Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sommers-Englebretsen Term Logic, Part III

In Part I, I gave a rough-and-ready characterization of the basics of SETL. In Part II, I looked at some basic issues. We can handle categorical assertions; singular terms; relations; singular identities; propositions about propositions; and propositions about the domain of discourse. In this post I will look at two issues that are more complicated, namely, modality and irreducible identity between variables. (As noted previously, sources and relevant readings will follow in a later post.)

(1) Modality. Basic SETL has no modalities (necessity, possibility); and the extension for handling modalities is still incomplete. It appears that SETL can actually handle certain forms of modality fairly easily, with only a small extension. De re modality turns out to be nothing other than ordinary term-logic arguments with modalized terms. (Indeed, this is what distinguishes 'de re modality' from 'de dicto modality', at least using the terms in this sense: de re modalities modalize the terms of the proposition, whereas de dicto modalities modalize the proposition itself. Thus we could symbolize "All S is possibly P" as (-S+◊P) and add rules of inference relevant to such statements. 'De dicto modality' is considerably trickier. In any case, I will look at extension to modality a little more closely in a later post.

(2) Identity between variables. William Purdy has argued, with considerable force, that while SETL can handle just about anything modern predicate logic can, there is one thing that the latter appears to handle more easily: identity in cases where both sides of the identity are variables (in the predicate logic). SETL can easily handle identity in cases where at least one side is not a variable. Sommers and Englebretsen often talk as if this ended the matter; SETL can handle identity. But Purdy pointed out that they are always speaking of what I called above 'singular' identity; and there is one form of identity in modern predicate logic that turns out to be fairly important that is not 'singular' identity -- the case already noted, where both sides of the identity would be variables in the predicate logic. He rigorously argued that PCS, a formal language like modern predicate logic in many ways, but like SETL (and unlike modern predicate logic) able to put a singular term in the predicate, and having the theory of identity associated with SETL, turns out to be equivalent to a subset of modern predicate logic, but fails to handle well-formed formula involving identity between two variables (when those formula are not reducible in predicate logic to a form not involving variable identity).

The argument is interesting and important. And, as it's quite advanced, I can't be certain I've adequately understood. I'm not sure it is completely adequate, however. One thing that appears to be missing from PCS that is clearly found in SETL is what I've called category nominalization. Now, since every variable has an associated domain of discourse (namely, the domain of discourse for propositions with that variable), at least some identity between variables should be expressible in SETL. So, for instance, if (x)(y)(x=y) is the identity in question, what is naturally relevant to the truth of this identity is the domain of discourse; the identity basically says, for every member in the domain relevant to x and every member of the domain relevant to y, x is identical to y. Which yields:


Where /TERM1/ is the nominalization of the domain associated with x and /TERM2/ is the nominalization of the domain associated with y. This, and equivalent propositions, are expressible in SETL. So at least some variable identity is expressible, because nominalized categories or domains can do the work of variables -- and, indeed, this is not surprising, because you can't have variables without domains; it would be like having variables that are incapable of having values, which is to say, variables that are not variables at all. And when you translate variables directly from predicate logic to SETL, e.g., (x)(Px), you translate using domain nominalization, namely,


/P/ is the domain associated with x in (x)(Px), assuming that this one sentence is the only relevant sentence. Any weirdness up to this point is due to the fact that you can be entirely arbitrary about the domain associated with a variable; which means that for a lot of domains in which variable identity would be important there would be no ready-made terms for handling the identity (we'd have to neologize). In fact, Purdy notes that the limitation of PCS is that it can't handle unnamed elements in the domain of discourse. But there seems to be no reason why nominalized domains or categories can't cover unnamed elements (indeed, it would seem that they must).

Thus Purdy seems to be right that the theory of identity associated with SETL doesn't on its own allow for irreducible variable identities. But SETL does allow for category nominalization, which does appear to allow SETL to handle unnamed elements; and given this, it looks like at least some irreducible variable identities could be handled in SETL. In any case, this is an issue that needs further investigation.

So, having looked at some of these key issues, we can know proceed to discussion of inference in SETL; which we will begin in the next post.

Sommers-Englebretsen Term Logic, Part II

In Part I, I discussed some of the basics of SETL. In this post, I want to look at how SETL handles certain tricky issues that are important for the proper handling of propositions in logic. (There will be a later post with additional readings and sources.)

Singular Terms

It's easy enough to see how SETL handles universal quantity, like 'All dogs are canines' or 'No dogs are felines':


It's also easy enough to see how SETL handles particular quantity, like 'Some dogs are tame' or 'Some dogs are not housebroken':


But what if we have a singular term, like, 'Fido is a dog'? In SETL this is handled fairly easily. For singular terms, the distinction between P-opposition and C-opposition turns out not to be significant; and every singular subject can be treated as having a 'wild quantity', because they are indifferent to whether you treat them as universal or as particular. Thus 'Fido is a dog' would be symbolized as:


In an argument you can treat the singular proposition as universal or particular, as you need; the only tricky thing is that you sometimes need to keep track of what you are doing with it. In any case, SETL has no problem with singular terms.


When people give a reason for rejecting traditional term logic in favor of modern predicate logic, one of the reasons at the top of the list is that traditional term logic can't handle relational propositions. As it happens, SETL can handle relational propositions by allowing complex predicate terms. Take the proposition, "All sophists take money from some fools". The basic format of this proposition is:


But the P term is a complex term consisting of other terms. So we can expand the predicate in this way:


Then we can do all sorts of things with this. For instance, suppose we add to it the proposition, "All money is gold." The conclusion is:

-S+(T+G+F) [All sophists take gold from some fools]

Sometimes it is useful to use subscripts, when the direction of the relation is important. So, we could symbolize this proposition as:


This, however, is just a convenience to help us keep track of what the terms mean in complex relational predicates. Subscripts can do a little more than this, for which see below.

On this basis we can translate any relational you could want. Here are some examples and their translations.

Richard loves Richard. ±R +(L±R)
Every boy loves every girl. -B1+(L12-G2)
Every boy loves some girl. -B1+(L12+G2)
Some boy loves every girl. +B1+(L12-G2)
Some boy loves some girl. +B1+(L12+G2)
No boy loves every girl. -B1-(L12-G2)
Every boy sends a rose to some girl. -B1+(S123+R2+G3)
Some girl was sent a rose by every boy. +G3+(S123+R2+B1)

Note that the last two are equivalent, which is precisely the result you should get. There are more complicated predicates that can't be handled so easily, for instance,

Some girls who think that all love is easy are unhappy.

To do this one must introduce propositional nominalization, which we will get to below. But even without this we can do a lot, as we will see in a later post.

Singular Pronouns

Suppose we have a sentence like: "Some boy kissed some girl and she clobbered him."

