Friday, November 18, 2005

The Virtue of Amiability

The virtue of amiability results from the fusion of several strong virtues. It is the all things to all men that grows out of charity: the knowledge of self that humility teaches; the pure detachment found in mortification; the meekness born of patience; and the undaunted courage won of perseverance... The Code of Amiability obliges one:

1. To smile until a kindly smile forms readily on one's lips.
2. To repress a sign of impatience at the very start.
3. To add a word of benevolence when giving orders.
4. To reply positively when asked to do a favor.
5. To lend a helping hand to the unfortunate.
6. To please those toward whom one feels repugnance.
7. To study and satisfy the tastes of those with whom one lives.
8. To respect everyone.
9. To avoid complaining.
10. To correct, if one must, with kindness.
These are the dispositions which union with the amiable Virgin will place in our heart.

--the Venerable Maria Teresa Josefina Justina Gonzalez-Quevedo, a.k.a., Teresita Gonzalez-Quevedo (quoted from the biography here).

That's a Code I can live with. But, ah! So difficult in its simplicity!

Links and Notes

* John Samson has a nice post on divine foreknowledge at "Reformation Theology." (HT: Rebecca Writes)

* "The Crusty Curmudgeon" reviews a South Park episode on a certain religious organization associated with celebrities like Travolta and Cruise. I confess I'm a South Park fan; I've even used one of its episodes ("The Tooth Fairy Tats 2000") in a class for the purposes of review (a delightful subplot of the episode is Kyle's crisis of doubt when he finds out that the Tooth Fairy and Santa don't exist; the crisis is overcome in part by the reading of Descartes -- I had the students discuss what Descartes would agree with and what he wouldn't).

* Orac at "Respectful Insolence" discusses the recent arrest of David Irving in Austria for Holocaust denial.

* Mark Grimsley at "Blog Them Out of the Stone Age" critically discusses the concept of 'fourth generation warfare' in two posts (and soon to be three).

* Mark Roberts has a thirty-part series of posts on the question Are the New Testament Gospels Reliable? The posts strike a good balance between being readable and dealing with the technical issues. He's currently blogging on the question of churches and politics, which has become a big issue recently, given the recent furor about IRS action against All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California for the preaching of an anti-war sermon. Roberts's analysis, which I found a bit surprising (and with which I'm inclined to disagree), is that the sermon probably did violate IRC 501(c)(3).

* "Novum Testamentum" has a post giving a translation of Arius's Thalia, which sums up the heresiarch's theology.

* At "18th-Century Reading Room" a while back, there was a post with a selection from Hume's essay, The Epicurean. "The Epicurean" is the first of four essays on human happiness, the other three being The Stoic, The Platonist, and The Sceptic. None of these essays portray Hume's own view. The best way to see them is as a dialogue, in which each speech needs to be counterbalanced against the others. (There are two kinds of dialogue, according to Cicero, who is Hume's biggest influence in these matters; the more familiar dialectical, which emulates a conversation, and the rhetorical, in which the characters don't converse but give set speeches.) Each of the speeches is supposed to sum up a view of human happiness that naturally tends to arise among the human race. Hume clearly sympathizes most with the Sceptic, and least with the Platonist; but each of the speakers captures something of the truth, and the Sceptic's position doesn't strictly match Hume's position elsewhere. Both the Stoic and the Epicurean, for instance, say things with which Hume would clearly agree. In any case, I'm glad to see these essays out and about. They deserve to be better known, being some of Hume's better philosophical writing.

Heidegger and Nazi Ideology

Nathanael has a good post at The Rhine River on whether Heidegger's association with the Nazi party taints his philosophy. My position, in the comments, is the strong one that it does. It's OK to be influenced by Heidegger -- but only by rethinking Heideggerian thought so that it stands over against Nazi ideology and Heidegger himself insofar as he did not.

I confess I don't understand why people try to deny the connection between Heidegger's philosophy and his participation in the Nazi party; even in later life, when Heidegger tried to play down his earlier association with Nazi ideology (as in the Der Spiegel interview, or in letters to Herbert Marcuse), he still affirmed a link between his philosophical interests and his joining of the Nazi party.

