Friday, April 20, 2007

Notables and Linkables

* This is the sort of thing that makes YouTube worthwhile. Who would ever see and hear it if someone hadn't put it up?

* Andrew O'Hehir has a good review of Tolkien's The Children of Húrin, which Christopher Tolkien is bringing out. Being well into the territory of "'Silmarillion'-level geekery", I'm sure I'll enjoy it. The appeal of the story of Túrin Turambar, Master of Doom by doom mastered, is the appeal of tragedy: Túrin lives cursed in a world that lies under the shadow of the purpose of Morgoth, a world bending and distorting to Morgoth's will, and his very greatness destroys everyone around him.

* There has been considerable fuss over the U.S. Supreme Court's recent abortion decision. I confess that I can't see the basis for most of it. This is not a significant change in the Court's stance with regard to abortion. It has always affirmed the state's right to pass laws like this, with the restriction that it only do so where it had made adequate provision to protect the privacy and health of the mothers. It affirmed this in the "essential holding" of Roe v. Wade, it reaffirmed it when it reaffirmed Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and it has largely just reaffirmed it again. Indeed, the decision itself explicitly says this. The only difference is that in previous cases it has only had the opportunity to elaborate on the restriction; in this case it could elaborate on the state's interest. I suppose pro-lifers can be glad that the case shows that the Court really did mean its previous claims on the state's authority to pass laws on the subject (still subject to the restriction, it should be noted), but other than that I don't see the significance.

* The Maverick Philosopher has an interesting post on inference involving singular propositions. The problem arises with arguments like this:

1. Mars is red
2. Mars is a planet
3. Some planet is red

This is why Sommers's and Englebretsen's term logic admits of a 'wild-card' quantification for singular propositions. Thus, in SETL you'd handle that inference as follows:


±M in the first premise can cancel ±M in the second, leaving the conclusion, +P+R, some planet is red. Also, you can also get +R+P from the same premises: Something red is a planet. And that's right, which is one of the attractions of the SETL approach on this, despite occasional weaknesses elsewhere.

* The Roger Bacon entry is up at the SEP. I haven't had a chance to read it closely, but it looks reasonably thorough.

* I haven't finished reading the IEP article on James Beattie, either, but it has a lovely summary of Beattie's splendid attack on Hume's racism, which I just had to quote:

Beattie does not merely fulminate against Hume's racism with a self-serving show of conspicuous indignation; instead he rolls up his sleeves and adroitly dissects Hume's pro-racist arguments. (1) Beattie disputes Hume's basic assertions about the achievements (or alleged lack thereof) of non-European societies: “[W]e know that these assertions are not true ... The Africans and Americans are known to have many ingenious manufactures and arts among them, which even Europeans would find it no easy matter to imitate.” (III. ii). (2) Moreover, Beattie says, Hume´s reasoning is invalid. For even if Hume's claims were correct, his conclusion would not follow. “[O]ne may as well say of an infant, that he can never become a man, as of a nation now barbarous, that it never can be civilized.” (III. Ii). Should anyone doubt this, he need only recall that “[t]hat the inhabitants of Great Britain and France were as savage two thousand years ago, as those of Africa and America are at this day.” (III. ii). (3) Beattie is unimpressed by Hume's argument that “there are Negroe slaves dispersed all over Europe, of whom none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity.” Beattie insists that this claim is unwarranted as well as false. But even if it were true, it would not justify belief in Hume´s natural inferiority thesis, for “the condition of a slave is not favourable to genius of any kind.” (III. ii). (4) While Beattie does not downgrade European achievements in the arts and sciences, he denies that they can be used to prove that European nations or “races” are superior. He stresses the extent that the achievements on which European nations pride themselves were either discovered by accident or the inventions of a gifted few, to whom alone all credit must go.

* John Woods argues that Begging the question is not a fallacy (PDF; ht: OPP)

* I've linked to it more than once, but it really does need to be read by more philosophers, because it is exactly right: Water is Not H2O (PDF) by Michael Weisberg. [UPDATE: In the comments Chris points out Barbara Malt's Water Is Not H2O (PDF), which handles the same topic from a cognitive science angle.]

