Saturday, July 15, 2006

O buona ventura!

Today is the feast day of the great Giovanni di Fidanza (1221-1274), better known as Bonaventura. The legend is that he got his name when, while sick as an infant, his parents took him to St. Francis of Assisi in the hopes that he might be healed. Francis, it is said, held the infant in his arms and exclaimed, "O buona ventura!" (O good fortune!) And so the young one was ever after known as Buonaventura (in Italian) or Bonaventura (in Latin).

This late legend is highly improbable, of course, and seems to date no earlier than the fifteenth century. We do know, from Bonaventure himself, that there was some sort of intercession by Francis that was related to a deathly illness; but it's link with his name seems a later addition. Nonetheless, it conveys the intimate link between Francis of Assisi and the Seraphic Doctor, who was Good Fortune indeed for the Franciscan Order, since Bonaventure navigated the Franciscans through their most difficult time. He died at the Council of Lyons in 1274; it is said that a great deal of what the Council accomplished was due to the respect the Greeks came to have for him as a person and as a Christian. How exactly he died is unknown; but there has always been a rumor that he was poisoned -- why, nobody knows.

You can find almost everthing of value the internet has to offer on or by Bonaventure at the Franciscan Archive. Dante places Bonaventure in the Circle of the Sun:

Bonaventura of Bagnoregio's life
Am I, who always in great offices
Postponed considerations sinister.

One of the neater things about Aquinas and Bonaventure in Dante's poem is that Aquinas, the Dominican, praises St. Francis, while Bonaventure, the Franciscan, praises St. Dominic; Aquinas laments the failings of the Dominicans while Bonaventure laments the failings of the Franciscans; and Aquinas includes Siger of Brabant, one of his major intellectual opponents, among the saints, while Bonaventure does the same for Joachim of Fiore. It's a lovely and balanced way to express the perichoresis of heaven.

A Rough Jotting on Canada's Claim to Arctic Waters

Among the kerfuffles in Canadian politics, there is a particularly interesting one going on right now. As Scott Gilbreath of "Magic Statistics" has noted, the Conservative Party government has proposed to bolster Canada's military strength in the Arctic in order to establish/preserve Canadian sovereignty in the area; this was denounced by Bill Graham of the Liberal Party as a case of misplaced focus. The government has reaffirmed its intention of expanding Canada's ability to operate in the North and of establishing a deep-sea Arctic port. This is something to keep a watch on. A great deal of the Arctic in the Western Hemisphere is disputed; Canada has been very firm in insisting that virtually all of it falls under Canadian jurisdiction. What is likely to be the most important of these disputes is Canada's claim to the Northwest Passage. As Arctic ice continues to melt, the Northwest Passage will become an increasingly important and viable navigation-way. Canada claims it all as internal waters; but almost everyone else claims that it is international waters. The United States, for instance, has on many occasions sent its ships and submarines through without asking for permission for the clear purpose of making this point. Secure possession of the waters, which is essentially the Conservative goal here, would do a great deal to strenthen Canada's claim. If the Liberals were only saying that military presence is not enough, I think they would be making a good point. It seems clear, for instance, that the Liberals are right that Canada needs to strengthen its moral presence by building up Inuit communities. And it also seems clear to me that Canada is not going to be able to preserve its claim in the face of the international community unless it cuts a deal of some sort with the United States (and perhaps a few others); so diplomatic possibilities along these lines need to be examined. But I also don't think anyone can take seriously Canada's claims at present, where its most vigorous assertions of the claims are simply games of I'll-remove-your-flag-and-put-up-mine with Denmark over a handful of islands.

On furthering U.S.-Canada agreement over Canada's claim, I think a sort of reverse NORAD might be a good starting point for discussion. NORAD is a partnership between Canada and the U.S. for defense purposes. It's one of the most successful integrations of the defenses of two nations in history -- perhaps the most successful. As a starting point for discussion about the North we could suggest something a little bit like this, but in reverse: Canada's claim is officially recognized by the U.S., but the instrument that Canada uses to govern the waters is a binational agency established by the same treaty in which the U.S. recognizes the claim. It would be headed by a Canadian, his deputy would be an American; for national security purposes the head of the agency would answer to both the Canadian Prime Minister and the U.S. President. The U.S. would have use of the waters (subject to the same regulations set by the agency for Canadian use of the waters); the Canadian Parliament would naturally have the general oversight authority, but there would be a set of agreed-upon mechanisms for resolving disputes should the U.S. ever not like what is going on. NORAD has always been an exceptional instance of defense integration by two nations that often disagree about defense policy; if the Arctic waters agency were even half as successful in dong this, it would be more successful than most government projects. As it stands, this is not a perfect solution by any means; but I think a more developed proposal along these lines would make a good beginning for discussion. If the U.S. can be brought around in this way to accepting Canada's claim to the waters as internal, it would go a long, long way to solidifying the claim.

Notes and Links

* History Carnival XXXV is up at "air pollution." I had intended to submit something, but then forgot about it completely. However, someone nominated my post on Doyle and the fairies; my post about Campbell also makes it in as a contribution to a discussion. Ahistoricality has an interesting post on New Sadducees; "Pharyngula" an interesting post called The Eternal Fishmonger; "The Elfin Ethicist" has How to write tendentious history; Jason Kuznicki at "Positive Liberty" has a post worth reading called Critical Distance II: Not This, Not That (I would suggest, though, that some of the points Kuznicki makes about action are also true of thought and writing); and, in fact, most the carnival is worth reading. It's become something of a common courtesy to say that the carnival host has done a great job and put together a fine carnival, which is good in general, since carnival hosting does need to be appreciated even with the most lackluster results (lack of luster usually not being the host's fault); but it blunts the force of the compliment in cases like this, where the carnival is a fine one not merely because it is existing but also because it has a great selection of links. So go and see.

* I have put up a new selection from Lady Mary Shepherd at "Houyhnhnm Land". In it Shepherd summarizes her argument for the conclusion that causal inference is founded on reason rather than custom (David Hume) or instinctive impulse of faith (Thomas Brown).

* I liked this post on parashat Balak -- the story of Balaam's blessing of Israel -- at "Radical Torah".

* "Jollyblogger" has a post on Christian parenting.

* At Cliopatria Ralph Luker dubs Flannery O'Connor the 20th century South's finest writer; which I think is quite right. Perhaps my favorite O'Connor story is "The Lame Shall Enter First."

* Rebecca has a nice quiz on Christian (i.e., Chalcedonian) doctrine of Jesus as Man; and a handy and thorough answer key.

