Friday, June 16, 2006

Dogs and Cats

Michael Gilleland has a post on Aesop's fable of the Dog and His Reflection, and points to a list of adaptations and translations. One of my favorites is Christopher Smart's translation of Phaedrus's version:

Fable IV from Book I: The DOG in the RIVER

The churl that wants another's fare
Deserves at least to lose his share.
As thro' the stream a dog convey'd
A piece of meat, he spy'd his shade
In the clear mirrour of the flood;
And thinking it was flesh and blood,
Snapp'd to deprive him of the treat--
But mark the glutton's self-defeat
Miss'd both another's and his own,
Both shade and substance, beef and bone.

Christopher Smart is one of the truly great eighteenth century English-language poets. He is best known for his fragmentary masterpiece, written while in an insane asylum for religious mania, Jubilate Agno. The most famous part of that work is the paean to his cat Jeoffry in Fragment B3:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the fore paws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For Sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For Seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For Eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For Ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For Tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incompleat without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his fore-paws of any quadrupede.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually --Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in compleat cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in musick.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is affraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroaking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrupede.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the musick.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

His best known work in his lifetime, however, was probably A Song to David.

Additional Links

* History Carnival XXXIII is up at "American Presidents Blog."

* H. G. Wells's essay, World Brain: The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopedia, was mentioned in Scott McLemee's recent Inside Higher Ed column on Wikipedia.

* Chris at "Mixing Memory" discusses a recent 'Experimental Philosophy' study which shows some promise.

* Lee at "verbum ipsum" has a great selection from C. S. Lewis on the connection between belief in eternal life and love of neighbor.

* The comments on Ophelia Benson's recent post on rational inquiry at the Notes and Comments section of "Butterflies and Wheels" have been interesting.

* Gregory Chaitin often argues that mathematics is what he calls 'quasi-empirical'. He explains what he means by this in a number of very readable online papers.

* Since it's summer, it's perhaps worth reminding everyone that a reasonable amount of playfulness is a virtue. So devote some time to delighting your soul. Within reason, of course.

A Question for My Readers

A question that has recently puzzled me, because it has turned out to be harder to find an answer than one might think. It is often said that pro-lifers claim that an embryo or fetus is 'morally equivalent' to a child or adult. As I've noted before, this is not implied by the basic pro-life position -- which is just that the embryo or fetus has a basic right to life -- nor is it coherent in itself (since 'moral equivalence' in this context isn't a coherent notion -- the only sense that can be made of it is to understand it as 'having the same role in practical reasoning about moral matters' -- but no one holds that even adults are equivalent in this way, because our obligations even with regard to basic rights aren't the same toward everyone). But recently I started wondering which pro-lifers are making this claim. The claim seems, on the internet, at least, to be found only on pro-choice sites. The only use of moral equivalence I could find in a definitely pro-life context is in this testimony before the Senate, where it is said, "destroying or discarding an embryo in the laboratory is the moral equivalent of abortion," and this press release, where it is said, "It is also clear that few Americans believe a suction abortion to be the moral equivalent of a 'partial-birth abortion.'" Neither of these, however, are relevant to this point. So I'm wondering if there is some sort of pro-life source-text or source-texts at the root of it all that I've just not come across, or whether this is a case of summarizing the pro-life position without regard for what pro-lifers actually say. Does anybody have any insight on this?

Sikh Scripture on Woman

From Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs:

From woman, man is born;
within woman, man is conceived;
to woman he is engaged and married.
Woman becomes his friend;
through woman, the future generations come.
When his woman dies, he seeks another woman;
to woman he is bound.
So why call her bad?
From her, kings are born.
From woman, woman is born;
without woman, there would be no one at all.
O Nanak, only the True Lord is without a woman.
That mouth which praises the Lord continually is blessed and beautiful.
O Nanak, those faces shall be radiant in the Court of the True Lord.

Eminently sensible. You can read the relevant passage in context here (page 473).

The Martyrdom of Arjan Dev

Today is a very important day, although you may not know it. It is the 400th anniversary of the Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Sahib; it is one of the major Sikh holidays. Arjan Dev, who was killed in 1606 by the Muslim Emperor Jahangir, was the first of the great Sikh Gurus to be martyred. And, what is more, he was martyred in part for what has since become the central pillar of Sikh life: the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, at least in its early form (the Pothi Granth Sahib).