The only evidence we have for the common narrative put forward by Heidegger defenders is Heidegger's own suspect testimony (suspect not merely because he's the one under suspicion and because it's the sort of thing people lie about, but also because we have the claims of some of his friends and colleagues that Heidegger had a bad habit of lying -- Hannah Arendt, one of Heidegger's most important defenders in later life, was very clear about it). The common narrative is, roughly, that he joined in the naive belief that he could provide a philosophy to the Nazi party, became rector in 1933, then "discovered his political mistake," resigned, and lectured from a completely non-Nazi standpoint then on out, moderating his opposition to the Nazis only in order to protect his family. If we set aside Heidegger's own testimony, the picture that seems suggested by the evidence is this: the common narrative is right up to the point of the rectorship; he resigned the rectorship not so much because of resistance by the Nazis to philosophical thought, but primarily because of resistance by the faculty to his zealous promotion of the Fuhrer-principle; after his resignation in 1934, he continued to affirm Nazi values ("the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism"), but successively distanced himself from the actual regime; even as late as 1938 he was working to block the advancement of academics on the excuse that they were "unfavorably disposed to the regime" (in the Max Müller incident); and on the rare occasions in later years when he mentioned the Holocaust, he always trivialized it.

There really can be no serious argument that Heidegger's philosophy was not (at least at one period of his life) Nazi. We can only manage such a claim by gerrymandering Heidegger's thought under the Nazi regime. And I am always very disappointed by the weasely evasions put forward by Heidegger and some of his defenders. There is no doubt that Heidegger was a brilliant man; and there is no doubt that one can learn a great deal from his thought. But people who approach Heidegger need to approach him in a way that does not trivialize the seriousness of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust. It is surprising how many people are willing to do precisely that in order to give Heidegger's philosophy a clean bill of health. There can be no sharp distinction between Heidegger the man and the philosophy he put forward. The one was the Nazi; the other was the philosophy of a Nazi who saw it in one period of his life as the core expression of the true spirit of National Socialism. I have no problem with people who are influenced by Heidegger, or who wish to appropriate Heideggerian themes. But we have a moral responsibility to do so (if we do so) only by purgation. The themes and ideas must become part of a system resolutely against everything the Nazis stood for; yes, and resolutely against Heidegger insofar as he supported the Nazis, and Heidegger's philosophy, insofar as it was adapted to being the philosophy of the "inner truth and greatness of National Socialism". Even at the very most optimistic assessment, Heidegger's association with the Nazis, an association he always depicted as philosophical, show serious and dangerous lacunae in Heidegger's own philosophical views. However one cuts the cake, if Heidegger is to be saved, Heidegger must be overcome.

Dashed Off

As I've said before, I'm constantly scribbling down thoughts. Here's a semi-random sample of some of them; some are promising, some less so, some are barely coherent.

When people are infused through and through with a story, they begin to allegorize it, and to treat it as more than a bare anrration, but as a template for understanding other things.

The just application of law is impossible unless we allow moral judgment to play a role in the application.

That something is unearned does not mean that we have no claim to it (e.g., if I freely give you a bite of my sandwich, you have not earned the gift, but you have some claim to it because I had claim to it and gave it to you).

we can have claim to something by

Work does not ennoble. We ennoble work, by bringing into it a radiant goodness. (God working in us.)

Inferring what will happen in the future on teh basis of the past is only one form of induction, which need not take temporal form at all, and, if it does, could just as easily conclude to something about the present. (Of course, the latter would ordinarily be collapsed into the past->future case -- but that shows that temporality, real temporality, is not relevant to induction at all, and that the eral issue in induction is movement from the known to the unknown. But when we see it in that light, we see that the known is the best basis for any inference, even if we sometimes, or even very often, infer the wrong conclusion: we go with what we have, and there's nothign unreasonable about that unless one treats one's inference --the 'It is this way for cases we know, so let's go with that unless we have reason tor egard this case as different' inference --as something needing magic powers or supernal reliability. It's not magic; it's just reasonable.) In any case, time is a red herring, or at best a crutch. Past and present have no special role to play as past or present.

