Sunday, December 31, 2006

Carnival of Citizens Call for Submissions

The third edition of the Carnival of Citizens will be held at Sportive Thoughts. The theme, Reconciliation, is discussed in the Call for Submissions; this theme is inclusive, which is to say that good posts not closely related to the theme may still be considered for the carnival. Please consider submitting something; the deadline is January 5th.

Science Fiction as Literature

At "The Volokh Conspiracy" Jonathan Adler asks whether there are any science fiction books that would qualify as literary masterpieces. As one commenter notes early on, a number of Jules Verne's novels are obvious cases of science fiction works that qualify as literary masterpieces. What I found interesting about the discussion, though, was that almost immediately the running favorite was Walter J. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz; because that was going to be my answer. It's exquisite, influential, and likely to last for a very long time. If you haven't read it, you should, particularly if you like science fiction.

I would also like to suggest that Olaf Stapledon's Sirius and Starmaker are both excellent attempts to craft literary masterpieces in science fiction format -- the former more successful than the latter -- even if you don't think they quite make it.

Out of Egypt

It has become common for Christians of a sort to say that family is not the meaning of the Christmas season; but of course, in at least some sense, it is: as today's feast bears witness. It's the Feast of the Holy Family. It's not one of the great solemnities of the universal Church, but it is an important celebration nonetheless. The entire human race is to some extent a family, however attenuated the ties may be; and the Word did not merely take on human form, he took on us, all of us, as his family. When we are born, we are not just born but familialized -- to use a horrible but needed neologism. We burst out into the world not merely as ourselves but as son or daughter, brother or sister, cousin or uncle or aunt. What is more, we burst out not merely as examples of our species but as members of the society of our species, and this is not a small part of being human. Christ did this with us, and the Holy Family is one of the most exquisite symbols of the Incarnation. When we say that God became man, or even that the Word became flesh, it's easy to lose ourselves in the apparent abstractness of it. We sometimes need to remind ourselves that part of the meaning of these phrases is that He became our distant cousin, by blood through Mary and by marriage through Joseph. That is solidarity in the strongest sense: that He threw in His lot with us as family.

While stuck at the airport yesterday, I read Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, and found it to be quite enjoyable. It's also a good book to review on the Feast of the Holy Family, because in great measure, this is a book about Christ as a member of the Holy Family, and all the complications that involved. I think it has a very good chance of taking its place with other fictional classics about the life of Christ, like Ben-Hur, The Robe, or The Silver Chalice. It is readable, engaging, and thoughtfully done.

An ongoing theme throughout the work is hiddenness. Christ is hidden from Herod in Egypt; His family works to hide his true nature from the world; and, perhaps more importantly, He is to some extent hidden from himself. As Rice puts it in her Author's Note:

I am certainly trying to be true to Paul when he said that Our Lord emptied himself for us, in that my character has emptied himself of his Divine awareness in order to suffer as a human being.

Thus the Christology of Christ the Lord is kenotic; however, as Rice insists, it is also thoroughly Chalcedonian. It's clear from the beginning that Jesus has what we might call, for lack of a better term, some vague inkling in the back of His mind of who He is, so it's not that He doesn't have His divine awareness in an absolute sense; Rice is very clear that He is God and Man from the start. Rather, the difficulty He struggles with is thinking this through given that He is human. At the beginning of the novel He has never thought it through (being only seven years old), and, when here and there He tries, He finds that He lacks the means of formulating it properly even to Himself. It's only as He interacts with His family and, bit by bit, uncovers the secrets of His past, which has been as much hidden from Him as it has been from the world. Because of this, the novel is in one sense perhaps even more about the Holy Family than it is about Christ; it is in one sense a story of the Holy Family from the perspective of Christ. Joseph, in particular, is well done, and this contributes greatly to the strength of the story, since Joseph plays a key role in Jesus's understanding of his place in the world; there is an impress of Joseph on Jesus's humanity, and it is artfully shown in some of the foreshadowing of later events in Christ's life.

There are some points about which one might quibble -- things one might have done differently; but I don't think any of them are important enough to bring to the fore. One of the interesting things about this work is that it is the expression of a sort of struggle, as all of Anne Rice's books have been. The Vampire books were all the expression of a struggle with being lost. This work is the beginning of her struggle with being found. The first is the struggle of a wanderer lost in a savage garden; the latter is the struggle of an athlete striving to run the good race. She is not wrong in saying that her life has led to this book; and if one's life is to lead to a book, this is a good one for it to be.

Of My Recent Travels

As you might have guessed, I have returned from the APA Eastern in Washington. (For non-philosophers, it might be worthwhile to point out explicitly that, unlike most major academic associations, the American Philosophical Association does not have a major meeting; it just has three regional meetings, of which the Eastern is the largest.) I flew up without any hitch on Thursday. I didn't have much maneuvering to do while in D.C., because I managed by good luck to get a reasonably good deal at the Marriott Wardman Park, where the meeting was held. I did have a bit of surprise on Thursday night, when I got a message from the front desk saying that they needed another method of payment because my credit card had been declined. I freaked out for a few minutes, then did some investigation, and found that I had already paid for the hotel room -- the reason I didn't have enough room on my card to pay for the room for the two nights I was there was that I had already paid for it. It's just that I had found the room through, and so I had paid them for the room. When this happens, the hotel just puts in the booking number and charges the room to their account; but when I had checked in the number hadn't been saved, or input properly, or something, so they didn't have it. I had given them my credit card number for incidental charges, so in going over the accounts they had tried to charge the card for the room. So it was a very good thing the charge was declined; if it had been accepted, there would have been an insane mess trying to clear the matter up, particularly since I wouldn't have found out about it until the next time I checked my balance. As it was, I just talked to the front desk, and we worked it out fairly easily.

Everything went well while I was there. I met Joe Ulatowski for coffee; not only was he taller than I expected, he had a much more All-American look than I usually associate with action theory geeks! We had an excellent discussion; I'm glad we were able to meet up, and things like this, even if nothing else, are an abundantly sufficient justification for academics to blog. In addition to my interviews, I tiptoed into a Leibniz Society meeting to listen to a paper by Ursula Goldenbaum. I didn't actually expect to enjoy it, since the question occasioning the paper, a recent wave of reinterpretation of Leibniz as being a 'soft rationalist', doesn't interest me very much, but the paper turned out to be quite excellent. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay around for the question period because my allergies had been going crazy and giving me a cough, which started up toward the end of the paper. (Quite literally half a dozen people I met over the time I was there mentioned, spontaneously, much the same problem, so there was something in the air -- either the hotel or the area was causing a problem.) I attended the reception on Friday night; it's rather amusing that pretty much everyone -- and I do mean pretty much everyone -- hates the receptions, but feel obliged to go and rub elbows, particularly when on the job market. In any case, I just went to catch up with a few friends and acquaintances I hadn't seen in a while, so, despite not liking receptions generally, I enjoyed myself.

Saturday at 4:30 a.m. the hotel fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate the building. (This is actually the second time that this sort of thing has happened to me while attending an event of this sort; I also had to go through it while staying at one of the UNLV dorms during a Hume Society meeting.) Apparently a couch somewhere had caught fire -- little flame but lots of smoke -- and we saw someone hauled off to the hospital in an ambulance for smoke inhalation. After about two hours or so I managed to get back to my room. Since my flight was at 11 am, and I like getting to the airport very early, I didn't see any point in going back to bed, so I just packed, nabbed a bit of breakfast, and checked out. The poor lady at the front desk asked, "Did you enjoy your stay, sir?" but halfway through the question her face contorted in the most pitiable way like she was expecting to be yelled at because of the fire alarm. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be surprised if someone had yelled at her already. In any case, I told her it had actually been quite good, and she seemed relieved.

So it was off to the airport; I arrived about two hours early, so I had breakfast again. You can never have too many breakfasts during travel. Then my flight was delayed two and a half hours. Since my layover in Houston was only two hours and twenty minutes, this seemed a serious problem; but my flight from Houston to Austin was delayed by four hours, so it turned out OK. I just arrived in Austin very late and very, very tired.

Thus it was an odd day, full of the unexpected. But, notably, it was not a bad one. Most people would consider it one, I suppose; but that's a bit silly.

Belloc on Becket

Friday was the feast of Thomas Becket, so I thought I'd put up this summary of the story by Hilaire Belloc.

The story is briefly this: A certain prelate, the Primate of England at the time, was asked to admit certain changes in the status of the clergy. The chief of these changes was that men attached to the Church in any way even by minor orders (not necessarily priests) should, if they committed a crime amenable to temporal jurisdiction, be brought before the ordinary courts of the country instead of left, as they had been for centuries, to their own courts. The claim was, at the time, a novel one. The Primate of England resisted that claim. In connection with his resistance he was subjected to many indignities, many things outrageous to custom were done against him; but the Pope doubted whether his resistance was justified, and he was finally reconciled with the civil authority. On returning to his See at Canterbury he became at once the author of further action and the subject of further outrage, and within a short time he was murdered by his exasperated enemies.