Arjan Dev had been named Guru by his father; this made his brother Prithi Chand jealous, and the two never got along well at all for the rest of their lives. At some point Prithi Chand began passing off his own verses as the verses of Guru Nanak (the founder of the Sikh way of life), and when Arjan Dev became aware of this, he realized that there was a pressing need for some sort of official collection of the writings of the Gurus. He sent messengers to various places and people associated with prior Gurus in an attempt to collect the authentic writings of the early Gurus, and then, having collected together as much as he could, he sat down to compile and edit them into a book. In keeping with Sikh principles going back to Guru Nanak himself, he included poetry from the Muslim Sufi and the Hindu Bhakti traditions.This book, or Granth, was investigated by Emperor Akbar; but Akbar found nothing dangerous to Islam about it, and so had done nothing.

When Akbar died, however, civil war overtook the land. Akbar had named his grandson Khusro his successor, but his son Jahangir seized the throne and Khusro fled. Khusro came to Guru Arjan as someone unfriended and in need; the Guru, in accordance with Sikh principles and his custom of hospitality, gave him money for travel expenses. Khusro, however, was soon captured by Jahangir.

Through the machinations of Prithi Chand and his allies, the Emperor Jahangir came to the Punjab, where they were able to convince him that the Guru had deprived Prithi of his rightful place as Guru (one can imagine how sympathetic Jahangir would have been, given that in his eyes he, too, had been deprived of his rightful place) and that he was attacking the Hindu and Muslim religions. Prithi died while the Emperor was visiting, but his son Meharban passed on the story of Arjan's succor to Khusro, and continued the slander against the Guru, saying that the Guru's book was full of blasphemous attacks against Hindu and Muslim worship. Jahangir ordered that Arjan be brought before him in Lahore and all his property confiscated.

Before he left for Lahore, the Guru invested his son Hargobind as his successor. Told to erase everything in the Granth that had anything to do with Hinduism or Islam, Arjan refused, saying, according to some sources:

I am a worshipper of the Immortal God. There is no monarch save Him; and what He revealed to the Gurus, from Guru Nanak to Guru Ram Das, and afterwards to myself, is written in the holy Granth. The hymns contained in the Adi Granth are not disrespectful to any Hindu incarnation or any Mohammadan prophet. It is certainly stated that prophets, priests, and incarnations are the handiwork of the Immortal God, Whose limit none can find. My main object is to spread the truth and the destruction of falsehood; and if, in pursuance to this objective, this perishable body is to depart, I shall account it great good fortune.

Guru Arjan Dev was tortured with fire and boiling water. He is said to have accepted it all as God's will, saying over and over, "Your will is sweet; I ask for the gift of the Name." At one point he was granted a request, to be bathed. He was dipped in a river, and his body disappeared -- according to some, carried away by the currents, never to be seen again; according to others, it blended with the light.*

* It occurs to me that someone who has no acquaintance with Sikhism might not quite catch the meaning of this point. In Sikh doctrine, to put it very roughly, Guru Nanak, the original Guru, passed along his Jot, i.e., his divine light or union with God, to his successor; one way in which this is sometimes described is that Guru Nanak 'converted his body into a new form'. Thus every Guru was, in a sense, Guru Nanak, not physically, but in the sense that he carries on Guru Nanak's light. So the light here is divine light. Thus, one's own light blending with the divine light is a common Sikh expression describing union with God; the notion of Guru Arjan Dev's body blending with the light goes a bit further, and different Sikhs will use the symbol differently in telling the story, I'm sure.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

33rd International Hume Conference

The 33rd International Hume Conference (August 7 – 10, 2006) will be hosted by the Universität Koblenz-Landau in Koblenz, Germany. You can find all the information relevant to registration at the registration website. Please note that the deadline for discounted registration is tomorrow, the 16th.

I, unfortunately, will not be able to attend. I would be willing, however, to post any reports from people who are able to attend, so in the off chance that anyone reading this will be attending, and is willing to report back, let me know in the comments.