The first conjunct is easy: +B1+(K12+G2). Given this, we can represent the whole sentence as:


But the use of the subscripts in this way is just a matter of convenience -- to show that we are dealing with pronouns. Singular pronouns are just singular terms, and are treated as such.

(Singular) Identity and Existence

SETL can also handle singular identity very easily. Because singular terms are indifferent to quantity and can be qualified, we can handle such an identity very easily. 'Socrates is Socrates' becomes:


Thus there is no need to bring in any special way of handling identity in order to handle singular identity statements. (Identity between variables is more difficult, and we'll look at that below.)

Just as identity is handled by normal predication in SETL, so, too, are existential statements: existence is a predicate in SETL.

Propositional Nominalization

How would we handle propositions about propositions? The natural way is to treat them as complex terms. Consider the sentence we noted above:

Some girls who think that all love is easy are unhappy.

If we use [p] to indicate the proposition, "All love is easy", we get the following rendering:


But because [p] is a complex term, we can treat it as one, keeping it in square brackets to indicate that it is a nominalized proposition:


In nominalizing, we have embedded one sentence in another by treating it as a term. This turns out to be a means of doing quite a few things that are rather fun. Most important of these is that we can handle propositional logic in our term logic. Consider the following sentences in propositional logic and their categorical SETL forms:

(If p then q) = -[p]+[q]
(p and q) = +[p]+[q]
(If p then if q then r) = -[p]+[-[q]+[r]]

This can be extended. SETL, unlike predicate logic, does not presuppose propositional logic. Likewie, we can handle metapropositions easily:

[p] is false
It is not the case that [p]

And so forth.

Category (Domain) Nominalization

In propositional logic every use of a variable technically requires a domain of discourse (sometimes called a universe of discourse. This is obvious when one consider Lewis Carroll syllogisms. ends up being of this general structure

/domain of discourse for propositions with x/
If it is P, it is Q (where 'it' refers back to the things in the domain of discourse)

In common usage, people don't worry about domain of discourse much; but technically you can't have a variable without it being a variable capable of ranging over a domain of some sort, so it's always there, and necessarily so.

In SETL, as with any term logic, domain of discourse is much less important, but it still can be defined for every sentence, and usefully so, because every statement is true if and only if it denotes its domain of discourse. In SETL every term has a domain (or, if you prefer, category), and the domain of discourse for any sentence is the intersection of the domains (or, if you prefer, categories) of all its terms. Thus

We symbolize the domain (or, if you prefer, category) indicated by the term D with /D/. This is what I am calling 'category nominalization' or 'domain nominalization'. /D/ consists of everything that is D or nonD, where D and nonD are both taken to be part of a category. Thus if D is 'red', then /red/ consists of everything that can be truly characterized by 'red' or 'nonred', where the latter is understood in such a way that it only applies to things falling in the same category as red things. Thus, blue things might fall under this category, but not the number two or the pain in my left hand, because these are a different category (we can meaningfully say of them that they are not the sort of thing that could be either red or nonred). Now, we can use this to handle a particular type of proposition:

Everything is P
Something is P.

In these the subject is the nominalized domain, so they are respectively translated as:


Or in other words, every member of the category or domain associated with P is P; some member of the category or domain associated with P is P. (Of course, things get more complicated if we need to use a larger domain of which P is only part; e.g., if there are lots of sentences, and we need to say that everything in the domain of all the sentences is P. But it works the same way.)

In the next post I will look briefly at some loose ends that are not covered by the above points.

Sommers-Englebretsen Term Logic, Part I

The purpose of this post and its sequels is to provide a basic introduction to elements in the Sommers-Englebretsen Term-Functor Logic, also called TFL, or, as I will tend to call it, SETL. This is a way of handling propositions that has a great many advantages, being more closely allied to natural language than modern predicate logic, and being surprisingly flexible and powerful, given how simple it is.

Three Kinds of Opposition

The most natural place to start if you want to understand how SETL works is to look at what sorts of opposition can be logically relevant. SETL starts from the basic idea that every categorical assertion is the affirmation or denial of a simple or complex predicate of all or some of a subject. When you look at assertions in this way, we can see that they admit of three basic kinds of oppositions

1. Opposition of Quality. Every term has either a positive or a negative term quality. 'Red' would be an example of a term with positive term quality; 'Nonred' would be an example of a term with negative term quality. Likewise, every predicate has either a positive or a negative predicate quality. 'Is red' has a positive predicate quality; 'Isn't red' has a negative predicate quality. One of the features of SETL is that there is no significant distinction between term quality and predicate quality; 'S is non-P' is not significantly different from 'S isn't P'. Changing the quality does make an important difference to a logical argument, so this opposition, which I will (following Englebretsen) call C-opposition, because it is the foundation of logically contrary propositions.

2. Opposition of Quantity. Every predicate is predicated of some or all of a subject. This sort of opposition, which will be called Q-opposition, is an opposition between a universal subject and a particular subject. So 'Some S is P' is Q-opposed to 'All S is P'.

3. Predicative Opposition. Every predicate is affirmed or denied of its subject. This is the third opposition, which we will call P-opposition. 'It is not the case that S is P' is P-opposed to '(It is the case that) S is P'.

The upshot is as follows.

(a) Every categorical assertion has a subject (S) and a predicate (P).
(b) Every term, independently of its role in the assertion, has a mark of C-opposition.
(c) Every P as a complete term has a mark of C-opposition and as a predicate has a mark of P-opposition.
(d) Every S is a term with a mark of Q-opposition.

Given these four basics, which I will not argue for here, we can develop the basic format of SETL.

Plus and Minus

We have three oppositions. Sommers's great idea was to take these oppositions and note them down as plus and minus in a subject-predicate proposition. So we have (on the basis of (a) above)


as our assertion. However, we know from (b) that every term has its own mark of C-opposition. Thus:


We know from (d) that every subject has its mark of Q-opposition. Thus:


And since each predicate may be itself a complex term, it has as predicate another C-opposition mark (c). Thus:


And we know from (c) as well that every predicate, as predicate, has a P-opposition mark, which we can symbolize, putting the P-opposition mark over the whole predication (and thus at the beginning) as:


Of course, this is just a general format. Let's take a basic assertion: All S is P. This can be symbolized by:


S and P are both of positive quality (thus their positive C-opposition signs); P is affirmed of S (thus its positive P-opposition sign); and S is of universal quantity (thus its negative Q-opposition sign). This is pretty intuitive, except, perhaps, for the reason why the universal quantity is given a minus and the particular quantity is given a plus. The reason for this is (if you want the crude and read version) is that if we do it this way the whole thing works. More technically, however, we make the universal minus and the particular plus in order to preserve the contraposition of the A categorical (All S is P) and the conversion of the I categorical (Some S is P). That is, we want these two equivalences:

+(-(+S)+(+P)) = + (-(-P)+(-S)) [i.e., All S is P is equivalent by contraposition to All nonP is not nonS]

+(+(+S)+(+P)) = +(+(+P)+(+S)) [i.e., Some S is P is equivalent by conversion to Some P is S]

It's easy to recognize these equivalences if we give the universal a minus and the particular a plus. But that's the only tricky thing about this basic format: + and - simply indicate an opposition, and '-' in particular shouldn't be confused with negation.

