Saturday, January 05, 2008

Philosophy as Gambling

Bosphorous Reflections has a post on Pascal, Hume, and gambling:

Gambling, anxiety about reality, and the wish to find a way of contolling chance, of experiencing it as part of a rational universe, or of playing with inner anxiety in order to control it are a strong feature of Pascal and Hume. Where would philosophy be without their interest in gambling?

Mention is made of Hume's talk of backgammon in Treatise 1.4.7, but one important instance of Hume's use of the trope of gambling is in Treatise

If we want another parallel to these affections [involved in curiosity or love of truth], we may consider the passion of gaming, which affords a pleasure from the same principles as hunting and philosophy. It has been remark'd, that the pleasure of gaming arises not from interest alone; since many leave a sure gain for this entertainment: Neither is it deriv'd from the game alone; since the same persons have no satisfaction, when they play for nothing: But proceeds from both these causes united, tho' separately they have no effect. 'Tis here, as in certain chymical preparations, where the mixture of two clear and transparent liquids produce a third, which is opaque and colour'd.

Three Poem Re-Drafts

The Garden

Softly do we fall asleep
in Eden where the angels keep
the garden with their swords of fire;
while praying by the olive tree
we fail our watch in Gethsemane.

Take off the difference of the name --
our bliss, our ache, are but the same;
one is fallen and undone,
redemption's in the other one,
but fall and rising make one path,
and mercy is the heart of wrath.

One garden seen in different lights
shines beneath the stars at night
and gleams beneath the rising sun;
one is ended, one's begun,
but one point they are on rounded line,
as first and last are one divine.

Of Eden's light we are bereft,
but Eden we have never left;
it is but hidden from our eyes,
with none the wiser save the wise;
nor does our scale-blind vision see
that Eden is Gethsemane.

There is no difference save the words
and from which side we face the swords
that cut us off from paradise
with light that burns like flame and ice.
Here we are all surely shamed;
here our virtue is reclaimed.

This is wisdom: to know the place
wherein resides the human race.
In our failing it has a name;
another, when it slays our shame;
through our glory, through our sin,
we are where we've always been.

Softly do we fall asleep
in Eden where the angels keep
the garden with their swords of fire;
praying by the olive tree,
we fail our watch in Gethsemane.


I grow sad when I think of wondrous skies
that have never been seen by human eyes
nor ever painted by artists' hands,
that mightily hang over times and lands
beyond where the reckoning mind can go;
sad when I look to the heavens and know
as another sunrise or sunset begins
that there are, uncaptured by camera's lens,
such skies as this and even more fair,
for which no artist ever did care,
deserving to hang where the Masters are,
more lovely than all their works by far,
deserving love for a million years,
pass unnoticed as they appear
never seen again by human eye.
I grow sad when I think of such vanishing skies.


'Tis true he's not the greatest bard
to grace the human race;
his poems are filled with little lines
that hang in filler-space.
He has a certain fervor,
like a fever in the brain,
that substitutes for music;
thus all his lyrics strain.
And he preaches like a pastor
and lectures all the day;
I'd love to love his poems
but his words get in the way.
He is pompous and pretentious
with a flash of wit thrown in;
his taste is all the former,
which is the prosist's sin.
He likes a good conceit
(as conceited people do!),
writ in vain and empty words
dressed up as clerihew.

Homer is a mountain, Virgil is a road,
Dickinson's a flower while Milton is a spire;
I think that people tell it true
who say Dante is a choir;
but this poet is a napkin
scribbled in a dim-lit bar
before the author passes out
and the barkeep calls a car.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Kennedy's Editorial

Donald Kennedy fails to get it quite right, I think, in his editorial in Science on the U.S. presidential election (ht):

But we share a right to press candidates about their views on the boundary [of religion and science]. After all, determined efforts have been made to introduce scriptural versions of the age of Earth or of "intelligent design" in science classrooms. We need to know the candidates' qualifications for understanding and judging science, and for speaking intelligently about science and technology to the leaders of other nations in planning our collective global future. I don't need them to describe their faith; that's their business and not mine. But I do care about their scientific knowledge and how it will inform their leadership.

