Saturday, August 06, 2005

Reading for the Holy Days: Transfiguration Edition

* St. Ephrem about the Transfiguration and The Day of Transfigurations at "From the Anchor Hold"

* A Poem by Pavel for the Anniversary of Hiroshima at "Catholic Literary Renaissance"

* "Lord, it is well that we are here" at "Contemplata aliis Tradere"

* The Feast of the Transfiguration at "St. Ephrem Harp of the Spirit Oriental Orthodox Mission of Olympia, WA"

* Theosis in the New Testament at "This is Life!: Revolutions Around the Crucifrom Axis"

As usual I will update if I find any other interesting posts.

* The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord at "Quenta Narwenion"

* The Transfiguration of Our Lord at "Texanglican"

* The Transfiguration of Our Lord at "Magic Statistics"

* Embracing the Light of Life at "FaithInSociety"

* St. John Chrysostom on the Transfiguration at "Baby Priest"

* The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ and August 6 at "Anglo-Catholic Ruminations"

* Transfiguration at "prayers of the people"


* Tabor and Hiroshima at "Guerilla Orthodoxy"

* The Divine Liturgy at "Devin's Life"

* The Transfiguration at "The Trad Pad"

* August 6 at "Leaving Dover Beach"

* We Need a Savior at "Father Jake Stops the World"

* Distractions at "Dappled Things"

I find it interesting, looking over these, that the opposition of Tabor and Hiroshima, the bombing of Hiroshima being (as the "Leaving Dover Beach" posts neatly puts it) a Satanic counter-icon to the Transfiguration on Tabor. A stark contrast between the transforming Light of God, which brings everything to consummation -- and the transforming light of man, which brings everything to desolation.


You were transfigured upon the mount, O Christ our God, and Your disciples, insofar as they could bear, beheld Your glory. Thus, when they see You crucified, they may understand Your voluntary passion, and proclaim to the world that You are truly the effulgence of the Father.

Today is, in some liturgical calendars, one of the Great Feasts of the Christian Year, the Solemnity of the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his face shone like the sun,
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah."
He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them,
and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son,
with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."
When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear."
And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them,
"Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead."

The Transfiguration looks forward and backward. It is a sign for the fulfillment of the past (Moses and Elijah), and it is a sign for the anticipation of the future (the resurrection glory). Even so may our lives be both a sign indicating the fulfillment of what has previously been done by the heroes of the faith and a sign anticipating the consummation of our joy before the Throne of God and of His Lamb.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths
when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For when he received honor and glory from God the Father,
and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory,
"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,"
we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven,
for we were with him on the holy mountain.
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word,
to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
knowing this first of all,
that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man,
but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The Transfiguration expresses hope. As the Nativity reflects the Resurrection and the Resurrection the Nativity, so Transfiguration reflects the Baptism and the Baptism the Transfiguration. As Aquinas beautifully says (ST 3.45.3 ad 2), "Just as in the Baptism, where the mystery of the first regeneration was proclaimed, the operation of the whole Trinity was made manifest, because the Son Incarnate was there, the Holy Ghost appeared under the form of a dove, and the Father made Himself known in the voice; so also in the transfiguration, which is the mystery of the second regeneration, the whole Trinity appears--the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Ghost in the bright cloud; for just as in baptism He confers innocence, signified by the simplicity of the dove, so in the resurrection will He give His elect the clarity of glory and refreshment from all sorts of evil, which are signified by the bright cloud."

O God, who in the glorious Transfiguration of thine only-begotten Son, didst confirm the mysteries of the Faith by the testimony of the fathers, and in the voice proceeding from the shining cloud didst wondrously foreshew the perfect adoption of all thy sons : mercifully grant, that we, being made fellow-heirs of Christ himself the King of glory, may attain to the partaking of the same his glory in heaven.

The Transfiguration is also about prayer. As George Whitefield says, "Was the Lord Jesus transformed or transfigured, while he was praying? Learn hence, to be much in spiritual prayer. The way to have the soul transformed, changed into, and make like unto God, is frequently to converse with God. We say, a man is as his company. Persons by conversing together, frequently catch each others tempers: and if you have a mind to imbibe the divine temper, pray much. And as Christ's garments became white and glittering, so shall your souls get a little of God's light to shine upon them." Indeed, this is precisely the core of the Orthodox tradition of prayer that's called hesychasm. As Gregory Palamas says, "For, on the day of the Transfiguration, that Body, source of the light of grace, was not yet united with our bodies; it illuminated from outside those who worthily approached it, and sent the illumination into the soul by the intermediary of the physical eyes; but now, since it is mingled with us and exists in us, it illuminates the soul from within." And as we may have in glimpses now, so will we one day have in full expression.

The Angel carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain,
and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem,
descending out of heaven from God;
and the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it:
for the glory of God did lighten it,
and the Lamb is the light thereof.

When Peter saw the miracle, he wished to prolong it. But in doing so, he missed the point: the Transfiguration is but a taste, an anticipation. Greater things are coming. As Augustine said, "Peter did not yet understand this when he wanted to remain with Christ on the mountain. It has been reserved for you, Peter, but for after death. For now, Jesus says: 'Go down to toil on earth, to serve on earth, to be scorned and crucified on earth.'" But carry it in your heart: bring the glory down from the mountain through your service in the world. Christianity itself is in this world Transfiguration; it is not the Coming Glory, but an anticipation, a promise, a glimpse, a taste. May we all be that taste of divine light in the world.

Yet if our gospel be hidden, it is hidden to them that are lost,
in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ,
who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord;
and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.
For God, who commanded, "Let light shine out of darkness,"
has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the face of Jesus Christ.

All glory, Lord, to thee we pay,
Transfigured on the Mount today;
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore. Amen.

[I'm putting together a list of blog reading on the Transfiguration. You can find it here.]

Mr. Truman's Degree

When in 1956 it was proposed that Harry Truman should be given an honorary Oxford degree, Elizabeth Anscombe protested, and the eventual result was a classic of 20th-century just war theory: "Mr. Truman's Degree". Her stance was unequivocal:

For me to choose to kill the innocent as a means to their ends is always murder, and murder is one of the worst of human actions. So the prohibition on deliberately killing prisoners of war or the civilian population is not like the Queensberry Rules: its force does not depend on its promulgation as part of positive law, written down, agreed upon, and adhered to by the parties concerned.

When I say that to choose to kill the innocent as a means to one's ends is murder, I am saying what would generally be accepted as correct. But I shall be asked for my definition of "the innocent". I will give it, but later. Here, it is not necessary; for with Hiroshima and Nagasaki we are not confronted with a borderline case. In the bombing of these cities it was certainly decided to kill the innocent as a means to an end. (p. 64)

For this reason she determinedly opposed Truman's honorary degree. She conceded that the bombs might have saved a large number of lives. But this is doing evil that good may come, and as she says, what that principle really means is: "every fool can be as much of a knave as suits him" (p. 65).

She was overwhelmingly voted down because the pro-degree people stacked the House. According to her, the dons at St. John's were told "The women are up to something in Convocation; we have to go and vote them down." At other colleges, absurd excuses were given, e.g., "It would be wrong to try to punish Mr. Truman." The speech at the ceremony was a tissue of equivocations: We don't approve the action; we think it was a mistake; but Truman didn't make the bombs; and he didn't decide to drop them without consulting anyone; he didn't do anything, in fact, except make the decision; hang it all, you can't hold a man responsible for making decisions! Anscombe's characterization of the speech is quite funny.