* On April 29th, Siris will be hosting the early modern edition of Carnivalesque. If, since the last early modern edition (February 24th) you have had a post on the period from 1450-1850, submit it. You can submit in three ways:

(1) E-mail me at branemrys[at]yahoo[dot]com
(2) Use the carnival address, carnivalesque[at]earlymodernweb[dot]org[dot]uk
(3) Use the Blog Carnival submission form

I should say that when I say 'April 29th' I mean that it will probably be on the evening of April 29th; since my time zone is currently UTC-5, this may be very early morning on the 30th for some of my readers.


* (20 April, late evening): I am utterly mystified by the character of British class prejudices. Tomatoes are too common?

* According to US Magazine, porn star Jenna Jameson is a "devout Catholic". Needless to say, there are a lot of Catholic bloggers who are not amused. I see nothing wrong with it, however. I have nothing but US Magazine's word for it, but I would not at all be surprised if she is. And I would humbly suggest to most of the Catholic bloggers fuming about it that they might consider whether they are not regularly in much the same boat as Jameson, with just different (and perhaps more serious, because more spiritual) sins in tow.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Four New Poem Drafts


Potent as a potion, the light of sun
pours into the eyes; the streams of light
flood expansive skies; the draught of dawn
solaces the soul; mere mortal men
become an angels' throng; it lifts the heart,
makes half-men whole, brings hale and health.

The birds in song make ode and anthem
to golden dawn; they greet the light
that bursts from living sun; they swim
in endless glory.


I bind a thought about me for the semblance of a shame;
in soft sackcloth and ashes made from the finest wood,
I wear a tattered garment for a neatly woven name --
virtue's best reward comes when repute is good.


How curious it is to feel poetry fall out
pulled by gravity toward the page
as if one felt the moon fall down
without ever touching ground

That's poetry, falling and falling more
so far down it must fall up
only to fall down again
splashing the page with lines of force
but never actually touching it

It Was Saturday, I Think

It was Saturday, I think
when the world ended

Big, pink, piling clouds
brought fiery crimson rain

I looked out my bedroom window
and hell was coming down

Raining on the grass
with great hailstones of fire

I looked at my alarm clock
while the voice of God was thundering

It was about five-thirty

I contemplated martyrdom
But just when back to bed

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Alexander Campbell on Interpretation

Alexander Campbell, from The Christian System:

V. We have written frequently and largely upon the principles and rules of interpretation, as of essential importance and utility in this generation of remaining mysticising and allegorizing. From our former writings, we shall here only extract the naked rules of interpretation, deduced from extensive and well digested premises; fully sustained, too, by the leading translators and most distinguished critics and commentators of the last and present century.

VI. Rule 1. On opening any book in the sacred Scriptures, consider first the historical circumstances of the book. These are the order, the title, the author, the date, the place, and the occasion of it.

The order in historical compositions is of much importance; as, for instance,--whether the first, second, or third, of the five books of Moses, or any other series of narrative, or even epistolary communication.

The title is also of importance, as it sometimes expresses the design of the book. As Exodus--the departure of Israel from Egypt; Acts of Apostles, &c.

The peculiarities of the author--the age in which he lived--his style--mode of expression, illustrate his writings. The date, place, and occasion of it, are obviously necessary to a right application of any thing in the book.

Rule 2. In examining the contents of any book, as respects precepts, promises, exhortations, &c., observe who it is that speaks, and under what dispensation he officiates. Is he a Patriarch, a Jew, or a Christian? Consider also the persons addressed; their prejudices, characters, and religious relations. Are they Jews or Christians--believers or unbelievers--approved or disapproved? This rule is essential to the proper application of every command, promise, threatening, admonition, or exhortation, in Old Testament or New.

Rule 3. To understand the meaning of what is commanded, promised, taught, &c., the same philological principles, deduced from the nature of language; or the same laws of [16] interpretation which are applied to the language of other books, are to be applied to the language of the Bible.