His death raised a vast public outcry. His monarch did penance for it. But all the points on which he had resisted were in practice waived by the Church at last. The civil state's original claim was in practice recognized at last. Today it appears to be plain justice. The chief of St. Thomas' contentions, for instance, that men in orders should be exempt from the ordinary courts, seems as remote as chain armors.


Now the Catholic approaching this wonderful story, when he has read all the original documents, understands it easily enough from within.

He sees that the stand made by St. Thomas was not very important in its special claims, and was probably (taken as an isolated action) unreasonable. But he soon gets to see, as he reads and as he notes the rapid and profound transformation of all civilization which was taking place in that generation, that St. Thomas was standing out for a principle, ill clothed in his particular plea, but absolute in its general appreciation: the freedom of the Church. He stood out in particular for what had been the concrete symbols of the Church's liberty in the past. The direction of his actions was everything, whether his symbol was well or ill chosen. The particular customs might go. But to challenge the new claims of civil power at that moment was to save the Church. A movement was afoot which might have then everywhere accomplished what was only accomplished in parts of Europe four hundred years later, to wit, a dissolution of the unity and the discipline of Christendom.

St. Thomas had to fight on ground chosen by the enemy; he fought and he resisted in the spirit dictated by the Church. He fought for no dogmatic point, he fought for no point to which the Church of five hundred years earlier or five hundred years later would have attached importance. He fought for things which were purely temporal arrangements; which had indeed until quite recently been the guarantee of the Church's liberty, but which were in his time upon the turn of becoming negligible. But the spirit in which he fought was a determination that the Church should never be controlled by the civil power, and the spirit against which he fought was the spirit which either openly or secretly believes the Church to be an institution merely human, and therefore naturally subjected, as an inferior, to the processes of the monarch's (or, worse, the politician's) law.

A Catholic sees, as he reads the story, that St. Thomas was obviously and necessarily to lose, in the long run, every concrete point on which he had stood out, and yet he saved throughout Europe the ideal thing for which he was standing out. A Catholic perceives clearly why the enthusiasm of the populace rose: the guarantee of the plain man's healthy and moral existence against the threat of the wealthy, and the power of the State--the self-government of the general Church, had been defended by a champion up to the point of death. For the morals enforced by the Church are the guarantee of freedom.

Europe and the Faith (Introduction) The emphasis, marked in bold above due to italic quotation, is Belloc's own.

Worthwhile Becket-related activities include reading The Parson's Tale, which is, of course, the sermon preached by the Parson to the pilgrims as they draw near to Becket's shrine at Canterbury, their intended destination. You can also read Edward Grim's eyewitness account of Becket's murder and, of course, if you can find it, T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Tomorrow, the 28th (and the Third Day of Christmas), is Childermas, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. I'll be travelling, so I'm posting this early. A Childermas poem by Christina Rosetti:

They scarcely waked before they slept,
They scarcely wept before they laughed;
They drank indeed death's bitter draught,
But all its bitterest dregs were kept
And drained by Mothers while they wept.

From Heaven the speechless Infants speak:
Weep not (they say), our Mothers dear,
For swords nor sorrows come not here.
Now we are strong who were so weak,
And all is ours we could not seek.

We bloom among the blooming flowers,
We sing among the singing birds;
Wisdom we have who wanted words:
here morning knows not evening hours,
All's rainbow here without the showers.

And softer than our Mother's breast,
And closer than our Mother's arm,
Is here the Love that keeps us warm
And broods above our happy next.
Dear Mothers, come: for Heaven is best.

In times of war and desolation, in times of tyranny and death, it is always essential in the Christmas season to remember the little ones who fall victim to the murderous impulses of mankind.

Feast of St. John

From Keble's The Christian Year:

"LORD, and what shall this man do?"
Ask’st thou, Christian, for thy friend?
If his love for Christ be true,
Christ hath told thee of his end:
This is he whom God approves,
This is he whom Jesus loves.

Ask not of him more than this,
Leave it in his Saviour’s breast,
Whether, early call’d to his bliss,
He in youth shall find his rest,
Or armed in his station wait
Till his Lord be at the gate:

Whether in his lonely course
(Lonely, not forlorn) he stay,
Or with Love’s supporting force
Cheat the toil and cheer the way:
Leave it all in his high hand,
Who doth hearts as streams command.

Gales from heaven, if so he will,
Sweeter melodies can wake
On the lonely mountain rill
Than the meeting waters make.
Who hath the Father and the Son,
May be left, but not alone.

Sick or healthful, slave or free,
Wealthy, or despis’d and poor—
What is that to him or thee,
So his love to Christ endure?
When the shore is won at last,
Who will count the billows past?

Only, since our souls will shrink
At the touch of natural grief,
When our earthly lov’d ones sink,
Lend us, Lord, thy sure relief;
Patient hearts, their pain to see,
And thy grace, to follow Thee.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Feast of St. Stephen, Proto-Martyr

Happy Boxing Day. It's the Feast of Stephen, as in the most famous song associated with this day:

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me, if you know it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain."

"Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,
You and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together,
Through the cold wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread now in them boldly,
You shall find the winter’s rage freeze your blood less coldly."

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
You who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.

Words to take to heart. The song, by the way, is by John Neale (1818-1866), who is mostly known for his translations of very old hymns into modern English.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Links and Linkables

God bless you all on this Feast of the Nativity. Some links I've been collecting for a post:

* Corey Robin discusses Arendt at LRB; worth reading. (ht: Cliopatria)

* Timothy Garton Ash on respecting believers when you don't respect their beliefs.

* Cobb delivers some well-deserved criticism of Kwanzaa-haters in Twas the Night Before Kwanzaa

* The video is somewhat hokey, but the song is powerful: Johnny Cash's God's Gonna Cut You Down at YouTube. Even more powerful is Cash's cover of the Ninch Inch Nails song, Hurt. Both are powerful instances of something Cash does exceptionally well: the memento mori.

* Speaking of music, December 22 was the fourth anniversary of Joe Strummer's death. All the work of the Conscience of Punk is good (Know Your Rights with The Clash is noteworthy), but I've always been especially bowled over by his cover of Bob Marley's Redemption Song.

* I only just got around to watching Kenneth Miller's January interview on The Colbert Report; but it's quite good.

* I've been listening to ABC Radio National's The Philosopher's Zone, hosted by Alan Saunders. It's quite interesting. For a taste, try John Bigelow's talk about Australia and metaphysics or the interview with Martin Bridgstock on his course devoted to skepticism and the paranormal. The December 30th program will be on what philosophers do and why.

* Via PZ Myers, I came across PandaSmash's transposition of Christmas carols into minor key -- basically, what they would sound like if they were scored the way horror movie music is. Quite cool.

* Speaking of which, the Little Professor has links for Victorian Christmas books and tales. Why 'speaking of which'? For the Victorians, Christmas was the season for ghost stories. Hence the most famous Christmas ghost story of all -- Dickens's A Christmas Carol.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

God in the Trough

Reading over Saint Gregory Thaumaturgos's beautiful Nativity sermon, I began thinking of the peculiarities of the Christian feast of Christmas. I don't think we think of them often enough during the Christmas season.

As a major solemnity Christmas generally plays a counterpoint to Easter: birth and re-birth, I suppose. It also has special relations to two other major solemnities -- Epiphany and Annunciation, and that's harder to pin down. Annunciation is the Feast of Incarnation; Epiphany is the Feast of Manifestation; but Christmas is a little of both, and has tended liturgically to absorb all their features. The Annunciation is about the Incarnation coming through faith; the Epiphany about having what was promised in full public sight; Christmas is a sort of odd twilight in between. We don't usually have much in the way of special celebrations of the Annunciation on March 25, and what we do have tends to celebrate it as a Marian feast, i.e., as Lady Day; there are still places and cultures where Epiphany is a big deal, but for the most part everything associated with it has over the years been swallowed up by Christmas. One reason seems to be liturgical -- we hang the movable feasts on the only real candidate for that, Easter, and we need another major feast to serve as the peg on which we hang the immovable ones. Annunciation and Christmas are the most plausible candidates, and Christmas has the advantage of being farther removed from Easter, and so capable of marking out the difference more clearly. Thus the role of Advent in the liturgical year, which, when diagrammed, becomes very clear.

But perhaps the chief reason is the power of its image. Easter has a powerful image: the Risen Christ in whom we are raised. But the image for the Feast of the Annunciation is very subtle. As Oscar Wilde wrote of it:

Was this His coming! I had hoped to see
A scene of wondrous glory, as was told
Of some great God who in a rain of gold
Broke open bars and fell on Danaƫ,
Or a dread vision as when Semele,
Sickening for love and unappeased desire,
Prayed to see God's clear body, and the fire
Caught her brown limbs and slew her utterly.
With such glad dreams I sought this holy place
And now with wondering eyes and heart I stand
Before this supreme mystery of Love:
Some kneeling girl with passionless pale face,
An angel with a lily in his hand
And over both the white wings of a dove.

