Saturday, November 11, 2006

Armistice II

From Woodrow Wilson's The Significance of Armistice Day (November 10, 1923):

The affairs of the world can be set straight only by the firmest and most determined exhibition of the will to lead and make the right prevail.

Happily, the present situation in the world of affairs affords us the opportunity to retrieve the past and to render mankind the inestimable service of proving that there is at least one great and powerful nation which can turn away from programs of self-interest and devote itself to practicing and establishing the highest ideals of disinterested service and the consistent maintenance of exalted standards of conscience and of right.

The only way in which we can worthily give proof of our appreciation of the high significance of Armistice Day is by resolving to put self-interest away and once more formulate and act upon the highest ideals and purposes of international policy. Thus, and only thus, can we return to the true traditions of America.


From Franklin Roosevelt's Armistice Day Address (November 11, 1941):

We know that it was, in literal truth, to make the world safe for democracy that we took up arms in 1917. It was, in simple truth and in literal fact, to make the world habitable for decent and self-respecting men that those whom we now remember gave their lives. They died to prevent then the very thing that now, a quarter century later, has happened from one end of Europe to the other.

Now that it has happened we know in full the reason why they died.

We know also what obligation and duty their sacrifice imposes upon us. They did not die to make the world safe for decency and self-respect for five years or ten or maybe twenty. They died to make it safe. And if, by some fault of ours who lived beyond the war, its safety has again been threatened then the obligation and the duty are ours. It is in our charge now, as it was America's charge after the Civil War, to see to it "that these dead shall not have died in vain." Sergeant York spoke thus of the cynics and doubters: "The thing they forget is that liberty and freedom and democracy are so very precious that you do not fight to win them once and stop. Liberty and freedom and democracy are prizes awarded only to those peoples who fight to win them and then keep fighting eternally to hold them."

The people of America agree with that. They believe that liberty is worth fighting for. And if they are obliged to fight they will fight eternally to hold it.

This duty we owe, not to ourselves alone, but to the many dead who died to gain our freedom for us-to make the world a place where freedom can live and grow into the ages.

Hume on Abstruse Reasoning

There is an inconvenience which attends all abstruse reasoning. that it may silence, without convincing an antagonist, and requires the same intense study to make us sensible of its force, that was at first requisite for its invention. When we leave our closet, and engage in the common affairs of life, its conclusions seem to vanish, like the phantoms of the night on the appearance of the morning; and `tis difficult for us to retain even that conviction, which we had attain'd with difficulty. This is still more conspicuous in a long chain of reasoning, where we must preserve to the end the evidence of the first propositions, and where we often lose sight of ail the most receiv'd maxims, either of philosophy or common life.

Treatise 3.1.1

Grayling on Atheism

Wow; A.C. Grayling manages to churn out yet more gobbledy-gook on the subject of religion. It starts in the very first paragraph, where he claims that the Archbishop of Westminster "officially thinks the former is damned (it is official Roman Catholic doctrine that there is no salvation outside the church)". Since it is official Roman Catholic doctrine that no one knows who is damned except God, and since it is official Catholic doctrine that Christians are joined to the Church by baptism, this is a rather inauspicious beginning.

He does make some valid and worthwhile points on the meanings of 'secularism' and 'humanism', although he conveniently glosses over details like how the Council for Secular Humanism, or the International Humanist and Ethical Union mysteriously fail to understand the "simple lesson in semantics" that he thinks religious people fail to grasp because due to their religious faith they "live in an inspissated gloaming of incense and obfuscation, through the swirls of which it is hard to see anything clearly." Apparently the lesson in semantics is not so simple.

Then he says:

"Atheism" is a word used by religious people to refer to those who do not share their belief in the existence of supernatural entities or agencies. Presumably (as I can never tire of pointing out) believers in fairies would call those who do not share their views "a-fairyists", hence trying to keep the debate on fairy turf, as if it had some sensible content; as if there were something whose existence could be a subject of discussion worth the time.