The Old Passes with the Old

Max Planck famously said (in the Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers -- an absolutely beautiful book, if you haven't read it):

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

He wasn't the first person to make this sort of observation, though. Whewell said it earlier:

The history of science suggests the reflection that it is very difficult for the same person at the same time to do justice to two conflicting theories. Take for example the Cartesian hypothesis of vortices and the Newtonian doctrine of universal gravitation. The adherents of the earlier opinion resisted the evidence of the Newtonian theory with a degree of obstinacy and captiousness which now appears to us quite marvellous: while on the other hand, since the complete triumph of the Newtonians, they have been unwilling to allow any merit at all to the doctrine of the vortices. It cannot but seem strange, to a calm observer of such changes, that in a matter which depends upon mathematical proofs, the whole body of the mathematical world should pass over, as in this and similar cases they seem to have done, from an opinion confidently held, to its opposite. No doubt this must be, in part, ascribed to the lasting effects of eduction and early prejudice. The old opinion passes away with the old generation: the new theory grows to its full vigour when its congenital disciples grow to be masters. John Bernoulli continues a Cartesian to the last; Daniel, his son, is a Newtonian from the first.

[William Whewell, "Of the Transformation of Hypotheses in the History of Science," presented before the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 19 May 1851.]

Perhaps the point can be put this way: living scientists are great; but it's a good thing that scientists don't live forever.

Corpus Christi

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:53-54)

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? The Bread which we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor. 10:16-17)

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood, in at least some calendars (in some parts of the U.S. and elsewhere the Feast is moved to next Sunday). It seems reasonable to mark the occasion with a hymn attributed to Thomas Aquinas:

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,
Quae sub his figuris vere latitas;
Tibi se cor meum totum subjicit,
Quia te contemplans totum deficit.

Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur,
Sed auditu solo tuto creditur.
Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius;
Nil hoc verbo veritatis verius.

In cruce latebat sola Deitas,
At hic latet simul et Humanitas,
Ambo tamen credens atque confitens,
Peto quod petivit latro pœnitens.

Plagas, sicut Thomas, non intueor:
Deum tamen meum te confiteor.
Fac me tibi semper magis credere,
In te spem habere, te diligere.

O memoriale mortis Domini!
Panis vivus, vitam praestans homini!
Praesta meae menti de te vívere,
Et te illi semper dulce sapere.

Pie Pelicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine:
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

Jesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio,
Oro, fiat illud quod tam sitio:
Ut te revelata cernens facie,
Visu sim beatus tuae gloriae. Amen

The English, as rendered by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran---
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory's sight. Amen.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Natural Classification Posts

My recent posts on natural classification:

Whewell on Constructing Classificatory Sciences

Whewell on Natural Classification

Typology and Natural Classification

Darwin on Natural Classification

Duhem, Physical Theory, and Natural Classification

Also relevant to this group of posts (particularly the one on typology) is an older post on Huxley on Whewell on Classification.

ADDED LATER: Mill and Whewell on Natural Series

Links and Notes

Blogger ate my first version of this, so I've had to reconstruct it. Usually I save before I hit 'publish', but this had to be the time I forgot.

* Covenant Theological Seminary has a page devoted to free online courseware. While doing other things, I've been following along with the lectures for the Calvin's Institutes course. When I'm done, I'll probably do the same for the Christian Ethics, Francis Schaeffer, and Reformation courses.

* This video of a session from a Seminar in Historical Methods (by Professor Anne McCants) at MIT OpenCourseWare is worth watching; it uses the fantasy of Tolkien and Lewis as a springboard for talking about The Middle Ages as Fantasy.

* C. S. Lewis wrote Out of the Silent Planet in part to mock suggestions that human beings could escape the problems they've created on earth by spreading out to other planets; particularly as found in Olaf Stapledon's science fiction work, Last and First Men (at least as it was sometimes interpreted). But old absurdities die hard.

* The problem of people not claiming dead bodies from funeral homes so they don't have to pay the expenses (HT: LTA)

* Mark Chu-Carroll gives a mathematical argument against Behe's notion of irreducible complexity. My one qualm is that it proves that given a system S, you cannot in general show that there is no simpler system performing the same task; but Behe's irreducible complexity, I take it, is supposed to be showing that a simpler system cannot perform the same task while drawing from the same set of parts, and (although it's possible I'm just missing it), that doesn't seem to be addressed. But some of what he says in the comments, I think, addresses this issue. He also has a good post on Dembski's use of No Free Lunch theorems.

* "The Scientific Advocate" muses on Peter Singer's argument that all animals are equal.

