Saturday, June 11, 2005


An interesting post on divine infinity at "RazorsKiss". By coincidence, I've recently been thinking of this issue. As I've noted before, Malebranche makes a big deal about infinity; it plays an immensely important role in a number of key arguments. (I recently got a search engine hit from someone looking for Malebranche's argument for the existence of God; Malebranche's argument is based on infinity.) Necessity, immutability, eternity, and universality all show up, of course; but they are treated as subordinate and derivative properties.

But the arguments generally assume that only God is infinite. Now, I think it is quite right that only God is absolutely infinite -- infinite in His very being, we might say. But I'm not at all convinced that creatures are incapable of being infinite; my inclinations are toward the view expressed by Aquinas, that creatures can be relatively infinite. Indeed, on Aquinas's view it seems to follow that every creature actually is relatively infinite. Material things are materially infinite, and forms not completely contracted by matter are formally infinite. Material infinity is not particularly impressive; it is a potential infinitude rather than an actual infinitude (I use 'infinitude' rather than 'infinity' because 'infinity' suggests a real collection of some sort, which is not quite what Aquinas is getting at). The interesting creaturely infinitude is formal infinitude, because if Aquinas is right, Malebranche is wrong in thinking that we must be ontologists, i.e., we must hold that ideas are actually in God; or, at least, Malebranche's major argument to this effect is wrong. A scholastic can answer Malebranche's challenge by denying the assumption that most clearly allows one to get around the problem he notes. (I suggested this possibility before, but only speculatively; I hadn't thought to look at Aquinas in this connection.)

On the other hand, if either Aquinas or Malebranche are correct about this matter, no purely naturalistic account of the mind is possible; the naturalist must argue against Aquinas's view that the soul is formally infinite, but because of that must find another answer to Malebranche's challenge to provide a non-question-begging account of our ability to recognize that things are infinite. (For my more analytically-minded readers, Malebranche's arguments are somewhat similar to Thomas Nagel's arguments about the infinite in The Last Word, with somewhat different emphases; the two sets of arguments actually complement and strengthen each other quite well.) Malebranche, I think, completely demolishes the typical, and rather unimpressive, empiricist responses to which people usually flee. Empiricists can't get a genuine infinite. Berkeley recognized this in his notebooks, which is why he is forced to conclude there that the Pythagorean theorem is a useful calculating device that, strictly speaking, is false (because it can only be true at infinite precision).

Friday, June 10, 2005

Hume against Slavery

I had said previously that when Hume talks of slavery he often isn't thinking of slavery but oppression under tyranny. On further reflection, though, I was forgetting the passage in the essay on the Populousness of Ancient Nations. It's worth quoting in full. It's an aside, it's only one passage, it still considers the matter only under the rubric of tyranny, and it doesn't address at all the larger issues of race and how "the unhappy part of the species" should be treated instead. And it is full of a common Humean type of ambiguity, where it isn't always clear whether a sentence is a conclusion, an aside, a restatement, or a qualification (which is one of the big reasons why Hume, who seems to write so clearly, is so very difficult to interpret). But, while I don't want to soft-pedal Hume's absurdities on this topic (they are too often soft-pedalled, since it is a real and important question as to just how these absurdities cohere with Hume's general principles), I also don't want people going away with an unbalanced view of his position.

