Saturday, March 18, 2006

Just War Theory and Evaluation of Warring

Edward Feser at "Right Reason" (here and here) has been arguing that the war in Iraq was a just war, but I'm not buying it. Part of it, of course, is that strictly speaking, just war theory doesn't actually talk about 'just wars'; a war, as such, is neither just or not. Rather, just war theory talks about just warring, or, to be even more accurate, about leaders being just even in acts of war. The basic foundation for such a position is expressed well in Aquinas's three requirements: as prince of a city you can be just if you act from legitimate authority, with the proper disposition, toward the right end. All the maxims and criteria are intended as guidelines for what constitutes being just in matters of war. Feser goes through some of these maxims in order to argue that Bush's going to war in Iraq fits the criteria. I will comment on some of these.

(1) Legitimate authority. The only persons who can go to war are those who lead states in such a way that they are responsible for the security of those states. Feser attempts to dismiss the "quibble" that the war was not declared by Congress, on the basis that just war theory is not concerned with the specific mechanisms of authority; but this seems to me to be a very bad argument. Just war theory does not, it is true, dictate how legitimate authority is to be determined; but that's because it respects the facts of authority in each case. The U.S. Constitution splits the authority between Congress (the power to declare war) and the President (who is Commander-in-Chief). As Feser notes, there was a Congressional resolution in favor of the war; it can reasonably be argued that this counts. But this is a long way from saying that the objection is a quibble; on the contrary, it raises a very important point, even though it is not the strongest ground on which to object to the Iraq war.

(2) Just Cause. War can only be fought in defense of a violated right. As Feser notes, this is usually not understood in such a way as to constrain to a merely defensive war. Rather, it extends to any protection of rights under natural law or the law of nations (which is not international law, but that aspect of international law that international law must presuppose). The oppression of the innocent would certainly count. If it isn't a mere excuse. For what matters in just cause is not what cause may be appealed to; what matters is the actual purpose of the action of war. Just cause is a matter of ends (a just cause is that end to which a just action is directed), and what is more, it is a matter of actual ends, not possible ends. Therefore Feser moves far too quickly when he says that it's clear that the war in Iraq meets the criteria of just cause; because all he indicates are things that would certainly be considered just if unadulterated. It is possible to ruin any just end by mixing it with unjust ends. It is not enough for there to be something just to which one appeals in going to war; that something just has to define one's purpose for going to war, without admixture from anything unjust. Thus many opponents of the war are quite willing to say that there were potential just causes for military action to remove Saddam Hussein; what they deny is that we actually went to war with just cause.

(3) Last resort. The other major avenues of resolution (negotiation, mediation, arbitration, sanction, moral suasion, and the like) must be of no avail. Feser is right that a simplistic notion of last resort is clearly unsustainable. But last resort is still a tricky issue; for it isn't clear that the war was a last resort. The last resort, remember, would have to be the last resort with regard to the just cause. But most of the debate prior to the war wasn't about any plausible just causes but about "weapons of mass destruction." The real debates -- about what would be the best way to go about protecting Kuwait from Iraq, or protecting the Kurds from Saddam Hussein, or any other such case, never really happened.

(4) The knowability of the just cause as just. Feser is right that Ryba's argument on this point is simply bizarre. All that's needed for this is good character and a recognition of the principles of justice.

(5) Right intention. This one always bothers me, because in medieval jsut war theory 'right intention' means (more or less) 'right disposition'. What we usually mean is 'intended in the right way'; which is legitimately a concern, but only one of many. Understood in this way it is not a matter of disposing oneself properly to the fulfillment of the end but instead is merely just cause restated.

(6) Right means. In fact, it is questionable whether anyone today uses right means; to engage in right means you cannot (for instance) lie, and you cannot accept, even indirectly, the deaths of innocents as a means to your end. We, on the other hand, institutionalize lying in government agencies and military operations that are in part supposed to do exactly that.

The key issue, and the one that seems missing entirely from Feser's analysis, is that justice with regard to war is very difficult. You can be just in war, but you cannot merely assume that you are just on the basis of a few procedures; it requires continual soul-searching and a serious, complete devotion to moral good. The above is not an argument that Bush was unjust in war; rather, it's that the defense of the just even in just war is not so easy: it is an arduous examination only the just can endure.

Cartesian Assent

A proto-Pascalian passage from Descartes (Second Replies):

As far as the conduct of life is concerned, I am very far from thinking that we should assent only to what is clearly perceived. On the contrary, I do not think that we should always wait even for probable truths; from time to time we will have to choose one of many alternatives about which we have no knowledge, and once we have made our choice, so long as no reasons against it can be produced, we must stick to it as firmly as if it had been chosen for transparently clear reasons.

Later Descartes notes that his position that we should only assent to what we clearly and distinctly perceive to be true, is a position about what is justifiable in seeking the contemplation of truth, not about what is justifiable in everyday life.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Works by and Attributed to St. Patrick

And on a second occasion I saw Him praying within me, and I was as it were, inside my own body , and I heard Him above me—that is, above my inner self. He was praying powerfully with sighs. And in the course of this I was astonished and wondering, and I pondered who it could be who was praying within me. But at the end of the prayer it was revealed to me that it was the Spirit. And so I awoke and remembered the Apostle’s words: ‘Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we know not how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for utterance.’ And again: ’The Lord our advocate intercedes for us.’

Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus: A fierce denunciation of Christians killing Christians:

You prefer to kill and sell them to a foreign nation that has no knowledge of God. You betray the members of Christ as it were into a brothel. What hope have you in God, or anyone who thinks as you do, or converses with you in words of flattery? God will judge. For Scripture says: Not only they that do evil are worthy to be condemned, but they also that consent to them.

Lorica ('The Deer's Cry'): The famous prayer (of which I quoted a section in the previous post). The alternative name cames from the tradition that in response to the prayer Patrick and his companions were turned into deer so they could escape their enemies.

Likewise, the following farewell blessing on the people of Munster is traditionally attributed to Patrick, although I'm not sure what its claim to authenticity is:

A blessing on the Munster people --
Men, youths, and women;
A blessing on the land
That yields them fruit.

A blessing on every treasure
That shall be produced on their plains,
Without any one being in want of help,
God's blessing be on Munster.

