Saturday, October 22, 2005

McGuckin and Cyril

I only just now got around to reading the review of McGuckin's Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy in the August/September First Things. The review is favorable, and rightly so, because it's a good book. I highly recommend it to all of you who have an interest in Christology.

Aquinas and Sacred Doctrine as Stance

Some posts at Theologica (here and here) by David Wayne argue for a particular understanding of theology; in them he contrasts seeing theology as a study vs. seeing it as a stance (as well). He puts Aquinas on the study side, but I think it can easily be shown that Aquinas is actually on the stance side.

(First, it should be pointed out that Aquinas himself rarely uses the word 'theology'. He does use it occasionally, but when he does he usually reserves it for the participation of the saint in divine things -- i.e., for Aquinas 'theology' still has its old mystical overtones. Theology is to sacred doctrine as the virtuous man is to the ethicist.)

According to Aquinas, sacred doctrine is a science; it proceeds from principles recognized by the light of faith; it is subalternated to God's own knowledge; it is wisdom; and its subject is not ourselves (even ourselves as living unto God) but God Himself.

(1) It is a science. 'Science' in the scholastic sense indicates an intellectual virtue of drawing correct conclusions from principles; the word is used by metonymy to indicate the conclusions so drawn. Aquinas uses it both ways; sacred doctrine is a virtue of mind for concluding the right things about God, and, by extension the conclusions concluded by such a virtue of mind.

(2) It proceeds from principles recognized by the light of faith. Every science presupposes some understanding, intelligentia, of its principles or starting-points. The principles of sacred doctrine are the articles of faith; the understanding of these principles is a God-given gift, the light of faith, which supplements the light of reason, and makes us dwell in the articles of faith with luminous certainty.

(3) It is subalternated to divine knowledge. Some sciences presuppose other sciences; what is a principle for one science may be a conclusion for another. This is called subalternation. Sacred doctrine as a science is subalternated to the noblest and highest science of all, namely, God's own knowledge of Himself. It borrows its principles from God, who reveals truths and gives us the light of faith whereby to hold them as starting-points for thought. It is in this sense that Aquinas occasionally points out that sacred doctrine is nothing other than sacred scripture (i.e., sacred scripture not in the sense of dead words on the page, but as read by the light of faith that the Spirit gives the whole Church).

(4) It is wisdom. Wisdom, sapientia, is that intellectual virtue by means of which the wise set all things in order. Wisdom in this sense is knowledge of the most important and most fundamental things; and so wisdom in the purest sense is knowledge of divine things, whereby we can judge and arrange all things in the way they should be judged and arranged. Because of this, sacred doctrine sets all other knowledge in order.

(5) Its subject is not ourselves but God. The subject of a science is the object of science as a virtue. The easiest and most common mistake people make about sacred doctrine is that they try to make it about human beings. In their hands, sacred doctrine becomes the way to live well, the way to live according to God's will. Sacred doctrine does provide this, but this is not the point of sacred doctrine. The key thing we must understand about sacred doctrine is that God is worth knowing in Himself; and sacred doctrine is devoted primarily to this. In knowing God we begin to know all other things, including ourselves, in light of God. But God always must be first and foremost: seek God first and everything comes with Him. "In sacred science," Aquinas says, "all things are treated of under the aspect of God: either because they are God Himself or because they refer to God as their beginning and end" (ST 1.1.7).

A Poem Draft


Osiris sleeps and dreams of death,
entombed in ebon halls of stone,
the death-blessed god on sacred throne,
and over gilded sands his breath
still seeks the signs of Isis' will.

And, in Egyptian starlight still
that shines in quiet on the sands,
it courses past the nomad-bands,
a honeyed wind that blows no ill,
pulsing with all hope's demands.

And Isis wanders through the lands
to seek the tombs and sacred throne,
to re-knit flesh to flesh and bone;
she takes the children in her hands
and makes them gods upon the flame.