The chief difference between the domestic economy of the ancients and that of the moderns consists in the practice of slavery, which prevailed among the former, and which has been abolished for some centuries throughout the greater part of EUROPE. Some passionate admirers of the ancients, and zealous partizans of civil liberty, (for these sentiments, as they are, both of them, in the main, extremely just, are found to be almost inseparable) cannot forbear regretting the loss of this institution; and whilst they brand all submission to the government of a single person with the harsh denomination of slavery, they would gladly reduce the greater part of mankind to real slavery and subjection. But to one who considers coolly on the subject it will appear, that human nature, in general, really enjoys more liberty at present, in the most arbitrary government of EUROPE, than it ever did during the most flourishing period of ancient times. As much as submission to a petty prince, whose dominions extend not beyond a single city, is more grievous than obedience to a great monarch; so much is domestic slavery more cruel and oppressive than any civil subjection whatsoever. The more the master is removed from us in place and rank, the greater liberty we enjoy; the less are our actions inspected and controled; and the fainter that cruel comparison becomes between our own subjection, and the freedom, and even dominion of another. The remains which are found of domestic slavery, in the AMERICAN colonies, and among some EUROPEAN nations, would never surely create a desire of rendering it more universal. The little humanity, commonly observed in persons, accustomed, from their infancy, to exercise so great authority over their fellow-creatures, and to trample upon human nature, were sufficient alone to disgust us with that unbounded dominion. Nor can a more probable reason be assigned for the severe, I might say, barbarous manners of ancient times, than the practice of domestic slavery; by which every man of rank was rendered a petty tyrant, and educated amidst the flattery, submission, and low debasement of his slaves.

According to ancient practice, all checks were on the inferior, to restrain him to the duty of submission; none on the superior, to engage him to the reciprocal duties of gentleness and humanity. In modern times, a bad servant finds not easily a good master, nor a bad master a good servant; and the checks are mutual, suitably to the inviolable and eternal laws of reason and equity.

The custom of exposing old, useless, or sick slaves in an island of the TYBER, there to starve, seems to have been pretty common in ROME; and whoever recovered, after having been so exposed, had his liberty given him, by an edict of the emperor CLAUDIUS; in which it was likewise forbidden to kill any slave merely for old age or sickness. But supposing that this edict was strictly obeyed, would it better the domestic treatment of slaves, or render their lives much more comfortable? We may imagine what others would practise, when it was the professed maxim of the elder CATO, to sell his superannuated slaves for any price, rather than maintain what he esteemed a useless burden.

The ergastula, or dungeons, where slaves in chains were forced to work, were very common all over ITALY. COLUMELLA advises, that they be always built under ground; and recommends it as the duty of a careful overseer, to call over every day the names of these slaves, like the mustering of a regiment or ship's company, in order to know presently when any of them had deserted. A proof of the frequency of these ergastula, and of the great number of slaves usually confined in them.

A chained slave for a porter, was usual in ROME, as appears from OVID, and other authors. Had not these people shaken off all sense of compassion towards that unhappy part of their species, would they have presented their friends, at the first entrance, with such an image of the severity of the master, and misery of the slave?

(He gives several more examples of ancient slavery, but they don't clearly add anything to the argument. In a footnote, however, he does suggest a causal chain in which contempt for slaves causes a taste for gladiatorial combat, which in term is "a great cause of the general inhumanity of their princes and rulers.")

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A Poem Draft

By the River of Gozan

Of Epher and Ishi our people sing,
of Eliel and Azriel in Jahdiel's day,
of the mighty hand of Jeremiah,
of the sword of Hodaviah,
in a bygone day, in our days of number,
before our souls were sold in Hermon's shadow,
before we whored ourselves to a foreign god
in Bashan and below Senir.
Where were the mighty when the Lord stirred up,
when the Lord raised up the Assyrians?
Where were the heroes when the Lord called forth
Pul and Tilgath-Pilneser?
They faded like water, and burned like grass,
and disappeared in the raging of war;
and we were brought here, a disconsolate people,
weeping in Hara, Halah, and Habor.

Additional Links of Note

* Race and Racism in the Works of David Hume by Eric Morton. This is an interesting paper on Hume's racism, particularly the notorious footnote I previously mentioned. The paper is not as readable as one could hope; it rushes a bit from one point to another in a sort of tumbling way, and some of the points could use a bit more development and support. But it's a good starting point for inquiry into this problem, as well as for reflection (which genuinely needs to be done) on how this should affect one's approach to Hume's 'science of man'.