Rule 4. Common usage, which can only be ascertained by testimony, must always decide the meaning of any word which has but one signification;--but when words have according to testimony (i. e. the dictionary,) more meanings than one, whether literal or figurative, the scope, the context, or parallel passages must decide the meaning: for if common usage, the design of the writer, the context, and parallel passage fail, there can be no certainty in the interpretation of language.

Rule 5. In all tropical language, ascertain the point of resemblance, and judge of the nature of the trope, and its kind, from the point of resemblance.

Rule 6. In the interpretation of symbols, types, allegories, and parables, this rule is supreme: ascertain the point to be illustrated; for comparison is never to be extended beyond that point--to all the attributes, qualities, or circumstances of the symbol, type, allegory, or parable.

Rule 7. For the salutary and sanctifying intelligence of the Oracles of God, the following rule is indispensable--

We must come within the understanding distance.

There is a distance which is properly called the speaking distance, or the hearing distance; beyond which the voice reaches not, and the ear hears not. To hear another, we must come within that circle which the voice audibly fills.

So the rules are, basically:

(1) Consider the historical circumstances, which are (a) the order of composition; (b) the title; (c) the author (era, style, mode of expression); (d) the date and place of the work, and what occasioned it.

(2) Consider to whom the words are being attributed, and the dispensation or stage in which they are put forward.

(3) Use the same philological principles and rules of interpretation as used for other works.

(4) Prefer the common usage, but where words have more than one usage, consider scope, context, and parallels.

(5) For figurative language, determine in what way it is figurative.

(6) For symbols, etc., determine what point is being illustrated.

(7) Come within understanding distance through humility and teachableness.

Campbell chiefly has the Bible in mind, of course, but those are pretty good rules for interpreting any work.

Alexander Campbell was a major figure in the Restoration Movement, also called the 'Stone-Campbell Movement', a nineteenth-century religious movement in the United States that was characterized by an appeal to return to 'primitive Christianity'; this led to the founding of the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ. In practice, of course, this 'primitive Christianity' was an attempt to remove anything that seemed vaguely reminiscent of "the haughty and tyrannical See of Rome" in favor of a Bible-only approach. Needless to say, such an approach mandates a considerable interest in good interpretation of texts.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cowper on Wilberforce

Since Rebecca is posting hymns by Cowper, I thought I'd post a different sort of poem by Cowper, one that seems fitting given that this year so much is being devoted to remembering Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery.

Sonnet to William Wilberforce, Esq.

(April, 1792)

Thy country, Wilberforce, with just disdain,
Hears thee by cruel men and impious call'd
Fanatic, for thy zeal to loose the inthrall'd
From exile, public sale, and slavery's chain.
Friend of the poor, the wrong'd, the fetter-gall'd,
Fear not lest labour such as thine be vain.
Thou hast achieved a part ; hast gain'd the ear
Of Britain's senate to thy glorious cause ;
Hope smiles, joy springs, and, though cold caution pause
And weave delay, the better hour is near
That shall remunerate thy toils severe
By peace for Afric, fenced with British laws.
Enjoy what thou hast won, esteem and love
From all the just on earth, and all the blest above.

In the Neighborhood

A few somewhat rambling musings.

Something we often have to deal with in history of philosophy -- whether we put it in precisely these terms or not -- is what might be called (and sometimes is called) the 'neighborhood of an argument'. Due to difficulties in interpretation, we can't always be certain that an interpretation I is the accurate interpretation of argument A. What we can do is determine if it is in the neighborhood of A, insofar as the evidence indicates it.

Now, this notion of a neighborhood for an argument is an interesting one, because it's more difficult to have a clear notion of what it means than one might think. It's generally a notion of the 'I know it when I see it' variety. But there would be advantages to making it more clear than this, particularly with regard to objections, since one thing that would be very nice is to be able to determine accurately whether an objection problematizes all arguments in the neighborhood of A, or just A. If, for instance, there is something wrong with A, it would be nice to know if there is something in the neighborhood of A that is more promising, or if the flaw infects all arguments in the neighborhood.