Certainly lovely, but not overwhelming -- not a shower of gold, nor a devouring flame. Something much more indirect. Epiphany has its Star, but that's also indirect, and what it has beyond that it shares with Christmas. Christmas dominates over all, to some extent overbalancing even Easter, because it gives an image that simply blows the mind. We owe it to Luke the evangelist, who tells us of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem:

While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And again tells us of the message of the angels to the shepherds:

The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

And there we have it, thrown out almost casually, if angels can throw out anything almost casually. There is good news of great joy, and it is this: a savior has been born who is Messiah and Lord. And the sign of it is a blanket-wrapped baby in a feeding trough. As Gregory rightly puts it in the sermon linked to above:

But what shall I say and what declare? I see the carpenter and the manger, the Infant and the Virgin Birth-Giver, forsaken by all, weighed down by hardship and want. Behold, to what a degree of humiliation the great God hath descended. For our sakes "impoverished, Who was rich" (2 Cor 8:9): He was put into but sorry swaddling cloths -- not on a soft bed. O poverty, source of all exaltation! O destitution, revealing all treasures! He doth appear to the poor -- and the poor He maketh rich; He doth lay in an animal manger -- and by His word He sets in motion all the world. He is wrapped in tattered swaddling cloths -- and shatters the bonds of sinners having called the entire world into being by His Word alone.

And so we see the significance of Christmas. Annunciation is the Feast of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh; Epiphany is the Feast of His manifestation to the world as flesh. But Christmas grabs us, seizes us, because it is the Feast of His Humility, that he did not regard equality with God something to hold tight, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, coming in human likeness, found in human appearance, humbling himself. God wrapped in a blanket, lying in a trough in some cave in a tiny little town because no one had room for him elsewhere; unheralded and unsung except by angels in the heavens and shepherds coming in from the fields. Luke knew what he was doing; what he wrote down was one of the most memorable religious images in all of history. It seizes the mind, overwhelms it, sets it alight, and moves it to action.

This is why, incidentally, I am always wary about Christians criticizing people for celebrating Christmas, which we often do. We should not do this -- no, not if they put up their lights and tree ten weeks early, nor if they listen to inane songs, or whatever other random fits of daffing with which they may go crazy. They are caught in the grip of an image that cannot be shaken; it inflames them with a fever that they can hardly bear. It grabs their hearts by their handles and pours them out until they are half-mad and all irritable from the strain of it. And, absurd as some of the festivities may be, the fire that lights them is a little bit contagious; even on the fringes, where people isolate themselves as much as possible from the religious side, one still feels its influences. It's not always the healthiest madness, but it is a forgivable one. When Dionysius descends, can people not be caught up in the bacchanal? How can they hold back, and not romp in reverence? Is there nothing to be enthusiastic about in the celebration of God's own humility, rich in giving, unashamed to be poor? By one gift beyond all expectation, we are inspired in our own myriad little ways, however faulty, however absurd. But if God was so humble that he did not shirk being a poor baby boy laid in a trough, we are called to the same humility; to humble ourselves in giving, and, failing that, to humble ourselves to those things others do that we deem foolish or absurd or tacky. God had to put up with your own folly and absurdity and tackiness, but He did not hesitate to endure it, and, more than endure it, associate Himself with it, if that's what it took to bring you to light. And that's what it took. We should all let the humility rub off on us a bit.

By the way, if you haven't seen it, you should check out The Logic Museum's page on the Vulgate version of Luke's Nativity story. You can see a Latin manuscript, its transcription, and the English translation, all beautifully done.

Hilaire Belloc on Footnotes

Men will have pomp and mystery surrounding important things, and therefore the historians must, consciously or unconsciously, tend to strut, to quote solemn authorities in support, and to make out the vulgar unworthy of their confidence. Hence, by the way, the plague of footnotes.

These had their origin in two sources: the desire to show that one was honest and to prove it by a reference; the desire to elucidate some point which it was not easy to elucidate in the text itself without making the sentence too elaborate and clumsy. Either use may be seen at its best in Gibbon. With the last generation they have served mainly, and sometimes merely, for ritual adornment and terror, not to make clearer or more honest, but to deceive. Thus Taine in his monstrously false history of the Revolution revels in footnotes; you have but to examine a batch of them with care to turn them completely against his own conclusions--they are only put there as a sort of spiked paling to warn off trespassers. Or, again, M. Thibaut, who writes under the name of "Anatole France," gives footnotes by the score in his romance of Joan of Arc, apparently not even caring to examine whether they so much as refer to his text, let alone support it. They seem to have been done by contract.

Belloc, On Historical Evidence, First and Last. Spiked palings and contracted footnotes are, alas, too common still today. By the way, although the book is a delightful read, the best sketch in the book, and the one that everyone should read, is The End of the World.

Moral Intuitions and the Darwinian Dilemmaist

I've been thinking about Alex's recent post at "Atopian" on Moral Intuitions, based on some work by Sharon Street. The basic argument considered is the following:

1. Many of the moral intuitions that we are inclined to accept are those which evolutionary selection would favour.
2. Evolution favours our acceptance of those intuitions independently of whether they are true.
3. From (1) and (2), either: (a) The intuitions evolution favours just happen to coincide with truth, or (b) Many of our intuitions (those which evolution has favoured) have no justificatory weight.
4. (a) is hopelessly optimistic.

From (3) and (4):
5. Conclusion: (b) Many of our intuitions have no justificatory weight.

Premise (3) strikes me as somewhat problematic, since as stated the dilemma seems to be a false one. Given that evolutionary selection favors moral intuitions, and that it does so independently of whether they are true, and ruling out mere coincidence, our intuitions still could have justificatory weight if attributing such a weight to them could be justified by something that has justificatory weight. The moral realist isn't really caught in a dilemma; he faces a challenge (to give a justification of the moral intuitions in question, i.e., to show that in normal circumstances they at least probably have a tendency to be true, as far as is discernible from other things ascertained to be true), and that's a very different sort of thing. In that sense the fact that premise 1 pulls its punch -- that it talks about many rather than all -- turns out not to be so trivial as one might have thought.

But, as Alex notes, the premise that one would most likely contest is #2. The response to such a contest is that, whereas our ability to recognize the truth of factual statements increases our chances of survival, our ability to recognize the truth of value statements could not do so.

This is an interesting argument; but I have difficulty making much sense of it. Now, the likely avenue for arguing this is what we can call, following Sharon Street and others, the adaptive link alternative: that the reason such tendencies are favored is not that they are true, but that they are mechanisms linking certain kinds of circumstances to adaptive responses. It's clear that there are lots of these. For instance, one tendency I have is, having touched a very hot surface (circumstance) to withdraw my hand quickly (response); the link between circumstance and response here is adaptive in the sense that it increases my chances of reproducing (by decreasing my chances of dying).

There very clearly are value statements that, if both true and accepted as true, would contribute to the survival for both individual and species more than they would if they were false but accepted as true. Take, for instance, the claim, 'It is good for our health and well-being to be as accurate as possible about potential dangers'. If this is true, accuracy about potential dangers contributes to our survival -- since anything that is good for our health and well-being contributes to our survival -- and certainly more so than if it turned out to be false. Now, this is certainly a value statement, since 'good' is a value term; what is more, it is a second-order value statement, since 'well-being', and at least arguably 'health' and 'danger' as well, is a value term. So some intuitive tendencies to accept some kinds of value statements would be favored more if those value statements are true. And any value statements that are allowed in start ramifying; even if they are not morality in a strong sense, they are a 'lesser morality' (to use a Humean phrase), are often treated as moral statements, and quickly start connecting up to very strong moral statements with only a few suppositions.

The problem with the adaptive link response, as far as I can see, is that it's not actually a competitor explanation. For instance, I have a tendency to see middle-sized objects in my vicinity; this tendency both tracks truth and makes a massive contribution to a web of links between my various circumstances and my various responses -- a web of links that are adaptive because they increase my chances of reproducing by decreasing my chances of being killed by middle-sized objects in my vicinity and increasing my chances of finding a mate. It would be absurd, however, to say that because vision contributes to reproductive success that therefore it has no justificatory weight when it comes to the truth or falsehood of claims about middle-sized objects; for the obvious reason that it contributes to reproductive success for the very same reason it justifies claims about middle-sized objects -- namely, that it is a means of becoming informed, however fallible and limited and approximate the information may be, about middle-sized objects. Indeed, because vision has potential justificatory weight for claims about middle-sized objects, it has justificatory weight for claims about much, much more (scientific practice builds on this sort of thing). And a similar response is available to the moral realist: the reason we think that certain kinds of moral intuitions establish adaptive links between circumstances and responses is the very same reason we should think that these moral intuitions have some tendency, however fallible and limited and approximate, to truth. And, as I've noted, there are genuine value statements, however weak, that seem to fit this sort of strategy very well. The most plausible account of why we tend to treat knowledge of potential dangers as a good thing is one that admits that it is a good thing; it contributes to good states of being, which increases our chances of survival and healthy reproduction, thus establishing an adaptive link between circumstance and response. It is true, of course, that a species like us except for a tendency to believe that knowledge of potential dangers was a bad thing would be much less likely to leave offspring than we are. But what of it? That's simply a confirming reason to think that knowledge of potential dangers is a good thing. Contrary to the claims of Street and others, Bad Things really do sometimes eat you. That things can eat you is as good a sign that they are able to be Bad Things as that they are carnivores. And the moral realist just needs to take that and move on from there.

