eo ipso allowed itself to be corrupted and led astray by the insinuations of enlightenment; the efforts it makes to secure a basis or support in this way are merely indications that show how it has been affected and infected by enlightenment.

Calvinists (but not only Calvinists) are always tempted, I think, to take a Hegelian view of belief. Faced with Enlightenment-consciousness charges about the historical value of the evidences for the Resurrection, they are tempted to see their belief as "spirit itself bearing witness of itself in the inner heart of individual consciousness", simpliciter - not involving these historical evidences at all, except incidentally (i.e., not used as historical evidences but as clarificatory devices giving a precise content to the work of grace). And the reason, I think, is quite similar to the one Hegel gives: they often have the suspicion that someone who tries to base their appeal on historical evidences (as Enlightenment-consciousness demands) have actually been infected by Enlightenment-consciousness and are on their way to the full self-annihilation Enlightenment-consciousness inevitably induces. This much can be said for such a view: there is plenty of evidence for it, since it has actually happened, and quite a bit. And the question it brings up is an interesting one: Is the Christian belief in the Resurrection of Christ a belief on the basis of grace or a belief on the basis of historical evidences?

The question itself, of course, sets up a tension between the two options. I'm not sure I see any reason for there to be an opposition here. But it could also be seen as a question about the basic foundation of the belief in the Resurrection and its certainty. Since I tend Thomist on this point, and Plantinga tries to make his view broad enough to include Aquinas and Calvin, it isn't surprising that I have some sympathy with it. Where I primarily disagree with Plantinga's view is in the context of belief in the existence of God; since I think he draws the lines in the wrong place. I think what I would say in the case of the Resurrection, however, is roughly something like this:

(1) What the Holy Spirit gives us when it comes to belief in the Resurrection is light. Grace is luminous; it makes things more clear and intelligible. Because of this, the grace by which the Church believes in the Resurrection (because I think we must in these matters talk about our confidelity, our coming together in one faith, rather than about any one individual's sense of faith, which is different) is held with a certainty outstripping the rational evidences for the historical Resurrection. The Christian community as a whole, in its coming together in faith, finds itself carried, as it were, by the luminosity of the Resurrection. In words less metaphorical: when we come together as a community in faith we find that belief in the Resurrection has an immense power to make things intelligible, to set our lives in order (even despite our own resistances and stupidities, which are always legion), and to complete things our reasoning alone appears to leave incomplete. It is on this luminosity that our Christian faith is grounded.

(2) But we cannot stop there. For it is part of our very belief in the Resurrection that the Resurrection is a manifestation, and this means that it was manifested by means of evidences. Aquinas has a beautiful discussion of part of what this manifestation is. Christ's resurrection was manifested by way of (1) testimony and (2) proof or sign. By way of testimony, it was manifested by (1.1) the testimony of the angels to the women; (1.2) the testimony of the Scriptures to Christ. By way of proof or sign, it was done (2.1) on the part of the body; (2.2) on the part of the soul; (2.3) on the part of the divinity. On the part of the body, (2.1.1) Christ showed it was a true body by allowing it to be handled; (2.1.2) that it was a human body by showing his countenance; (2.1.3) and that it was the same body, because of the wounds. On the part of the soul, Christ showed (2.2.1) that he was living nutritively, by eating and drinking; (2.2.2) that he was living sensitively, by interacting with his disciples; and (2.2.3) that he was living rationally, by discoursing on the Scriptures and teaching the disciplies. On the part of the divinity, Christ showed (2.3) that he was divine by performing miracles. Likewise, he showed that the resurrection was a promise of glory by various other things he did while walking among us. One might divide up the subject differently from the way Aquinas does; my point here is that all this seems to be part of our con-faithful belief.

(3) But what does this manifestative aspect of our 'belief-consciousness' when it comes to the Resurrection tell us about historical evidences for the Resurrection? It tells us, I think, that they exist, and are important; for historical evidences are (as it were) the residuum of the original manifestation of the Resurrection itself, and it cannot be denied that the Resurrection was a manifestation. Christ did not simply rise; he arose and manifested himself as risen. And marks or echoes of that manifestation have remained with us to this very day. It is therefore part of our nature as the community of the faithful, to delve into those marks, to see what each of them shows on its own, and to confirm, at the individual level, that we hear those echoes a-right. (Note, incidentally, the switch to the individual level. As a Church, our confidelity is not based on historical evidences; as a Church, we are the Risen Christ, by a sort of extension of Christ's life into the rest of human race. But at the individual level we must be united to the Church not only by a leap of trust, but as a whole person: and this includes our individual reason. As a Church we are guided by the mind of Christ; as individuals, we must be united to the Church by our own minds as well as everything else. And that means, at the very least, taking the actual pattern of historical evidences seriously. We do a disservice to ourselves and to the Church if we do otherwise.)

Ariste and Théodore on Being as Nothing Before God

The following is my rough translation from the French of a passage from Malebranche's Dialogues on Metaphysics and on Religion (Dialogue XIV, to be exact).