* Clark has been doing a series of posts on Umberto Eco's discussion of Superman in The Role of the Reader: Superman (which comments on the recent movie), Eco and Superman, Time: Eco and Superman, Redundancy: Eco and Superman, Political Consciousness: Eco and Superman.

* Janet Stemwedel asks an important question in a post on how women are treated in the fields of science and math. The question, of course, applies (mutatis mutandis) to most fields of study and inquiry.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Catharine Cockburn on Our Social Nature

Mankind is a system of creatures, that continually need one another's assistance, without which they could not long subsist. It is therefore necessary, that everyone, according to his capacity and station, should contribute his part towards the good and preservation of the whole, and avoid whatever may be detrimental to it. For this end they are made capable of acquiring social or benevolent affections, (probably have the seeds of them implanted in their nature) with a moral sense or conscience, that approves of virtuous actions,a nd disapproves the contrary. This palinly shows them, that virtue is the law of their nature, and that it must be their duty to observe it, from whence arises moral obligation, tho' the sanctions of that law are unknown; for th econsideration of what the event of an action may be to the agent, alters not at all the rule of his duty, which is fixed in the nature of things. Thus, as St. Paul tells us, those who had not the law (the revealed law) were a law unto themselves: the obligation of living suitably to a rational and social nature was plain: the consequence was to be trusted to the author of that nature.

Catharine Trotter Cockburn, Philosophical Writings. Patricia Sheridan, ed. (Broadview: 2006), p. 114.

Catharine Trotter (1679-1749), also called Catharine Cockburn, is one of a number of early modern women writing on philosophical topics who are finally beginning to be studied. She is most famous for her defense of Locke against impiety; Locke wrote her personally to thank her. She also wrote plays from a very young age; I gave a sample from The Revolution of Sweden about two years ago. (Wow! Time certainly does fly.) This particular passage is from a set of published remarks on a controversy about the foundation of moral obligation and virtue.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Murdering Rastari, Part II

[Part I of this short story draft.]

Max and I wandered around for at least an hour, trying to find the body. But finally we decided that we needed to go ahead with the next step of the plan. So I called Danny's wife.

"Caroline, have you seen Danny?"

There was a moment's silence on the other end. "I thought he was with you."

"Well, he was," I said, "but then he...well, he sort of wandered off by himself. I thought he might have gone home."

"No," she said slowly, "he isn't here."

"Well, it's probably nothing," I said. "Who knows with Danny? I'll look for him. Call me if he comes home."

I decided to continue looking for the body; Max went home to bed. A few hours later Caroline called. I called up Max, who had been sleeping and was not happy to be awake. For my part, I couldn't help but admire how calm he was. I certainly couldn't have gone to sleep after everything that had happened.

"Hmmnnhfnn," he said when he answered the phone. Or something to that effect.

"Max, I found out what happened to Danny."


"Danny checked himself into the emergency room."

There was silence. Then clearly and distinctly: "How did he survive?"

"I don't know. We might be safe, though; Caroline said something about amnesia. But you can never tell with that woman." And you can't, either. What sort of crazy woman would marry Danny Rastari? "I'll have to check it in person. You just stay put, and I'll call you to let you know what's happening."

And that was how I came face to face in the hospital room with Danny Rastari, the man I had just pushed off the bank building. He was infuriatingly cheerful.

Part III is to come.

Herbert on Love's Hospitality

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.

Of course, in post-form I can't present the visual structure of the poem correctly, and that's always part of the joy of a Herbert poem. You can see it laid out better here, where you can also hear the poem read (always another part of the joy of a Herbert poem).

Slightly More Technical About Tibbles

Alejandro has an excellent post reflecting on my recent post on mereology. It raises the interesting question of how the dispute actually relates to the real world, so I thought I'd post a few musings on it.

One mistake that would be worthwhile to get out of the way. I don't think Alejandro makes it, although he says things that suggest it, but some people do, and dealing with it will be useful background for the rest of what I have to say. We must not make the mistake of thinking that because the dispute makes use of scenarios like that of Tibbles and Tibbs that this is just what the dispute is about. That would be the same type of mistake as that of the rube who thought that general relativity was about elevators.

In fact, the dispute is not about Tibbles at all. It's a dispute about the partial ordering relation (designated P) and the proper-partial ordering relation (designated PP); about the conditions of countability and classification; and about identity relations. These relations and conditions are not confined to Tibbles, or even to any common-sense object. Even the most basic and simple mereology applies to things that are not ever considered objects in ordinary, everyday life (fusions, indivisibles, temporal parts, mathematical sets, etc.). The relations in question are abstract and perfectly general. There is some question about what conditions must be met to satisfy P, but there is no a priori reason for assuming the scope of the dispute has any limits. The introduction of Tibbles and other such scenarios is simply a matter of convenience and communication, providing a reference point to which people in the dispute can appeal in order to convey their more abstract and general positions in a clear and easily-grasped way.

Now, Alejandro argues that Tibbles has no practical relevance whatsoever. As he says,

By contrast, the question of whether Tibbs is a different cat than Tibbles is one that has no practical significance whatsoever. And I don’t mean "practical" in a vulgar and utilitarian way, but in a broad way that refers to any consequences for our thoughts on other areas. The Problem of the Many, and similar ontological puzzles, seem to me to stand in "isolation" from scientific, legal, moral or other concerns. That it what makes them seem unreal.

So the idea is that some connection between philosophical problems and reality can be found where the problems have consequences for practical purposes, construed broadly; and Tibbles has no such consequences. But it's easy enough to show that this is false as stated. Consider the following simple argument:

Brandon on Wednesday is a human person.
Brandon on Thursday is a human person.
Brandon on Wednesday is not (identical to) Brandon on Thursday.
Therefore, Brandon on Wednesday and Brandon on Thursday are two distinct human persons.

This, in fact, is a problem that arises from the same principles that are in question in the Tibbles problem: identity, parthood, countability and classification. If we accept a many-cats solution to the cat on the mat problem, we are committed to the conclusion that I am a different human person from moment to moment. Now, it's fairly obvious that our standard moral reasoning is just not equipped for discussing every temporal part as a different human person. Since the practical relevance Alejandro has in mind is determining the best way to talk about things for overall purposes of rationality, this is not a small point. If the many-cats solution to the Tibbles problem were right, our moral reasoning as it currently stands would need to be scrapped. We couldn't pass it off as a good enough approximation for most practical purposes, because (1) we would, in effect, be saying it's OK for our moral reasoning to be rationally inconsistent; and (2) if you pass off any moral reasoning as a good enough approximation for most practical purpose, you get Adolf Eichmann. It's simply not a feasible option. So how the Tibbles problem is solved has serious relevance to the best way to talk about moral issues.