I care about their scientific knowledge and how it will inform their leadership, too; but I get chills down my spine at this talk of Presidents "judging" science or "planning our collective global future", since both are well outside the jurisdiction even of Presidents. It's good for Presidents to be informed -- good for them to be informed about a lot of things, actually. For instance, I would be inclined to agree with arguments for grilling candidates about their knowledge of geography, the political structures of other nations, military organization, and constitutional law. But we don't elect Presidents to be encyclopedias; we elect them to put into execution the laws Congress passes, to be commander in chief of the armed forces, to grant pardons and reprieves, to make treaties under the watchful eye of the Senate, to appoint higher-level officials, and to uphold the Constitution. I don't read anywhere in the Constitution about the President having any special authority to 'judge science' or to 'plan the global future'. When we put the matter in those terms, we have already put it in the wrong terms. We want our candidates to be reasonably familiar with scientific matters for the same reason we want them to be reasonably familiar with American history, or with moral philosophy, or with economics, or with more than one language: namely, it is much to be preferred if they have the tools to fulfill their constitutional duties in a reasonable competent, stable, and informed way. To the extent (and it is usually a limited extent) that one of these things will help them do so, it's important to look for it. But this is not because we want Presidents to understand and judge theories in quantum physics and to plan the future course of global medical research. And so it is, mutatis mutandis, with almost every political office in the land.

I do think the issue of science policy can be important in politics -- but for the most part this is true only when electing school board officials and the like. Last I checked, Presidents do not decide school board policy or monitor curricula at your closest high school; and if you have to go all the way to the White House to guarantee that students are taught well at the local elementary school, you've already messed up your system of education beyond repair. Fortunately, I don't think we've gone that far; as some people have to keep being reminded, the reason "determined efforts have been made to introduce scriptural versions of the age of Earth or of 'intelligent design' in science classrooms" have largely failed so far has nothing whatsoever to do with federal or even state politics. The reason it has failed can be found in parents getting together and taking an interest in their own school and school district. If you really want science policy done properly in the United States, you have to appreciate which level of authority is most relevant to the point at hand.

Of course, personal preferences might always come in. I like to know what non-English languages a candidate speaks well. (This time around, as far as I can determine on limited information: Spanish -- Richardson and possibly Paul; French -- Romney, Gravel, and Richardson; Indonesian -- Obama; a few odds and ends and partials and unknowns scattered around the others.) I also like to have an idea of the sort of education a candidate has. (Ron Paul has an M.D., and has practiced as an ob/gyn; Ken Mesplay of the Green Party has a Ph.D. in biochemical engineering; George Phillies of the Libertarian Party has a Ph.D. in physics, which he teaches at Worcester Polytechnic; Clinton, Edwards, Obama, Giuliani, Romney, and Thompson appear to have J.D.'s; the rest are rather diverse.) But these are bits and pieces, and a matter of personal preference, not general policy.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Links Upon Links

* Bleg: If anyone has recently read anything, or come across any sources, relevant to understanding the thought (philosophical or theological) and life of the French Congregation of the Oratory in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, please pass it along; I am currently researching this topic.

* Currently reading:

Steven Nadler, Spinoza and Secular Judaism (PDF)

Gareth Matthews, Thinking about Eudaimonia with Kids (PDF)

Mary Beth Ingham, Formulating One's Philosophy of Life as a Learning Exercise

Harvey Friedman, Concept Calculus (PDF)

Fred Richman, Equivalence of Syllogisms (PDF)

Amy Koehlinger, Demythologizing Catholic Women Religious in the 1960s, online at the Journal of Southern Religion (ht)

Stephen Palmquist, Kant's Criticism of Swedenborg

Steven Norris and Linda Phillips, Reading as Inquiry (PDF)

Douglas Allchin, Error Repertoires (PDF)
Error Types (PDF)