One tempting way to characterize the neighborhood is by commonality. An argument consists of a conclusion, premises, and a form or procedure according to which the premises are transformed into the conclusion. Let's take the following argument:

All men are mortal.
All politicians are men.
Therefore, all politicians are mortal.

We might be inclined to identify several neighborhoods for the argument by identifying them according to premises, conclusions, and forms. This would yield the following neighborhoods:

[arguments using the premise 'All men are mortal']
[arguments using the premise 'All politicians are men']
[arguments concluding to 'All politicians are mortal']
[arguments using the premise 'All men are mortal' and concluding to 'All politicians are mortal']
[arguments using the premise 'All politicians are men' and concluding to 'All politicians are mortal']
[arguments of Barbara syllogistic form]
[Barbara arguments using the premise 'All men are mortal']
[Barbara arguments using the premise 'All politicians are men']
[Barbara arguments concluding to 'All politicians are mortal']
[Barbara arguments using the premise 'All men are mortal' and concluding to 'All politicians are mortal']
[Barbara arguments using the premise 'All politicians are men' and concluding to 'All politicians are mortal']
and so forth.

Some of these are very small neighborhoods (the last two listed, for instance, which seem to be neighborhoods of one) while others are extraordinarily large (there are infinitely many Barbara arguments). And clearly not every objection will affect all the neighborhoods in the same way. Suppose the objection is:

At least one man is not mortal.

This objection, if true, would refute all arguments in any neighborhood in which all the arguments have the premise 'All men are mortal'. (In the above list, four neighborhoods would be eliminated by this objection.) A formal reductio ad absurdum of the argument, however, if it existed, would refute all Barbara arguments; that's one way of determining valid and invalid figures. All this seems fairly basic.

But I wonder if the premises, conclusions, forms approach (PCF) is really quite adequate. Consider arguments that are in some sense 'instantiations' of other arguments. Aquinas's Fifth Way is not a design argument; if all design arguments were unsound, this would not entail that the Fifth Way is unsound. Likewise, if Aquinas's Fifth Way is sound, this does not entail that any design arguments are. Thus, the Fifth Way and design arguments are not in the neighborhood of each other in terms of form or conclusion; nor do the design arguments in the neighborhood of, say, Paley's argument, share any premises with the Fifth Way. But it seems wrong to say that the refutation or confirmation of Paley's argument is irrelevant to our evaluation of Thomas's Fifth Way. And the reason for this does not seem hard to find. The Fifth Way presents a particular view of the relation of final causes to intelligence. The sort of design suggested by Paley's argument is one particular way in which certain kinds of final causes might be related to intelligence. If it turns out that those final causes are indeed related to intelligence in that way, then even if the Fifth Way fails in general, it will succeed for the domain of causes considered by Paley's argument. Thus, to that extent, Paley's argument and the Fifth Way might be said to share a neighborhood without sharing premises, conclusions, or form. An objection that final causes can't possibly have any relation to intelligence would refute this whole neighborhood.

One might modify PCF so that not only premises, conclusions, and forms would identify neighborhoods but also generalizations of them. But there are also reasons to include premises, conclusions and forms that are different but, under certain conditions, can be translated into each other (or in one direction). And so forth. And thus we seem to be in a state in which just about any argument can be in the neighborhood of any other argument under some condition or other. This actually seems right to me, but one wonders if there is an easier way to handle neighborhoods, one that's more clear than our usual handling, but is itself more easily done in an orderly way.

For practical purposes we might think in this way. What we actually need when talking about neighborhoods is something to reason on that helps clarify arguments and their relations to each other. So let's take descriptions; to neologize I'll simply call them 'approximativements'. What we actually are interested in when we talk about the neighborhood of an argument (or a kind of argument, or a class of argument) is a feature, identifiable by description, that has further properties relevant to evaluating the arguments in that neighborhood. So, for instance, if someone wants to argue for the conclusion 'No design arguments for God's existence are good', he's really interested in the properties of arguments in the neighborhood established by the approximativement, argument using the concept of design and concluding with 'There is a God'; what he'll do is argue that the concept of design is not well-formed, or not relevant to the existence of God.