There are more general ramifications. For instance, if the many-cats solution turned out to be the only workable solution, we would have to say that "There is one cat on the mat" is true only if it is understood to mean something like "There are cats on the mats, and they do not diverge from unity at this level of precision for such-and-such purposes." In other words, it requires that we always leave open the possibility that at a different level of precision or focus the cats on the mat would have to be counted as two (and this would not be double-counting of one cat). But because the reasoning behind the many-cats solution is general reasoning about general relations, this is perfectly general. Substitute for 'cats' anything you please; the only case in which the reasoning wouldn't apply is if you substituted something that you could prove had no proper parts, i.e., that was simply indivisible even in principle. Cats, tables, people, atoms, universes: it's all the same. To say, "There is one atom in this general vicinity" would have to be always understood to mean, "The many atoms in this general vicinity do not diverge from unity in a significant way for this particular set of purposes at this particular level of precision," allowing for the possibility that for a different particular set of purposes or at a different level of precision there may also be two atoms, or three atoms, or indefinitely many atoms. There is a world of difference in a language that allows you to say, "There is one X," and one that doesn't.

Or consider how the dispute over relative identity affects our understanding of mathematics. It can be shown fairly easily that mathematical equality is not an identity relation on the classical understanding of identity. This is because equality, as a one-to-one matching, is consistent not only with identity (matching a thing against itself) but with non-identical isomorphism (matching two different things against each other. For instance, I can take three apples and six apples and match it against (the same) nine apples; or a I can take three apples and six apples and match them against two oranges and seven oranges. So equality never entails identity on the classical identity view; having in hand an equation we can't ask any identity-based questions unless we prove that the two sides of the equality are related to each other in the way a thing is related one-to-one with itself. However, this is not true on the relative identity view. If relative identity is a coherent and viable solution to the Tibbles problem, it is a coherent and viable form of identity everywhere. And on the relative identity view, equality is an identity relation, because it's an instance of 'X is the same F as Y'. When we have an equation in hand, the question is never whether it is an identity (this is satisfied by its having any sort of equality), but only what identity is being indicated. And since which you choose will affect how your inquiry proceeds, it's clear that the dispute has relevance to the best way to talk about an application of mathematics whenever identity is in question.

So in Alejandro's sense, the dispute over Tibbles has clear practical relevance: that is, it affects what would be the best way to talk about any given cases (whatever they may be) of parthood, identity, or countability and classification, regardless of their context, for the overall purposes of consistent rationality.

There is an additional part of Alejandro's argument that I don't think is quite right. Alejandro argues:

But also not for theoretical purposes; because if one has the philosophical goal of finding a sort of "ultimate vocabulary", sharp and precise, which reflects in some sense the structure of the world, then one should not use in the discussion ordinary things like cats and tables. One should make first an analysis of our deepest scientific theories, like Quantum Field Theory or perhaps String Theory, and design a conceptual frame that fits well with them. Of course, ordinary notions of "objects", "parts", "properties", "time" and so on would probably not map at all into the mathematical structure of these theories, and so the ontological puzzles I started with could perhaps not even be stated, let alone solved, by taking this route.

But this involves a confusion (or, at least, I am inclined to think so). If, for instance, it were to turn out that our 'deepest scientific theories' were suddently to be shown to make impossible the demonstrable existence of cats, this would indicate a failure of our deepest scientific theories. This is for the straightforward reason the existence of cats is a fact -- a scientific fact, independent of any physical theory you choose to build -- and the inconsistency of the theory with it would be an inconsistency of theory with reality. We know that reality is structured so as to have cats and their parts, however confused or limited our ordinary talk about such things may be. Whether reality is structured as Quantum Field Theory or String Theory say has to be proven by consideration of how the theory relates to this very type of fact on the level for which the theory is supposed to be useful. And what they will do if successful -- what would make them genuinely deep scientific theories -- is conform to the real world as we know it to exist.

Now, in fact, there is reason to think that an adequate physical theory would shed an immense light on the mereological problems. But it would do so not by dissolving the problems themselves, which are based on general considerations of parthood, identity, and countability, or even really by showing us different elements of reality, but by showing us the same elements of reality at a vastly more precise level of analysis than we are usually able to obtain. For instance, if we came up with the ultimate physical theory, and found it to be well-founded it would tell us quite clearly what, for all purposes relevant to the discussion of the physical world, has to be treated as countably distinct. If the ultimate physical theory told us that we have to treat proper parts of atoms as, basically, distinct atoms with regard to a given property (if we had to treat spatiotemporally overlapping atoms as different for some aspect of the theory), to the extent that this could be shown to be well-founded, it would be an interesting datum that would have to be taken into account in any adequate mereology. The ultimate physical theory's being reality-relevant is (as far as real parts and wholes go) nothing other than its ability to make such a factual-analytic contribution to mereology; because it cannot be the reality-relevant ultimate physical theory unless it sheds light on that little bit of reality that is the physical object Tibbles. (This begins to touch on the issues of scientific realism Alejandro discusses toward the end of his post. These get very complicated very quickly, and are sometimes rather murky anyway, so I won't get into them here. But the basic point here is that we start with reality, as it were at the beginning of the theory, and keep our pulse on it the entire time; what we get as a conclusion of theory --electrons or quarks or what have you-- may be relevant to reality, but there's no chance of that at all if we don't keep in mind that we already have a handle on reality, albeit an incomplete one, which includes things like cats and stars and so forth, that we are simply trying to make more complete.)

So I'm inclined to think the rational direction of inquiry is actually the opposite Alejandro suggests. What is necessary is to see what issues are raised by the real-world facts of Tibbles and everything Tibbles-like; if the issues raised are legitimate, and are relevant to things qua physical objects, the adequacy of our physical theory is tested by its ability to clear up these mereological issues by deeper analysis and newer facts. (In other words, it explains what needs explaining about physical objects like Tibbles.) This is because the issues themselves are raised by physical reality itself; and a physical theory is pointless, at least on its own, if it doesn't shed light on physical reality.

But, of course, even if this is not so (and it is admittedly a controversial sort of claim), the issues in question in the Tibbles dispute are only indirectly relevant to our common notions of part, time, etc.; because the issues in question are general issues about parthood itself, identity itself, etc. And this leads in to the practical relevance question again. Alejandro suggests that the dispute isn't relevant to practice because

our ordinary language is good enough for describing things like parts of cats; I am not aware of practical concerns that require a more logically precise conceptualisation (as for example, a discussion about abortion may require a more precise conceptualisation of personhood than our unreflective one).