* Human Responsibility at "Rebecca Writes"

* I Lost My Poverty -- But I Found It Again at "21st Century Reformation"

* A Secularist Debate on Abortion (HT: Dangerous Idea)

* I found this post at "Butterflies and Wheels" interesting, because it's a clear expression of a view that's (1) plausible; (2) generally accepted uncritically; and (3) definitely but interestingly wrong. Often the first question on a topic brought up for rational consideration is what priority should I give this issue in my reasoning? And part of this question clearly does require asking about the benefits and detriments, because they are relevant to determining whether we need to apportion a greater or lesser portion of our time, resources, and effort to consideration of the question. It's only when the issue of priority is not important -- when there is no cost-of-reasoning reasoning required -- that we should start with the question is this true or false? Likewise, Benson, like most people who just accept the cliches and don't consider this issue critically, misses the point that the benefits and detriments play a role after the inquiry when issues of priority come again, e.g., what priority should I give to persuading people of the conclusion I've reached? If, for instance, a false belief is good for social cohesion, the only reasonable thing to do is to give it a lower priority than false beliefs that are bad for social cohesion, all other things being equal. Priority reasoning is an important aspect of critical thinking. (HT: The 10th Skeptics' Circle)

* Reply to a 14 year old creationist at "Respectful Insolence" (HT: SC10 again). It's good to see good taste in action; and good taste, as I think I've pointed out before somewhere, is the old (as in 18th-century) name for critical thought. (UPDATE: Chris links it with a passage from Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, which is also well worth reading.)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Malebranche on Whether God Could Make Better

God could without doubt make a world more perfect than that we inhabit. He could, for example, make it so that the rain, which is for rendering the earth fertile, fell more regularly on the ploughed fields than in the sea, where it is not so necessary. But in order to make this world more perfect, he would have had to have changed the simplicity of His ways, and he would have had to multipled the laws of communication of motions, by which our world subsists; and so there would not longer be that proportion between God's action and His work, which is necessary in order to determine an infinitely wise being to act, or at least there would not have been the same proportion between God's action and that so-perfect world that there is between the laws of nature and the world that we inhabit. For our world, however imperfect one imagines it, is founded on laws of motions so simple and so natural, that it is perfectly worthy of the infinite wisdom of its Author.

(Malebranche, Treatise on Nature and Grace, Discourse I, article xiv. My rough translation.)

Again, this should be compared with Aquinas's and Leibniz's discussions of the same issue.

Boswell on History

SATURDAY 29 JANUARY....I have now one great satisfaction, which is reading Hume's History. It entertains and instructs me. It elevates my mind and excites noble feelings of every kind.
SUNDAY 20 FEBRUARY....I employed the day in reading Hume's History, which enlarged my views, filled me with great ideas, and rendered me happy. It is surprising how I have formerly neglected the study of history, which of all studies is surely the most amusing and the most instructive. As I am now begun to it in earnest, I hope to make good progress. I write my father regularly my observations on each volume, which is of great service to me and gives much satisfaction to him.

[Boswell's London Journal 1762-1763. Frederick A. Pottle, ed. Yale UP (New York: 1950) 173, 197.]

Hume would have been pleased; on Hume's view of history (the discipline), this is what the whole point of history is: to entertain and instruct, elevate one's mind and enlarge one's view. Claudia Schmidt has some excellent discussion of this (if I'm remembering correctly) in David Hume: Reason in History.

Links of Note

* Journals, and the stories of Djamila, Beth, and Julia Ann at "Hugo Schwyzer" -- a rather awesome post about feminism and sexuality, as exemplified by three very different students.

* Matter and Infinite Regress at "Vomit the Lukewarm"

* The Phenomenology of Efficacy by Susanna Siegel -- a draft of a paper arguing that we do, in fact, have direct experiences of causal efficacy. I need to read the paper more closely, but it looks like a modified endeavor or nisus theory (to borrow some terms from Hume, whose criticism of this type of theory I've questioned). Quite interesting. (HT: OPP.)

* Annotations on C. S. Lewis's Abolition of Man

* Ancient Stench and Corpse Removal at "Ralph the Sacred River"

* "robot guy" traces the recent Book Tag meme in geometric explosion (HT: NWW).