* There was recently a good post and discussion of Public Sex, Privacy, and Shame at "Philosophy, etc."

* I suspected that this might be the case: the New York Times online didn't get the 'Mosquito' quite right. Cognitive Daily has a more accurate version of it. However, I can still hear it, although barely. It's still annoying.

* Bora has reposted his excellent discussion of Lysenko.

* UPDATE: Michael Pakaluk at "Dissoi Blogoi" is looking at Cicero's claim that virtue has splendor, that it shows itself and shines forth. I found his post on manifestation particularly interesting.

Kingsley on the Euthyphro Problem

Reading through some of the new Charles Kingsley works at Project Gutenberg, I came across this interesting passage in The Good News of God (the text is Matthew 22:39):

Why are wrong things wrong? Why, for instance, is it wrong to steal?

Because God has forbidden it, you may answer. But is it so? Whatsoever God forbids must be wrong. But, is it wrong because God forbids it, or does God forbid it because it is wrong?

For instance, suppose that God had not forbidden us to steal, would it be right then to steal, or at least, not wrong?

We must really think of this. It is no mere question of words, it is a solemn practical question, which has to do with our every-day conduct, and yet which goes down to the deepest of all matters, even to the depths of God himself.

The question is simply this. Did God, who made all things, make right and wrong? Many people think so. They think that God made goodness. But how can that be? For if God made goodness, there could have been no goodness before God made it. That is clear. But God was always good, good from all eternity. But how could that be?
How could God be good, before there was any goodness made? That notion will not do then. And all we can say is that goodness is eternal and everlasting, just as God is: because God was and is and ever will be eternally and always good.

But is eternal goodness one thing, and the eternal God, another? That cannot be, again; for as the Athanasian Creed tells us so wisely and well, there are not many Eternals, but one Eternal. Therefore goodness must be the Spirit of God; and God must be the Spirit of goodness; and right is nothing else but the character of the
everlasting God, and of those who are inspired by God.

What is wrong, then? Whatever is unlike right; whatever is unlike goodness; whatever is unlike God; that is wrong. And why does God forbid us to do wrong? Simply because wrong is unlike himself. He is perfectly beautiful, perfectly blest and happy, because he is perfectly good; and he wishes to see all his creatures beautiful, blest, and happy: but they can only be so by being perfectly good; and they can only be perfectly good by being perfectly like God their Father; and they can only be perfectly like God the Father by being full of love, loving their neighbour as themselves.

Considering that this is a popular sermon for a diverse audience, this is an excellent presentation and handling of the argument.

Charles Kingsley

Steven Riddle notes that Project Gutenberg has added a whole flood of Charles Kingsley works. From Andromeda, and Other Poems:


Jesus, He loves one and all,
Jesus, He loves children small,
Their souls are waiting round His feet
On high, before His mercy-seat.

While He wandered here below
Children small to Him did go,
At His feet they knelt and prayed,
On their heads His hands He laid.

Came a Spirit on them then,
Better than of mighty men,
A Spirit faithful, pure and mild,
A Spirit fit for king and child.

Oh! that Spirit give to me,
Jesu Lord, where'er I be!


Since Trinity Sunday just passed, it seems fitting to quote from a Trinity Sunday sermon in All Saints' Day and Other Sermons:

Therefore, everything which you see, is, as it were, a thought of God's, an action of God's; a message to you from God. Therefore you can look at nothing in the earth without seeing God Himself at work thereon. As our Lord said, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." You can look neither at the sun in the sky, nor at the grass beneath your feet, without being brought face to face with God, the ever blessed Trinity. The tiniest gnat which dances in the sun, was conceived by God the Father, in whose eternal bosom are the ideas and patterns of all things, past, present, and to come; it was created by God the Son, by whom the Father made all things, and without whom nothing is made: and it is kept alive by God the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, of whom it is written, "Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the earth."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Religious Test Clause

A good paper on the Religious Test Clause of the U.S. Constitution, by Paul Horwitz. The abstract:

The Religious Test Clause of the United States Constitution states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States". Although it is the only place in the main text of the Constitution that mentions religion, it has been habitually ignored - until now. In the past several years, a spate of lower federal court nominations and two Supreme Court nominations - the successful nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts and the abortive nomination of Harriet Miers - have occasioned public debate over whether the Religious Test Clause forbids Presidents and/or Senators from supporting, opposing, or even questioning nominees on the basis of religion. More broadly, these events have been the occasion for discussions about whether and how religion may be raised in the public debate surrounding judicial nominees. Because the Roberts and Miers nominations present neat mirror images of each other, with religion used as a disqualification in one nomination and a qualification in the other, it is an opportune moment to assess what the Religious Test Clause has to say about these cases, and about the use of religion in the federal judicial nomination process more generally.