The dead all have Osiris' name;
one soul goes up, one soul remains,
and on the Nile night-sent rains
will fall to heal the blind and lame
and raise the dead to grace.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Cinematic SF

Via The Little Professor, this is John Scalzi's list of the most influential science fiction movies ('The Canon' or in other words, 'the 50 science fiction films you have to see before you die'). I've bolded the ones I've seen.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!
Back to the Future
Blade Runner
Bride of Frankenstein
Brother From Another Planet
A Clockwork Orange
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Damned
Destination Moon
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Escape From New York
ET: The Extraterrestrial
Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)
The Fly (1985 version) (I like the 1958 one better; but, then, I'm a fan of Vincent Price)
Forbidden Planet
Ghost in the Shell
The Incredibles
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version)
Jurassic Park
Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior
The Matrix
On the Beach
Planet of the Apes (1968 version)
Solaris (1972 version) (much better than the newer one; it requires immense patience to watch it, though)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The Stepford Wives (I'm presuming this is the original, although I've seen the new one, too; the original is much better)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Thing From Another World
Things to Come
12 Monkeys
28 Days Later
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
2001: A Space Odyssey (The first time I watched this movie I fell asleep seven minutes into it. Much later I did manage to watch it again, though.)
La Voyage Dans la Lune
War of the Worlds (1953 version) (very awesome)

So that's it; only 26 out of 50.

There should also be a list of SF movies that almost no one ever watches but are very good anyway. It would be a very controversial list, I imagine, since so much of it would depend on individual taste. I would nominate Riddler's Moon, The Cold Equations, Colossus: The Forbin Project, and Dark City.

Mine and Thine

A poem by William Morris:

Two words about the world we see,
And nought but Mine and Thine they be.
Ah! might we drive them forth and wide
With us should rest and peace abide;
All free, nought owned of goods and gear,
By men and women though it were
Common to all all wheat and wine
Over the seas and up the Rhine.
No manslayer then the wide world o'er
When Mine and Thine are known no more.

Yea, God, well counselled for our health,
Gave all this fleeting earthly wealth
A common heritage to all,
That men might feed them therewithal,
And clothe their limbs and shoe their feet
And live a simple life and sweet.
But now so rageth greediness
That each desireth nothing less
Than all the world, and all his own,
And all for him and him alone.

Call for Papers

There's an interesting conference in the works:

We would like to take this opportunity to announce the 1st Annual On-line Philosophy Conference (OPC), which is tentatively to begin on Friday, April 7th (2006). The first installment of OPC will be hosted on the newly created On-line Philosophy Conference Blog and will include invited papers by some of today's top junior and senior philosophers, such as Stephen Stich, Jonathan Kvanvig, John Martin Fischer, Alfred Mele, Julia Driver, Terence Horgan, Graham Priest, R.A. Duff, Thomas Hurka, Susanna Siegel, Brian Weatherson, Uriah Kriegel, Manuel Vargas, Kit Wellman, Joshua Gert, Joshua Knobe, Brie Gertler, Jessica Wilson, Benj Hellie, Amie Thomasson, Elizabeth Harman, Noa Latham, Andy Egan, and Neil Levy (with a few more in the works).

Our goal is to give scholars a much wider audience for their working papers, while at the same time saving everyone (both individuals and departments) the cost of travel stipends, etc. Moreover, we humbly believe that hosting an on-line philosophy conference would be an excellent way of fostering philosophy's growing presence on the web. Originally, we wanted to include a number of contributed papers in addition to the invited papers, but the surprising level of interest that the conference has already generated convinced us to make the first OPC a mostly invited affair. We nevertheless decided that we should solicit contributed submissions from junior philosophers (i.e., philosophers who have yet to receive tenure) and graduate students. The deadline for contributed submissions is January 15th, 2006.

The topic is open, but the conference in general sounds rather analytic and problems-oriented rather than historical, so I'm not sure I'll be submitting anything. On the other hand, I might submit a paper on Hume just to see; I have to re-work an old one anyway. University of Toronto will be well-represented: Thomas Hurka, Jessica Wilson, and Benj Hellie are all giving invited papers. (HT: Certain Doubts)

Anscombe and Truman, Callahan and Hanson

I've been getting a number of hits from an interesting article by Gene Callahan, which is part of a debate with Victor Davis Hanson on whether Truman's use of the bomb was justifiable. He uses Anscombe's discussion in "Mr. Truman's Degree" (which I briefly discussed here, hence the link) as a starting point for thinking about the moral principles that are relevant to this discussion. I recommend the article; it's quite good, and develops Anscombe's good but somewhat brief arguments to great effect.

UPDATE: On a related note, see the interesting summary of an exchange in the Times Literary Supplement at The Leiter Reports.


The first Carnival of the Feminists is up at Philobiblon, and it has started me thinking about the virtue of vindication.

