Saturday, September 24, 2005

Berkeley and the No Good Inference Argument

I thought I would develop the point about Berkeley's anti-skeptical strategy a bit more. The No Good Inference Argument:

1. All knowledge is either immediate (not inferred from evidence) or mediate (inferred from immediate knowledge that serves as its evidence).

2. All immediate knowledge is about our ideas or sensations.


3. If we are to have knowledge of external objects, it must be by means of an adequate inference from knowledge of our ideas and sensations. (1,2)

4. But there is no adequate inference from knowledge of our ideas and sensations to our beliefs about external objects.


We can have no knowledge of external objects.

[Greco, J., “Reid’s Reply to the Skeptic,” in The Cambridge Companion to Reid, Terence Cuneo and RenĂ© van Woudenberg, eds., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 134-155; p. 143. Also quoted in Klima, G., "Putting Skeptics in Their Place vs. Stopping Them in Their Tracks: Two Anti-Skeptical Strategies," online PDF.]

Klima notes that Berkeley uses this argument against the materialist account of the external world:

But, though it were possible that solid, figured, movable substances may exist without the mind, corresponding to the ideas we have of bodies, yet how is it possible for us to know this? Either we must know it by sense or by reason. As for our senses, by them we have the knowledge only of our sensations, ideas, or those things that are immediately perceived by sense, call them what you will: but they do not inform us that things exist without the mind, or unperceived, like to those which are perceived. This the materialists themselves acknowledge. It remains therefore that if we have any knowledge at all of external things, it must be by reason, inferring their existence from what is immediately perceived by sense. But what reason can induce us to believe the existence of bodies without the mind, from what we perceive, since the very patrons of Matter themselves do not pretend there is any necessary connexion betwixt them and our ideas? I say it is granted on all hands (and what happens in dreams, phrensies, and the like, puts it beyond dispute) that it is possible we might be affected with all the ideas we have now, though there were no bodies existing without resembling them. Hence, it is evident the supposition of external bodies is not necessary for the producing our ideas; since it is granted they are produced sometimes, and might possibly be produced always in the same order we see them in at present without their concurrence.[PHK I, 8]

However, as I noted before, Berkeley rejects the No Good Inference Argument for the external world itself. His primary strategy is to deny that (3) follows from (1) and (2) -- and indeed, he is right to do so, since (1) and (2) yield (3) only if the immediate knowledge of ideas and sensations is not also an immediate knowledge of external objects. But Berkeley doesn't hold this; to know our ideas immediately is to know external objects immediately. (We also have inferred knowledge of external objects, of course; but that's not a problem given the immediate knowledge.) Since Berkeley understands 'idea' to mean any object of sensory perception, Berkeley's basic position is the following:

(B) The very objects we sense are (in some way) the external objects themselves.*

Berkeley is very explicit that this is what he is defending by his attack on matter. What he is attacking when he attacks matter is any attempt to split off, in a sharp way, the objects we sense from the external objects we know through sensation. This makes Berkeley's response to the skeptic a close cousin of the responses of Aristotelians, whatever other differences there may be.**

* Note that this does not require Berkeley's thesis that all ideas (i.e., objects of sensation) are mind-dependent. Berkeley's primary intention, which is to refute skepticism, only requires a plausible defense of (B). Mind-dependence is introduced for a different reason, namely, as an alternative to dependence on an unknown-material-something. You don't have to accept this alternative to accept the basic soundness of Berkeley's anti-skepticism.

** There are, of course, differences. The major difference with regard to skepticism itself, I think, is that Berkeley will want to read (B) in a somewhat stronger way than the Aristotelian. This is simply due to the fact that the Aristotelian allows for abstraction of forms as part of the story of (B), while Berkeley doesn't. They both accept (B), however, and with (B) the battle is largely won -- the only further concern is not losing it again by violating (B) in trying to fill out the details of (B). They also both deny, albeit for very different reasons, premise (4) of the No Good Inference argument; but this denial is not Berkeley's main thrust, and indeed, his rejection of (4) is due to his support for (B).


Somewhere Beyond Saturn

Somewhere beyond Saturn
I sat thinking
of a seraph crucified
of an aspiration's whisper
of deathless men in spindizzy flight
I wandered
in my mind's wondering
in the drifting of my ship

I dreamed for long ages
of cat's eyes and soft purrs
of a preaching to the fishes
of the algebra of humanity
I was diligent in my dreaming
weaving gossamer moonbeams
building cities in the air
carving laws into mechanical brains
scarcely putting a pen to paper

Somewhere beyond Saturn
my mind wandered gently
seeing stars in a darkness
feeling an abstract cold
I looked across the table
to soft eyes and gentle
scarcely seeing with my eye
hovering on the edge of sense
where the je-ne-sais-quoi tugs
in peripheral shadows and lights

I was caught up
in the eye's swift twinkling
in my own private judgment
hearing some distant trump
A singular state was upon me
Then a mockingbird sang
startling me to the present
and I finally poured the tea

Friday, September 23, 2005

Linking for Thinking

* Harrison points to this interesting piece by George Friedman on the importance of New Orleans as a port city.

