Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Casuist

Paul Denton takes on The Ethicist, and rightly so. I think the latter's existence is a sad, sad thing: he just spouts off opinions without giving people any deeper insight into the moral life, and dares to call it ethics despite the fact that sometimes his opinions are very dubious indeed (he has at various times encouraged people to lie and cheat and act vengefully, his arguments are frequently pathetically bad, and his attitude to his position, as expressed in interviews and the like, is simply irresponsible). He is, in short, paid to be a hack.

Hanique, Part II

(Part I)

When I returned home I continued to be haunted by the events at the conference; so I did what any academic would do under such circumstances. I went to the library and began wading through books.

For days I researched fruitlessly, poring over tome after tome in a futile attempt to find traces of this Bl. Catharine of Hanique. I did find three small bits of evidence in an author named Daniel Livingston Montgomery. The first was a fragment from a Latin poem (author, unidentified; date, unidentified; provenance, the margin of an unidentified manuscript) that mentioned the phrase, radix Hanicae. The second was the identification of Bl. Catharine of Hanique's feast-day as May 9. The third was the attribution to her of the following statement:

En mathématique on ne doit regarder que le principe, en morale que la conséquence. L' une est une vérité simple, l' autre une vérité complexe.

But, as I am sure you can see, it is all no good. The passage is not from Catharine of Hanique at all; it is from Chateaubriand. May 9 is the holiday of St. Catharine of Bologna, and no liturgical calendar gives any day at all for Catharine of Hanique. I know nothing further about the Latin phrase; even assuming it is not mere fiction, I have no real context within which to place it. Three minor bits of evidence, three dead ends.

I did, however, make an interesting discovery on the side: none of the liturgical calendars I had consulted mentioned the feast-day of St. Catharine of Boulagnon, either. The day I had usually heard given was the solemnity of another St. Catharine, St. Catharine of Alexandria.

Sitting back, I puzzled over this new and unexpected problem. Who was this Catharine who kept stealing what belonged to other Catharines? And how had such an obvious error such as that of her feast-day go unnoticed for so long?

I did not have long to think, however, for my peace was soon disturbed by two thugs bursting into the room. I recognized them as a professor of mathematics and a professor of biology.

"Well, Dan," said the professor of mathematics, "it's time for your appointment."

"I am busy," I replied.

"Now, Dan," said the professor of biology, "let's not do this the hard way."

Sighing, I rose, and, flanked by the Dean's minions, walked to the Dean's office.

When I entered, the short, arid-looking man who was the Dean rose and said, "Good morning, Dr. Montgomery. I trust you are feeling well today."

Part III of the short story Hanique will follow soon!

Friday, July 29, 2005

Linkable Legibles

* Timothy Sandefar at "Positive Liberty" discusses the politics of Adama's arrest of President Roslin on Battlestar Galactica. For the background see the links at the Unofficial Battlestar Galactica Blog.

* Ben Witherington has a good post on conscience and 1 John. The analysis of conscience that comes out of it actually sounds rather Thomistic. Also worth reading: a post on the Johannine Epistles and the criteria to be used in evaluating religious experience.

* Shieva Kleinschmidt at "Emiratio" has a post on the proper analysis of hope -- a great topic, and one that has recently come to interest me a great deal. (I have come to think, for instance, that Kant's rational hope is actually not hope but what Shieva calls desire -- that is, it is a rational wish, and what makes it rational is that (a) you have some rational need to think that something like it is true; and (b) you have no reason to think it impossible. This is a bit different from hope in a more proper sense, which, as I say in the comments to Shieva's post, I think involves the following two elements: (a) concession that the hoped-for might not, or need not, happen; (b) acceptance that the hoped-for at least might have a real chance of happening despite that.)

* Orin Kerr at "The Volokh Conspiracy" has a summary of the events of the Scopes trial. Most of it I already knew, but I hadn't known some of the more technical legal points, and I hadn't realized that Darrow pushed the ACLU off to the side.