This article, a contribution to a Symposium on "Religion, Division, and the Constitution," is the first to fully examine these questions. After discussing the invocation of the Religious Test Clause in the recent nomination controversies, it looks carefully at the text and history of the Religious Test Clause. It argues that the Religious Test Clause precludes Congress or the President from imposing a formal test oath on would-be federal office-holders that would require them to avow or disavow, under oath, allegiance to a particular faith or set of religious doctrines. And that is all it does. A President may select nominees on the basis of their faith if he chooses; a Senator may question a nominee on his or her faith or religiously derived beliefs, or support or oppose a nominee on that basis. Thus, those public officials, public figures, and commentators who argued during the recent nomination process that the Religious Test Clause barred certain actions or inquiries were wrong.

I argue that this conclusion is not only descriptively accurate; it is also normatively sound. There are many plausible reasons why a President or Senator might validly inquire into the faith, or religiously derived beliefs, of a nominee. To silence such inquiries because of the dangers of intermixing religion and politics ultimately disserves the broader principle that religion ought to be a fully welcome part of discussion in the public sphere. In addition, the broad reading of the Religious Test Clause, by constitutionalizing an area of politics, unduly limits the scope of popular responsibility for the political process. The best remedy for abuses of religion in the judicial nomination process lies in the realm of ordinary politics, and not in the Constitution.

Although the Constitution thus provides few if any barriers to the use and abuse of religion and religious rhetoric in the federal judicial nomination process, nothing prevents us from attempting to craft evaluative criteria that might lead to more fruitful uses of religion in public debate, and to guide our understanding of how well or poorly religion has been used in the public debate surrounding judicial nominations. The article thus offers several principles of "constitutional etiquette" that might guide our understanding of the sound use of religion in this context, and measures the recent nomination controversies against these standards. It concludes that even with these criteria in place, the invocation of religion in judicial nominations, as elsewhere, may lead to more rather than less division in our national politics. But the price is well worth paying, if our public discussions become richer and deeper as a result.
[hat-tip: Lawrence Solum]

It makes the important point that the clause has some connection with things like the Test Acts. This isn't the only thing that needs to be considered, but insofar as a constitution is at least in part an attempt to learn from the past in order to have a better future, it is important.

Anthony and the Fishes

Well, it's the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, and that always brings to mind fish. From the Fioretti, a collection of legends about early Franciscans (of whom Anthony was one), here's the legend of Anthony and the Fishes:

St Anthony being at one time at Rimini, where there were a great number of heretics, and wishing to lead them by the light of faith into the way of truth, preached to them for several days, and reasoned with them on the faith of Christ and on the Holy Scriptures. They not only resisted his words, but were hardened and obstinate, refusing to listen to him.

At last St Anthony, inspired by God, went down to the sea-shore, where the river runs into the sea, and having placed himself on a bank between the river and the sea, he began to speak to the fishes as if the Lord had sent him to preach to them, and said: "Listen to the word of God, O ye fishes of the sea and of the river, seeing that the faithless heretics refuse to do so."

No sooner had he spoken these words than suddenly so great a multitude of fishes, both small and great, approached the bank on which he stood, that never before had so many been seen in the sea or the river. All kept their heads out of the water, and seemed to be looking attentively on St Anthony’s face; all were ranged in perfect order and most peacefully, the smaller ones in front near the bank, after them came those a little bigger, and last of all, were the water was deeper, the largest.