VIII. ARISTE: ...There is no relation between the finite and the infinite. This can pass for a common notion. The universe compared to God is nothing, and ought to be counted as nothing. But it is only the Christians, those who believe the divinity of Jesus Christ, who truly count as nothing their own being, and this vast universe that we are admiring. Perhaps philosophers pass this judgment. But they do not proclaim it. On the contrary they belie this speculative judgment by their actions. They are to approach God, as if they no longer knew that the distance between him and us is infinite. They imagine that God is pleased with the profane worship they render him. They have the insolence, or, if you wish, the presumption, to adore him. Let them be quiet. Their respectful science will proclaim more than their words the speculative judgment that they form of their relation to God. It is only the Christians who may open their mouths, and divinely praise the Lord. It is only they who gain access to his soveriegn majesty. It is they who truly count themselves as nothing, themselves and the rest of the universe, in relation to God, when they profess that it is only through Jesus Christ that they claim to have any relation with him. This annihilation to which their faith reduces them, gives them a veritable reality before God. This judgment that they proclaim in agreement with God himself, gives to all their worship an infinite price. All is profane in relation to God, and ought to be consecrated by the divinity of the Son in order to be worthy of the sanctity of the Father, in order to merit his pleasure and his good will. This is the unshakable foundation of our holy religion.

IX. THÉODORE: Assuredly, Ariste, you understand my thought well. From the finite to the infinite, and what is more, from the profound nothingness to which sin has reduced us to the divine sanctity, to the right hand of the Most High, the distance is infinite. We are by nature but childen of wrath: Natura filii irae [Eph. 11:3]. We are in the world as atheists [atheoi], without God, without benefactor: Sine Deo in hoc mundo [Verse 12]. But through Jesus Christ we are already risen, we have been raised up and are seated in the most high heavens: Convivifiavit nos in Christo, et conresuscitavit, et consedere fecti in coelestibus in Christo Jesu [Verses 5 and 6]. Now we do not feel in ourselves our adoption in Jesus Christ, our divinity: Divinae consortes naturae [II Peter 1:4]. But this is because our life is hidden in God with Christ. When Jesus Christ will appear, then we shall also appear with him in glory: Scimus quoniam cum apparuerit, similes ei erimus [I Jn. 3:2]. Vita vestra, says saint Paul, est ascondita cum Christo in Deo. Cum Christus apparuerit vita vestra, tunch et vos apparebitis cum ipso in gloria [Col. 3:3]. There is no longer this infinite distance that separates us from the divinity. Nunc autem in Christo Jesu vos, qui aliquando eratis longe, facti estis prope in sanguine Christi: ipse enim est pax nostra [Eph. 2:13]. Because by Jesus Christ we all have gained access to the Father. Quoniam per ipsum habemus accessum ambo in uno spiritu ad Patrem. Ergo (listen now to the conclusion of the apostle) Jam non estis hospites et advenae, sed estis cives sanctorum et domestici Dei, superaedificati super fundamentum apostolorum et prophetarum, ipso summo angulari lapide Christo Jesu, in quo omnis aedificatio constructa crescit in templum sanctum Domino: in quo et vos coaedificamini in habitaculum Dei in spiritu [verse 18]. Weigh all these words, Ariste, and principally these: In quo omnis aedificatio constructa crescit in templum sanctum Domino.

ARISTE: Théodore, it is only the Man-God who is able to join creature to Creator, to sanctify the profane, to construct a temple where God can dwell with honor. I understand now the sense of these words: Deus erat in Christo mundum reconcilians sibi [II Cor. 5:19]. It is a common notion that there is no relation between the finite and the infinite. Everything depends on this incontestable principle. All worship that beliews this principle, offends Reason, and dishonors the divinity. Eternal Wisdom cannot be its author. It is only the pride, only the ignorance, or at least the stupidity of the human mind that can now approve it. For it is only the religion of Jesus Christ that proclaims the judgment which God passes, and which we ought ourselves to form, on the limitation of the creature, and the sovereign majesty of the Creator....The only true religion can be that which is founded on the only Son of the Father, on this Man-God who joins heaven with earth, the finite with the infinite, by the incomprehensible union of two natures, which renders him at the same time equal to his Father, and like unto us. This seems evident to me.

Humunculi in the Forebrain

My post on being a human person has received some interesting comments. The basic point of the post is that it seems an irrational view of personhood to say that being a person consists in a stream of thought in the higher brain. This is essentially a view under which a person is a humunculus in the brain; the humunculus is the person, and because of this, when the humunculus goes away, the person goes away.

