Monday, August 06, 2007

More Notes and Links

* Enigman hosts the 51st Philosophers' Carnival. It's a math/science/logic edition, and a very good one at that. I liked the post and discussion on proving that 1 + 1 = 2 at "Philosophy Sucks!"; "Good Math,Bad Math" on space-filling curves. The defense of Deleuze at "Sporting Thoughts" is also worth reading. My post on Duhem's view of mathematical generalization
is also there.

* Patrick Bahls keeps track of the geographical location of submitters to the Pluggers and the They'll Do It Every Time comic strips. Pluggers and TDIET are strips belonging to the same basic genre that exhibit widely different forms of American life: Pluggers depicts a hard-working, very simple, down-to-earth, almost rustic America, while TDIET depicts a suburban-to-urban, middle-class, almost Eisenhower-era America, so it's interesting, although not wholly surprising, what he finds. One of the interesting differences between the strips that has to be considered, though, is that the idea behind Pluggers is that of people poking fun at themselves (if not always themselves directly, then nonetheless at the sort of people they are), and in particular at the completely makeshift character of their lives; whereas TDIET is premised on poking fun at other people, in particular at their exasperating inconsistencies. So this could have some effect on the sort of submitter each gets -- at least, it's something in addition to the type of life depicted that the data alone can't rule out as a possible influence on the sort of patterns in geographical location Bahls notes. For instance, the jokes found in TDIET often involve the irrational inconsistencies of neighbors or co-workers, but of a sort that shows up when you get to know them over long periods of time; you can find such scenarios in rural areas and small towns, of course, but you might be more likely to get them in suburbs and cities, where exposure to neighbors and co-workers in this way may be less avoidable. (HT: CC)

* Camille Paglia, contemplating the tensions between religion and art, argues for the importance of religion to a renaissance of art, both as catalyst and as impediment. On the catalyst side one thinks of Makoto Fujiumura and the International Arts Movement, or the Asian Christian Art Association.

* Cyber Hymnal has some curious tidbits on their Hymn Trivia page, including two popular Christian hymns written by non-Christians, hymns in movies that were nominated for Academy Awards, a hymn that was inspired by a murder (fittingly, a translation of Dies Irae), hymns that made their first appearances in novel (including the very popular "Jesus Loves Me"), and more.

* A letter in 1997 from then Prime Minister Tony Blair to Isaiah Berlin. (ht: virtual philosopher)

* Jane Austen is apparently a good source of dating advice for girls.

* Scott Carson has a good post discussing some of the religious criticisms of the Harry Potter books.

One interesting issue that always arises as a tangent to this sort of discussion, and that of my recent post on Rowling vs. Pullman, is how durable these works are as fiction. It's usually put in terms of comparison with Narnia and The Hobbit, but, of course, one should really compare them with the great nineteenth-century children's works: The Secret Garden, The Water Babies, the Curdie books, etc. And I think it's very unclear. We have excellent reason to think the Narnia books will still be read a hundred years from now. There are a great many things that could happen between now and then, but they have everything in their favor: they are short, simple, profound, stylistically well-written, focused on timeless themes, and popular. The Harry Potter series has a few things going for it: it is popular, and popularity is a factor for durability because it finds more of the people who would be likely to keep reading it, and that is what durability is for literature. But popularity just means the book is finding people; it is the book itself that has to keep them reading. It has some good passages, but it is very inconsistent in style. It has a great many allusions to contemporary culture, which will become less comprehensible over time. It is also very long. The chief strength of the books is the overarching plot: we do not see Rowling at her best in the individual books but in the whole story, beautifully constructed, that binds them together. Harry Potter really is a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. But is this enough? I'm inclined to think not. Instead, what will likely happen is that people in general will stop reading it -- except, of course, for the same sort of people who still read, say, Charlotte Yonge's children's stories and write dissertations on them. Much the same could be said of Pullman. He has a better and more consistent literary style than Rowling, which is a plus, but his overall story is so inconsisently crafted it sometimes borders on silly. His Dark Materials is also, let us face it, a series of children's books that consists in moralizing at great length about sex, and it takes a very particular sort of society even to tolerate that, however well-written it may be. It's possible that it will endure; but more likely that it will not.

* The discussion on politics and quotation continues at ProgressiveHistorians.

* The Philosophical Midwife argues against the Catholic stance on birth control. It's an interesting argument, but I think it is weak on two points: (1) Although many Catholic theorists appeal to natural law alone on the issue of contraception, I think this is largely laziness, of which there is a great deal among Catholic intellectuals; the official Catholic position, going back to Humanae Vitae is really based on five points: a theology of marriage, a single vague sex-oriented point of natural law (namely, that sex has a moral connection with procreation given the constitution of human nature) along with the very general natural-law precepts relevant to virtue in general, reverence for the whole natural functioning of the human organism, what might be called a virtue-theoretical account of familial love (both between spouses and between parents and children) as part of human civilization, and the distinctively Catholic function of marriage as a source of natural growth for the Church. It's the combination of these that makes the Catholic rejection of contraception so intense; natural law only fulfills the function of laying down a general species-level guideline. To that extent the Philosophical Midwife is right, but the argument does not hit its target. (2) It is radically implausible to say that copulation is intrinsically the marriage-constituting act; this is a view of marriage that is, to say the least, rare, and needs a rather robust defense. (That this is needed, it should be said, is explicitly recognized; I merely note it to emphasize how serious a need it is.)

* A. C. Grayling discusses atheism in a recent Philosophy Bites podcast. It's actually quite good; he avoids the tendency he has had in some of his more recent columns to make exaggerated and rationally insupportable claims, and thus lays out in a reasonable, straightforward way a description of atheism. The response to the morality and atheism question was seriously inadequate, but perhaps not more inadequate than one usually finds among atheists, who tend never to have learned much from the range of possible positions on this question beyond the most easily caricatured versions of divine command theory; and it can be regarded as simply identifying one basic reference-point for what is actually a very complicated question.

ADDED LATER:

* The July Patristics Carnival is up at "hyperekperissou". My post on Cyril and the Victorians was included.

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