Richard Duschl, The HS Lab Experience (PDF)

* While in Baltimore, I briefly visited the Basilica of the Assumption. They had an exhibit on religious orders, and I came across Mary Elizabeth Lange, currently being considered for beatification, foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Here's a good brief bio of her from the Baltimore Sun. For those who are interested, this is the process of beatification decree for Mary Lange; and this is the official prayer for beatification. At the same site (courtesy of Louis S. Diggs, who writes about African-American history in the Baltimore area) there is further information about Lange and the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

* Ed Peters discusses the deaf and Catholic liturgy. This is the third time in the past week that an issue about the deaf community has been brought to my attention, each time by a very different source; one begins to wonder if providence is nudging in some way.

* A nice Christmas Eve sign of hope: On December 24, 2007, the U.S. Army finally destroyed its last reserves of VX nerve agent, one of its most toxic chemical weapons (never actually used, fortunately). In so doing the U.S. has finished a major part of its steps toward compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention; the U.S. had fulfilled Phase III of the process of implementation by July, and at the same time had assisted Albania in becoming the first signatory in the world to complete its implementation of the treaty. The Pentagon does not estimate completion of implementation before 2023 (the CWC requires complete compliance by 2012).

* You can read about the U.S. national laboratory system here.

* Bora has posted links to the posts that will be appearing in the 2007 Open Laboratory anthology. Especially noteworthy are Wilkins's Ancestors post, Zivkovic's Scientific Paper post, Johnson's Admetus post, Matheson's Teosinte post, and Stemwedel's Science Ethics post.

* Mike Almeida has started a philosophy of religion weblog.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Banality of Evil

A post at "Mind Hacks" on the banality of evil:

The phrase the 'banality of evil' was coined by philosopher Hannah Arendt after witnessing the trial of high-ranking Nazi Adolf Eichmann who seemed, at least to Arendt, to be the most mundane of individuals whose evil acts were driven by the requirements of the state and orders from above.

It was Eichmann, not Arendt, who said Eichmann was only following orders. Arendt didn't think Eichmann's acts were driven by the requirements of the state and orders from above; her point was that in a sense nothing drove him to it at all. The banality of evil wasn't that it was done out of conformity; it was that it was done without a second thought. As she puts it, evil is extreme but never radical: Eichmann was not a mere lackey, he was wicked -- but wickedness turned out not to be Lucifer from Paradise Lost, not an evil genius out to destroy the good, but a plain, rather mediocre person who spent an immense amount of effort and ingenuity on whatever task was at hand, even if it was mass murder, as if he were planning a party or trying to balance the books. Evildoing was an "authentic inability to think," not from stupidity but from refusal to be more than superficial. The shocking thing about people like Eichmann for Arendt was not that they followed orders, but that they saw little major difference between manufacturing food and manufacturing Jewish corpses -- and what difference they did see was old cliché, party line, and recycled prejudice. Arendt's conclusion was that evildoers cannot -- will not -- seriously reflect on the things that are important because they cannot -- will not -- recognize that they are important, or more worthy of reflection than anything else. The wickedness of Eichmann's acts could not be traced to deep and terrible motives; Eichmann's actions had no deep motives at all, being made possible entirely by a refusal to use the sound judgment required to realize that what he was doing was wrong and not right as he facilely assumed. Eichmann did the terrible things he did not because of his hatred of Jews (which Arendt doesn't deny existed), which in another person might have amounted to nothing, but because of a deliberate refusal to use the imaginative capacities that make the suffering of others real to us. The problem with Eichmann was not that he was unaware of the consequences of his actions but that he didn't seriously question his assumption that his actions were right (indeed, put himself in a mental position where he couldn't possibly have done so). Eichmann was wicked because he had entirely abandoned thoughtfulness, the precondition for the hard work of doing good; and the banality of evil lies in evil's inability to be aware of itself as evil.