The Darwinian Dilemmaist would, I suspect, think that somewhere in this the moral realist is begging the question. Three points in particular seem likely to be made.

(1) Coincidence. How does the moral realist explain the fact that the tendencies toward beliefs that are true just happen to coincide with the adaptive links between circumstances and responses? But as noted, for at least some evaluative intuitions there seems to be no mystery and no coincidence; and given those, we can work our way up.

(2) Contrary Predispositions. How does the moral realist deal with the fact that we seem to have contrary predispositions -- tendencies to make bad evaluative judgments? But this seems no more to be a problem than the tendency of our senses sometimes to misinform us. Tendency to truth is not the same as infallible possession of it. Indeed, it is not even close. Our senses establish a tendency to make true judgments about objects that we sense, as well as sensible objects that we don't, and, under certain conditions, nonsensible objects as well. But this tendency is merely a tendency; and it's arguably nowhere as strong a tendency as we tend to think it is. What we do is reason things through, look at alternative explanations, gather additional information, in order to compensate for any weakness or limitation in the tendency. Further, it's clear that in the case of evaluations, especially moral evaluations, bad judgments can usually be traced to incompleteness. Thus, racist whites judge that whites are more morally valuable than blacks because they simply don't consider all the moral issues on the line in such a judgment. It's as if someone, having taken a look around the room, concluded that everything that existed at all was in that room, rather like Douglas Adams's man who rules the universe. But the fact that we often make judgments on incomplete information doesn't shed any light on whether our materials for judgment are any good.

(3) Bruteness. How does the moral realist explain why we don't tend to make other judgments (e.g., that infanticide is a good thing) other than by simply appealing to their falsehood as a brute fact? But the moral realist doesn't appeal to their falsehood as a brute fact -- he is perfectly able to give all the adaptive reasons the Darwinian Dilemmaist is able to give. The only difference is that whereas the Darwinian Dilemmaist tries to impose a false dilemma, the moral realist jumps through its horns. Consider a similar sort of argument for claims about middle-sized objects. The universe of logically possible claims about middle-sized objects is utterly immense; and many of these logically possible claims are things we have no particular tendency toward. For instance, I have no particular tendency to judge that this white, papery-looking block in front of me is a supernova. And the reason, I would be inclined to say, is that it pretty clearly is not a supernova, since it pretty clearly is a book. It would be nonsense to say that this is merely appealing to the falsehood of the claim 'This block is a supernova' as a brute fact. For one thing, I have multiple lines of evidence and reasoning at my beck and call to argue that this is not a supernova but is, in fact, the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association, which is a very different thing. Likewise, I can point out that a supernova is more interesting than the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association. But I don't have to appeal to this as a brute fact; I can point out all sorts of reasons to think it so.

One reason I can do this is that particular judgments are merely particular judgments, but tendencies to make good judgments cover entire regions of judgment. If I take any particular judgment, such as 'This thing that I see is not a supernova', the adaptive link discussion tells us nothing about it, for the obvious reason that if I have genuine tendencies (however limited, fallible, or approximative) to make good factual judgments about middle-sized objects in my vicinity, all that I need to make this particular judgment is for this thing, falling within my field of vision, actually not to be a supernova. Similarly, the Darwinian Dilemmaist seems to be engaging in a confusion of levels when arguing against the moral realist. There are actually two issues:

(1) what explains our tendencies or predispositions to make a certain kind of judgment about X
(2) what explains the fact that this particular kind of judgment about X is a good one.

The moral realist has a (2)-explanation for certain kinds of value judgments: that there really are values of a certain kind. He then points out that this goes some way toward a (1)-explanation, because some of these values are clearly adaptively relevant if true, and from these we can rationally expand our field of discussion to encompass all sorts of good moral judgments. The Darwinian Dilemmaist responds that we have a (1)-explanation, namely, that some of the values are adaptively relevant and that therefore there is no need for (2)-explanation. But we know in fact that this is not generally the case; for instance, no one would accept a Darwinian Dilemma for visual realism, because (1)-explanations don't usually tell us much of anything relevant to (2)-explanations. It is true that the moral realist needs multiple lines of evidence suggesting that the tendency is not a bad one and that some of the resulting judgments are certainly good ones -- as the visual realist definitely has. But this sort of confirmation is all the moral realist needs. And moral realists don't ignore this point; they don't simply point to the predispositions and then say, 'That's that'. They elaborate, give reasons for thinking the predisposition tends in the right direction here but not, due to unusual circumstances, there, and so forth. And that's what really would need to be examined to see whether moral realism is a cup that can hold water.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Butler on Oppression and Self-Deception

Whoever will consider the whole commerce of human life will see, that a great part, perhaps the greatest part, of the intercourse amongst mankind, cannot be reduced to fixed determinate rules. Yet in these cases, there is a right and a wrong: a merciful, a liberal, a kind and compassionate behaviour, which surely is our duty; and an unmerciful contracted spirit, a hard and oppressive course of behaviour, which is most certainly immoral and vicious. But who can define precisely wherein that contracted spirit and hard usage of others consist, as murder and theft may be defined? There is not a word in our language which expresses more detestable wickedness than oppression: yet the nature of this vice cannot be so exactly stated, nor the bounds of it so, determinately marked, as that we shall be able to say, in all instances, where rigid right and justice ends, and oppression begins. In these cases, there is great latitude left for everyone to determine for, and consequently to deceive himself. It is chiefly in these cases, that self. deceit comes in; as everyone must see, that there is much larger scope for it here, than in express, single, determinate acts of wickedness. However it comes in with respect to the circumstances attending the most gross and determinate acts of wickedness. Of this, the story of David, now before us, affords the most astonishing instance. It is really prodigious, to see a man, before so remarkable for virtue and piety, going on deliberately from adultery to murder, with the same cool contrivance, and, from what appears, with as little disturbance, as a man would endeavor to prevent the ill consequences of a mistake he had made in any common matter. That total insensibility of mind, with respect to those horrid crimes, after the commission of them, manifestly shows that he did some way or other delude himself: and this could not be with respect to the crimes themselves, they were so manifestly of the grossest kind. What the particular circumstances were, with which he extenuated them, and quieted and deceived himself, is not related.

Butler, On Self-Deceit, Fifteen Sermons. The story in question, of course, is David and Bathsheba, 2 Sam. 11-12 (with a special focus on Nathan's confrontation with David in chapter 12), one of the most interesting stories of David's reign.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Three Poem Drafts

Not Just the Right

Somewhere between hyperbole and ellipsis,
I became lost; no sign showed the way;
the middle became mediocre and I saw
that I needed not just a road but a fire,
a path of flame, an ardent way, to find
not just the right but the holy.


My heart is unquiet
waiting for you,
hoping for your coming,
happiness held in hope
infusing my every action.
I taste the goodness that will be
on the white-stone day,
the red-letter day,
the day of our coming.
In darkness I keep vigil,
sustained by memory,
recollecting your promise;
I wait, dwelling in it,
arranging all around it.


December brings a bitter wind
that creeps up on the skin;
hurry, friend, and close the door
that lets the bitter in.
In this month, an advent month,
take thought to dark and cold;
joy is made by a well-lit fire,
so make your hearth-light bold.
No face is warmed when all alone
it walks on frosted streets;
our limbs are limbered with delight
when friends inside we meet.
Outside the sabers on the trees
grow long and deadly-sharp;
but we will drink December cheer
to sound of drum and harp!

History of Religion Map

There is a very cool map showing the history of the major religions over the ages at Maps of War. Things like this are very approximate, of course, but it does give the general sense of the geographical spread of religions over time. Of course, it doesn't give one a very good sense of population; and I would criticize it for ignoring Sikhism. But, as I said, it does give one a reasonably good sense of geographical spread, particularly, I think, in the Middle Ages, with the tug-of-war between Christian and Muslim. (Hat-tip: MS)

P. S. Also see the history of the Middle East map, which I think I've linked to before.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Chesterton Game

From the Blog of the American Chesterton Society:

1. When did you first read a Chesterton book, story, or poem, and which was it?

The first Chesterton work I remember reading was the Autobiography, at some point in college. I then went on to read Manalive, The Ball and the Cross, and The Flying Inn.

2. What was the most recent of GKC's writings you read?

I re-read them occasionally as I find the opportunity, so it's hard to say. Probably St. Francis of Assisi.

3. Which is your favorite book, poem - or quote?

Book: The Man Who Was Thursday
Poem: The Ballad of the White Horse

"And this is the word of Mary,
The word of the world's desire
'No more of comfort shall ye get,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.' "

4. Which would you recommend to a beginner?

The Father Brown mysteries, without a doubt; and St. Thomas Aquinas.