Vindication, according to Thomas Aquinas (the translation of vindicatio as 'vengeance' is not particularly good, but it does a little better than 'vindication' at indicating the forcefulness the Latin word conveys), is an important virtue associated with justice. It consists of the infliction of 'penal evil' on a wrongdoer. 'Penal evil' is punishment.

Now, since we are inflicting punishment on a person, there's a sense in which vindication is a dangerous virtue; there is always danger of going into an act of vindication in a vicious state of mind. For instance, if the intention is directed chiefly to the evil, and 'rests' there, dwelling on it, that is a corrupt intention; it involves taking pleasure in evil done to another, however slight, and thus is hatred of one's fellow human being (which, of course, is contrary to charity). However, if the intention be a good intention, i.e., if the point of the act of vindication is not merely to 'get back' at someone, but is to accomplish some genuine good (e.g., repentance, restoration of the innocent, etc.) then an act of vindication can be a virtuous and just act. Indeed, in many cases not vindicating others is unjust. For instance, it is the responsibility of someone in position of authority to do what he or she can to vindicate the innocent; and (Aquinas is very clear about this, and quite rightly, too), whatever may be the virtue of patiently enduring wrongs against oneself, it is wicked to overlook wrongs done against others. According to Aquinas, the primary root of vindication is zeal: the fervent love of others that makes one rise up when injustice is committed against them. The vices opposed to the virtue of vindication are (by excess) cruelty or brutality in punishment and (by deficiency) remissness in vindication.

Aquinas has a brief but interesting discussion of vindication when 'the whole multitude of people' is guilty. When it is not possible to separate out the innocent from the guilty, vindication may be taken against the multitude itself, either in whole or in some particularly egregious part. When separation is possible, vindication should be taken against the guilty, assuming that this does not scandalize the innocent themselves. (If it does scandalize the innocent, some alternative would have to be found, e.g., a milder vindication or an amnesty, unless the scandal is a lesser evil than not engaging in the act of vindication.)

But what means of vindication may there be? What is appropriate depends on the particular case. Aquinas follows Cicero and Augustine in identifying eight kinds of penal evil:

Involving forfeiture of bodily safety
death, stripes, retaliation

Involving forfeiture of freedom
servitude, imprisonment

Involving forfeiture of external goods
exile (the good of citizenship), fines (the good of wealth), ignominy (the good of reputation)

Except for death, which is reserved for the gravest cases, these punishments all admit of varying degrees. The purpose of punishment in vindication is medicinal: the person who vindicates punishes in order to restore the health of society.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

God or Not

An interesting development: the God or Not Carnival. Its mission:

GOD or NOT exists to bring theist and atheist thought on a variety of religious issues together in one place on a regular basis. The goal is threefold. First, neither side can hope to make any progress without fully understanding the opposing viewpoint. Second, understanding defuses animosity and eliminates misconceptions. Third, there are plenty of people out there who are "on the fence" when it comes to god. We hope that this Carnival can help them make up their minds one way or the other.

It alternates at atheistic and theistic sites. The first God or Not Carnival, on the subject of sin, was at Skeptic Rant. The next one, at Eternal Revolution, is on the topic of proof, and will take place on November 7th.


Scotistic Argument in the Mouth of a Mouse
This cartoon is very similar to an argument by Scotus, based on a different argument by Avicenna. Avicenna famously defended the principle of noncontradiction by saying that those who denied it should be whipped until they admitted that to be whipped and not to be whipped were not the same thing. Scotus adapted this argumentum ad baculum to another purpose: roughly, those who think that all things are necessary should be whipped until they admit that it would have been possible that they not be whipped.

Gallup on Paul
Statguy also notes that George Gallup has responded to the news reports that were touting Gregory Paul's study on the harmful effects of religiosity.

Baldur the Beautiful is Dead
Via Rebecca Writes. As the opening of the LW&W movie comes closer, the smear campaign against Narnia begins in earnest. What always strikes me about the criticisms made against the Narnia books is that they fit very clearly the Vigilante school of criticism that Lewis discusses in An Experiment in Criticism, and are entirely lacking in the myth-induced joy that C. S. Lewis himself always felt about non-Christian myth, e.g., the death of Baldur. I've known many atheists who enjoy the Narnia books as myth, without any commitment to Christian theology at all; but there are always people who lack the relevant taste to do that, and some of those are always bent on ruining the enjoyment of others. There are questions that could be asked, of course, (e.g., whether the Calormenes get a fair shake), but it is one thing to say the question is worth asking and another thing to set out to attack (as many of these criticisms implicitly do) the people who enjoy the stories. It's noteworthy, though, that this vigilante puritanism (for lack of a better term) against Narnia is something that can spring up regardless of one's views; one occasionally finds Christians who indulge in it as well as non-Christians. Conversely, one finds non-Christians as well as Christians who are enthusiastic about the stories as stories. It's a matter of bad taste vs. good taste rather than (as the vigilante puritanists often try to make it) of bad morals vs. good morals.