Thus we'll tend to prefer neighborhoods that have well-behaved approximativements. The approximativement argument that can be formulated with at least one word that uses the letter e might be said to describe a neighborhood of arguments, but not a natural one; it's not a neighborhood we can do much with, because the use of the letter e is not relevant to either the truth or the validity or the plausibility of an argument. This makes sense; what you want are neighborhoods that are capable of refutation as neighborhoods, and the means of refutation are fairly standard: showing the premise false, showing the conclusion false, showing the form to be invalid, showing that all premises of a certain type are false, etc. Thus the whole conclusion here is unsurprising; but it is interesting to this extent, that in talking about neighborhoods of arguments, or kinds of arguments, we are often very fuzzy about what the relevant approximativement is, and this leads us to make mistakes about whether a given objection that refutes argument A also refutes argument B -- i.e., refutes some neighborhood of arguments shared by A and B. Thus, it's a common mistake to assume that Kant in refuting a certain type of (broadly Cartesian) ontological argument for God's existence thereby also refuted Anselm's argument in the Proslogion. This, as people have noted, is an assumption rather difficult to prove, even if we grant that Kant rather refuted the Cartesian argument. And the reason is that Kant's refutation can only apply to Anselm's argument if Anselm's argument falls within a neighborhood described by a particular approximativement, namely, argument for God's existence in which a premise uses existence as a predicate. When the relative approximativement is made explicit, it naturally raises the question of whether Anselm's argument -- or, indeed, the Cartesian argument -- really does use existence as a predicate. And one way in which one might defend Anselm is to show that, in fact, his argument does not fall within the neighborhood characterized by the approximativement. In other words, we show that Anselm's argument is not described by the approximativement.

So we see that whenever we talk about the neighborhood of an argument, or about kinds of arguments, is a way of talking about the relevance of one argument to another; clarifying it would give us a better means of evaluating arguments both as objections and as defensible from objections. But the question is still how to do this; the above gives one way in which one might make what we are doing more explicit, but it doesn't really clarify what we are doing in the first place. It's possible, too, that this whole notion of a 'neighborhood' is ill-formed; that, for instance, there are several wholly separate things that are jumbled together in it, which are better kept apart. And I can think of arguments that would suggest this: for instance, one could argue that the notion of a 'neighborhood' for an argument actually arises from conflating two different domains, like logic and rhetoric, or form and function. I don't know if any of these arguments would work. It's possible also, and this seems plausible to me, that we actually need to distinguish more carefully between conceptual neighborhoods and argumentative neighborhoods. But, in any case, if we could give a clear account, or at least a clearer account, of 'neighborhood', it would be immensely valuable for evaluating arguments -- particularly arguments that are objections to other arguments. It would also be useful for discovery, since it's clear that (to take an example) if we learned that a purported objection against arguments with the conclusion 'There are x's' did not actually refute the entire neighborhood of that argument, then we would be better equipped for formulating an argument for x's that works (or a better refutation of such arguments). Right now it seems very hit and miss, with a lot of guesswork.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bleg: Augustine and Inherited Guilt

I'm curious about what the textual basis is for attributing the doctrine of inherited guilt to Augustine. It's easy enough, actually, to find passages in English translation that sound like it, but I find it difficult to match them with anything suggestive of inherited guilt in the Latin. For instance, the words usually translated as 'guilt' -- reus, reatus, obnoxia -- don't fit the English word 'guilt' very well. Obnoxia and its cognates seem to fit it poorly indeed; a better translation would usually be 'subjection' (cf. Hebrews 2:15, which in the Vulgate is, et liberaret eos qui timore mortis per totam vitam obnoxii erant servituti). And a number of apparently incriminating passages turn out just to mean this: that we are united in a bond of subjection that we receive from those who came before. Reus and reatus are much closer, but they also seem to be weaker than the English term 'guilt', since in general they tend to mean simply liability for a debt or penalty, and liability does not [or rather, need not--ed.] imply culpability, whereas 'guilt' does ('guilt' usually suggests fault). But I'm not an Augustine scholar by any means, and Augustine's Latin regularly wipes the floor with me, so it could very well be that I'm simply missing something key. So does anyone know what the basis in the original texts is? And what's the reason we don't call it 'inherited liability' or 'inherited subjection', given that these, at least at first glance, look like more reasonable labels?