But, of course, the problem with talking about practical concerns is that it depends on what practical concerns you mean. Alejandro almost recognizes this. He recognizes that we have common notions about part, time, etc.; and he recognizes that our best scientific theory might not mesh well with these notions. Now, for practical concerns like petting a cat, this is not an issue, nor is the mereological problem of the cat on the mat. But for practical concerns like scientific popularization, scientific pedagogy, and so forth, it appears to be much more relevant. One of the key plagues scientific pedagogy continually has to deal with is this very disparity. In this context, our ordinary language is not obviously good enough for describing things like parts. If we understand the relevance of philosophy to practice in the way Alejandro does, as getting us closer to an 'ultimate vocabulary' that is maximally useful for overall rational purposes, then we can see that the sort of questions raised by the disparity are: What are the implications of each? Do they share anything in common (they have to if there is any genuine conflict) and, if so, what? Is there any modification of language that we could make that would reduce the disparity? And so forth. If we take philosophy to have practical relevance in the sense of building a language that allows us to speak over the widest possible range of rational concerns with the least danger of language-induced error and equivocation, we can see at once that the mereology of Tibbles is relevant in this context. Because the mereology of Tibbles is not about how we use the terms 'part' and 'identity', although this is a fact taken into account in the inquiry, but over the best way to think of parts and identities generally. And this means that, since both theoretical and common notions of parts and identities fall within the range of discussion, the discussion about Tibbles is discussing issues relevant to the best way to talk about parts and wholes that allows us to talk about them scientifically and practically with the least chance of error. And that, I would suggest, is not a small thing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Mistake about Metaphor

If we find language growing more and more metaphorical, the further back we go into the past, what possible justification can there be for assuming a still earlier time when it was not metaphorical at all? Thus, Max Müller postulated a 'metaphorical period', during which the progress from literal to metaphorical meanings must have taken place. But, what is this but a purely arbitrary surmise? And is it not highly improbable?

Owen Barfield, The Owen Barfield Reader. Wesleyan University Press (London: 1999) p. 108.

Campbell Against the American Revolution

There is an interesting discussion going on in some parts of the blogosphere about whether the United States should have seceded from the British Empire. See Matthew Yglesias, Tyler Cowen, Daniel Drezner, and Jane Galt. There are, of course, two different questions being asked. The first is a moral or jurisprudential question: Was the status of the secession just, or at least reasonably justifiable at the time? The second is a utilitarian question: If we could judge the two timelines, would things have turned out better had the U.S. remained a part of the British Empire?

On the utilitarian question, I think the issue of slavery and racial relations (which comes up at Jane Galt's Asymmetric Information) is the most interesting. But I'm more interested in the moral question. As Drezner notes, we have Jefferson's argument for its rightness, in the Declaration of Independence. But I thought it might be interesting to summarize an intelligent argument against its rightness, put forward by George Campbell. Campbell was one of the shining lights of the Scottish Enlightenment; his criticism of Hume in A Dissertation on Miracles and his work on rhetoric had a lasting influence on philosophy and on society. On December 12, 1776, which had been appointed a fast day for the rebellion in America, Campbell preached a sermon on the duty of allegiance, using the text, Meddle not with them who are given to change.

He opens by reflecting on national calamity, seeing it as a punishment for national vice: "National calamities we are taught to regard as the punishments of national vices, and as warnings to the people to bethink themselves and reform." The misery of a civil war, he argues, whether it be due to a usurpation of power on one side or a failure of obedience on the other, is an especially important occasion on which to reflect on our sins and reform. So Campbell calls for people on both sides of the Atlantic to take this attitude to the rebellion. War is an indicator of human failing and sinfulness; it is not merely a punishment, it is a natural effect of sin. The direct cause of every war is some sort of immorality on one side and "not seldom on both." Our response to war should be reflection, prayer, repentance for sins, reflection on the cause of the war, and the development of remedy for it. Not only this, but we must begin on this road as quickly as possible; because when people begin to go down an evil path, the farther they proceed, the more dfficult it is to stop them and set them on a better road.

With this as background, Campbell decides that, in order to make his own little contribution to the day set apart for this very purpose, he will try to show "the obligations which as men, as citizens, and as Christians, you lie under to give obedience to the powers which Providence has set over you, and not to meddle with them that are given to change; that is, to avoid giving your countenance or aid, either by speech or action, to the measures of those who would, on the slightest pretexts, subvert all established order, and throw everything into confusion."

Of course, in a sense he's preaching to the choir, and he fully recognizes this fact. The people he is addressing are, by and large, unlikely to have much sympathy with the rebellion. But Campbell points out that there are undoubtedly a few who might, and that it is easy for a few to grow into a many. Misrepresentations must be dealt with or they will spread discontent. Discontent tends to disaffection, disaffection tends to disloyalty, and disloyalty tends to revolution. It is better to prevent the malady than cure it after the fact. And, moreover, he wishes not merely to deal with the rebellion, but address its root causes by starting everyone on the small first steps toward reform. "Let us then, in the present great national contest, inquire impartially where the radical error lies; for that there is an error somewhere, is allowed on both sides." Campbell's inquiry proceeds by looking at two topics: the rights of magistrates and the grounds of the colonial war.

(1) Campbell begins the discussion of the rights of magistrates by reflecting on the dangers inherent in sudden and violent innovation of government. Good government contains within itself the means for legal and legitimate change. It is gradual, but gradual change, unlike sudden change, may be done constitutionally and with a view to the improvement of the whole society. In fact, everyone in power has a duty to engage in such reformation, "to exert the power which the constitution gives him, in such a way as will most promote the public welfare, correcting whatever is amiss, and improving whatever is found defective." But his primary concern in this question is how innovation is to be dealt with by the governed.

The general precept that the governed should follow is to obey those who govern. He admits that in cases of gross tyranny and oppression there may be exceptions; after all, most general rules admit of reasonable exceptions, so we should not assume that a general precept is exceptionless unless the nature of the case requires it. And in this case it is fairly clear that the nature of the case does not require it; there are exceptions every reasonable person would admit. We are obliged to obey and submit to government only because doing so is good for society; obedience is a means to common good. If government ever deteriorates to such an extent that civil war would be better for society than the continuation of the government, then (and only then, insists Campbell) could rebellion be lawful. It would have become an instance of self-defense; and self-defense is as legitimate for societies as for individuals. (Campbell, it should be noted -- and as he in good faith openly notes himself -- is going through all this trouble in order to disassociate the claim he is making from the doctrine of passive obedience. Passive obedience was a major issue in political philosophy in the eighteenth century. Berkeley, for instance, wrote an essay in favor of it; Hume wrote an essay against it. Berkeley's essay doesn't seem to be online, but Hume's essay can be read here.)