Life of Berkeley
Aaron Cobb has two posts relevant to the life of Bishop Berkeley. One is about Berkeley's meeting with Malebranche. It's apocryphal (Berkeley did put in his journal that intended to meet Malebranche, but we don't know if he actually did; and this would have been several months before Malebranche's death), but it's one of those apocryphal stories that should be true. However, the old story about how Jonathan Swift used to tell his servants not to unlock the door for Berkeley because, the door being all in Berkeley's mind, he could think his way through it, appears to be true. (Berkeley and Swift were good friends, and interacted quite a bit when Berkeley was in London.) The second gives biographical details about Berkeley, including a statement by his wife. It isn't surprising that Plato was one of Berkeley's principal authors; as I've noted on this weblog before, Berkeley was a Platonist. As to how he manages to be both a Platonist and a nominalist -- I'll have to post about it at some point. Berkeley is a very interesting person. Richard Steele (I think) once said of him that Berkeley was the only person he had ever met who had both an angel's intellectual ability and an angel's moral character. He spent much of his life trying to help the poor (in fact his fascination toward the end of his life with tar-water was due to his desire to find a way for the poor to have access inexpensive medical treatment).

Feminists and Real Feminists
Hugo Schwyzer has an interesting post at Cliopatria on bringing people into the fold vs. remaining true to commitments in the case of feminism.

UPDATE: Todas Mentiras
As Ralph Luker says at Cliopatria, Chris Bray's reading of the Iraqi constitution is itself worth reading. I was talking once with a Mexican school teacher, very proud of her Mexican heritage, about the Mexican constitution (which in its discussion of the rights of citizens promises a lot); she summed up the constitution as todas mentiras, all lies -- i.e., it was full of good intentions, but the good intentions were without any efficacy. I wonder if the Iraqi constitution will turn out to be the same. I worry about this when I read assertions like, "Iraq shall observe the principles of a good neighborliness," and "The State shall undertake combating terrorism in all its forms" or "Equal opportunities are guaranteed for all Iraqis" or "Work is a right for all Iraqis so as to guarantee them a decent living." A written constitution, I think, while it should be principled in its discussion, should in itself be largely a matter of procedures rather than principles, i.e., it should restrict and apportion powers rather than make grandiose claims. Rather than say that work is a right, or in addition to saying that work is a right, it should provide the mechanisms that make it possible to treat work as a right, and if it can't, it should use restraint in its claims. One of the most important features a written constitution can have is credibility; one of the chief strengths of the U.S. Constitution, for instance, is that it has such immense credibility for Americans that they can almost take it for granted. Such is the credibility of the U.S. Constitution for many Americans that they have difficulty even thinking outside its terms. That's real constitutional strength; and it's what you should aim for in developing your constitution. If the constitution promises things on which it can't deliver, however, it loses credibility; people not only have no difficulty thinking of other ways things could be done, they are faced with them every day. Further, the more grandiose claims your constitution makes, the more dependent you become on the courage, integrity, and rationality of the judges in your court system. Which is perhaps fine, if you already have an astoundingly good judicial system, which is both efficacious and self-restrained; but it's not something you should generally assume will be readily available.

A Polyphony of Fictions

Incredulity doesn't kill curiosity; it encourages it. Though distrustful of logical chains of ideas, I loved the polyphony of ideas. As long as you don't believe in them, the collission of two ideas--both false--can create a pleasing interval, a kind of diabolous in musica. I had no respect for some ideas people were willing to stake their lives on, but two or three ideas I did not respect might still make a nice melody. Or have a good beat, and if it was jazz, all the better.

--Casaubon, in Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. (The name of the character, by the way, is very fitting, given that Eco's Casaubon, like Eliot's, gets tangled up in a Key to All Mythologies.)


The 18th History Carnival is up at Acephalous.

The Fourth Poetry Carnival is up at Talking to Myself. To submit to the next one, see Poetic-Acceptance, which will be hosting it.