A blessing on their peaks,
On their bare flagstones,
A blessing on their glens,
A blessing on their ridges.

Like the sand of the sea under ships,
Be the number in their hearths;
On slopes, on plains,
On mountains, on hills, a blessing.

There are other works that have been attributed to Patrick. The Synodus secunda Patritii, for instance, is a set of Irish ecclesiastical canons; it is almost certainly not by Patrick himself. There are also two Latin tracts, De abusionibus saeculi and De Tribus habitaculis, also probably not by Patrick, that were attributed to him; as was a synodical decree, Si quae quaestiones in hac insula oriantur, ad Sedem Apostolicam referantur. With any great and influential hero like Patrick, there are bound to be misattributed works.

The Deer's Cry

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendour of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Intuitive Essentialism (IV)

So, I've looked around a bit at essentialism, in a very rough and crude way, in the following posts:

I. Essentialisms
II. Essentialisms in Biology
III. Essentialism in Darwin

Now, one might think from my having to go into all this background that I'm gearing up for some major criticism of the Shtulman paper (for the basic argument of the paper, see Chris's post again). But I'm not. The basic points of the paper seem to me to be very plausible. The background is primarily (1) for me to be more clear about essentialism; and (2) to emphasize just how careful we need to be when talking about essentialism. (See below for a few sources I've found since that do a better job than I at making one or two of my points.)

And we do need to be careful. For instance, what sort of essentialism does Shtulman have in mind when he talks about essentialism? It seems clear that he must be talking about type essentialism, since he thinks of it as being the positing of an ideal member of the family. He thinks of this as a sort of average (following Gould), and although type essentialists haven't generally seen the type as an average, this can be taken as correct for at least crude purposes. But the mechanisms he associates with essentialists in evolution -- transformationists, as he calls them -- are more like shared nature essentialism. This was why my first reaction on looking at one of Shtulman's diagrams (which Chris exhibits in his post) was, "Does that even make sense?" Remember, things are constrained by natures but constrained to types. Because of this, if a population is continuously changing it is quite reasonable to regard the type as being in more or less smooth transition throughout the change of the population: it depends on precisely how you think the type is determined (which has always been the trickiest issue in type essentialism), but it's a plausible first conclusion. However, types are not related to generations of a population by any sort of inheritance; you don't inherit a type, you resemble it. You do, however, inherit shared natures (that's precisely the point of inheritance, that you share something in common with the previous generation). So in the diagram Shtulman gives we find an implausible amalgam of type and shared nature essentialisms.

I haven't decided whether this is a lack of clarity in Shtulman, or a common confusion that he is faithfully reporting, or both. A confusion between shared nature and type is exactly the sort of confusion that one might expect of the general public; and, I suspect, it wouldn't be difficult to set up fairly basic situations in which people fail to distinguish properly between classifying by paradigm or type and classifying by features. So it is entirely possible that Shtulman is right that his transformationalists are committed to the sort of position his diagram suggests, in which essential types are given the job of natural essences. The result is a weird view in which things are caused to be what they are by their (independently changing) type. Perhaps this can be regarded as a form of vitalism. But, as Shtulman points out, his results suggest that transformationists actually haven't thought things through very carefully.

Shtulman doesn't use the term 'vitalism' but transformationism as he characterizes it involves the following characteristics:

1. Variation: Individual differences are nonadaptive or maladaptive deviations from type.
2. Inheritance: Organisms inherit any trait adaptive to the species as a whole.
3. Adaptation: Death of individuals prior to reproducitve maturity not important for adaptation.
4. Domestication: Domestication occurs not by selection but by manipulation of individuals over many generations.
5. Speciation: Morphologically distinct species do not share a common ancestor; morphologically similar species are linearly related.
6. Extinction: Background extinction (slow extinction over many generations) is not common.

Shtulman's results ended up dividing the evolutionary stance of the participants into three groups.

Transformationists tended to hold the above views.
Variationists tended to reject the above views and provide a view closer to standard scientific theory.
Pre-variationists tended to provide transformationist answers to the questions, but diverged from pure transformationists by tending somewhat variationist. The primary places where this variation tended to occur were inheritance and adaptation (p. 181):

Because the pre-variationists produced fewer ambiguous responses than the transformationists did...these diverences cannot be attributed to confusion or laziness on the part of the pre-variationists. Rather, they suggest that the pre-variationists held two variational beliefs that the transformationists did not: (1) that organisms inherit the traits of their parents regardless of their adaptive value and (2) that differential survival is relevant to species adaptation.

However, is it really true, as Shtulman says, that what is misleading the non-variationist groups is the same thing that led earlier biologists, like Lamarck, Cope, and Haeckel, astray, namely, that species have essences and that the essences of species change over time? Well, if we are talking about a minimal essentialisms like the MCE I suggested in my first post, we certainly aren't wrong to say that species have essences and that the essences of species change over time; because species are kinds of things that change over time, and they become different kinds of things. It can only be a narrower sort of essentialism that is at stake here. What is more, it isn't clear whether we are really dealing with essential types or natural essences. And, more importantly, it seems very unlikely that some of the biologists who were not variationists were 'led astray' by assumptions possessed by the transformationalists in Shtulman's study. For one thing, what led Lamarckians astray (and even Darwin) was not any position about essences; rather they were led astray by the apparent plausiblity of the claim that the actual use or disuse of organs by individuals always causes heritable changes in them. Further, this mistake gives a general view of natural history that is very similar to Darwin's. It is true that Lamarck has no real place for extinction (instead of becoming extinct, species transform into other species) and he did hold that evolution had a direction (from the simple to the complex). Haeckel had (very roughly) similar views. But it doesn't seem, at least on first glance, to be any particular position about essences that leads to it. Perhaps there is some such position (I certainly haven't studied Lamarck and Haeckel very extensively), but it's certainly not obvious that there is. The reason for these positions were apparent facts, not assumptions about essences. (And Haeckel was certainly nothing even vaguely like a vitalist; nor does he seem a particularly likely candidate for a strong form of essentialism, although, again, it depends on exactly what you mean.)

The issue is complicated; my point here is primarily that it seems misleading to say that earlier thinkers about evolution were misled by assumptions about essences.

