Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sage Advice

From a footnote on metaphysics in De Morgan's Formal Logic (ch. 2):

I would not dissuade a student from metaphysical inquiry; on the contrary, I would rather endeavour to promote the desire of entering upon such subjects: but I would warn him, when he tries to look down his own throat with a candle in his hand, to take care that he does not set his head on fire.

A Poem Re-Draft


In the city angels spire,
moonlight falling on their wings;
each is a harp of mystic fire.
The wind, their very heart's desire,
sweeps across their starlit strings:
they quiver, straighten, sigh, and sing.

I heard one night their carols played
across the moonlit meadow's grass.
Each note, like soft and silver rays,
upon the breeze would dance and sway
and leap; then lightly would it pass,
like whispers straying from God's Mass.

When I once, a blond-bright child,
looked into the sunset sky,
I saw a city, blessed and wild,
never ruined nor yet defiled,
glory-vaulting in clouds on high;
each sunset brings that city nigh.

My eyes, now tired in my bed,
like stones will draw me into sleep;
there all my cares are gently shed
and pictures play inside my head;
and I, in some dark ocean deep,
grow wise, and angel-counsels keep.


Today is the feast of St. Michael and All Angels.

And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
"Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short."

A well-known Michaelmas hymn is Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fallacies of Distribution with Conditional Propositions

I find that Jevons, in Lesson XIX his Elementary Lessons in Logic, has a nice little discussion of the fact that conditional statements can be handled without leaving categorical syllogistics. This is the point I mentioned earlier about the fact that every conditional statement can be treated as a categorical proposition of A form. Thus, we can take the argument

If iron is impure it is brittle ;
But it is impure ;
Therefore it is brittle.

And convert it to

Impure iron is brittle ;
The iron in question is impure iron ;
Therefore the iron in question is brittle.

Which is (basically) a Barbara syllogism. He then goes on to note:

It will now be easily made apparent that the fallacy of affirming the consequent is really a breach of the 3rd rule of the syllogism, leading to an undistributed middle term.

This is something I hadn't considered before, but he's quite right. We can handle propositional logic by categorical syllogisms, and when we do so, every case of the fallacy of affirming the consequent turns out to be a case of the fallacy of the undistributed middle. Jevons's example is:

If a man is avaricious he will refuse money ;
But he does refuse money ;
Therefore he is avaricious.

Converted to categorical syllogism:

All avaricious men refuse money;
But this man refuses money ;
Therefore this man is avaricious.

This is an AAA-2 syllogism (or an AII-2, depending on how you interpret singular quantity); the middle term ('refuses money') is undistributed in both premises.

Jevons goes on to note that the fallacy of denying the antecedent turns out to be a case of the fallacy of illicit process of the major.

(One might ask if there is a fallacy in propositional logic corresponding to the fallacy of illicit process of the minor. Indeed there is, but I don't know if it has ever been given a name. It occurs in arguments of the form: p → q; p → r; therefore q → r. Arguments of this form put into categorical form are always cases of the fallacy of illicit minor.)

The New Berkeley

Kenny Pearce has a lovely paper on the ontological status of dreams in Berkeley's idealism (PDF). (He clarifies what he's trying to do in the paper here.) My favorite passage:

Early in his life, Berkeley developed the belief that sense perceptions form a language by which the originating mind (God) communicates information to us. This is one of the primary contentions of his Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision, the first major philosophical work he published. His claim is that the whole of the physical world is a series of signs which always have the same meaning. We shall see later that this consistency is a critical feature of reality.