* Lee discusses Athanasius on the atonement. I think Athanasius somewhere denies (and rightly so) that we can exhaustively describe the good things that Christ has done for us. So I think he would be entirely happy to meet that more can be said, and needs to be said, than he was able to say.

* PZ Myers points out a problem with one of Kurzweil's graphs at "Pharyngula".

* Gyula Klima has another awesome paper: Putting Skeptics in Their Place vs. Stopping Them in Their Tracks: Two Anti-Skeptical Strategies (PDF), which discusses two responses to skepticism, one of which is represented by Buridan and Reid, and another of which is represented by Aquinas and those who, like him, accept the strong Aristotelian thesis that our cognitive abilities cannot be deceived about their proper objects. (Although Klima puts him on the skeptical side, I think Berkeley's positive view of the world falls into the second group. After all, Berkeley is explicitly building an anti-skeptical argument himself. To do so he identifies what he thinks is the source of a type of external world skepticism, namely, a particular view of matter; he then argues against this view. That's his negative response to skepticism, which is often taken as a sort of skepticism itself. His positive response to skepticism, however, takes the mind to be undeceivable with regard to its ideas. These ideas are the proper objects of the senses. Berkeley, of course, is not an Aristotelian, but a Platonist trying to argue against skepticism about the senses. As he insists in later works like Siris, however, his view is closer to Aristotle's on some points than, say, Locke's, despite Locke's more obvious borrowings from Aristotle. As Berkeley notes, for instance, Aristotle would reject Locke's account of matter just as surely as Berkeley did; so, if Berkeley is right -- as I think he is -- in his diagnosis of the source of much early modern skepticism about the external world, it is perhaps not surprising that Berkeley's response to this brand of skepticism has some similarities to an Aristotelian response.)

* Since I'm linking Gyula Klima, I'll also link to his On whether id quo nihil maius cogitari potest is in the understanding and his Saint Anselm's Proof. I've linked to them both before -- more than once, in fact -- but since they are far and away my favorite discussions of Anselm's argument, I never get tired of linking to them.

* Laurence Thomas has a good discussion of Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous and interesting argument, "A Defense of Abortion". Thomson's argument, of course, is that in some cases abortion may be morally defensible even assuming the fetus to have a right to life. Thomas discusses the oft-forgotten self-imposed limits of Thomson's argument. Thomson's argument is often considered the most important, or at least the most influential, philosophical argument for the defensibility of certain kinds of abortions. (HT: Parableman) Jeremy also links to Frederica Matthewes-Green's Seeking Abortion's Middle Ground.

* The Third Poetry Carnival will be held the 26th at; follow the link for information on submission. Which reminds me that I still need to pick something suitable.

Political Taste and Punditry

The questions I suggested that we ask when reading a piece of literary criticism apply to a number of other things, precisely because the theory of taste applies to a diverse group of public discussions. As I've noted before, there is a political version of taste, with the same characteristics as all taste (someone with good political taste, for instance, is able to make comparisons with a broad range of experiences, to discern important features of situations that casual observers might miss, and to be self-critical). When we read or watch pundits, then, we should ask ourselves the same basic questions:

(1) Is this person helping me to identify aspects of the situation I could not otherwise see, or to develop the skills that are useful for doing this?

(2) Is this person informing me of interesting similarities or dissimilarities this case has with other cases, or giving me information so that I can do so myself?

(3) Is this person giving me insight into latent biases that are dangerous to fairminded and reasonable inference and evaluation?

Of course, to ask these questions properly we must also ask similar questions of ourselves, i.e., we should evaluate how well we are discerning, comparing, and self-critiquing in the process of listening to or reading a given pundit.

Casanova's Fideism

Claire points out that the memoirs of Casanova are online. The opening paragraphs of the Author's Preface:

I will begin with this confession: whatever I have done in the course of my life, whether it be good or evil, has been done freely; I am a free agent.

The doctrine of the Stoics or of any other sect as to the force of Destiny is a bubble engendered by the imagination of man, and is near akin to Atheism. I not only believe in one God, but my faith as a Christian is also grafted upon that tree of philosophy which has never spoiled anything.

As he notes, he writes his memoirs as a confession, but not in the style of a repentant sinner; he regards his indulgences as the follies of youth, and portrays them in that light. The Preface has what looks like a sharp rejection of Cartesianism:

A certain philosophy, full of consolation, and in perfect accord with religion, pretends that the state of dependence in which the soul stands in relation to the senses and to the organs, is only incidental and transient, and that it will reach a condition of freedom and happiness when the death of the body shall have delivered it from that state of tyrannic subjection. This is very fine, but, apart from religion, where is the proof of it all? Therefore, as I cannot, from my own information, have a perfect certainty of my being immortal until the dissolution of my body has actually taken place, people must kindly bear with me, if I am in no hurry to obtain that certain knowledge, for, in my estimation, a knowledge to be gained at the cost of life is a rather expensive piece of information.