Incidentally, having taken the trouble to struggle through the previous posts on my own, I came across a few things that could have helped. These presentation notes by John Wilkins (PDF) make some points similar to ones I had made, and a few in clearer ways (and he also gives the sense in which a modern biologist would be inclined to deny that species have essences, i.e., shared natures, which I did not). Levit and Meister have an interesting paper called The history of essentialism vs. Ernst Mayr's "Essentialism Story": A case study of German idealistic morphology (PDF). Ron Amundson has a paper called Typology Reconsidered: Two Doctrines on the History of Evolutionary Biology (PDF); it makes the important point, which I was trying to make in discussing Mayr but only gestured at, that in Darwin's era the typical 'type essentialist' (to use my term) or typology was in direct opposition to any robust theory of biological teleology; our bizarre tendency to conflate the two (and to conflate them both with independent special creation) is a result of historical events since then. And it must be recognized as a genuinely bizarre tendency.

It occurs to me, in reflection on these sources, that I should say something briefly about an assumption I was making about 'essentialism' in biology; namely, that it is closely connected to classification. In fact, it's only really because of classification that types and natures (essences) have ever been talked about in biology at all. However, it occurs to me that many people may not make this assumption. If 'essentialism' is closely connected to classification, it follows that even a very skeptical biologist must admit a lot of essentialism, and it becomes weird why anyone would make such a fuss about essentialism -- it can only be done if you are thinking about a very, very particular form of essentialism. So, if people aren't beginning their thinking about 'essentialism' from classification, where are they beginning it? It would seem from modern creationists (in the usual sense of the term 'creationist'). This is not, however, a good template for examining either the history of biology or our cognitive tendencies with regard to biology.

I've gotten away somewhat from Shtulman's paper, in part because, as I said, there's very little I find to disagree with in it. I'm still left uneasy about it, for the reason I gave above: we need to be very sophisticated when we talk about 'essentialism', because failure to do so brings in a perpetual danger of distortion. Above I questioned whether it was quite so clear that 'species have essences that change over kind' was really quite so problematic in the history of biology as Shtulman suggests; and that leaves another question, namely, whether it is doing quite as much work in the transformationist errors as Shtulman suggests. It's much more plausible there, I think, and just by what can be told from a mere amateur's glance, something like Shtulman's conclusions are suggested by his data. Nonetheless, I would be happier if a study like this were done with a greater sophistication about essences. From Shtulman's own analysis it's very difficult to see what's going on. Is it the use of typological thinking? Is it the use of natural-kind thinking? Is it the bizarre mixture of the two, trying to get types to do what only natures could do? Or is there something more fundamental that makes people engage in apparently silly errors (like treating types as natures)? I don't know and I can't tell. It would be nice if further studies in this area would take a more sophisticated approach to this whole issue of intuitive essentialism.

UPDATE: John Wilkins has an excellent post in response called Essentialism Revisited. (Unlike me, Wilkins actually does work on this sort of subject). He also notes that you can listen to the talk (mp3) that goes with the presentation linked to above.

Were I to change a few things in the argument of these four posts, I would, besides incorporating the above sources more adequately, have been more careful about the issue of typology, since, as Wilkins notes, I muddle a few type-relevant issues together.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Additional Links

I thought Laura Snyder's Confirmation for a Modest Realism was an interesting discussion of Whewell's notion of consilience.(The link is to Google's cache; you can get to the original Word document by following the link at the top of the page.) I'm all for scientific realists engaging in Whewellian projects, and the one suggested in this paper seems promising. In reading it I also realized that I had misstated a claim about Whewell in one of my recent essentialism posts; I'll have to fix it.

The Philosopher's Carnival is up at "Heaven Tree". I didn't see much that I thought was interesting, but I would recommend the discussion between Clayton and Lewis at "Hesperus/Phosphorus": Why I am an evidentialist.

The History Carnival is up at "History : Other." The Carnival of Bad History is up at "Ahistoricality." In both cases there are some great posts. I particularly recommend An Unexpected Analogy at "Orac Knows".

I think I may have noted it, but since I never got back to reading it, I'll note it again, to have a link handy: the 112th Christian Carnival is up at "Adam's Blog". The series on the relation between neural states and thought at "Thinking Christian" is interesting. The type of argument being discussed can be very tricky; but it's a very modest version, and so, I think, has something to be said for it, and the discussion is quite good. It's an argument for substance dualism, and I'm not a substance dualist but a hylomorphist, so I have my disagreements. But I recommend it.

Since I've been linking to so many carnivals, I keep intending to post a link to the second State of the Ummah, the Muslim Carnival; but it keeps not being there. Well, that's real life. In any case, it's supposed to show up at towards God is our journey any time now.

Dr. Wafa Sultan has recently become a popular (and unpopular) voice criticizing Islam; but is she hitting the right points? I thought Dr. Hesham Hessaballa's post on her at "God, Faith, and a Pen" provided a fair and balanced criticism of her approach. It's also a sharp rebuke to some of her less balanced critics, as much by example as by word.

Miriam Burnstein gives us the 'rules' for a neo-Victorian novel, a world in which the evil methodistical Evangelicals do battle with Truly Egalitarian Heroes and Heroines who are Instinctively Admired by Oppressed Populations. There are also Prostitutes with Unusual Talents and Wretched Slums. It's almost on the way to being nearly an approximation of Dickensian. Quite amusing; well worth reading. The rules, I mean.

I'm reading with interest Kevin Timpe's paper,"Grace and Controlling What We Do Not Cause."

They are come, but they are not gone

[63] "The following story, too, is told by many. A certain seer warned Caesar to be on his guard against a great peril on the day of the month of March which the Romans call the Ides; and when the day had come and Caesar was on his way to the senate-house, he greeted the seer with a jest and said: 'Well, the Ides of March are come,' and the seer said to him softly: 'Ay, they are come, but they are not gone.' Moreover, on the day before, when Marcus Lepidus was entertaining him at supper, Caesar chanced to be signing letters, as his custom was, while reclining at table, and the discourse turned suddenly upon the question what sort of death was the best; before any one could answer Caesar cried out: 'That which is unexpected.'