When they had placed themselves in this order, St Anthony began to preach to them most solemnly, saying: "My brothers the fishes, you are bound, as much as is in your power, to return thanks to your Creator, who has given you so noble an element for your dwelling; for you have at your choice both sweet water and salt; you have many places of refuge from the tempest; you have likewise a pure and transparent element for your nourishment. God, your bountiful and kind Creator, when he made you, ordered you to increase and multiply, and gave you his blessing. In the universal deluge, all other creatures perished; you alone did God preserve from all harm. He has given you fins to enable you to go where you will. To you was it granted, according to the commandment of God, to keep the prophet Jonas, and after three days to throw him safe and sound on dry land. You it was who gave the tribute-money to our Saviour Jesus Christ, when, through his poverty, he had not wherewith to pay. By a singular mystery you were the nourishment of the eternal King, Jesus Christ, before and after his resurrection. Because of all these things you are bound to praise and bless the Lord, who has given you blessings so many and so much greater than to other creatures."

At these words the fish began to open their mouths, and bow their heads, endeavouring as much as was in their power to express their reverence and show forth their praise. St Anthony, seeing the reverence of the fish towards their Creator, rejoiced greatly in spirit, and said with a loud voice: "Blessed be the eternal God; for the fishes of the sea honour him more than men without faith, and animals without reason listen to his word with greater attention than sinful heretics."

And whilst St Anthony was preaching, the number of fishes increased, and none of them left the place that he had chosen. And the people of the city hearing of the miracle, made haste to go and witness it. With them also came the heretics of whom we have spoken above, who, seeing so wonderful and manifest a miracle, were touched in their hearts; and threw themselves at the feet of St Anthony to hear his words. The saint then began to expound to them the Catholic faith. He preached so eloquently, that all those heretics were converted, and returned to the true faith of Christ; the faithful also were filled with joy, and greatly comforted, being strengthened in the faith.

After this St Anthony sent away the fishes, with the blessing of God; and they all departed, rejoicing as they went, and the people returned to the city. But St Anthony remained at Rimini for several days, preaching and reaping much spiritual fruit in the souls of his hearers.

Monday, June 12, 2006


* Some recent posts on Berkeley that I've been commenting on: Kenny Pearce presents The Foundational Argument of Berkeleian Metaphysics. John Depoe at "Fides Quarens Intellectum" has a post on Russell's criticism of Berkeley's logic, and is planning on having a post up soon on Russell's criticism of Berkeley's empirical arguments for idealism. (UPDATE: It is now up here.)

* LaShawn Barber blogs about Loving v. Virginia. UPDATE: Also see Shay's post at "Booker Rising"; Laura James's post at "Clews: The Historic True Crime Blog."

* You can listen to the 'Mosquito' (it's a sound that usually can be heard only by people under 25). I'm over 25, but I could hear it, and it's really irritating. Listening to it much longer than the few seconds I did would give me a headache.

* There's a list at "Prosblogion" of Keith DeRose's posts on universalism at Generous Orthodoxy.

* John M. Christensen has an article on New Atlantis Revisited: Science and the Victorian Tale of the Future and Patrick Parrindar's News from Nowhere, The Time Machine and the Break-Up of Classical Realism at Science Fiction Studies. (HT: LP)

* Seek out the Blue Flower in Novalis's classic of German Romanticism, Heinrich von Osterdingen.

* Heo Cwaeth presents the Old English poem "Deor" and its translation. You can hear it spoken here. The "þæs oferéode ðisses swá mæg" is quite catchy; I'll have to remember it.

* Now, that's a beach. Lucky Wales.

UPDATE: Philosophers' Carnival XXXI is up at "Kenny Pearce". There are some great posts this time around; I hope to get around to posting on some of them, as soon as I stop being suddenly busy. (Yes, 'suddenly busy' is an ongoing event here!)

Duhem, Physical Theory, and Natural Classification

One of the most interesting (and controversial) uses of the concept of natural classification in philosophy is that of Duhem in his work on physical theory. To see the applicability to physics, we need to back up a bit and look at Duhem's general approach to physical theory.

It's important to keep in mind what Duhem insists vehemently upon, particularly since people don't always do so when talking about Duhem: he is only talking about theory in physics. Duhem, of course, was a thermodynamicist, and in his scientific heyday at the tail-end of the nineteenth century was considered one of France's best minds in physics; his philosophy of science grows, in great measure, out of his work in physics and his teaching of physics and his study of the history of physics. So none of his argument is intended to apply to any field but physics; Duhem recognizes that not everything he says about physics will turn out to be true about other fields. This is in part because a lot of what he says about physics depends crucially on the fact that physics is a highly mathematical discipline in a way that most other fields are not.