So the extent of the precept, that the people should obey their governors, is defined by the end or purpose of government, which is the public welfare. Note that the end here is that of the government itself, rather than everything the governors do in governing -- the precept is not that we should obey to the extent the measures put forward by the governors conduce to the good of society, but that we should obey to the extent that the governance of the governors in general tends to the good of society. While we shouldn't obey something morally wrong, throwing off obedience entirely merely because the governor errs or sins in governing is unreasonable. Most of the bad measures put forward by those who govern are nonetheless lesser evils than the total subversion of government would be. Even when the magistrate demands that we do something wrong as a part of the law, we are not always entitled to resist by force. When Christians were persecuted by the Roman empire, they did not resist by building armies to attack Rome; they resisted by affirming allegiance to Rome but refusing to obey laws they regarded as immoral. Even religion is not usually an adequate grounds for rebellion, although in rare cases it might be. Religious toleration, Campbell argues, is a natural right. Civil law is limited in authority by the impossible and the immoral; if you command a person to believe something he doesn't you ask the impossible, and if you command them to affirm something they do not believe, you ask the immoral. If violations of this right were sufficiently egregious, there would be call for active resistance -- both out of self-defence, and because such actions are detrimental to the good of the whole society, and not just a part, because they are self-subverting. The extraordinary circumstances would make the rebellion excusable. But it would be an exception to the general rule, which we all must admit as a matter of reason.

Campbell goes on to note that the grounds for rebellion would not only have to be important and public; it would also have to be generally understood to be so. A handful don't have the right to drag the whole community into a war just because they think it needful. And if there is general and widespread doubt about the advisability of rebellion, safety requires that we stick to the general rule -- which is to submit to government. (Campbell further insists in a footnote that the right of the people to resist begins not with imagined wrongs but with real ones. The public is not infallible, anymore than sovereigns are. The necessity of the war must be real, and discernibly so.) He denies that the social contract provides any basis for an alternative conclusion:

I have not mentioned the original compact, one of the hackneyed topics of writers on politics. My reason is, I neither understand the word, as applied by those writers, nor know where to find the thing to which they refer. That there may have been politics founded in compact, I make no question; but the history of the world will satisfy every reasonable person, that in many more cases, perhaps thirty to one, states have arisen from causes widely different....As the matter stands, I consider it as one of those phrases which are very convenient for the professed disputant, because they are both indefinite and dark, and may be made to comprehend under them all the chimeras of his own imagination.

It is clear that rulers themselves can be the cause of rebellion; the rights and liberties of the people are as real and as much to be respected as the powers and prerogatives of the magistrate. So the question arises: What is the case in the colonial war? Is it due to misgovernment and tyranny? Has anything been done to justify violent revolt? Or might we say that "artful and ambitious men, both on their side of the water and on ours, had the address, for their own private ends, to mislead a people whom wealth and luxury have corrupted, and rendered prone to licentiousness and faction?"

Since he's only delivering a sermon and not writing a political treatise, he can't go into all the different details. He can, however, discuss what he thinks is 'the hinge' of the dispute: the right and authority of the government of Parliament to tax the American people. He points out that this authority is supported by custom; that this custom has always been considered constitutional; that the colonists, who had not yet discovered their "natural and unalienable right to pay no taxes, but such as have been imposed with their own consent" (as Campbell sarcastically calls it), submitted to these measures as part of their duty to government. The only real difference between then and now, Campbell says, is that they used to be poor and humble, and now were rich and arrogant. He points out that the colonial charters implicitly, and in one case explicitly, reserve Parliament the right of taxation. Everyone recognizes the right of Parliament to make laws for its colonies in other matters (e.g., criminal law). And he points out that Parliament had passed laws protecting the trade of the colonies even when it required restricting it on the other side of the Atlantic.

He then goes on to mock the claim (which we find in the Declaration of Independence) that it is self-evident that government should be by consent, noting that, despite the fact that something so supposedly self-evident has been undiscovered for so long, the people who make this claim never give any arguments for it, but only treat with contempt those who question it. Moreover, the claim is hardly intelligible -- what clear meaning can be given to 'consent' here that would not either be arbitrary or be inconsistent with government in general? The consent needed is obviously not actual and explicit; so it must be implicit and virtual. But any implicit and virtual consent would often be contrary to actual and explicit consent -- laws often are passed by duly elected and representative legislatures that are seriously disliked, even though everyone recognizes the prerogative of the legislatures to make them. So 'consent' here would be opposite to any actual consent. Campbell suggests that, because of this, talking about consent in this context can only be done with the purpose "to darken, to perplex, and to mislead."

The basis for all this "blundering," as Campbell calls it, is the confused and absurd notion that government can be compatible with limitless freedom. "The very basis of political union is partial sacrifice of liberty for protection." The notion is inimical to rule of law, or "legal government," as Campbell calls it. And it is inimical to free government, in which people are not only protected by law from arbitrary power, but are ruled by laws that tend to be conducive to justice and common good. Does the British constitution have safeguards to guarantee that, whatever its flaws, it is a free government? Campbell answers resoundingly that it does:

In regard to our own, That one of the essential branches of the legislature is elective, that its members must be men of such rank and fortune as give them a personal interest in preserving the constitution, and promoting the public good, that they are elected from all the different counties and boroughs in the island, by those who have a principal concern both in agriculture and in trade, that they are but temporary legislators, and may soon be changed, that the laws they make for others must affect themselves; these are the great bulwarks of BRITISH FREEDOM, as they afford the supreme council of the nation, the best opportunities of knowing, and the strongest motives for enacting, what is most beneficial, not to one part of the country, or to one class of the inhabitants, but to the whole.

He then argues that the principle that people should be self-legislating is obviously false if taken in a strong sense, because such a society would be anarchy; and if taken in a reasonable sense means no more than that people should acquiesce to the law for reasons of private and public good (in which case it is an absurdly misleading way to state it). He has a biting and important footnote to the published sermon in which he attacks the attempt to justify the rebellion by appeal to the natural equality and rights of men, in which he points out that the colonists keep slaves and mistreat Indians, and so really don't have the moral high ground here (and attacks Burke's intimation that they did). The footnote is worth quoting at some length.