He also laments over Spinoza:

Oh, blissful ignorance! Spinosa, the virtuous Spinosa, died before he could possess it. He would have died a learned man and with a right to the reward his virtue deserved, if he had only supposed his soul to be immortal!

It is not true that a wish for reward is unworthy of real virtue, and throws a blemish upon its purity. Such a pretension, on the contrary, helps to sustain virtue, man being himself too weak to consent to be virtuous only for his own 'gratification. I hold as a myth that Amphiaraus who preferred to be good than to seem good. In fact, I do not believe there is an honest man alive without some pretension, and here is mine.

Was Casanova a freethinker? Claire is right that he certainly has views that would ordinarily be considered freethinking rather than orthodox. On the other hand, he seems to distance himself from freethinkers:

A so-called free-thinker told me at one time that I could not consider myself a philosopher if I placed any faith in revelation. But when we accept it readily in physics, why should we reject it in religious matters? The form alone is the point in question. The spirit speaks to the spirit, and not to the ears. The principles of everything we are acquainted with must necessarily have been revealed o those from whom we have received them by the great, supreme principle, which contains them all. The bee erecting its hive, the swallow building its nest, the ant constructing its cave, and the spider warping its web, would never have done anything but for a previous and everlasting revelation. We must either believe that it is so, or admit that matter is endowed with thought. But as we dare not pay such a compliment to matter, let us stand by revelation.

I think that what he chiefly has in mind here is the immortality of the soul: Casanova is a skeptical fideist about the immortality of the soul. Reason cannot prove it (pace Descartes), it must be accepted on faith alone (pace an unnamed freethinker), and it is rational to hope for it (pace Spinoza).

He has an interesting discussion with a Muslim in chapter XIV, where he implicitly accepts the Incarnation, and gives a fideist response to the Muslim:

"My religion tells me to believe without arguing, and I shudder, my dear Yusuf, when I think that, through some specious reasoning, I might be led to renounce the creed of my fathers. I first must be convinced that they lived in error. Tell me whether, respecting my father's memory, I ought to have such a good opinion of myself as to sit in judgement over him, with the intention of giving my sentence against him?"

However, after the conversation, he allows that Yusuf might be right; but still says that it would be absurd to leave the creed of his fathers for Islam because even if Muhammed were right on this point, he was still an 'arrant imposter'. (The discussions with Yusuf are all fascinating, and well worth reading.) He is certainly a Catholic (goes to confession regularly, is certain that he is absolved of his sins in it, etc.) He is severely critical of the adoration of the Sacred Heart (which he thinks a bit disgusting), and is suspicious of Jesuits, but neither of those would have been uncommon for Catholics at the time. He reminds me in many ways of Montaigne: philosophically skeptical, fideistically Catholic. His memoirs are a great resource for those interested in early modern fideism.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Questions to Ask When Reading Literary Criticism

On the typical theory of taste, taste is built on (1) comparison with a broad range of experiences; (2) discernment of relevant features; (3) fairmindedness. Thus, whenever we read a piece of literary criticism, we should ask ourselves three questions:

(1) Does this piece enrich my base for comparing the experience of the literary work discussed with other experiences?

(2) Does this piece help me to identify interesting things in the literary work discussed that I would not otherwise have identified?

(3) Does this piece help me to recognize dangerous latent biases in myself that might interfere with the full experience of the literary work?

If the answer to none of these questions is 'Yes', we need to ask ourselves why we are reading such literary criticism. I wouldn't pull a Hume and consign what doesn't do one of these things to the flames; but one really does need to ask whether there is any real value for us in a bit of literary criticism that assists us in none of these ways.

On a Flaw with the Island Objection II

[1] Previously I pointed out an equivocation in the Island objection to Anselm's argument; if the key description is taken in a way that actually parallels Anselm's, it is obviously problematic in a way that Anselm's is not. The alternative interpretation (C), which is how everyone thinks of it, is not parallel. Given that the Island objection crucially depends on being parallel to Anselm's argument (that is how it performs its reductio), the Island objection equivocates in a key place.

(C) that island than which no greater island can be thought

(C) is not parallel to (A), and the Island objection cannot succeed unless it manages a parallel in all relevant aspects.

[2] But even if this is set aside, it immediately involves an additional problem. As Anselm pointed out in his reply to Gaunilo, the key point in (A) is that we are talking about something than which nothing greater can be thought, not simply something greater in some way. But an island is greater than an island merely in some way, and never in such a way as to be so great that nothing greater than it can be thought of.

[3] However, even if we set this aside, there's another problem that Gaunilo's objection runs into. A key point in both arguments, Anselm's and Gaunilo's, is that it is greater to exist than not to exist (i.e., any thought object that can be thought to exist in reality can be thought to be greater than any thought object that is only in the intellect). In Anselm's argument this only comes into play given that we are at a limit-case of greatness: we are at something so great that the only question is whether it also has the greatness of existing or not. And because of the nature of this limit-case, that it is that than which nothing greater can be thought, it must have the greatness of existing. If we are only comparing islands, however, we are not at the limit-case of greatness, unless we can also show that nothing can be conceived that is greater than the greatest island (which obviously we cannot, since it is false). Thus the parallel breaks down in yet another way.