In the above format, all we've marked are the terms and their oppositions. Which opposition is relevant is entirely a matter of where it is positioned in the assertion, so we don't have to worry about distinguishing them in any other way; + and - will do for everything. And that's where it gets neat. The really neat stuff we'll get to later. For now, we'll note just one neat feature that this way of symbolizing yields us. If we treat +'s as we usually treat +'s (e.g., in math), we can contract a string of plus signs. Thus,


can be written as


without any loss of logical function. Likewise, we can treat -'s in a complementary way, such that two minuses together become a plus, and a minus and plus contract to a minus. Thus


can be written as

-S+P without any loss of logical function. They are always logically equivalent, although in their expanded forms they may look different. We can then give a simplifed form to all the basic Aristotelian categoricals:

A (All S is P) -S+P
E (No S is P) -S-P
I (Some S is P) +S+P
O (Some S is not P) +S-P

But, given that we can do all Aristotelian syllogisms. A syllogism works when it can be formulated as a true equation and both sides are similar. Take the famous Baraba (AAA) syllogism:

All S is M
All M is P
Therefore, All S is P.

This has the equation:

(-S+M) + (-M+P) = -S+P

Just treat it as you would treat it if it were an algebra equation. You'll see that the left side is indeed equal to the right. All we have to do in order to be certain that it is a valid syllogism is to make sure that the two sides are similar. The two sides are said to be similar if (a) they have the same extremes (i.e., terms that are not arithmetically eliminable); and (b) they have the same quantity (the conjunction including a particular always being particular). In the Barbara case, the sides are clearly similar. Therefore it is valid. We can even handle 'weakened syllogisms' (syllogisms with universal premises that have particular conclusions) if we assume that they have the hidden premise +S+S (which, as we'll see, is a tautology and can be introduced at will). Thus Camestrop (AEO) would be:

(-S-M) + (-P+M) + (+S+S) = +S-P

This is all quite cool. But I'm partly getting ahead of myself here. SETL is more powerful than I've suggested so far, and we need to introduce a few additional tools if we are to see this and handle all the kinds of argument SETL is capable of handling. So in the next post on this subject we'll look at how SETL handles various key issues (singular terms, relations, identities, meta-propositions, existence). And then we'll handle arguments.

Five Points of Calvinism

Strict Calvinism is a position that for most people is more easily caricatured than understood. This is unfortunate, because whatever its weaknesses may be, it has been carefully thought out. So I thought I'd say something about a common misunderstanding of Calvinism, one which involves a false view of what the 'Five Points' or 'TULIP' aspect of Calvinism really involves.

To understand the Five Points properly, you have to understand that the Five Points (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints) are not the heart of Calvinism. They are not the most important doctrines for Calvinists generally, nor are they especially central to the Calvinist way of life. They may be in particular cases; but not generally.

The reason is that the Five Points were not formulated in order to sum up the Calvinist view of the world, but to sum up how Calvinists were distinguished from the followers of Arminius. While 'Arminian' tends to be used loosely, genuine Arminians (those in the Remonstrant tradition) actually share a lot of common ground with Calvinists. They are close cousins. However, they are also often in disputes with each other over issues related to atonement and free will; and it's necessary to have a clear way to distinguish the two. Enter the Five Points: the Five Points are things strict Calvinists agree on that Arminians don't. They are important in the sense that they are important for distinguishing Calvinists from Arminians; and since Calvinists very often have to distinguish themselves from Arminians, they come up a lot. But this does not mean that they are the most important Calvinist doctrines; nor does it mean that all Calvinists will regard all of the Five Points as being of equal importance. It certainly doesn't mean that Calvinists go to church each Sunday and discuss nothing but Total Depravity and Limited Atonement.

In fact, the Calvinists are in a sense not the ones responsible for the Five Points. The Five Points are nothing other than a summary of the response by the Synod of Dordt to the 'Remonstrance' of the Arminians (although probably not exclusively those articles), arranged on a point-by-point basis to correspond to those five articles. If you're a Calvinist and have difficulty believing that the Arminians are among your closest cousins, I recommend you read the five points of the Remonstrance and try to identify precisely where you differ from the strict Arminian view. They definitely differ; but the difference is subtle. The two groups can say almost identical things but mean them rather differently. This is because Calvinists and Arminians are not diametrical opposites; the Synod of Dordt didn't go through the Arminian list and simply contradict each point (they were better theologians than that). The Five Points of Calvinism and the Five Articles of Remonstrance overlap; they distinguish by not coinciding. So the Five Points are just a summary of the Calvinist response to the Arminians, on issues determined by the Arminians themselves; they are not a Calvinist summary of the core of Calvinism, but a Calvinist summary of Calvinist doctrine on points chosen by the Arminians (who were protesting the Belgic Confession on only a small handful of points, however important those points may be).

The Five Points, in other words, are not the heart of Calvinism, but an outer perimeter for it. Think of the Calvinist neighborhood as a group of houses. In one house we have the Calvinists in the strict and proper sense, and around this house we have other houses that are in many ways similar but in important ways not the same -- Amyraldians ('Four Point Calvinists', who accept all the Five Points except Limited Atonement), Arminians, and the like. The Five Points are the five posts that hold up the fence that distinguishes the Calvinist lot from the others. Now, that fence turns out to have a good deal of importance, because people keep trying to knock it down. So Calvinists end up arguing with their neighbors about the fence a lot. But no Calvinists in their right mind would hold that the fence is where they eat and sleep. It is not the heart and hearth and home of a healthy Calvinist life; and, however important the fence may be, obsessing about the fence to the detriment of the house is a case of bad priorities. The heart and hearth and home of Calvinism is elsewhere -- in the Trinity, and in Chalcedonian Christology, and in the centrality of Scripture, and so forth. (It's worthwhile on this point to read the Belgic Confession, which, because it was written in order to identify things they would not compromise on even in the face of persecution, is much closer to being a summary of the heart of Calvinism; then compare it with the impoverished view you'd get if you thought that TULIP were the heart.)

That's would I would think is the most important thing to keep in mind in order not to misunderstand Calvinism and Reformed traditions. I'm not Calvinist, though; one thing that would be neat, I think, if it is possible, is for Calvinist bloggers, like Jeremy or Rebecca or David Wayne or any others to say something about what they think is the single most important thing to keep in mind in order to avoid collapsing into a mere caricature of Calvinism or Reformed life.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The New Atlantis

The new issue of The New Atlantis is up (h/t: prosthesis).