5. What is the most unusual fact or quirky detail you know about G.K.Chesterton?

Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw, and James Barrie once made a cowboy movie together (directed by Barrie).

Links and Notes and Bits, Oh My!

* "The Brooks Blog" hosts the fortieth Philosopher's Carnival. The posts on shaming punishments are particularly interesting.

* John Birkenmeier argues that in some ways 1204 would be a better date for the beginning of the Great Schism than the usual 1054; 1204, of course, is significant for being the year of the Sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.

* Mark Lauterbach is reflecting on Jonathan Edwards's chapter on censorious thoughts in his commentary on I Corinthians 13. Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

* A nice article at physicsweb on Maxwell.

* Archbishop Terry Buckle discusses the Book of Common Prayer's Advent Collect at "". Hat tip to Magic Statistics.

* I love radio theater. So I was pleased to find that the "On the Night Before Christmas" episode of Fibber McGee and Molly can be found at YouTube. It's in two parts: I, II.

You can also listen to Imagination Theater's "This is Christmas" episode on the Imagination Theater website. Imagination Theater usually does episodes on detective fiction lines, which I find a bit more interesting; the Christmas episode is a bit candy-cane-and-sugarplum for my taste; but it's more interesting than the sort you usually get on TV.

* Thomas Shepard on the four strait gates at "Reformation Theology".

* Chris notes that you can find Nietzsche's insanity letters online. The best one, I've always thought, is the one to Franz Overbeck:

To friend Overbeck and wife.

Although you have so far demonstrated little faith in my ability to pay, I yet hope to demonstrate that I am somebody who pays his debts—for example, to you. I am just having all anti-Semites shot.



* Clayton has a post on the possibility that the Bush Presidential Library may be on the SMU campus, and the problems with that.

* I'll be at the Eastern meeting of the American Philosophical Association briefly on Thursday and Friday of next week. If anyone is also going and would like to meet up for coffee or lunch or something, e-mail me at branemrys[at]yahoo[dot]com, and we'll see if we can work something out.


* Tim Enloe at "Societas Christiana" has a post on Revenge in the Oresteian Trilogy. Incidentally, the chain whence this weblog gets its name makes an appearance.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Carnival of Citizens II: Justice, War, and the Quest for Peace

Welcome to the second edition, and first themed edition, of the Carnival of Citizens. The Carnival of Citizens is devoted to cultivating a deliberative and reflective atmosphere on matters of politics and society. Our theme for today is JUSTICE, WAR, AND THE QUEST FOR PEACE; and our goal is to provide serious food for thought on problems related to war and peace. To this end, I've decided to discuss just war theory and pacifism. My thoughts on this are rather long, so those who are more interested in the links for this carnival can scroll down; I've marked each of the accepted submissions to the carnival with a candle for peace.

As I wrote my comments on issues related to just war theory and pacifism, they grew longer and longer -- far longer than would be comfortable reading in a single blog post. Since a hefty portion of my discussion was on just war theory, I decided to move that to a post of its own and just treat it as if it were a submission; that way people not interested in the topic can more easily find a topic that does interest them.

Candle for Peace In Two Approaches to Just War Theory I suggest that there are two approaches, different although not necessarily mutually exclusive, that are commonly called 'just war theory' -- a virtue-oriented approach and a law-oriented approach.

I think it's clear that there are serious dangers with a law-oriented approach, particular if it becomes severed from the virtue-oriented approach, as it often seems to be: it becomes legalistic and abstract. However, it must be emphasized that it was a matter of vital concern to those who first began to develop it. People like Vitoria or Grotius were not considering the problem as an abstract one to be considered in idle moments; they were considering the problem because they saw a clear and undeniable need for steps to be taken to curtail and limit the ravages of war. And to this end they did contribute something fundamentally important -- namely, a vocabulary by which people might take things done, both those leading up to war and those done in war, and examine them closely for ethical failings. This provision of a common vocabulary for ethical discussion should not be underestimated, and even those like myself who prefer a more virtue-oriented approach to these matters should, I think, be thankful that it was developed, whatever problems and limitations we might think it may have.

Given this value for public discussion, it isn't surprising that there has been some serious and worthwhile discussion of modern conflicts that make reference to just war criteria. Two of our submissions are such discussions:

Candle for Peace One of the major contemporary challenges for just war theory is how to handle the issue of terrorism and the role of civilians as collaborators and hostages on a large scale. The Rev. Dr. Kate of "Meditations from the Messy Middle of Things" discusses this issue with regard to events this summer in Qana in Because No One Will State the Obvious.

Candle for Peace Not surprisingly, there has been considerable discussion of the War in Iraq, and the larger 'War on Terrorism' in just war terms, asking similar questions. In Institutions, Iraq, and Just War Theory, Brian Berkey of "Philosophy from the Left Coast" looks at an argument by Allen Buchanan that just war theory requires reformulation in light of the 'new conditions of terrorism'. Buchanan argues for institutionalizing just war theory to limit how justifications for war can be applied, and Berkey carefully examines what's right and what's problematic about this proposal.

When we talk about just war theory, two major alternatives are usually assumed, pacifism and realism. Pacifism shares with just war theory its moral concern and emphasis on peace; however, it differs from it in thinking that just war theory makes war too viable. Particular versions of pacifism seem to differ considerably over their reasons for thinking this, or even over what precisely it means. Some pacifists would accept an argument, similar to Thomas Nagel's argument in his article War and Massacre, that any use of force to make someone comply needs (at least minimally) to be such that we can give the victim some moral justification for it; but this requires a personal element that is lost in the violence of war. We stop justifying each particular use of force against a person, and try to lump everyone together; which is an affront to human dignity. Nagel doesn't use this type of argument to argue for pacifism, since he allows for the possibility of 'moral blind alleys', i.e., cases where we can be morally committed to avoiding all of the only options we have available. People who accept the argument and reject the possibility of unavoidable moral blind alleys, however, clearly have the beginnings of an interesting and serious argument for pacifism. Most people, however, are inclined to see difficulties with pacifism. One of our submissions discusses one such difficulty:

Candle for Peace In Some Thoughts on Pacifism, Richard of "Philosophy, et cetera" makes a distinction between 'absolute pacifism' and what he calls 'epistemic pacifism'. While the latter can avoid a number of problems with the former, Richard notes a point on which it still may be weak, namely, not allowing exceptions for humanitarian intervention.

One might think that pacifism and realism are as far apart as can be. While pacifism is usually a very morally oriented doctrine, realism is not; in fact, it tends to be associated with skepticism about our ability to discern what is morally right in matters of war, and in particular with the view that moral concepts cannnot be properly applied to the affairs of nations. While pacifism rejects all war on moral grounds, realism thinks war is justifiable on purely pragmatic grounds when the necessities of state interest require it. Interestingly, however, one of the classics of twentieth-century just war theory, Elizabeth Anscombe's Mr. Truman's Degree, argues that pacifism and realism are in one sense birds of a feather, since from the just war theory they both refuse to make the same moral distinctions that just war theory insists upon.

Unfortunately, no one submitted a defense of realism, either. However, it's noteworthy that the issue of humanitarian intervention, which came up in Richard's post above, is a tricky point for all three views. Pacifism seems to accept its goals but reject it as a means. Just war theorists have never settled how much room there is for humanitarian intervention in just war theory; certainly those who insist that the only legitimate wars are defensive can't accept humanitarian intervention. Realists have no problem with accepting the legitimacy, but they have difficulty doing so for the reasons we usually want to give -- we usually want to give moral reasons for humanitarian intervention, but once we allow moral reasons to justify such actions, realism becomes distinctly less plausible. Perhaps, as some would argue, there is a need for a fourth, interventionist, position; or perhaps it is because the notion of 'humanitarian intervention' is itself none too clear.

Candle for Peace Although I decided to focus on self-submissions rather than nominations, when Timothy Burke's War and Peace, Horn of Africa Edition was nominated, I knew I had to include it. Burke looks at the possibility of intervention in the recent rise in tensions between Ethiopia and Somalian Islamists. He argues that proposals of intervention overlook just how limited the power of states is to effect the sort of change required, particularly in comparison with global social and economic institutions or local social histories.

As one might expect from as complicated a subject as war and peace, there are many issues related to the subject that don't directly relate to the central concerns of just war theory or pacifism but are important nonetheless. This is not to say that just war theorists, pacifists, or realists don't consider them; only that they are not what is at dispute in debates among the three. So it's not surprising that we have a miscellaneous category of submissions, which discuss some important problems from very diferent perspectives.

Candle for Peace In Truce that Doesn't Give Peace a Chance, Obadiah Shoher of "Samson Blinded" criticizes a recent truce negotiated by Israel, arguing that it shows a sort of schizophrenia.

Candle for Peace One of the issues that has shown itself over the years to be of far greater importance than one might originally have respected, is accurate reporting from the front. Hakim Abdullah, of the weblog "Hakim Abdullah", points to a recent project, called Unembedded, as a recent attempt to go beyond typical portrayals of the Iraq War.