It is indeed scarcely credible that any who entail slavery on their fellow-creatures, whom they buy and sell like cattle in the market (and some such, it is said, are in the congress) should have the absurd effrontery to adopt this language. If they really believe their own doctrine, what opinion must they entertain of themselves, who can haughtily trample on what they acknowledge to be the unalienable rights of mankind? Will they dare to elude this charge, by declaring that they do not consider negroes and Indians as of the human species? That they account them beasts, or rather worse, one would naturally infer from the treatment they too commonly give them. But I have not yet heard, that they openly profess this opinion. How well does their conduct verify what has been remarked with great justice of all those republican levellers, who raise a clamour about the natural equality of men, and their indefeasible rights; that they mean only to level all distinctions above them, and pull down their superiors, at the same time that they tyrannize over their inferiors, and widen, as much as possible, the distance between themselves and those below them.

Campbell allows that Americans are entitled to all the rights and privileges of British subjects; and that British subjects are entitled to be taxed only if they are represented in a broad sense. But he denies that they are entitled to be taxed only if they are represented in particular. The natural remedy for the woes the Americans imagine would be to allow them a few representatives in Parliament, and Campbell's OK with that. But, he says, they've always protested that possibility. It would be reasonable for them to want a modest fixed rate of taxation determined relative to the revenue produced by Great Britain. But they've protested that as well. What solution have they proposed themselves? Only total immunity, which is unreasonable.

Campbell's sermon concludes with the exhortation not to be angry at the people across the Atlantic, but to pity them. The unlearned masses who have been mired in this war by a few scheming men (on both sides of the water, Campbell still says) have ignorance as their excuse. Any guilt they might have is being expiated in the misery of war. Pretending to pursue liberty, they have turned away from it; they are wandering in the dark, without a clear destination. The people of Britain ought to pray that the God who calms the tempest will still the tumults of the people -- for their sake.

And that's Campbell's argument that the American rebellion was wrong: It was an attack on the principles of rule of law and free government, perpetrated by a selfish group of people out only for their own good and not that of society at large, justified by a dense veil of philosophical gobbledygook and the shockingly immoral presumption that you have the right to appeal to the natural equality and rights of men while enslaving your fellow man. It must be admitted that in a few places it has some bite.

You can read Campbell's sermon here (PDF; it's Sermon IV).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Opposite Day for Bibliobloggers

The bibliobloggers recently engaged in an interesting exercise. The idea was thought up by Rick Brannan of Ricoblog:

One of my favorite non-biblioblogs, Marginal Revolution, has an occasional feature called "Opposite Day". On Opposite Day, the primary bloggers Tyler and Alex don their alter egos "Tyrone" and "Axel" and play devil's advocate, arguing opposite what they normally would.

Several bibliobloggers liked the idea, so Brannan proposed a set of guidelines:

Introduce your question/topic. It can be anything, really, as long as you're arguing opposite what you normally would. Arguing against known positions is always enlightening (for reader and writer) but don't feel bound to that.

Introduce your alter ego. I think this is important, we'll need to make sure that no future google searches stumble upon these entries leading folks to think you yourself are actually supporting something completely opposite of what you normally would. I think Tyler Cowen's example of always introducing "my good friend Tyrone" as the author, then blockquoting as if he's copied the text in from an email, is a good model.

Make your (alter ego's) point. You can be short or long, doesn't matter. You might be surprised how well your alter ego can argue.

And he suggested July 10th as the Opposite Day for those who blog on topics in Biblical studies. Here is the result, and it's as interesting as one would think.

Two Poem Drafts

The Stream Flows Down

The stream flows down,
the splendor bright
does flit and light
upon this hill
like a golden crown,
a butterfly
now flutters by,
a sparkling sight
of sunlit down
that floats at will
from earth to sky.

Yea, even in this world of sin
there is enough to say Amen.


The pen is split
but distinctions are not made;
all our piety and wit
is put to the iron blade.

When the march of ages stumbles,
when the pirates of darkness live,
when culture and learning crumble --
restore the shattered sieve!

(I have twice made reference recently to Benedict's sieve, which might not be familiar to everyone. The sieve (capisterium) is one of Benedict's special emblems, due in great measure to a miracle attributed to him as a young man, in which he mended a broken sieve for a woman who had cared for him as a child. The sieve was a wheat-sifter, used to get clean wheat for baking, which is why it becomes a symbol of study -- particularly fitting given Benedict's importance in establishing a sort of infrastructure for study.)

The Little Thing and the Endlessness

The story in the previous post on Benedict has a parallel in the writings of Julian of Norwich that is worth comparing. From Chapter V (in the First Revelation):

In this same time our Lord shewed me a spiritual sight of His homely loving.

I saw that He is to us everything that is good and comfortable for us: He is our clothing that for love wrappeth us, claspeth us, and all encloseth us for tender love, that He may never leave us; being to us all-thing that is good, as to mine understanding.

Also in this He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for little[ness]. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall [last] for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath the Being by the love of God.

In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it. But what is to me verily the Maker, the Keeper, and the Lover, — I cannot tell; for till I am Substantially oned to Him, I may never have full rest nor very bliss: that is to say, till I be so fastened to Him, that there is right nought that is made betwixt my God and me.

It needeth us to have knowing of the littleness of creatures and to hold as nought all-thing that is made, for to love and have God that is unmade. For this is the cause why we be not all in ease of heart and soul: that we seek here rest in those things that are so little, wherein is no rest, and know not our God that is All-mighty, All-wise, All-good. For He is the Very Rest. God willeth to be known, and it pleaseth Him that we rest in Him; for all that is beneath Him sufficeth not us. And this is the cause why that no soul is rested till it is made nought as to all things that are made. When it is willingly made nought, for love, to have Him that is all, then is it able to receive spiritual rest.

Also our Lord God shewed that it is full great pleasance to Him that a helpless soul come to Him simply and plainly and homely. For this is the natural yearnings of the soul, by the touching of the Holy Ghost (as by the understanding that I have in this Shewing): God, of Thy Goodness, give me Thyself: for Thou art enough to me, and I may nothing ask that is less that may be full worship to Thee; and if I ask anything that is less, ever me wanteth, — but only in Thee I have all.

And these words are full lovely to the soul, and full near touch they the will of God and His Goodness. For His Goodness comprehendeth all His creatures and all His blessed works, and overpasseth without end. For He is the endlessness, and He hath made us only to Himself, and restored us by His blessed Passion, and keepeth us in His blessed love; and all this of His Goodness.

