Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Links and Notes

* An excellent post on some false premises of theists and atheists at "Just Thomism"

* Via Michael Gilleland I came across Stonexus, the stonemason's magazine. Very cool. I think I've come across it before, but it's a worthwhile rediscovery.

* Aquinas is called the Common Doctor, or Angelic Doctor; Bonaventure the Seraphic Doctor; Scotus the Subtle Doctor. 'Doctor', of course, means 'teacher' in this context. But there are many more such titles. I found a list (in Esperanto, but still readable) here (scroll down to 'Doktor'). I knew that Suarez was the Doctor eximius, that Bacon was the Doctor mirabilis, that Lull was the Doctor illuminatus. I don't think I've come across some of the others, though. You can see others here, in English. I had forgotten that Ockham was called the Doctor invincibilis -- presumably, I would think, by his disciples.

* The Catholic Encyclopedia on Montes Pietatis, charitable lending institutions designed to protect the poor from usurers; montes pietatis were one of the interesting and controversial ideas of the Renaissance and early modern period, since they usually charged interest in order to support the institution, and this would traditionally be understood as usury. They often worked like modern pawnshops, although given their charitable purpose they were much more generous. Pawnshops today fairly typically charge a small amount of interest (regulated by law) and then a storage fees for the collateral; a lot of montes pietatis managed to survive anti-usury sentiment by making very clear that they were only charging the storage fees. Other montes pietatis managed to get away with charging low interest. One of the major advocates of montes pietatis was Bernardino da Feltre, who has since been beatified, who is, in fact, sometimes called Blessed Bernardino of the Pawnshops. Others involved with the montes pietatis have been canonized -- St. James of the Marches and St. Antonino of Florence are good examples. The institutions were explicitly discussed in the tenth session of the Fifth Lateran Council. The conclusion was that they "do not introduce any kind of evil or provide any incentive to sin if they receive, in addition to the capital, a moderate sum for their expenses and by way of compensation, provided it is intended exclusively to defray the expenses of those employed and of other things pertaining...to the upkeep of the organizations, and provided that no profit is made therefrom." If they do this, they are not to be condemned but praised. However, they would be more praiseworthy if completely gratuitous, paying for at least a good portion of expenses out of a fund set up by those who established them.

Unfortunately, the history of this otherwise excellent idea is clouded by the link between usury and Judaism in the late medieval mind; advocacy of montes pietatis as a way to support the poor was more than occasionally mixed together with advocacy of these institutions as a move against the Jews.

* Brogaard has a post on the history of the American Philosophical Association at "Lemmings".

* An interesting article on environmental aesthetics at the SEP.

* The Abbey of St. Gallen is creating a digital version of its library of medieval manuscripts. They have an interesting mix of things up so far. (Ht: Gypsy Scholar)

* Via this post at "A Thinking Reed" I learned of Polyface Farm, which looks like an interesting project.

* I really like the readings Nathanael has selected for his Long Nineteenth Century course.

* An interesting and well-thought-out post by John Armstrong on Gnosticism vs. Empiricism in modern American life, at "The Unapologetic Mathematician." My only major quibble is with the phrase "the machine of the scientific method", which I think is misleading (I think there is no such thing as 'the scientific method', and certainly not one that is suitable for a machine metaphor; rather, there are many scientific methods that are well-suited to many different scientific tasks).

* Through a casual mention of it at "The n-Category Café" I discovered that G.H. Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology is online (PDF). This is an awesome little book, one that argues that mathematics is more than merely useful; early on he notes that everyone accepts without question that mathematics is useful, but points out that this is a very unsatisfactory justification, since it doesn't really justify mathematics as mathematicians actually do it. So he sets out to give a mathematician's defense of (his own doing of) mathematics. It also has this great anecdote:

I can remember Bertrand Russell telling me of a horrible dream. He was in the top floor of the University Library, about A.D. 2100 . A library assistant was going round the shelves carrying an enormous bucket, taking down books, glancing at them, restoring them to the shelves or dumping them into the bucket. At last he came to three large volumes which Russell could recognize as the last surviving copy of Principia Mathematica. He took down one of the volumes, turned over a few pages, seemed puzzled for a moment by the curious symbolism, closed the volume, balanced it in his hand and hesitated....

* Lawrence Solum's paper, Natural Justice, is well worth reading.

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