Links and Notes

* At Ship of Fools Stephen Tomkins notes that John Newton's role in opposition to the slave trade is a bit more ambiguous than is usually thought. Tomkins wrote a biography of Wilberforce, from which you can read excerpts.

* Speaking of the abolition of the slave trade, Westerham Brewery is producing William Wilberforce Freedom Ale for 2007, with part of the proceeds going to Stop the Traffik, a modern anti-slavery organization.

* I just recently saw The Illusionist. It wasn't stunning, but I enjoyed it. Nick Carter, the Mechanical Philosopher, has worked out a design for a rough approximation of the locket portrayed in the movie. That's a tricky thing, since even the movie didn't have the locket portrayed in the movie; it used two stunt lockets. As Nick says, it probably needs refinement, but it looks promising. I was impressed; it's like watching someone solve a Rubik's Cube.

* Glach has a post worth reading on Descartes's argument against a vacuum at FQI.

* Jack Perry has a post on the Euler Tricentennial. I once had a student (in a very, very large class, so I didn't know him well at all) with the last name 'Euler' who was surprised that I pronounced his name correctly -- no one had ever done that before on first try; when I replied that it was the name of the mathematician, he said he was indeed related to him, which was a surprise for me.

* Tony vs. Paul is a fun YouTube short. (ht: Claw of the Conciliator)

* Apparently the Catholic Church is likely to beatify a group of non-violent samurai soon; at least, so suggests Cardinal Hamao, who would likely know. (Ht: The Western Confucian)

* I now have two phrases in my possession that clearly describe the conspiracy-theory stylings of the craze over lost and Gnostic gospels, the Templars, and the like. The first, which I've had for a while, is from Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which, of course, has a story built on such craziness: "the psychosis of resemblances." The second is from South Park, and gives more of a sense of the rationality of it: "Look more closelier."

* On April 29th, Siris will be hosting the early modern edition of Carnivalesque. If, since the last early modern edition (February 24th) you have had a post on the period from 1450-1850, submit it. You can submit in three ways:

(1) E-mail me at branemrys[at]yahoo[dot]com
(2) Use the carnival address, carnivalesque[at]earlymodernweb[dot]org[dot]uk
(3) Use the Blog Carnival submission form

UPDATE (Monday, 16 April):

* "Insight Scoop" has a post on Roger Scruton's views on religion.

The Dominion of Aristotle

Dante Alighieri is a very philosophical poet, but he's something of an odd bird with regard to his philosophy. This comes out very strikingly in the fourth book of the Convivio. One of his major concerns in this book is to address a claim made by Frederick the Great, that gentilezza or nobility is ancestral wealth and fine manners. Dante is firmly against this bit of philosophical legislation the part of an Emperor; and in arguing against the right of the Emperor to address the issue, he makes some very strong, very unusual claims.

The Emperor, Dante says, exists due to the human need for society, which we establish in order to live a happy life (because we can't provide everything necessary for such a life ourselves). The complete fulfillment of this need can only exist when all human societies are united into a single principality, with a Monarch capable of keeping all the lesser kings in line. Thus, the perfection of the human species requires a "universal and indisputable office of command," the office of the Emperor. By experience, says Dante, we have found that the Emperor should be Roman, because the Latin race is seen to have a natural talent for the exercise of rule and acquisition of power, and because in history God in his divine providence clearly gave sway to the Romans. Rome had a special birth, a special development, a special end. The world needs a Roman Emperor, someone who can be "rider of the human will," who can have authority over all practical, voluntary activities.