Shop Class as Soulcraft discusses the value of manual crafts. It's quite good and well worth reading.

The Self-Portrait of a Scientist discusses scientific memoirs. My favorite of those mentioned is Planck's, which should be required reading for everyone.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


As one might expect, a Save Stargate SG-1 campaign has started. It has the great merit, however, of being different from most such campaigns. One of the major differences is that both Stargate Productions and MGM(who own the relevant rights) have indicated that they are strongly supportive of continuing SG-1 in some form. MGM in particular has found SG-1 to be a very lucrative investment; unlike SciFi and other networks, which only receive income from SG-1 through advertising, MGM benefits from network licensing, overseas distribution, DVD sales, game sales, and other merchandise, and the show has been very good to them on all such accounts, so they are naturally interested in continuing with it if there is any feasible way to do so. It's just unclear at present whether continuing with it will mean continuing in the same format (another season) or shifting formats (e.g., TV movies or feature films). So the movement is not a protest movement (as save-the-show campaigns are) but a support movement -- to support the studio in its effort to find some definite way to continue SG-1 beyond Season 10, whether that continuation be in a new season on another channel, a mini-series, a feature film, or what have you. In essence, it's not trying to change minds so much as trying to make sure that plans already in the air don't fizzle out.

In any case, the web headquarters are here, for those interested in more information about it.

[UPDATE: According to this, SciFi is using its contract to block MGM from giving a new SG-1 season to another (U.S.) channel. But there are still the other possibilities.]

A Poem Draft


Beyond the first awareness is the seed,
a source untouched by any craving need,
a spark forever steadfast in its light,
constant in reflection and in fight,
where thinker is but thought, and doer deed.

Sacred text in hand, the lion waits;
teaching is the path through golden gates
that reach to other realms and then
the abyss of light beyond all human ken.
One right question every answer dissipates.

A lion for reflection on the plains
of deep delusion, in the falling rains
looks out on golden grasses and the sky.
The golden eyes outlooking wait to die.
When self is overcome, no self remains;
thoughts beyond all craving know no pain.

Virtue in Rags

Horace, Odes 3.29.53-56 (John Dryden, tr.):

Content with poverty, my soul I arm;
And virtue, though in rags, will keep me warm.

Allan Ramsay (1685-1758), "Give Me a Lass with a Lump of Land":

There's meikle good love in bands and bags,
And siller and gowd's a sweet complexion;
But beauty, and wit, and virtue in rags,
Have tint the art of gaining affection.

David Hume, Treatise

Virtue in rags is still virtue, and the love, which it procures, attends a man into a dungeon or desert, where the virtue can no longer be exerted in action, and is lost to all the world.

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, Bk I, ch. 6:

For a person suspected of preternatural wickedness, Bob was really not so very villanous-looking; there was even something agreeable in his snub-nosed face, with its close-curled border of red hair. But then his trousers were always rolled up at the knee, for the convenience of wading on the slightest notice; and his virtue, supposing it to exist, was undeniably "virtue in rags," which, on the authority even of bilious philosophers, who think all well-dressed merit overpaid, is notoriously likely to remain unrecognized (perhaps because it is seen so seldom).

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Few Jottings on Mac Donald on Evil

Heather Mac Donald is talking about theism again, although her argument is less clear this time. While her previous article made an interesting argument, it also had a slightly silly tangent that spoiled the overall effect:

When nine miners were pulled unharmed from a collapsed Pennsylvania mineshaft in 2002, a representative placard read: "Thank you God, 9 for 9."....When 12 miners were killed in a West Virginia mine explosion in January 2006, no one posted a sign saying: "For God’s sake, please explain: Why 1 for 13?"

This was part of an argument for the conclusion that theists when talking about God use, in her words, "double standards of a kind that would make even affirmative action look just". But the natural response would be that Mac Donald is being very selective in her evidence. The most plausible reason why people have signs like "Thank you God, 9 for 9" and not "Why 1 for 13?" is that it is normal for people to celebrate with placards, and not normal for people to grieve with them. The problem of evil is not something believers have just ignored through the ages; the questions Mac Donald thinks should be asked are asked. They just are not thought to override all other considerations. In any case, this did, as I said, seem to be a tangent. In the newer article, because of some critics, the tangent has taken center stage. It is handled better, but is still problematic.

One of the problems with Mac Donald's new argument is that she assumes without argument that they do override all other considerations, a common rookie mistake in dealing with the problem of evil. She argues:

Let me take a banal example. As I write this, the Los Angeles Times has a small item on a thoroughly unremarkable traffic accident. A 27-year-old man in Los Angeles misread a traffic signal, and drove his car into an oncoming Blue Line Metro Train. He and his sister were killed; his 7-year-old son and his grandmother were seriously injured.

Now imagine that a human father had behaved towards the occupants of the car as our Divine Father did. That is: a) He knew that his children would be mowed down by a train; b) he had the capacity to avert the disaster through any number of, for him, quite simple means; and c) he chose to do nothing. No one would call this father’s deliberate and possibly criminal passivity “love.” Instead, we would deem such a father a monster and banish him from our midst. Yet when God behaves in just this way, we remain firm in our conviction that he loved the occupants of that car, and that each was “precious” in his eyes.

Of course, the whole argument hinges on the assumption, which most believers would not grant her without clarification, that "God behaves in just this way" -- to 'behave in just this way' requires one to admit that God 'chose to do nothing'; whereas, at most, most theists would concede that it's a case where God chose to do something other than what a human father would do -- which, given that God is not a human father, is not obviously problematic, and needs to be ruled as unacceptable by some kind of argument. To point out just one obvious example, one would need to rule out that God permits death in order to 'welcome his children into the perpetual bliss of the saints' -- i.e., would need to argue that this is either not a possibility, or is not what actually happens, or is just as bad as choosing to do nothing. Whether they are right or wrong, many people regard themselves as having reason to believe that God does, indeed, give people bliss at death, so when dealing with real theists Mac Donald cannot ignore possibilities like this (i.e., the various things God might be doing besides 'nothing'). Otherwise what she calls 'objective evidence' is not really objective evidence, but a tendentious and controversial characterization of it.

But that's a relatively minor issue. The chief problem with Mac Donald's reasoning is the chief problem that infects most reasoning about conflict between a good God and evil, namely, that it's a design inference, and what is more, it is one of the weakest kinds of design inferences: it's an argument from an alleged type of design to the character of the designer. This is only possible if the type of design is (1) accurately characterized; and (2) of the sort that it could not reasonably be treated as the result of a designer of a certain character-type. Despite her verbal appeal to 'objective evidence', Mac Donald does none of the evidentiary analysis that would be required to establish either (1) or (2). And, as a matter of fact, her reasoning depends on the assumption that the only relevant evidence in drawing a conclusion is the evidence of problem-of-evil cases themselves.