Candle for Peace At "Political Dishonesty", Kevin writes an open letter in response to Ahmadinejad's open letter to Americans.

And that concludes this edition of the Carnival of Citizens. Posts that were submitted to this edition of the carnival but did not fit with the theme will be automatically sent to the host of the next carnival, which should take place on January 7 at Sportive Thoughts. Keep an eye on the Carnival Newsletter for further updates. Submissions can be sent very easily via the Blog Carnival Submission form. Also if you are willing to be a host for a future edition of the carnival, be sure to let Richard know.

Two Approaches to Just War Theory

I would suggest that we can, somewhat roughly, distinguish two very different things that often go by the name 'just war theory':

The first is what we can call the virtue-oriented approach. The 'just' it refers to when it talks about whether war can be just is the adjectival form of 'justice', understood as a personal virtue. Its major question is: "Can a person be just, i.e., virtuous, while engaging in the activities of war, and if so, how?"

The second is what we can call the law-oriented approach, although 'law' here has to be understood in a broad sense. In this form of just war theory, 'just' implies justifiability according to certain standards. Its major question is: "What are the rules and criteria for determining when activities of war are justifiable?"

Modern just war theory seems to me to be a muddling together of the two. They aren't mutually exclusive, but, as people have pointed out, there seems to be a lot of shifting from one to the other and back again without much explanation. The roots of just war theory, I think, are in the first. St. Augustine's discussions of war are scattered, but he often tends to emphasize matters of personal virtue. What often worries him is the possibility of a vengeful spirit taking hold (cf. Contra Faust. xxii, 74); it is because of this that he famously insists (1) that only defensive wars are permissible; (2) that the purpose of war is to return to peace (Ep. ad Bonif. clxxxix); and (3) that, since peace is the purpose of war, wars must be waged in ways consistent with that aim (ibid). However, Augustine has a very strong notion of peace here, and attacks the notion that 'peace' just means the absence of conflict (cf. De Civ. xix). Peace is a harmony, and a harmony is not just a lack of discord, it is a concord -- the tranquillity of order in which each thing has its special place. If Augustine is the originator of just war theory, as he is often said to be, it is fair to say that his just war theory is a small part of a larger account -- one spanning heaven and earth -- of just peace.

This characteristic is carried over, although in ways perhaps not immediately obvious, by St. Thomas Aquinas, the other figure who looms large in the history of just war theory. Thomas considers the matter in ST 2-2.40, which is usually considered on its own. That it is, is a bit unfortunate, since it overlooks the context of the discussion. The discussion of war and justice comes in the middle of Aquinas's discussion of charity, and it arises as an issue because of the connection of charity to peace. The Christian virtue of charity is in Aquinas's account an operative disposition to true friendship between self and others. It gets its name from its primary act, love; but, as Aquinas holds that we love and enjoy the good in the same act, charity disposes us not only to love but also to acts of joy, peace, and (in special cases where the beloved is in a miserable state) mercy. Joy is the delight in the good of another that follows from love; peace is the union love creates. Each of these aspects of charitable love has its opposing vices; love as such, for instance, is impeded by hatred, while joy is impeded by sloth and envy. It is in this context that Aquinas builds his account of just war. Anything inconsistent with charity is inconsistent with Christian morality, since charity is its keystone; since peace is an act of charity, anything that impedes peace is inconsistent with the way of life Christians should live. While peace is directly and properly an act of charity, Aquinas also thinks that in a looser sense it can be considered an act of justice, not because it follows directly from justice, but because justice removes impediments to peace. So, if justice removes impediments to peace, and peace is an act of charity, and charity is the most important of all the virtues, we are immediately brought to the question: to what extent does justice remove war as an impediment to peace?

Thomas's answer to this question is fairly widely known. War can itself be an act of justice in certain cases. A prince can justly engage in activities of war if he has (1) legitimate authority; (2) a just cause; (3) rightful intention. The cases in which war is consistent with justice are cases in which a particular person has been entrusted with maintaining the common good shared by all citizens and defending it against anyone who might try to destroy it. This is where legitimate authority comes in: no one can legitimately go to war who does not have a responsibility to protect the common good of a people. However, even if you have a magistrate with the authority to go to war, more is needed before one can consider war an act of justice; the cause, the goal in going to war, must itself be just. The power to war is, on Aquinas's account, a form of the power to punish: just as we give people the power to punish citizens who violate the common good by breaking the law, so we give them the power to punish those who attack the common good from without. Aquinas, taking his cue from a comment by Augustine, identifies two goals that would be just: restoring what has been unjustly seized, and to punish states who refuse to make amends for wrongs committed by their subjects. (It isn't clear whether he thinks these are the only two possible just causes, but the wording seems to suggest it.) The third thing needed, right intention, is often misunderstood. The Latin word intentio has a much broader meaning than our term 'intention'; it can often be translated by 'disposition' or 'orientation'. To go to war justly, it's not enough to have the right authority or a good cause; you also need to organize yourself and your actions in such a way that they tend to advance the good and avoid evil. Obviously, good intentions in our sense are part of this, but only part. The term as we find it in Aquinas appears to suggest our whole involvement in war should be a matter of securing peace and righting wrongs.

Stated this way, I think it's very clear that what we have in Aquinas is a virtue-oriented approach to matters of war. However, it's also very tempting to take these three elements of just warring -- legitimate authority, just cause, and right intention -- and try to work out more precisely what they involve, in order to create criteria by which one might determine whether particular cases are just or not. And thus we begin to see in Aquinas the seeds of what I've called the law-oriented approach. And, in fact, the Spanish scholastics, taking their start from Aquinas, begin to develop such an approach as part of their general interest in matters of what we would today call 'international law'; their discussion sparked other discussions, e.g., in the Protestant scholastics, and the discussion was carried further by people like Pufendorf and Grotius. There are a lot of differences among the various participants in this discussion, and I'm not going to go into any of them. Suffice it to say that the end result is a list of criteria for 'just war'. The list as we have it today varies a bit, but a fairly standard example (listed in no particular order) would be:

1. legitimate authority
2. right intention (in our usual sense of the term)
3. prospect of success
4. proportionality in use of force
5. last resort
6. discrimination between belligerants and non-belligerents
7. public declaration

As has become more clear in recent decades of discussion, though, if you are going to start listing criteria, you need to distinguish the sort of criteria to be used in starting a war from those involved in conducting a war and those involved in ending a war and restoring peace.

Living Flame of Love

Thursday was the feast day for St. John of the Cross, so this poem by him seems fitting.

O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life.

O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.

How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

History Carnival XLV

The most recent edition of the History Carnival is up. I especially enjoyed Natalie Bennett's post on Kassia.

Pluralism in the Heavenly City

This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace. It therefore is so far from rescinding and abolishing these diversities, that it even preserves and adopts them, so long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is thus introduced. Even the heavenly city, therefore, while in its state of pilgrimage, avails itself of the peace of earth, and, so far as it can without injuring faith and godliness, desires and maintains a common agreement among men regarding the acquisition of the necessaries of life, and makes this earthly peace bear upon the peace of heaven; for this alone can be truly called and esteemed the peace of the reasonable creatures, consisting as it does in the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God and of one another in God. When we shall have reached that peace, this mortal life shall give place to one that is eternal, and our body shall be no more this animal body which by its corruption weighs down the soul, but a spiritual body feeling no want, and in all its members subjected to the will. In its pilgrim state the heavenly city possesses this peace by faith; and by this faith it lives righteously when it refers to the attainment of that peace every good action towards God and man; for the life of the city is a social life.

Augustine, City of God, Book XIX, chapter 17

Two Ways About It

I've been doing a little bit of (minor) reading about the controversial figure, Photios of Constantinople; it's an interesting thing to read about since it gives you a vivid sense of just how much 'competent' and 'tendentious' can go together in historical work on controversial figures. Photios, of course, is regarded as a saint by the Orthodox and a schismatic by the Catholics. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on him is fairly good; but you can tell straightforwardly that it's a Catholic account. An Orthodox account, for instance, would talk about Nicholas's failed attempt to restore the Sicilian Calabrian patrimonies, and insist that the papal legates found Photios to be legally elevated to the patriarchy, suggesting that Nicholas rejected the reasonable conclusions of the legates out of angry disappointment about the patrimonies. The disputes over whether Bulgaria fell within Roman or Byzantine jurisdiction would play a much larger role in the summary, as would the iconoclasm controversy -- which latter, although it's almost the whole point for the Orthodox, gets only a casual mention in the Catholic Encyclopedia article. In the Catholic summary, Photios is a member, indeed, a leader, of the extremist anti-Roman party; in an Orthodox summary, discussing exactly the same group of people, they would be called the moderates, the ones opposing the extremist pro-Roman party. It would be funny if it weren't so serious.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Carnival of Citizens Call for Submissions

This post, first published on November 28, will be kept at the top until December 15. For more recent posts, scroll down.