Julian always has a knack for balanced phrases and sharp insights, and this passage is no exception.

Father of the West

Today is the feast day of Benedict of Nursia, the man who healed the shattered sieve of study and began to lay the infrastructure for a good portion of medieval civilization. This is perhaps the most famous legend of Benedict, from the Second Dialogue of Gregory the Great:

The man of God, Bennet, being diligent in watching, rose early up before the time of matins (his monks being yet at rest) and came to the window of his chamber, where he offered up his prayers to almighty God. Standing there, all on a sudden in the dead of the night, as he looked forth, he saw a light, which banished away the darkness of the night, and glittered with such brightness, that the light which did shine in the midst of darkness was far more clear than the light of the day. Upon this sight a marvellous strange thing followed, for, as himself did afterward report, the whole world, gathered as it were together under one beam of the sun, was presented before his eyes, and whiles the venerable father stood attentively beholding the brightness of that glittering light, he saw the soul of Germanus, Bishop of Capua, in a fiery globe to be carried up by Angels into heaven.

Then, desirous to have some witness of this so notable a miracle, he called with a very loud voice Servandus the Deacon twice or thrice by his name, who, troubled at such an unusual crying out of the man of God, went up in all haste, and looking forth saw not anything else, but a little remnant of the light, but wondering at so great a miracle, the man of God told him all in order what he had seen, and sending by and by to the town of Cassino, he commanded the religious man Theoprobus to dispatch one that night to the city of Capua, to learn what was become of Germanus their Bishop: which being done, the messenger found that reverent Prelate departed this life, and enquiring curiously the time, he understood that he died at that very instant, in which the man of God beheld him ascending up to heaven.

As Gregory notes to Peter, his partner in dialogue, the point of this legend is that the soul rapt in the light of God is enlarged, and being so exalted looks down and finally comprehends how small the earth is in comparison with the divine vastness.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Links and Notes

* "A Blog Around the Clock" has the ultimate linklist for celebrating Nikola Tesla's 150th birthday.

* I always find the Carnival of the Godless to be an enjoyable read, although the posts are rarely worth taking seriously. However, in the recent edition I came across Betting Against Blaise at "Confessions of an Anonymous Coward." It's straightforward, balanced, and thoughtful. My only two caveats are: (1) on a minor point, that Pascal does address the question of not having anything serious to lose. Since the Pensées are only a set of fragmentary notes, we don't get much development, but he appeals to things like friendship, inducement to inquiry, etc. that are beneficial in the here-and-now. Thus, he'd deny that religious meetings can be considered a pointless loss of time, because social interaction, of which religious meetings are a form, aren't a pointless loss of time -- the chance to forge friendships and expand yourself by interacting with people of different characters and backgrounds than you can't be seen in that light. Of course, there is nothing that says that a non-Christian, or even the non-religious, can't have this here-and-now benefit, too; but all Pascal needs is the recognition that bringing people together socially isn't pointless, and it isn't a waste of time, but a very good thing (even if you think there are better ways to do it). And so it goes with some of the other 'losses' that might be proposed. (2) While this has gotten completely lost in many of the apologetic uses of Pascal's wager, Pascal himself doesn't see the wager as freestanding. In the notes we have, the wager appears to have been intended as a part of a dialogue, one in which the wager was not simply sprung on any atheist who happens to come along, but was instead a response to a certain type of agnostic that Pascal thought was common in his society. But, these two things aside, I liked the post.

* I don't remember if I've already linked to it, but there is an interesting presentation on scientific method at "Galactic Interactions".

* A fascinating discussion of stare decisis at the Supreme Court level by Lawrence Solum at "Legal Theory Blog".

* "Booker Rising" has some links on the recent controversial "White" ads by Sony. It's hard to make sense of this advertising campaign. Either Sony is saying White is better than Black, or they are not; if they are not, there doesn't seem much point to advertising White in this White-on-Black way. It's vague enough that it can't be treated as racist without support; but the more you try to interpret the campaign in terms that wouldn't be racist, the less sense it seems to make. One wonders what they were thinking.

A Buddhist Parable

Once the Buddha was trying to find someone to help him cross a river. After a while he found a Hindu mystic who had become so proficient in meditation that, by sheer power of his mind, he could move a boat across the river.

"How long did it take you to perfect your ability to cross the river?" the Buddha asked him.

"Thirty years of long, hard discipline," the mystic replied.

"That does not seem very impressive," the Buddha replied. "I can cross the river without thirty years of long, hard discipline, simply by finding a ferryman to take me in the ordinary way."

Tibbles and Bits

The Cat on the Mat Problem

Suppose you have a cat on the mat. Let's call this cat Tibbles. Now, let's take that part of Tibbles that includes everything about Tibbles except its tail. We'll call it Tibbs. Here's a question, which, while very odd, nonetheless turns out to be of considerable interest: Are Tibbles and Tibbs two cats?

The reason that it is odd is that we don't normally think of Tibbles and Tibbs as two cats, but as one and the same cat. However, strictly speaking, Tibbles and Tibbs are not identical. Tibbles has a bit (the tail) that Tibbs does not. So it seems we can't strictly say that Tibbles and Tibbs are the same.

We can intensify the paradox with what is sometimes called the 'paradox of the thousand and one cats'. Suppose that instead of Tibbles and Tibbs differing by a tail, they differ only by a hair. There are a lot of hairs on Tibbles. So is every part of Tibbles that differs by a hair from other parts of Tibbles, another cat?

Trying to give the best answer to this question gets into very interesting territory very quickly, because it raises important problems for the ways we think of part-whole relations, part-part relations, identity, and the like. It might be useful, however, to introduce a slight bit of contemporary mereological terminology, which I will use. The term part is reflexive: a thing can be a part of itself. So Tibbles and Tibbs are both parts of Tibbles. We often don't use the term in this way, but we sometimes do; and so it's useful to be a bit more precise. The term proper part is slightly different. If x is a part of y, but y is not a part of x, x is a proper part of y. One thing this means is that Tibbs is a proper part of Tibbles; but Tibbles, being the whole cat, is not a proper part of Tibbles.

So the question raised by Tibbles is this: Some proper parts of a cat only differ from the whole cat by the tiniest little bits; are these proper parts cats, or are they not cats?

Solutions Supposing Many Cats

One way to go is to say that every proper part of a cat that meets certain cat-defining characteristics (whatever they may be) is a cat; and, since each of these cat-candidate proper parts is a cat, there are very many cats on the mat.