The second part of the paper takes an interesting turn; it is an argument that pacifist arguments are to blame for much of the failure to make the right distinctions in this sort of case. As she says,

It is characteristic nowadays to talk with horror of killing rathr than of murder, and hence, since in war you have committed yourself to killing--for example "accepted an evil"--not to mind whom you kill. This seems largely to be the work of the devil; but I also suspect that it is in part an effect of the existence of pacifism, as a doctrine which many people respect though they would not adopt it. This effect would not exist if people had a distinct notion of what makes pacifism a false doctrine. (p. 67)

In other words, because of the sloppy propaganda of pacifists, people come away with exactly the wrong lesson: they become dabblers in realpolitik. Because they themselves would never be pacifists, they resign themselves to becoming realists, and the reason is that pacifists try to break down the distinctions established by just war theory. This is not theoretical; she experienced quite a few cases of exactly this sort and, indeed, it's not difficult to find them today. So from Anscombe's point of view, refuting pacifism is actually not so much a twist as a natural development of Anscombe's protest against the sort of mass murder involved in the bombings and Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The pacifist who abhors any killing in war and the realist who will accept any killing in war are both engaged in a similar project: the pacifist turns every such killing into murder; the realist turns every such murder into something justified by necessity. Neither can admit a distinction of kinds; both the pacifist and the realist wish to show that all killing in war is just the same as murder. The only difference is that the pacifist wants to draw from it the conclusion that you should never kill, while the realist wants to draw from it the conclusion that sometimes you should regard yourself as forced to murder. The pacifist has much better propaganda; but realpolitik reaps more of the benefits of that propaganda than pacifism does. Realpolitik is just pacifism turned hypocritical. Her conclusion is very strong:

The correct answer to the statement that "war is evil" is that it is bad--for example a misfortunte--to be at war. And no doubt if two nations are at war at least one is unjust. But that does not show that it is wrong to fight or that if one does fight one can also commit murder.

Naturally my claim that pacifism is a very harmful doctrine is contingent on its being a false one. If it were a true doctrine, its encouragement of this nonsensical 'hypocrisy of the ideal standard' would not count against it. But given that it is false, I am inclined to think it is also very bad, unusually so for an idea which seems as it were to err on the noble side. (p. 70)

She ends by pointing out that her protest was not a protest of atomic weapons; people aren't murderous because they have atom bombs, they have atom bombs because they are murderous. What she objected to was their offering Truman honors, "because one can share in the guilt of a bad action by praise and flattery, as also by defending it" (p. 70).

G. E. M. Anscombe, "Mr Truman's Degree," The Collected Philosophical Papers of G. E. M. Anscombe, vol. III (Ethics, Religion and Politics). Blackwell (Oxford: 1981) 62-71.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Against Molinism: The Shorter Argument

(A) If God knows counterfactuals of freedom, He knows it in virtue of knowing His nature or His choices.

Generally Agreed Premise 1: He does not know them in virtue of His nature.

Generally Agreed Premise 2: He does not know them in virtue of His choices.

Therefore, God does not know counterfactuals of freedom.

The Molinist denies (A). The anti-Molinist asks how else He would know it. The only answer Molinists have ever given is the supercomprehension answer: God just really, really, really knows free creatures. But this is just handwaving, and does not appear to yield the necessary result. Molinists have therefore given no reason to think there is some third way God knows things.

Further, we have reason to doubt that in the relevant cases there is anything to know.

(B) Something is knowably true only if (a) it happens; or (b) its causes are such that it, and it alone, will happen.

Generally Agreed Premise 3: Nothing corresponding to (a) is found in counterfactuals of freedom, because they are counterfactual.

Premise 4: Nothing corresponding to (b) is found in counterfactuals of freedom, because they are of freedom.

Plantinga, at least, seems to have committed himself to denying Premise 4. He gives no reasons for doing so. Most Molinists, I suspect, would instead deny (B). We are still waiting for a reason to think anything else is knowably true.

The problem, you see, is that Molinists attempt to evade the grounding objection altogether; but one cannot both evade the grounding objection and give any direct reason for thinking Molinism true. A direct reason for thinking Molinism true (i.e., a reason that isn't based on seeing how useful it is if it is assumed to be true) would have to answer the grounding objection. Because Molinists don't do that, they give no direct reasons for the truth of the middle knowledge thesis; the only reasons they give are reasons for regarding it as a useful hypothesis (it solves problems if it is true). But, unless the grounding objection is answered, there are direct reasons for taking a non-Molinist position (e.g., the ones given above). And therefore, without an answer from Molinists to the grounding objection, we have reason to think the non-Molinist position is not merely a useful hypothesis but is actually true, and no reason to think that the Molinist position is anything more than a useful hypothesis. That is, the strongest we can say in favor of the Molinist position is that we have reasons to think that if it is true, it solves problems; the strongest we can say in favor of the anti-Molinist position is that we have reasons to think that it is true.

Why Molinists Don't Know What They're Talking About: Counterfactuals and the Grounding Objection to Scientia Media

The most important objection to the thesis that God has middle knowledge is the grounding objection. The grounding objection basically boils down to this question: Since on the middle knowledge view, there must be true counterfactuals of freedom, what makes these counterfactuals true?

Alvin Plantinga has responded to Robert Adams's formulation of the grounding objection in the following way:

To investigate this question properly, we should have to investigate the implied suggestion that if a proposition is true, then something grounds its truth, or causes it to be true, or makes it true. Is this supposed to hold for all propositions? What sorts of things are to be thought of as grounding a proposition, and what is it for a proposition to be grounded by such a thing? What grounds the truth of such a proposition as this piece of chalk is three inches long? I don't have the space to enter this topic ; let me just record that the answers to these questions aren't at all clear. It seems to me much clearer that some counterfactuals of freedom are at least possibly true than that the truth of propositions must, in general, be grounded in this way. (p. 52)

Plantinga always does this; one might call it Argument by Way of Wide-Eyed Innocence: if he doesn't want to accept a claim C, he doesn't argue against it, but just says that C isn't clear, and that some other claim with which C is supposed to conflict is much clearer to him than C is. We could also call it Passive-Aggressive Refutation. It can sometimes be fun, e.g., when he does it against people who have a long history of doing the same thing (atheists, for instance). But it is, in the end, not constructive. And if it is not taken to be merely the beginning of an argument rather than a real refutation, it is mere obscurantism. There is, in fact, no mystery here. When we say a given statement is true or false, 'true' or 'false' is functioning as what would have once been called an extrinsic denomination. Truth and falsity are not in the statement as such; they are applied to the statement in virtue of something else (I am setting aside a few cases like self-referential statements). What makes a statement true is the actual state of affairs in virtue of which the statement is true (in other words, contrary to Plantinga there is no mystery here: what is meant is just what is said). What makes 'This is a three-inch piece of chalk true' is this chalk's actually being three inches. To say otherwise is to deny that we can say a statement is true.

The grounding objection (in effect) emphasizes the word 'actual'. It's easy enough to see what the actual state of affairs making 'This is a three-inch piece of chalk' true. It gets a little more complicated in other cases. Consider:

(A) The sun will rise tomorrow.