Induction is not the most general form of reasoning about matters of fact. (Lady Mary Shepherd essentially shows this.)

I hit the desk. Crack! The sound echoes off the wall. You have sensed causation. Do you deny it? I will show you again. Crack! Crack! Crack! -- until you impatiently recognize me as the cause of the noise.

If we have a means to an end, it is not necessary to 'use it as a means', for it might be a means in the sense of a subsidiary or contributive end. Not all means are valued only as means (virtues are a good example, since virtues are certainly means, but not 'merely' so).

Faith is needed in inquiry because patience is needed in inquiry.

A truthmaker entails and explains the truth of a proposition-- it is in that sense that it makes it true.

More than one thing can be a truthmaker for a proposition; and propositions can also have a collective for their truthmaker.

Truthmakers are truthmakers under a description.

To be is to be a truthmaker.

In the real world, the benefits of cooperation and defection are not stable unless made so.

We do not extend teleology to nonhumans by metaphyr; we restrict teleology from them by education and analysis, i.e., by sorting them into 'metaphorically teleological' and 'literally teleological'.

the intellect as
1) potens omnia facere
2) potens omnia fieri
Intellect as intellect is infinite.

What Kant calls indirect duties, Hume would call natural virtues.

Philosophy, like good wine, must age to be appreciated properly and with good taste. Leting things ferment productively is the greater part of any good taste.

'Production' is broader than 'causation' understood efficiently.

The Golden Rule is not a simplification of the law, but a sumamry: in actual cases, it diversifies as widely as the law properly understood.

We often talk about respect for persons and forget to talk about solidarity with them.

In oral poetry a word is a unit of meaning rather than a unit of form.

Regresses of causal chains are all, or often, potentially infinite; this tells us nothing about whether actual infinite regress is possible.

The horror genre is centered on the monstrous. The monstrous is in some way unknown--a purely analyzed monster ceases to be monstrous. The monstrous baffles our sense of the why.

Frankenstein & Dr. Moreau: the monster as a means for showing the monstrous in the man

In belief, as in murder, the agent must have motive, means, and opportunity.

In theological compatibilism, hell is ultimately an expression of the glory and power of God, and only a punishment as a means thereto. It is determinism itself that pushes it in that direction.

The united testimony of mankind is that life is usually pretty good and sometimes very miserable.

It is not enlightenment of the oppressed that frees, but transformation of the oppressor into a nonoppressor. Slaves are not freed by rebellions, nor by recognizing their slavery, but by the slavers ceasing to be slavers.

Zohar III, 65b: "First came Ehyeh, the dark womb of all; then asher ehyeh, indicating the readiness of the Mother to beget all."

Informal fallacies are often defenses against sophism that have been misused.

Legal obligation can be studied independently of the consequences following on its violation (e.g., as legal convention, as something regarded as having moral force, etc.). Sanction is a (higher-level) superinduction on an obligation that already exists, where it is legitimate (it imposes a legal obligation about how to handle violations of legal obligations).

In historical as in other causes, the total cause must be adequate for the effect.

It is not enough to study each parable in isolation; they play off each other and qualify each other, bringing out different aspects that others ignore.

It is a mistake to assume that all signs are used; i.e. that every sign is constituted a sign by use. If a dog by long experience associates laying out the napkins with appearance of food, the laying out of napkins will be recognized by teh dog as a sign of the food; but it is not, or need not be, the case that the sign is 'used' by the dog. Nor does the sign require 'rules of use', since all it requires is the potential for association. Nor does the sign of itself ahve to 'mean' anything, unless one simply identifies meaning with signification.

Are there really any 'epistemic obligations'? Who imposes them? With what authority? What is the nature of these obligations?--Note that the fact of sanction is not strong enough to make an obligation.--Are they moral obligations?--But there has never been a good reason for treating the matters discussed in this way as an ethics of belief (as opposed, to say, an ethics of profession or an ethics of investigation).