* William Vallicella at "The Maverick Philosopher" has a good post on a difficulty with hacceity properties. For the philosophical background to this issue, see Richard Cross's useful article on Medieval Theories of Haecceity in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

* At "Melbourne Philosopher," Josh considers the question, Can literature present an argument? I think it depends on what you mean by an argument. I'm a rationalist about poetics, in the sense that I think that a major part of what is going on in literature is the presentation of a particular type of inference. This is a medieval view, which sees literature as a form of moral logic. The medievals (in particular the Muslim medievals, who developed the point rather extensively) divided logic,a s the study of inference, into a number of fields, each of which was intended to evoke a distinctive kind of psychological result. Thus demonstrative inference concludes in knowledge (scientia); dialectical inference concludes in probable assent (belief); rhetorical inference concludes in persuaded opinion; and poetic inference concludes in an imaginative representation. What a work of literature is doing, in effect, is guiding your reasoning-process as you imaginatively represent something to yourself. And this guidance (unlike that of sophistry) is truth-relevant, because the similitude created can be a good one. (This isn't all there is to it; I haven't discussed what makes it a moral, i.e., ethico-political, logic, namely, positive and negative evaluation. And there is the further issue of Aquinas's view that poetics is an inventive logic, i.e., it involves discovery.) So, if one takes 'argument' simply in the sense of 'guide for inference' or even 'inference' itself, literature not only presents argument, it is an argument. But if one restricts 'argument' to the sort of thing one finds in demonstration, dialectics, and sophistry, then it clearly doesn't; if it's an argument, it is a distinctive kind of argument. Josh's point that literature can lead up to the formulation of a premise for these kinds of argument is a good one, though (and would be, I think, the way in which literature is an inventive logic).

* I like Irshad Manji quite a bit, but she's certainly wrong here (HT: B&W):

To blow yourself up, you need conviction. Secular society doesn't compete well on this score. Who gets deathly passionate over tuition subsidies and a summer job?

Well, I hope no one gets deathly passionate over tuition subsidies and a summer job, since Canada would then be set to become the most violent place on earth; but secular society does have a good (or, rather, bad) track record when it comes to generating deathly passion. People need to remember that there have been terrorists before, and they have been of all stripes. Some have been atheists (and I know some people have difficulty accepting it, but it is true), some have been slightly religious. It's difficult judgment call to make to determine whether others are very religious or merely slightly religious people who have become desperate (most Islamists seem to me to be the latter: they have despaired of waiting for Allah to do what they demand that he do, so they've decided they need to help the Almighty out). But I'm willing to accept that very religious terrorists exist. A more plausible common link among these cases than religion is politics. Groups that stay out of politics ipso facto stay out of terrorism; likewise, groups that are involved in politics but see themselves as involved in a system they can work (even if they are very critical of it) have no incentive to be terrorists. When people see their participation in a political system as pointless and futile and valueless, then they begin to become dangerous. Out of the sense of futility arising in a system that seems immoral comes the acceptance of extreme measures, and the covering of them with moral rhetoric.

It's also very odd to consider Spong, the converted fundamentalist who is now a fundamentalist in reverse, a religious moderate.

-> This has nothing to do with either links or weblogs, but if you are ever in Toronto the best place to get a burrito is Burrito Boyz (120 Peter Street, between Adelaide and Richmond). I had my first today, and thought, "Holy Moly! Why didn't anyone tell me?" Top-notch, and surprisingly inexpensive. The service isn't all that great, though -- they are far too busy for their resources, and some of the poor girls behind the counter looked in danger of falling down dead from exhaustion. From what I understand, they have been looking to expand for some time, but they're still in this tiny lower-level place (I almost missed it the first time I walked by it because I was looking at the upper level).

UPDATE: An interesting post on Man as the image of God in Islam, with special reference to Ibn 'Arabi, at "A Visionary's Reflections".

UPDATE 2: John Cottingham reviews Erik J. Wielenberg's Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe at NDPR. (HT: Ektopos).