* UPDATE: Just came across this on Clark's sidebar: At "slacktivist" the post Private Property? looks briefly at the question of private property in Christian theology. The point is a very good one. If you're interested in this sort of thing, you might find Aquinas's discussion of private property interesting.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Aquinas on Whether God Could Make Better

My rough translation. The Dominican Fathers translation is here; a version of the Latin can be found here. This article should be contrasted with Leibniz's arguments that God could not have made better.

We proceed in this way to the sixth. It seems that God is not able to make better that which he makes.

[1] For whatever God makes, He makes in a supremely powerful and wise way (potentissime et sapientissime). But something is much better to the extent it is more powerfully and wisely done.

[2] Further, Augustine (in Contra Maximin.) argues in this way: if God were able, but willed not, to beget a Son equal to Himself, He would be envious. For the same reason, if God were able to make something better than He has made, but willed not to do it, He would be envious. But envy is in every way removed from God. Therefore God makes everything the best. Therefore God is not able to make something better than He makes.

[3] Further, what is best and very good, is not able to be made better: because nothing is better than the best. But, as Augustine says (in Enchirid.), each thing is good that God has made, but the whole universe very good: because the admirable beauty of the universe consists in them all. Therefore the good of the universe is not able to be made better by God.

[4] Further, the man Christ is full of grace and truth, and has the Spirit immeasurably (non ad mensuram): and so He is not able to be better. And created happiness is said to be the highest good: and so it is not able to be better. And the blessed virgin Mary is exalted over all the choirs of angles: and so she is not able to be better. Therefore not all the things that God has made can be made better.

But on the contrary is what is said at Ephesians 3:20, that God is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand.

I respond that it must be said that the goodness of anything is double.

[A] One which is of the essence of it, as being rational is of the essence of man; and with regard to this good, God is not able to make a thing better than it is itself, although he can make something else better than it. Just as he is not able to make the number four greater: because, if it were greater, it would not be the number four, but some other number. And in this way one has the addition of substantial differences in definitions, as the addition of units in numbers, as is said in Metaphys. VIII.

[B] Another goodness is that which is outside the essence of the thing; as the good of man is to be virtuous and wise. And according to such good, God is able to make things better.

But simply speaking, God is able to make something better than anything He has made.

To the first, therefore, it must be said that, when it is said that God is able to make something better than He makes, if 'better' is nominal, it is true: for He is able to make something better than any thing. Likewise He is able to make the same thing better in some way, and in some way not, as is said.If 'better' is adverbial, where it imports the manner of making (modum ex parte facientis), God in this way is not able to make something better than He makes: because He is not able to make it out of a greater wisdom and goodness. But if it imports the mode of the thing (modum ex parte facti), in this way He is able to make it better: because He is able to give the things madesome better mode of being as regards their incidentals (accidentalia), although not as regards their essentials.

To the second it must be said that it is of the notion of a son to be equal to the father, when he is matured (ad perfectum venerit): but it is not of the notion of any creature, that it be better than God has made it. Wherefore there is no analogy.

To the third it must be said that the universe, supposed as these things, is not able to be better; on account of the beautiful order given to things by God, in which the good of the universe consists. For if anything were better, the proportion of the order would be corrupted: as, if a string were more tight than was intended, the melody of the lyre would be corrupted. But God could make other things, or add other things to these things made: and in this way that universe would be better.

To the fourth it must be said that the humanity of Christ, given that it is united to God, and created happiness, given that it is enjoyment of God, and the Blessed Virgin, given that she is Mother of God, have in a way an infinite dignity, from the infinite good that is God. And in this sense there cannot be something better than these, as there cannot be something better than God.

Wisdom from Ramon Lull

Man's own innate goodness is a reason for him to do specific good, and whatever is done by man as a member of the human species, is done either in a natural or in a moral way. Spiritual and corporeal goodness are joined in man by reason of his soul and body so that through these dual reasons man naturally has reason to do good by objectifying, understanding, loving and remembering; and with his body by procreating, sensing and imagining; and good works proceed from both parts, as we see in the liberal and mechanical arts.

Man's own innate greatness, like his goodness, is of a dual nature, and man does what he does greatly with greatness just as he does it well with goodness.

From Ramon Lull's Ars Magna.