Perhaps also all this talk about 'warranted belief' is a red herring. Teh important issue is perhaps not whether beliefs have 'warrant' but whether this thing believed is better to believe than that thing believed. And the truly unreasonable person is the person who refuses to recognize that some things are better to believe than others.

A blogger can never take himself too lightly.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Albertus Magnus

I'm a little late (his feast day is November 15), but I do want to do something to mark the occasion. Albert the Great, the Doctor Universalis, is the patron saint of scientists and best known for being the teacher of Thomas Aquinas. Discussing the life of plants, he laid down the principle, Experimentum solum certificat in talibus (experience alone is the judge in such matters); and in discussing minerals, he said, "The aim of science of nature is not simply to accept the statements of others, but to investigate the causes that are at work in nature." There's an enthusiastic biography of him online. One of the most famous paintings of the Doctor Universalis is here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Weblogs and the Conversible World

I confess, bloggers puzzle me.

As you might know, Scott Adams of 'Dilbert' fame has his own weblog. Recently he had a post about the intelligent design debate, written in his usual barely coherent and not-very-serious way; PZ Myers responded, in a post in which he said that Adams had blindly accepted the claims of the IDers; Adams protested Myers's representation of his post, mocking him in the process; and then Myers responded with a reply that, I must confess, I find so completely mystifying I must be missing something, since the only thing PZ attributes to Adams that I can actually find in Adams's post is Adams's claim that he's not an IDer (which he had already said in the first post). The dust-up actually doesn't interest me much, except insofar as it, particularly as represented in the comments on the posts in question, illustrates a characteristic of the blogosphere that sometimes worries me, namely, the ease with which it slides into reactionary, Us vs. Them responses. There is a side of blogging that is very progressive and constructive, in the sense that it encourages people to expand their horizons and try to understand each other better -- one sees this most clearly in interactions between academic bloggers and (often, although not always) in Carnivals. There is also a side of blogging that is exactly the opposite, reactionary and destructive. Part of this, I think, is the ease with which blogging turns into ranting. Everyone lets off a little steam occasionally; but for some people blogging, or commenting on blogs, becomes simply an occasion for ranting at other people, and ranting can get a little contagious (a rant from one side inspires a rant from the other; one rant is confirmed by a chorus of supporting rants; etc.). Part of it is that weblogs are a quick-reading medium; a weblog is not a forum that naturally encourages close or careful reading of what other people write. As such, it is easy for people to be misinterpreted. There are, I'm sure, other reasons (e.g., I have very little doubt that political punditry is a contributor).

So this has started me wondering whether there are any ways to improve the blogosphere in regard to this -- a sort of grass-roots movement devoted to improved exchange in the blogospheric sector of the Republic of Letters. I haven't been able to think of much. But it occurs to me that bloggers might be well-advised to start thinking of themselves more explicitly as part of a Republic of Letters, a system of thoughtful correspondence in which members cooperate with the goal of mutual improvement and progress -- blogging as a civilizing process in which we carry civilization to new heights. Hume in one of his essays (Of Essay-Writing) makes a distinction between the learned and the conversible realms of rational discourse ("The elegant Part of Mankind, who are not immers'd in the animal Life, but employ themselves in the Operations of the Mind, may be divided into the learned and conversible"). Both are of importance and, Hume says, the separation of the two is a defect; there needs to be a free communication and correspondence between the two worlds. One of the things academic bloggers often like about blogging is that, since they are ordinarily engaged in learned discourse, it provides them a convenient forum for participating in conversible discourse -- they get to be, as Hume considered himself to be, "a Kind of Resident or Ambassador from the Dominions of Learning to those of Conversation"; likewise, they get to take the materials of common conversation and reflect on them as members of a learned community (manufacture, is Hume's metaphor). Learning suffers when shut off from the conversible world. This is one reason why I think academic blogs are often so good: they are at least trying to unite the two worlds into one Commonwealth.