Also, it's important to note (with regard to something else said in the article discussed by the "Mind Hacks" post) that Arendt's judgment wasn't based only on what she personally saw at the trial; she researched Eichmann's testimony, and the investigation into his wrongdoing, quite thoroughly. She used what she saw at the trial not as the sole foundation of her argument but more as a way of summing up her point.

On Tom's Algebra of Logic

I have noted previously that propositional logic can be seen as a special case of categorical syllogistics. That many non-categorical propositions (like conditionals) can be handled categorically has been recognized for a very long time, although systematic investigation of this approach has been rare. To handle all of propositional logic as a special case of categorical syllogistics you just need categorical syllogistics and two assumptions. The two assumptions are:

(1) The universe of discourse is a singleton universe.

(2) Propositions may be treated as terms.

The reason for the second should be obvious. The reason for the first may be less obvious. Strictly speaking you could do without it, but the propositional logic that would result would be nonstandard and difficult to interpret; implication, in particular, would begin to have some bizarre properties. Categorical syllogistics makes heavy use of logical quantity; to do standard propositional logic you have to make an assumption that makes it OK to conclude a universal conclusion from a particular premise. The simplest way to do this is to take the whole universe for propositions as singular. (It's a good question, and one to which I don't know the answer, whether there are alternative assumptions that could be made to get the same result.)

In any case, given these assumptions you can easily handle all of standard truth-functional propositional logic: conditionals turn out to be A propositions, etc. Likewise, you can diagram propositional logic with any diagrams that diagram categorical syllogisms. For instance, my adaptation of Welton's adaptation of Lambert's lines gives us the following diagrams:

P & Q
|   | X | X | X |

P v Q
|   |   |   | X |

P → Q
|   | X |   |   |

The difference from the ordinary diagrams is due to assumption (1): given that the universe of discourse is a singleton universe, there is no need to indicate presence: presence is just whatever is left over when all the absences are determined. (If all the spaces are X'd then the statement is inconsistent.) The way to think of it is in terms of the world: P & Q tells us that the world is such that P and Q; P v Q tells us that the world is such that P or Q or both; etc.

I was thinking of this recently when thinking about Tom's system for handling categorical propositions. I previously diagrammed Tom's eight types; but there I assumed that they were working as standard categorical propositions. I've recently come to wonder, though, if perhaps Tom's system is really more like a propositional logic. The major reason for this is that Tom's types act like cases of propositional logic in categorical form. [ ] is most easily understood as disjunction, while ( ) is conjunction. Thus:

[+a+b] : a v b
[+a-b] : a v ~b
[-a+b] : ~a v b
[-a-b] : ~a v ~b

(+a+b) : a & b
(+a-b) : a & ~b
(-a+b) : ~a & b
(-a-b) : ~a & ~b

Thus Tom's approach seems to be a way of handling all categorical propositions as if they were complex propositions in propositional logic as represented in categorical syllogistics. Yes, I realize that that's complicated. The idea is this: each categorical proposition is treated as if it were a disjunction or conjunction of propositionalized versions of its terms. All A is B is understood as being (in effect) if a thing's A, it's B, or The world is a B-or-not-A world; and so forth. This means that in Tom's approach all categorical propositions are handled under the assumptions that make it possible for us to treat standard propositional logic as a special case of categorical syllogistics. (This is one reason why, for instance, Tom doesn't have to worry about the quantity of singular propositions, and why he regularly prefers to interpret his symbolism in propositional terms, and why he so easily handles multiple quantification.) But the version of propositional logic Tom uses is the propositional logic that is the special case of categorical syllogistics.

That one can handle ordinary categorical syllogisms as a special case (Tom's approach) [or is it perhaps merely an analogue?] of a special case (propositional logic) of ordinary categorical syllogisms is an interesting feature of the syllogistic approach that I hadn't quite appreciated before.

That's the way things seem to me, at least, on reading some of Tom's more recent work over at Blogicum.