To see that Mac Donald's argument requires this assumption, note how she proceeds in her reasoning:

Perhaps when believers speak of God’s “love,” they use the term in a way that has nothing to do with ordinary usage. Novak maybe implies as much when he states: “What is difficult to believe is that any one of us . . . knows more than God does about His love for every individual.” God’s “love” is different from human love; it includes the capacity to foresee and watch the destruction of one’s children and not intervene. But then why not use a different word entirely — “callousness,” say. At the very least, if we are going to continue to use ordinary words in counterintuitive ways to refer to God, we should give them some sort of diacritical marker to let listeners know that the words they are hearing don’t mean what they ordinarily mean. One could speak of “G-love,” for instance, to distinguish it from ordinary human love.

But this can only be drawn from the reasoning so far if we assume that there is no other evidential basis for talking about 'love' or the like except for the problem-of-evil type of case. If there is another evidential foundation -- e.g., moral arguments, or religious experiences -- that provide a basis for the application of the term 'love' to God, Mac Donald could not conclude that 'love' in this context is used "in a way that has nothing to do with ordinary usage". Nothing to do with ordinary usage is a strong claim, much stronger than Mac Donald is entitled to make, unless she is assuming that all the relevant evidence is contained in the problem-of-evil type of case, which provides on its own no basis for using the term 'love'.

The assumption also clearly comes out in her discussion of the 'readability of the divine will'. If someone, let's call her A, has a good reason, or what she thinks is a good reason, for thinking B thoroughly trustworthy, there is no problem whatsoever with her supposing that, when apparently contrary evidence suggest otherwise, that this is merely due to her not knowing all the facts. In other words, the original good reason becomes a reason for not regarding the apparently contrary evidence as really contrary. This is an entirely rational move, although it can get slippery; and rational people make this move in sorting evidence all the time. We have to sort our evidences; and this is one of the most rational ways we do it. What the apparently contrary evidence has to do in order to be recognized as really contrary is to undermine the original reason for thinking B trustworthy. Merely pointing out that it is apparently contrary is not good enough, because there is apparently good reason to think that the evidence is not really contrary. What Mac Donald has done is simply point out something apparently contrary; she has not obviously done anything to undermine what the theist thinks is good reason for considering this apparently contrary evidence not to be really contrary. But when she discusses the 'readability of God's will', her argument can only work on the assumption that the theist has no (standing) good reasons for taking the apparently contrary evidence (the bad situations) to be really contrary to the thesis (that God loves us all and works for our good). It depends on the claim that the theist is merely assuming that the good is imputable to God and the evil is not. But she hasn't shown this, unless we make the assumption that the problem-of-evil type of case is the whole of the relevant evidence.

With this assumption, however, it may be said of Mac Donald's argument, as she says of Novak's, that it is "more conclusory than evidentiary." That is, it follows not from the 'objective evidence', as Mac Donald suggests, but from a controvertible assumption about what can be admitted as the complete evidence, added to a controvertible characterization of this evidence when we take everything into consideration. This is perhaps not surprising. Contrary to the way it is sometimes treated, the problem of evil cannot be treated in isolation; how you handle it will depend on your views about other things -- about the evidential value of religious experiences, about the nature of morality, about the proper way to understand evil and suffering, about the good, the beautiful, the true, and the like. Cleanthes, in Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, would be troubled by her argument, because Cleanthes would agree with her assumption about the narrow field of evidence, and would be committed to her characterization of it. But most theists are not.

I should say that it is possible to have an argument of the sort Mac Donald is gesturing at, and some atheists make an effort to provide it; but it requires a rather sophisticated conceptual analysis of terms like 'love' and 'justice' in this type of context, one which Mac Donald certainly does not provide. Since there are several mutually exclusive ways one might go about doing this, and we don't know what Mac Donald would prefer, there's not much to say in response, beyond the very general and vague points noted above. There is no possible response to the particulars of an argument that is not made. Nonetheless, the argument, despite its flaws, is interesting enough to be worth a read.

Links and Notes

* Thom Brooks discusses Martha Nussbaum's argument from dignity against the use of shaming punishments. Part of Nussbaum's argument is that shame and disgust, unlike other emotions, have no place in a proper account of law because they are unreliable. I think they only turn out to be unreliable on her account because she rigs it that way (she does some weird conflating of the possible objects of disgust, for instance); and think that by her more general principles they should have as much place (and as little, if it comes to that) as any other emotions. And I don't think there's any significant sense in which shame involves a loss of human dignity (although some shaming things involve treating people as having less than human dignity). And indeed, I think it is absolutely necessary to defense of human dignity to have a concept of the shameful, i.e., of the sort of thing that any reasonable, decent person would be ashamed to be caught doing due to principles of conscience (note that this notion does not appeal to guilt, which has to do with the mere fact that one has done wrong, but to shame, which has to do with failing to live up to a reasonable ideal), even though it obviously needs to interact with and be supplemented by other principles. To violate another's dignity as a human being is shameful, the sort of thing of which any decent person will feel ashamed, and this is one of the key rational bulwarks against violations of human dignity. So I think her argument is flawed at its root. But I find Brooks's argument interesting, because he gives her the basic argument, but notes that it doesn't close the door against shaming punishments as tightly as she suggests.

* Amy Wellborn has an interesting post excerpting a recent address by Benedict XVI on the book of Revelation and vision of the Lamb.

* Ralph Luker hunts down sources for the famous Appointment in Samarra story.

* Christian Carnival #136 is up at "Parableman".

* Catez Stevens describes a Maori royal funeral and ascension ceremony.

* Exactly one year ago today I wrote a post called Must-Read Science Fiction Novels, listing twenty classic science fiction novels. The post, which has been far and away my most popular post, has recently been deluged with visitors because Coturnix has re-posted his response to it at the time, Essential Science Fiction. Dynamics of Cats responded to the repost; Uncertain Principles responds to them all. I largely stand by my twenty. The list is not exhaustive, of course, because I only chose one work from an author, and there are several authors -- Jules Verne most notably -- who clearly wrote more than one essential science fiction novel. If I were to write the list today, however, there would be some differences. Sharon Howard mentioned very early in the comments that I was missing an obvious candidate: Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. There is no doubt that this is a must-read that should have been on the list; and it would also deal with something that bothered me, namely, that I had only one must-read after 1969. Also, Coturnix mentioned Charles Kingsley's Water Babies, which is also an excellent candidate worthy of being on the list; and, while it's borderline as science fiction, Steven Riddle convinced me that H. Rider Haggard's She is at least as good a candidate as Bulwer-Lytton's Vril (although I stand by Vril as a good choice). For Stapledon I also would list Sirius rather than Odd John; Odd John is much more influential, but Sirius is such an exquisite story that I've never been entirely comfortable with my choosing Odd John. I am very picky about science fiction, unfortunately -- I love the genre, but despise most members of it (I have the same problem with fantasy) -- so I'm not impressed by most of the suggestions offered in the comments and elsewhere. Some of them are clearly bad, and can only be explained as suggestions by quirks of taste. A lot of them are good, at least for leisure-reading, but not so good, and certainly not so important, that 'must-read' isn't stretching it. Nonetheless, there were a lot of good ones suggested that certainly are likely must-reads that I didn't put on the list. Blish's Cities in Flight is an excellent example, as is L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. No one mentioned him, as far as I can recall, but someone who definitely should have made the list was Emilio Salgari. If I made a list today, it would certainly have to be longer.