The contrary view, which I suggested, is that in human cases this person is this living animal. The point is not that 'human' and 'person' conceptually coincide (so I think the issue about orthogonality ends up being irrelevant). Nothing in this view, for instance, requires us to say that a decaying human corpse can be called a 'person' because it can be called 'human'. Nor is there anything in this view to say that 'person' is a subset of 'human', so that only human beings can be persons. The point is that personhood is in our case attributable to a living individual in virtue of its being a example of the human (and therefore potentially rational) sort of animal. It does not follow from this, by any straightforward inference, that the disappearance of rational functions is the disappearance of the person (which makes, effectively, personhood an effect of an animal body rather than an animal subject). Rather, we have to conclude that the person is this actual animal (something which accords well with what we actually do). That we don't call this actual animal a 'person' for the same reason that we call it an 'animal' isn't relevant.

Now, I said by 'any straightforward inference'. It is possible that, given the right additional suppositions, it might follow from the point made above that actual exhibition of rationality, in the sense of higher-brain activity, is a necessary condition for being a person. But it cannot be merely assumed, and the suppositions on the basis of which this conclusion is drawn must be made explicit. Indeed, as I noted in the post, those who put forward this type of argument have a moral responsibility to make those suppositions explicit and examine them, critically and carefully, to see if they actually hold up; because we know historically that this general sort of move has been made again and again in order to justify heinous behavior toward slaves, other races, women, and the mentally disabled. People who honestly believe that the sort of case involving cessation of higher-brain function is different must show that it is different. And no, making rhetorical claims about how, when higher-brain activity is taken away, we no longer have a person but a clump of meat is not showing anything; such statements are merely a dogmatic pronouncement of the position itself, of the sort I noted in the previous post.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Robe

Lloyd C. Douglas's novel The Robe can be found online at Project Gutenberg. A passage from Chapter VIII:

Although Demetrius's chief concern was to beguile his master's roving mind, he himself was finding food for reflection. Never before had he found opportunity for so much uninterrupted reading. He was particularly absorbed by the writings of Lucretius. Here, he thought, was a wise man.

'Ever read Lucretius, sir?' he asked, one afternoon, after an hour's silence between them.

Marcellus slowly turned his head and deliberated the question.

'Indifferently,' he replied, at length.

'Lucretius thinks it is the fear of death that makes men miserable,' went on Demetrius. 'He's for abolishing that fear.'

'A good idea,' agreed Marcellus, languidly. After a long wait, he asked, 'How does he propose to do it?'

'By assuming that there is no future life,' explained Demetrius.

'That would do it,' drawled Marcellus, 'provided the assumption would stay where you had put it.'

'You mean, sir, that the assumption might drag its anchor in a gale?'

Marcellus smiled wanly at the seagoing metaphor, and nodded. After a meditative interval, he said:

'For some men, Demetrius, the fear of death might be palliated by the belief that nothing more dreadful could possibly happen to them than had already happened--in their present existence. Perhaps Lucretius has no warrant for saying that all men fear death. Some have even sought death. As for me, I am not conscious of that fear; let death bring what it will. . . . But does Lucretius have aught to say to the man who fears life?'

Demetrius was sorry he had introduced the conversation, but felt he should not abandon it abruptly; assuredly not at this dismaying juncture.

'Lucretius concedes that all life is difficult, but becoming less so as men grow out of savagery to civilization.' Demetrius tried to make this observation sound optimistic. Marcellus chuckled bitterly.

'"As men grow out of savagery," eh? What makes him think men are growing out of savagery?' He made an impatient gesture, throwing the idea away with a toss of his hand. 'Lucretius knew very little about what was going on in the world. Lived like a mole in a burrow. Lived on his own fat like a bear in winter. Went wrong in his head at forty, and died. "Growing out of savagery"? Nonsense! Nothing that ever went on in the jungle can compare with the bestiality of our life to-day!' Marcellus's voice had mounted from a monologic mutter to a high-tensioned harangue. '"Growing out of savagery"!' he shouted. 'You know better than that! You were out there!'

Darwin's Logic: The Master Argument

The Origin of Species is a multi-faceted argument; Darwin does not argue in only one way for the position he is taking. So, if by 'master argument' we mean The Single Argument that Darwin uses on its own establishes his position, there really isn't any. But there is an argument form that gets used again and again and again. See if you can guess what it is from this sample:

Although in many cases it is most difficult to conjecture by what transitions an organ could have arrived at its present state; yet, considering that the proportion of living and known forms to the extinct and unknown is very small, I have been astonished how rarely an organ can be named, towards which no transitional grade is known to lead. The truth of this remark is indeed shown by that old canon in natural history of 'Natura non facit saltum.' We meet with this admission in the writings of almost every experienced naturalist; or, as Milne Edwards has well expressed it, nature is prodigal in variety, but niggard in innovation. Why, on the theory of Creation, should this be so? Why should all the parts and organs of many independent beings, each supposed to have been separately created for its proper place in nature, be so invariably linked together by graduated steps? Why should not Nature have taken a leap from structure to structure? On the theory of natural selection, we can clearly understand why she should not; for natural selection can act only by taking advantage of slight successive variations; she can never take a leap, but must advance by the shortest and slowest steps. (Chapter 6)

We have in this chapter discussed some of the difficulties and objections which may be urged against my theory. Many of them are very grave; but I think that in the discussion light has been thrown on several facts, which on the theory of independent acts of creation are utterly obscure. (Chapter 6)