Steno on the Study of Nature

Gathering notes, I came across this interesting early passage:

One sins against the majesty of God by being unwilling to look into nature's own works and contenting oneself with reading the works of others; in this way by being unwilling to look for oneself one forms and creates for oneself various fanciful notions and does not only miss the enjoyment of looking into God's wonders, but also wastes the time which should be spent on necessities and to the benefit of one's neighbour, asserting many things which are unworthy of God. Such are these scholastics, such are most philosophers, and those who devote their whole lives to the study of logic. Time is not to be spent on explaining and defending these opinions, indeed scarcely on examining them, and one must not boldly and impetuously assign anything to art on the basis of observing a single thing. From now on I shall spend my time, not on meditations, but solely in investigation, experience, and the recording of natural objects and the reports of the ancients on the observation of such things, as well as in testing out these reports, if that be possible.

[Chaos N 59, quoted in Troels Kardel, Steno, Danish National Library of Science and Medicine, Copenhagen, 1994: p. 16]

This is from a very early manuscript, usually called the Chaos-manuscript, which are notes that Steno jotted down as a student. While it would be too much to demand that people make the discoveries by themselves, Steno is clearly going for a more moderate position, in which people should try to be familiar with the way things actually work, rather than merely with how someone says they do. (I've recently had a sci-fi short story buzzing around in the back of my mind which might take the first sentence as its epigraph.)

Olaf Stapledon

I am:
Olaf Stapledon
Standing outside the science fiction "field", he wrote fictional explorations of the futures of whole species and galaxies.

Which science fiction writer are you?

(HT: Flos Carmeli)

Interesting; Stapledon, of course, is the philosopher who wrote Last and First Men and Star Maker; C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy (particularly Out of the Silent Planet) is a sharp criticism of the sort of attitude toward science and humanity taken in those works. Stapledon, whose academic work in philosophy had virtually no impact, had, through his 'philosophical romances' an immense impact on science fiction, practically inventing whole sci-fi tropes that have since become commonplace: galactic empires, genetically engineered species, and so forth.

Many of his out-of-print works are online, e.g.:

Philosophy and Living (1939)

A Modern Theory of Ethics

A Modern Magician is a short story about a psychokinetic who kills things in order to impress his girlfriend.

Two Poem Drafts

The Bacchae

When the god of wine and revel
made dizzy the city's prince,
the omens darkly muttered
like some strange malevolence.

But the king kept to his folly;
he was slain by the godly bull,
and carried home in his mother's arms.
Amen: the gods are cruel.

You are proud in your ways, O mortals.
Better it would be to mourn,
for you are marched through Theban streets
to where the calves are torn.

You are vain with the vain cosmetics
with which you adorn your soul;
and as you boast of your civic order,
your destruction is your goal.

You speak the name of Justice?
Justice walks with a sword
to slit the throats of mortals,
a fate no charm can ward.

And when your life is over,
when we see the path you've trod,
we will see not your boasted glory,
but the mocking of the god.

The Journey

Before I come to be
I have many miles to go
through fetid swamps of illness,
through rain and drifting snow.

I walk alone this journey,
for all must walk alone
through vales of deathly shadow
and of darkly dreaming stone.

Yet never am I lonely;
for death is in the air.
He touches every living soul
with the fate of mortal care.

I look before and behind me;
but I am lost in swirling mists
and my soul is dragged toward darkness
by the chains around my wrists.

But I walk, and my walk is steady,
I am calm with an inner peace,
and I do not rush on this highway
to the point where all troubles cease.

I am cool with the snows of heaven;
I am warm with the sun of light;
I am ascended like immortals
and gifted with their sight.

The vision deep within me
unfolds like a child's game
and when it is all opened
Renewed shall be my name.

As the clumsy caterpillar
when he weaves his soft cocoon,
I will burst out with shining wings
more brilliant than the moon.

As the light through purest crystal
becomes a rainbow freshly born,
I will change for brilliant colors
this darkness I have worn.

All my life I have been falling
like a wind-ripped snowy flake;
and when I hit the bottom,
from these dreams I will awake.

But long is this weary journey
through the thorn and sickening slime
until the day I am replenished
in the fullness of my time.