Well, there would be good reason for not calling oneself an 'a-fairyist', namely, that it's an ugly barbarism as terms go. 'Atheism', it should perhaps be pointed out, and which Grayling somehow mysteriously fails to recall, is a term also used by nonreligious people to refer to those who do not have a belief in the existence of supernatural entities or agencies; as noted, for instance, by Atheist Alliance International, American Atheists, and the like, a quirk they share with virtually all those who speak the English language, which seems to trip Grayling up a lot. Further, it's clear that there are atheists out there who think of God that there is "something whose existence could be a subject of discussion worth the time"; at least, there are more than a few atheists who spend a lot of time discussing it. Perhaps Grayling is right that atheists should, if they accept the label 'atheist', also accept the labels 'afairyist, aghostist, agoblinist' or at least some less crude neologisms for that which the labels are supposed to suggest; but as we don't have labels like 'fairyist, ghostist, and goblinist' it doesn't seem that atheists are being at all unreasonable if they don't think it to be entirely a high priority. He then makes the smashing point that since Christians don't believe in Vishnu, or Loki, or Ares, or many others, that they are 'atheists' about vast numbers of gods. Which is true if we are using the term 'atheist' figuratively to mean 'someone who does not believe in some particular given god' rather than its more common meaning, 'someone who does not believe that there are gods'; but what exactly the point of this is, we are left to puzzle out on their own.

He then goes on to suggest that there are volcanoes in the Middle East, does us the favor of reiterating Frazer without letting us know that Frazer actually has an argument, and insists that Jesus' crucifixion is of no significance because lots of people are tortured, especially pregnant women in labor. I'm being a bit facetious, but Grayling is not quite so far off from this as one might expect.

What I found particularly funny was this:

Even some on my own side of the argument here make the mistake of thinking that the dispute about supernaturalistic beliefs is whether they are true or false. Epistemology teaches us that the key point is about rationality. If a person gets wet every time he is in the rain without an umbrella, yet persists in hoping that the next time he is umbrella-less in the rain he will stay dry, then he is seriously irrational. To believe in the existence of (say) a benevolent and omnipotent deity in the face of childhood cancers and mass deaths in tsunamis and earthquakes, is exactly the same kind of serious irrationality.

I see; so epistemology teaches us that the dispute between theists and atheists is about rationality and not about whether what is believed is true or false, although exactly how it teaches us this, or what epistemological theory he has in mind, or how it relates to the problem of evil, is all left a bit mysterious. So that must close the book on the matter; here we were, getting all bothered about the question, when really all we had to do was listen to the teachings of epistemology.

Nonetheless, I can't completely criticize Grayling's essay; I like his last paragraph. And much as I tease, my dominant response to the article is compassion for any atheist who might be associated in people's minds with those like Grayling who seem to think that the rational way to dismiss religion and encourage tolerance consists in lecturing people, not quite accurately, about the meanings of terms. If atheism is Hundred Acre Wood, some atheists are Eeyores, some are Poohs, some are Piglets, some are Kangas, and some are Owls; and Grayling is someone who is trying to be an Owl but can't manage to copy the Owls in anything but an Owlish sense of language, which is, of course, simultaneously pedantic and confused. Perhaps this is fortunate for everyone; atheists everywhere can breath a sigh of relief, and, if ever confronted with an attack on Grayling, can shrug it off by truthfully saying that the man sometimes doesn't even seem to know what 'atheist' means.

I wouldn't be so hard on his argument if Grayling weren't a professor of philosophy. I don't mind Frazer-like freethinkers, for instance; I enjoy reading their works, and always have, and they make some interesting points. I don't mind people who are worried about the label 'atheist'; they may also have a point. I don't even so much mind when people like Dawkins mangle philosophical arguments, because they sometimes have a point worth considering, too -- although I'll occasionally step in and point out the mangling. But I would expect someone with a background in philosophy to take the trouble to express these points less absurdly.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Golden Chain

Vain images possess the sensual mind,
To real agents and true causes blind.
But soon as intellect's bright sun displays
O'er the benighted orb his fulgent rays,
Delusive phantoms fly before the light,
Nature and truth lie open at the sight:
Causes connect with effects supply
A golden chain, whose radiant links on high
Fix'd to the sovereign throne from thence depend
And reach e'en down to tar the nether end.

From George Berkeley's poem, "On Tar," which can be read in full here. The poem describes the reasoning of his important but little-read philosophical work, Siris. It also is the source of the subtitle of this weblog, of course. I pointed out the source of the image of the golden chain here -- too cautiously, since there's no real doubt that that passage in the Iliad is the source. The same passage in the Iliad is the source of the motto I put on the Seal of Siris: Seiren Chruseien Kremesantes, Hang a Chain of Gold.