[4] Yet another point. If A is greater than B it is always as something. Thus if an island is that than which no greater island can be thought, it must be greater as something. The question of 'as something' doesn't arise in Anselm's case because it is automatically constrained by the nature of the argument; we are considering greatness of being. In the island case, (C) suggests we are considering greatness relevant to islands (and, indeed, just about everyone takes it in such a way). But if this is so, the Island parallel breaks down at yet another point: the Island objection, taken as a reductio of Anselm's argument, is equivocating on the term 'greater'. The result is that the 'greater to exist in reality' premise is jeopardized in a way that it is not in Anselm's argument.

[5] Suppose, however, that we were to to take (C) in the following further-refined sense:

(E) that island than which no island greater as a being can be thought

What then? Unfortunately for the Island objection, the answer isn't helpful for the pro-Gaunilo side. For, as noted above, the reason 'greater as a being' is relevant to existence in Anselm's description (A) is that we are at a limit-case of greatness. (E) is not such a limit-case; for if the island than which no island greater as a being can be thought does not exist, this suggests nothing unless the only greatness left to consider is existence itself. That is, if there are other greatnesses of being besides existence that are involved in being a great island, (E) doesn't even suggest the existence of the island than which no island greater as a being can be thought.

[6] Beyond that, however, if we stipulate that the only greatness left to consider is existence, all (E) suggests is that the island than which no island greater as a being can be thought is just an island that actually exists, because any island that actually exists will be greater on this stipulation than any island that does not. This problem does not arise on Anselm's formulation of (A).

[7] Further still, as a smaller additional problem, (E) is only an issue if islands are not all on a par in terms of greatness of being. If they are on a par, and islands really exist, (E) is satisfied by any really existing island. By the same token, if no islands really existed, but only existed in the mind, (E) would be satisfied by every island existing in the mind. However, it is more plausible to say that islands, considered as beings, are all on a par in terms with greatness, because they are all the same basic thing (islands, namely, dry-land ecosystems encircled by water) than to say that all things, considered as beings, are on a par in terms with greatness. Gaunilo's objection depends on being plausibly parallel to Anselm's at every relevant point; but whether it is parallel even on this basic point is more murky than the pro-Guanilo camp wants to admit.

Conceivably one or two of these equivocations could be evaded; but (1) it requires more effort than Gaunilo supporters ever put forward; (2) it's unlikely that all of them can be neutralized. The objection is flawed through and through; it's clever, to be sure, because it makes use of an apparent, but purely verbal, similarity. The verbal similarity hides rooms upon rooms filled with equivocations, though; it is doubtful that the Island objection can ever be made genuinely parallel to Anselm's argument. If so, it can never be the reductio it is put forward to be. It is a clever bit of philosophical sleight-of-hand, useful for fooling those who don't take the trouble to analyze it, and nothing more. It's the philosophical equivalent of a magic trick; it works by misdirection. The real issues that Anselm's argument raises are elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

On a Flaw with the Island Objection

There's an interesting discussion at FQI about Gaunilo's objection to Anselm's ontological argument. I think the objection is usually overrated. One reason (of several) is that it equivocates. Anselm's argument uses the following description:

(A) that than which no greater can be thought

It argues from this to the existence of (A). Gaunilo's objection attempts to build a parallel description that allows one to reduce to absurdity:

(B) that island than which no greater can be thought

But (B) is ambiguous. It can mean either:

(C) that island than which no greater island can be thought

And if we look at what people say about the objection, they almost always seem to take it in this sense. But (C) is not parallel to (A). The true parallel is:

(D) that island than which nothing greater can be thought

This is obviously problematic in a way that (A) is not, namely, that we can easily think of a being greater than any island.

More can be said about this matter, but I only have this terminal for a few more minutes. I'll say more about other issues that come up with the Island Objection when I'm at a campus computer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


* In More Penguins at "The Rhine River," Nathanael Robinson discusses Diderot's Supplement to the Voyage of Bougainville, in a post that somehow manages to combine Tahiti, sexual customs, and frigid penguins.

* At "Jimmy", Jimmy Akin discusses the use of the word 'Allah' by Christians in Ente bTaref `Arabi? -- it's astounding how odd people's presuppositions on this point sometimes can be.

* At "The Maverick Philosopher", Bill Vallicella discusses Occam's Razor and the Presumption in Favor of Metaphysical Naturalism.