If it can be shown to be almost invariably the case, that a region, of which most of its inhabitants are closely related to, or belong to the same genera with the species of a second region, has probably received at some former period immigrants from this other region, my theory will be strengthened; for we can clearly understand, on the principle of modification, why the inhabitants of a region should be related to those of another region, whence it has been stocked. A volcanic island, for instance, upheaved and formed at the distance of a few hundreds of miles from a continent, would probably receive from it in the course of time a few colonists, and their descendants, though modified, would still be plainly related by inheritance to the inhabitants of the continent. Cases of this nature are common, and are, as we shall hereafter more fully see, inexplicable on the theory of independent creation. (Chapter 11 (12 in later additions))

This general absence of frogs, toads, and newts on so many oceanic islands cannot be accounted for by their physical conditions; indeed it seems that islands are peculiarly well fitted for these animals; for frogs have been introduced into Madeira, the Azores, and Mauritius, and have multiplied so as to become a nuisance. But as these animals and their spawn are known to be immediately killed by sea-water, on my view we can see that there would be great difficulty in their transportal across the sea, and therefore why they do not exist on any oceanic island. But why, on the theory of creation, they should not have been created there, it would be very difficult to explain. (Chapter 12 (13))

We see Britain separated by a shallow channel from Europe, and the mammals are the same on both sides; we meet with analogous facts on many islands separated by similar channels from Australia. The West Indian Islands stand on a deeply submerged bank, nearly 1000 fathoms in depth, and here we find American forms, but the species and even the genera are distinct. As the amount of modification in all cases depends to a certain degree on the lapse of time, and as during changes of level it is obvious that islands separated by shallow channels are more likely to have been continuously united within a recent period to the mainland than islands separated by deeper channels, we can understand the frequent relation between the depth of the sea and the degree of affinity of the mammalian inhabitants of islands with those of a neighbouring continent, an explicable relation on the view of independent acts of creation. (Chapter 12)

On this idea of the natural system being, in so far as it has been perfected, genealogical in its arrangement, with the grades of difference between the descendants from a common parent, expressed by the terms genera, families, orders, &c., we can understand the rules which we are compelled to follow in our classification. We can understand why we value certain resemblances far more than others; why we are permitted to use rudimentary and useless organs, or others of trifling physiological importance; why, in comparing one group with a distinct group, we summarily reject analogical or adaptive characters, and yet use these same characters within the limits of the same group. We can clearly see how it is that all living and extinct forms can be grouped together in one great system; and how the several members of each class are connected together by the most complex and radiating lines of affinities. We shall never, probably, disentangle the inextricable web of affinities between the members of any one class; but when we have a distinct object in view, and do not look to some unknown plan of creation, we may hope to make sure but slow progress. (Chapter 13 (14))

The basic pattern of argument here is that on the supposition of Darwin's theory, facts F, G, H, etc. become intelligible; whereas they are not intelligible otherwise. The above passages are not the only examples of this recurrent pattern. If we were to try to summarize Darwin's complex argument in a single sentence, the following would be a good candidate:

By supposing the truth of the theory of natural selection, many biological facts that would otherwise be unintelligible become intelligible.

This is, one might say, the overarching structure of argument. The next post I have planned in this series I'll start looking at the progress of the argument itself; which is quite cool.

Free Will 5: Free Decision

I've noted before that I think two different things have been conflated in most discussions of free will: free choice, which I have already mentioned, and free decision. So this brings me to the fifth point, on free decision (sorry that it's a bit messy):

Point #5: The intellect is a free power.

We find in looking at reasoning, that not every rational inference we make is necessitated by what went before; some inferences are merely probabilistic. In such cases we nonetheless draw our conclusions. This occurs in speculation (e.g., in determining whether a given set of evidences best fits with position A or position B) and in deliberation (in determining what we shall do in contingent matters). Deliberation, in other words, is a nondeterministic inquiry. If we take as the antecedents the rational elements of the inference, this follows necessarily.

One can, however, argue that in such cases the mind is determined by things independent of the inference itself; and it is certainly the case that such things can have an influence. But if we argue that they determine the inference, we seem to be committed to one of the following:

(a) thought about contingent matters is determined by causes not rationally organized;


(b) thought about contingent matters is determined by causes rationally organized.

If (a), then we seem to have a view in which reasoning proceeds the way it does without regard for rational considerations. It is a form of irrationalism.

(B) is much more complicated. If thought about contingent matters is determined by causes that are rationally organized, then either:

(1) These rationally ordered determining causes are not determined by anything other than themselves.


(2) These rationally ordered determining causes are rational causes.

If (1) we have something like theological determinism. If (2), then either they are not determined (in which case (2) reduces to (1)) or they are determined by nonrational factors (in which case (b) reduces to (a)) or they are determined by rationally organized causes, in which case we just keep tracing the issue back. (The same issues arise with deliberation and speculative inference alike.) Can one have an infinite regress? That's an interesting question; but most determinists do not hold that our thought is determined by an infinite regress of rational agents. So if we are consistent determinists, it seems that either we are theological determinists of some sort, holding that things, including our own thoughts, are determined by a rational agent, or irrationalists.