Just War and Soldiers

Alexander Pruss has a post on the question of the duties of soldiers in a case of unjust war. He argues that the common view, "that the ordinary soldier who follows decent military orders (ones that do not transgress jus in bello) in an unjust war does not do wrong" is wrong:

First of all, it is always wrong to formally cooperate with an evildoer, where to "formally cooperate" is to share an intention in virtue of which the evildoer counts as an evildoer. But in an unjust war, the leaders of one's country are evildoers (perhaps non-culpable ones, but that doesn't matter), and they are evildoers in part because they intend the deaths of enemy soldiers. Thus the ordinary soldier in intentionally killing enemy soldiers is formally cooperating with evil. Moreover, even if the cooperation were not formal but material (i.e., the cooperator did not share any of the evil intentions of the evildoers, but nonetheless materially contributed to the evil), given the fact that few evils on the face of the earth are as bad as an unjust war, the presumption against such cooperation would still be almost indefeasibly strong.

This seems to me to underestimate just how easy it is for leaders to violate the conditions of just war. If you take Aquinas's position on the question, for instance, a leader can fail to war justly even if the cause is just, the means are just, and the authority with which he does so is just, if he fails to be virtuously disposed in his activities on the question. It is possible to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, and this violates justice just as much as doing the wrong thing. If we assumed that obeying orders automatically involves formal cooperation, it would be generally immoral to be a soldier, because one would constantly be obeying superiors with defective intentions. Genuine justice is difficult, particularly in matters as serious as those that usually lead up to war; and its difficulty makes it rare.

Further, soldiers needn't, in obeying orders, be formally cooperating with their superiors, in the sense Pruss notes. They are cooperating in some sense, of course; but even obedience does not imply that they "share an intention [with the evildoer] in virtue of which the evildoer counts as an evildoer". I'm inclined to think, actually, that this fact is one of the things that makes the view Pruss is arguing against a common view. We know the sort of people many soldiers are; they are often friends and family, who have often signed up for the sort of obedience involved in military matters not because of any taste for war but because they want to protect their people.

In a later argument, Pruss says:

For in a just war, the state permissibly authorizes the killing of enemy soldiers. But it is wrong for the state to authorize the killing of people who are doing nothing wrong. Hence if the soldiers on the unjust side are doing nothing wrong, it is wrong for a state with justice on its side to authorize killing them. And that is absurd.

It never enters into most just war discussion at all whether the soldiers on the other side are doing anything wrong or not, and for good reason. You can in principle have a just war in which all the soldiers on the other side are of sterling character, just and good, but their leaders are not; for instance, if the soldiers are being effectively deceived by those leaders (as Pruss notes later). In such a case, war may be a just option, but the fact that the soldiers on the other side are good, decent people is a tragedy, not an impediment. More importantly, in just war, the state does not permissibly authorize the killing of enemy soldiers; it authorizes the use of force to protect the common good, even to the point of being lethal. That's a very different thing. Authorizing the killing of enemy soldiers is unjust massacre, not just war; leaders instead authorize soldiers to protect the good of the people with what force may be required. And it is important to note that even if the leaders unjustly go farther than this the authorization to use what force required to protect the common good is still legitimate. Even granted that disobedience is required (and I would agree that it sometimes and perhaps even often is), soldiers still must obey those orders that are reasonably required to keep their nation from being invaded or harmed, because authorizing that does fall within the realm of legitimate (and just) authorization.

My point is not that soldiers are justified in obeying just any decent orders (in the sense Pruss notes above), since I don't think they are, but that neither cooperation nor the innocence of the enemy provides a strong enough argument to reject the common view against which Pruss is arguing. Obviously a lot will depend on particular circumstances -- but that is precisely why the common view is not easily refuted.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Poem Draft


listening to words
we sit in chairs and yawn
thinking of lunch or dinner
wondering why that man
the one in the second row
just keeps talking
when no one cares what he says

Rufus's Third Ontological Argument

In their article, "Richard Rufus's Reformulations of Anselm's Proslogion Argument" [International Philosophical Quarterly (47) 3, September 2007], Richard DeWitt and R. James Long run into something of a snag over the interpretation of the third argument given. That argument, as they translate it, is this:

Let it be posited that a does not exist and yet that it can be thought. I say the following: whatever can be thought and does not exist, if it were to exist, would not be that than which a greater cannot be thought; a can be thought, and does not exist: therefore a, if it were to exist, would nto be that than which a greater could not be thought. Therefore, if a were to exist, a would not be a--which is absurd to say.