"After this, while he was sleeping as usual by the side of his wife, all the windows and doors of the chamber flew open at once, and Caesar, confounded by the noise and the light of the moon shining down upon him, noticed that Calpurnia was in a deep slumber, but was uttering indistinct words and inarticulate groans in her sleep; for she dreamed, as it proved, that she was holding her murdered husband in her arms and bewailing him. Some, however, say that this was not the vision which the woman had; but that there was attached to Caesar's house to give it adornment and distinction, by vote of the senate, a gable-ornament, as Livy says, and it was this which Calpurnia in her dreams saw torn down, and therefore, as she thought, wailed and wept. At all events, when day came, she begged Caesar, if it was possible, not to go out, but to postpone the meeting of the senate; if, however, he had no concern at all for her dreams, she besought him to inquire by other modes of divination and by sacrifices concerning the future. And Caesar also, as it would appear, was in some suspicion and fear. For never before had he perceived in Calpurnia any womanish superstition, but now he saw that she was in great distress. And when the seers also, after many sacrifices, told him that the omens were unfavourable, he resolved to send Antony and dismiss the senate.

[64] "But at this juncture Decimus Brutus, surnamed Albinus, who was so trusted by Caesar that he was entered in his will as his second heir, but was partner in the conspiracy of the other Brutus and Cassius, fearing that if Caesar should elude that day, their undertaking would become known, ridiculed the seers and chided Caesar for laying himself open to malicious charges on the part of the senators, who would think themselves mocked at; for they had met at his bidding, and were ready and willing to vote as one man that he should be declared king of the provinces outside of Italy, and might wear a diadem when he went anywhere else by land or sea; but if some one should tell them at their session to be gone now, but to come back again when Calpurnia should have better dreams, what speeches would be made by his enemies, or who would listen to his friends when they tried to show that this was not slavery and tyranny? But if he was fully resolved (Albinus said) to regard the day as inauspicious, it was better that he should go in person and address the senate, and then postpone its business. While saying these things Brutus took Caesar by the hand and began to lead him along.

"And he had gone but a little way from his door when a slave belonging to some one else, eager to get at Caesar, but unable to do so for the press of numbers about him, forced his way into the house, gave himself into the hands of Calpurnia, and bade her keep him secure until Caesar came back, since he had important matters to report to him.

[65] "Furthermore, Artemidorus, a Cnidian by birth, a teacher of Greek philosophy, and on this account brought into intimacy with some of the followers of Brutus, so that he also knew most of what they were doing, came bringing to Caesar in a small roll the disclosures which he was going to make; but seeing that Caesar took all such rolls and handed them to his attendants, he came quite near, and said: 'ead this, Caesar, by thyself, and speedily; for it contains matters of importance and of concern to thee.'Accordingly, Caesar took the roll and would have read it, but was prevented by the multitude of people who engaged his attention, although he set out to do so many times, and holding in his hand and retaining that roll alone, he passed on into the senate. Some, however, say that another person gave him this roll, and that Artemidorus did not get to him at all, but was crowded away all along the route.

[66] "So far, perhaps, these things may have happened of their own accord; the place, however, which was the scene of that struggle and murder, and in which the senate was then assembled, since it contained a statue of Pompey and had been dedicated by Pompey as an additional ornament to his theatre, made it wholly clear that it was the work of some heavenly power which was calling and guiding the action thither. Indeed, it is also said that Cassius, turning his eyes toward the statue of Pompey before the attack began, invoked it silently, although he was much addicted to the doctrines of Epicurus; but the crisis, as it would seem, when the dreadful attempt was now close at hand, replaced his former cool calculations with divinely inspired emotion."

Plutarch, Life of Caesar

Essentialism and Darwin (III)

Continuing background to Shtulman paper.

Given confusions on this score it might be useful to say a few things about the claim that Darwin is not an essentialist. A major reason why this has become popular is Ernst Mayr, as in his Crafoord Prize speech. In that speech Mayr identifies six features of the 'Darwinian Zeitgeist', all of which he traces back to Darwin's principles. Of these six there are two that are unexceptionable (population thinking and descent of man; with regard to a third (scientific foundation for ethics), while it's controversial whether Darwin has actually done this, it can be conceded that Darwin heads in this direction. For the rest, however, Darwin would not qualify as a Darwinist in Mayr's sense. (1) Darwin, who has a very sophisticated understanding of the issues surrounding design arguments, is not so naive as to think the theory of selection does away with all design arguments. Indeed, he is very clear that it does not; it only does away with one narrow form of it. To do more you have to add other, more purely philosophical considerations. (For those who haven't read it, I recommend on this point Francis Darwin's The Autobiography of Charles Darwin and Selected Letters.) (3) Far from making the invocation of teleology unnecessary, Darwin's principles were understood at the time by three great early evolutionists (Gray, Huxley, and Darwin himself) to do exactly the reverse. That is, Darwin understood his own theory to reintroduce teleology, in the form of Cuvier's conditions of existence, which were widely understood to be an appeal to final causes, by giving it the key explanatory role. (4) Whether Darwin's principles do away with determinism is a bit more controversial. Darwin himself makes no such claims. As he says in Chapter 5, 'chance' is "a wholly incorrect expression, but it serves to acknowledge plainly our ignorance of the cause of each particular variation." This epistemic sense of 'chance' does not and cannot rule out deterministic causation. It is true that Darwin does think, far more than most, in probabilistic terms; but even determinists at the time wouldn't have had a problem with this. (The tendency to think of 'probabilistic' and 'deterministic' in opposed terms is a back-formation from a redefinition of the terms in physics; this opposition has nothing to do with the old question of whether there is real chance in the world, because it's an adaptation of the terms to a different type of question.)

This leaves (2), that Darwin opposes essentialism. It is clear that this is true if you mean that Darwin is not an independent special creationist; but, as I noted above, Darwin seems clearly committed to another form of essentialism. That variation is "nonessential and accidental," as Mayr puts it, is utterly irrelevant to the question; nobody in their right mind thinks that species are the process of variation. The fact that there are intermediate kinds between kinds, such that by descent one kind may be related to another, does not show us that there are no kinds at all. It does seem that a Darwinian can be either a shared nature essentialist (as Huxley seems to me) or a type essentialist (as seems closer to Darwin's view), or both; but to reject both would be to deny that biological organisms can be classified (except as a purely arbitrary matter of convenience). Either organisms share a nature or approximate a type; or else taxonomy indicates nothing about the world. Of course, as I pointed out above, one of Darwin's points is that one of things the theory of descent does is give us a clear and straightforward way of saying that taxonomy can and does indicate something about the world.