* At "verbum ipsum" Lee has a series on liberalism and 'Radical Orthodoxy':
Liberalism Defended
Liberalism and the Challenge of Radical Orthodoxy (Part I)

* Jonathan Rowe at "Positive Liberty" points to a comment that compares the Mayflower Compact and the Constitution in thinking about whether the U.S. is a Christian nation. I'm not sure how far the comparison really gets anyone; the U.S. Constitution doesn't establish us as any sort of nation, but lays out a federal system for the States. The Constitution, unlike the Mayflower Compact, is not a 'charter for a polity' at all: it is explicitly a revision of an already existing constitutional framework. As such it presupposes as already-existing (1) the States; and (2) the Articles of Confederation. A real evaluation would require looking at both; but the approach is interesting. It's futile, I think, though; when people call America a Christian nation or a Judeo-Christian nation, they mean it regulatively, not constitutively. Like every regulative principle in our polity, it involves appealing to such aspects of the American heritage as conform to it, and ignoring or repudiating such as do not. We do it with democracy, liberty, and everything else; it's really not surprising that people do it with Christianity, or 'Judeo-Christianity' (or, for that matter, that people sometimes do it in denying that the U.S. is a Christian nation). In matters touching on the identity of the polis itself, history is what the polis makes it to be; or rather, the historical identity of the polis, being entirely a matter of what in history you emphasize, is whatever the polis makes it.

A Poem Draft

Very, very rough first draft that will need quite a bit of reworking. I had a picture in my head of sad corpses marching on the sea-bed. Yes, I get pictures like that in my head....

The Covenant-Breakers

Along the winding, misty roads now littered with the years
(the hedges are our human loves, the stones, our human fears)
the Sleepers walk their way, with a ceaseless marching beat,
unstoppign and yet weary with an aching in their feet.
In the beginning of The Adam a Covenant was made,
a strand between the sea and land, at which the wave was stayed;
but The Adam broke the Covenant, and cannot breach the breathless sea
that covers the whole of the mortal world as a cold infinity.
Of that ancient time and distant, yet present and so near,
no vision meets our blinded eyes, but we feel it in our fear.

The Spirit moves on the waters that are formless with their void,
but laden with the promise of worlds made, preserved, destroyed;
and the world is spoken into being in the Covenant of Light,
which makes th world be manifest within the Ocean-night.
And in the garden of our living, the God has spoken plain
with words of endless power whose echoes yet remain:
"I give you all creation as a place to rule and play
with this Galahad of witness where I make the sea to stay,
and this the mark of the Pact, which shall endure like the deathless sky,
this the sign of the Covenant: Every man shall die.
For death is the great translation, the surmounting of the sea
that has no end but heaven, no bound but eternity.
As the worm from forth its tomb bursts out with wings of soul,
so mortal man shall ever die, and in dying become whole.
But this gift can turn to curse; if in dying you would be free,
you must make no acquaintance with the bitter destiny --
you must not know as familiar the evil in the good,
for death will come forever if that tree be understood.
If you seek your life in glory, such life is found in death:
in dying you shall live by the power of God's breath;
but when good and evil are mingled, and the truth enmeshed with lie,
then one fate alone can wait you: in dying you shall die.
The longest death, the endless death, is when a man does surely die;
then death is no translation, but a fear beneath the sky,
and beyond the endless firmament, in the byssal depths unfree,
your souls shall wander lost forever, dead beneath the endless sea."

We are the wandering Adam; a sea-surface is our sky.
In life we never know the shore; in death we surely die.
We are the lost sea-creatures, drowning, drowned, and dead;
our path is endless marching on the sandy ocean-bed.
Sad we are, and silent, save with the mutterings of our soul
driven mad by this surest death, dissolving every whole;
eternity within us, in the blessing of the breath,
but we lost the Covenant-sign by the selling of our true death.
As Esau with his potage, we sold our thing of worth
and sleep the sleep of the dying dead, hopeless of all rebirth.

But we dream in our dying slumbers, doomed to certain death,
of a translation of our bodies, a transfiguring of our breath,
in pictures strange and much confused by the slaveries of the sea,
and by our ceaseless fear of dying, from which we still long to be free,
of a time when beyond the seafoam we will be caught up into the air
and on some far and distant shore (they say no sea is there)
we will die no more for dying, but for birth into an endless light
that cannot be covered by a sea, nor quenched by the ocean's night.

But we are the Covenant-Breakers, and as the legeds tell,
in dying we shall surely die, and we live a life called 'hell'.
we are the Faithless Adam, wandering beneath a death-dark sea;
it has no end for the faithless, and no bound but eternity.

Hanique, Part III

(Part I) (Part II)

I stared at him in bewilderment.

"Please sit down," the Dean said. "I always look forward to these talks, Dr. Montgomery." The smile on his face seemed permanently frozen.

I sat down. For some reason, I felt ill and edgy.

"I'm glad to have a chance to talk to you," I said. "I have made some recent discoveries that I need to talk to you about."

"Discoveries?" The frozen smile somehow seemed slightly more frozen.

I began with the events of the conference and told him of my research since then.

"And you have drawn conclusions from this?"

"Conclusions?" I said angrily. "Conclusions? Getting conculsions from this evidential mess is impossible. Even to begin to get a hold on this problem, I'll need to go to Hanique myself and...."

"Where is this 'Hanique'?"