The Flame of Everlasting Love

There was a mortal, who is now above
In the mid glory: he, when near to die,
Was given communion with the Crucified,—
Such, that the Master's very wounds were stamp'd
Upon his flesh; and, from the agony
Which thrill'd through body and soul in that embrace,
Learn that the flame of the Everlasting Love
Doth burn ere it transform ...

From The Dream of Gerontius, by J. H. Newman. As you may know, Newman's poem was made into an oratorio by Elgar. The Libretto of the work is about half the size of Newman's poem, so a lot had to be cut out; but it still contains the above section.

The Dream of Gerontius is a poem about death and purgatory. Newman has an interesting chararization of purgatorial suffering:

When then—if such thy lot—thou seest thy Judge,
The sight of Him will kindle in thy heart
All tender, gracious, reverential thoughts.
Thou wilt be sick with love, and yearn for Him,
And feel as though thou couldst but pity Him,
That one so sweet should e'er have placed Himself
At disadvantage such, as to be used
So vilely by a being so vile as thee.
There is a pleading in His pensive eyes
Will pierce thee to the quick, and trouble thee.
And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself; for, though
Now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinn'd, {360}
As never thou didst feel; and wilt desire
To slink away, and hide thee from His sight:
And yet wilt have a longing aye to dwell
Within the beauty of His countenance.
And these two pains, so counter and so keen,—
The longing for Him, when thou seest Him not;
The shame of self at thought of seeing Him,—
Will be thy veriest, sharpest purgatory.

Note that Newman doesn't give sin as the direct reason for purgatorial suffering. Rather, it's an indirect cause. The Soul before God is pierced by the vision, and intensely feels (1) a longing for God as the Soul's chief good; and (2) a feeling of unworthiness because of prior sin, since, even though the prior sin was forgiven, it still occurred and was a vile action against Divine Love. Thus the point of purgatory, at least as expressed here, is not that the Soul may work through the guilt of sin, but that the Soul may work through the shame of having sinned; not that that the Soul may be made worthy to stand before God, but that it may have a less fragile sense of its own worth before God; not that the Soul may be forgiven, but that the Soul may bear the weight of having been forgiven; not that it may be loved by God, but that it may bear the intensity of the flame of God's love.

The issue of Purgatory was an important (albeit not primary) issue for Newman; he discussed it prior to his conversion in Tract 79, and Purgatory comes up again in Tract 90, which discusses the rejection of Purgatory in the Thirty-Nine Articles. He criticizes the conception of Purgatory as a painful prison both in Tract 79 and in the Parochial Sermon on the Intermediate State; in the latter he rejects it as contrary to Scripture. However, this is not an absolute rejection of a doctrine of Purgatory, but only of that particular view of it, since the same sermon is an argument that the Saints before the Resurrection are in " state of repose, rest, security; but again a state more like paradise than heaven—that is, a state which comes short of the glory which shall be revealed in us after the Resurrection, a state of waiting, meditation, hope, in which what has been sown on earth may be matured and completed." After his conversion he has an early sermon on Purgatory, the notes of which describe it as a state of "being hungry [i.e., for God], like the feeling of sinking—fainting to the body" -- this we saw above in the first pain.

In any case, I thought of all this because the Diet of Bookworms recently did a set of reviews on Martindale's book about C. S. Lewis's views of the afterlife (HT: Rebecca Writes, who should be listed but isn't yet), and C. S. Lewis has a very Newmanian view of Purgatory. David Wayne at "Jollyblogger" had brought this up as an issue in his review:

Another troublesome aspect of Lewis's view on the hereafter is his view of purgatory. Again, Martindale does a yeoman's job of showing how Lewis viewed Christ's work as sufficient to save us from our sins, so that purgatory is not an addendum to the sufferings of Christ. For Lewis purgatory is not so much a place of punishment as of preparation. Still, he is in error in this view because Christ's atoning sacrifice is all the preparation we need.

