Saturday, January 06, 2007

Some Selected Poem Re-Drafts

Some more recent revisions of poem's I've previously posted in older recensions. I've posted them again because I think they are among my better ones. Let me know what you think. I'll probably select out a few more in a few days.

The Bacchae

When the god of wine and revel
made dizzy the city's prince,
the omens darkly muttered
with a strange malevolence.

But the king kept to his folly;
he was slain by the godly bull
and carried home in his mother's arms.
Amen: the gods are cruel.

You are proud in your ways, O mortals!
Better it is to mourn
than to march through mocking streets
to where the beasts are torn.

You are vain with the vain cosmetics
by which you hide your soul;
you boast of your civic order,
but destruction is your goal.

You speak the name of Justice?
But Justice walks with a sword
to slit the throats of mortals
with a fate no charm can ward.

When your life is over --
when we see the path you've trod --
we will see not boasted glory,
but the mocking of the god.


The sun is not a ball of fire
but the sum of one desire:
to lure; and thus must it appear
to thoughtless eyes a burning sphere.
But all this rolling globe of light
is more than what appears to sight;
less like a flame, more like a word
in which the thought and deed are blurred
it rolls, and in a single thought
all the paths of light are caught
and bent around it like a sea
extending to infinity;
it speaks, commanding: Come to me.

Some have thought the earth to fly
like a droplet in the sky;
a little water, a bit of earth,
a thing like nothing in its worth.
But they who ponder on the skies
study better, grow more wise,
and know: each star in its course
is subject to its endless force;
all the glories near and far
are affected where they are
by whispers born of ecstasy.
The whispers say: Come to me.

The stars are moved; each like a thought
has searched the sky and gently sought
the paths and ways by which things flow;
each is a word to those who know,
a gesture to each thing and kind
that the seeking soul can find;
each calls out to eternity,
each ripples out upon the sea,
each beckons, saying: Come to me.

A Tiger Pouncing

The light is a tiger pouncing,
a panther pawing, a lion roaring;
like waterfalls in their pouring,
its color thunders, unrelenting.

Rippling in the shadows
like a rumor in the city,
it leaps like glory's coming
in the rainbows of the flood.

The light on the wall is flowing,
shadow-playing, darkness-mousing,
leaping and lightly purring
as it panthers in my room.

A Saturday Morning Walk

Saturday I wandered far,
seeking explorations,
questing for I knew not what
in the morning promise of rain.

A good woman gave me two peaches,
omens of immortality;
they were sticky in my hands,
the juice running freely,
rich with sweetness,
a hope preserved
for the seed and for our taste.

The night before had been dark,
sheltered from moon and star;
but the darkness was a rolling darkness,
a seminary of life and hope,
like the darkness of the earth
feeding the growing root.

My memory held this all;
my thoughts looked out on the world,
seeing that it was good;
my will hoped for the glory
and the rising of the sun.

In such moments we are God-like,
more than words on water;
on such mornings we live
as whispers sent down from heaven
and writ with letters.


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.

Cliopatria Awards

The list of winners for the 2006 Cliopatria Awards are up. Go and see who won, then congratulate the winners.

Nothing Much

Today is not only Epiphany; it is also a memorial for Brother Andre Bessette, C.S.C. Since I attended a C.S.C. college for my undergrad, I wanted to say something briefly about him.

The Congregation of the Holy Cross had no idea what to do with Alfred Bessette, later Brother Andre Bessette, when he first came to them. He seemed pretty much useless to them. He had continual stomach problems which had made it impossible for him to hold down a job because it made it difficult for him to do anything but the very simplest of tasks -- and even those not always consistently. Even worse, the Holy Cross brothers are all teachers, and the Congregation is a teaching society; but, despite being 25 years old, the young man could not read or write. The only thing going for him was a note from his pastor, telling the brothers that he was sending them a saint. He was nothing much.

To their credit, they didn't turn him down right away; they took him in, in the hopes that he could contribute more than it seemed he could. They were utterly disappointed in this hope. He was asked to leave, and it was only at the request of a visiting bishop that he was allowed to stay at all. He took his vows, and, not knowing what else to do with him, they made him a porter for a small school -- basically what we would call an elementary school for boys -- and there he stayed, answering the door, delivering mail, and little things like that, e.g., giving haircuts to the boys and cleaning the floors. He did nothing much.

Then one day, out of the blue, Brother Andre asked the Archbishop of Montreal if he could build a chapel dedicated to St. Joseph on a mountain near the school. The Archbishop, no doubt startled by this request, replied that it wasn't possible to go into debt; Brother Andre could build what he could find the money to pay for.