The Tasks of Philosophy

David Corfield has a really excellent post on The Tasks of Philosophy at "n-Category Café". Go and read it.

Subduer of the Hun

Today is the Feast Day of St. Leo I, Bishop of Rome, called the Great. The Medieval Sourcebook has a great set of selections summarizing the most famous event of Leo's life -- the day he saved Rome by facing Attila the Hun in person. Attila was advancing on Rome; Roman senate sorted through various proposed plans for opposing him, and none of them were promising. So in a last act of desperation they decided to send a delegation to beg Attila for peace. Leo and two others were chosen for the task; Leo went in full episcopal regalia. And Attila was so impressed by Leo that he promised peace and left. Raphael has a famous painting of the scene. Whatever the precise details of the event, the story has always represented something of an ideal -- a rarely attainable one -- in which armies are subdued and turned aside not by other armies, nor even by warriors, but by servants of peace wielding the instruments of peace. Leo actually did something similar later on. The Vandals under Gaiseric advanced on Rome. While Leo wasn't able to turn Gaiseric aside as he had Attila, he persuaded Gaiseric to do no more than loot the city -- no killing of people and no burning of buildings. Not quite as impressive as with the Huns, but an impressive example of diplomacy nonetheless.

St. Leo's most famous writing is the Tome of Leo, a must-read for anyone interested in Christology and the Incarnation. You can also read some of his sermons. From Sermon 95:

"Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God." This blessedness, beloved, belongs not to any and every kind of agreement and harmony, but to that of which the Apostle speaks: "have peace towards God;" and of which the Prophet David speaks: "Much peace have they that love Thy law, and they have no cause of offences." This peace even the closest ties of friendship and the exactest likeness of mind do not really gain, if they do not agree with God's will. Similarity of bad desires, leagues in crimes, associations of vice, cannot merit this peace. The love of the world does not consort with the love of God, nor doth he enter the alliance of the sons of God who will not separate himself from the children of this generation Whereas they who are in mind always with God, "giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," never dissent from the eternal law, uttering that prayer of faith, "Thy will be done as in heaven so on earth." These are "the peacemakers," these are thoroughly of one mind, and fully harmonious, and are to be called sons "of God and joint-heirs with Christ," because this shall be the record of the love of God and the love of our neighbour, that we shall suffer no calamities, be in fear of no offence, but all the strife of trial ended, rest in God's most perfect peace, through our Lord, Who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Links and Notabilia

* Nathanael Robinson at "The Rhine River" has a very interesting post on voting and the deficit of representation.

* Shulamite has a salutary warning on interpreting Aquinas's account of divine simplicity. I think the money sentence is this: If we want to understand the divine simplicity as St. Thomas explains it, it doesn't make much sense to talk about the divine simplicity until we have agreed to a proof for God's existence, and agreed to what is essential to a "composite". That's exactly right.

* Richard is putting together a Carnival of the Citizens. This will be a tricky carnival to get off the ground, but I think it's worth support. Read the post, keep track of the newsletter page, publicize it, and start thinking about what post you are going to write for the first edition (open to any topic), coming up on November 26. I'll be hosting an edition in the future, more information to follow at a later date.

* Which reminds me, Richard recently hosted an edition of the Carnival of the Liberals that focuses on liberalism and democratic discourse; I think of it as being a gesture at the general sort of thing one might expect from a Carnival of the Citizens.

* I am currently reading (or re-reading, I forget which) Thomas Nagel's paper Concealment and Exposure, about liberalism, sex, and conventions of reticence.

* At "Without Authority" there is a discussion of the possibility of better atheists; and Macht comments on it at "prosthesis". I think Nietzsche has his strong points, but I confess that all my sympathies are for "atheists of skepticism" rather than "atheists of suspicion." It goes with my taste for old-fashioned freethinkers. I'm just happy when atheists hold themselves to consistent intellectual standards across the board, rather than arbitrarily changing them when it comes to anything vaguely religious. That, incidentally, is what sparked my incredulity so much about the recent spate of posts on Dawkins; I was caught utterly by surprise when certain otherwise intelligent atheists, defending Dawkins against critiques like Eagleton's (which claimed that Dawkins is ill-informed about the subject he's discussing in his book), actually responded by denying that atheists had to be informed about religious views in order to refute them. It must be admitted that that's an audacious, although not very truth-conducive, strategy. I would have expected the safer strategy of actually trying to show that Dawkins knew what he was talking about; the attempt to argue, as some did, that it's OK that he doesn't know what he's talking about is a bit startling, both in what it concedes and in what it concludes.