What makes this true (assuming and hoping that it is, and assuming that it is causally necessary) is that there is some actual set of causes which are such that the sun will rise tomorrow. In other words, something actually exists in virtue of which we can legitimately say that (A) is determinately true. Likewise, since the situation described in (A) will (we are presuming) actually happen, that situation also makes (A) true. (The fact that (A) is made true both by its causes and by the situation to which it refers has been known for centuries; as the medievals might have said, it is possible to know something to be true in its causes or in itself.)1

When free choice enters into the picture, however, things get a bit more narrow. For instance (assuming the following to be still in the future, and assuming that Peter freely does it):

(B) Peter will deny Jesus.

This is made true by Peter denying Jesus in the future. In other words, it can be true in itself. Can it be true in its causes? Not if we take free choice seriously. Free choice doesn't determine the effect to one, so the cause in this case (Peter, as a free agent) only makes true a set of statements about what could happen -- namely, statements indicating the things that Peter could choose. Probabilities can be added (as Adams tends to do). Thus

(C) Peter will probably deny Jesus

can also be true, given the cause involved. (Although (C) is, interestingly, not made true in itself by Peter's denying Jesus in the future, but by Peter's being such now that he will probably deny Jesus. But this, while interesting, doesn't have any bearing on the point, since the cause is still the same.)

Now we come to counterfactuals of freedom. And here we must be careful in a way that people sometimes are not. Some counterfactuals of freedom can clearly be known in their causes. For instance,

(D) If God makes Peter to persevere, Peter will not deny Jesus.

The freedom here is in the antecedent. The problem doesn't arise in such cases, because then we are only considering the causal powers of the free agent, and those causal powers ground the truth of the statement. In the case of (D), it's God's ability to make Peter persevere; (D) is really a statement about what God can do. Many counterfactuals about free agents are of this sort. They are not the problem. For one thing, they aren't a matter for middle knowledge; they are a matter for natural knowledge. For another, what grounds their truth is fairly clear.

The problem tends to arise when the statement is counterfactual and the freedom is in the consequent. For instance:

(E) If Curley had been offered a bribe of $35,000, he would have freely accepted it.

The consequent can't be known to be true in virtue of its actually happening, because it doesn't. Nor can it be known in its causes; if Curley had been offered a bribe of $35,000, he might not have freely accepted it, and this problematizes the truth of (E). Nothing actually exists or occurs in virtue of which it could be known by anyone that Curley would have freely accepted it; Curley never, in fact, was faced with such a choice, and as a free agent, there was always a possibility of his going either way. Compatibilists could deny this, but Molinists are libertarians about free will. That is, in fact, a big reason for accepting middle knowledge: if sense can be made of it, it provides a way to have both libertarian freedom and divine sovereignty. That, anyway, is the promise.

According to Plantinga, "what grounds the truth of the counterfactual, we may say, is jus that in fact Curley is such that if he had been offered a $35,000 bribe, he would have freely taken it" (p. 53). But notice what Plantinga is effectively saying here: he is saying that what makes the statement true is the cause, Curley as a free agent. But given that we are assuming libertarian free will, there is nothing actually in the cause that makes the statement true. Ex hypothesi, Curley is not such that there is one determinate thing that would have happened; he is only such that that thing could have happened. At most, he is such that that thing would almost certainly have happened -- but 'almost certainly' is not enough to get middle knowledge off the ground. Plantinga considers another sort of case:

(F) If Adam and Eve had not sinned, God would not have punished them.

Says Plantinga, it's surely possible that it's true. In virtue of what is it possible that it's true? In other words, why would we say that it's possible that it's true? Well, because what we know of God is such that it would be impossible for him to punish an innocent: (F) falls under natural knowledge, not middle knowledge. It is more like (D) than (E).

A more interesting case is given by Freddoso:

(G) Even if Adam and Eve had not sinned, God would have become incarnate.

As Freddoso notes, a lot theologically hangs on whether this is true or not, and historically it has been an important theological debate. But we have to ask the same question. And when we look at the debate, we find that (for Scotus, for instance), (G) is actually just a way of talking about the ordering of God's purposes. So (G)'s truth depends on the suppositions (1) that Scotus is right about the ordering of God's purposes in becoming incarnate; and (2) that if Adam and Eve had not sinned, God would have kept the same ordering of purposes. Let's just grant (1) to simplify the discussion. (2) yet again makes (G) more like (D) than like (E); (G) is simply about the actually nature of the cause given supposition (2).

This might look suspicious, but it's actually very common. You don't even need to go to counterfactuals of freedom to find similar instances. Consider the following:

(H) If we have peanut butter, we can make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

(H) is straightforwardly true if we grant background information, e.g., that we have jelly, that we have bread, that we have the physical ability to make sandwiches, etc. Without these we could have all the peanut butter we could want, and never could we make a single peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Likewise with (G): if (2) is supposed to be false, whether God would become incarnate would depend on whatever reasons for acting a certain way that God would have had instead. There are only two ways anyone, even God, could know what reasons for acting a certain way God would have had instead: (1) if they are somehow necessary, in which case God would know them by natural knowledge; (2) if God resolved that if (2) weren't true He would have those reasons, in which case God would know them by free knowledge. Appeal to middle knowledge fails to do justice to divine free agency; God is so free that there is no determinate truth about what other reasons He would have had, because He could have had any number of reasons for action. There is no one thing; and therefore a statement saying God would have done one thing can only be true on suppositions that narrow down the field of God's freedom to one thing.

So why would one be interested in (G)? The answer is obvious, because one only has to look at why the scholastics were interested in (G) in the first place: the background suppositions are such that (G) is really about why God actually became incarnate; Scotus's discussion would not be the least bit less interesting if we suppose that (G) were literally false, because the discussion is not about (G). (G) is just one way to talk about God's actual doings. And again, we don't have to look far to see that many, many counterfactuals function in this way: it is irrelevant whether we regard them as actually true. What is relevant is that, given the right background suppositions, counterfactuals are often indirect ways of talking about the actual abilities of agents. It may be put counterfactually as a convenient verbal shorthand, but it means something about the actual state of affairs. The failure to recognize this as a possibility undergirds many Molinist arguments.2

Take that, Molinists.


Page numbers are from

Hasker, Basinger, and Dekker, eds. Middle Knowledge: Theory and Application Peter Lang (New York, 2000).

1 The fact that we have to consider both the thing in itself and the thing in its causes in 'futuribles' is why the parallel Freddoso suggests between antirealists about the future and antirealists about certain counterfactuals of freedom (pp. 29-33) doesn't work: it assumes that nothing but the causes make a statement true. This need not be assumed, and, in fact, most people don't assume it. Indeed, no one who accepts divine knowledge of vision (including traditional Molinists!) assume it. So anti-realism about the future is simply a red herring.

2 Richard Gaskin has a bizarre argument in which he claims that if counterfactuals of freedom are not true, God could not know what anyone would do in a given possible world (p. 144). But this is utterly absurd; a given possible world is simply one world-history that could happen, not necessarily what would happen. So talking about what a person 'would do in a possible world' is just a very roundabout way of saying what a person could do. And this is known not by middle knowledge but by natural knowledge. Such sophistry does explain why Molinists have always been so addicted to talking about 'orders of nature', 'possible worlds', and the like. Gaskin's argument also overlooks the fact that most non-Molinists do not have a Molinist conception of a possible world as something that in some way actually exists for God to review; non-Molinists collapse possible worlds to natural knowledge. Molinists themselves actually have to allow that possible worlds are in some way known by natural knowledge, since that's a necessary condition of God's knowing His power; they want to go further and say that there is an additional sort of knowledge of possible worlds beyond that. No one else agrees.