This suggests a thought that I have often had about naturalistic determinism; namely, that it willy-nilly drives its proponents toward pantheism. If the state of the world prior to my rational thought determines my thought, then it is merely arbitrary for us to deny that the world is a rational agent.

But, whatever one's views on that, determinism gums up our notion of rationality in significant ways. For instance, it appears that alternative possibilities are necessary for intellectual responsibility; but determinism denies alternative possibilities. Frankfurt examples, even if they worked for the will (which they do not) don't tell us anything about intellectual responsibility. And, indeed, it seems that one reason Frankfurt examples seem plausible to some people is that they actually splice alternative possibilities at the intellectual level with denial of alternative possibilities at the volitional level. (One of the reasons I disagree with the claims of scholars like Stump that Aquinas would not accept PAP is that he clearly requires it for thought about contingent matters. Since actiones sunt suppositorum, it follows that even in the case where the will faces no alternative possibilities, there are still alternative possibilities available to practical reason. So all such cases will still uphold PAP.)

Aquinas on the Merit of the Passion

My rough translation of the Latin of Summa Theologiae 3.48.1. You can find another translation here. In the articles after this one, Aquinas goes on to clarify, arguing that

Christ's passion was a mean of our salvation through atonement, sacrifice, and redemption.


[1] We proceed to the first [objection]. It seems Christ's suffering [passio] did not cause our salvation by way of merit. For the principle of our sufferings is not in us. But no one merits or is praiseworthy save through that principle which is in them. Therefore Christ's suffering accomplished nothing by way of merit.

[2] Further, Christ from the beginning of His conception merited for Himself and us, as was said above (3.9.4, 3.34.3). But it is superfluous to merit again what has already been merited. Therefore Christ by His suffering did not merit our salvation.

[3] Further, the source of merit is charity [radix merendi est caritas]. But Christ's charity was not made greater in suffering than it was before. Therefore he did not merit our salvation by suffering more than He had already.

But contrary to this is that, on Philippians 2 (Therefore God exalted Him, etc.), Augustine says: "The humility of the passion merited glory; glory was the reward of humility." But He was glorified not only in Himself, but in His faithful, as He Himself says (John 17). Therefore it seems that He merited the salvation of His faithful [by His suffering].

I reply that it must be said that, as said above, to Christ is given grace not only as He is a singular person, but [also] insofar as He is the Head of the Churchm, so that it might redound to His members. And therefore the works of Christ are referred to Himself and His members in the same way that the works of anyone else in a state of grace are referred to him. But it is manifest that whosoever in a state of grace suffers for righteousness's sake merits his salvation thereby, according to Matthew 5: "Blessed are they who suffer persecuation for righteousness's sake." Therefore Christ by His suffering merited salvation not only for Himself, but for all His members.

To the first, therefore, it must be said, that suffering as such has an exterior principle; but inasmuch as one endures it voluntarily, it has an interior principle.

To the second, it must be said that Christ from the beginning of His conception merited our eternal salvation, but on our part there were some impediments, whereby we were prevented from receiving the effects of His preceding merits. Consequently, to remove these impediments, "it was needful for Christ to suffer," as is said above (3.46.3).

To the third, it must be said that the suffering of Christ has an effect which was not had by His preceding merits, not due to a greater charity, but due to the kind of work, which was appropriate for such an effect, as is clear from the reasons put forward for the appropriateness of Christ's passion (3.46.3).

Darwin's Logic: Preliminaries: The Opposition

Sorry that this has been held up so long; I changed the way I wanted to do it, and so had to re-think it a bit.

Darwin throughout OS is arguing against a group of opponents; and this opposing position has, I would suggest, a major influence on the particular way in which Darwin goes about his argument. (I also think that a great deal of OS's logical success is precisely that it is a very powerful argument against this position.)

So what is the position, as Darwin himself views it? Darwin actually characterizes it in several different ways. In discussing the character of domestic varieties (Chapter 1), for instance, he talks about "the immutability of the many closely allied natural species". In Chapter 2 he talks about the view that "species are immutable creations" and opposes it to "the derivative theory," i.e., the theory that specis derive from other species. Later on he talks about looking "at each species as a special act of creation." In Chapter 6 he talks abotu the belief "in separate and innumerable acts of creation". So there seem to be two points here:

(1) Species are immutable (i.e., they do not change into other species).
(2) Species are independently created.

The relation between the two appears to be that (1) is put forward as a reason for holding (2). Thus much of Darwin's argument in OS is an argument against (1); but in arguing against (1) he also sees himself as arguing against (2). This makes sense; if species are immutable in the above sense, either they have always existed (which every naturalist knows to be false) or they trace to back to independent causal originations. With his positive arguments for a theory of derivation added to the mix, this makes a solid argument. Darwin's general thesis in OS is that species do not have independent causal originations, but are, instead, derived from each other or common ancestors.