I think it's a great time to be studying Berkeley, because there are some long overdue changes in the air, in which the old clichés are being swept away and a closer consideration of Berkeley's work is becoming more common. The features of the 'New Berkeley' are, roughly this:

(1) One of the most important concepts in Berkeley's philosophy is signification; and the real center of his philosophical work is his view that the world is constituted by signs (the divine language Kenny mentions).
(2) While he's a nominalist 'epistemologically', he's a Platonist speculatively. That is, he's definitely a Platonist, although a nondogmatic one; he manages to combine this with typical empiricism (which tends to be very un-Platonist) by the means of his focus on the divine language. (There is some room to think that his Platonism is developed over time, i.e., that he becomes more Platonistic as time goes on. This question is an important one for Berkeley scholarship in the years ahead.)
(3) Berkeley's immaterialism, and particularly the negative part (the attack on materialism), has to be put into historical context to be properly understood, and should never, ever be construed as suggesting that the external world does not exist. Rather, it's a rigorous criticism of a very common (especially in the eighteenth century) way of understanding what that external world is.
(4) Far from just being thrown in as an ad hoc device in the Principles to save knowledge of minds, the term 'notion' is important, because on Berkeley's view of the mind, the primary cognitive activity is not perception of ideas but understanding of signs (which perception of ideas subserves).
(5) Far from being an inconsistency, Berkeley's appeal (in a number of his works) to particles (e.g., of light) is entirely consistent with his more general views.

These shifts in interpretation, although in places in need of refinement, have all the advantage of actually taking the evidence more seriously than anyone has for a long time. As I said, an exciting time for studying Berkeley. At present I'm not sure I entirely like the gloss in terms of domains of quantification that Kenny suggests in his post, although it does have the advantage of sticking reasonably close to Berkeley's interest in signs and language, and although I have definitely used similar language myself. It seems to me to be much closer than standard interpretations, but still to be missing something (although I can't quite put my finger on what). If I find out what, I'll let you know.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Links and Notes

* The ancient/medieval edition of Carnivalesque is up at Practica.

* Stanley Jaki discusses the Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel (1873-1944).

* Tim Enloe has a post on Bernard of Clairvaux's influence on Martin Luther.

* The Tsalagi (a.k.a. Cherokee) syllabary. I've always found this to be a fascinating subject. Cherokee, of course, was originally not written at all; but a Cherokee silversmith by the name of Sequoyah, who was also called George Gist, changed all that. After the war of 1812, Sequoyah began to experiment with different ways to organize a writing system, and finally hit on the basic syllabary that made the Cherokee Nation a literate and literary nation almost overnight, and which, with some modifications due to typography, is still in use today. This website has a pronunciation guide for each syllabic letter. Here is Sequoyah's original syllabary.

* Incidentally, although (depending on where you live) you might not have heard it, there is a big dispute at present between the Cherokee Nation and some members of Congress. In March of this year the Cherokee Nation voted in a constitutional amendment to restrict membership in the Nation to those of Cherokee descent. This might not seem all that controversial, but those who are primarily blocked from citizenship by this amendment are the Freedmen, former slaves of Cherokees. Because of this, Congressperson Diane Watson introduced legislation (HR 2824) that would sever with government relations with the Cherokee Nation, cutting off federal funding and recognition. The official position of the Cherokee Nation is that the amendment is currently undergoing judicial review, both in tribal and federal courts, and that the matter should be left to the courts.

* Some works of the great algebraic logicians:

George Boole, The Mathematical Analysis of Logic
George Boole, An Investigation into the Laws of Thought
John Neville Keynes, Studies and Exercises in Formal Logic
Lewis Carroll, Symbolic Logic
William Stanley Jevons, Elementary Lessons in Logic
William Stanley Jevons, Studies in Deductive Logic
William Stanley Jevons, The Principles of Science
Augustus De Morgan, Syllabus of a Proposed System of Logic
Augustus De Morgan, Formal Logic
John Venn, Symbolic Logic
Louis Couturat, The Algebra of Logic
Alexander Macfarlane, Principles of the algebra of logic, with examples
C. S. Peirce, ed., Studies in Logic

Because you can never read too many good nineteenth-century logicians.

* Mark Wynn discusses Tennant's theistic argument from the beauty of nature (PDF; ht).

* The Saint John's Bible is an attempt at manuscript illumination in the twenty-first century (ht).

* Ralph Luker collects some of the responses to Rauchway's defense of academic freedom. I've long since come to the conclusion that, when it is used rhetorically, 'academic freedom' is often just an excuse academics put forward for acting like self-indulgent prima donnas; but it's worth reminding oneself that, however much academics abuse it (and abuse is not difficult to find, I think), there is a way to think through the notion of academic freedom rationally so that it is shown to have great importance -- great enough that it deserves to be emphasized despite abuses. And one gets some of this by reading Rauchway's brief discussion in combination with the responses to it.