Which I think is a fair enough criticism of most doctrines of Purgatory; but which I am not sure actually works against Lewis. I think we have to ask, "preparation for what?" On Newman's view, for instance, the preparation is for the Soul's sake, and is due to the fact that purgatorial pain is automatic and psychological: the Soul longs to be with God, and even knows that it is forgiven, but nonetheless needs to work out the shame of having sinned against so glorious and so merciful a God. Longing to be with God, it nonetheless feels the need to hide from Him, and the pain of purgatory is the working-out of this psychological conflict as we stand before God. Christ's sacrifice is all the preparation needed to come before God as a saint, sinless and free; but psychologically, Newman thinks, many such souls, no longer in sin, will still need to work out the self-shame that comes with having sinned. Having begun union with God through Christ, many souls need a state of discipline to prepare for greater union with God. Lewis is more vague, but, unless I'm forgetting some salient passage, it seems to me that his view is in the same ballpark. So, at the very least, there's considerable potential complexity here. (I haven't read the Martindale book, so perhaps Martindale's critique takes such complexity into account; the above wasn't intended as much of a critique -- as I said, this is just what I thought of on reading the reviews and descriptions of the book.)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Heraldic Communion

You scored as Herald Model. Your model of the church is Herald. The organization of the church is much less important than the urgency of announcing the Good News of salvation to all the world. The Holy Spirit moves the individual to belief in Jesus Christ and to do the will of the Father by sharing this message with others. As with other models, the narrowness of this model could be supplemented by drawing on other models.

Herald Model


Mystical Communion Model


Sacrament model


Institutional Model


Servant Model


What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with

(HT: Flos Carmeli)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Dashed Off

I am something of a compulsive note-writer. Here are some randomly chosen recent ones I've jotted down:

Natural science is the philosophy of the topology of the experimental evidences, i.e., it is the philosophy of the actual experimental evidences insofar as they are evidential.

The ability to predict requires a rather hefty amount of scientific work already in place. (e.g., prediction can't be criterial for science because it presupposes that we already have done quite a bit of scientific work)

What Kant postulates is not freedom, God, or immortality per se, but certain practical functions (e.g., moral governor of the world) whose nature beyond these purely practical roles is left undefined (although Kant occasionally goes so far as to consider what is possible or impossible for any nature fulfilling these functions).

Naturalizing the life of St. Joan of Arc doesn't make her life less astonishing.

Berkeley is a Platonist who realizes that his Platonism is speculative.

Conformity breaks consumerism more efficiently than nonconformity (this is a simple matter of supply and demand). Counterculture drives consumerism: it generates a demand and an entrepreneurship environment. "Counterculture incubates the corporate system" (Joseph Heath).

articulation vs. coacervation No, I don't quite know what I had in mind here, either. The distinction is probably Kantian. I have an interest in articulation as a rational process: What are we doing when we articulate an idea, and identify elements in our ideas we previously had not recognized? The topic has a theological interest, too, in the articulation of the faith that produces creeds and confessions. Articulation identifies the joints of the anatomy (so to speak) of the idea or belief; coacervation would be the heaping of things together.

gracious speech & not insipid as part of a devotion to truth

In American society, the greatness of the United States is a regulative, not a constitutive, idea.

Compassion has an invigorating effect; it stirs to action. It is not suffering-with in the sense that would make it a bit of suffering caught like a flu: it is withsuffering in the sense that one becomes an active response commensurate to the suffering seen in another.

Dionysus does not rebel against the city; Pentheus falls not because Iacchus is at war with him but because he [i.e., Pentheus] refuses to acknowledge him at all. (Iacchus is another name for Dionysus; I'm talking about Euripides' Bacchae here.)

Tastes may differ, but everyone wants something palatable that nourishes.

There is no true love where there is no interior conversion.

Play is the abundant expression of the activity of life, given a formal structure that allows us to delight in it as good.

A state is the realization of an ethical idea; the ideal state is God as King or Lord.

A constitution is not arbitrarily created and upheld; it must be held by the citizens to embody, even if only imperfectly, right and moral authority.