That's a strong claim, and an unusual one, but that's not the claim I was talking about. The claim I was talking about was this: in contrast to the practical realm, the philosophical realm is not governed by the Emperor but by Aristotle, to whom we are all required to render "faith and obedience." Yes, obedience. For Dante, Aristotle is to philosophy what the Emperor is to politics; he exercises a universal and indisputable office of command as the teacher and leader of human reason. Here is what Dante says, in the Lansing translation (IV, 6):

That Aristotle is the most worthy of faith and obedience may be proved as follows. Among workmen and craftsmen of various arts and activities which are ordained to a single final activity or art, the craftsman or workman pursuing such an end must above all be obeyed and trusted by everyone as being he alone who considers the final end of all the other ends. Hence the knight should be trusted by the sword-maker, the bridle-maker, the saddle-maker, the shield-maker, and all trades that are established for the purpose of achieving the goals of chivalry. Since all human activities require a final end, namely the end of human life to which man is directed insofar as he is human, the master or the craftsman who studies this and reveals it to us should be obeyed and trusted above all others. That man is Aristotle: he therefore is the most worthy of faith and obedience.

It's hard to get more plain than that. Other philosophers deserve our respect inasmuch as they approximate to Aristotle, and Aristotle, like a Pope in spiritual matters or an Emperor in political matters, because of "his singular and almost divine genius," is to hold full sway. He is il sommo Filosofo, the supreme philosopher, the Philosopher himself. He is "invested with complete power". This power is not opposed to the Emperor's power, but requires it and is required by it; without the Emperor's authority, Aristotle's authority is weak, and without Aristotle's authority, the Emperor's authority is dangerous. To have good government, each must keep to its domain, and each must exercise unconditional authority over that domain.

That is a very strong, very unusual claim. Needless to say, even Aristotelians would generally balk at the idea that Aristotle not only deserves respect but complete trust and obedience as the Supreme Philosopher. But Dante is not just any Aristotelian; he is the most vehemently Aristotelian Aristotelian of them all, the one who holds that philosophy was given to Aristotle by God as his own personal empire. Etienne Gilson notes in Dante and Philosophy that this odd sort of move is actually very characteristic of Dante's thought. In every realm of human endeavor, there is need for a proper ammaestramento, instruction by a proper authority. So Dante divides human life into distinct and air-tight domains, each with its proper authority, each such authority subject only to God in that domain. Such thinking pervades the Divine Comedy. As Gilson sums it up:

And where, it will be said, are those who wish to exercise [authority] where they do not have it? They are in Hell. And it may indeed be said that they alone have put themselves there by their violation of the holy law of divine Justice which is not only the supreme creator of the constitutive orders of nature and supernature, but also the inexorable protector of the authorities which it has wisely placed at their head. There is no greater crime than to betray the divine order, and it is betraying it to refuse to follow Aristotle in the matter of philosophy, because philosophy is the daughter of God and it was God Himself Who desired that it should be taught to us by Aristotle. But it is no less a crime for a Franciscan to betray St. Francis, for a Dominican to betray St. Dominic, for a subject to betray the Emperor, for a Christian to betray the Gospel, and the worst crime of all, the one which in this world gives rise to disorders, abuses, wars and miseries without number, is to betray all forms of authority at once through a desire to install one of them, which is competent in its sphere, in the place of those which are equally so in theirs, for each form of authority is master in its own house and even the humblest of all is directly responsible to God alone.

[Etienne Gilson, Dante and Philosophy. David Moore, tr. Harper & Row (New York: 1963), p. 156]

That's what you can call an extreme commitment to subsidiarity. And, as I said, it's a very strong, very unusual sort of philosophical viewpoint.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that it should be said in Dante's defense, at least his partial defense, that when he is talking about philosophy he is chiefly talking about moral philosophy, ethics, to which he gives a sort of philosophical primacy; it is qua the author of the Nicomachean Ethics that Aristotle lays out the lineaments of ideally rational man, which portrait is, so to speak, the legislation of Aristotle. But I say 'chiefly' precisely because it is clear that Dante doesn't take the philosophical supremacy to be merely a supremacy of ethics.