And the Crowd Said It Thundered

This passage has always fascinated me:

"Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name."

Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."

The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."

Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

(John 12:27-32)

Aristotle's Protreptic

You can find the remains of Aristotle's Protrepticus or exhortation to philosophy here (PDF), as edited by Doug Hutchinson and Monte Johnson here at the University of Toronto. This has recently had some coverage in the news media; Michael Pakuluk discusses it at "Dissoi Blogoi" here (on the edition itself) and here (on the implications of the text in pedagogy).

Monday, June 06, 2005

Clandestine Philosophies

One of the aspects of early modern philosophy I know almost nothing about, an ignorance I certainly wish to remedy at some point, is what is usually called the clandestine philosophy. Clandestine philosophical texts circulated in a sort of European philosophical underground; their exact purpose is not always clear. Some texts seem to be deistic, others atheistic, but some are harder to pin down since (to name just one example) some of them seem to be Cartesianized materialist texts. Some of them play with paradox and irony; some may even be intended as elaborate jokes. It's an area in which there are many unanswered questions.

Adam Sutcliffe, in his "Judaism in the Anti-Religious Thought of the Clandestine French Early Enlightenment" [Journal of the History of Ideas 64.1 (2003) 97-117] describes one strand of this clandestine philosophizing in the following way:

There is still a great deal that is unknown about the culture of the French philosophical underground. The manner in which clandestine manuscripts were written, circulated, and discussed remains to a considerable extent a subject on which historians can only speculate. Leading authors and collectors have been identified. It is striking that many intellectuals prominent in the official academies of Paris, such as Bernard Fontenelle, Nicolas Fréret, and Jean Baptiste de Mirabaud, also dabbled in clandestine philosophy. However, in doing so they entered into another conceptual world, sharply segregated from their approved public personae....The ways in which these writers understood the relationship between open and clandestine texts and between their public lives and their clandestine philosophizing is clearly a subject of extreme complexity, and it suggests a striking fluidity in intellectual identities. (pp. 103-104)

There is an excellent online selection of some of the better-known texts (mostly in French) at Clandestine E-Texts from the Eighteenth Century.

It's a very cool topic; and when people ask you what you study, you can say, "Oh, I study Clandestine Enlightenment."

(Cross-posted at Houyhnhnm Land.)

UPDATE: Sharon points out this article by Margaret Jacob, on the works associated with the imprint of Philippe Marteau: The Clandestine Universe of the Eighteenth Century.

Foucault's Pendulum

This looks interesting; there'll be a discussion of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum later this month. I love the description of the book:

To give you a basic idea without ruining the plot, it's basically The Da Vinci Code if it had been written by someone literate, intelligent, with a superb grasp of character and plot, and who had actually bothered to do some original research.

I'll have to re-read it. (HT: EMN.)

Peirce on Whewell

Being in the pro-Whewell and anti-Mill camp, I just had to blog the following passages from another pro-Whewell and anti-Mill person (more anti-Mill than pro-Whewell, whereas I'm more pro-Whewell than anti-Mill).

Whewell described the reasoning just as it appeared to a man deeply conversant with several branches of science as only a genuine researcher can know them, and adding to that knowledge a full acquaintance with the history of science. These results, as might be expected, are of the highest value, although there are important distinctions and reasons which he overlooked. John Stuart Mill endeavored to explain the reasonings of science by the nominalistic metaphysics of his father. The superficial perspicuity of that kind of metaphysics rendered his logic extremely popular with those who think, but do not think profoundly; who know something of science, but more from the outside than the inside, and how for one reason or another delight in the simplest theories even if they fail to cover the facts.

Quite a good description of the Omniscientist, I'd say; and I like the description of Mill. He says elsewhere:

I am very far from holding that experience is our only light; Whewell's views of scientific method seem to me truer than Mill's; so much so that I should pronounce the known principles of physics to be but a development of original instinctive beliefs.

This is C. S. Peirce, quoted in John Wettersten, Whewell's Critics, Rodopi (New York: 2005) 102. (The citations are to Peirce 1960, vol. I, sect. 70, and Peirce 1960, vol. I, sect. 404.) Wettersten's work is a good history of the non-reception of Whewell's philosophy of science after the general prevalence of Mill's Baconian/Newtonian inductivism.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Good and God

An interesting post by Velleman at "Left2Right". I think it involves a bit of ambiguity, since "You can't be good without believing in God" could mean 'you can't be good at all without believing in God'; or it could mean, 'without belief in God any human goodness is missing something very important and, indeed, essential'; or it could mean, 'ultimately, it is not possible to be good consistently, if you don't believe in God'; or it could mean something like 'any good deed done is only completely good if it also involves giving God His due, which cannot be done without belief in God'. Velleman seems to take it in the first sense, but I don't think that's how it is usually meant at all.

Velleman says that, if we came across a new species without religious beliefs, "we would be perfectly astounded...if they had come up with the ten commandments." On the other hand, he says, we would have expected them to have discovered the idea of reciprocity, so "we would not be at all astounded to find that the inhabitants of Planet X had discovered the Golden Rule".

I think this involves an equivocation on what the discovery of reciprocity would be. Obviously in some sense they would have had to discovery reciprocity since they would have to be able to engage in some sort of social interaction. But this is a long way from a Golden Rule. All one really needs for this sort of reciprocity is a general sense of exchange, which can easily enough be capsulated in a plethora of positive laws and customary rules of etiquette, without any Golden Rule at all. Much more likely, I think, would be laws and manners, of a very ordinary sort, and any sense of reciprocity would be encoded in precise rules about hospitality or honor or what have you. Going beyond this is actually a surprising thing, and not generally to be expected. To do so one needs at least the minimal recognition that the laws and manners don't ground reciprocity but are grounded in it. And when one has gotten this far, one still doesn't have a Golden Rule; one has what is sometimes called a Silver Rule, which goes beyond laws and manners primarily by requiring restraint. The Golden Rule, however, is a very strong principle; except in a perspective that involves a very robust notion of moral order and authority, I don't think it is particularly obvious that it is even right.

So the end result is that we should expect something much more like the Decalogue, and much less like the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule is actually fairly rare even among human beings; why should we expect it to be common knowledge among aliens, however advanced? One can do without it; it has practical ramifications, but its value has largely been metaethical. But the Ten Commandments are basically about setting the actual boundaries of respect -- respect God, respect parents, respect others in society -- and just give some specifications of these. A society would be much more likely to have something like this.

But the issue was, I think, supposed to be what used to be called the First Tablet: the commandments that deal in one way or another with God. Clearly a species that had no belief in God would not have such a commandments; and the idea, I think, is that they would still have a notion of the transcendence of moral truths. I find this rather doubtful, as well. Consider the passage quoted from Dennett:

But it would still be arithmetic. Now, we can say: "And would it share ethical principles with us?" And I think, in some regards, "Yes, it would." Now, does that make those principles transcendent? Yeah.

But this seems mere semantics, taking 'transcendent' as just a synonym of 'able to be found everywhere'; as, I suppose, dust particles are transcendent, or force-vectors are transcendent, or energy is transcendent. The idea seems to be that they would be true in any universe, and so surpass any particular universe; but they really don't surpass anything in virtue of being true everywhere -- if one can even legitimately talk about them being true anywhere. They're just true, end of story, and the question is why this should be considered as particularly important. Usually by 'transcendent' we mean something that surpasses the categorical. What is transcendent about the universality of arithmetic? How in the world could the universality of ethical principles give them 'transcendence'? The reason we associate math and morals with transcendence is the perfectly straightforward reason that historically they became associated with what was deemed a higher order of reality: the divine -- either gods or something, as Platonists have at various times said, more divine than mere gods, something even gods have to respect as more fundamental than they are. The truths were regarded as transcendent because they were caught up in something that is immensely greater than us and the ordinary things we could know. And I think this move was a fortunate one, since I think they are caught up in something immensely greater than us, something that is, as it were, more real and fundamental than the rest. But one has to be trained to see it. There are lots of people who never do. There are societies that have functioned perfectly well without ever seeing it. An atheist trained to see it may, in seeing it, come to be a theist; but there is simply no reason whatsoever to think that any atheist would see it in a culture where it had never previously been associated with something that genuinely transcends ordinary limits, like a god or a divine order or a higher level of reality.

For that's precisely the trouble: math and morals can just as easily be treated as ordinary, and they often have been. I see no reason why a society can't Humeanize them and do just fine. They would lose something, to be sure; they would lose what some of us regard as their religious associations, and what others regard as their superstitious associations. But to see math or morals as transcendent requires seeing that they involve or are involved in something extraordinary, something that can't be boxed up into ordinary categories. It would not strictly have to be a personal deity; but there is every reason to think that it would have to be the sort of thing we tend to call divine. And any talk of the transcendence of mathematical or moral truth is either fuzzy-talk or is a borrowing, direct or indirect, from this. Close the age of God and you close the age of Transcendent Truth. You still have truth, and that will get you some way. But it will not get you anything transcendent, unless you have already been trained to see it in that light. And that presupposes being trained to see it as part of a higher order, either of gods or of something more divine than any mere gods. How anyone could recognize this without any notion of divinity, or something closely analogous, is anyone's guess.

Of course, if one just means by 'transcendent' something like 'universal', one could just say so, and skip all the nonsense about their being transcendent.

But, as I said, it's a good post, and worth reading.


From Geoffry of Monmouth's Vita Merlini:

Insula pomorum que fortunata vocatur
Ex re nomen habet quia per se singula profert
Non opus est illi sulcantibus arva colonis
Omnis abest cultus nisi quem natura ministrat
Ultro fecundas segetes producit et uvas
Nataque poma suis pretonso germine silvis
Omnia gignit humus vice graminis ultro redundans
Annis centenis aut ultra viviter illic.
(lines 908-915)

Taliesin is speaking to Merlin here. Roughly, the Latin (which is a bit advanced for me, I'm afraid, particularly without laboriously going through it bit-by-bit, so I can only approximate) means, "The Island of Apples, which is called Fortunate, gets its name from the fact that it produces all things of itself; the fields don't need the ploughs of farmers and there is no cultivation except what nature provides. It produces crops and grapes without help, and apple trees grow in the short grass in the woods. The earth brings forth all things on its own, not merely grass, and people there live a hundred years or more."

He goes on to say:

Illic iura novem geniali lege sorores
Dant his qui veniunt nostris ex partibus ad se
Quarum que prior est fit doctior arte medendi
Exceditque suas forma prestante sorores
Morgen ei nomen didicitque quid utilitatis
Gramina cuncta ferant ut languida corpora curet
Ars quoque nota sibi qua scit mutare figuram
Et resecare novis quasi Dedalus aera pennis
Cum vult est Bristi- Carnoti- sive Papie
Cum vult in vestris ex aere labitur horis

Which is to say (again, this is just an approximation): "There is the benevolent rule by the nine sisters of those who come from our land. The one who is first is more learned in the art of healing and excels the form of our sisters. Morgan is her name, and she has learned the uses of plants in curing the ills of the body. She also knows the art of changing her shape and of flying through the air, like Daedelus on new wings. At will she is at Brest, at Chartres, or at Pavia; at will she glides from the air to your shores."

Then he mentions the other sisters briefly:

Hanc que mathematicam dicunt didicisse sorores
Moronoe- Mazoe- Gliten- Glitonea- Gliton
Tyronoe- Thiten- cithara notissima Thiten

Which only gives us with Morgan eight sisters in all, since we here have Morgan teaching mathematics to her sisters, with seven names -- unless 'Thiten' and 'Thiten, known for her lyre' are supposed to be different. But then we get into the meat:

Illuc post bellum Camblani vulnere lesum
Duximus Arcturum nos conducente Barintho
Equora cui fuerant et celi sydera nota
Hoc rectore ratis cum principe venimus illuc
Et nos quo decuit Morgen suscepit honore
Inque suis talamis posuit super aurea regem
Fulcra manuque sibi detexit vulnus honesta
Inspexitque diu, tandemque redire salutem
Posse sibi dixit, si secum tempore longo
Esset et ipsius vellet medicamine fungi
Gaudentes igitur regem commisimus illi
Et dedimus ventis redeundo vela secundis

(Need I say, another approximation.) "There, after the battle of Camlan, where he had been wounded, we took Arthur, conducted by Barinthus who knew the seas and the stars of the heavens. With him at the tiller, we arrived there with the prince, and Morgan received us with honor. placing the king in her chamber on a golden bed, uncovering his wound with her noble hand, and examining it. At length she said he could be returned to health only if he stayed with her a long time and made use of her medical art. Happily, therefore, we committed the king to her, and spread our sails to return again."


I was memed by Johnny-Dee. So here it goes:

Number of Books I Own: I honestly cannot say. My shelves are two-deep and then some, but on the other hand, I don't actually have much shelf-space. On the other hand again, I own more books than are in my apartment, since I have boxes of books that I didn't bring to Canada. Before I went off to college, the number of books I owned was somewhere about a hundred, including old children's books and the like, but it has certainly undergone a massive expansion since then.

Last Book Bought: I think the last book I bought was Dorothy Sayers' The Documents in the Case, but I'm always losing track. It could also have been this one.

Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me:
In no particular order, and without committing to these being the books that mean the most to me:

1. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae.

2. G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday.

3. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

4. Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker.

5. Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Course of Nature.

I could also add Newman's An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love, Euripides' The Bacchae, Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonnus, Shakespeare's Henry V, Austen's Pride and Prejudice, or Eliot's Romola.

Since I had such difficulty answering the questions myself, I won't tag anybody. Feel free to chime in with your own answers, though.

Beattie on Slavery

It is easy to see, with what views some modern authors throw out these hints to prove the natural inferiority of negroes. But let every friend to humanity pray, that they may be disappointed. Britons are famous for generosity; a virtue in which it is easy for them to excel both the Romans and the Greeks.

Let it never be said, that slavery is countenanced by the bravest and most generous people on earth; by a people who are animated with that heroic passion, the love of liberty, beyond all nations ancient or modern; and the fame of whose toilsome, but unwearied perseverance, in vindicating, at the expense of life and fortune, the sacred rights of mankind, will strike terror into the hearts of sycophants and tyrants, and excite the admiration and gratitude of all good men, to the latest posterity.

[James Beattie: Selected Philosophical Writings, James A. Harris, ed. Imprint Academic (Charlottesville, VA: 2004) 137. This is part of the excellent new series, The Library of Scottish Philosophy.]

The particular modern author Beattie has in his sights is one David Hume, and in particular, Hume's notorious footnote in the essay "Of Natural Characters":

I am apt to suspect the negroes to be naturally inferior to the whites. There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences. On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the whites, such as the ancient GERMANS, the present TARTARS, have still something eminent about them, in their valour, form of government, or some other particular. Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men. Not to mention our colonies, there are NEGROE slaves dispersed all over EUROPE, of whom none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity; though low people, without education, will start up amongst us, and distinguish themselves in every profession. In JAMAICA, indeed, they talk of one negroe as a man of parts and learning; but it is likely he is admired for slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.

As Beattie notes in great detail, this whole line of reasoning is complete nonsense from one end to the other. Annette Baier once tried -- half-heartedly, I'm sure -- to give a partial defense of the footnote by saying that it showed Hume's emphasis on empirical data; but any reading of Beattie's response to it blows that possibility out of the water.

Hume himself is against what he calls 'slavery'; but whenever he talks about 'slavery', it often seems that he isn't thinking of slavery but of lack of liberty under tyranny, which is a different thing. Beattie, on the other hand, is quite explicitly egalitarian; he believes that all men are created in the image of God. He's also an egalitarian when it comes to the sexes, by the way, although he doesn't (as far as I can recall) discuss the matter in any of his published writings. It comes through in one or two of his letters, however. He allows for the possibility that God might have given the sexes different strengths, but insists that, whether that be the case or not, the sexes are fundamentally equal, particularly in their rational natures.