But Darwin wants to do more than this, and the reason for this is conveyed in a passage in the Introduction:

In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified so as to acquire that perfection of structure and co-adaptation which most justly excites our admiration. Naturalists continually refer to external conditions, such as climate, food, &c., as the only possible cause of variation. In one very limited sense, as we shall hereafter see, this may be true; but it is preposterous to attribute to mere external conditions, the structure, for instance, of the woodpecker, with its feet, tail, beak, and tongue, so admirably adapted to catch insects under the bark of trees. In the case of the misseltoe, which draws its nourishment from certain trees, which has seeds that must be transported by certain birds, and which has flowers with separate sexes absolutely requiring the agency of certain insects to bring pollen from one flower to the other, it is equally preposterous to account for the structure of this parasite, with its relations to several distinct organic beings, by the effects of external conditions, or of habit, or of the volition of the plant itself.

In other words: it is not enough to say that species are derived from species; we need to find a way for species to be derived from species that will account for the structures and adaptations we actually see. Thus, although Darwin's primary opposition is the theory of special creation, he is also trying to avoid the weaknesses of other theories of derivation. It is in this context that the theory of selections is proposed.

On Being a Human Person

One thing that has startled me recently has been the discovery of how many people have a view of what it is to be a person that explicitly denies that human persons are anything but a stream of higher-order thought. This is, to my mind, an utterly irrational view of human personhood. Human persons are not merely rational streams of consciousness; they are rational animals. They do not merely exhibit the functions of reasoning, communication, and the like; they also exhibit functions like digestion, secretion, respiration, and so forth. These are part of what it is to be a human person, because these are part of what it is to be alive.

What makes a person a person, traditionally, is being an individual example of the general sort of thing that usually exhibits rationality. It does not follow from this, however, that persons are nothing but exhibitions of rationality. If the person is an individual example of the sort of thing that exhibits animal functions, this, too, is part of the manifold of actions and passions that are attributable to the person. But human beings are such persons; we are animals.

Claims, then, that higher-brain death is death simpliciter, that a person who has ceased having higher-order brain functions is no longer a person, appear to me to be utterly irrational and arbitrary. They are a denial of the fairly obvious fact that human personhood is exhibited in all our vital functions. They are a flight from human animality, a pretense that higher-order thought is all that there is to being a human person. (It is an old story. The excuse that some human persons should not be regarded as persons because they do not properly exhibit rationality is one of the oldest moral dodges in the book; it has been used to justify slavery, racism, sexism, sterilization of the mentally disabled, and the like. If you are going to go this route, you had better have a damn good argument for doing so.)

So long as a person is exhibiting vital functions, so long are they alive. And so long as they are alive, so long are they persons. It is merely a desperate abuse of language to say that someone who is breathing, digesting, circulating blood, etc., is a corpse. To say that such a person should no longer be referred to by personal pronouns, as Lakoff recently has done, is merely an irrational fiat. Since a human person is the subject of the sort of stable functions pertaining to human life, and this includes various biological functions other than higher-order thought, there appears to be no rational reason why one should restrict human personhood to higher-order thought functions. And what is more, I have seen no reason given for it at all.

Some people like to pretend that the point is one of rationality versus religion. I have seen no rational arguments from those who claim to be on the side of rationality; I have seen a lot of dogmatic pronouncements. Were I to have seen any genuine rational arguments coming from them, I would be more sympathetic; but I haven't.

In this sense, people who have advocated the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube on this basis seem to me to be committed to something like the situation Jack Perry has suggested they are in: they should, if they were consistent, allow that shooting her would be just as effective; much as it is generally thought better to shoot a dying horse than let it drag out its life. At least, they have given no serious reason to think otherwise.

(Another pet peeve of mine that has also begun to rear its head again and again in the Schiavo case is the assumption that when people are talking theologically about the soul they are talking Cartesianism. Theologically, 'soul' is a technical term for the principle of life; it does not imply Cartesianism, although Cartesianism is one particular take on it. Theologically, anything has a soul that is alive; this is simply true by definition. It is against this background that we have the age-old questions of whether the soul is material or immaterial, formal or substantial. If you didn't know that, perhaps you should stop saying ignorant things about the subject.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Women's HoP