On December 17, Siris will host the second edition of the This edition will be a themed edition; the theme is:


Posts on just war theory or pacifism are especially welcome; however, any posts on topics relevant to war or peace will be seriously considered as candidates for the carnival. The posts may discuss these issues from any perspective, as long as they do so in a deliberative and reflective way. Topics submitted on other themes will be held over for the next, unthemed edition of the carnival.

The deadline for submissions is December 15. To submit, please read the easy-to-follow guidelines, and use the Blog Carnival Submission Form. Posts may be submitted in French, Spanish, or English, but non-English posts should contain a brief English summary of the post contents.

Advance public discussion; submit your post on topics relevant to the theme before the deadline! You can also help by publicizing this call for submissions on your own weblog.

I greatly look forward to reading your post. And yes, I do mean your post.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sigh and Sigh Again

Well, you have to hand it to A.C. Grayling, that when he sets out to embarrass himself and associate philosophy with all sorts of irrational arguments and unsubstantiated claims, he doesn't do it halfway. From his recent letter (scroll down a bit) to the London Review of Books, in response to Eagleton's review of Dawkins's The God Delusion:

Eagleton’s touching foray into theology shows, if proof were needed, that he is no philosopher: God does not have to exist, he informs us, to be the 'condition of possibility' for anything else to exist. There follow several paragraphs in the same fanciful and increasingly emetic vein, which indirectly explain why he once thought Derrida should have been awarded an honorary degree at Cambridge.

Of course, this might have been a more devastating witticism were Grayling actually reading the passage very carefully. This is the section of Eagleton's review that Grayling is mocking:

For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or 'existent': in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.

(1) Eagleton does not present it as his own view, but links the claims to a context, one that is explicitly mentioned in the first few words. In fact, in the very next paragraph he reiterates this.
(2) Eagleton, unlike Grayling (who is tripped up repeatedly by this, not only here but also elsewhere), recognizes that people use words in different ways, and that you have to be sensitive to different usages of terms. Note, for instance, the 'in one sense of that word'. And Eagleton is factually quite right: there are theologians who, while allowing that God exists, prefer to use the term 'existent' in a more restricted sense to mean that which has being from another, reserving 'being' or some other term for God (who does not have being from another). This is a purely verbal matter of convenience.

Grayling is right, though, that much of Eagleton's review indirectly explains why he objected to the attempts to block the honorary degree for Derrida: his protest then was that the people who were attempting to do so were lying about what they were criticizing -- that you could tell they had not read Derrida because they repeatedly said false things about what he said, and didn't care whether they were false as long as it stopped Derrida from being awarded the degree. And it must be admitted that his protest against Dawkins is very much the same: that Dawkins is spreading false claims about religionists in a way that shows that he doesn't care whether he has any rational basis for his claims or not, as long as it leads to the necessary conclusion.

Eagleton doesn't mention this one in particular, but one case that he might, that might clarify why Eagleton's point can't be airily dismissed in the way so many Dawkinsians seem to want to do. Dawkins, in order to dismiss the idea that the civil rights movement was religious in inspiration, simply says, without serious argument, that religion was completely incidental to Martin Luther King Jr.'s fight for civil rights, that although he happened to be a Christian, he got all his ideas from Gandhi, who was not. As some have noted, if you really want to play that game, you can say that Gandhi got his ideas from Tolstoy and Jesus. But what is really disturbing about Dawkins's claim is not that he made it, but the sheer disregard for evidence and reasoning it seems to evince. Historians studying Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, you apparently needn't bother with the Social Gospel movement, or Boston Personalism, or the religious themes in King's speeches and sermons; acording to Dawkins, they are all incidental. And he took his ideas from Gandhi, anyway! What sort of response is that to the idea that King's fight for civil rights was religiously inspired? Perhaps it was just a mistake, or a confusion, or he just got carried away with hyperbole and only meant to say that people exaggerate the religious inspiration of King's ideas, or he just didn't realize that we readers lack the telepathy to be able to see immediately the great argument he has for an apparently insupportable claim; but it looks a lot like the sort of response you make when you don't care what the evidence is or where reason actually leads. Again, on its own perhaps it's just a slip, or just a perhaps-overly-concise or misleading claim that Dawkins could really develop with greater seriousness than he does. What would really be damning is if he did this all the time. And that's what Eagleton is claiming -- that he does do this sort of thing over and over again.

And if he is, Eagleton is exactly right: it's a sign of someone who either does not know the actual evidence and arguments, or (more culpably) of someone who doesn't care what they are. In either case, he's an unfortunate distraction from the real issues. What has amazed me is that the most general response to Eagleton has not been to argue that Dawkins is in fact informed about the subject he is criticizing, so that his criticisms are genuinely devastating; rather, it has been to agree that Dawkins is badly informed about the subject, and then to come up with an excuse for why that's entirely OK, because the subject is not worth the time to make an effort to be informed about it. (One wonders, then, what would be the point of writing a book about it.) Grayling for instance, in the paragraph before the one above, claims that "when one rejects the premises of a set of views, it is a waste of one’s time to address what is built on those premises," somehow missing the fact that Eagleton's point is that Dawkins has misunderstood the premises, and the conclusions claimed to be derived from them, in the first place.

Farewell to the Baiji

I find this very sad.

In Chang Jiang the spirits danced,
white and gleaming, speaking softly;
in Jinsha dreams wandered free,
singing songs for the ages,
a double celebration under heaven.
No more; the human hand has conquered,
the Long River no longer knows them.
No more will our children sit
and, mesmerized, watch
the shy subtleties of their play.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


'Tis the season for bells and churches; and bells and churches immediately bring to mind one of the great musical arts -- change-ringing. It's certainly the noisiest of the musical arts, and one of the most purely mathematical.

Change-ringing is governed by the fundamental musical quirk of those huge church-bells in the church-tower: they have such a huge momentum, they aren't suitable for melodies. What you can do, when you have several bells, is ring them in different orders; and that's precisely what change-ringing is: the exemplification of a mathematical permutation by changes of bells. For instance, suppose you have a church with four bells. The bells are numbered from the highest-sounding bell (the treble) to the deepest-sounding bell (the tenor):

1 2 3 4

This particular order of bells is called ringing rounds. We can then change the rounds. And the series of numbers we list to keep track of the bells is the simple, straightforward musical notation of change-ringing. For instance:

1 2 3 4
2 1 4 3
2 4 1 3
4 2 3 1
4 3 2 1
3 4 1 2
3 1 4 2
1 3 2 4
1 2 3 4

Do you see a pattern in the bells? If you don't, pick a bell and trace out where in the order it is found. This type of pattern, which guarantees that you go from rounds to rounds without repeating a row, is called ringing according to method, or ringing by method (the particular method found above is usually called the Plain Hunt). And, obviously, the more bells you have, the more changes you have in method ringing. When you ring through 5040 changes, without break and without repeating a row, you have one peal. (The number is chosen because it's the number of total possible permutations -- called an 'extent' -- you have with seven bells.) A peal lasts several hours; a quarter peal lasts about forty minutes. From what I understand, there was once an extent on eight bells -- ringing all eight bells each change, without repeating, from round to round; it lasted twenty hours. Obviously there are many extents that have never been rung; an extent with sixteen bells would take well over a million years.

Although change-ringing is designed for tower bells, you can ring changes and peals on handbells, as well, and, from what I understand, change-ringers who work with tower bells usually practice their patterns on handbells (for the obvious reason that practicing with a tower full of very loud bells tends to annoy the neighbors).

Now, it may not seem likely that just ringing bells in different permutations would leave much room for creative composition, but there are so many different ways you can ring bells, and some of them sound so much better than others, that this isn't so. For instance, you can have any number of different bells, so there are terms used in the names of compositions that indicate the number of bells:

4 Minimus
5 Doubles
6 Minor
7 Triples
8 Major
9 Caters
10 Royal
11 Cinques
12 Maximus

(You may wonder why five bells gives you doubles and seven bells gives you triples; nine and eleven have names of the same sort, although it's not so obvious for nine. The reason is that it's the number of bells that can change position in the row at every change.) A plain course occurs when you just ring a pattern, but you can also, during the ringing, call on particular bells to make changes in the pattern. The rigid rules are still in place -- you still can't repeat rows, and you still ring from rounds to rounds. But not every pattern goes through the full extent of the bells you have; so you can add a variation or divergence from the plain course. This divergence from a plain course is called a touch; the commands for bells to change have different names depending on what is required. In addition, the patterns themselves can vary somewhat. I gave the Plain Hunt above, in which the bell continually 'hunts', i.e., goes straight from back to front or front to back; but you can add a Dodge. In the following pattern 3 is dodging with 5:

4 1 3 2 5
1 4 3 2 5
1 2 4 5 3
2 1 4 3 5
2 1 4 5 3
4 2 1 5 3

Further, many important changes have their own names. This is a hagdyke, for instance: 12563478.