Carefully restricting his discussion to physics, Duhem opens with the question: What is the object or aim of physical theory? He proposes two possible answers to this question. The first possible answer, and the one that seems to leap to mind most readily, is that physical theories are there to explain the phenomena. The second possible answer, the one that Duhem accepts, is that physical theories are there to summarize and classify the phenomena. At stake is whether the notions involved in the propositions identify fundamental features of things that underly phenomena, or represent general characteristics of the phenomena themselves. In order to accept the former, however, we must accept the following affirmation: Under the sensible phenomena there is a reality distinct from those phenomena. Further, even with this affirmation we don't get a view of physical theories in which they explain phenomena; we must add to it an answer to the question, "What is the nature of the elements that constituted material reality?" Now it's important to point out that neither of these claims derive from physical theory or experiment themselves; if physical theory is explanatory, both of these claims must precede any physical theory that can be constructed, and neither of them admit of non-theoretical experimental justification. From this Duhem draws the obvious conclusion: If physical theories explain, physics is dependent on metaphysics, and the physics will differ as the metaphysics differs. To this Duhem responds:

Now, to make physical theories depend on metaphysics is surely not the way to let them enjoy the privilege of universal consent. In fact, no philosopher, no matter how confident he may be in the value of the methods used in dealing with metaphysical problems can dispute the following empirical truth: Consider in reveiw all the domains of man's intellectual activity; none of the systems of thought arising in different eras or the contemporary systems born of different schools will appear more profoundly distinct, more sharply separated, more violently opposed to one another, than those in the field of metaphysics.

While Duhem is a positivist, he is not a logical positivist; he has considerable respect for metaphysics, and as we will see, even with regard to science itself he thinks metaphysics has an important role to play. But if the interpretation of our physical theories depends on our metaphysical views, we seem to be faced with a serious problem for physics, because however important metaphysics is, the straightforward fact is that there's no general agreement about it.

Moreover, no metaphysics of itself suffices to build a physical theory, and this, too, causes problem for the thesis that physical theories explain. If physical theories depend on a prior metaphysics for their explanatory value, then they only have explanatory value to the extent that can be fit into that prior metaphysical framework. However, there will always be a looseness of fit between metaphysics and physics, no physics changes over time and metaphysics never gives sufficiently precise instructions for the construction of particular physical theories (and usually consists mostly of negations, in any case). In that case, however, there is always something mysterious at the root of these alleged explanations.

So Duhem argues that the true object or aim of physical theory must be summarization and classification of the phenomena. If we take this route, metaphysics does have a role to play (as we will see), but it's a role that succeeds rather than precedes the physical theory itself. Duhem's own definition of a physical theory is this: "It is a system of mathematical propositions, deduced from a small number of principles, which aim to represent as simply, as completely, and as exactly as possible a set of experimental laws." It is constructed through four successive operations.

1. Out of all the properties we are faced with, we select those we regard as simple properties, i.e., the properties that are such that all the other properties will consists of groupings of these simple properties, and through methods of measurement assign them mathematical symbols and operations.

2. We connect these mathematical symbols and operations together to form a small set of propositions that will serve as basic principles.

3. These principles are combined according to rules of mathematical analysis. In this combination, it is important to note that there is no assumption that a physical transformation corresponds to every mathematical transformation. The only thing we are bothered with at this stage is the mathematics of it.

4. Consequences drawn from these mathematical transformations are translated into judgments about the physical properties of bodies using the same methods of measurement used before; these judgments are then compared with experimental laws, i.e., the general conclusions we have drawn about the phenomena from our experiments. If there is a match, the theory is good so far; if there isn't, that's a sign the theory needs work.