* Shulamite at "Assimilatio Dei" has a good post on Aquinas's Third Way. The Third Way is the trickiest of the Five; it is a rare case in which there is a split in the textual tradition -- we have two different versions of the argument, in different manuscripts. The versions are verbally similar, but differ significantly in a premise (Lawrence Dewan is notable for usually taking the trouble to consider both versions). And people have often been puzzled by the use of 'necessity' in the argument, although I think the shulamite is right that there isn't that much mystery in the context of the argument itself. Interpreting 'necessary from another' in such a way as to describe prime matter is something I haven't seen before anywhere (although conceivably it's just been something I've always missed in expositions), but makes a lot of sense.

The Rigid Righteous Is a Fool, the Rigid Wise Another

My favorite poem by Robert Burns:

Address to the Unco Guid

My Son, these maxims make a rule,
An' lump them aye thegither;
The Rigid Righteous is a fool,
The Rigid Wise anither:
The cleanest corn that ere was dight
May hae some pyles o' caff in;
So ne'er a fellow creature slight
For random fits o' daffin.
Solomon.--Eccles. ch. vii. verse 16

O YE wha are sae guid yoursel',
Sae pious and sae holy,
Ye've nought to do but mark and tell
Your neibours' fauts and folly!
Whase life is like a weel-gaun mill,
Supplied wi' store o' water;
The heapèd happer's ebbing still,
An' still the clap plays clatter.

Hear me, ye venerable core,
As counsel for poor mortals
That frequent pass douce Wisdom's door
For glaikit Folly's portals:
I, for their thoughtless, careless sakes,
Would here propone defences--
Their donsie tricks, their black mistakes,
Their failings and mischances.

Ye see your state wi' theirs compared,
And shudder at the niffer;
But cast a moment's fair regard,
What makes the mighty differ?
Discount what scant occassion gave,
That purity ye pride in;
And (what's aft mair than a' the lave)
Your better art o' hidin.

Think, when your castigated pulse
Gies now and then a wallop,
What ragings must his veins convulse,
That still eternal gallop!
Wi' wind and tide fair i' your tail,
Right on ye scud your sea-way;
But in the teeth o' baith to sail,
It maks a unco lee-way.

See Social Life and Glee sit down,
All joyous and unthinking,
Till, quite transmugrified, they're grown
Debauchery and Drinking:
O would they stay to calculate
Th' external consequences;
Or your more dreaded hell to state
Damnation of expenses!

Ye high, exalted, virtuous dames,
Tied up in godly laces,
Before ye gie poor Frailty names,
Suppose a change o' cases;
A dear-lov'd lad, convenience snug,
A treach'rous inclination--
But let me whisper i' your lug,
Ye're aiblins nae temptation.

Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human;
One point must still be greatly dark,--
The moving Why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark,
How far perhaps they rue it.

Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias:
Then at the balance let's be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What's done we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted.

That's excellent advice in any dialect. "Gently scan your fellow man, still gentler sister woman; tho' they may go a tad bit wrong, to step aside is human: One point must still be greatly dark, the moving Why they do it, and just as lamely can you mark, how far perhaps they rue it."

Sad, Sad Day

From Jeremy I learn that SciFi is cancelling Stargate SG-1 after the tenth season. Given that, even in its recent slump of a few tenths of a ratings point, SG-1 is still one of their highest rated shows, and is still able (as it did with its 200th) to hit the high notes on occasion, this is shocking.

Still, there's hope for the show, and the only current American chance of coming into throwing distance of Britain's claim on the longest-running sci-fi show in TV history (the original Doctor Who, with twenty-six seasons). The franchise is alive and well, even if SG-1 dies, and the producers look like they will be trying to work something out, although it isn't clear whether they can get anyone else to pick the show up. So I'll be crossing my fingers for a while, hoping that the show takes after Daniel Jackson....

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Pascal Against Agnosticism

Philosophical Review has put part of its archive temporarily online (h/t: DuckRabbit). One of the articles is Alan Hájek's "Waging War on Pascal's Wager" (January 2003). Since I've stated before that I don't like decision-theoretical interpretations of Pascal's Wager, and Hájek's is one of the more sophisticated, I thought I would say something about it.

Hájek summarizes the Wager in the following terms:

1. Rationality requires you to give a positive probability to God's existence.

2. There is a decision matrix. In this matrix, if you wager for God and God exists, you get infinite utility; if you wager for God and God does not exist, you get a finite utility; if you wager against God and God exists, you get a finite utility; if you wager against God and God does not exist, you get a finite utility. 'Wagering for God' and 'wagering against God' are understood to be contradictories.

3. Rationality requires you to perform the act of maximum expected utility, when there is one.

4. Therefore, rationality requires you to wager for God.

Hájek argues that the Wager turns out to be invalid: to get its result the utility of salvation must be ∞ reflexive under addition (i.e., adding something to it does not result in something with greater utility); but if it is ∞ reflexive under multiplication it cannot distinguish between pure wagering for God and what Hájek calls 'mixed strategies'. An example of a mixed strategy would be wagering for God if a flipped coin lands on heads. There are, of course, a great many such 'mixed strategies'. So the Wager is invalid; and, what is more, Hájek argues, it looks like no reformulation is possible:

For I see no prospects for characterizing a notion of the utility of salvation that is reflexive under addition without being reflexive under multiplication by positive, finite probabilities, or reflexive under multiplication by numbers greater than 1 without being reflexive under multiplication by positive, finite probabilities. Yet it seems that nothing less will salvage Pascal’s reasoning. So we are left with a dilemma. If the utility of salvation is reflexive under both addition and multiplication by positive, finite probabilities (as in Pascal’s original argument), wagering for God will be just one of many equally rational courses of action, and our choice among them will be arbitrary. If the utility is not reflexive under either addition or multiplication by positive, finite probabilities (as in my reformulations of the argument), salvation will be so far from being the best thing possible as to be unsuitable for Pascal’s theology. I wager that any future version of the argument will succumb to this dilemma.