Go Forth and Read

Carnivalesque Button The Ancient/Medieval edition of Carnivalesque is up at The Cranky Professor. A great start for the Ancient/Medieval half of the Carnival.

On a different issue, there's an excellent post by PZ Myers on the Argument from Miniscule Fraction of Authority, wherein he says many salutary things.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Someone had to say it....

Reading Stephen Buckle's "Hume's Biography and Hume's Philosophy" in the March 1999 Australasian Journal of Philosophy, I see that Buckle refers to Ernest Mossner's biography of Hume (which is basically the standard biographical work) as "somewhat gushy" (p. 12). Finally, someone has said it; for, with all due respect for Brother Mossner's Hagiography of Saint David, it is somewhat gushy.

Merleau-Ponty on Malebranche's Cogito

In 1947-1948 Maurice Merleau-Ponty lectured on Malebranche, Biran, and Bergson on mind-body union. Several of his students kept their notes from those lectures. They were collated by Andrew Bjelland Jr. and Patrick Burke, and translated into English by Paul Milan as The Incarnate Subject: Malebranche, Biran, and Bergson on the Union of Body and Soul. The lectures, even in the limited form we have them, are quite interesting. For instance, Merleau-Ponty argues that all the major themes examined by phenomenology with regard to mind-body union were already discussed, at least to some degree, by Malebranche. This is a fascinating argument, and (allowing for my limited acquaintance with the phenomenology of mind-body union) I think quite right. Even setting aside this, Merleau-Ponty recognizes a number of issues (particularly related to Malebranche's use of theology) that are too often neglected. I highly recommend them. (I'm not sufficiently familiar with Merleau-Ponty's own work, but according to the Introduction, Merleau-Ponty criticizes Malebranche in The Visible and the Invisible, arguing that Malebranche gives a profound phenomenological analysis of the human condition without God but muddles it up with a theological rationalism (p. 19).) Here is a passage (recall that they are based on the collation of several students' notes, and were not written up by Merleau-Ponty himself) on the Malebranchist Cogito:

[T]here is a tripartite division in the Cogito: (i) consciousness of myself: I am in touch with myself obscurely; (ii) knowledge of ideas considered by me; (iii) knowledge of God, without ideas. God is not, strictly speaking, proved except by a proof of simple sight of him. The Malebranchist Cogito includes, simultaneously, the three experiences of myself, of ideas, and of God. The complete Cogito is the vision in God. (p. 39)

As an interpretation of Malebranche, I think this is quite right, and the last sentence is insightful in an important way. He goes on to say somewhat later:

There is, in Malebranche, the deliberate intention to introduce the unreflected into philosophy. The very fact that Descartes's Cogito was discovered on a certain date, that it was late in coming, that it needs to be taught, proves that the reflecting self cannot be considered as myself. Moreover, I consider my body as a part of myself: if I had an idea of the soul, this would not be so, and I would not have to offer this body as a victim to God. "If you were to see clearly what you are," says the Word [], ""you could no longer be linked so closely with your body. You would not longer look upon it as a part of yourself." This is tantamount to saying that our bodies are taken legitimately for us.

Malebranche deals with our natural attitude. I am naturally oriented toward the world, ignorant of myself. I know only by experience that I can think about the past; my memory is not known to me through the direct grasp of an operation. My reference to the past is not my doing. I receive it: certain memories are given to me. I am not then a mind which dominates and unfolds time, but a mind possessing certain powers, the nature of which it does nto understand. I never know what I am worth, if I am just or unjust. Hence ther eis an aspect by which I am truly given to myself, and not a principle of myself. There is no clarity for me which does not imply obscurity, and this obscurity is myself. If my soul were known by the idea of it, I would need to have a second soul to have the idea of the first. It is essential for a consciousness to be obscure to itself if it is to be faced with an illuminating idea. (pp. 40-41)

I'm not quite sure about the last two sentences, but, that aside, this is a very insightful and, I think, largely correct interpretation of Malebranche on self-knowledge. I hope that eventually my lectures get to the point where this much insight can shine even through notes taken by the students.

[Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Incarnate Subject: Malebranche, Maine de Biran, and Bergson on the Union of Body and Soul. Bjelland and Burke, eds. Milan, tr. Humanity Books (Amherst, NY: 2001).]

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Potentially of Interest

* Right-wing bloggers' Least Favorite People on the Right.

* Stuttaford and Murray at "The Corner" point out some flaws in Niall Ferguson's recent thinking about religion in England.

* PZ Myers at "Pharyngula" started collecting links to blog posts criticizing Bush's recent comments on intelligent design in the classrooms, and had to stop because of the flood of responses. You can browse the links (160!) here. As Myers notes in a later post:
These entries come from all over the political spectrum, left and right, and even includes one Intelligent Design creationism blog that disapproves of Bush's "premature" (yeah, that's right, keep waiting and waiting…) announcement. Most of them are not generally about science, but again come from all over the spectrum of people's interests: blogs about politics, humor, social concerns, feminism, economics, literature, or just plain writing about life. They all have one thing in common: they agree that George W. Bush's attempts to stuff bad theology into our children's educations is a stupid idea.

Some of the posts are just protestations, but a lot of them are very interesting and valuable reading as well. I haven't gone through them all (and probably never will have the time), but I recommend (in no particular order) Mixing Memory, Telic Thoughts (which I think is the ID blog Myers mentions), Respectful Insolence, Universal Acid, Evolving Thoughts, Three Toed Sloth. Another interesting protest of Bush's statements that doesn't seem to be on the list: Ravishing Light.

* As the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima approaches, a good post at "Cliopatria" reminds us of the bombing of Nagasaki.

Rough Notes on Scientia Media

I'm putting together an information sheet on Molinism and middle knowledge, so I thought I'd post my notes on it, and get comments, if any are available. I haven't had a chance yet to check the Latin of any of the quotations. I eventually want to add something about Bañez. NB: I will be updating this occasionally.

The Two-Knowledge View

Aquinas, ST 1.14.9:

Whatever therefore can be made, or thought, or said by the creature, as also whatever He Himself can do, all are known to God, although they are not actual. And in so far it can be said that He has knowledge even of things that are not. Now a certain difference is to be noted in the consideration of those things that are not actual. For though some of them may not be in act now, still they were, or they will be; and God is said to know all these with the knowledge of vision: for since God's act of understanding, which is His being, is measured by eternity; and since eternity is without succession, comprehending all time, the present glance of God extends over all time, and to all things which exist in any time, as to objects present to Him. But there are other things in God's power, or the creature's, which nevertheless are not, nor will be, nor were; and as regards these He is said to have knowledge, not of vision, but of simple intelligence. This is so called because the things we see around us have distinct being outside the seer.