What he built was nothing much; from collecting nickels and dimes Brother Andre managed to scrape enough together to build a crude wooden shed to serve as a sort of shrine. Scarcely more than a box. Brother Andre continued collecting, and later went back to the Archbishop to ask for permission to continue building. The Archbishop, at this point a bit wary that the man might be crazy, asked if he were building the chapel because he saw visions of St. Joseph. Brother Andre assured him that he was only building it because of his devotion to St. Joseph, so the Archbishop gave him permission to continue, but again on the condition that he only build what he could pay for. Slowly pilgrims began to come to the chapel to pray.

He never saw the basilica of St. Joseph finished, although he managed to accomplish a great deal of it in his lifetime. The ultimate result of his efforts was the Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal. It is, it must be said, nothing more than a place for prayer, as churches generally are. In the grand scheme of things it is nothing much, even though it is the largest church in Canada. But it goes to show, perhaps, that with God nothing much is sometimes enough.


Today is the Epiphany, also called the Theophany, the Feast of the Apparition or Manifestation of God. So here's an old Epiphany carol that hits on a number of the major themes for this feast:

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worshipping God on high.

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and Sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

As Greg Wilbur notes, today is the day that goes with the sixth part of Bach's Christmas Oratorio (scroll down). (The music at the link, however, is a bit flat compared to that of the real Oratorio. Does anyone know of a better online excerpt?)

Currently Reading

Some interesting online papers and drafts I am currently reading:

* Elisabeth Camp's Poesis Without Metaphor (PDF) (ht: OPP)

* Mark Cowling's Marxism and Criminology: Three Puzzles

* Alexander Pruss's Ex nihilo nihil fit: Arguments New and Old for the Principle of Sufficient Reason

* Alexander Pruss's Some Recent Progress on the Cosmological Argument (PDF)

* Douglas Walton's Are Some Modus Ponens Arguments Deductively Invalid? (PDF)

* Douglas Walton's St. Anselm and the Logical Syntax of Agency (PDF)

* Ronna Burger's Self-Restraint and Virtue: Sages and Philosophers in Maimonides' Eight Chapters (PDF)

* Heidi M. Ravven's How Jewish Philosophy Could Help Standard Philosophical Ethics Out of its Dead End (PDF)

* Martin Yaffe's Interpreting Spinoza's Ethics as a 'System': Moses Mendelssohn's Morning Hours (PDF)

* Robert Innis's Royce and Religious Naturalism (PDF)

* Against Arguments from Reference (PDF) by Mallon, Machery, Nichols, and Stich

* Wayne Martin's Transcendental Philosophy and Atheism (PDF)

* Christopher P. Long's Toward a Dynamic Conception of ousia: Rethinking an Aristotelian Legacy (ht: Fido the Yak)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Eve of Epiphany

Today is the Vigil of Epiphany, which is perhaps the best name for a holy day ever. It is also called the Eve of Epiphany, Vigil of Theophany, and Eve of Theophany. It is also Twelfth Night, and was occasionally such a time of revel that Shakespeare wrote a play, also called What You Will, that has come to be known by that name. Those of you who aren't so much into revel should at least take a little time to enjoy the revel that is Illyria.

Another good thing to do this time of year is re-read Ben-Hur, in which the theme of Epiphany plays an integral role. The following is from the story of Melchior in Chapter IV:

"One night I walked by the shores of the lake, and spoke to the listening silence, 'When will God come and claim his own? Is there to be no redemption?' Suddenly a light began to glow tremulously out on the water; soon a star arose, and moved towards me, and stood overhead. The brightness stunned me. While I lay upon the ground, I heard a voice of infinite sweetness say, 'Thy love hath conquered. Blessed art thou, O son of India! The redemption is at hand. With two others, from far quarters of the earth, thou shalt see the Redeemer, and be a witness that he hath come. In the morning arise, and go meet them; and put all thy trust in the Spirit which shall guide thee.'"

Even the CofE Joined In

I loved this passage from a recent entry at "Bede's Journal":

Not only has Richard Dawkins finally persuaded the Church of England to defend Christianity (a task previously regarded as impossible by many Christians), he has even united many of traditional Christianity's opponents in castigating his book, The God Delusion.

The first part of the sentence is priceless. Bede notes John Cornwell's and H. Allen Orr's recent reviews, which join the growing pile.

I was amused recently by some discussion at Science Blogs that was started by this clever twist on the Emperor's New Clothes story by Myers at "Pharyngula"; it was enthusiastically taken up in a number of places. Of course, what they all conveniently left out is that the only people in the whole parade that have a broad consensus of intelligent people, atheist and theist alike, insisting that they are naked are Dawkins and his supporters.

The Sun Again

You are The Sun

Happiness, Content, Joy.

The meanings for the Sun are fairly simple and consistent.

Young, healthy, new, fresh. The brain is working, things that were muddled come clear, everything falls into place, and everything seems to go your way.