* Chris has had some fascinating recent posts on time-space metaphor research. See Implicit Agency in Time-Space Metaphors and Space-Time Metaphors in Nonlinguistic Contexts.

* The death of a stereotype? Maybe the Puritans are next.

* Step One: I discover that Malebranche's Dialogues on Metaphysics and on Religion is available online in the 1923 Ginsberg translation. Step Two: I rejoice in the goodness of digital libraries. Step Three: Now none of you have any excuse for not having read it.

* It is a sign of Bill Watterson's excellence that the overwhelming reaction to this is horrified revulsion. (ht: Crooked Timber)

* Don't forget to make your nominations for the Cliopatria Awards.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Knowing Different Things at Different Times

At "Alanyzer" Alan Rhoda considers the following argument:

The Immutability-vs.-Omniscience Argument

1. If God exists, then he is immutable.
2. If God exists, then he omniscient.
3. An immutable being cannot know different things at different times.
4. To be omniscient, a being would need to know propositions about the past and future.
5. But what is past and what is future keep changing.
6. Thus, in order to know propositions about the past and future, a being would need to know different things at different times (from 5).
7. It follows that, to be omniscient, a being would need to know different things at different times (from 4 and 6).
8. Hence, it is impossible for an immutable being to be omniscient (from 3 and 7).
9. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist (from 1, 2, and 8).

I think he went far too quickly on premise 3:

Premise 3 is beyond question because it simply draws out what's implied by the notion of immutability.

But premise 3 is not beyond question, because it's obviously ambiguous between two different readings:

3a. An immutable being cannot know things that are different at different times.
3b. An immutable being cannot know things in such a way as to know them differently at different times.

The difference it makes is considerable. 3a is much less plausible than 3b, and while many people who believe that God is immutable accept 3b, most people do not accept who believe that God is immutable do not accept 3a. If we accept 4, we are talking about knowing things that are at different times, given 5. Thus, 7 has to be understood as saying:

7a. To be omniscient, a being would need to know things that are different at different times.

Which, combined with 3a gives us the result that an immutable being cannot be omniscient; but combined with 3b gives us nothing, unless we sneak in a few hidden premises. If, on the other hand, we understand 7 as:

7b. To be omniscient, a being would need to know things in such a way as to know them differently at different times,

this does not follow from the premises on which it is supposed to be based, at least without supplementary principles.

So the argument is heavily ambiguous, and there is a lot to question about premise 3. And note that none of this requires rejecting 5; even if 5 is true, the ambiguity is a problem for 3 and 7. The problem, in fact, is a common one involving an illegitimate shift between knowing {x which has property p} and {knowing x} which has property p, i.e., between the modality of the object known and the modality of the knowing of it. For some reason people are especially inclined to do this with temporal modalities, since one runs into this illicit shift again and again in arguments against the claim that some things (e.g., God) are timeless.

Thoughts on Voting

I put these up two years ago. I still think they are right; and they still seem to be controversial; and I still cannot say with any definiteness that I've met anyone other than myself who holds them all. But it's still the case that everyone should.

1. Voters do not compete with each other in the act of voting itself. An election is not a competition among voters but among candidates and parties. This, incidentally, has implications for discussions of 'voting power' or the 'worth of a vote', which often make the false assumption that voters are in competition.

2. The self-governance of a people is only possible if it goes with the self-obedience of the people. In elections this means that to vote is to accept that you might be outvoted, and not to vote is to accept that others will decide the outcome.