For this approach to blogging to work, however, it is necessary for the blogosphere to make of itself a reputable Conversible World, a polite society ('polite' here not meaning 'nice', but the old sense of 'civilized', 'exhibiting cultivated taste'). It's a world that doesn't have to be pedantic or academic or even, in the strict sense, scholarly:

The conversible World join to a sociable Disposition, and a Taste of Pleasure, an Inclination to the easier and more gentle Exercises of the Understanding, to obvious Reflections on human Affairs, and the Duties of common Life, and to the Observation of the Blemishes or Perfections of the particular Objects, that surround them. Such Subjects of Thought furnish not sufficient Employment in Solitude, but require the Company and Conversation of our Fellow-Creatures, to render them a proper Exercise for the Mind: And this brings Mankind together in Society, where every one displays his Thoughts and Observations in the best Manner he is able, and mutually gives and receives Information, as well as Pleasure.

Surely that sounds rather like blogging at its best? This requires that the conversible world be treated as part of the Republic of Letters, however; when it is not, problems arise:

Must our whole Discourse be a continued Series of gossipping Stories and idle Remarks? Must the Mind never rise higher, but be perpetually

Stun'd and worn out with endless Chat
Of WILL did this, and NAN said that.

This wou'd be to render the Time spent in Company the most unentertaining, as well as the most unprofitable Part of our Lives.

And that sounds too much like blogging at its worst, and not merely on the personal-journal weblogs (which, after all, have an excuse): bloggers when they rant are just devoting themselves to a less benign set of 'gossipping Stories and idle Remarks'. There must be ways to cultivate the blogosphere as a more successful Conversible World than we have yet done. Any ideas?

Norris's Prayer

O God of Order and Beauty, who sweetly disposest all things, and hast establish'd a Regular course in the visible World, who hast appointed the Moon for certain Seasons, and by whose decree the Sun knoweth his going down, let the Moral world be as Regular and Harmonious as the Natural, and both conspire to the declaration of thy Glory. And to this End grant that the Motion of our Minds may be as orderly as the Motion of Bodyes, and that we may move as regularly by Choice and free Election, as they do by Natural instinct and Necessity.

O God of Light and Love, warm and invigorate my Light, and direct and regulate my Love. In thy Light let me see Light, and in thy Love let me ever Love. Lord I am more apt to err in my Love than in my understanding, and one Errour in Love is of worse Consequence than a thousand in Judgment, O do thou therefore watch over the Motions of my Love with a peculiar governance, and grant that I my self may keep this Part with all diligence, seeing hence are the issues of Life and Death.

O Spirit of Love, who art the very Essence, Fountain and Perfection of Love, be thou also its Object, Rule, and Guide. Grant I may Love thee, and what thou love'st, and as thou love'st. O Clarify and refine, inlighten and actuate my Love, that it may mount upward to the Center and Element of Love, with a Steddy, Chast, and unsullied Flame; make it unselvish, universal, liberal, generous and Divine, that loving as I ought I may contribute to the Order of thy Creation here, and be perfectly Happy in loving thee, and in being lov'd by thee Eternally hereafter. Amen.

From John Norris, The Theory and Regulation of Love (1688) pp. 142-143.

Whewell on Laws of Nature

What we call a general law is, in truth, a form of expression including a number of facts of like kind. The facts are separate; the unity of view by which we associate them, the character of generality and of law, resides in those relations which are the object of the intellect. The law once apprehended by us, takes in our minds the place of the facts themselves, and is said to govern or determine them, because it determines our anticipations of what they will be. But we cannot, it would seem, conceive a law, founded on such intelligible relations, to govern and determine the facts themselves, any otherwise than by supposing also an intelligence by which these relations are contemplated, and these consequences realized. We cannot then represent to ourselves the universe governed by general laws otherwise than by conceiving an intelligent and conscious Deity, by whom these laws were originally contemplated, established, and applied.

William Whewell, Astronomy and General Physics, Considered with reference to Natural Theology (1852) pp. 188-189.


* speculative catholic has a good post noting that it's the official Catholic position that death is natural to human beings (saying otherwise is heretical [at least in the broad sense that it has been condemned; I would have to look up what its precise status is--ed.]). I'd forgotten about the Baius controversy.

* Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology quiz. Baker's answer to (1) is fairly clearly false, however; since we can comprehend the description "a strange, undiscovered species of ant deep in the Amazon rain forest," it exists in the understanding -- discovery is not relevant to the question. As Anselm says, "When he hears of this, he understands it, and whatever is understood exists in the understanding." If "a strange, undiscovered species of ant deep in the Amazon rain forest" did not exist in the understanding, Baker couldn't intelligibly ask the question, because we wouldn't know what he was talking about.

* Tolkien Geek is blogging The Lord of the Rings. Awesome project.

* Why I Am Not Bertrand Russell at "Real Clear Theology Blog" discusses Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian. You'd think from the post alone that Steve is being excessively harsh, but, alas, he's not. The book is far and away Russell's least interesting work; and, while Russell does occasionally say something worth noting, the reasoning of the book sometimes descends into the embarrassingly bad. (HT: Rebecca Writes)

* Thursday is UNESCO World Philosophy Day. I know you'll all find a way to celebrate it. Attend a philosophy lecture. Read a philosophical work. Make a special effort to think critically. Do your best imitation of Socrates: Go to a party, get drunk, and debate the nature of love. Or pester your friends with questions in order to make them think. When they say something's true, ask them what truth is. If they say something's good, ditto.

UPDATE: History Carnival XX at "Tigerlily Lounge". I especially like the post on the man who saw a dragon at "Frog in a Well"

UPDATE2: Homer Simpson is Britain's Men's Health Magazine Philosopher of the Decade. Samantha Burns gives us a sampling of Homer's philosophical work.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

On Two Rarely Discussed Problems with ID Reasoning

An old but still (largely) good paper on why someone of scholastic tastes (like myself) might be a bit wary of this whole 'Intelligent Design' approach: On Attempts to Salvage Paley's Argument from Design (by Marie George). One of her criticisms of Behe (and his opponents) is especially notable:

I think, however, that both Behe and his opponents are on the wrong track. They fail to distinguish the need for causes which physically produce the object from causes responsible for the plan. Planning and actually constructing may be found in one agent, but need not be. The architect may never touch the house, but is certainly responsible for its construction; whereas the artisans who actually assemble the house may have no idea of its overall layout, but simply follow instructions. One might legitimately ask: Are those who deny design doing so simply because they have found agents which account for the house's completed assembly? Are those who are trying to defend design, seeking to show that there are no natural causes capable of assembling the effect so that a Designer has to directly intervene? It is not hard to see that it is one thing to have the 'smarts' to plan something, and it is another to have the physical power to realize a plan. For example, insects clearly have the power to produce ordered results, but they lack intelligence.

To put it another way, Behe (and, of course, he is not alone) muddles together different sorts of causes -- in particular, generating causes and exemplar causes. There is certainly an argument to be made that generating causes presuppose some sort of exemplary cause, the latter as it were etching out the possibility of the things in question coming to exist at all. But the question of whether we can have a Darwinian explanation of a type of biological system is entirely irrelevant to this argument, since at that level of explanation we aren't considering exemplar causes, just (proximate) generating causes (in particular, efficient causes that explain how a given type of organism arises and is perpetuated). And this is why there is a dangerous ambiguity in much ID talk. Things may 'exhibit design', and, I think, certainly do. But to exhibit design is simply to be related to an exemplar cause. What IDers are really advocating is that the exemplar cause is also the (proximate) generating cause, and we have no particular reason to grant that. It isn't impossible that it could turn out to be so -- as some IDers have said, it could very well be that we will turn out to find that intelligent aliens (for instance) have directly genetically engineered life on earth. That's possible, but none of our evidence points in this direction. The relation to an exemplar cause is important. It has a role to play in metaphysics, for instance, when we ask the question of why things are possible at all; and it would be the ultimate foundation why (e.g.) thinking of biology in engineering terms can be so useful. But it is not, at least as far as our evidence indicates, actually relevant to the sort of questions IDers want it to answer. They only think it is because they are equivocating. This equivocation is why the occasional appeal on the part of IDers to the fact that biologists use engineering-type reasoning, and treat organisms as designed (or as if they were designed), doesn't actually strengthen their case. It just shows that it is useful to think of effects in light of an exemplar cause (whether one does so in the belief that the exemplar cause actually exists, a claim for which I think good arguments exist, or just as a heuristic device, as most naturalists would want to claim). The real core of ID, however, is a very controvertible thesis about the relation between an effect's exemplar cause and its proximate efficient cause. And that's a different sort of thing altogether.

George also makes an interesting comparison between ID and occasionalism, although I don't think she develops it quite correctly. Occasionalism is the position that there is only one true cause (God) and all other 'causes' are really just occasions for the action of the true cause. ID is not occasionalism, but considering ID in light of occasionalism genuinely is interesting. The purpose of occasionalism was to give greater glory to God; by stripping creatures of causal power, occasionalists thought they were giving God His due. However, while you can be an orthodox Christian and an occasionalist, orthodox Christians almost never are. Occasionalism fails because it makes the mistake of treating primary causation (that of God) and secondary causation (the sort treated in, say, physics) as contraries. But they are not. Aquinas gives the classic statement of the problem by noting that occasionalism detracts from divine omnipotence in holding that it could not communicate a real causal power to creatures. Short of actually demonstrating that the attribution of causal powers to creatures is a contradiction, the occasionalist can't really claim to have given greater glory to God than the person who thinks creatures have real causal powers, for the latter denies no power to God that the occasionalist affirms, but the occasionalist denies a power to God that the latter affirms, namely, the power of giving power to creatures.

It is worth noting that the same criticism of occasionalism is found in Hume, who in ECHU 7.1 makes a remark with which Aquinas would fully agree:

Thus, according to these philosophers, every thing is full of God. Not content with the principle, that nothing exists but by his will, that nothing possesses any power but by his concession: they rob nature, and all created beings, of every power, in order to render their dependence on the Deity still more sensible and immediate. They consider not that, by this theory, they diminish, instead of magnifying, the grandeur of those attributes, which they affect so much to celebrate. It argues surely more power in the Deity to delegate a certain degree of power to inferior creatures than to produce every thing by his own immediate volition.

For Aquinas this is a substantive criticism, whereas for Hume it is a criticism of the internal plausibility of occasionalism (i.e., one of the things that makes occasionalism plausible to many people is something occasionalism actually doesn't have). But the basic point is the same. This is one of the reasons why occasionalism is not a popular theory of providence among Christians. The same reason that makes occasionalism unpalatable, however, should also make Christians wary of the sort of reasoning put forward by ID theorists. It's no secret that, while ID doesn't strictly imply Christian theism, one of the reasons why so many Christians are sympathetic to it is that it seems to them to cohere well with Christian theism. However, in that light the same problem with occasionalism arises with ID reasoning: short of actually demonstrating that it is a contradiction for creatures to have the particular causality under examination, ID doesn't actually yield what Christians have often thought it yields (it forces us into claiming a weaker, not a stronger, role for divine power in biological processes). The worry is weaker against ID than it is against occasionalism (chiefly because occasionalism is a completely general position, whereas ID is focused on a particular sort of case), but it should be there. The problem doesn't affect ID as such, but it should at least raise questions for many of the Christian supporters of the movement, questions that need to be considered but are not usually discussed.

There are other problems with ID reasoning (e.g., problematic presuppositions about chance causation), but I wanted to bring these two up because they are interesting, serious, and rarely considered.

Simia Quam Similis Nobis

Francis Bacon, The New Organon II, XXX:

Among Prerogative Instances I will put in the ninth place Bordering Instances, which I also call Participles. They are those which exhibit species of bodies that seem to be composed of two species, or to be rudiments between one species and another. These instances might with propriety be reckoned among singular or heteroclite instances, for in the whole extent of nature they are of rare and extraordinary occurrence. But nevertheless for their worth's sake they should be ranked and treated separately, for they are of excellent use in indicating the composition and structure of things, and suggesting the causes of the number and quality of the ordinary species in the universe, and carrying on the understanding from that which is to that which may be.

Examples of these are: moss, which holds a place between putrescence and a plant; some comets, between stars and fiery meteors; flying fish, between birds and fish; bats, between birds and quadrupeds; also the ape, between man and beast —

Simia quam similis turpissima bestia nobis;

likewise the biformed births of animals, mixed of different species, and the like.

'Simia quam similis turpissima bestia nobis' is from the Latin poet Ennius, but is known only because it is quoted by Cicero (De Natura Deorum, I, XXXV):

But how thoroughly beside the point the argument from resemblance, with which you are so mightily charmed, is in itself. Is not a dog like a wolf? And, as Ennius says:—

How like to us is the degraded ape!

Yet the character in both cases is different.

It means, "How similar the ape (simian), that very ugly beast, is to us!" We find what seems to be an allusion to it in Arnobius's Adversus Gentes, Book III:

But you will, perhaps, say that the gods have indeed other forms, and that you have given the appearance of men to them merely by way of honour, and for form's sake 50 which is much more insulting than to have fallen into any error through ignorance. For if you confessed that you had ascribed to the divine forms that which you had supposed and believed, your error, originating in prejudice, would not be so blameable. But now, when you believe one thing and fashion another, you both dishonour those to whom yon ascribe that which you confess does not belong to them, and show your impiety in adoring that which you fashion, not that which you think really is, and which is in very truth. If asses, dogs, pigs, had any human wisdom and skill in contrivance, and wished to do us honour also by some kind of worship, and to show respect by dedicating statues to us, with what rage would they inflame us, what a tempest of passion would they excite, if they determined that our images should bear and assume the fashion of their own bodies? How would they, I repeat, fill us with rage, and rouse our passions, if the founder of Rome, Romulus, were to be set up with an ass's face, the revered Pompilius with that of a dog, if under the image of a pig were written Cato's or Marcus Cicero's name? So, then, do you think that your stupidity is not laughed at by your deities, if they laugh at all? or, since you believe that they may be enraged, do you think that they are not roused, maddened to fury, and that they do not wish to be revenged for so great wrongs and insults, and to hurl on you the punishments usually dictated by chagrin, and devised by bitter hatred? How much better it had been to give to them the forms of elephants, panthers, or tigers, bulls, and horses! For what is there beautiful in man,-what, I pray you, worthy of admiration, or comely,-unless that which, some poet has maintained, he possesses in common with the ape?

Montaigne also uses the saying in his "Apology for Raymond Sebonde" (Essays II, XII):

Et quelles qualitez de nostre corporelle constitution en Platon et en Cicero ne peuvent servir à mille sortes de bestes ?
Celles qui nous retirent le plus, ce sont les plus laides, et les plus abjectes de toute la bande; car pour l'apparence exterieure et forme du visage, ce sont les magots :

Simia quam similis, turpissima bestia, nobis !

pour le dedans et parties vitales, c'est le pourceau. Certes quand j'imagine l'homme tout nud (ouy en ce sexe qui semble avoir plus de part à la beauté) ses tares, sa subjection naturelle, et ses imperfections, je trouve que nous avons eu plus de raison que nul autre animal, de nous couvrir. Nous avons esté excusables d'emprunter ceux que nature avoit favorisé en cela plus que nous, pour nous parer de leur beauté, et nous cacher soubs leur despouille, de laine, plume, poil, soye.

(For an English translation, albeit an old one, see here.)

Jabès on Judaism

The name was vaguely familiar, but I couldn't quite place it, so when Edmond Jabès was mentioned at The Rhine River, I went surfing to see what I could find. Jabès is a poet, but I think I had run across his name before in the context of something about poststructuralism. In any case, I came across this quotation, which I found interesting:

The Jew has been persecuted for being “other.” But “otherness” is the condition of individuation, the condition of being set apart from the rest of creation in the glorious — and murderous — species of humankind and, in addition, set apart from our fellow humans as individuals, always “other.”

Judaism: a paradoxically collective experience of individuation. Exemplary of the human condition.

(quoted from this review of Waldrop's study of Jabès)

The Speakers, the Star People


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