(1) basic satisfaction of physical needs: earnestness in the endeavor
(2) abundance of physical good: physical play
(3) abundance of intellectual good: mental play
-> Aesthetic play is a union of (2) and (3) in varying proportions & under different conditions
->(1) is the adumbration & symbol of play in the proper sense

"Pity is acquired and improved by the cultivation of reason. We have no doubt uneasy sensations from seeing a creature in distress, without pity; for it is not pity unless you wish to relieve them." Johnson (Boswell's London Journal 20 July 1763)

The serpent's temptation is reiterated in every age: eat this fruit and you will be like gods.

Spinoza's Ethics is a treatise on happiness.

Faith is both creative and critical. It is oriented toward truth; its delight is delight from the intimation of truth; its impulse is toward the understanding of truth.

Hope seeks steadfastness.

Whewell's Ideas organize the forms of experimental evidentiality (by way of the axioms). Thus there is causal evidentiality, classificatory evidentiality, etc.

God as the prime symbol of God, the one on which all other symbols depend (the Word as the Image of God).

Malebranche's ideas represent; Berkeley's ideas signify.

Some problems are best solved en passant.

The weak can pity only weakly; pity, compassion -- they are signs of strength. That is why we sometimes find expressions of pity presumptuous: they express a superior position of strength, at least on the issue at hand.

moral play (not the whole of moral life, but an important part)

It is not indolence if you are learning something worthwhile.

Although perhaps that last one was just an excuse to be procrastinating on something. But it sounds good....


* Chris discusses the neuroscience of moral reasoning at "Mixing Memory".

* Something just to get your goat

* Very cool: Nathanael Robinson discusses the social background of the Arthurian romance Tristan (by Gottfried von Strassburg) at "Rhine River" in 'Tristan and the Sites of German Memory' part 1, part 2, and part 3. Highly recommended if, like me, you are fascinated by this sort of thing.

* Jamie points to an interview on Augustinian Thomists vs. Whig Thomists at "Ad Liminia Apostolorum". As you might expect, I fall somewhere between the two groups, agreeing with each of them on different issues.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Name This Man....

What seventeenth-century person fits all these descriptions:

(1) He showed that Descartes's physiology (particularly his views about the heart and the pineal gland) was wrong;

(2) He was Danish;

(3) He was originally a Lutheran, but then became Catholic;

(4) He corresponded with Leibniz and Spinoza;

(5) He has a gland named after him (the lateral nasal gland), which he discovered (it was, however, one of the few glands whose function he did not discover or confirm);

(6) He discovered tear ducts;

(7) He has sometimes been called the father of stratigraphy, of dynamic geology, and of paleontology;

(8) His name is associated with the geological 'law of superposition';

(9) T. H. Huxley noted that he had laid the basic foundations for all paleontology;

(20) His studies of the heart led him to discover sino-atrial and atrio-ventricular dissociation;

(11) He proved that the heart was a muscle;

(12) While he was limited by not having a way to set the brain (usually done now by formaldehyde, if I understand correctly), thus making dissection extremely difficult, he was the first person to lay out in clear terms the best way to study the brain anatomically;

(13) He was the first to discover the mammalian ovarian follicle;

(14) Although it was still somewhat crude, he seems to have been the first to attempt a geometric classification of crystals;

(15) He became tutor and moral preceptor to Ferdinandino, the son of Cosimo III of Florence;

(16) He was appointed by Innocent IX to be apostolic vicar of the norther missions, and was consecrated the titular bishop of Titiopolis;

(17) He was beatified by John Paul II in 1988 (his feast day is his birthday, December 5), and it is entirely possible that he will become the first geologist-saint;

(18) His most famous quotation: Pulchra sunt quae videntur, pulchriora quae sciuntur, longe pulcherrima quae ignorantur. "Beatiful are the things that are seen; more beautiful are the things that are known; by far the most beautiful are the things that are not known."

(19) He accomplished all the scientific work mentioned above before the age of thirty-six.