I find it, by the way, impossible to tell what Mayr means by 'essentialism'. He clearly has in mind shared natures -- the triangle example requires this; but he calls it 'typology', and type essentialism has generally been more popular in biology than shared nature essentialism. As I noted before, things are constrained by natures but to types. But, more relevantly, Darwin appears to be a type essentialist; otherwise it's unclear how he manages to accept, as he claims, unity of type. What Darwin rejects is not types but, as he says in the Recapitulation to OS, the claim that kinds are independently created according to type "without any apparent adequate cause." In other words, he rejects type essentialisms of the independent special creationist variety. He rejects it by proposing that descent from a prototype explains unity of type; and he explains this descent by natural selection. He does not reject types but argues that, with his theory of descent, types become "intelligible facts". And indeed, elsewhere in OS he notes that organisms are constrained to type by natural selection. However, Mayr is right that in doing this Darwin is making use of 'population thinking' and rejects the constancy of populations.

Faced with this there are two reasonable alternative ways to go. (1) We can say that Mayr and others who use Darwin to attack (certain versions of) essentialism (other than independent special creation) have strayed from the truth, and are really just trying to smuggle controversial philosophical claims under the cover of solid scientific theories and facts. Such philosophical parasitism is and has always been common: a philosophical position is put forward as the only one science allows, when closer examination shows that the only serious link between the philosophical position and the scientific claims is a vague and unanalyzed analogy. It wouldn't be the first time someone has misused Darwin in this way. (2) We could go the other way and say that Mayr is actually right; but that what makes him right is not Darwin but what biologists have discovered since Darwin. Because biology has discovered a lot of things since Darwin, this is a reasonable claim to make (if we're willing to back up the claim with facts); but I would have to see (a) what the facts appealed to really are; and (b) what sort of essentialism is being criticized. I think it's fair to say that since Darwin other forms of essentialism have gone by the wayside (certain forms of vitalism, for instance). It does not follow from this, however, that evolutionary biology isn't consistent with some modest forms of essentialism, or that there are neither types nor shared natures. These are stronger claims, and seem on the surface to be contradicted by certain facts of biological practice (taxonomy and comparative physiology, for instance); they would need a rigorous defense.

So that's the rough glance around. When I post on this again, I'll look at the Shtulman paper.

UPDATE: Those who found this post interesting should read John Wilkins's post, Essentialism Revisited, which offers a corrective to a few things above.

Essentialisms in Biology (II)

Continuing the background for looking at the Shtulman paper.

Given the importance of origins in biology, in that field we can make another distinction among essentialisms, according to how they answer the question: Can one kind of thing turn into another kind of thing? In the strictest interpretation, no one holds this; no sense can be made of it. Definitions (shared nature) and idealizations (type) don't change, although things defined can change definitions and things idealized can change so that they are no longer to be idealized in that way. Thus the useful meaning of the question is looser than this: given a population (of whatever size) of a given kind, can this population be modified to be a population (of whatever size) of another kind, in such a way that the latter population descends from the former population? There are a number of different answers.

Contrary to popular belief, the traditional Aristotelian essentialist is not necessarily committed to a negative answer, although, as a matter of fact, the only biological case analogous to such an evolution that was really considered at all was spontaneous generation. Aristotelians allow for substantial transformation; indeed, substances regularly transform into other substances in the Aristotelian view, as different substances are generated and corrupted. This is all that is required for the possibility of species transformation, whether it is actually accepted or not. By the nineteenth century, however, there were very few traditional essentialists around, and there have been relatively few since, so we can set this view aside entirely.

More interesting for the history of evolutionary thought is the believer in independent special creation. The independent special creationist says no; the kinds are immutable; to have a new kind, it must be independently created. Independent special creationists are Darwin's primary target in The Origin of Species:

Although much remains obscure, and will long remain obscure, I can entertain no doubt, after the most deliberate study and dispassionate judgement of which I am capable, that the view which most naturalists entertain, and which I formerly entertained — namely, that each species has been independently created — is erroneous. I am fully convinced that species are not immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are the descendants of that species.

What I will call 'transformism' is a loose category of people who would answer 'yes' to the above question. There are a lot of different variations of transformists. Darwin again gives us a sense of some of the diversity in the Introduction to OS:

In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified so as to acquire that perfection of structure and co-adaptation which most justly excites our admiration. Naturalists continually refer to external conditions, such as climate, food, &c., as the only possible cause of variation. In one very limited sense, as we shall hereafter see, this may be true; but it is preposterous to attribute to mere external conditions, the structure, for instance, of the woodpecker, with its feet, tail, beak, and tongue, so admirably adapted to catch insects under the bark of trees. In the case of the misseltoe, which draws its nourishment from certain trees, which has seeds that must be transported by certain birds, and which has flowers with separate sexes absolutely requiring the agency of certain insects to bring pollen from one flower to the other, it is equally preposterous to account for the structure of this parasite, with its relations to several distinct organic beings, by the effects of external conditions, or of habit, or of the volition of the plant itself.

The author of the 'Vestiges of Creation' would, I presume, say that, after a certain unknown number of generations, some bird had given birth to a woodpecker, and some plant to the misseltoe, and that these had been produced perfect as we now see them; but this assumption seems to me to be no explanation, for it leaves the case of the coadaptations of organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life, untouched and unexplained.

So there are (at least) five kinds of transformist, all of which accept that biological species can transform , but which disagree on the mechanism: the pure variationist (external factors alone), the orthogeneticist (the 'volition' or tendency of the plant itself), the Lamarckian ('habit' or accumulation of characteristics), the saltationist; and the selectionist (Darwinian). While Darwin is primarily concerned with arguing against independent special creationists, he does give brief indications of why he thinks other forms of transformism are not sustainable. Saltationism doesn't really explain anything at all; the others are not adequate for explaining the sheer richness and detail of actual biological life.