The Sun is ruled by the Sun, of course. This is the light that comes after the long dark night, Apollo to the Moon's Diana. A positive card, it promises you your day in the sun. Glory, gain, triumph, pleasure, truth, success. As the moon symbolized inspiration from the unconscious, from dreams, this card symbolizes discoveries made fully consciousness and wide awake. You have an understanding and enjoyment of science and math, beautifully constructed music, carefully reasoned philosophy. It is a card of intellect, clarity of mind, and feelings of youthful energy.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

If nothing else, I am consistent: I am always the Sun. See here for when I took a different quiz with the same result. (Ht: air pollution)

Epistemic Ought and Can

Carrie Jenkins has an interesting post at "Long Words Bother Me" on the question of whether epistemic 'ought' implies 'can', at least if 'can' is taken fairly robustly. She provides a recipe for arguments that it does not:

There's a recipe for creating counterexamples to 'ought' implies 'can' in the epistemic case which helps convince me of this. Take your favourite case of someone holding an irrational belief that she epistemically ought not to hold. (E.g. Carrie's believing at 5.40pm that aliens are invading the Earth despite there being absolutely no evidence to that effect.) Then make it so that the subject's holding that belief is beyond her control in your favourite sense. (E.g. Specify that Daniel has attached a brain-manipulating device to Carrie's head so that when he presses his remote control button at 5.40pm she will start believing that aliens are invading the Earth, despite having absolutely no evidence to that effect.) These will be cases where the subject epistemically ought to refrain from believing the proposition in question yet it's not the case that she can refrain from believing it.

I think it's actually rather plausible that there are epistemic 'oughts' that don't imply robust 'cans'; but I don't think the above recipe will yield any good arguments for it. My reason for thinking this is that we never identify an epistemic 'ought' independently of circumstances, but this is, effectively, what the recipe requires us to do -- identify an epistemic ought and then change the circumstances. This seems to me to be a sort of philosophical sleight-of-hand. I also worry about question-begging: The key question is whether the recipe generates coherent cases; but, given the way it is set up, it can only do so if ought and can are detachable in such a way that ought does not imply can. If there were some other way to show that the cases in question were coherent -- that changing circumstances does not change 'oughts' -- then it wouldn't be question-begging; but I don't see what such an other way could be.

UPDATE: In a useful clarificatory comment to a commenter making a similar objection, Jenkins responds by suggesting that epistemic oughts aren't, in fact, very context-sensitive, as can be seen by the fact that we hold stupid people to the same epistemic standards as (for instance) clever people who aren't thinking as they should. But I'm not convinced this is really true; we hold stupid people to the same standards only insofar as we think the difference between them and clever people is not enough to excuse. But if we really look at the sliding scale of IQ, I think it will be found that no one in their right mind holds people with an IQ of 60 to the same standards as people with an IQ of 130 except in the bare basics that they have in common.. In other words, we may hold A, who is a little slower than B, to the same standards as B; but no one can reasonably do so if the difference is drastic. And the difference created by the recipe is, in fact, drastic -- far more drastic, in fact, than the difference between someone with an IQ of 60 and someone with an IQ of 130.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Seventh Day of the Month

Various bloggers are doing things to mark the turning of the year; a number of them are following Richard's example of making a web of beliefs post; I'd do the same, except my blogging is so eclectic and unsystematic that I don't think it's feasible. Likewise, since this weblog is basically an online notebook, it doesn't make much sense to me to do a 'My Best Posts of 2006' post. Instead, I offer a mere sample: everything I blogged on the seventh day of every month of 2006. It does give some sense of this weblog for 2006.

January: On Hiatus

February: The Jyllandsposten Controversy
Malebranche Against Spontaneous Generation

March: Plain Michael Faraday
I Am Indeed a Tricky One

April: no post for the seventh

May: no post for the seventh

June: Whewell on Natural Classification
Typology and Natural Classification

July: Original Sin
Musing on Witherspoon
Fogelin's A Defense of Hume on Miracles
Cottingley Fairies

August: Feast and Afterfeast

September: False, False, False
The Plans of Burnaby

October: Sommers-Englebretsen Term Logic Part VIII

November: Knowing Different Things at Different Times
Thoughts on Voting
Malebranche Quote for the Day
Philosophers' Carnival XXXVIII

December: The Mysterious Rest of Us

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Complicity and Solidarity

I was considering what I might write about reconciliation for the upcoming Carnival of Citizens; but I quickly ran into a wall that I suspect is common with this topic -- try to speak of reconciliation as such, and you quickly start repeating truisms and vague generalities, and end up contributing nothing. So I decided instead to throw out some thoughts, half-formed, about complicity and solidarity; a topic that does, in fact, link up to the topic of reconciliation, even if only obliquely.

The usual question that arises when we talk about complicity in evil is, "In what evils are we really complicitous?" As it happens, I am universalist, or a near universalist, when it comes to complicity; I think that, as a matter of fact, there are few evils in which we do not tend to be complicitous. Of course, it makes it easy to answer the question in most cases -- we are really complicitous in most evils for which the question can arise at all. If we can seriously debate whether we are accomplices, it's usually a sign that we are. But it raises the complementary question: what do we do about our complicity in evil?