* The CHE has a mention of the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers. The organization's website is here.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thunderstorms and Earthquakes

As to Hegel's two general peculiarities in the history of philosophy, or at least of European philosophy, I should like to concentrate for a moment upon the fact that he was the last of four profound revolutions, of veritable thunderstorms or earthquakes, in the history of the German, indeed of the European, philosophical mind. All these four upheavals took place well within a single generation. There is Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781); Fichte's Foundation of the Entire Doctrine of Science (1794); Schelling's Concerning the Ego as Principle of Philosophy, or Concerning the Unconditioned in Human Knowledge (1795); and, finally, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (1806). These are four profoundly differing proclamations, each nevertheless holding itself to be final, and valid to the end of time. The first insists that we are undeniably aware of things other than ourselves, and yet that we remain abidingly ignorant of what these things are in themselves. The second insists that the world which we recognize as real around us and within us is, in proportion to its value, the creation of our heroic wills. The third proclaims the identity everywhere of Subject and Object as the two forms of the one Absolute, which is itself without consciousness or personality of any kind. And, finally, comes the full and detailed articulation of that identity outlook into a huge system, inclusive of all science, ethics, politics, religion, and stressing the self-movement, the self-alienation, and then the return to itself of the Spirit, everywhere in the three stages of position, opposition, and composition. No changes as profound as this have ever occurred, at least in European philosophy, so close together, and so entirely amongst the same people; hence there is no wonder that these four huge oscillations have produced, I feel very sure, one effect more far-reaching and regrettable than any one of them has produced within its own range. This effect has been the production of a contempt and fear of all that calls itself philosophy amongst the average educated men throughout the world. I say this with a full consciousness of what I mean. There was Döllinger, who had this precise feeling towards all philosophy; he handed on this feeling to Lord Acton, and Lord Acton handed it on to spiritual sons of his well known to myself, and they again to their disciples. All these men had, and have, nothing but an impatient, amused, superior smile for that frothy, shifting, arrogant, over-self-confident, overweening thing men will call philosophy.

Baron Friedrich von Hugel

Two New Poem Drafts

Nothing too original here. The first is a loose paraphrase of a Maori prayer. The second is a slightly closer riff on a poem by Catullus.


Cleansing and renewing,
this is vital bread,
food for the hungry,
strength for the task.

To you we give thanks,
for our hills of high story,
for our mountains of prayer,
for tides that give answer,
for endless vast oceans.

Let justice flow down,
bringing peace from on high,
letting dust settle down.
Make the sea to be still,
that all may have peace. Amen.

Iam Ver Egelidos Refert Tepores

Spring returns the mild season;
the furor of equinoctial sky
is stilled by Zephyr's pleasant hushes.
Let us quit these Phrygian fields,
the fertile lands of Nicene heat;
let us fly to Asia's cities of fame.
Now my trembling mind craves roaming,
now my glad feet, eager, grow strong.
Farewell, sweet band of fellow travellers,
who so far strayed together from their homes,
now to diverse ways returned by change!

A Poem Re-Draft


An angel in heaven was flying
to and fro o'er all the earth;
an angel in a loud voice crying,
"How many, O sons of men?"

How many men are fallen, O sons of men,
how many are dead and dying
in great Ascalon and Tyre?
How many widows are crying
where the blood flows down like water
from the horse's smashing hoof?

How many young men lie dead, sons of men?
How many in the grave unwed,
where roses grow, and poppies,
in the bloody fields of war?
How many, O ye nations?
How many slip into darkness,
whose face will be seen no more?
How many men are fallen, sons of men?

In starlit skies, brightly shining,
Mars has wandered to work his will.
In the midst of all our feasting
a formless hand has writ
our sorrow on walls of joy.

We see it on gilded tables,
in the secret and familiar places,
on the heads of children at play,
on their foreheads and on their faces:
"Quick pickings and easy prey".