Notice, incidentally, that Darwin's argument against other transformisms can be interpreted as the claim that they fail to explain biological kinds. Lest one consider this an illusion of reading just this passage, consider a few facts about Darwin's presentation. Darwin argues that 'species' on other views (and particularly on independent special creationist views) is a poorly defined concept. However, he does not simply leave it at that, but goes on to argue that his theory of natural selection provides the principle for natural classification. Darwin very clear believes there is a natural classification; and thinks that one of the major advantages of his theory over rivals is that it gives a way to make sense of it. As he says:

I believe this element of descent is the hidden bond of connexion which naturalists have sought under the term of the Natural System. On this idea of the natural system being, in so far as it has been perfected, genealogical in its arrangement, with the grades of difference between the descendants from a common parent, expressed by the terms genera, families, orders, &c., we can understand the rules which we are compelled to follow in our classification. We can understand why we value certain resemblances far more than others; why we are permitted to use rudimentary and useless organs, or others of trifling physiological importance; why, in comparing one group with a distinct group, we summarily reject analogical or adaptive characters, and yet use these same characters within the limits of the same group. We can clearly see how it is that all living and extinct forms can be grouped together in one great system; and how the several members of each class are connected together by the most complex and radiating lines of affinities. We shall never, probably, disentangle the inextricable web of affinities between the members of any one class; but when we have a distinct object in view, and do not look to some unknown plan of creation, we may hope to make sure but slow progress.

Moreover, we find elsewhere reason to regard Darwin as an essentialist; not least is his acceptance of the Unity of Type doctrine. Darwin's difference from an essentialist who merely accepts unity of type is that Darwin thinks descent explains unity of type, and is itself explained by 'conditions of existence'.

In my next post on this issue I'll say a little more about Darwin as an essentialist of a particular sort.

Categories of Miracle

Traditionally there are three main classes of miracle:

1. Supernatural miracles are miracles in the strictest sense. They are worked in subjects in which similar effects never occur in the ordinary course of nature. Thus, it never happens in the ordinary course of nature that after being clearly dead and untouched in a tomb for a day a man comes alive again; only extraordinary intervention could make it possible. (These are also called 'miracles above or beyond nature'.)

2. Preternatural miracles are worked in subjects in which (through the forces of nature, either left to themselves or artificially applied) similar effects do occur in the ordinary course of nature. What distinguish them as miracles are the precise circumstances, which indicate that this is not a case in which we are dealing with the forces of nature left to themselves or artificially applied. Common examples given for this category are the plagues of Egypt: it's possible in the ordinary course of nature for there to be a massive infestation of frogs (second plague) in the ordinary course of nature; it is even possible in the ordinary course of nature for this to occur after a disturbance of the waters (first plague) and to lead after the death of the frogs to an infestation of insects (third and fourth plagues). What indicates the miraculous nature of the plagues is (1) the piling up of the ten plagues on top of each other; (2) the interaction between Moses and Pharaoh; (3) the protection of Goshen. In other words, it's not the facts themselves that are miraculous; it's that they occur in conjunction with a special set of circumstances. (Preternatual miracles are also called 'miracles outside of nature'.)

3. Counternatural miracles are worked in subjects that by nature tend to the contrary effect in the ordinary course of nature. Thus, ordinarily if you throw human beings into a massive fire, they die; if, as with the three youths in Daniel, they are just fine, that's a miracle. (Counternatural miracles are also sometimes called 'miracles against or contrary to nature'.)

In a number of ways the second class is the most interesting. It shows, for instance, that there can be no easy a posteriori argument against the possibility of miracles; and the standard arguments against the possibility of miracles don't refute the possibility of preternatural miracles, even if the arguments are held to be fully sound (Butler has a good argument showing why in the second part of the Analogy). The only way to refute the possibility of preternatural miracles is to prove that there is no cause capable of performing them. At the same time, preternatural miracles would be harder to prove, qua miraculous, than a counternatural or supernatural miracle would be, because the evidence would always be circumstantial. (The fact that they are hard to prove qua miraculous is why the Catholic Church, for instance, only rarely considers them when it comes to canonization procedures -- thus a remission of cancer is not generally treated as a miracle for canonization purposes, even though the Church doesn't rule out the possibility that some remissions that are not officially recognized as miracles may be miraculous.)

It occurred to me after I wrote the above that I should say something about what is not included as a miracle. An occurrence can only be a miracle if it involves signs of divine agency. In the case of supernatural and counternatural miracles, the occurrence itself is the sign; in the case of preternatural miracles, the whole set of circumstances is the sign. But not all divine actions would be miraculous. A good example is impetration. If I pray for x to happen and x happens, where x is some ordinary event (like getting over a cold), there is nothing miraculous about it whatsoever. It does not follow from this, however, that God did not answer my prayer; all that follows is that whatever was done was done according to ordinary providence, not miraculously. Only if x is accompanied by signs indicating special divine agency does it count as a preternatural miracle.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Essentialisms (I)

I've been reading Shtulman's "Qualitative differences between naive and scientific theories of evolution" after Chris was kind enough to send me a copy. (For a summary of the argument of the paper, see Chris's post.) It quickly became clear to me that if I were to have anything at all to say about it, I would need to be more clear in my own mind about essentialism, or, rather, essentialisms. So I'll be dealing with that over this post and at least one other. Everything in these posts is fairly rough and simple -- a sketch of background.

Behind any and all forms of essentialism, I think, there lies a basic intuition, which I will call minimal classificatory essentialism (MCE): there are kinds of things; and the kind of thing a thing is, is relevant to what it can do and undergo. A corollary of this is that distinction among kinds is, at least in principle, more than merely conventional. Or, in other words, it is at least in principle possible for us to classify things correctly, because there is a right and wrong about classification.

To deny minimal classificatory essentialism is irrational. Such a denial entails that it is impossible to know what things are, or why they do what they do, or why they undergo what they undergo -- because it is a denial that there is any 'what' or 'why' to know. So, clearly, anyone who is rational must be an essentialist at least so far; and, a fortiori, any scientific work must presuppose such an essentialism. If MCE were false, no classification and no identification of properties whatsoever would tell us anything about the world. Thus we all have a strong transcendental argument for accepting at least MCE, and we always have.

Naturally, however, it is possible to have a stronger form of essentialism; and we can identify two types of stronger essentialism: shared-nature essentialism and type essentialism. A key difference: shared-nature essentialism allows that the kind can be defined. Type essentialism (in its pure, exclusive form, at least) denies this, saying instead that kind is determined by relation to type.