3. The power of a vote consists entirely in its potential for contributing to a collection of votes such that, if they meet the standards in place, will determine the outcome. So long as the standards are not rigged so as to discount votes on the basis of the voter's intention, there is no way to diminish or augment the power of a vote cast. One's voting power is not diminished by an increase in the likelihood of being outvoted. One's voting power is not augmented by an increase in the likelihood of outvoting others. To think it is -- is to misunderstand the point and nature of voting. The power of a vote is not measured by how near or far away from holding sole authority you are; the power of a vote is either there, or it is not. To put it another way: the power of one vote vote.

4. Votes in different elections are noncommensurable. One practical application of that is that a vote in a different state (in the U.S.) or a different riding (in Canada) cannot be given a common measure according to which they may be compared; this means another common assumption in discussions of 'voting power' is false.

5. In elections there is no such thing as a deciding vote; there can only be a deciding vote if there is a tie-breaking authority capable of voting after the results are in. There is therefore no such thing as "the vote that makes the difference". Every vote makes the same difference: one vote in the election in which it is cast.

6. Voters should be allowed to determine through their own deliberation whether they are competent to vote, and how voting stands in their own priorities. This means that there should not be mandatory voting. And yes, important as voting is, it can be perfectly reasonable to have higher priorities than voting.

7. Sometimes, from a personal perspective, the most important vote is the one in which you will certainly be outvoted. It can be most important in the sense that sometimes just putting down a vote for what you see as the right side is morally a very high priority. A matter of principle, as we say. Sometimes the most important moral consideration in a vote is that this position should not go without anyone voting for it, or this candidate should not go without anyone voting for them.

8. There is no such thing as a mandate from the people. Votes are just not that precise. The only thing one gets from the people is votes, and that could be for any number of reasons: your position on x, your position on y, your not having a position on z, the color of your hair, not sounding like a Yankee, not being your opponent. In fact, all of them are probably in play. Not looking like a doofus is not an electoral mandate; but there are probably more than a few politicians who have easily won on that ground alone.

Malebranche Quote for the Day

It seems to me that the greatest good that I presently possess is my Reason.

Méditations chrétiennes et métaphysiques I.1

Philosophers' Carnival XXXVIII

It's a fast-paced day at the playground for Philosophers' Carnival #38 at "The Splintered Mind."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Scattershot and Worthy Causes

This argument (ht: Cognitive Daily) is next door to incoherent:

Even the way we choose to dole out cash betrays our true motives. Someone with $100 to give away and a world full of worthy causes should choose the worthiest and write the check. We don't. Instead, we give $5 for a LiveStrong bracelet, pledge $25 to Save the Children, another $25 to AIDS research, and so on. But $25 is not going to find a cure for AIDS. Either it's the best cause and deserves the entire $100, or it's not and some other cause does. The scattershot approach simply proves that we're more interested in feeling good than doing good.

Many people are unconvinced by this argument—which I owe to Steven Landsburg—because they are used to diversifying their financial investments (a bit of Google stock and a bit of Exxon, too) and varying their choices (vanilla ice cream AND bananas). But those instincts are selfish: They are not intended to benefit both Google and Exxon, nor both the ice-cream company and the banana growers. With charity, the logic is different, and a truly selfless donor would bite the bullet and put his entire donation behind one cause. That we find that so hard to imagine is just one more indication of how hard it is for us to think ourselves into a truly selfless view of the world.

But there is no sense in which "Someone with $100 to give away and a world full of worthy causes should choose the worthiest and write the check." For one thing, there is no clear sense in which there is a 'worthiest cause'. How would one go about determining that?

For another, if the causes are 'worthy causes', it follows -- quite directly -- that they are worth giving money to, end of story. The fact that one is worthier than another means nothing; if the cause deemed less worthy is still worthy enough to give money to, there is no failure in morality, altruism, or anything else in giving money to it. It's satisficing, not maximizing; and by the very meanings of the terms there is nothing that can be done to try to force the claim that people should only maximize. Worthy is worthy, and there's an end on it.