A distinction should perhaps be made between material complicity and formal complicity. Material complicity occurs when, given someone engaging in some wrongdoing, we make their wrongdoing possible through our association with them. Formal complicity occurs when through our association we make possible their wrongdoing in the very aspect in which their actions are wrong. It's a sharing in the very perversity of the action. Thus, if an antisemite insults a Jew, you and I are materially complicitous in the action; for instance, we allow the freedom of speech that makes possible the antisemite's wrongdoing. We become formally complicitous if we somehow share in the insult, for instance, by condoning it. This distinction between material and formal complicity is often not made; people tend to assume that the only complicity is formal complicity. The reason is not hard to find, I think; many cases of merely material complicity are not culpable, and we tend to assume that relationships that don't involve culpability involve no moral problem. Thus, we tend to assume our material complicity in the antisemite's action raises no moral problem; the moral problem only arises if we somehow directly share in its blameworthiness. It's clear, however, that this is an untenable assumption.

Not all moral problems have to do with culpability. Culpability, blame, usually suggests that we have lapsed in our responsibility; but there are moral problems that arise when we follow through on our responsibilities. A common problem of this type has to do with cases where we have to take responsibility for someone. If a family member misbehaves in an especially egregious way, for instance, we often can't simply shrug it off as not our fault. It doesn't always matter whether it is our fault; it is a moral problem we have to deal with. In a case like that of the antisemite, being innocent of antisemitism ourselves is not enough to resolve all moral problems. Our material complicity raises a serious moral problem that can't be shirked -- at least, shirking such problems is usually regarded by reflective people as itself blameworthy. At the very least, given that we basically allow the antisemite a space to insult Jews maliciously, we face the question: What are we to do about it? (I won't argue it here, but I would suggest that in fact all rights recognized by society work in exactly this way: By recognizing a right, we affirm that we will all accept responsibility for any problems following from the exercise of that right, because we regard the right as sufficiently important for such a serious commitment. Thus all recognition of rights raises the question of material complicity in the abuse of such rights.)

One of the tricky things about material complicity is that we often can't rid ourselves of it. There are very good reasons why we should allow the freedom of speech the antisemite is able to abuse. So we can't deal with the problem of material complicity by eliminating the right. Are we just stuck with an unresolvable problem? I don't think so. I think there's a natural resolution to (at least many) problems of material complicity, namely, developing forms of solidarity that counteract the problem in question. To return to the antisemite example, the most natural and obvious response to antisemitism is solidarity with the victims of antisemitism.

I say 'natural' but not 'easy'. In fact solidarity is always a very difficult thing to establish. You don't establish solidarity with Jews in the face of antisemitism by saying, or even shouting, "Attention, everyone; I am in solidarity with all Jews everywhere." Solidarity involves working together with someone; this is impossible without establishing some set of shared interests, projects, desiderata, etc. and acting accordingly. Thus the resolution of the problem of material complicity is a serious change in one's life. Such a change doesn't eliminate our material complicity in wrongdoing, or, at least, does not usually do so; it involves taking a stand against the wrongdoing itself, in union with those who are wronged. It involves speaking for the voiceless, defending the defenceless. All this is terribly difficult, and, more seriously, there is no way, by natural lights at least, to do it systematically. Every case is different, and we are complicitous in too many different things. To some degree we can prioritize. We are not equally complicitous in everything in which we are complicitous. Our associations with wrongdoing, even our innocent associations, are not all the same, and some raise problems more urgently than others. But even holding the solution to the problem of material complicity, we are still left with the problem. There are so many demands. The problem has a solution in principle; but practice is another story.

Of course, to some extent, all one can do in such a situation is one's best -- start with the obvious and work out from there. It remains, however, an issue worthy of further thought.

As for reconciliation, it seems clear to me that a great many of the problems involved in reconciliation are related to these problems of material complicity; however, reconciliation also has to deal with the thornier problems of formal complicity. How far we can take solidarity in dealing with those problems is, I think, a controversial question. But here, too, is a matter for further thought.

Two Poem Drafts


I was walking once,
a pain upon my side.
I wanted to return;
the way was blocked by pride.
The clouds were dark above,
with malice raining down.
The thunder's call was loud
and rumbled through the ground.

I was walking once,
a pain upon my side,
no hope before my face,
no chance to turn aside.
The hardness of the stone
bit deep into my feet;
the sky was raining down
upon an empty street.

I wish I had a way
to counteract the ache,
with so much on the line,
so much of life at stake.
But my knowledge is a void,
no remedy have I;
but to walk this lonely road
till sun sets and I die.

Where do you go, my friend,
weathered by the rain?
How do you see ahead
through the water and the pain?
I cannot see ahead
through the tears I cry;
but soon I will be dead
when sun sets and I die.