The difference can be made clearer by examining a typical type essentialist argument. The following argument is T. H. Huxley's useful summary of William Whewell's biological type essentialism:

It is said, in short, that a natural-history class is not capable of being defined--that the class Rosaceae, for instance, or the class of Fishes, is not accurately and absolutely definable, inasmuch as its members will present exceptions to every possible definition; and that the members of the class are united together only by the circumstance that they are all more like some imaginary average rose or average fish, than they resemble anything else.

Now, the language here is slightly tendentious, but only slightly. By 'imaginary' we need to understand 'idealized' and by 'average' we need to understand 'normal'. That is, the type essentialist holds that the kind can only be determined by idealizing and abstracting from variations, and recognizing that the actual particulars cluster around these idealized reference points.

Huxley in his criticism of Whewell, for which see the above link, makes statements that technically commit him to being a shared-nature essentialist, since the view that rigorous definition of kinds is possible is a distinguishing mark of shared-nature essentialism. I'm not sure if this is consistent with Huxley's overall view. Certainly Darwin's own view does not appear to involve shared-nature essentialism at all. But it should be noted that it is possible for someone to be both. The reason for this is that Type and Shared Nature do not constrain kinds in the same way. Individuals of a kind are constrained to approximate conformity with a type; they are constrained by a shared nature. Thus it is possible to be both. However, we must understand that there is no general position 'Shared Nature Essentialism' or 'Type Essentialism'; if you are a shared nature essentialist, you are so for a given domain, and so it is with type essentialism as well. It is possible, for instance, to accept shared nature essentialism for chemical kinds, but deny it for biological species. Whewell, for instance, seems to have denied shared nature essentialism only for biology, because he thought definitions were, even in principle, impossible for biology, but not for other things. [*] We cannot give a definition of rose, because there is too much variation; but we can identify an idealized rose (having such-and-such features) around which all roses cluster, exhibiting greater or lesser conformity to type. (And note that we can subdivide; thus, if there were a sub-clustering of roses, that would tell us that there is a type there, too.) Types are, as it were, the attractors of classification.

[* In retrospect this is too strong. Whewell doesn't deny shared nature essentialism; he merely denies that it is useful for scientific practice, i.e., for all practical purposes biologists must resort to types.]

Of course, it would be entirely possible for us to hold that, strictly speaking, the position here that deals with essences (at least directly) is shared nature essentialism; and we could speak of this as essentialism (in the proper sense) and use another term for type essentialism. But in fact, as far as I can tell, no one does this when talking about essentialism. It's easy enough to find recognition that people thinking in terms of shared natures are thinking in a different way that people thinking in terms of types, however related the two may be; but the distinction doesn't seem to be made much when talking about essentialism. It is fairly clear, for instance, that type essentialisms are usually swept into the category 'essentialism' when people talk about the history of biology, because that's the only way sense can be made of things like (for instance) talk about Darwin versus essentialism. We should, however, be cautious of assuming that something true of shared nature essentialism would always be true of type essentialism, and vice versa.

In my next post, I think, I'll try to sketch out the sorts of essentialisms one finds in biology, or, at least, the most important ones that were around in the nineteenth-century (there were a lot).

UPDATE, 15 March: Fixed a few of the most obvious typos and misstatements.

Physical Premotion

There is an interesting discussion at Prosblogion that has been touching on issues of Banezianism, or the doctrine of physical premotion. For a very long time discussions of free will, grace, and providence were dominated by the dispute between the supporters of the doctrine of physical premotion (following Bañez's interpretation of Aquinas) and supporters of the doctrine of middle knowledge (following Molina's interpretation of Aquinas). For an account of physical premotion by a noted Banezian, see Garrigou-Lagrange here (second section) and here (second and third sections).

Links and Notes

* Carnivalesque is up at "alun". Technically this is the Ancient/Medieval edition, but since there was a special Women's History theme, I sent in my post on Damaris Masham.

* A really good post on the Battlestar Galactica finale by Timothy Sandefur at "Positive Liberty"

On a tangential issue, I see that a lot of people consider the Cavils, whatever their number may be, an 'atheistic' model. I don't think that's quite right. The models tend to be, or have generally been intended to be, at least somewhat archetypal -- they express (albeit very loosely) potentially dominant features of the human psyche (thus giving the Cylons something of a human tone). I think the Cavils are, as it were, the self-doubt of the Cylons, the sort of self-questioning that nags people when they feel that they might be hiding behind an excuse or engaging in self-deception. (The association of Brother Cavil's name with the word 'cavil' seems almost irresistible.) Thus the Cavil models, whatever their number, are the most likely by nature to question Cylon views and ways, whatever they are, whenever they seem a little too pat. Of course, since the Cylon views seem to be highly religious in tone, this would very often take the form of skepticism about this whole religious approach (as one of the Cavils says, "There is no God; supernatural divinities are the primitive's answer for why the sun goes down at night").

* A transcript of a talk on ijtihad, from a Sunni perspective. (HT: Sunni Sister)

* The 10th Progressive Faith Blog-Con Carnival is up at "Velveteen Rabbi". This, you will recall, is the carnival associated with the Progressive Faith Blog-Con. It collects posts of bloggers (of whatever faith) who 'lean left' politically for religious reasons.

* Haveil Havalim #61 is up at "Random thoughts - Do they have meaning?" Naturally, it's the Purim edition, and so sometimes has difficulty taking itself seriously; which makes it well worth reading.

* Chris at "Mixing Memory" has a great post on cognitive factors that get in the way of acceptance of evolution.

* Augustine's negativity towards sex is often exaggerated. This is a good corrective, from someone who nonetheless has a lot of sympathy with the charges.

The Tay Bridge Disaster and Vogon-like Poetry

This is a poem by William McGonagall (1830-1902), who has a wide reputation for being the worst poet ever to write in the English language. Indeed, he is so consistently bad that some have concluded that it must all be deliberate. To have a full sense of just how bad this poem is, you must (1) know that the Tay Bridge disaster was one of the most terrible railway accidents in history and (2) try to read it out loud with a straight face, and in a way that makes it sound like respectable poetry.

The Tay Bridge Disaster

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

'Twas about seven o'clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem'd to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem'd to say-
"I'll blow down the Bridge of Tay."