I was at a complete loss, suddenly realizing for the first time that I hadn't the faintest notion of where Hanique was located. The only evidence I had that it actually existed at all, and was not a corruption like 'Boulagnon', as the obscure statement of the man at the conference. A man I could not contact. I did not even know his name.

I was still caught up in the puzzle this presented when the voice of the Dean broke in.

"Dr. Montgomery," he asked, "have you been taking your medications?"

Startled by the odd, and rather insulting, question, I replied, "I don't take medications; I haven't had anything recently except a few aspirin."

"Aspirin," he said, the frozen smile turning suddenly into a frown. "Do you mean the white pills? You are only taking the white pills?"

"Aspirin are usually white," I replied sarcastically. "But I don't see what business it is of yours what I'm taking or not."

"And the others?"

"What others?"

"The red and the yellow pills," he replied. "What have you been doing with the red and yellow pills?"

"Look," I said. "You're just a Dean. You're not my doctor, so I don't understand why you keep talking about medications."

The frozen smile returned to the his face.

"Dr. Montgomery," the Dean said, "we both know that I am not the Dean."

I stared at him without comprehension.

I'm currently rethinking the ending, but Part IV of Hanique will follow at some point.

Academic Blog Survey

Richard is starting another Go-Meme, and I'm just getting around to it. If you're an actual or aspiring academic, feel free to join in.

The following survey is for bloggers who are actual or aspiring academics (thus including students). It takes the form of a go-meme to provide bloggers a strong incentive to join in: the 'Link List' means that you will receive links from all those who pick up the survey 'downstream' from you. The aim is to create open-source data about academic blogs that is publicly available for further analysis. Analysts can find the data by searching for the tracking identifier-code: "acb109m3m3". Further details, and eventual updates with results, can be found on the original posting:

Simply copy and paste this post to your own blog, replacing my survey answers with your own, as appropriate, and adding your blog to the Link List.

Important (1) Your post must include the four sections: Overview, Instructions, Link List, and Survey. (2) Remember to link to every blog in the Link List. (3) For tracking purposes, your post must include the following code: acb109m3m3

Link List (or 'extended hat-tip'):
1. Philosophy, et cetera
2. Siris


Age - 27
Gender - Male
Location - Toronto, Ontario
Religion - Christian
Began blogging - June 2004
Academic field - Philosophy
Academic position [tenured?] - graduate student [and thus obviously not]

Approximate blog stats
Rate of posting - almost daily
Average no. hits - 120/day
Average no. comments - scattered
Blog content - 90% academic, 0% political, 10% personal.

Other Questions
1) Do you blog under your real name? Why / why not?
- Yes. It never really occurred to me to use a pseudonym; in part, because this weblog began as an online notebook. And since I typically just post on issues related to my intellectual interests, there hasn't been any reason since to hide.

2) Do colleagues or others in your department know that you blog? If so, has anyone reacted positively or negatively?
- Yes. I don't really talk about it much.

3) Are you on the job market?
- Yes.

4) Do you mention your blog on your CV or other job application material?
- No; I'm fiercely opposed to padding my CV, and putting Siris on it would seem too much like padding -- the ideas here are just not in finished form. I do have another blog, Houyhnhnm Land, which is on my CV, but only because I use it to organize my CV, etc. online.

5) Has your blog been mentioned at all in interviews, tenure reviews, etc.? If so, provide details.
- It came up once in a convention interview, in a question about my hobbies.

6) Why do you blog?
- Mostly as a convenient means of getting thoughts down, and having an easily accessible set of links to online resources.

Farrer on Images

The human imagination has always been controlled by certain basic images, in which man's own nature, his relation to his fellows, and his dependence upon the divine power find expression. The individual did not make them for himself. He absorbs them from the society in which he is born, partly through the suggestion of outward acts and the significance of words, partly, it would seem, by some more hidden means of appropriation. The contents of other people's minds flow into ours at a subconscious level, even across gaps in time and space, a fact constantly evidence, and as constantly disbelieved....

In ages for which religion and poetry were a common possession, the basic images lived in the conscious mind; men saw their place and destiny, their worth and guilt, and the process of their existence, in terms of them....

An image thrown in isolation on the screen means nothing, because it may mean anything: and everyone who has touched the interpretation of images has experienced this bewilderment. In a long concatenation of images, each fixes the sense of others, and is itself determiend by them. If we appreciate the connexion rightly, we feel the new image emerging out of the hidden mind under the evocation of the images already in place, as St John saw the figure of the Beast come up out of the deep when the Dragon's feet touched the sand of the sea.

Austin Farrer, A Rebirth of Images, pp. 13, 14, 18.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Fictitious Romanticism

I meant to say something about this a while ago. A recent article in the Guardian sets out to defend science against science journalism -- a much needed thing. In particular, Goodacre is out to defend science against the claim that it consists of made-up claims, and to defend it against the made-up claims of journalists. And, of course, it just wouldn't be a defense of science against the made-up without taking time out to appeal to made-up history:

But it also reinforces the humanities graduate journalists' parody of science, for which we now have all the ingredients: science is about groundless, incomprehensible, didactic truth statements from scientists, who themselves are socially powerful, arbitrary, unelected authority figures. They are detached from reality: they do work that is either wacky, or dangerous, but either way, everything in science is tenuous, contradictory and, most ridiculously, "hard to understand".