I was walking once;
I walked a lonely road.
The water splashed around,
its message all in code.
Some meaning must it have,
some language born of rain,
but nothing can I hear
through the whisper of the pain.

I was walking once
along an empty street.
The water had a chill
that numbed my weary feet.
All our hope was lost,
the futures all had died;
I just walked alone,
a pain upon my side.

The Box Pandora Broke

We were truly great once,
less in power than in hope;
we lost that hero's laurel
somewhere on this winding road.
And somewhere all our dreams
wandered off and disappeared,
never seen again
in this messy vale of tears.
Would that I were wise,
and knew the future's course;
then the box Pandora broke
might not hold such dreary curse.
Would that I were mighty
beyond the strength of steel;
then perhaps the sea-tide
could be turned by will.
But our wisdom is too worldly,
the knowing wink and sneer
of the lecher who for heartache
or for honor does not care;
our strength is but the mimic
of the bullies that we beat:
we made their brutish wishes
a project to complete.
Look in the child's eyes;
no wonder will you find.
They echo back the darkness
found in yours and mine.
Our hands are mighty clever;
we ape the lives of gods;
we distract ourselves from thinking
and rush on without pause.
We were truly great once;
what's past is not reclaimed.
We will lose ourselves in credit
that is drawn upon our name
until our debt mounts upward
to feed our dread and fear
and we fade away forever
from this messy vale of tears.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

They Also Serve

The following is my favorite poem by John Milton; for me it very powerfully conveys the difficulty and glory of the virtue of patience. The poet is blind, and feels that it turns all his talents useless; how can he serve God, being blind and apparently useless? But, as patience tells him, God does not need his work, and that there are many forms of service, and we are not called to them all. I think it's a lesson from which we all occasionally could benefit.

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
E're half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and waite.

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points...

...always depends on your means of travel. Just ask the engineers who had to transport the KATRIN Main Spectrometer from Deggendorf to Karlsruhe. The map halfway down the page says it all. Because there was no way to move the spectrometer directly across the 400 kilometers between the two places, they had to move it along the shortest path across which they could actually transport it: a route that was, more or less, 9000 kilometers long.

(Hat-tip to The Truth Makes Me Fret)

Basil and Nazianzen

Mike Aquilina has a list of worthwhile resources relevant to today's feast, that of Basil and Nazianzen. Basil is one of my favorite Church Fathers; although he seems to have been somewhat a pain to everyone at the time, being one of those people with a natural tendency to take charge even when there's no need for anyone to take charge.

Basil and Gregory were close friends; but in his eagerness to see his friend installed as a bishop near himself, Basil more or less forced Gregory to take up the insignificant see of Sasima near Caesarea, a fate to which he consigned his brother (also called Gregory, who was installed as bishop in insignificant Nyssa). Gregory found the post distasteful and resigned from it, and the two friends were not quite so close after that. Nazianzen, in particular, seemed to feel that Basil had used him to shore up his position in the area -- and, unfortunately, this may not be wholly untrue. But Basil has many sterling qualities. The following is from his theological masterpiece, On the Holy Spirit:

For we do not count by way of addition, gradually making increase from unity to multitude, and saying one, two, and three,—nor yet first, second, and third. For “I,” God, “am the first, and I am the last.” And hitherto we have never, even at the present time, heard of a second God. Worshipping as we do God of God, we both confess the distinction of the Persons, and at the same time abide by the Monarchy. We do not fritter away the theology in a divided plurality, because one Form, so to say, united in the invariableness of the Godhead, is beheld in God the Father, and in God the Only begotten. For the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son; since such as is the latter, such is the former, and such as is the former, such is the latter; and herein is the Unity. So that according to the distinction of Persons, both are one and one, and according to the community of Nature, one. How, then, if one and one, are there not two Gods? Because we speak of a king, and of the king’s image, and not of two kings. The majesty is not cloven in two, nor the glory divided. The sovereignty and authority over us is one, and so the doxology ascribed by us is not plural but one; because the honour paid to the image passes on to the prototype. Now what in the one case the image is by reason of imitation, that in the other case the Son is by nature; and as in works of art the likeness is dependent on the form, so in the case of the divine and uncompounded nature the union consists in the communion of the Godhead. One, moreover, is the Holy Spirit, and we speak of Him singly, conjoined as He is to the one Father through the one Son, and through Himself completing the adorable and blessed Trinity. Of Him the intimate relationship to the Father and the Son is sufficiently declared by the fact of His not being ranked in the plurality of the creation, but being spoken of singly; for he is not one of many, but One. For as there is one Father and one Son, so is there one Holy Ghost. He is consequently as far removed from created Nature as reason requires the singular to be removed from compound and plural bodies; and He is in such wise united to the Father and to the Son as unit has affinity with unit.