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers' hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say-
"I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay."

But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

So the train sped on with all its might,
And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
And the passengers' hearts felt light,
Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
With their friends at home they lov'd most dear,
And wish them all a happy New Year.

So the train mov'd slowly along the Bridge of Tay,
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o'er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill'd all the peoples hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav'd to tell the tale
How the disaster happen'd on the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

McGonagall is not mentioned in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; but he surely gives the Vogons a run for their money.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Mechanical Philosophy

By one of those nice examples of serendipity that the blogosphere affords, Nick Carter of The Mechanical Philosopher stumbled on my post about Berkeley, one of his favorite philosophers; and it turns out that he attended the University of Toronto for undergrad and now lives in Oregon; whereas I attended a school in Oregon for undergrad and have just finished up my graduate work at the University of Toronto. Small, small world! In any case, Nick does a lot of things to do with manufacturing and machines, and I enjoy talking to people who are philosophically-minded but aren't academics (always very refreshing; academic philosophers are nice, but they can be a bit dull if they're your only fare), so I asked Nick a few questions, and he answered. Since I only have Haloscan Basic, they'll be gone in a few months, so I thought I'd put them here in a post, so they'll stay.

"What mechanical/manufacturing skill (or skills) have you personally found most rewarding, and why?"

That would be hard to say, the overall ability to manufacture (in the most basic meaning of the word) is the most rewarding. I can manipulate matter into things, what I imagine I can make real (within limits, unfortunately). That's the profound part of it.

As for a specific skill that I am most proud, or find most useful, I would have to say that a short list would be: Filing (Using files, Nicholson has a little pamphlet titled "Filosophy"...), Turning (using a metalworking lathe), and probably drafting (drawing, and most frequently for me, CAD, or computer aided design), although it is not directly productive.

I tend to collect skills - or rather I collect the ability to perform processes, so I do small projects where the end is not nearly as important as the process. My latest success is detailed here:

"Or to put it in other terms, I'd be interested in getting some sort of glimpse of what a life of mechanical philosophy (it does seem the best phrase for it, doesn't it) is like from the inside."

Well I'll spare you the book that I will never but ought to write. I am of a small subset in the field as I am both amateur and professional, although I have done jobs for pay, I have equally done jobs for pleasure. I sell small machine tools through the internet, which allows me to interact with both professionals and amateurs, so I have a sense of how diverse the field is and I get to communicate with many interesting people (and quite a few nuts)...

There are two spheres of the mechanical/manufacturing world, the amateur and the professional.

The amateur worlds are many, all other human activities may be aided by mechanical acts either to make tools, instruments or objects that further that activity (for instance the amateur shooter learns gunsmithing, the biker learns engine machining) Add to that the world of the amateur machinist, or "Home Shop Machinist", who may make tools to make more tools, as well as for the various hobbies.

The professional is much like the amateur world except that they joy of business comes into the practice. As well some professionals consider their trade only as a job, and take no joy in it, when an amateur always (by definition) does.

And both worlds cross over, as there are professionals who are also amateurs...
Clear as mud all this, but because we have the wonder of the internet I can give you some leads...

"Another possible question: what would you recommend for someone just starting out their exploration of mechanical/manufacturing issues?"

For professional manufacturing:

Modern Machine Shop Magazine

Machine Design Magazine

If you get the Travel Channel, then the show "Made in the USA" is a good survey of the varieties of manufacture in the US.

For amateur work:
Home Shop Machinist Magazine (this is for the forums)

Practical Machinist Forums

But there are probably hundreds if not hundred thousands of sites, texts, etc that you could read - you should see how many books I have on the subject...

And that would just be for metalworking, all these things grade into chemistry, woodworking, ceramics, computers, electronics, and all diverse arts.

In short it's sort of like asking what you would recommend for one starting out in philosophy...

I could literally write about this forever but I have to get to bed...

Although I never really do anything along these lines, I've always had a fascination with the sort of thing Nick does. I once had a dream in which I wrote a book (it says something about me that I dream mostly about having arguments and writing books) called How to Build a Civilization from Scratch in a Hundred Thousand Easy Steps, the ultimate how-to book, that dealt with gathering, hunting, building, cheesemaking, weaving, pottery, metalwork, woodwork, beekeeping, papermaking, all starting from nothing but natural materials. That would be an awesome book to research.

UPDATE: In comments, Nick recommends two more links:

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Suarezian Arguments Against Circular and Infinite Regress of Efficient Causes

In the Metaphysical Disputations (disp. 20), Suarez presents his argument for the existence of God, based on the principle that everything made is made by something other than itself. In the process of elaborating this argument, he argues that it is impossible for there to be either a circular regress or an infinite regress of makers. This, in very rough paraphrase, is his argument against circular regress:

The existence of A is implied in the claim that A makes B, for any A and B; if B in turn makes A, then A's existence must be supposed already as a precondition for B's making A. But to be made is to be made to exist; so we have the absurdity that A both exists and does not exist. Therefore it is impossible to have a circular regress of makers.

His argument, again in rough paraphrase, against infinite regress:

Everything that is made is made by another. This is obviously true because it is obviously true that everything that is dependent depends on something other than hitself. If the whole collection of dependent things and things on which they depend were dependent it would depend on something other than itself. It is impossible, however, that the whole collection be dependent in its being and in its operation on some other thing: if it were, it would not be the whole collection.

Now, if every being distributively were dependent and made, the whole would be so, not by a single dependence or but by a collection of them; this is precisely the way in which a whole like this is dependent. But the whole collection of dependent things and things on which they depend cannot be dependent, as noted above. Therefore there must be something indepedent which terminates the chain of dependence. Thus, no infinite regress is possible.

These are interesting kinds of argument. The one against circular regress is exactly right; circular regress is not possible with makers and made things. I'm not so sure about the argument against infinite regress. It's plausible, and I follow it completely up through the claim that the whole chain of dependent things & things on which they depend cannot be dependent, on pain of contradiction. I'm not so clear on how Suarez pulls a contradiction out of his further considerations on distributive dependence; and to rule out infinite regress one needs to show that it leads (in the given circumstances) to a contradiction. I'll have to reflect a bit more on Suarez's argument here. You can expect another post on it at some future (perhaps distant future) date.