I happened to bring him up in a digressive comment on a post at Mixing Memory; I've intended to write up something on him for some time now, but haven't had the chance. I probably won't for a while, either; so I thought I'd just put this post out as an appetizer. If you're interested in further information, it's hard to find things, and what there is, isn't always accurate (the reason I've been so slow in getting around to posting on him). But, if I recall correctly, Stephen Jay Gould has an essay on him in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, which would probably be the most easily accessible source of information on him. See also this website, which gives a taste, but barely touches on most of his work (as far as I can see, too, the only scientific colleague who was dismayed by his retirement from scientific work was Leibniz; as Troels Kardel has pointed out, the danger of refuting so many of the major scientific men of one's day is that they don't always take it very well when you show them up, and he seems to have made a lot of enemies that way).

Where They Are Just and Loyal

a Hufflepuff!

You can learn about the Hufflepuffs at Hufflepuff Pride.


Finger-nails, weaklings of seedtime, scratched the soil
till by iron nails the toil was finished in the time of our need,
the sublime circle of the cone's bottom, the seed-springing surrender:
hands of incantation changed to hands of adoration,
the quintuple psalm, the pointing of Lateran:
active and passive in a single mystery,
a single sudden flash of identity,
the heart-breaking manual acts of the Pope.

From Charles Williams, "The Vision of the Empire," in Taliessin Through Logres. This is one of my favorite examples of the complexity of poetic language. To understand the above selection one must understand the general context. The world-empire, which is an earthly reflection of Heaven, is pictured in this poem as an androgynous human body. Thus, the head is at Logres where Arthur sits; students drink the milk of learning from the breasts of intelligo and credo in Gaul; the womb is at Byzantium, where the Emperor is found; the penis is at Jerusalem; the feet are at P'o-lu in Indonesia, beyond which is antipodean Byzantium, where rules the octopus-like headless Emperor, the perversion of all that is good. Tha hands come together at Rome, or, more precisely, at the Lateran hill. The quintuple psalm is the five fingers of the hand. They come together, of course, in prayer. Now, work with the hands is called manual labor; prayer is work with the hands; therefore poetically prayer is manual labor. The old Latin name for priest is Pontifex; 'pontifex' literally means 'bridge-builder'; one of the Pope's titles is Pontifex Maximus; this title is a conversion to Christian use of an old pagan title. Williams has just finished introducing this theme. All roads lead to Rome, where the Pope prays, his hands together, with contrite heart. A contrite heart is a broken heart. Thus the Pope in Lateran engages in heart-breaking manual acts, building the bridges that are the roads to Rome so that the logothetes of the Emperor can move throghout the Empire. The Emperor, of course, is a reflection of God; prayer builds bridges to God through its heart-breaking work. It is thus both passive and active; by simply putting one's hands together in prayer one engages in building the most difficult bridge of them all, the bridge to God.

Wisdom from Coventry Patmore

To call Good Evil is the great sin--the sin of the Puritan and the Philistine. To call Evil Good is relatively venial.

Coventry Patmore, "Aurea Dicta," Section CXXXVI, The Rod, the Root, and the Flower (1895).

Monday, July 25, 2005

Hume Conference Pictures Are Up

If you want to see a picture of me at the Hume Conference, photos by Jane McIntyre have been placed on the web. I am here, with Yumiko Inukai (of the University of Pennsylvania, but soon to be of the University of Massachusetts at Boston). We were sitting across from these two (Steven Jauss of the University of Pennsylvania, and Reverend Jackman). I look a little red due to sun and wine (alcohol in any quantity makes my face flush like crazy). (HT: Blog of the Hume Society, which is brand new.)

Lovely Linkables

* Who knew that Yoda was a Presbyterian? "Matthew in Beirut" salvages a summary of some especially noteworthy scenes in George Lucas's movie, Backstroke of the West, in which (if I understand properly) In Elephant, the young apprentice (strong in the Wish Power) of Ratio Tile, in his journey to become big is first made by the Presbyterian Church and then seduced by the Dark World. So there's at least one reason to be Calvinist: light sabers! (HT: Positive Liberty)

* Saddled by the Spiritual Method at "Ad Limina Apostolorum" discusses spiritual exegesis.

* The Mind is Stranger than Fiction at "Mixing Memory" discusses some fascinating cog sci experiments with weird results.

* Latin in Buffy and Angel at "Laudator Temporis Acti" -- I'm sure you can guess from the title.