(Quaecumque igitur possunt per creaturam fieri vel cogitari vel dici, et etiam quaecumque ipse facere potest, omnia cognoscit Deus, etiam si actu non sint. Et pro tanto dici potest quod habet etiam non entium scientiam. Sed horum quae actu non sunt, est attendenda quaedam diversitas. Quaedam enim, licet non sint nunc in actu, tamen vel fuerunt vel erunt, et omnia ista dicitur Deus scire scientia visionis. Quia, cum intelligere Dei, quod est eius esse, aeternitate mensuretur, quae sine successione existens totum tempus comprehendit, praesens intuitus Dei fertur in totum tempus, et in omnia quae sunt in quocumque tempore, sicut in subiecta sibi praesentialiter. Quaedam vero sunt, quae sunt in potentia Dei vel creaturae, quae tamen nec sunt nec erunt neque fuerunt. Et respectu horum non dicitur habere scientiam visionis, sed simplicis intelligentiae. Quod ideo dicitur, quia ea quae videntur apud nos, habent esse distinctum extra videntem.) [L]

Aquinas, SCG 1.66:

Things that neither are, nor shall be, nor have been, are known by God as possible to His power: hence He does not know them as being anywise in themselves, but only as being within the compass of divine power. These sort of things are said by some to be known by God with the 'knowledge of simple understanding'. But as for those things that are present, past, or future to us, God knows them as they are within the compass of His power; and as they are within the compass of their own several created causes; and as they are in themselves; and the knowledge of such things is called the 'knowledge of vision'.

(Ea enim quae non sunt nec erunt nec fuerunt, a Deo sciuntur quasi eius virtuti possibilia. Unde non cognoscit ea ut existentia aliqualiter in seipsis, sed ut existentia solum in potentia divina. Quae quidem a quibusdam dicuntur a Deo cognosci secundum notitiam simplicis intelligentiae. Ea vero quae sunt praesentia, praeterita vel futura nobis, cognoscit Deus secundum quod sunt in sua potentia, et in propriis causis, et in seipsis. Et horum cognitio dicitur notitia visionis.) [L]

God has two kinds of knowledge:

(1) Knowledge by Simple Intelligence

(2) Knowledge of Vision: "according to which He is said to know those things which are in act in some period of time" (ST 1.14.15 ad 2).

The Three-Knowledge View (Molinism)

Molina, Concordia IV qXIV a13 d52:

Unless we want to wander about precariously in reconciling our freedom of choice and the contingency of things with divine foreknowledge it is necessary for us to distinguish three types of knowledge of God. One type is purely natural knowledge, and accordingly could not have been any different in God. Through this type of knowledge He knew all the thigns to which the divine power extended either immediately or by the mediation of secodnary causes....The second type is purely free knowledge, by which, after the free act of His will, God knew absolutely and determinately, without any condition or hypothesis, which ones from among all the contingent states of affaris were in fact going to obtain and, likewise, which onese were not going to obtain. Finally, the third type is middle knowledge, by which, in virtue of the most profound and inscrutable comprehension of each faculty of free choice, He saw in His own essence what eac such faculty would do with its innate freedom, were it to be placed in this or in that or, in deed, in infinitely many orders of things--even though it would really be able, if it so willed, to do the opposite....

(Triplicem scientiam oportet distinguamus in Deo, nisi periculose in concilianda libertate arbitrii nostri et contingentia rerum cum divina praescientia hallucianri velimus. Unam mere naturalem, quae proinde nulla ratione potuit esse aliter in Deo, per quam omnia ea cognovit ad quae divina potentia sive immediate sive interventu causarum secundarum sese extendit....Aliam mere liberam, qua Deus post liberum actum suae voluntatis absque hypothesi et conditione aliqua cognovit absolute et determinate ex complexionibus omnibus contingentibus, quaenam re ipsa essent futurae, quae non item. Tertiam denique mediam scientiam, qua ex altissima et inscrutabili comprehensione cujusque liberi arbitrii in sua essentia intuitus est, quid pro sua innata libertate, si in hoc, vel illo, vel etiam infinitis rerum ordinibus collocaretur, acturum esset, cum tamen posset, si vellet, facere re reipsa oppositum....)

The three kinds of knowledge are (X in each example is a future contingent):

(1) Natural Knowledge (God has this in virtue of His nature): God knows X as possible. = Knowledge by Simple Intelligence

(2) Free Knowledge (God has this in virtue of His choices): God knows X as it actually will be (simply, in itself). = Knowledge of Vision.

(3) Middle Knowledge (God has this in virtue of His pre-choice deliberation): God knows X as it will be (on supposition of God's choosing this or that order of things). Not natural (because it involves contingents); not free (because it is logically prior to willing).

Molina, Concordia IV qXIV a13 d52:

[T]he knowledge through which God, before he decides to create a being endowed with free choice, foresees what that being would do on the hypothesis that it should be placed in a particular order of things--this knowledge depends on the fact that the being would in its freedom do this or that, and not the other way around. On the other hand, the knowledgeby which God knows absolutely, without any hypothesis, what is in fact going to happen because of created free choice is always free knowledge in God, and such knowledge depends on the free determination of His will, a determination by which He decides to create such-and-such a faculty of free choice in such-and-such an order of things.

Inde vero creare, praevidet quid sit factura, ex hypothesi quod in eo rerum ordine collocetur, pendere ex eo quod ipsa pro sua libertate hoc vel illud sit factura et non e contrario. Scientia vero qua Deus absque ulla hypothesi absolute scitquid per liberum arbitrium creatum sit reipsa futurum semper est in Deo libera, pendetque a determinatione libera suae voluntatis, qua tale liberum arbitrium in tali vel tali ordine rerum creare statuit.

The standard objection to Molinism (the grounding objection): How does God know what a free creature would do under a given set of circumstances that would distinguish it from knowledge of what the free creature could do and from knowledge of what the free creature actually does? (A closely related question: Are there true counterfactuals of freedom?)

Additional resources


MOLINA, LUIS DE by Alfred Freddoso

MOLINISM by Alfred Freddoso

THE DECREES OF GOD by Francis Turretin (a seventeenth-century Calvinist)

UPDATE (August 5): Expanded first Molina quote; replaced second Molina quote; added Latin for Aquinas and Molina. The English quotations for Molina are from:

Luis de Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia, Alfred Freddoso, tr. Cornell University Press 1988.

The Manifest Image of Chemistry (LFPA)

Citation: J. van Brakel, "Chemistry as the Science of the Transformation of Substances," Synthese (1997) 111:253-282.

Summary: In this article, van Brakel develops an argument against the reduction of chemistry and thermodynamics to microphysics; he does this by focusing on the macroscopic level of substances and their transformations and providing "some preliminaries for assessing whether such macroscopic notions as chemical substance, equilibrium, and temperature can be reduced to microphysics, here defined to include statistical physics, atomic physics, particle physics, and quantum mechanics" (254). This argument is part of a larger argument about whether (in Sellars's terms) the scientific image can replace the manifest image; but the article stays within somewhta narrower bounds than this.

Historical Background. Van Brakel begins by suggesting that the common view that chemical thought about chemical compounds (pure substances) derives in a more-or-less straight line from ancient atomism via Boyle is false. Rather, he suggests, the real source of the notion of pure substance derives from the work of early modern metallurgists and apothecaries. Corpuscularianism is actually inconsistent with chemical understandings of element and compound; it "only covers compounds of corpuscles, without taking into account the relation of the notion of chemical compound to chemical synthesis and analysis, the combination and separation of substances, and concepts like conservation, reversibility, and homgeneity" (255). If this is true, physical and chemical atomism need to be regarded as distinct; the latter is due to Dalton, not Boyle. The reason why the two are so often simply identified is very likely that people assume that that the ultimate ontology is what physics says it is; but, as van Brakel points out, the issue is more complex -- even if physically speaking there are no chemical atoms, it wouldn't follow that chemistry is non-referential.