These operations partly drive, and partly are driven by, a tendency toward simplicity or economy: we tend to accept the simplest physical theory that summarizes our experimental phenomena well. This is one way in which physics progresses. The other way it progresses is more interesting for our purposes, because it has to do with the fact that these operations make the physical theory a classification of phenomena. As we follow out the ramifications of our physical theory, different propositions start grouping themselves as related to this or that principle. So, for example, it arranges the spectrum of the prism alongside the spectrum of the rainbow, but places the colors of Newton's rings closer to the fringes discovered by Young and Fresnel; still other colorations are closer to diffraction. They aren't unrelated, but they aren't each equally related to everything else, and it is theory that tells us how to group them. These groupings make our knowledge about the world easier to use and apply; they protect us from obvious errors; and, equally importantly, they are beautiful. More importantly for our purposes, this high degree of perfection gives us the feeling that the classifications of physics are approaching a natural classification, in which the abstract relations of the theory match the real relations in the world. As Duhem says,

The neat way in which each experimental law finds its place in the classification created by the physicist and the brilliant clarity imparted to this group of laws so perfectly ordered persuade us in an overwhelming manner that such a classification is not purely artificial, that such an order does not result from a purely arbitrary grouping imposed on laws by an ingenious organizer. Without being able to explain our conviction, but also without being able to get rid of it, we see in the exact ordering of this system the mark by which a natural classification is recognized. Without claiming to explain the reality hiding under the phenomena whose laws we group, we feel that the groupings established by our theory correspond to real affinities among things themselves.

Something that particular shows this conviction in operation is the physicist's emphasis on prediction -- he doesn't just summarize using the theory, he extrapolates from it. In Duhem's picturesque phrase, he tells the theory, "Be a prophet for us." If the theory is artificial, it fits the phenomena so far; but if the theory is natural, it should fit all the phenomena (to the extent, at least, that it is natural). So in a prediction we are wagering that if the prediction is fulfilled the classification is natural. It is only a wager, but it is a good one; and it is a wager based on the view that our physical theory is at least approaching a natural classification.

It is important to note that this conviction is not itself a physical theory; nor does it admit of any direct experimental justification. The claim, "This theory approximates a natural classification to a high degree" is not a physical claim but a metaphysical. The physicist cannot justify it in physical terms. The closest he can come to doing so is by pointing to predictions; but these are only suggestive of natural classification. There is no way for the physicist to prove in physical terms that his theory parallels real affinities. (Duhem develops this at somewhat greater length than I have in my summary, since he deals with, for instance, the way physicists use instruments to extend sensation, and other issues relevant to this point.) But the conviction is almost impossible to avoid. Duhem calls it an act of faith; it is rational, but it is not based on any demonstration or rigorous argument (from the perspective of physics itself). But this conviction that physics is approaching a natural classification is, in and of itself, sufficient to justify physical work; even though physics does not explain, it does genuinely approach reality, because the ideal form of a physical theory is a natural classification. Such is Duhem's view of the relation between natural classification and physical theory.

All quotations are taken from Pierre Duhem, The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, Wiener, tr. Athenaeum (New York: 1962), Part I. For further conclusions Duhem draws from this use of natural classification, read his classic essay, "Physics of a Believer."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Today is Trinity Sunday. A lot of people are observing the occasion with the Quicunque Vult (the Creed called Athanasian), but I can think of no better way to celebrate than with a selection from Julian of Norwich.

And I saw no difference atwix God and our substance, but as it were al God, and yet myn understondyng toke that our substance is in God: that is to sey, that God is God, and our substance is a creture in God; for the almyty truth of the Trinite is our fader, for he made us and kepith us in him: and depe wisdam of the Trinite is our moder in whom we arn al beclosid; the hey goddnes of the Trinite is our lord and in him we aren beclosid and he in us.

And from Dorothy Sayers's The Zeal of Thy House:

Children of men, lift up your hearts.
Laud and magnify God, the Holy and Eternal Wisdom,
the everlasting and adorable Trinity.

Praise Him that He hath made man in His own image,
a maker and craftsman like himself,
a little mirror of His triune Majesty.

For every Act of Creation is threefold,
An earthly Trinity to match the heavenly.

First, there is the Creative Idea,
passionless, timeless,
beholding the whole work complete at once,
the end in the beginning;
and this is the image of the Father.

Second, there is the Creative Energy,
begotten of the Idea and subject to it,
working in time with sweat and passion
from the beginning to the end;
and this is the image of the Word.

Third, there is the Creative Power,
the meaning of the work,
and its response in the lively soul;
and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.

And of these three, each equally is the work,
whereof none can exist without the other;
and this is the image of the Trinity.

Honor, then, all work of the craftsman,
imagined by men's minds,
built by the labor of men's hands,
working with power upon the souls of men,
image of the everlasting Trinity,
God's witness in world and time.

And whatsoever ye do,
do all to the glory of God.