* In Defense of Method and More on Method at "21st Century Reformation" discuss the adaptation of some basic ideas of the Franciscan revolution for today's spiritual needs.

* UPDATE: Coturnix examines blog carnivals at "Science and Politics".

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Bayes Craze

Dr. Pretorius at applecidercheesefudge points to this curious bit of news:

Professor Swinburne, in Melbourne to give several seminars and a public lecture at the Australian Catholic University last night, said the mathematics showed a probability of 97 per cent [that Jesus rose from the dead].

And he asks, quite naturally, I think, "So what's going on?"

It appears to be a fairly straightforward case of Bayesianism applied to a claim involving multiple lines of evidence. There are really only a few ways to avoid it: (1) deny Bayesianism; (2) argue that the Resurrection has an insurmountably low prior probability; (3) deny that the multiple lines of evidence are really multiple, i.e., that they are sufficiently independent to be treated as independent lines of evidence; (4) deny the relevance of the lines of evidence. Since I think Bayesianism is clearly false (in general because all views that take the metaphor 'degree of belief' literally are false, and specifically because I don't accept an application of Bayes's theorem unless the means of determining the probabilities are clearly defined), the point is moot for me; but Bayesians make arguments like this all the time. So that's what's going on: the straightforward application of ordinary Bayesianism. Make of it what you will.

Two More Poem Drafts

All These Words I Speak Will Die

All these words I speak will die;
fading into endless night,
winking out, perhaps bursting out,
but inevitably out and gone,
dissipated into space's cold dust.

Every light I light will vanish away,
puffing away like candles over-lasting;
no human word lasts forever.

'Nothing but a puff of breath' --
some said this of the concept,
the universal on which we think;
more than breath, there is light,
but light endlessly fragile,
refracted through delicate crystal,
ephemeral and passing like sparks.

We write only admonitions;
by words we guide, admonish, and gesture.
Gestures by nature pass.
They do not stay and talk,
but, like our sense of time itself, move,
flowing as time itself flows,
being themselves time measured out.

Moon, sun, and stars may remain.
Words fade, to be no more.

The Point

death is a point in the room
nothing more
a point infinitesimal and no greater
yet it is the axis-point of time

around time goes
a wheel of light
around a point dark and still
that moves but never moves itself
changing by merely being

and in a room where death dwells
the room spins around that point
it does not fill the room with brooding presence
for death is a point in the room
no more
it has no proesence
but all the room spins around it
the very axis-point of time

death does not brood
time broods on death

brooding is a circle
the sigh of an invisible point
going around
ten thousand times around the point
the only place that does not move
but moves all
the axis-point of time

but once I chanced to turn my head
and saw it from a different angle

the circle did not move but stayed
brooding in light around a point
a single point of darkness moving away
its rest a different moving
not in a cicle but in an implosion
like great stars dying in their age
that pull all things with them
through them
to some unseen and other side

unseen by light of time
which moves away from our seeing eyes
moving away at a singular point
a point collapsing into another place
punching a hole in the light of time
to something drawing it
until one day it passes
to that unseen and other side

Lije Baley

The robot turned to Julius Enderby, who was watching them with a flaccid face into which a certain vitality was only now beginning to return.

The robot said, "I have been trying, friend Julius, to understand some remarks Elijah made to me earlier. Perhaps I am beginning to, for it suddenly seems to me that the destruction of what should not be, that is, the destruction of what yuo people call evil, is less just and desirable than the conversion of this evil into what you call good."

He hesitated, then, almost as though he were surprised at his own words, he said, "Go, and sin no more!"

Baley, suddenly smiling, took R. Daneel's elbow, and they walked out the door, arm in arm.

[From Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel.]

Preach on, Brother Robot!

I think, by the way, that in many ways Asimov's Elijah Baley deserves to be given a recognized place among memorable literary detectives. A well-written detective will have a problem-solving quirk giving him insight beyond what people ordinarily have. Baley's, of course, is that he is always, for reasons both personal and political, trying to rig the conclusion to get the most desirable result; because he tries actually to prove the wanted conclusion, he often ends up discovering the true conclusion.