Ordinary and Scientific Water. Consider Hare's argument that ordinary liquid water does not supervene on H2O because (1) 'water' and 'H2O' are words with different senses; and (2) the notion of natural kind or substance that underlies such alleged supervenience is a recent discovery. Hare's support for (1) is that if people were thirsty and asked for water, they wouldn't be pleased if you directed a jet of steam at them; but van Brakel points out that they wouldn't be pleased if you directed a stream of liquid water at 98 degrees Celsius, or a stream of sea-water. Van Brakel then goes on to point out that the commonsense notion of water, and the notion of water as a pure substance, have a very long history (Aristotle argues for a water cycle, for instance, which requires that water be a substance capable of undergoing phase transformation).

Although it is correct that not all uses of "water" imply that it is H2O, all uses of "water" do imply that it is a natural kind of the pure substance type. Water in all its modifications (liquid, solid, vapour) is the same substance. This supports the point that knowledge about "materials and their transformations" is more robust than the local microphysical picture of the moment. (258)

So when we say that something is water we are saying something about its essence, although this essence needn't be a microscopic structure. Concepts like water and substance are better entrenched than concepts like atom and molecule. The manifest image is prior to the scientific image; scientific descriptions like H2O refer to what is ordinarily described as water, not the other way around.

Reduction of Physico-Chemical Thermodynamics to Microphysics? An interesting question to ask is whether temperature is reducible. The macroscopic concept of temperature presupposes the notion of equilibrium, which operationally presupposes no significant changes in macroscopic features. What happens when one goes microscopic, then? At that level there is no such thing as equilibrium, so we can't define temperature in terms of the 'zeroth law of thermodynamics'. Even strong reductionists like Churchland are occasionally puzzled about how temperature would reduce. The first temptation would be simply to identify temperature with mean kinetic molecular energy, but there are any number of problems with that: such an interpretation works out well for ideal gases, but not for solids, plasmas, or a vacuum; quantum mechanics implies that for a dengse gase at low temperature kinetic energy is related not only to temperature but to density as well, and it is not even related to temperature by simple proportionality; and even if temperature could be reduced, it doesn't follow that concepts like boiling point or other concepts related to phase transformation could be. There are no molecular definitions of phases.

The ultimate basis for this sort of problem appears to be that there is at present no viable way to reduce the immensely important concept of equilibrium, in part because of the time asymmetry. Entropy in thermodynamics is both additive and non-decreasing; Boltzmann's entropy is only additive; Gibbs's entropy is only non-decreasing. In a hundred years no reduction of it has been possible. Nor is this all:

As a last example consider surfaces. For surfaces the macroscopic, thermodynamic surfaces ar emuch more real than surfaces at the sub-macroscopic level. IF we don't look at the molecular/atomic level, we can ascribe energy to a surface and have forces work along surfaces and explain all kinds of things: for example, why drops from a tap have a certain size....On the other hand, at the molecular level it's not at all clear what the surface is. (262)

This same general sort of problem, that the reduction is impossible without smuggling in the macrophysical concepts, appears elsewhere: not only in temperature, but in colour and schizophrenia, as well as to molecular chemistry, to which van Brakel now turns.

Reduction of Chemistry to Physics via Quantum Chemistry? The notion of structure has different meanings at different levels of description; while quantum mechanical structurs have been used to make excellent predictions of chemical properties, this isn't sufficient to prove that complete reduction is possible in principle, because (again) the higher-level properties get smuggled into the alleged reducing theory. Thus, for instance, quantum chemistry is to a great measure based on the Born-Oppenheimer approximation, which itself is grounded in the classical chemical view, "the picture of a semi-rigid framework of atoms connected by bonds that rotate and translate in ordinary space as time elapses" (265). Likewise, you cannot get the concept of electronic configurations from quantum mechanics; you only get them from spectral observations. And so forth. As van Brakel points out, "numerical methods are governed by what experimental data have to be predicted; or, if new predictions are made, the choice of parameters is governed by extrapolations made from calculations performed on other molecules or general experience derived from experimental work on chemical compounds and reaction mechanisms" (266). Quantum chemistry assumes the existence of a molecule, and adapts quantum mechanics to that; it does not pull the molecule out of quantum mechanics, and, in particular, (as is commonly noted in philosophy of chemistry) there is no clear way you can get chemical structure (molecular shape) out of quantum structure. The view that chemistry is simply reducible to physics is based on the assumption that science is heading toward microreductionism; it is not based on any actual success in the reduction.

Essences? It is common to assume that 'the concept/laws of water can be reduced to the concept/laws of H2O' is equivalent to saying 'the essence of water is H2O'. However, this is not so clear. One could say that liquid water and water vapor are the same substance because they are both H2O, but (as already pointed out) we could simply say that they are the same substance because if water is evaporated and then condensed again, the water comes back. In other words, one can identify sameness of substance without appeal to microphysical structure, just as one can identify butterflies and caterpillars as different forms of the same species without appealing to genetics. The common response to this is to say that the microphysical structure doesn't merely identify sameness of substance, but explains it. The problem is that it isn't clear that it can actually do so. Take a strong case. What would it mean to say that two substances are molecularly identical? Do we include the velocities and relative positions of molecules? If so, there are no molecularly identical substances; velocities and relative positions of molecules are in a state of continual change. Do we leave them out? Then we have to ignore issues related to things like temperature.

Further, it is simply false to say that the essence of water is H2O. In liquid water there are H3O+ and OH- ions, which are absent from water vapor; in water vapor there are H4O2 and other H2O polymers that are not always found in liquid water. The microstructure of water actually depends on the context. And water is a relatively simple case. Many chemical properties cannot be understood in terms of molecules (acidity, conductivity, etc.); large molecules are only approximately the same; etc. The upshot of it is, we can't define chemical natures in terms of constitutive structures unless we assume that the constituting atoms have or are essences; and there are immense problems with determining what an atom-essence would be. The numerical part of an atomic number is derived from the number of protons/electrons; but it is not identical to this (Krypton-36 is not identical to thirty-six hydrogen atoms). The electrons, etc., must be configured and related to each other in a certain way, and what determines the significant relations is our having already identified the substance.

(In a footnote, van Brakel makes an important distinction between unification and reduction. One can hold that chemistry and physics are unified without holding that one is reduced to the other.)

Evaluation: Van Brakel makes a number of points (not all of which I have done complete justice to), some of which I'm not particularly competent to evaluate. But there are a number of things that are dead-on. The point about structures is important, as is the distinction betwen unification and reduction. If someone, for instance, were to parse reductionism about a system in terms of parts and all their relations, this would be a double equivocation, since it would equivocate about the different sorts of relations parts can have at different levels, and it would equivocate about the reduction itself: you may have a unification, but you don't have a reduction unless the higher-order relations reduce to lower-order relations. And the point about H2O not being the essence of water is also important (since the issue is not just water but any substance). When I decided I was going to do another LAFP, I chose this article by van Brakel because it shows something that I've held for a long time, namely, that there's great work being done in the philosophy of chemistry that shouldn't be ignored by those interested in philosophy of science (which tends to revolve around the two poles of physics and biology, dismissing chemistry completely).

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Toronto Plane Fire

The CBC has good coverage of what happened today:

No fatalities in Toronto plane fire

See also the Wikipedia page on it (this strikes me as a very useful way to use a Wiki).

Burn the Land and Boil the Sea...