And the argument doesn't get any better from there. "But $25 is not going to find a cure for AIDS." Neither will $100, so that's a red herring; and since we've already established that we have a whole world full of worthy causes, each of which is worthy of whatever you are able to give, we can't say that you should only give to the worthiest cause; the worthiest cause is most worthy of your money, but that doesn't make any of the others unworthy of it. Think of it in a different light. Person A needs, direly needs, $1000. Person B needs, direly needs, $10000. Clearly Person B's needs are much more severe than Person A's. That may influence your decision to give them money. But the fact that Person B needs the money more than Person A does not mean that Person A does not need the money. To put it in sloganish form, B's needing the money more does not make A need the money less. That is, the fact that B's need is greater does not mean that A's need is not genuine. And it is the same with worthiness of causes. Indeed, in charity worthiness is often direclty a matter of need; all other things being equal, the needier cause is the worthier one. (Needless to say, things often are not quite equal; there are other factors, like efficiency, feasibility, etc., that play an important role. But considering these would only show up the above argument as even more silly, so there's no need to consider them here.)

Finally, the argument says, "The scattershot approach simply proves that we're more interested in feeling good than doing good." It scarcely need be said that nothing in the argument justifies this claim; indeed, nothing is put forward to justify it at all. In the Landsburg article mentioned, Landsburg argues the matter in this way:

You give to charity because you care about the recipients, or you give to charity because it makes you feel good to give. If you care about the recipients, you'll pick the worthiest and "bullet" (concentrate) your efforts. But if you care about your own sense of satisfaction, you'll enjoy pointing to 10 different charities and saying, "I gave to all those!"

But, of course, the fact that I care about the recipients of Charity A doesn't mean I don't care about the recipients of Charity B. Landsburg's error is to assume that my giving to Charity A implies an evaluation of Charity A as worthiest charity, simpliciter; whereas my giving to Charity A implies nothing more than an evaluation that Charity A is a worthy charity. It may in some cases imply that, by some standard of worthiness, Charity A is the worthiest charity at that time according to that standard; but even if we assume this, it does not follow that it will be the worthiest charity at another time according to the standard, nor does it follow that I always use the same standard.

Further, Landsburg's argument involves a false dichotomy between feeling good and caring. Let's take a very obvious case. Suppose you are touring a third world country, and you come across a starving child. And as that starving child looks up at you with his big, starving eyes, you know that nothing would give you greater joy at that moment than to buy that child a meal -- you'd forgo a meal yourself, and much, much more, for it. Now, if Landsburg's dichotomy were legitimate, you have shown yourself not to be a caring person, because you clearly did it in order to feel good about feeding a starving child. But, of course, another way to interpret it would be to say that your feeling good about that action is due to the fact that you care about that child. Let's take a less drastic example closer to home. A single parent takes care of his or her child; he or she also works. Now, if Landsburg is right, this is proof that he or she does not care for the child; for obviously if the parent cared, the parent would 'concentrate' every moment of time for the child. So it follows, according to Landsburg's argument, that the parent really only devotes time to the child because it causes good feelings, rather than because the parent cares for the child. And again, if Landsburg's argument were right, the parent, in going to work, is implicitly evaluating the work as more worthy of his or her time than the child. If you don't think that's parallel enough, make it a division of time between two children rather than between a child and work.

So the argument is nonsense through and through; it is an unrealistic and unreasonable argument. I do, in fact, agree, with part of the intended thrust of the argument, that at least a lot of people give to charity for selfish reasons. Indeed, I know it for a fact; I worked for a summer at André House of Arizona and saw it firsthand in (to name just one of many examples) volunteers who would throw fits if they were put in the kitchen washing dishes instead of on the line dishing out food. It certainly wasn't because the one was less essential to the ministry than the other; it was because they wanted the gratification. I think it's a fairly straightforward fact that a lot of people are like this -- perhaps it's even the case that all of us are like this much of the time. But the above line of reasoning is a horrible argument for this claim. Indeed, it is so bad that every step of it is faulty.

Nicolas at Alpha-Psy, by the way, has a very interesting argument against the above line of reasoning, arguing that justice or fairness may play a role here. I'm a bit skeptical of that (and don't think it's required to deny the suggestion of irrationality, as one can tell from the above argument), but it's an interesting idea, and a sense of fairness does come into play in all sorts of places where you might not originally expect it to be relevant.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Pierre Duhem Online

It's a sign I'm a bit slow, but I just realized that several of the articles in the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, which is online, are by none other than Pierre Duhem himself. The articles are:

History of Physics
Pierre de Maricourt
Jordanus de Nemore
Nicole Oresme
Albert of Saxony
Thierry of Freburg
Jean de Sax

This should have occurred to me before; after all, Duhem -- physicist, historian of science, philosopher of science, Catholic -- would have been the perfect person at the time to do articles like these. So there are several articles online on the history of science, particularly medieval science, by the greatest historian of science of the twentieth century. That's quite a nice thing to find out. I especially recommend the "History of Physics" article, which gives a Duhemian perspective on physics up to late nineteenth century thermodynamics, in a very concise and readable form.