This misrepresentation of science is a direct descendant of the reaction, in the Romantic movement, against the birth of science and empiricism more than 200 years ago; it's exactly the same paranoid fantasy as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, only not as well written.

Err, OK, except that the Romantics didn't react "against the birth of science and empiricism". For one thing, the Romantics are too late, and the birth of empiricism too early (it would have to be a considerably delayed reaction!). For another, it's absurd to link 'science and empiricism' as if a reaction against empiricism were in any serious way a reaction against science. Empiricists contributed to science only fitfully; and you can be a perfectly good scientist without being an empiricist (most great scientists have been). Further, the Romantics didn't react against "the birth of science and empiricism"; with the exceptions of the more Kantian Germans (and Coleridge, whose Romanticism tends a little Kantian and a little German) they were, if the word means anything, empiricists, and what they reacted against was not science but what they saw as the attempt to replace living experience with abstract theory. Thus Goethe criticized Newton's theory of colors not for being scientific but for not being scientific enough -- if Newton were really being scientific, Goethe thought, he would have kept closer to the empirical facts instead of trying to build a theory out of a handful of experiments. More can be said on the subject, since it's an unruly movement to summarize, particularly in space this short; but Goodacre's claim is a clear instance of just making up events in the history of thought.

And don't even get me started on the characterization of Shelley's Frankenstein as a "paranoid fantasy" in which "science is about groundless, incomprehensible, didactic truth statements from scientists, who themselves are socially powerful, arbitrary, unelected authority figures," which suggests to me that Goodacre has never actually bothered to read the book. Perhaps he just goes to the movies....

On Hume's Purported 'In-Principle Argument' Against Miracles

It is commonly argued that Hume's "in principle" argument (in section 1 of the Essay on Miracles) against miracles begs the question; on this view, Hume argues that there is completely uniform experience against miracles, and therefore there can't be miracles. The problem, of course, is that this begs the question: precisely what is at stake is whether there is uniform experience against miracles. To be broad enough to spawn 'laws of nature', 'uniform experience' has to include testimony of other people's experiences, and this cannot exclude experience of miracles (for which there is certainly testimony) without begging the question.

A common defense of the argument is to argue that Hume's real point is this: A miracle is a violation of a law of nature; law of nature is based on uniform experience; the defender of miracles denies uniform experience; therefore, Hume says, there is no law of nature to violate, and hence no miracle.

There are three obvious problems with this defense.

(1) If this is Hume's argument, it is trivial to the point of stupidity. Hume would have read more sophisticated accounts of what a miracle is (Butler's, for instance, or Malebranche's) that can easily evade this sort of semantic gerrymandering, because they don't define a miracle as a violation of natural law in this sense. Either Hume's argument applies in at least a general way to these more sophisticated accounts with which Hume would have had acquaintance, or it is an exercise in missing the point.

(2) It doesn't get us anywhere; on this view, Hume would constantly have to re-organize the bounds of the laws of nature to accommodate claims of miracles. If he doesn't, he still begs the question in the way the original objection suggested -- either the determination of the laws of nature is based on testimony that includes purported miracles, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, it can only be because the issue has already been decided, which means it begs the question.

(3) This can't actually be Hume's argument -- that is, neither the objectors nor the defenders are getting Hume's argument right. This is clear given that virtually all of Hume's actual argument drops out in both cases, and the defenders make some especially egregious slips. Hume divides grounds into three kinds:

demonstration -- necessity due to relations of ideas
proof -- no room for doubt, given experience
probability -- room for doubt, given experience; there are two kinds: probability of chances (which we can set aside for our purposes) and probability of causes.

Here are examples Hume gives of beliefs based on proof:

Fire burns. Water suffocates. Impulse produces motion. Gravity produces motion. All men die. The sun rises every day. Lead cannot of itself remain in the air. Fire is extinguished by water.

Here are examples Hume gives of beliefs based on probability:

Rhubarb purges. Opium induces sleep. In January there is frost.

In Section One, Hume assumes that laws of nature are grounded in proof. He also assumes that the purported miracle is. He is very explicit about this; and only goes on in Section Two to argue that in fact no purported miracle has this level of support. The determination of whether testimonial evidence amounts to proof or probability or neither, Hume thinks, always depends on the balancing of contrarieties: "We balance the opposite circumstances, which cause any doubt or uncertainty; and when we discover a superiority on any side, we incline to it; but still with a diminution of assurance, in proportion to the force of its antagonist."

In a case where you have the laws of nature, which are based on proof, balanced against a purported miracle, which ex hypothesi is also based on proof, Hume says, "there is proof against proof, of which the strongest must prevail, but still with a diminution of its force, in proportion to that of its antagonist."