You scored as Simon, the Doctor.

Simon, the Doctor


Inara, the "Companion"


Shepherd Book


First Mate Zoe


Kaylee, the Mechanic


Captain Malcolm Reynolds


Jayne Cobb, resident bad-ass




Wash, the Pilot


created with

Am I going to watch Serenity when it comes out in September? Wild horses couldn't keep me away!

A Crude Attempt at Ethical Classification

Chris's series (here and here so far) on moral psychology have led me to think through a bit more carefully my view of the philosophical lay of the land when it comes to ethics. Here's my first, rough attempt. Ethically the Great Divide is between Intuitionism and Utilitarianism, and this has been more or less true since the 18th-century; the history of ethics has been, to a very considerable degree, a battle between these two positions. The battle really became heated in the nineteenth century, when the two great representatives were Whewell (Intuitionist) and Mill (Utilitarian). That was a time of giants, when Whewell and Mill between them virtually invented the entire fields of history and philosophy of science as a side issue in the larger ethical war. (The reason is that the Victorians tended to think of moral philosophy on the model of the natural sciences, and therefore it became important for each side to show that their side met the requirements for a progressive scientific discipline and that the other side did not.) It's interesting that cognitive scientists, as portrayed in Chris's posts (and it fits with what I've read elsewhere) tend to be intuitionist in their approach; the the particular divide Chris deals with seems largely to be the traditional divide within intuitionism, between rational intuitionists (like Kant or Whewell) and moral sense intuitionists (like Hume or Darwin). (I say 'largely' because, judging from Chris's comments in the first post, it looks like the ground at this point is as messy in cognitive science as it is in traditional moral philosophy.) I suspect that the influence of Kant would be the reason for it. Intuitionism perhaps also lends itself much more easily to experimental study than other views. It's also perhaps interesting that, overwhelmingly, the dominant approach in ethics today is not intuitionist but utilitarian. I'm not sure the reasons for this. Utilitarianism does lend itself much more easily to the method of semantic analysis + counterexamples, which is popular in analytic philosophy, and I suspect that's the primary reason. I've also found that people in philosophy occasionally have the odd view that utilitarianism is somehow more naturalistic than intuitionism; I'm not sure how widespread this view is, but given how much philosophical work these days is devoted to contributing to the naturalist project, if it is widespread it would also be a likely explanation.

As I said, this is just a rough first attempt, to get the general lay of the land.

(1) Moral Irrealism

1a: Noncognitivism
1a1: Emotivism
1a2: Prescriptivism

1b: Error Theory (Cognitivist Irrealism)
1b1: Intuitionist Error Theory
1b2: Utilitarian Error Theory

(2) Moral Realism

2a: Intuitionism (many different kinds)*
2a1: Rational Intuitionism
2a2: Moral Sense Intuitionism (sometimes simply called 'Intuitionism')

2b: Utilitarianism (many different kinds)

* And I do mean many different kinds. I've put down the two most convenient divisions, but they blur together in many theories (e.g., Conscience Intuitionism like Butler's, or Common Sense Intuitionism like Reid's or Beattie's), depending on how sense-like one's view of 'rational intuition' is.

UPDATE: An anonymous commentator suggests that I'm wrong about utilitarianism being the dominant approach today; and that well may be -- my statement was just based on an impression, and as such could quite easily be wrong. The commentator also suggests that the classification is problematic; but the reasons given are considerably more obscure, and some of them seem based on not taking the Whewell-Mill example seriously, and on not paying attention to the meaning that it sets up for the label 'intuitionism' (in particular, the comment doesn't seem to recognize what intuitionism meant in the time period from which I explicitly took the term). It's just false, for instance, to say that intuitionism in this sense is compatible with utilitarianism, and equally false to suggest that any appeal to intuitions makes one an intuitionist in this sense. For those who need more than I've given above to clarify what I mean by 'intuitionism' and 'utilitarianism', a good place to start is John Stuart Mill's "Whewell on Moral Philosophy"; it's partisan, but it's clear.

Schlegel on Irony

True irony--for there also is a false one--is the irony of love. It arises out of the feeling of finiteness and one's own limitation, and out of the apparent contradiction between this feeling and the idea of infinity which is involved in all true love. As in actual life and in the love which centres in an earthly object, a good-humoured raillery, which amuses itself with some little defect of character, either apparent or real, is not inconsistent with sincerity--not, at least, when both parties have no doubt of each other's affection, and its ardour admtis of no increase--but, on the contrary, lends to it an agreeable charm, even so is this true of that other and highest love.

Schlegel, Philosophy of Life and Philosophy of Language, Morrison, tr. p. 392.

Earlier he had given this warning:

For what else is this scientific irony of the inquiring thought and of the highest cognition, than a consciousness which, while it clearly perceives the secret cotnradictions which beset the mind,e ven in tis most earnest pursuit of the highest aim of life, has attained nevertheless to perfect harmony with itself.

I must not, however, omit to remind you that this term in modern phraseology has fallen very far below its primary meaning, and is often so taken as to designate nothing more than a mere playful mockery. In its original Socratic sense, however, such as it is found in the whole series of the thougth and the internal structure of Plato's dialogues, where it is developed to its fullest measure and proportion, irony signifies nothing else than this amazement of the thinking spirit at itself, which so often dissolves in a light, gentle laugh. And this light laugh again oftentimes beneath its cheerful surface conceals and involves a deeper and profounder sense, another and a higher significance, even the most exalted seriousness.
(p. 390)

So the idea here is that love of truth, particularly as expressed in soliloquy or inner dialogue, involves an ironic appreciation of the disparity between the beloved and the lover, or between the lover and the love.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Fantastic Four

I recently saw Fantastic Four, which got fairly bad reviews. It was actually a fairly good movie. There were definitely weaknesses, mostly in the characterization of Dr. Doom. Victor von Doom, of course, is one of the great all-time supervillains,* and he has to be done right; getting him wrong is like getting Magneto wrong -- it throws everything else off. Julian McMahon was actually a fairly good choice for the role, but (1) Von Doom has to be written as brilliant (second only to Reed Richards himself), and this really didn't come across; (2) while moving Von Doom from dictator of Latveria to corporate industrialist probably made the script a bit easier to put together, it lost something of the characterization. A little more benevolent-but-ruthless Latverian-gypsy dictator and little more scientist would have improved the portrayal. For the rest, it was just the trickiness of developing five major characters adequately; and, while this didn't leave much room for any sort of profound plot, they did reasonably well.

* I suppose that if we were to make a list of the greatest comic book supervillains of all time, Doom (Marvel) would only have rivals in Magneto (Marvel) and Luthor (DC). Magneto is probably the most popular; Doom has the formidable track record and (very easily) the best success rate; Luthor -- well, he's Lex Luthor, enough said. All three, interestingly enough, are stupendous supervillains in part due to their good side: each of the three clearly has a noble streak, each had the initial makings of a superhero, but each is flawed by an overwhelming pride and thirst for revenge. The worst is always the perversion of the best.