Duhem, of course, was a thermodynamicist, one of France's very best; his name is attached to the Gibbs-Duhem relation and the Clausius-Duhem inequality because he took the work of Gibbs and Clausius and made it more rigorous. He began working early on the history of mechanics, which led him to do groundbreaking research into the medieval roots of science. One of the mysteries of his career is why France's most brilliant mind in thermodynamics was assigned to a low-level teaching position at an insignificant school in the French school system, where he was isolated from the main work done at Paris and had few resources to work with. Stanley Jaki has argued, with some degree of plausibility, that it was all politics -- Duhem had embarrassed the wrong people, and they made sure to dampen his career as much as they could. Whatever the reason, Duhem's work in history of science and philosophy of science alone would be enough to earn him a place among the intellectual giants of the past few centuries.

You can also read his Physics of a Believer online, as well as excerpts from his masterpiece in philosophy of science (and here) and his masterpiece in history of science, thanks to Joseph Barrett. Readers of French can enjoy parts of Le système du monde at Gallica (scroll down to Duhem here for other parts).

[ADDED LATER: Additional online versions of Duhem's texts can be found in several formats here, thanks to Alain Blachair.]

Reformation Day Again

For some reason I was unable to read "Rebecca Writes" for about two weeks (every time I tried, the browser would crash), so I missed Rebecca's excellent post on Solus Christus and I missed reading, or even knowing about, the Reformation Day Symposium at "" Many interesting things there.

Every Good Thing Passes

Jonathan Wilson of "The Elfin Ethicist" is hanging up the blogging towel. I've had him on the blogroll since July 2004, and always enjoyed reading his work, so it's a sad thing. But I can understand the desire to have a clean break for graduate studies, and having a sense of priorities; not every sad thing is a bad thing. Every good thing passes; but every good thing passes that new good things may come along. All the best to Wilson in the coming years.

Since I haven't really had time to update my blogroll much, it's starting to look a bit savaged from all the excellent bloggers who are no longer blogging.

Three Poem Drafts

Nine Days by Nine

Upon the tree I hang nine days by nine;
I seek the truth that stays and outruns time,
I seek the high sublimity that overrules
The passing of the age, the wildest words
That overcome destruction and decay.
Upon the tree I hang beyond the years,
The pain upon my side and in my hands,
A hanged man on the gallows, swinging wide,
Caught up in bitter gales, swung side to side,
And on the tree of ages, forest-thick and dark,
The runes and riddles grow, unread by men,
The foundation-markings of the girded yards
That hold all things in heaven and on earth.
Upon the tree I hang nine days by nine,
Reading words in runes that, line by line,
Now step in endless march before my eyes,
Unveiling every secret, laying bare
The nature of the world that I with care
Unravel in the riddles with patience slow and wise
In writings rushing past, nine days by nine.


What is this I see, my God,
the presence all around me?
I lift my eyes to tangled thorns --
with bleat of ram and flash of horn
the gift has been provided;
a twilight ram, creation's cusp,
has grasped my hem in offering.
Satan caught him in the thorn,
the angel was his herald,
his hand is laid upon my hem
in gestures of creation.

Many Books

I am not quite so clearly dead
that you can roll me over,
nor am I yet a mouldered corpse
to rest beneath the clover.
My name still echoes in the minds
of people far and distant;
my life was not a leaping splash,
the breath of but an instant,
but hope outreaching to the skies
with prayered hands and dusty:
I worked to build the bounded book
that is not yet grown musty.
And though it be a simple thing,
and not a godlike glory,
I am not circled by a tomb,
no headstone marks my story.

Malebranche Quote for the Day

Care must be moderate the sensibility of our expressions in such a way as only to make the mind more attentive. Nothing is as beautiful as the truth, and we must not pretend to be able to make it more beautiful by painting it with sensible colors that are impermanent and have but passing charm.

The Search after Truth 6.1.3 (LO 417)