It's in this context that Hume makes the famous pronouncement "that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish": on the suppositions of an argument, the falsehood of the testimony for the miracle would really be miraculous, for the same reasons a violation of natural law would be: they are both, ex hypothesi, supported by proof. As for which would be believed, we would, if wise, accept the least miraculous, i.e., the one that has more of its proof still left standing after the one proof is balanced against the other.

Now, not only does one find nothing of this in the defense, the defense very clearly tries to treat Hume's 'in-principle' argument as if the matter were one of demonstration, for it treats the matter as if it were simply a matter of relations of ideas. But this is contrary to Hume's explicit statements; it's a question of balancing experiences to form proofs and probabilities.

So what about the objection? Does Hume beg the question in the in-principle argument? The answer, I think, is this: There is no in-principle argument against miracles. Section One of the Essay on Miracles is not an argument against miracles; it is the groundwork for the argument. The only conclusion of the argument in Section One is that a purported miracle can only be accepted on testimony if that testimonial evidence amounts to a stronger proof than the proof for the law of nature. This is not an argument against miracles; it is an argument for a standard of evidence for admission of miracles, and that is a very different thing. The rest of the Essay presupposes this reasoning, and attempts to show that the evidence for miracles fails to meet the standards of evidence that would be required. Now, this argument for the standard of evidence raises a lot of questions; but it does not obviously beg the question against miracles. Indeed, it explicitly proceeds on the assumption that the purported miracle has enough evidence to be considered as based on proof.

There is one point, crucial to the argument, on which Hume might be begging the question against his opponents: He assumes that the proof for the laws of nature will be proof against miracles, so that they have to be balanced against each other. But it's by no means clear that the proponent of miracles has to accept this; indeed, I suspect most of Hume's contemporaries would not have accepted it, because on their view, 'events according to the laws of nature' and 'miracles' are compartmentalized -- they occupy two domains (both domains are usually regarded as based on laws) within a larger domain, and the evidence for one need not be evidence against the other (any more than evidence for minds need be treated as evidence against matter). But that, perhaps, is a post for another day.

George Macdonald on Sub-creation

The natural world has its laws, and no man must interfere with them in the way of presentment any more than in the way of use; but they themselves may suggest laws of other kinds, and man may, if he pleases, invent a little world of his own, with its own laws; for there is that in him which delights in calling up new forms--which is the nearest, perhaps, he can come to creation. When such forms are new embodiments of old truths, we call them products of the Imagination; when they are mere inventions, however lovely, I should call them the work of the Fancy: in either case, Law has been diligently at work.

His world once invented, the highest law that comes next into play is, that there shall be harmony between the laws by which the new world has begun to exist; and in the process of his creation, the inventor must hold by those laws. The moment he forgets one of them, he makes the story, by its own postulates, incredible. To be able to live a moment in an imagined world, we must see the laws of its existence obeyed. Those broken, we fall out of it. The imagination in us, whose exercise is essential to the most temporary submission to the imagination of another, immediately, with the disappearance of Law, ceases to act. Suppose the gracious creatures of some childlike region of Fairyland talking either cockney or Gascon! Would not the tale, however lovelily begun, sink once to the level of the Burlesque--of all forms of literature the least worthy? A man's inventions may be stupid or clever, but if he does not hold by the laws of them, or if he makes one law jar with another, he contradicts himself as an inventor, he is no artist. He does not rightly consort his instruments, or he tunes them in different keys. The mind of man is the product of live Law; it thinks by law, it dwells in the midst of law, it gathers from law its growth; with law, therefore, can it alone work to any result. Inharmonious, unconsorting ideas will come to a man, but if he try to use one of such, his work will grow dull, and he will drop it from mere lack of interest. Law is the soil in which alone beauty will grow; beauty is the only stuff in which Truth can be clothed; and you may, if you will, call Imagination the tailor that cuts her garments to fit her, and Fancy his journeyman that puts the pieces of them together, or perhaps at most embroiders their button-holes. Obeying law, the maker works like his creator; not obeying law, he is such a fool as heaps a pile of stones and calls it a church.

Macdonald, The Fantastic Imagination.

Types of Productive Efficient Causation

A useful chart for those interested in scholastic views of efficient causation, which I think traces back to Alfred Freddoso (obviously, I've reworked the chart to make it easier to post). It's convenient for introducing students to the bare basics.

There are five types of change:

Substantial (creation)
Substantial (generation, annihilation)
Accidental: Change of Quality (alteration)
Accidental: Change of Quantity (augmentation, diminution)
Accidental: Change of Place (locomotion)

Strictly speaking, the first isn't really a change; but we often conceive of it as if it were. The final four are all cases of mutatio; the final three are all cases of motus. Sometimes motus and mutatio are used by figure of speech for the others, but the scholastics tend to be very good at being clearwhen they are using such terms in a looser sense.

Taking the productive rather than destructive cases, for simplification (the destructive cases would actually be much the same):

Type of Productive Causation / Type of Actuality Introduced / Type of Passive Potential In Which It Is Introduced

Accidental / Accidental Form / Substance
Generation / Substantial Form / Prime Matter
Creation / Actual Being (esse) / Essence