This is a tangled sort of argument, since it makes statements about what a (where is the thing that fits the description "that than which no greater can be thought", supposing that it does not exist, would be if it were to exist. And I think it trips DeWitt and Long up a bit. They hold that the conclusion is a (purported) contradiction, "if a were to exist, a would not be a"; which, as they note, is not a contradiction at all, and merely implies that a does not exist. Moreover, Rufus says that this argument is an argument "in the fourth mood of the first figure", and they say, "we can find no reconstruction of this passage that resembles any valid syllogism, or any valid argument--syllogistic or not" (p. 336). They conclude that it is defective, and that some logical mistake has been made.

Without ruling on whether the argument is defective, I think it's fairly easy to see what Rufus has in mind when we calls the argument an argument "in the fourth mood of the first figure". The argument is clearly the following:

(1) No (T & -E) is GNC.
(2) Something, namely a, is (T & -E).
(3) Something, namely a, is not GNC.
(4) a is GNC.
(5) a is not a.
(6) a is not (T & -E).

[T = something able to be thought; E = something that exists; GNC = that with regard to which a greater is not conceivable.] (1) is a premise; (2) is the supposition for reductio. (3) follows by Ferio, which is, indeed, the fourth mood of the first figure. (4) is definitional. (5) follows from (3) and (4) by substitution of definition. (6) is the conclusion by reductio ad absurdum.

Where DeWitt and Long go wrong is in taking the intended conclusion to be "if a exists, then a is not a"; but this is, I think, to confuse Rufus's subjunctive conditional with an indicative conditional. 'a exists' is not the antecedent of an implication; it is merely a condition supposed for the sake of the argument. The interpretation of this condition is very tricky because it is nested within an opposing condition. The overall supposition of the argument is that a does not exist; it then proceeds, given this supposition, to argue what would occur on (secondary) supposition that it exists. The point of this secondary supposition, I take it, is that all that Rufus wants to argue at this point is that "if a can be thought at all, it is necessary that a exist" (which is how he introduced the previous argument); and the assumption (again, I am assuming) is that something cannot be 'thought at all' if, supposing it existed, it would be an existing contradiction. And the thrust of the argument is that either a cannot be thought at all or it exists. So the esset that keeps recurring seems to me to be a clarifying qualification rather than anything essential to the structure of the argument.

Whether or not there is a defect in the argument, I don't think the argument can be accused of formal defect. It is valid; and Rufus is right that the argument (setting aside purely definitional matters) is a Ferio syllogism used for reductio.

Seventh Day of the Month

In what has become my custom here, I review the year just passed by way of the posts I had on the seventh day of each month.

January: Notes and Links

February: Basic Science Concepts List

Wherein I Engage in Profanity in Order to Be a Blogger

Querelle de la Rose

March: National Religious Campaign Against Torture

The Passion of Perpetua

Rough Jottings on Essence and Energies

Sic et Non

April: Christina Rosetti on Easter Eve

Via Crucis

Notes and Links

May: Substandard Treatment of Aquinas's Ways

MacIntyre on Inquiry and Narrative

June: Two More Poem Drafts

Pange, Lingua

A Corpus Christi Poem Draft

MacIntyre on the Rationality of a Craft Tradition

July: Busy, Busy, Busy

Seven Wonders

August: No posts

September: Rationalists are Growing Rational

October: Dawkins and the 'Jewish Lobby'

November: Sub Actione Unius Spiritus Sancti

Most Young People Everywhere

December: Ambrose