When we treat a historical argument formally, however, and get the result that the argument turns out to be invalid and, what is more, irremediably flawed, the first and most important question to ask is whether, in isolating our formal considerations, we have interpreted the argument correctly. And I think there is plenty of reason to doubt whether decision-theoretic accounts like Hájek's actually do justice to the Wager. Now, it's clear that the Wager does touch on issues that are dealt with in decision theory; but this concession is a long way from saying that the above reconstruction of the Wager is at all accurate. A few points may be sufficient to suggest this.

(1) Are mixed strategies really a problem for Pascal? No. In the fragments we have discussing the Wager, it's clear that there is a sort of dialogue going on between the presenter of the Wager and an agnostic; and the argument as we possess it is opened by the agnostic, who holds that there are no speculative reasons helping us to decide whether God exists or not, or, if He does, what His nature may be. So the agnostic concludes that when Christians believe the things they claim to believe, they are being irrational. They should instead suspend judgment. Pascal's whole reply is that this is false. Not only is the agnostic's claim about speculative reasons false (and this comes up again at the end of the Wager), but, more immediately (and more importantly for actually discussing the matter with the agnostic), the agnostic is overlooking what we might call strategic reasons. Mixed strategies don't affect this main argument; in fact, they require that it be made, just as much as a pure strategy does.

(2) Further, Pascal in his whole discussion never commits himself to the claim that infinite utility alone is sufficient for the decision. In fact, the Wager is presented not all at once, as decision-theoretical interpretations tend to present it, but in stages. At the first stage, he merely points out that the agnostic is being unreasonable in criticizing people for deciding without proof (the focus is on Christians because of the context, but the point here works for making the decision either way), given that he says that there is no proof-based way to decide. The agnostic replies that they could suspend judgment; Pascal denies that there is really any tertium quid here, and opens the second stage of the argument, one that assumes that a decision must be made.

If you assume that a decision must be made, the natural thing to do is to determine which decision would be least in your interest; and this is precisely what Pascal considers next. There are two alternatives to choose from: for God and against God. There are two things you have to lose: the good and the true. There are two things at stake: knowledge and happiness. There are two things we are trying to avoid: error and misery. Because the agnostic has denied that speculative reason has any ability to help us, the focus is naturally on misery, happiness, and the good; the others are (again, at this stage of argument) of uncertain status in this dispute. So the question Pascal raises is: What is the gain and loss of happiness in this wager? If you gain, you gain everything; if you lose, you lose nothing. So, Pascal concludes, it's reasonable to wager for God.

But the agnostic is not satisfied. Gain and loss are not the only things involved in wagers; there is also the question of what is being wagered. So the third stage of the argument has to consider: what happens when we factor in what we are wagering? And Pascal makes the point, so key to decision-theoretical interpretations, that what we are wagering is finite, whereas what is gained (if we wager for God and God exists) is infinite. So, again, it is reasonable to wager for God.

The agnostic is still not satisfied, which brings us to the fourth stage of the argument, in which the concept of risk is introduced. The agnostic insists that, even if the argument so far is fine, it leaves out our risk. In other words, it is not certain whether we will gain anything; what we are wagering is at risk in the wager. And, what is more, the agnostic tries to turn the tables on Pascal by trying to introduce a defeating infinity, one that blocks the conclusion Pascal has reached up to this point. There is, the agnostic claims, an infinite uncertainty about our gain; therefore, he says, it is unreasonable to wager on it. Pascal does not take the bait, however. Everyone who faces the decision is staking something reasonably certain and definite; and we are weighing this against a finite uncertainty of gain. By the agnostic's own principles, we are not in a position to say that the uncertainty of gain is infinite; he has already committed himself to saying that, for all speculative reason can tell us, the two alternatives are indifferent; that is, for all we know, either might be the right course. Given this, however, we are not dealing with an imbalance of probabilities, which is what the agnostic is really trying to introduce: by his own principles the agnostic cannot say that there is an infinite probability, or even a greater probability, against God's existence. The risk is finite; the risk of loss and the risk of gain can't be treated as different on our information; the possible gain is (on one side of the wager) infinite.

Even if we concede this, however, it would be nice to have more information than the agnostic is letting us have. Pascal reminds the agnostic that we can get more information, i.e., we can look to see if there's anything in the world that is (as it were) an inside tip to help us make a better bet. And Pascal notes that if the agnostic is still not able to decide, he knows (because of the argument) that this has nothing to do with reason. So it must be due to the passions; and the way to handle recalcitrant passions is to discipline them by things that make passions more manageable. And that's more or less the whole Wager as Pascal presents it.

Note that nowhere in this is there a claim that the decision can only be made in terms of infinite utility, or even maximum utility (that is, he never claims (3)). Pascal says (1) in stage one that it is rational to make a decision in this case, and what he says does not favor either decision over the other; (2) in stage two he says that it is rational to wager for God on the basis of what might be gained; (3) in stage three he says that it is rational to wager for God on the basis of comparing what is being wagered with what might be gained; (4) in stage four he says that on agnostic principles we cannot wiggle out of these conclusions by rigging the probabilities. He then concludes by suggesting that the agnostic look again at the speculative reasons he rejected out of hand. The decision does not seem to rely on infinite expected utility; a decision must be made so (1) it is rational to make a decision in any case; (2) it is especially rational to wager for God when we consider what is in our interest; (3) what we are wagering against this possibility of gain is not significant in comparison with the gain itself; and (4) the agnostic has stripped himself of the resources that could be used to avoid this conclusion.

(3) Note as well that in stage four Pascal is not committed to (1), either. All he has to argue in stage four is that the agnostic can't wiggle out of the Wager by assigning God's existence infinitesimal or zero probability. And he's certainly right there, because the agnostic is already committed to saying we don't know what the probability is. The probabilities for any course of action play no role in the Wager at all. All Pascal notes is that on the agnostic's own set-up, we have two possibilities (God exists and God does not exist) and we have nothing that biases the case in either direction. It is this that is usually treated as if Pascal were giving each a probability of 1/2. In a sense he does this, but he does it in the way probability theorists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did it, not in our way. That is, all it says is that there are two cases, and wagering for and against are each one of them. And for the purposes of the Wager, the only thing beyond this is that we can't (for the agnostic's own reasons) say anything beyond this -- this is the maximum information we have to go on, as far as determining probabilities goes.