The following websites are interesting resources for change-ringing:

* Thanks the North American Guild of Change-Ringers, you can hear and see some changes rung.
* You can also listen to change-ringing with handbells (some of it very beautiful) at this website.
* The Glossary at The Change Ringers Web Directory is the single most useful resource on the web for those who are lost when it comes to change-ringing terms.
* Minor Strikerz is designed for young ringers
* Want to do a little virtual change-ringing? Kees van den Doel's Bells Applet is a Java program you can use online to try out different methods. I recommend setting the controls to maximum irregularity (if you have a quick computer; if not, try more regularity -- use maximum regularity if you want to get the clearest sense of the ordering) and then toying with some of the others on the left-hand side (you can change tempo, mute bells). Then play with some of the right-hand controls.

For my part, I'd like someday to be able to ring a touch or two in person. Like most people, my acquaintance with change-ringing came through Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter mystery, The Nine Tailors (one of Sayers's all-time best, which is saying something). 'Nine tailors' is the pattern rung when a man in the parish has died; hence the expression, 'Nine tailors make a man'.

There are other musical arts related to bells, the most famous of which is that of the carillon; a carillon is an instrument involving (at least) 23 bells of a particular sort; it's a sort of bell-organ, so it admits of more melody. You can find out more about it through the Guild of Carilloneurs of North America, and there are a few samples of its music here and here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Three Poem Drafts and a Revision

The fourth is a (slight) revision of a poem I've already posted. With regard to the second, it should be said that I have never scribbled a napkin in a bar. That's what coffee shops are for.

Two Garments

The garment of peace fits ill these days,
but I wear it as best I can.
I think of it as a linen shield
against the ravage of man.

The garment of joy is soft on the skin
and wears like silk decadence;
but I keep it in store for a distant day
when the grip of time relents.


'Tis true he's not the greatest bard
to grace the human race;
his poems fail in all but line
that hangs in filler-space.
He has a certain fervor,
like a fever in the brain,
that substitutes for music;
thus all his lyrics strain.
And he preaches like a pastor
and lectures the live-long day;
I'd love to love his poems
but his words get in the way.
He is pompous one dull hour
with a flash of wit thrown in;
his taste is all the former,
which is the prosist's sin.
He likes a good conceit,
as conceited people do,
writ in vain and empty words
dressed up as a clerihew.
Homer is a mountain, Virgil is a road,
Emily's a flower, Milton is a spire,
I think that people tell it true
who say Dante is a choir;
but this poet is a napkin
scribbled in a dim-lit bar
before he passes out from wine
and the barkeep calls a car.

I Had a Love

I had a love,
  I gave her much;
she fled far, far away.
I was loved,
  she gave me much;
I left at break of day.

This world is sweet, its style nice,
but a crack runs through its grace;
we see the good, not looking twice,
and flee its strangeling face.


I grow sad when I think of wondrous skies
that have never been seen by human eyes
nor ever painted by artists' hands,
that mightily hang over times and lands
beyond where the reckoning mind can go;
sad when I look to the heavens and know
as another sunrise or sunset begins
that there are, uncaptured by the camera's lens,
such skies as this and even more fair,
for which no artist ever did care,
though it deserved to hang where the Masters are,
more lovely than all their works by far,
and deserved to be loved for a million years.
But, alas! in a moment it disappears,
to be seen never again by human eye.
I grow sad when I think of that vanishing sky.

Notes and Links

* An excellent essay on historiographic misunderstandings of preformationist terminology by Clara Pinto-Correia. The problem highlighted is an ongoing one in scientific pedagogy. Scientists move forward by climbing a ladder and then kicking it away when they are done; thus they become no better informed about the path that led to their current state than anyone else is, and, not being historians, start saying dubious things about it.

* Speaking of climbing a ladder then kicking it away, this article by Lippitt and Hutto is an interesting discussion of the concept of nonsense in Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard. [link fixed --ed.]

* Sharon Howard recently had a post pointing to the weblog separated by a common language, which is really quite a fun little blog. For a good taste, see this post on moot points -- in American English, they are issues that are such that debating them is pointless, whereas in British English they are issues that are such that they are open to debate. The source of both is the same legal phenomenon, but by emphasizing different things about it, they end up with opposing meanings.

They are always more subtle, because of greater cross-fertilization, but you could do similar things with American English and Canadian English. You have the mundane things -- like napkin/serviette -- and the more esoteric things -- like the fact that what Canadians call Friulano cheese would usually in the U.S. be called Montasio cheese, because in Canada 'Montasio' can only be used for cheeses from the Montasio mountains of the Friuli region of Italy. And then there are little cultural differences that lead to differences -- some of them obvious, like toques, poutine, and butter tarts -- and some more subtle, like the much greater use of 'Cheers' as an email sign-off in Canada, or the fact that 'gallon' can mean many different measures in Canada, depending on the context.

* Some links on South Park and philosophy:

-> The Invisible Gnomes and the Invisible Hand, by Paul Cantor (highly recommended).
-> An interview at Reason with Stone and Parker, chiefly on various ways the show pushes boundaries. Religion comes up quite a bit.
-> Secrets of 'South Park' covers some of the same ground.

The first two are thanks to Clark's sidebar at "Mormon Metaphysics", while the third was sent around by Don Jr.

* Through a commenter on a post at Parableman I came across this critique (PDF) of Dawkins's The God Delusion, from a fairly conservative Christian perspective; it's quite handy, particularly the chart toward the beginning, in which the author outlines the book's major points and goes through them quickly. Not every theist will agree with every point made by the author; to take just one instance, while I think ontological arguments are question-begging, I don't think they are silly. Indeed, I think even implying that ontological arguments are silly is an affront to reason; if there's one thing the centuries have shown about the argument, it is that (1) objections that treat such arguments as silly are regularly shown to be silly themselves; (2) this kind of argument appeals most to very logical, rational people -- people like Leibniz and Godel -- and if there is a flaw in it, it is one that tempts rational people, not silly ones; (3) the most enduring objections to them, the ones that aren't shown to be silly, like those of the Thomists, are based on rather sophisticated views about how the mind works or about the sort of work arguments can do. A promising objection to an ontological argument will always shed important light on some field or other. As other examples, I don't think every point the author thinks irrelevant is necessarily quite so irrelevant as he thinks, although many are; and the claims about children and religious denomination are not widely accepted, although there is a hefty minority that does accept them. Like most Protestants he is about seventy years behind the majority of Catholic thought about Fatima, and so his discussion about that would not impress any but the most reactionary Catholics any more than Dawkins's discussion, which is equally out-of-date, and equally assumes that Catholics haven't thought and re-thought, discussed and argued, about the matter for the past half-century and more. So, again, not every point will find agreement with every theist, or even every Christian. But it does serve to give a sense of why many theists, even quite ordinary ones who don't deal in sophisticated forms of philosophy of religion, aren't likely to take the reasoning of the book very seriously -- it will read to them as a tissue of unsubstantiated claims, unoriginal objections, and irrelevant digressions.

* An interesting post about the recent Feast of the Immaculate Conception from an Islamic perspective at "God, Faith, and a Pen."


* I disagree with Ophelia Benson a lot. I agree with her a lot, too, but usually when I agree with her I disagree with her approach, or her view about what it implies or suggests, or something like that. But I agree wholly with these two recent posts on Christopher Hitchens's recent absurdity.

* The SEP article on Feminist History of Philosophy is well worth reading. I found the section on canon revision especially interesting. Since I am undeniably a canon revisionist, and since much (although not all) of that revisionism is involved in reclaiming women philosophers like Lady Mary Shepherd and Catherine Trotter Cockburn, I've always been interested in the relation between the work I do with women philosophers and feminist history of philosophy. As Witt notes, it's actually quite complicated. She points out that a major issue here is 'self-image'. I would go farther and say that it is a matter of justice: there are women with perfectly reasonable and sometimes brilliant things to say -- as reasonable and as brilliant as, say, Locke or Hume -- who have nonetheless been ignored, and it's difficult to find any reason for it beyond the fact that they were women. Moreover, given that some women philosophers -- like Lady Mary, for instance -- were attacked on precisely this point of being women, I think a vindication of them on purely rational grounds (even if no farther than showing that what they say is thoughtworthy) is very satisfying. We shouldn't listen to women philosophers to find a 'Woman's Voice', as if they all had the same voice; we should listen to women philosophers because they all had voices, and often said things worth hearing. On Shapiro's point about internal reasons, it's noteworthy that in some cases -- and Shepherd is again a good example -- the reasons are right there on the surface. There's an obvious plot: Shepherd's works are a detailed attack on Hume's theory of causation and Berkeley's idealism, in which she builds her own (very interesting) account of causation and the external world. (In fact, one of my ongoing projects at the moment is to look at the sequence Suarez-Malebranche-Hume-Shepherd on causation, where each person in the chain criticizes the causal views of the person situated immediately prior in the chain.) And Shapiro rightly notes that historical work in the philosophy of education can't ignore the fact that women -- Masham, Astell, and Wollstonecraft are especially noteworthy -- were major contributors to the discussion.