Muslims are coming to the end of Eid ul-Adha, also called the Sacrifice Feast, one of the great feasts of the Muslim year. It's interesting from a broader perspective because it is a memorial of what Jews and Christians call the Akedah or Binding of Isaac -- that is, when Abraham took his son to be sacrificed and was stopped by the angel of the Lord. The Koran is slightly ambiguous on whether it was Isaac or Ishmael who was to be sacrificed; it's a very common view among Muslims that it was Ishmael. Given to God as Corban (Qurbani), the son is returned and a sheep is sacrificed as a reminder of God's mercy; Muslims use the day to celebrate God's mercy, to re-dedicate themselves to Him, and to reflect on the preciousness of human life. The standard sort of tradition is to sacrifice an animal, but as this is sometimes impractical, some Muslims in First World nations give the money for their qurbani to poor Muslims abroad. The sheer importance of the occasion -- surpassed only by Eid ul-Fitr, which ends Ramadan -- underlines a point often made, that Islam is in some ways the most Abrahamic of the trio of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Mustafa Akyol has a discussion of conflicts between reformists and traditionalists over the holiday.

And, of course, the occasion naturally brings to mind Kierkegaard's complicated philosophical discussion of the Binding of Isaac in Fear and Trembling.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Ingenious

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Count-Palatine Brandon the Ingenious of Peevish St Victor
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

I saw the link to this on Anniina's blog, and knew I had to do it. I could very easily get used to being called Count-Palatine Brandon the Ingenious.


Therefore, because the holy virgin bore in the flesh God who was united hypostatically with the flesh, for that reason we call her mother of God, not as though the nature of the Word had the beginning of its existence from the flesh (for "the Word was in the beginning and the Word was God and the Word was with God", and he made the ages and is coeternal with the Father and craftsman of all things), but because, as we have said, he united to himself hypostatically the human and underwent a birth according to the flesh from her womb. This was not as though he needed necessarily or for his own nature a birth in time and in the last times of this age, but in order that he might bless the beginning of our existence, in order that seeing that it was a woman that had given birth to him united to the flesh, the curse against the whole race should thereafter cease which was consigning all our earthy bodies to death, and in order that the removal through him of the curse, "In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children", should demonstrate the truth of the words of the prophet: "Strong death swallowed them Up", and again, "God has wiped every tear away from all face". It is for this cause that we say that in his economy he blessed marriage and, when invited, went down to Cana in Galilee with his holy apostles.

Cyril of Alexandria to Nestorius, in a letter approved by the Council of Ephesus.

Rabbinical Acronyms

John Baez occasionally has little puzzle-questions up at "The n-Category Cafe"; in the most recent, he asked who Rambam was. Rambam, of course, is Maimonides; he's not to be confused with Ramban, who is Nahmanides. Both are to be distinguished from Ralbag, who is Gersonides. And if you don't know who Maimonides, Nahmanides, or Gersonides were, I will mock you mercilessly, as well as remind you of this post and this other post.

Virtually all the rabbinical acronyms you could want can be found at Rav-SIG.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Carnival of Citizens Call for Submissions

The third edition of the Carnival of Citizens will be held at Sportive Thoughts. The theme, Reconciliation, is discussed in the Call for Submissions; this theme is inclusive, which is to say that good posts not closely related to the theme may still be considered for the carnival. Please consider submitting something; the deadline is January 5th.

Science Fiction as Literature

At "The Volokh Conspiracy" Jonathan Adler asks whether there are any science fiction books that would qualify as literary masterpieces. As one commenter notes early on, a number of Jules Verne's novels are obvious cases of science fiction works that qualify as literary masterpieces. What I found interesting about the discussion, though, was that almost immediately the running favorite was Walter J. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz; because that was going to be my answer. It's exquisite, influential, and likely to last for a very long time. If you haven't read it, you should, particularly if you like science fiction.

I would also like to suggest that Olaf Stapledon's Sirius and Starmaker are both excellent attempts to craft literary masterpieces in science fiction format -- the former more successful than the latter -- even if you don't think they quite make it.

Out of Egypt

It has become common for Christians of a sort to say that family is not the meaning of the Christmas season; but of course, in at least some sense, it is: as today's feast bears witness. It's the Feast of the Holy Family. It's not one of the great solemnities of the universal Church, but it is an important celebration nonetheless. The entire human race is to some extent a family, however attenuated the ties may be; and the Word did not merely take on human form, he took on us, all of us, as his family. When we are born, we are not just born but familialized -- to use a horrible but needed neologism. We burst out into the world not merely as ourselves but as son or daughter, brother or sister, cousin or uncle or aunt. What is more, we burst out not merely as examples of our species but as members of the society of our species, and this is not a small part of being human. Christ did this with us, and the Holy Family is one of the most exquisite symbols of the Incarnation. When we say that God became man, or even that the Word became flesh, it's easy to lose ourselves in the apparent abstractness of it. We sometimes need to remind ourselves that part of the meaning of these phrases is that He became our distant cousin, by blood through Mary and by marriage through Joseph. That is solidarity in the strongest sense: that He threw in His lot with us as family.