(4) Given this, one can also see that most of the other objections brought against the Wager by other people are red herrings. As an argument against agnosticism, it is not affected by the possibility of other Gods who don't reward in the way Pascal supposes (the many gods objection), nor is it affected by the possibility of different ways of wagering for God (the mercenary objection), nor is it affected by the possibility that the matrix differs from person to person (the predestination objection), nor is it affected by the suspectness of infinite utility. One might suggest that the St. Petersburg Paradox still causes some problems; but it does not appear to be the case. The St. Petersburg Paradox arises when we assume that it is rational to enter into a wager when the price of entry is smaller than the expected value, and the expected value is infinite; then any price of entry is worth the game, although such games don't seem actually to be worth more than a small price of entry. But, of course, in the Wager we are not talking about just any finite price of entry (it's not necessary to assume that every finite price of entry is being considered); we are just talking about one finite price -- a life. If we weren't dealing with an agnostic, of course, it might be reasonable to wonder whether even this is too much -- but the agnostic is not in a position to say that it is too much. Of course, just as many of the objections against the Wager are irrelevant, so are many of the 'uses' of the Wager completely different arguments that should not be conflated with the one Pascal actually presents.

(5) What is less often noticed is that it is entirely possible -- and nothing Pascal says rules it out as a possibility -- to run an atheistic Wager against the agnostic as well. All Pascal is doing in his Wager is handling an agnostic who starts out by denying that it is rational to do anything but suspend judgment in this case. An atheist can as easily avail himself of a Wager to argue against this as Pascal could. Indeed, if he were too lazy to make his own, an atheist could as easily avail himself of Pascal's own Wager against the agnostic, as long as it is supplemented by an argument for parity (i.e., that wagering against God is more or less parallel) and by the same appeal Pascal makes to look at the possible 'inside tips' again! Of course, the atheist will want to direct the agnostic's attention to different 'inside tips'; but the argument would work the same way. The theist would start out with the advantage; but as the 'many gods objections' show, atheists likely have the ingenuity to nullify this apparent advantage. The locus of argument then moves to where it should be, which the agnostic dismissed out of hand: the 'inside tips', i.e., arguments and evidences for and against.

So that appears to be the lay of the land: Pascal's Wager is perhaps the strongest argument against the rationality of agnosticism that has been formulated. To suspend judgment the agnostic has to ignore strategic reasons. Pretty much everyone who is not an agnostic, however, agrees that there are strategic reasons for making the decision, even if they don't entirely agree about which of those strategic reasons is worth the most. Given the strategic reasons for making a decision, however, it becomes more important than the agnostic had previously allowed to look at the 'inside tips' or speculative reasons; they need to be investigated and evaluated much more carefully than the agnostic's original dismissal allowed. If the 'inside tips', the speculative reasons, turn out to be as useless as the agnostic had originally thought, of course, things get trickier; but Pascal, as I pointed out, never commits himself to the claim that rationality requires only picking out the maximum utility, but only that it is rational to make a decision (and the gain favors one side of the decision, even if not absolutely). So it appears that, contrary to the agnostic's claim, there is reason to think that it is more rational to decide than to suspend judgment. But all Pascal really needs of this in context is that the agnostic is wrong in claiming that Christians are being irrational in believing, even if the speculative reasons fail to shed light on the situation.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Not El Memorioso

An interesting bit of news; the Vatican Observatory has a new director. The most easily accessible article in English that I've found on it is not very coherent; this Zenit notice is better. But George Coyne, S.J., has been replaced by Argentine José Funes, S.J. Those who are interested in Fr. Funes's research (star and galaxy formation) might find his website interesting.

The Vatican Observatory was (re-)founded by Leo XIII in his motu proprio, "Ut mystica," which, unfortunately, does not appear to be online anywhere. I wouldn't expect it to be as easily accessible as Rerum Novarum or Aeterni Patris, but it is disappointing that it's nowhere to be found in any form.

The Parting Glass

One of the best drinking songs is a Scottish one that definitely goes back to the eighteenth century, called "The Parting Glass." If the lyrics sound familiar, you may have heard an arrangement from this song at the end of Waking Ned Devine. You can hear a clip of that online here.

Oh all the money that e'er I had,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm that e'er I've done,
alas, 'twas to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
to memory now I can't recall.
So fill to me the parting glass;
good night, and joy be with you all.

Oh all the comrades that e'er I've had,
they are sorry for my going away.
And all the sweethearts that e'er I've had,
they would wish me one more day to stay.
But since it falls unto my lot
that I should rise and you should not,
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
"Good night, and joy be with you all."

If I had money enough to spend
and leisure time to sit awhile,
there is a fair maid in this town,
that sorely has my heart beguiled.
Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips I own;
she has my heart enthralled.
So fill to me the parting glass --
Good night, and joy be with you all

My dearest dear, the time draws near
when here no longer can I stay.
There's not a comrade I leave behind,
but is grieving for my going away.
But since it has so ordered been
what is once past can't be recalled.
Now fill to me the parting glass;
Good night, and joy be with you all.

If I had money for to spend,
if I had time to waste away,
there is a fair maid in this town,
I feign would while her heart away.
With her rosy cheeks and dimpled chin,
my heart she has beguiled awa'.
So fill to me the parting glass,
good night, and joy be wi' you a'.

If I had money for to spend,
I would spend it in her company.
And all the harm that I have done,
I hope it's pardoned I will be.
And all I've done for want of wit
to memory I can't recall.
So fill to me the parting glass,
good night, and joy be with you all.

A man may drink and not be drunk;
a man may fight and not be slain;
a man may court a pretty girl
and perhaps be welcomed back again.
But since it has so ordered been
by a time to rise and a time to fall
Come fill to me the parting glass,
good night and joy be with you all.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bringing No Good

There has been (yet again) a heavy round of discussion on Catholic blogs on the question of just war. The occasion this time was a comment made by the Pope in an interview:

We do want to appeal to all Christians and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilize all the forces that recognize how war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars.

Robert Miller at "First Things" wondered how this made any sense, given that WWII certainly did seem to bring good to someone; for instance, prisoners liberated from concentration camps and nations liberated from Nazi domination. Mark Shea took up the question, and it was discussed vigorously in the comment boxes. Ditto at Amy Welborn's place. And Against the Grain discusses the matter further.

What strikes me as significant is that Miller only quotes part of the Pope's answer to the question. Immediately after the above statement, he concludes:

Everyone needs peace. There's a strong Christian community in Lebanon, there are Christians among the Arabs, there are Christians in Israel. Christians throughout the world are committed to helping these countries that are dear to all of us. There are moral forces at work that are ready to help people understand how the only solution is for all of us to live together. These are the forces we want to mobilize: it's up to politicians to find a way to let this happen as soon as possible and, especially, to make it last.

Virtually everyone is reading him as saying that no good was brought out of the war by virtuous action and good policy; whereas it seems that he is saying instead that war itself does not bring good, but hardship, pain, and death. Everyone needs peace. And these are very different sorts of statements, since one can say both that war itself brought no good to anyone (in the latter sense, i.e., in itself) whereas good came of it (in the former sense, i.e., in that during the war good things were done). I don't know if this was actually the point; but here as elsewhere it's worth remembering that the first way to read things is not always the best way.