Schlegel on Faith, Hope, and Love

The longing after the eternal and divine, which has been already described, is the seeking of God; but this calm inward assent of the will, whenever, with a childlike faith and enduring love and in steadfast hope, it is carried through and maintained with unwavering fidelity throughout life, is the actual finding of Him within us, and a constant adherence to Him when once we have found Him. As the root and principle of all that is best and noblest in man, this divine longing cannot be too highly estimated, and nowhere is it so inimitably described, and its excellence so fully acknowledged, as in Holy Writ itself. A remarkable instance of it is the fact that a prophet who was set apart and called by God Himself to his office, and was for that purpose endued with miraculous gifts, is expressly called in Holy Writ the man of longings. And yet this longing is nothing but the source, the first root, from which springs that triple flower in the lovely symbol of faith, hope, an charity, which afterwards, spreading over every grade and sphere of moral and intellectual existence, expands into the richest and most manifold fruits.

Friedrich von Schlegel, Philosophy of Life, A. J. W. Morrison, tr. Bohn (London: 1847) 111-112.

The 'man of longings' reference is to Daniel 9:23; the Hebrew expression there used is usually translated 'greatly beloved', but (apparently) if taken literally it would be something like 'man of desires'. Such is Schlegel's idea, anyway.

Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields

Passing by Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields last night, I noticed a lot of "Save Our Church" signs. Apparently the Anglican Diocese is planning on evicting the congregation from the 150-year-old church building. In any case, if you're interested in old church buildings, they have a good website; and it might not be up past September.

Links of Note

History Carnival Button The 13th History Carnival is up at WILLisms. It includes a debate on Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, an interesting post at Paleojudaica on the rise of Messianic legends about Sabbetai Sevi, and a number of other good things. The next History Carnival, on or near the 15th of August, will appear at Philobiblon. Email Natalie Bennet at natalieben[at]journ[dot]freeserve[dot]co[dot]uk.

Carnivalesque Button The first Ancient and Medieval Carnivalesque will be held at The Cranky Professor on August 5 (or thereabouts). If you know of any good posts for that period within the past three months (on any subject within or about that period), then send your submission or nomination to professor[at]crankyprofessor[dot]com.


* J. Mark Bertrand discusses dangerously good fiction at "The Master's Artist": "A good book, like a good God, is a dangerous thing to those who have reason to fear."

* Clark discusses literature and philosophy at "Mormon Metaphysics".

* Today is the feast of Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists. Just in case it comes up. Here is a sample of his work.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Persons and Personae

I have been reading Amelie Rorty's "Persons and Personae" (Mind in Action: Essays in the Philosophy of Mind pp. 27-46, and I must confess that I'm not impressed. Rorty intends to present that "there is no such thing as 'the' concept of a person". She thinks this is because "the various functions performed by our contemporary concept of persons don't hang together" (p. 31). Now, even if Rorty's argument showed this, her ultimate conclusion, that there is no unified concept of person, does not follow at all; from the fact that the functions a concept is expected to fulfill don't all cohere we can conclude nothing about the concept itself. The problem might well be due not to the concept but to faulty expectations: we sometimes expect too much from a single concept on its own, or misattribute what functions it can perform, for any number of reasons. The functions she identifies are

(1) Attribution of personhood should be an objective ground for respect, and this ground cannot be lost "through illness, poverty, villainy, inanity, or senility."

(2) Persons as legal entities (liability, legally defined responsibility, guarantee of specifically defined rights and duties).

(3) Persons as autonomous agents, capable of self-defining choices.

(4) Persons as identified "by their mutual interactions, by the roles they enact in the dynamic dramas of their shared lives" (p. 37).

(5) Persons as beings with a characteristic life story.

(6) Persons as units of genetic individuation with conatus.

(7) A person experiences himself or herself as an I.

Now, in one sense I see why Rorty doesn't think all these functions hang together; but part of my problem is that I don't see why all of these are supposed to be plausible functions for the notion of personhood. (6) very clearly is completely worthless; that's not a plausible requirement for personhood, nor does the concept of person do a particularly good job in such a role. And as for (2), the law never defines things in themselves but only insofar as they are relevant for the practical purposes of the law; the law does not decide what a person is, but what is sufficiently person-like given the particular issues on which the law focuses. So (6) and (2) should be set aside complete. (4) clearly only gives us a mark or note of personhood; it is obviously and on the surface an identifying characteristic, not a defining one. This leaves (1), (3), (4), (5), and (7). And, in fact, these are the only ones that show up in Rorty's attempted synthesis:

A person is a unit of agency, a unit that is (a) capable of being directed by its conception of its own identity and by what is important to that identity, and (b) capable of acting with others, in a common world. A person is an interactive member of a community, reflexively sensitive to the contexts of her activity, a critically reflective inventor of the story line of her life. (p. 43)

As she rightly notes, as she presents her synthesis it isn't clear whether the elements are conjunctive or nested; but, naturally, that's simply an issue with her synthesis. It's clear, for instance, that 'unit of agency' must be presupposed by all the others. (a) and (b) simply identify potentialities of this unit of agency. The second sentence is the really unclear part of her synthesis, since (1) it doesn't identify a capability but an actuality (what the person actually does), and it isn't actually clear why; and (2) it isn't clear how the three parts of it are related to each other; and (3) all three parts nonetheless presuppose everything in the first sentence, so it isn't clear why they need to be considered as more than corollaries in the first place. She then makes an argument against taking the metaphysical notion of a person as primary, an argument I don't understand at all because I have no clue what she means by 'the metaphysical notion of a person' in this context. Rorty really hasn't done anything to show what she claimed she would show.

There are several other indications throughout the article that suggest that she is poorly equipped for the sort of argument she is making. She says of the concept that for Christians the contrast class for 'person' is that of unsouled beings (p. 32), and she later talks about "the Christian idea of the immortal soul" (p. 33) and again of "a divinely assured immortal soul" (p. 36) as if this somehow encapsulated the Christian view. Now, this is manifestly false. The Christian notion of personhood derives from Trinitarian and Christological discussions; the issue of immortal souls never arises at all in the first sort of discussion, and while it arises in the latter sort, it does not do so in the relevant way. The Persons of the Trinity are not persons in virtue of having immortal souls; the Incarnate Word has an immortal soul, but it is not what makes him a person -- and indeed, insistence on exactly this was the whole point of Chalcedon [And Ephesus before it, and III Constantinople after it --ed.]! Given that the Christian conception of person was important enough to be mentioned several times as part of her argument, such an absurd slip is not heartening. I suspect, however, that it's a slip that would be commonly made. (If she had really wished to bring in the Christian conception of personhood, the Boethian definition, and the Victorine modifications of it in favor of a more social conception of person, would have been relevant.)


Here's a sort of game to play, if you are bored. Take two works (of literature, art, or music) that touch on the same theme or issue but do so in a different way. The idea is to create an experience of interesting contrast. So, for instance, here's my example:

Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent
G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday

Both touch on the issues of pessimism and late nineteenth-century terrorism, but each has a different approach to the issue, and they each take the discussion in rather different directions. So reading one of them right after the other would make for an interesting contrast.

Do you have any suggestions for juxtapositions?

UPDATE: In the comments, Wilson has two suggestions for cinematic juxtaposition.

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Big Fish

Of these two, which came out about the same time, he says: "Both examine the roles that memory plays in personal identity, ethics, and interpersonal relationships. One comes down on the side of descriptive realism, the other on the side of prescriptive myth."

2. Citizen Kane

"Again, they're from the same era. They fight for top honors in the history of American cinema. More importantly, they both deal with altruism and alienation -- the individual's obligations to society. One depicts a crusading idealist incapable of love; the other a standoffish cynic who loves, perhaps, not widely but too well. (Pardon the pun.)"