While stuck at the airport yesterday, I read Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, and found it to be quite enjoyable. It's also a good book to review on the Feast of the Holy Family, because in great measure, this is a book about Christ as a member of the Holy Family, and all the complications that involved. I think it has a very good chance of taking its place with other fictional classics about the life of Christ, like Ben-Hur, The Robe, or The Silver Chalice. It is readable, engaging, and thoughtfully done.

An ongoing theme throughout the work is hiddenness. Christ is hidden from Herod in Egypt; His family works to hide his true nature from the world; and, perhaps more importantly, He is to some extent hidden from himself. As Rice puts it in her Author's Note:

I am certainly trying to be true to Paul when he said that Our Lord emptied himself for us, in that my character has emptied himself of his Divine awareness in order to suffer as a human being.

Thus the Christology of Christ the Lord is kenotic; however, as Rice insists, it is also thoroughly Chalcedonian. It's clear from the beginning that Jesus has what we might call, for lack of a better term, some vague inkling in the back of His mind of who He is, so it's not that He doesn't have His divine awareness in an absolute sense; Rice is very clear that He is God and Man from the start. Rather, the difficulty He struggles with is thinking this through given that He is human. At the beginning of the novel He has never thought it through (being only seven years old), and, when here and there He tries, He finds that He lacks the means of formulating it properly even to Himself. It's only as He interacts with His family and, bit by bit, uncovers the secrets of His past, which has been as much hidden from Him as it has been from the world. Because of this, the novel is in one sense perhaps even more about the Holy Family than it is about Christ; it is in one sense a story of the Holy Family from the perspective of Christ. Joseph, in particular, is well done, and this contributes greatly to the strength of the story, since Joseph plays a key role in Jesus's understanding of his place in the world; there is an impress of Joseph on Jesus's humanity, and it is artfully shown in some of the foreshadowing of later events in Christ's life.

There are some points about which one might quibble -- things one might have done differently; but I don't think any of them are important enough to bring to the fore. One of the interesting things about this work is that it is the expression of a sort of struggle, as all of Anne Rice's books have been. The Vampire books were all the expression of a struggle with being lost. This work is the beginning of her struggle with being found. The first is the struggle of a wanderer lost in a savage garden; the latter is the struggle of an athlete striving to run the good race. She is not wrong in saying that her life has led to this book; and if one's life is to lead to a book, this is a good one for it to be.

Of My Recent Travels

As you might have guessed, I have returned from the APA Eastern in Washington. (For non-philosophers, it might be worthwhile to point out explicitly that, unlike most major academic associations, the American Philosophical Association does not have a major meeting; it just has three regional meetings, of which the Eastern is the largest.) I flew up without any hitch on Thursday. I didn't have much maneuvering to do while in D.C., because I managed by good luck to get a reasonably good deal at the Marriott Wardman Park, where the meeting was held. I did have a bit of surprise on Thursday night, when I got a message from the front desk saying that they needed another method of payment because my credit card had been declined. I freaked out for a few minutes, then did some investigation, and found that I had already paid for the hotel room -- the reason I didn't have enough room on my card to pay for the room for the two nights I was there was that I had already paid for it. It's just that I had found the room through, and so I had paid them for the room. When this happens, the hotel just puts in the booking number and charges the room to their account; but when I had checked in the number hadn't been saved, or input properly, or something, so they didn't have it. I had given them my credit card number for incidental charges, so in going over the accounts they had tried to charge the card for the room. So it was a very good thing the charge was declined; if it had been accepted, there would have been an insane mess trying to clear the matter up, particularly since I wouldn't have found out about it until the next time I checked my balance. As it was, I just talked to the front desk, and we worked it out fairly easily.

Everything went well while I was there. I met Joe Ulatowski for coffee; not only was he taller than I expected, he had a much more All-American look than I usually associate with action theory geeks! We had an excellent discussion; I'm glad we were able to meet up, and things like this, even if nothing else, are an abundantly sufficient justification for academics to blog. In addition to my interviews, I tiptoed into a Leibniz Society meeting to listen to a paper by Ursula Goldenbaum. I didn't actually expect to enjoy it, since the question occasioning the paper, a recent wave of reinterpretation of Leibniz as being a 'soft rationalist', doesn't interest me very much, but the paper turned out to be quite excellent. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay around for the question period because my allergies had been going crazy and giving me a cough, which started up toward the end of the paper. (Quite literally half a dozen people I met over the time I was there mentioned, spontaneously, much the same problem, so there was something in the air -- either the hotel or the area was causing a problem.) I attended the reception on Friday night; it's rather amusing that pretty much everyone -- and I do mean pretty much everyone -- hates the receptions, but feel obliged to go and rub elbows, particularly when on the job market. In any case, I just went to catch up with a few friends and acquaintances I hadn't seen in a while, so, despite not liking receptions generally, I enjoyed myself.