Sharon has an interesting post at Early Modern Notes on women's history and gender history, and asks about other disciplines. That, of course, turned me to thinking about history of philosophy. It seems to me that history of philosophy is, or has been, very weak in this respect. It has become much better in recent years; and some of it is very good. Recent years have seen several surveys and anthologies of women philosophers, for instance; and feminist philosophy, of the sort found in Hypatia, for instance, occasionally does what might be called women's history of philosophy. But in fact it is very patchy, and, in North America at least, does not seem to have been made a major thread of the discipline. Work on neglected women philosophers, for instance, seems to be slow and uneven. In my own field, astoundingly little is known about Masham, Astell, and Shepherd, despite the fact that all three are undeniably brilliant -- it cannot at all be claimed that they are in any way secondary intellects, in the way one might claim that (say) Oswald is among the Scottish Common Sense theorists. But Masham is largely ignored; Astell has mostly been mined for feminist nuggets; and Shepherd, who puts forward one of the most brilliant theories of causation in the early modern period, is barely studied. It's possible that this is limited to early modern history of philosophy. It could be that people who study continental philosophy study Edith Stein and Conrad-Martius right up there with Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. But I haven't seen any indication of that. And recognizing women in the history of philosophy in the first place seems to be a basic step. Women didn't suddenly leap into philosophy with Elizabeth Anscombe. They've contributed in brilliant ways to every part of it: natural theology, metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of education, philosophy of science, epistemology, and so forth. If we fail to recognize even this basic point, it seems to set up an obstacle to work in more advanced forms of women's HoP, like a fully developed equivalent of a women's history of philosophy or a gender history of philosophy.

Fortunately, as I said, it is slowly getting much better. Examples of important names who are getting this work done would be Annette Baier and Margaret Atherton; in recent years there have been interesting titles in the field. But it's still just a snippet of what's left to be done.

Or so it seems to me. But philosophy, and even history of philosophy, is an immense discipline. Does anyone have a different perspective?

Life Support

Fr. Tharp at "Catholic Ragemonkey" notes, with regard to the Terry Schiavo case, that Catholic doctrine does not absolutely forbid removal from life support:

Anyone can refuse life support that 1.) is not going to be of benefit for the person, 2.) is going to place an undue burden on the patient, and 3.) will not ultimately address the illness.

(He doesn't think this case meets these criteria.) And he links to this lucid document on the subject; I pass it along because it makes some excellent distinctions that need to be made when reasoning about these cases.

Recent Search Engine Terms

I have no clare watson naked pictures, nor pictures of Henrietta Huxley (who, I'm sure, also never had any such naked pictures), but on the plus side, I do have counterexamples in philosophy. I'm not sure I can help much with brainstorming complicated examples, but I hope you are enjoying reading euripides' iphigenia among the taurians; it's a great play. The Alcestis, another of Euripides' plays, has the story of admetus and alcestis; I'm writing a sort of verse play on the story, but I've put it aside to practice my narrative poetry skills a bit before continuing. A scholastic analysis of "Una Rosa" sounds quite intriguing, given that I enjoy the poetry of Sor Juana, but Aquinas free will or hume dialogues is more of my thing. I also have said a thing or two about rey meta-atheism. But no, I don't know the Codex Sinaiticus illuminati secret, and I'd have to kill you if I told it to you, anyway. And as for mud wet, it's a tricky thing, mud is, but yes, I think you've got it right. Bravo!


* Johnny-Dee answers an objection to the Kalam argument in good scholastic style.

* Which Apostle Betrayed Christ? at "Flos Carmeli"

* The Eleventh Philosophers' Carnival is up at "the only official blog of clayton littlejohn".

* Teaching Texts at "Mode for Caleb"

* Rock of Ages: a Holy Week Catena at "Ralph the Sacred River"

* The Socratic Method (hat-tip:

Wisdom from Cicero

Before all other things, man is distinguished by his pursuit and investigation of truth. And hence, when free from needful business and cares, we delight to see, to hear, and to communicate, and consider a knowledge of many admirable and abstruse things necessary to the good conduct and happiness of our lives: whence it is clear that whatsoever is true, simple, and direct, the same is most congenial to our nature as men. Closely allied with this earnest longing to see and know the truth, is a kind of dignified and princely sentiment which forbids a mind, naturally well constituted, to submit its faculties to any but those who announce it in precept or in doctrine, or to yield obedience to any orders but such as are at once just, lawful, and founded on utility. From this source spring greatness of mind and contempt of worldly advantages and troubles.

Cicero, De Officiis, Lib. 1 Sect. 13. (John F. W. Herschel's translation, affixed to the front of his work, Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1830).)

Monday, March 21, 2005

Early Modern Sermons?

At Houyhnhnm Land I'm collecting links to online sermons from the early modern period. If you have any good ones that I've missed, let me know in the comments here. Likewise with any links on the subject of early modern sermons (e.g., online papers or what have you).

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Shipwreck of David Hume

I've been looking through my old course webpages to see what I want to salvage for Houyhnhnm Land, and came across my old doggeral mnemonic ('dogmonic' as I called it) for the thought of Hume's Treatise 1.4.7. And I thought you might like to read it for yourself:

The Shipwreck of David Hume

(Oh, and you can compare it 1.4.7 itself. Scroll down to section VII.)

Congressional Subpoenas

I haven't commented at all on the Schiavo case, since I don't know enough about it to say anything that isn't already said, and in this case I am largely ambivalent, because on the one hand I don't find the arguments for her potential rehabilitation convincing, and under those circumstances don't think it rational to scramble after every last jot of life; and on the other hand the sort of people on the other side have largely given me the creeps with the ethical views I've heard many of them spout. And I am willing to concede to both sides that I know next to nothing of this matter, if that's a comfort to either; I might well be missing something.

But I do want to say something about the recent Congressional subpoena, about which I have strongly unambivalent feelings. Whatever one's views about the rationality or propriety of the move, Congress has, and should have, the authority to subpoena anyone and everyone relevant to its legislative work. Further, Congress itself is the one that determines whether something is relevant to its legislative work. I thus find reports of Judge Greer's ordering hospital staff to disregard the congressional subpoena rather disturbing, far more disturbing than the abuse of Congressional powers I have seen people claim the subpoenas to be (personally, I see no abuse). And the arguments I have seen in support of the judge's actions are utterly absurd. For instance, this comment:

Stetson University law professor Charles Rose said that if a congressional subpoena can be used to keep her alive, Congress would essentially have blanket power to overrule state courts.

Which is absurd; the only way this could happen is if Congress forced the person served to testify for the rest of their lives. What a congressional subpoena does is call a person before Congress in order to testify. An equally silly comment, from the same source:

"If you do that, why have a state at all?" Rose said. "Why not just have the federal government do everything? It's absolutely contrary to every principle of federalism."

Yes, that makes sense; Congress is going to usurp all state government functions purely in virtue of requiring people to testify before it. Oh, the menace.

My inclination is to agree with those who say that Judge Greer should be charged with contempt of Congress; whatever the propriety of the subpoena, it is not his place to decide whether Congress is within its rights in issuing it. But part of this is due to the fact that I see no constitutional need for conflict of powers here: at most the testimony delays state action until after the hearing, nothing more. Worry about the bills, not the subpoenas.

Were I to be convinced there is a need for conflict of powers here, I would be more sympathetic to Judge Greer. But in any case, unlike some people, I am not squeamish about direct conflict of powers; that's the way balance of powers is supposed to work. It's better if it doesn't have to work that way, but sometimes it has to do so if we are to get clarity on where the lines are. Congress has a legitimate power to subpoena; state courts have legitimate power to issue injunctions. Congress issued a subpoena to Annie Santamaria, the director of the hospice, to appear before Congress with Theresa Schiavo, with all equipment relevant to her care remaining in the state of operation it was in when the subpoena was issued. It is a federal crime for Santamaria to fail to obey the subpoena, and it is, from what I understand, a federal crime to obstruct someone in the obeying of it; Greer has effectively issued an order for Santamaria to do so. In the next few weeks we will find out what becomes of state court judges who require people to ignore Congressional subpoenas.

[UPDATE: Two other cases that need also to be considered. (hat-tip: Kleiman.) I'm not convinced as some are, though, that there is any general inconsistency in people outraged about the Schiavo case not being outraged about these particular cases; I rather suspect they just don't know about it. The Schiavo case has been going on a long, long time, and it has taken most of that time for the case to occupy much public attention. The futile care law involved allows things to move very swiftly. It's rather odd, though, that the National Right to Life Committee, which opposes futile care laws, helped write this one, and is not calling attention to the results.)

Anselm on Incarnation

"The Divine and human natures cannot alternate, so that the Divine should become human or the human Divine; nor can they be so commingled as that a third should be produced from the two which is neither wholly Divine nor wholly human. For, granting that it were possible for either to be changed into the other, it would in that case be only God and not man, or man only and not God. Or, if they were so commingled that a third nature sprung from the combination of the two (as from two animals, a male and a female of different species, a third is produced, which does not preserve entire the species of either parent, but has a mixed nature derived from both), it would neither be God nor man. Therefore the God-man, whom we require to be of a nature both human and Divine, cannot be produced by a change from one into the other, nor by an imperfect commingling of both in a third; since these things cannot be, or, if they could be, would avail nothing to our purpose. Moreover, if these two complete natures are said to be joined somehow, in such a way that one may be Divine while the other is human, and yet that which is God not be the same with that which is man, it is impossible for both to do the work necessary to be accomplished. For God will not do it, because he has no debt to pay; and man will not do it, because he cannot. Therefore, in order that the God-man may perform this, it is necessary that the same being should perfect God and perfect man, in order to make this atonement. For he cannot and ought not to do it, unless he be very God and very man. Since, then, it is necessary that the God-man preserve the completeness of each nature, it is no less necessary that these two natures be united entire in one person, just as a body and a reasonable soul exist together in every human being; for otherwise it is impossible that the same being should be very God and very man."

From Cur Deus Homo , Book II, Chapter VII.

For Reading

* Sullivan, Pharyngula, and Religion at "Mike the Mad Biologist" (Hat-tip: Science and Politics)

* Cantor's Diagonal Argument at "Mumblings and Grumblings"

* Dostoevsky and Evil at "Studi Galileiani"

* Prayers Translated into the Elvish by J.R.R. Tolkien (hat-tip: Christifideles)

* Bishop Wilkins's Ark at "Giornale Nuovo"