This is not a popular solution. It seems to be preserving our normal thinking about identity without preserving our normal thinking about cats. However, there is one proposed solution, which I will call almost identity, or practical sameness, that takes the many cats option but does so with some sophistication. The practical sameness advocate might think along these lines: Technically, Tibbles and Tibbs are each cats, because they meet all the criteria for being cats; and since they are not identical, they are different cats. However, Tibbles and Tibbs overlap to a very high degree. Closely overlapping cats, however, are almost identical, almost the same, and for practical purposes this is usually enough to treat them as one cat. The difficulties with this position are fairly obvious: it seems to be toying with words by saying that there are many cats on the mat, or even that cats are the sort of thing that can closely overlap.

Solutions Supposing One Cat

So this brings us to one-cat solutions. The most popular solution these days is the maximality solution. And the maximality solution is fairly simple. The maximality proponent might be summarized as thinking in this way: The paradox assumes that the proper parts of an X can be X's themselves. But surely it makes sense to deny this? Tibbs is not a cat. Tibbles is a cat; Tibbs is a proper part of a cat; and no proper part of a cat can be a cat. There is one, and only one, part of a cat that is a cat: and that is the maximal part, the one that is not a proper part of the whole cat. There is a lot to be said for this. A problem with this solution, however, is that some of the proper parts of cats are indistinguishable from cats. Think of Tibbs. Tibbs is just Tibbles, not counting the little bit that is a tail. It has a feline nervous system, a feline cardiovascular system, a feline form, etc. So the maximality proponent has to say that many things that look like cats, act like cats, sound like cats, feel like cats, have the biological characteristics of cats, are nevertheless not cats. What is more, we know that we can reduce Tibbles to Tibbs (just take off the tail) and we have a cat. So while the maximality solution makes there to be only one cat on the mat at a given time, it requires us to say that cats are constantly changing into other cats. Further, since Tibbs as a proper part of Tibbles is not a cat, but becomes a cat when it is no longer a proper part of Tibbles, things that are not cats are continually becoming cats without themselves changing. Likewise, since cats can grow hairs and the like, things that are cats are continually becoming things that are not cats, again, without themselves changing. To make matters worse, the maximality solution requires that we be very, very precise about parts -- of all the vast numbers of proper parts of the cat, one and only one is the actual cat. None of the means whereby we ordinarily deal with the world -- sensation, thought, language -- are this precise. If I point to this animal, and say "This is a cat," to which part am I pointing? I cannot say! I cannot distinguish Tibbles from Tibbles-except-one-skin-cell. So the maximality solution means that, while we know that one part of this animal is a cat, we don't ever know which part of the animal is the cat. I know there's a Tibbles on the mat, but I can never actually identify it. And this, surely, is a bit peculiar. The only option seems to be to combine it with practical sameness. All these close candidates are almost identical, so they can be treated for practical purposes as one cat. But if we go this route, maximality starts looking like a many-cats solution; it's just the maximalist says that one of the many cats is really the cat, and the others are just cat-like enough to be treated as cats. That makes the maximality approach an awful amount of work in order to make only a slight improvement over the many-cats solution.

A second way to have a one-cat solution is to accept relative identity. The relative identity theorist thinks roughly along these lines. The problem here is not how we understand cats, but how we understand identity and difference. The paradox arises because we assume that two things that are not identical in every way are not identical in any way. But perhaps this is false. Tibbles and Tibbs are not identical in every way -- Tibbles is Tibbs plus an additional bit of cat. But, setting aside this additional bit, they are identical in every other way. So we can say that Tibbles and Tibbs are identically the same cat, even though (because Tibbs has no tail) they are not identically the same cat-with-a-tail. While this is not a particularly popular solution to the problem, it has a lot to recommend it. It clearly gives us one cat, it doesn't have any of the bizarre consequences of maximality, it satisfies those of us who think that Tibbles and Tibbs need to be considered the same cat, and we do (at least at first glance) seem to talk about sameness in this way. In fact, whenever anyone asks whether X is the same as Y, it's very natural to ask, "The same what?" And if we take all sameness to be identity, this is the same as to allow that two things may be identical in one way but not identical in another. It can be made rigorous and, apparently, logically consistent. The problem, however, is that this seems to stretch our notion of identity beyond all recognition, because it requires us to say that things may be identical without having all the same properties. But a lot of our reasoning seems to require the denial of such a claim.

One could perhaps allow for some sort of sameness without identity, and say that Tibbles and Tibbs are not identical at all, but are still, in a weaker-but-still-genuine sense of 'same', the same cat. As David Wiggins, I think, has said somewhere, merely because we think it important to qualify sameness sentences (e.g., by asking "The same what?" in response to the statement "These are the same") it doesn't follow that we are committed to saying identity is relative. But then we need some account of what this non-identity sameness is. (One possibility that seems promising to me, but which I haven't seen developed anywhere, is to deny that parts and wholes exhaust our mereology. Suppose we distinguish parts, wholes, and subjects, where subjects are the things of which we predicate parts and wholes. Then it might be possible to argue that while Tibbles and Tibbs are not the same whole cat, because Tibbs is only part of the whole cat, they are the same cat subject. On this view two things could be the same subject without having to be considered identical at all. But, as I said, this would require development, and likely would have problems of its own that would need to be resolved.)

The Upshot

If a lot of this sounds like word-chopping, you're almost right. It certainly does seem like a lot of the mereological literature does get into word-chopping, and weird word-chopping at that. But it's not purely verbal, because it matters a great deal to the way we reason about identity, parts, and wholes. If relative identity is true, for instance, we have to admit that two subjects not identical in every way can be identical in some ways. This would affect a lot of our reasoning. Likewise, maximality and practical sameness have a lot of implications for our reasoning about classification. Which position you take can change the sort of objections you can make to other positions (for a discussion in which it matters crucially to whether certain kinds of objections can be put forward to a claim, see here); it can change the sort of things you think are particularly important for saying that two things are the same; it can change the way you think proper parts are related to wholes.

Which position would you choose?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Havel on Living Within the Lie

The essential aims of life are present naturally in every person. In everyone there is some longing for humanity's rightful dignity, for moral integrity, for free expression of being and a sense of transcendence over the world of existence. Yet, at the same time, each person is capable, to a greater or lesser degree, of coming to terms with living within the lie. Each person somehow succumbs to a profane trivialization of his inherent humanity, and to utilitarianism. In everyone there is some willingness to merge with the anonymous crowd and to flow comfortably along with it down the river of pseudolife. This is much more than a simple conflict between two identities. It is something far worse: it is a challenge to the very notion of identity itself.

Václav Havel, "The Power of the Powerless"