Saturday at 4:30 a.m. the hotel fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate the building. (This is actually the second time that this sort of thing has happened to me while attending an event of this sort; I also had to go through it while staying at one of the UNLV dorms during a Hume Society meeting.) Apparently a couch somewhere had caught fire -- little flame but lots of smoke -- and we saw someone hauled off to the hospital in an ambulance for smoke inhalation. After about two hours or so I managed to get back to my room. Since my flight was at 11 am, and I like getting to the airport very early, I didn't see any point in going back to bed, so I just packed, nabbed a bit of breakfast, and checked out. The poor lady at the front desk asked, "Did you enjoy your stay, sir?" but halfway through the question her face contorted in the most pitiable way like she was expecting to be yelled at because of the fire alarm. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be surprised if someone had yelled at her already. In any case, I told her it had actually been quite good, and she seemed relieved.

So it was off to the airport; I arrived about two hours early, so I had breakfast again. You can never have too many breakfasts during travel. Then my flight was delayed two and a half hours. Since my layover in Houston was only two hours and twenty minutes, this seemed a serious problem; but my flight from Houston to Austin was delayed by four hours, so it turned out OK. I just arrived in Austin very late and very, very tired.

Thus it was an odd day, full of the unexpected. But, notably, it was not a bad one. Most people would consider it one, I suppose; but that's a bit silly.

Belloc on Becket

Friday was the feast of Thomas Becket, so I thought I'd put up this summary of the story by Hilaire Belloc.

The story is briefly this: A certain prelate, the Primate of England at the time, was asked to admit certain changes in the status of the clergy. The chief of these changes was that men attached to the Church in any way even by minor orders (not necessarily priests) should, if they committed a crime amenable to temporal jurisdiction, be brought before the ordinary courts of the country instead of left, as they had been for centuries, to their own courts. The claim was, at the time, a novel one. The Primate of England resisted that claim. In connection with his resistance he was subjected to many indignities, many things outrageous to custom were done against him; but the Pope doubted whether his resistance was justified, and he was finally reconciled with the civil authority. On returning to his See at Canterbury he became at once the author of further action and the subject of further outrage, and within a short time he was murdered by his exasperated enemies.

His death raised a vast public outcry. His monarch did penance for it. But all the points on which he had resisted were in practice waived by the Church at last. The civil state's original claim was in practice recognized at last. Today it appears to be plain justice. The chief of St. Thomas' contentions, for instance, that men in orders should be exempt from the ordinary courts, seems as remote as chain armors.


Now the Catholic approaching this wonderful story, when he has read all the original documents, understands it easily enough from within.

He sees that the stand made by St. Thomas was not very important in its special claims, and was probably (taken as an isolated action) unreasonable. But he soon gets to see, as he reads and as he notes the rapid and profound transformation of all civilization which was taking place in that generation, that St. Thomas was standing out for a principle, ill clothed in his particular plea, but absolute in its general appreciation: the freedom of the Church. He stood out in particular for what had been the concrete symbols of the Church's liberty in the past. The direction of his actions was everything, whether his symbol was well or ill chosen. The particular customs might go. But to challenge the new claims of civil power at that moment was to save the Church. A movement was afoot which might have then everywhere accomplished what was only accomplished in parts of Europe four hundred years later, to wit, a dissolution of the unity and the discipline of Christendom.

St. Thomas had to fight on ground chosen by the enemy; he fought and he resisted in the spirit dictated by the Church. He fought for no dogmatic point, he fought for no point to which the Church of five hundred years earlier or five hundred years later would have attached importance. He fought for things which were purely temporal arrangements; which had indeed until quite recently been the guarantee of the Church's liberty, but which were in his time upon the turn of becoming negligible. But the spirit in which he fought was a determination that the Church should never be controlled by the civil power, and the spirit against which he fought was the spirit which either openly or secretly believes the Church to be an institution merely human, and therefore naturally subjected, as an inferior, to the processes of the monarch's (or, worse, the politician's) law.

A Catholic sees, as he reads the story, that St. Thomas was obviously and necessarily to lose, in the long run, every concrete point on which he had stood out, and yet he saved throughout Europe the ideal thing for which he was standing out. A Catholic perceives clearly why the enthusiasm of the populace rose: the guarantee of the plain man's healthy and moral existence against the threat of the wealthy, and the power of the State--the self-government of the general Church, had been defended by a champion up to the point of death. For the morals enforced by the Church are the guarantee of freedom.

Europe and the Faith (Introduction) The emphasis, marked in bold above due to italic quotation, is Belloc's own.

Worthwhile Becket-related activities include reading The Parson's Tale, which is, of course, the sermon preached by the Parson to the pilgrims as they draw near to Becket's shrine at Canterbury, their intended destination. You can also read Edward Grim's eyewitness account of Becket's murder and, of course, if you can find it, T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral.