Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays

All of them -- Christmas Eve, Christmas, St. Stephen's, St. John's, and Holy Family. I'm off to see family. I'll be back around the New Year with some blogging on James Boswell's Christmas in 1764. December of that year saw Boswell on the Grand Tour, visiting early in the month with Rousseau and spending the Christmas holidays with Voltaire. In the meantime, God bless.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy pray to the bless├Ęd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

--Phillips Brooks (1867)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Whitehead on Learning Mathematics

The study of mathematics is apt to commence in disappointment. The important applications of the science, the theoretical interest of its ideas, and the logical rigour of its methods, all generate the expectation of a speedy introduction to processes of interest. We are told that by its aid the stars are weighed and the billions of molecules in a drop of water are counted. Yet, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, this great science eludes the efforts of our mental weapons to grasp it--''Tis here, 'tis there, 'tis gone'--and what we do see does not suggest the same excuse for elusiveness as sufficed for the ghost, that it is too noble for our gross methods. 'A show of violence,' if ever excusable, may surely be 'offered' to the trivial results which occupy the pages of some elementary mathematical treatises.

The reason for this failure of the science to live up to its reputation is that its fundamental ideas are not explained to the student disentangled from the technical procedure which has been invented to facilitate their exact presentation in particular instances. Acordingly, the unfortunate learner finds himself struggling to acquire a knowledge of a mass of details which are not illuminated by any general conception. Without a doubt, technical facility is a first requisite for valuable mental activity: we shall fail to appreciate the rhythm of Milton, or the passion of Shelley, so long as we find it necessary to spell the words and are not quite certain of the forms of the individual letters. In this sense there is no royal road to learning. But it is equally an error to confine attention to technical processes, excluding consideration of general ideas. Here lies the road to pedantry.

[Alfred North Whitehead, An Introduction to Mathematics. Oxford University Press (New York: 1948) pp. 1-2.]

Friday, December 19, 2008

'Get a Life' Meme

I saw this at Evolving Thoughts; it's a list of 219 movies, with the suggestion that if you've seen more than 85 you have no life. My count is 119, and even that is generous because I only counted movies I've seen all the way through; for several of those not marked I've seen most of the movie, just not part of it (usually the beginning or the end, of course). I had originally put my number at 114 but going back over the list I realized that there were several I had seen but simply forgotten.

( ) Rocky Horror Picture Show
(x) Grease
(x) Pirates of the Caribbean
(x) Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest
( ) Boondock Saints
(x) Fight Club
(x) Starsky and Hutch
(x) Neverending Story
(x) Blazing Saddles
(x) Universal Soldier
(x) Lemony Snicket: A Series Of Unfortunate Events
(x) Along Came Polly
(x) Joe Dirt
( ) KING KONG which version?
( ) A Cinderella Story
(x) The Terminal
( ) The Lizzie McGuire Movie
( ) Passport to Paris
(x) Dumb & Dumber
( ) Dumber & Dumberer
(x) Final Destination
(x) Final Destination 2
( ) Final Destination 3
(x) Halloween
(x) The Ring
(x) The Ring 2
( ) Surviving X-MAS
(x) Flubber Orignial version only
( ) Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
(x) Practical Magic
(x) Chicago
( ) Ghost Ship
( ) From Hell
(x) Hellboy
( ) Secret Window
(x) I Am Sam
(x) The Whole Nine Yards
(x) The Whole Ten Yards
(x) The Day After Tomorrow
( ) Child's Play
( ) Seed of Chucky
( ) Bride of Chucky
(x) Ten Things I Hate About You
( ) Just Married
( ) Gothika
(x) Nightmare on Elm Street
(x) Sixteen Candles
(x) Remember the Titans
(x) Coach Carter
(x) The Grudge
( ) The Grudge 2
(x) The Mask
( ) Son Of The Mask
(x) Bad Boys
(x) Bad Boys 2
( ) Joy Ride
( ) Lucky Number Sleven
(x) Ocean's Eleven
(x) Ocean's Twelve
(x) Bourne Identity
(x) Bourne Supremacy
( ) Lone Star
(x) Bedazzled both versions
(x) Predator I
(x) Predator II
( ) The Fog
(x) Ice Age
(x) Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
( ) Curious George
(x) Independence Day
( ) Cujo
( ) A Bronx Tale
( ) Darkness Falls
( ) Christine
(x) ET
( ) Children of the Corn
( ) My Boss's Daughter
( ) Maid in Manhattan
(x) War of the Worlds
(x) Rush Hour
(x) Rush Hour 2
( ) Best Bet
(x) How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
(x) She's All That
(x) Calendar Girls
(x) Sideways
(x) Mars Attacks
(x) Event Horizon
( ) Ever After
(x) Wizard of Oz
(x) Forrest Gump
(x) Big Trouble in Little China
(x) The Terminator
(x) The Terminator 2
(x) The Terminator 3
(x) x-Men
(x) x2
(x) x-3
(x) Spider-Man
(x) Spider-Man 2
( ) Sky High
(x) Jeepers Creepers
( ) Jeepers Creepers 2
(x) Catch Me If You Can
(x) The Little Mermaid
(x) Freaky Friday
(x) Reign of Fire
(x) The Skulls
(x) Cruel Intentions
( ) Cruel Intentions 2
(x) The Hot Chick
(x) Shrek
(x) Shrek 2
( ) Swimfan
(x) Miracle on 34th street
(x) Old School
(x) The Notebook
(x) K-Pax
( ) Kippendorf's Tribe
(x) A Walk to Remember
(x) Ice Castles
( ) Boogeyman
(x) The 40-year-old-virgin
(x) Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring
(x) Lord of the Rings The Two Towers
(x) Lord of the Rings Return Of the King
(x) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
(x) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
(x) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
( ) Baseketball
( ) Hostel
( ) Waiting for Guffman
( ) House of 1000 Corpses
( ) Devils Rejects
(x) Elf
(x) Highlander
( ) Mothman Prophecies
( ) American History
( ) Three
( ) The Jacket
( ) Kung Fu Hustle
( ) Shaolin Soccer
( ) Night Watch
( ) Monsters Inc.
(x) Titanic
( ) Monty Python and the Holy Grail
( ) Shaun Of the Dead
( ) Willard
( ) High Tension
( ) Club Dread
(x) Hulk
(x) Dawn Of the Dead
(x) Hook
(x) Chronicle Of Narnia The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
( ) 28 days later
( ) Orgazmo
( ) Phantasm
(x) Waterworld
(x) Kill Bill vol 1
(x) Kill Bill vol 2
(x) Mortal Kombat
( ) Wolf Creek
( ) Kingdom of Heaven
( ) The Hills Have Eyes
( ) I Spit on Your Grave aka the Day of the Woman
( ) The Last House on the Left
( ) Re-Animator
( ) Army of Darkness
(x) Star Wars Ep. I The Phantom Menace
(x) Star Wars Ep. II Attack of the Clones
(x) Star Wars Ep. III Revenge of the Sith
(x) Star Wars Ep. IV A New Hope
(x) Star Wars Ep. V The Empire Strikes Back
(x) Star Wars Ep. VI Return of the Jedi
( ) Ewoks Caravan Of Courage
( ) Ewoks The Battle For Endor
(x) The Matrix
(x) The Matrix Reloaded
(x) The Matrix Revolutions
( ) Animatri
( ) Evil Dead
( ) Evil Dead 2
( ) Team America: World Police
(x) Red Dragon
(x) Silence of the Lambs
(x) Hannibal
( ) Battle Royale
( ) Battle Royale 2
( ) Brazil
(x) Contact
( ) Cube
( ) Dr. Strangelove
( ) Enlightenment Guaranteed
( ) Four Rooms
( ) Memento
( ) Pi
( ) Requiem for a Dream
(x) Pulp Fiction
( ) Reservoir Dogs
( ) Run Lola Run
( ) Russian Ark
(x) Serenity
(x) Sin City
(x) Snatch
( ) Spider
( ) The Sixth Sense
(x) The Village
(x) Waking Life
( ) Zatoichi
( ) Ikiru
( ) The Seven Samurai
( ) Brick
( ) Akira

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Good Princess

By the example of my lord St Nicholas she will secretly send gifts to these good people by her almoner, without even the poor themselves knowing who is sending them the alms....She will speak to the poor and to the sick; she will visit their bedsides and will comfort them sweetly, making her excellent and welcome gift of alms. For poor people are much more comforted and accept with more pleasure the kind word, the visit, and the comfort of a great and powerful person than of someone else. The reason fo rthis is that they think that all this world scorns them, and when a powerful person deigns to visit them or to comfort them they feel that they have recovered some honour, which is naturally a thing that everyone desires.

Christine de Pisan, The Treasure of the City of Ladies, or the Book of the Three Virtues. Penguin (New York: 1985) 53.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Antiphons for Advent

We are approaching Christmas, of course, so here's an article on the O Antiphons. (This webpage is also a good source.) The Advent Antiphons, which date back at least to the ninth century, are probably best known from the fact that in the twelfth century they were reworked by an anonymous source as a French hymn, which was put into Latin at some point between then and the eighteenth century, which Latin version in turn was translated in the nineteenth century by Neale into the lyrics "Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel," which time and much singing has altered to the following (with some variations):

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O Come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, O come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, O Rod of Jesse's stem,
From ev'ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow'r to save;
Bring them in vict'ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O Come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O Come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

The usual music to which it is sung appears to be Gregorian chant adapted to French plain song adapted to nineteenth century hymnody (often adapted to twentieth century tastes). From generation to generation, from nation to nation, from language to language, from culture to culture, people young and old, rich and poor, have carried forward the Advent message, adapted in words and music but never changed in point: Christ our Lord comes, the Star who brings light to those who live in the darkness and shadow of death.

Benevolence Is the Greater Part of Justice

Democracy, it seems, is the rule of the merciless. Thomas Kostigen argues that we should do away with Presidential pardon:

Why, oh why, should one individual be able to gain favor (and freedom) over another in a democratic system such as ours? No. The pardon system should be done away with, and along with it the ethical controversy that it portends.

Yes, why, oh why, don't we punish individuals as if they were all exactly the same! Oh, that's right, because sometimes, as James Wilson puts it, people "may be unfortunate in a higher degree, than that, in which they are criminal." And because sometimes, due to particular circumstances of the case, we can make a reasonable judgment that we would all benefit more if the person involved were given a second chance. And sometimes, perhaps just a little, because we need some clear symbol that laws are not perfect, that courts are not flawless, that mistakes are not unforgivable, and that compassion is essential to the health of justice.

P.S. Ruckman, Jr. notes that Kostigen's argument is based only on a few cases that make it into the papers:

And that is too bad. Kostigen should consider writing down the names of the 179 individuals who have received pardons and commutations from President Bush. Each name should be placed on a separate card. Kostigen should then place the cards in a bag and draw names randomly, until he comes up with one that he knows.

And President Bush is notoriously stingy in his the pardon power (Ruckman has a good post on that, too); a more reasonable use of the pardoning power would increase the names on the list. We should not just casually dismiss something that reaches into so many lives, so many families, so many communities.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tom's Algebra of Logic and James's Boundary Calculus

I have been toying around with ways to represent propositional-logic forms of Carroll's literal diagrams in a notation that could potentially allow for clarification of complicated instances (many terms) and yet would still preserve something of the diagrammatic character of the diagrams. And the most promising was a version of notation borrowed from Jeffrey James's version of boundary mathematics (PDF). Such a notation has three key features:

instance ()
abstract []
inverse <>

Out of these you can build number systems. But you can also do any sort of Boolean algebra with them, which means you can do standard propositional logic. So, for instance, this can be the disjunction (p v q):


This would then be conjunction:


To negate anything, we take its inverse, which, as noted above, is done with angle brackets:


Then rules for doing things with these brackets make it possible to handle all the transformations of standard propositional logic.

In toying with this a bit, I realized that it seemed a bit familiar; and indeed it was. It's closely related to Tom's algebra of logic. Here are Tom's types applied to propositional logic with their boundary counterparts:

[+a+b] : (ab)
[+a-b] : (a<b>)
[-a+b] : (<a>b)
[-a-b] : (<a><b>)
(+a+b) : ([a][b])
(+a-b) : ([a][<b>])
(-a+b) : ([<a>][b])
(-a-b) : ([<a>][<b>])

The brackets are reversed, but of course that's arbitrary. Of course, one would expect similarities in notations; but it never would have occurred to me offhand that Tom's algebra of logic was in the same family as boundary mathematics and so it was a bit of a surprise. (Surprise, I find, is almost the essence of logic.) But it means that one should be able to adapt boundary mathematics to do categorical syllogisms; and, vice versa, Tom's algebra of logic to do a hefty amount of mathematics. A smarter person wouldn't have been surprised by that, either; but I am very slow about these things. Something for me to think about, in both directions.

A Poem Draft

Gray Skies

The skies are gray today; but what of it?
Every gray sky has blue sky above it,
and warm light;
and when gray clouds are done
out will spring the splendid sun,
still clear and bright.

Mill on Worthiness

Mill in a number of places talks about worthiness as a department of utility distinct from morality in the strict sense. In those places he doesn't address the question of how it is distinct from morality; so it raises the question of how we might best understand this distinction.

Mill talks about worthiness elsewhere, in his argument against the ethics of Auguste Comte. The problem with the ethics of positivism, Mill suggests, is that it rejects the view that "between the region of duty and that of sin there is an intermediate space, the region of positive worthiness." Instead, Mill says, we should identify a standard of altruism that is obligatory but that allows for supererogation, a meritorious region beyond the call of duty; and he has an interesting argument that utility requires such a supererogatory region:

Text not available
Auguste Comte and Positivism By John Stuart Mill

So the greatest happiness requires that beyond the obligation there may be room for people to do goodness spontaneously and without subject to demand. Mill does hold that as time goes on the region of moral duty expands, through promise and reasonable expectation, so that virtue that once was uncommon becomes common; but there has to be space between duty and sin.

Mill goes on to connect this argument with what has to be one of the only unequivocal affirmations of the value of Catholic casuistry in nineteenth-century England:

Text not available
Auguste Comte and Positivism By John Stuart Mill

What is perhaps more interesting is that this criticism of Comte is clearly related to the criticisms found elsewhere of intuitionists and Benthamite utilitarians. We should cultivate personal enjoyments, and rather than placing the "moralization" of these enjoyments in the demand that everyone else enjoy them as well, we should instead place it in "cultivating the habitual wish to share them with others, and scorning to desire anything for oneself which is incapable of being so shared." The Benthamites treat the moral aspect of human life, i.e., duty as if it were the only one of importance; the intuitionists have (according to Mill) no principle for anything that is not morality in the strict sense; and the positivists allow no space between duty and sin. Mill insists against all three that the importance of free and voluntary moral cultivation (in the broad sense of 'moral') of one's own worthy enjoyments and tastes is an essential part of human life, and recommends his own version of utilitarianism against all three on the grounds that it takes this into account. This appears primarily to be aesthetic for Mill, in all three contexts; but it's clear from the discussion of Comte that it is not merely so, since morally heroic action is clearly taken to be an unusually great form of worthiness. There's a sense in which good taste is for Mill always moral taste; the difference between it and morality in the strict sense being that its normative force is weaker (things pertaining to morality in the strict sense are obligatory, while things pertaining to good taste are worthy of being done, although optional). While the precise form in which he deploys this idea against his opponents varies somewhat, it does seem to be a consistent theme in Mill, and is arguably one of the more important features of his system, since it is here that he places much of the superiority of his own approach over its major rivals.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Duty of a Poetical View of Things

According to the above theory, Revealed Religion should be especially poetical—and it is so in fact. While its disclosures have an originality in them to engage the intellect, they have a beauty to satisfy the moral nature. It presents us with those ideal forms of excellence in which a poetical mind delights, and with which all grace and harmony are associated. It brings us into a new world—a world of overpowering interest, of the sublimest views, and the tenderest and purest feelings. The peculiar grace of mind of the New Testament writers is as striking as the actual effect produced upon the hearts of those who have imbibed their spirit. At present we are not concerned with the practical, but the poetical nature of revealed truth. With Christians, a poetical view of things is a duty,—we are bid to colour all things with hues of faith, to see a Divine meaning in every event, and a superhuman tendency. Even our friends around are invested with unearthly brightness—no longer imperfect men, but beings taken into Divine favour, stamped with His seal, and in training for future happiness. It may be added, that the virtues peculiarly Christian are especially poetical—meekness, gentleness, compassion, contentment, modesty, not to mention the devotional virtues; whereas the ruder and more ordinary feelings are the instruments of rhetoric more justly than of poetry—anger, indignation, emulation, martial spirit, and love of independence.

John Henry Newman, Poetry, with Reference to Aristotle's Poetics, Essays Critical & Historical

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Surface of the Mirror

Unbelievers, however, cannot come to know the Trinity through these vestiges which rational creatures reflect as in a glass, because without a heart purified by faith they cannot know even that it is a glass; and hence they cannot come to know through it the things which are visible there. Thus Augustine says, in Book XV, On the Trinity: "Those who know their own mind, in whatever way it can be seen, and in it this Trinity, and yet do not believe nor understand that it is the image of God, do indeed see the glass, but so far do not see through it him who is to be seen there. Thus they do not know that what they see is a glass, that is, an image. If they knew this, perhaps they would realize that he whose glass this is should be sought through it, and somehow provisionally be seen, their hearts being purified by unfeigned faith so that he who is now seen through a glass may be seen face to face."

Matthew of Aquasparta, Disputed Questions on Faith, q. 5; A Scholastic Miscellany: From Anselm to Ockham, Fairweather, ed. Westminster Press (Philadelphia: 1961) 415-416.

I am looking for a good set of resources on Matthew of Aquasparta (one of the major Bonaventurans of the thirteenth century), but haven't been able to find any. Does anyone know of some?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Addison on Malebranche

Text not available
The Works of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison By Joseph Addison, Richard Hurd

Four points here of special note:

(1) Addison's comment that Malebranche may have had more admirers in England than in France. This is actually quite important, because there is something to be said for it. I may say something on this at some point; Malebranche has a major influence on British philosophy in the period.

(2) The claim that Malebranche, arguably the most widely read Cartesian of his day, didn't know anything about Descartes until relatively late is consistent with what we know from other sources. There is good reason to think that Malebranche first read Descartes (the Treatise on Man) when he was twenty-six.

(3) It's interesting to find Malebranche praising Newton's mathematics; Malebranche was a major figure (organizationally rather than mathematically) in the spread of the calculus in France.

(4) The distaste for Hobbes fits very well with Malebranche's scattered comments about him.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Discretionary Power of Pardon

There is a remarkable thread at Crooked Timber that shows that a number of things get mixed up when talking about the power of pardon.

Blackstone had argued that the power of pardon was one of the advantages of monarchy over other forms of government because it (1) reduced the temptation of courts to strain the interpretation of law in order to take into account all the circumstances; (2) endeared the Crown to the people through acts of compassion; and (3), although this is only suggested in passing and is perhaps not Blackstone's own view, allowed the prince to express in a subtle way its disapproval of a too-strict law.

Blackstone argues that a democracy can't seriously allow the power of pardon because there is no authority higher than the legislature and it would be inappropriate to give judges this power; which is fine as an argument as long as you don't have the tertium quid of an 'energetic magistrate' who is neither legislator nor judge. The colonies had carried over the power of pardon, and when they formed the Office of the President, the one that we know, they had two models to choose from: in most state constitutions the power of pardon was invested in the governor, in a few in the legislature. The power of pardon was given to the President in order to provide a check and a balance against Congress.

It's important to note that the power of pardon was not given in order to facilitate law or judicial justice. Quite the opposite; it was designed, and defended, on the basis that there needs to be a protection even from law and even from judicial justice. It was not made in order to prevent the backfiring of justice; one of the types of cases for which it was explicitly considered was the one where legal justice succeeds: the law was in general a reasonable one, and the judgment in court was a reasonable application of the law. As I think Oliver Wendell Holmes somewhere put it, it was explicitly supposed to include cases where policy required "a remission of a punishment strictly due, for a crime certainly ascertained." The cases where pardon can correct faulty justice were merely considered an additional benefit.

Hamilton explicitly argues that the power of pardon should be open to a very liberal use:

Humanity and good policy conspire to dictate, that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed. The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.

It is thus entirely different from an acquittal; it does not imply innocence or vindication. Thus when we consider how it might be improved (and it is always possible that any clause of the Constitution might be improved), it does not make much sense to consider it as if it were part of the justice system. It is entirely a different matter: it is a distinct system for protecting people from the legislature and the courts; it is based on the principle that these things may not have a good result even when working quite well. (That there is some wisdom to this is seen in the aftermath of the Civil War, since Lincoln spent an immense amount of time using his pardoning power to protect deserters, especially very young ones, from full punishment.) Pardon is part of our justice system in a kind of incidental way; as it is set up to work, one can argue, it is (so to speak) part of our benevolence system, and works on the principle that mercy can and should sometimes supercede the ordinary operation of justice. James Wilson puts this point nicely:

The most general opinion, as we have already observed, and, we may add, the best opinion, is, that, in every state, there ought to be a power to pardon offences. In the mildest systems, of which human societies are capable, there will still exist a necessity of this discretionary power, the proper exercise of which may arise from the possible circumstances of every conviction. Citizens, even condemned citizens, may be unfortunate in a higher degree, than that, in which they are criminal. When the cry of the nation rises in their favour; when the judges themselves, descending from their seats, and laying aside the formidable sword of justice, come to supplicate in behalf of the person, whom they have been obliged to condemn; in such a situation, clemency is a virtue; it becomes a duty.

It's pretty clear, I think, that this in itself unsettles people; and repeatedly one finds that many of the arguments for restricting the pardoning power boil down simply to the fact that justice was not served. That really implies that there should be no real pardoning power at all; pardon gets its strength precisely from the fact that it is able to do this. The more restricted motivation that provides grounds for restricting the pardoning power (rather than eliminating it) is to discourage corruption. Certainly restrictions of the power to pardon are not unheard of -- the President perhaps has a less restricted power of absolute pardon than the British monarch had in the time of Blackstone. The pardoning power was (as I understand)in a way smuggled through the Constitutional convention, being added at the last minute and not discussed at length, despite being controversial; and it has, moreover, a long history of being used for political expediency. There is room for both motivations, if reasonably unfolded (as well as for reasoned defenses of keeping things as is, if any are on offer).* But I think it is very important to keep the two arguments distinct; otherwise we'll just make a hash of things.
* I'm of the view that the pardoning power is very important, and should be used more systematically than it usually is. I am open to arguments, however, that it could be reworked in ways to reduce any encouragement to corruption that might possibly result from it.

ADDED LATER: The blogosphere is abundant beyond all imagining. It turns out there is a blog devoted to the pardon power, both federal and state, by an expert on the subject.

Darwin on Reason and Imagination

Scientific inquiry requires a clear distinction between the two:

Text not available
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection Or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life By Charles Darwin

This important passage occurs not too long after a slightly better known (and very, very often misunderstood) passage on the same subject:

Text not available
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection Or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life By Charles Darwin

One can think of any number of scientific discoveries and ideas that are quite literally unimaginable in themselves but that reason can discover.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Falling Cats and Falling Stones

Would it not be preferable to treat all statements and all sciences as coordinated and to abandon for good the traditional hierarchy: physical sciences, biological sciences, social sciences, and similar types of "scientific pyramidism"? We should not even look at mechanics as a nonbiological science but prefer to say more cautiously that the statements of mechanics deal in the same way with falling cats and falling stones.

Otto Neurath, "Foundations of the Social Sciences," Foundations of the Unity of Science, vol. 2. Despite some places where it gets too logical-positivist-y, it's a good essay that makes a number of excellent points; but it has historically been overshadowed by another, and vastly more famous, essay in the same volume, by someone named Thomas Kuhn.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Otto Neurath was born on December 10, 1882; he has the distinction of being my favorite logical positivist. Part of the reason is that Neurath, unlike most philosophers of science in the twentieth century, actually did some genuinely good and lasting work improving science education.

One of his most influential inventions was Isotype, the International System of TYpographic Picture Education, originally called the 'Vienna Method', which he developed with the artist Gerd Arntz. Isotype became the backbone of all those international picture-language signs that you see everywhere.

* Basic by Isotype, by Otto Neurath. This website just has sample pages; Neurath furthered the potential of Isotype by combining it with Ogden's Basic English.

* International Picture Language, by Otto Neurath

* Visual Education: A New Language, by Otto Neurath

* Speaking Signs: Otto Neurath's Viennese Method of Visual Education, by Frank Hartmann

* "Society and Economy": An Atlas in Otto Neurath's Pictorial Statistics from 1930 (PDF), by Sybilla Nikolow

* Isotype - speaking signs: gives the background to isotype

* Isotype Institute: lots of samples of Isotype; they also have an old source article called, From Hieroglyphics to Isotype

* Gerd Arntz's Isotype symbols

* Otto Neurath's Universal Silhouettes from Cabinet Magazine

* The Simplest Expression of an Object, at "Austin Kleon", is a blog post discussing some of Neurath's underlying principles (focusing on the principle of reduction).

* A blog post at "The Science Project" discussing Isotype-based science books for children.

In addition to Isotype, Neurath did work with museums; it seems that it was actually out of his work with museums (for a short while he was Director of the Museum of War Economy in Leipzig, and created a Museum of Society and Economy that existed for almost a decade) that his work in pictorial communication first began to develop. Managing Museum Work in Austria (PDF), by Hadwig Kraeutler, discusses some of Neurath's work in museum theory.

Links and Notes

Busy time of year! Posting may be light this week and next.

* The newest Philosopher's Carnival is at "The Uncredible Hallq".

* At, Jasper Reid gives an excellent answer to the question of who is the first definite atheist philosopher, a tricky question to answer. Reid suggests Jean Meslier (1664-1729) as the first person who can definitely be tagged as a philosophical atheist.

* The best LOLCat ever.

* Orac argues that some Nazi science was good science. It is a sign of how radically the image of science has changed since the nineteenth century; most of the major scientists of the middle of the nineteenth century would have denied that anything clearly morally wrong could be 'good science' rather than merely a perverse mockery of it, being among those who, in Whewell's words "love to contemplate the union of intellectual and moral excellence". Science, at least ideally, was not a method for understanding nature; it was a whole approach to nature, consistent with many methods, undertaken to benefit everyone. (One can only imagine what Faraday, who went into science because there was too much room in business for being immoral, would think of a conception of 'good science' that put his work in the same category as some of that of Josef Mengele.) This romantic conception of science seems to have vanished entirely; but sometimes, I think, one can reasonably have a bit of nostalgia for the innocence of the days when Victorian scientists were seriously distressed over the possibility that Newton might have blemished his moral character simply by being unfair to Flamsteed, and were so distressed because the authority of the scientist derived, as they saw it, from trying to improve humanity's stock of knowledge in a virtuous way, since they regarded true science as the work of the "whole man". (It's an interesting question why they held this view, just as it's an interesting question why we don't. One reason contributing to their view was that many of them held that science was ultimately consistent with itself and were holding out a hope for a science of morals. Indeed, Mill and Whewell both did their work in philosophy of science partly in an attempt to contribute toward the science of morals. But if some science can yield moral conclusions, and every science is consistent and linked with every other, no science be genuinely amoral. But there were other reasons as well.)

In any case, the claim that science is amoral in the strict sense isn't a claim that endures close scrutiny; there are moral values which, by whether they are involved in the work, affect whether something is good science: honesty in reporting results, for instance, or responsibility in organizing one's inquiry, or patience in drawing conclusions. The list massively expands if we consider not merely ways a particular individual may do particular things in science but ways of doing science so that science is a sustainable social activity among a community of scientists. And when we recognize this we are left with two options: either we can consider morality disjoint, so that the weak morality involved in basic good science is simply an isolated morality from morality in the more robust sense, or we can say that things that don't meet rather robust moral standards are not good science but defective imitations of it (even if good scientists are still able to do something with the defective mess of bad science).

* By coincidence I'm reading Eichmann in Jerusalem, and just after reading Orac's post came across that famous and chilling passage in Chapter V (emphasis in the original):

The moment, one of the few great ones in the whole trial, occurred during the short oral plaidoyer of the defense, after which the court withdrew for four months to write its judgment. Servatius declared the accused innocent of charges bearing on his responsibility for "the collection of skeletons, sterilizations, killings by gas, and similar medical matters," whereupon Judge Halevi interrupted him: "Dr. Servatius, I assume you made a slip of the tongue when you said that killing by gas was a medical matter." To which Servatius replied: "It was indeed a medical matter, since it was prepared by physicians; it was a matter of killing, and killing too is a medical matter."

* A recent study seems to indicate that for Muslims performing the Hajj increases belief in the equality of all human beings, more favorable attitudes toward women, more tolerant attitudes toward adherents of other religions, and a greater sense of harmony with other Muslims. (The study was done on Pakistani pilgrims.) The authors suggest that the primary reason is that the Hajj brings together Muslims from all over the world, allowing them to be exposed to and interact with Muslims of different cultures and views. (ht)

* Things I will be reading more closely:

Volker Peckhaus, Algebra of Logic, Quantification Theory, and Opposition Theory (PDF)

Seth Lloyd, Ultimate Physical Limits to Computation (PDF)

David Ellerman, Concrete Universals in Category Theory (PDF)

* J. D. Williams, The Compleat Strategyst (PDF), the classic popular introduction to game theory, is free online through the RAND Corporation. You can also purchase a hardcopy through their website. Also free online from RAND:

Jonathan Cave, Introduction to Game Theory
J. C. C. McKinsey, Introduction to the Theory of Games
Melvin Dresher, Games of Strategy
Martin Shubik, On Gaming and Game Theory
Thomas Schelling, Prospectus for a Reorientation of Game Theory
Kahn and Mann, Game Theory
Lloyd Shapley, n-Person Game Theory
Lloyd Shapley, Utility Comparison and the Theory of Games
Berkovitz and Dresher, A Game Theory Analysis of Tactical Air War
Bohnenblust, Shapley, and Sherman, Reconnaissance in Game Theory
Hamilton and Mesic, Using Game Theory to Analyze Operations against Time-Critical Targets
G. Haywood, Military Doctrine of Decision and the von Neumann Theory of Games
Samuel Karlin, The Theory of Infinite Games

And, of course, many more.

* Matthew Milliner, When The Eagles Don't Fit in Capistrano discusses the most probable option for a restauratio of Christian art. (I think I may have linked it before, but it's still worth thinking about.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Liberal Arts

To a great degree we have lost the traditional notion of a 'liberal art'. When we talk about liberal arts, we mean certain fields of study; liberal arts are fields of general knowledge and 'general intellectual capacities'. But this is not at all the original idea behind the 'liberal arts'. The liberal arts were arts, different from mechanical or manual arts in the sense that they were not geared toward physical production of effects, but arts nonetheless. A liberal art was a skill for making something, and, in particular, for making those kinds of things that are most useful for intellectual activities. Thus the liberal arts were not themselves 'general' at all, although, of course, a single liberal art could be useful in a wide variety of fields. They were specific ways of doing the work that was instrumental for intellectual discovery and understanding.

We find this understanding very nicely stated by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century:

Even in speculative matters there is something by way of work: e.g. the making of a syllogism or of a fitting speech, or the work of counting or measuring. Hence whatever habits are ordained to such like works of the speculative reason, are, by a kind of comparison, called arts indeed, but "liberal" arts, in order to distinguish them from those arts that are ordained to works done by the body, which arts are, in a fashion, servile, inasmuch as the body is in servile subjection to the soul, and man, as regards his soul, is free [liber]. On the other hand, those sciences which are not ordained to any such like work, are called sciences simply, and not arts.

I've actually come to think of this as rather important. Consider reading, which is as basic a liberal art as any. We tend to think of reading as in a sense transparent: you read what's on the page and that's that. But, really, anyone who does a lot of work with texts knows that it's not quite so simple, and you can have someone perfectly literate, in the sense of being able to read, who can look at a text and not make heads or tails of it, or, alternatively, who makes a complete hash of interpretation. This is because reading a text is not like just looking out a window; it involves work. Reading is doing things with texts, even if it's as simple as comparing this passage with that passage, or vividly imagining a scene, or making speculations as to what a character is thinking in light of what the author tells us. Good readers are people who have picked this up and practiced it enough that many of these things are second nature to them. This has made me realize that I need to change certain aspects of the way I deal with reading in my courses. Instead of just assigning reading, I should ask myself, "What can I have my students do with the text, given that I can take for granted that some students will have not picked up some of these habits? How can I modify my reading assignments so that instead of justing saying, 'Read,' I've made reasonably sure that they've had a chance to do something with the text -- and that will be a way to read it?" This is a very difficult set of questions, but I think we need to recover enough of the older notion of liberal arts as specific skills ancillary to intellectual life in order to ask them.

Similar things may be said of writing. I've long been dissatisfied with the role of writing at the college level, and in particular the pervasive reliance on the essay. There's nothing wrong with essays as such, but I think professors have difficulty remembering that essays are not natural means of expression. They are very difficult to do well; it's enough not enough to be able to write, you have to have at hand a rather sophisticated panoply of liberal arts, because essays don't just flow out of the pen, they are built, constructed using a wide variety of artistic tricks. In old-style rhetoric you would often practice something like essay-writing or speech-making by the method of emulation: you would build essays or speeches or whatever by copying great essays or speeches or whatever, extensively, so that you would pick up at least some of the art of it. And the essay is such an amorphous genre -- it was literally invented as a means of rambling, a form of 'miscellaneous writing', as an alternative to an actual treatise -- that if you just say 'Write an essay on such-and-such', there's no telling what you'll get. What we need to do is give assignments that clearly tell the students to do things with what they are writing about. Some teachers already do that; but I don't think most of us do, because we are usually the sort of people who easily took to writing essays, and so we forget that an essay is something that takes very specific skills of wordcraft.

The list could go on and on. The older notion of a liberal art as a skill of craft and work pinned down something very important about intellectual life, one that I think we have lost, although I think much of what we think of as 'good teaching' is based on at least a rough sense of this missing feature. It is also the only way, I think, to save the category of 'liberal arts' from being the miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

An Advent Cartoon

This has been going around for while.

Five Fifty-Six

I was tagged by Rebecca

Take ten books, and transcribe the fifth sentence from page fifty six.

In keeping with the 5, 56 thing, Make sure that at least five books are fiction, provide five hints, and pass the meme on to six other bloggers.

(1) He knew that there might be worse to come.
(2) Querida looked along the table.
(3) "But why aren't there more women Eternals?"
(4) "The whole time was devoted to an argument between Mr. Sperling and me on that point alone."
(5) "Or what purpose that would serve--a woman can't ride to war, after all."
(6) He shall so greatly have honoured the shadow, and will abandon the substance!
(7) In like manner we find the same number if we consider the subjects of virtue.
(8) Therefore, wealth is not able to make a person lack for nothing and be self-sufficient, yet this is what it seemed to promise.
(9) When I see a child, for whom it's still quite proper to make conversation this way, halting in its speech and playing like a child, I'm delighted.
(10) His inspection had shown him that his pupil was trying not to cry, and if he spoke in a kind voice he would break down and do it.


(1) Books 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10 are fictional.
(2) So are books 8 and 9, although they are usually not treated as such because they are works of philosophy.
(3) The quotation from book 9 is part of a long speech attacking philosophy as childish.
(4) Book 4 is a mystery paperback.
(5) Book 6 is a classic polemic against the Reformation.

I hereby tag the first five people who want to do this.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Three Approaches to Social Change

I've been doing the feminist philosophy section in my intro course, and since it's a short section and feminist philosophy is extremely diverse, I'm always trying to find ways that are relatively easy ways of handling the field that nonetheless do justice to its diversity. One thing I've done is to suggest that, when people recognize something about society that is seriously amiss and in need of change, and the problem is not easy to solve, there's a regular pattern of people splitting up into three groups.

(1) One, which we might call a reformationist approach, evaluates the problem as a failure to apply consistently some set of principles underlying the society; in other words, they want to keep the basic character of the society the same and use its inbuilt resources to solve the problem, or at least alleviate it.

(2) Another, which we might call a transformationist approach, occurs when people come to the conclusion that it's society itself that is the problem: the society's own means of improvement are unable to correct the problem and, in fact, continue to propagate it. This group holds that we need to rethink society throughout.

(3) And a third group can generally be found that holds that reformation and transformation alike face the practical problem of being unable to do what they are wanting to do; in order to fix the problem such people want (unlike the reformationist but like the transformationist) an entirely new way of doing things but (like the reformationist but unlike the transformationist) think that simply restructuring society as a whole is not practicable, even if we are doing it piecemeal. So they handle it by advocating a breakaway system, within which a better society can be built, and whose benefits can then begin to filter out into society at large. These might be called separationists.

So, in other words: When there's something wrong with the system, you can improve the system using its basic principles, replace the system by replacing its basic principles, or build a break-off system with its own principles. Really, of course, there's a spectrum here; each of these admits of degrees and varieties, although the clustering into groups is noticeable. No doubt this could be refined, but it's definitely a pattern that can be found repeatedly in feminist thought itself, and it accounts for many of the arguments among feminists. To take just one of several examples that I use, arguments between "liberal" feminists, who accept the basic principles of a liberal society and build their projects on those, and "radical" feminists, who think those principles (however good relative to those of other societies we've had so far) are simply not good enough, are arguments against reformationists and transformationists within a liberal society. And the pattern is fairly robust historically; Astell in the early modern period builds a moderately separationist proposal for women's education, while Masham opposes it with a firmly reformationist one.

But, as I said, I think this is actually quite general (although details may need to be refined); these are just the sorts of approaches spread out into in response to something they all recognize as needing change. The relative strength of each approach will vary from case to case; for instance, it seems to me that, while there have been feminist separationisms (like Astell on education) and will likely continue to be, it has generally been and probably will continue to be a very small minority. But in other cases, separation may well dominate. In any case, I think this sort of spread is probably almost inevitable. When we're dealing with a problem that's simultaneously very important and very difficult to solve, it will often be a judgment call whether the system itself is salvageable; thus the split between reformationists and transformationists. Then, since it is very difficult to solve, if the system is not itself salvageable, it will be a judgment call whether you should stay in the system and replace its principles bit by bit or start anew somewhere. Thus the split between transformationists and separationists.

It works well for giving students a basic sense of both the richness and diversity of feminist philosophy. But there are bound to be some weaknesses in it. Does anyone have any suggestions as to possible problems and objections that might be raised against it?

MySpace Saints

An amusing feature of internet life is the creation of MySpace pages for saints. Here are just a few saints for whom people have created MySpace pages.

John the Evangelist
Jude, Brother of James the Less
Michael the Archangel
Barbara the Great Martyr
Francis of Assisi
Clare of Assisi
Dominic de Guzman
Maria Goretti
Thomas Becket
Ignatius of Loyola
Francis Xavier
Anthony of Padua
Queen Helena
Patrick of Ireland
Brigid of Ireland
Vincent Ferrer
Louis IX
Teresa of Avila

The list could go on for many pages. In addition to saints, you can also find kings and queens like Edward Longshanks.

Three Degrees Rule

This article on the spread of perceived happiness in social networks is quite interesting:

Happy people tend to be located in the centre of their local social networks and in large clusters of other happy people. The happiness of an individual is associated with the happiness of people up to three degrees removed in the social network. Happiness, in other words, is not merely a function of individual experience or individual choice but is also a property of groups of people. Indeed, changes in individual happiness can ripple through social networks and generate large scale structure in the network, giving rise to clusters of happy and unhappy individuals. These results are even more remarkable considering that happiness requires close physical proximity to spread and that the effect decays over time.

This spread of noticeable influence up to three degrees of separation is found in other phenomena as well: obesity and smoking habits are the two solid examples. As the author notes, this raises the question of how extensive this pattern of spread is:

We conjecture that this phenomenon is generic. We might yet find that a "three degrees of influence rule" applies to depression, anxiety, loneliness, drinking, eating, exercise, and many other health related activities and emotional states, and that this rule restricts the effective spread of health phenomena to three degrees of separation away from the ego.

If this is the case, it would need to be factored into one's moral life, because your habits, moods, and the like may have noticeable effects on people several times removed from you.

The spread is not indiscriminate; the spread of perceived happiness, for instance, seems to travel primarily through friendships, although family ties also allow for some spread:

We can use these results to estimate what would happen to the happiness of the ego if the alter were "switched" from being unhappy to being happy—that is, if the alters "become" happy. "Nearby" friends (who live within a mile (1.6 km)) and who become happy increase the probability ego is happy by 25% (1% to 57%). "Distant" friends (who live more than a mile away) have no significant effect on ego. Among friends, we can distinguish additional possibilities; as each person was asked to name a friend, and not all of these nominations were reciprocated, we have ego perceived friends (denoted "friends"), "alter perceived friends" (alter named ego as a friend, but not vice versa) and "mutual friends" (ego and alter nominated each other). Nearby mutual friends have a stronger effect than nearby ego perceived friends; when they become happy it increases the probability ego will be happy by 63% (12% to 148%). In contrast, the influence of nearby alter perceived friends is much weaker and not significant (12%, –13% to 47%)....

We also found similar effects for other kinds of alters. Coresident spouses who become happy increase the probability their spouse is happy by 8% (0.2% to 16%), while non-coresident spouses have no significant effect. Nearby siblings who live within a mile (1.6 km) and become happy increase their sibling’s chance of happiness by 14% (1% to 28%), while distant siblings have no significant effect. Next door neighbours who become happy increase ego’s happiness by 34% (7% to 70%), while neighbours who live on the same block (within 25 metres) have no significant effect. All these relations indicate the importance of physical proximity, and the strong influence of neighbours suggests that the spread of happiness might depend more on frequent social contact than deep social connections. On the other hand, we found no effect of the happiness of coworkers on an ego, suggesting that the social context might moderate the flow of happiness from one person to another.

In any case, this type of study raises all sorts of interesting questions worth asking. Does intellectual excitement also follow the "three degrees rule"? (Randall Collins has suggested something like this, although I don't recall his specifying three degrees.) How about moral and religious habits? (Newman argued extensively that the primary source of religious conversion is personal example.) Does this pattern have a discernible effect on problems faced by women and minorities? And so on and so forth.

ADDED LATER: (1) Nicholas Christakis, one of the authors, has an online list of publications he's done in this area.

(2) Also, you should read this satirical criticism of jumping to conclusions on evidence like this, just in case you're inclined to make too much of a single study.

(3) And Richard points out this critical discussion in the comments.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Links and Notes

* The December edition of The Reasoner has a number of thought-provoking articles; I recommend it. I especially liked Martin Cooke's reflection on Grim versions of the Liar, and the interview on category theory. (Ah, category theory; sometimes I feel I am beginning to understand you at least a little, and then SMACK! You throw my brain into a brick wall, and I find myself more confused than when I began. And yet somehow I never learn.)

* A recording of Tolkien talking about the mythology of Middle-earth. (ht) One thing that surprised me (but in retrospect is quite obvious) is that Tolkien thinks that much of the tragedy of Middle-Earth is the fault of the Valar -- i.e., they made a mistake in bringing the Elves over the Sea rather than leaving them be.

* YouTube find: Nina Simone, I Put a Spell on You
[UPDATE: There must be a Nina Simone spell going around; Echidne of the Snakes has three.]

* Brian Randell discusses the history of Analytical Engine designs after Babbage (PDF). Randell also has a paper discussing in more detail Ludgate's design (he includes in an Appendix Ludgate's own brief account), while David MacQuillan has a webpage discussing the feasibility of that version. Torres y Quevedo was a rather impressively versatile engineer; in addition to his computing machines and his chess automaton, he invented new kinds of dirigibles and cable cars and may well be the inventor of remote control (he designed a way to manipulate a robot using radio waves).

* From 1982 to 2007 the cost of tuition has massively outpaced rise in income. I don't think it's really surprising, but it's one more worry about our educational system.

* Google Book find: John Placid Conway, St. Thomas Aquinas of the Order of the Preachers

* Brian Leiter is commenting in in an old thread at "Feminist Philosophers"; I would ignore it except that he insists on not backing down from an apparently absurd claim about the quality of Hypatia, and does so without a shred of real evidence to back it up -- he talks vaguely about how he has 'familiarity with Hypatia' and how he has heard some of the same judgments from 'some feminist philosophers'. (And then tries repeatedly to intimidate anonymous colleagues into revealing themselves to him, on a blog that has been very explicit about the importance of anonymity for protecting women philosophers and others.) The comments thread is closed on that post (for good reason, because it was generating more heat than light). But since I originally commented on the post when it first came out, I do want to go on record saying that Leiter's argument in the thread doesn't address the problem I had had with his original post, namely, that his claim that "The best work in feminist philosophy, for example, has surely appeared in many of the other A* journals, not in Hypatia" is based on nothing but his "surely" (and now on his "familiarity" and having heard similar views from "some feminist philosophers"); and his claim that other journals on the A* list are "much broader" seems merely to be furthering a common stereotype about the sort of work published in a feminist philosophy journal like Hypatia. This is not merely a matter of Leiter, since I think Leiter, as usual, largely has his finger on the pulse of the profession; it's just that I think that this is precisely the problem, since in this case it looks like it involves propagation of stereotypes against feminist philosophy that allow people to marginalize it without good reason. (I recommend you look through Hypatia's tables of contents, or, better yet, some actual issues, in order to satisfy yourself that, whatever criticism may be made of it, that it is less broad than most of the A*-list journals is not one of them. Indeed, I think that if someone wanted to say that Hypatia is less than A*-list it is because it is far too broad: a single issue can sometimes represent half a dozen very different approaches to philosophy. Maintaining quality under such conditions can be genuinely tricky.) Even if Leiter's right that Hypatia is a "dubious inclusion" on the A*-list, he hasn't presented any good argument for this claim; and, barring some clear reasoning in support of it, something rather less vague, it still looks like it just propagates stereotypes about feminist philosophy that are false and detrimental to the whole profession.

* Kenny discusses the motive for Berkeley's anti-abstractionism.

* I'm looking for a good primer or textbook on graph theory; it's come up incidentally in something I'm doing and my grasp of graph theory, patchwork to begin with, needs to be bolstered by a good set of reminders. Does anyone know of any good sources (I'd almost say the more beginner-level the better, but I find that sometimes that just means a lot of vocabulary without any discussion of what you do when you do things with it).

* I've recently been re-reading Collins's The Sociology of Philosophies, so this is a reminder to myself to get a hold of this article by Peter Munz at some point, which sounds relevant to one of my own criticisms; and to read more closely this review by Hava Tirosh-Samuelson. And to remind myself that I decided half a year ago now to post something looking critically at Collins's "law of small numbers", so that perhaps I'll do that sometime in this next six months.

* I also recommend, more generally, this article by Collins on the acrimoniousness of intellectual disputes, as at least raising some things to ponder.

ADDED LATER: One has to admit that this is funny. I'm not one to laugh, really; I've very nearly forgotten to go to a class I was teaching at least three times in my short career, so it's almost bound actually to happen to me at some point, and it will be embarrassing having been shown up as merely human. But given that the topic was pleasure and duty, this was priceless:

Anna Lombardo, of Mount Ararat Road, Richmond, who was part of the crowd gathered for the event, said: "I was left in some doubt over Professor Grayling’s position on the matter, after he failed to show up."

Grayling's essay on becoming a philosopher, explaining how he himself got into philosophy, is well worth anyone's time.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

An Ancient Comfort in the Stars

by Grace Noll Crowell

A strange surprising gladness stirs my heart
At night--when heaven's first lights--dim and far--
Swing in the dusk--and each one suddenly--
Becomes the silver wonder of a star.

Becomes a shining splendor on the hills--
Unfailing, steadfast, calm and high and white--
Stars are so beautiful--so steeped in peace--
They rest me more than anything at night.

There is an ancient comfort in the stars:
I treasure it--"Lift up your eyes and see,"
"He calleth them by name--not one hath failed..."
O, often through his stars--God comforts me.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pope Benedict on Sola Fide

Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther's phrase: "faith alone" is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14).

General Audience, 19 November 2008

ADDED LATER: I'm reminded, actually, of Jonathan Edwards:

And besides, as the word condition is very often understood in the common use of language, faith is not the only thing in us that is the condition of justification. For by the word condition, as it is very often (and perhaps most commonly) used, we mean anything that may have the place of a condition in a conditional proposition, and as such is truly connected with the consequent, especially if the proposition holds both in the affirmative and negative, as the condition is either affirmed or denied. If it be that with which, or which being supposed, a thing shall be, and without which, or it being denied, a thing shall not be, we in such a case call it a condition of that thing. But in this sense faith is not the only condition of salvation and justification. For there are many things that accompany and flow from faith, with which justification shall be, and without which, it will not be, and therefore are found to be put in Scripture in conditional propositions with justification and salvation, in multitudes of places. Such are love to God, and love to our brethren, forgiving men their trespasses, and many other good qualifications and acts. And there are many other things besides faith, which are directly proposed to us, to be pursued or performed by us, in order to eternal life, which if they are done, or obtained, we shall have eternal life, and if not done, or not obtained, we shall surely perish.

Edwards goes on to say, of course, that faith is the only condition of justification in being the sole cause (in us) of justification, the thing that renders it fitting for us to have it; but things other than faith are conditions of justification in the more ordinary sense of inseparably attending justification.

On the Canadian Hubbub

If you haven't been keeping track of Canadian politics, things are going crazy over there. For some time now, Stephen Harper has been leading a Conservative minority government in Parliament, and had this government reaffirmed in an election just eight weeks ago or so. There are 308 seats in parliament; to have a clear majority government requires 155 of these; the Conservatives control 143. This is just 12 short of clear majority -- very close -- but it is still minority territory. However, Harper recently galvanized the opposition parties by pushing for the removal of federal funding for political parties (there was eventually a retraction) and by moves that were seen as attempts to manipulate the current economic woes in a purely partisan way. So the Liberals (led by Stephane Dion) and the NDP (led by Jack Layton) began to consider a coalition -- despite having both explicitly rejected the notion in the election. However, together they only have 114 MPs (the Liberals have 77 and the NDP 37), well short even of the Conservative 143. So a Liberal-NDP coalition simply couldn't work.

Unless someone else were in on it, of course. You'll notice that 143+114 is short of 308. The Bloc Quebecois (led by Gilles Duceppe) controls 49 seats in Parliament. And they have thrown their support behind the coalition, in part because they are the party that benefits most from federal funding; they won't be part of the government, but as part of the deal they've been granted a few concessions. In effect, if they get these concessions, they can still vote as they please, except where the vote would threaten the government itself. And a Liberal-NDP government protected by the Bloc in this way can take over: it controls 163 seats. In the new coalition, Stephane Dion will be Prime Minister, and (in an unprecedented move) the NDP will have six cabinet seats in the new government.

There are lots of things that are interesting here.

(1) Again, this is only seven or eight weeks after election, and, what is more, an election in which the Conservatives did very well compared to everyone else. They gained 19 seats, whereas the NDP barely budged and the Liberals had their fourth election of decline, and one of the worst showings they've had in decades. Now the Liberals are inches away from controlling the Prime Ministry, without a change in Parliament. But that's the way it goes: elections in a parliamentary system don't make the government, they make the Parliament. The government is made by Parliament, and that way there is always the possibility for surprise. (I find, incidentally, that Americans have difficulty wrapping their minds around this aspect of parliamentary systems: the closest we get to anything like it is the Electoral College, and that's highly constrained.)

(2) The coalition is a weird coalition, so much so that there are even solid Liberals and New Democrats who are a bit on edge about it. The Liberals are a center-left party, and have a long history of seeing themselves as the Party of Canada, the moderate, middle-of-the-road, natural choice for Canadians everywhere; they have been historically the dominant pro-unity party, that is, the party that has been most responsible for keeping Canada a unified nation (and, in particular, for keeping Quebec in the Dominion), and not compromising on this point. The NDP is firmly social democrat, the Canadian left. And the Bloc Quebecois is a regional separatist party -- they want Quebec to be able to secede and, barring that, they vote pro-Quebec on everything. The Liberals, by pushing this coalition, are giving the Bloc more power than it has ever had.

(3) This would be the first coalition in power in Canada since 1917, when Robert Borden, then leader of the Conservative party, formed the Union coalition, which held together until the Liberals took over in the 1921 election.

The tale is not over. Merely controlling the seats doesn't give you the government. The Conservatives are still in control in the moment. But they are on the edge of losing a vote of confidence, which will topple them. There are a number of very different paths it can take from here:

(1) The vote of confidence has currently been delayed a short bit to allow time for the government to show that it can be a government Parliament can have confidence in; this is a standard sort of allowance, but it only buys time. Eventually the vote will have to come up, because the ability of the government to do much is sharply limited when it doesn't clearly have the confidence of Parliament. When the vote comes up, the coalition can vote for nonconfidence as they have said they will. The Governor-General will reconstitute Parliament, the Conservative government will fall, the Liberal-NDP government will rise. And Canada will be governed by a weak coalition of weak parties, and, what is more, parties that historically have not been friendly. The Canadian House of Comments is not like some European parliaments, where coalitions are a matter of course; it is a very adversarial chamber, and parties are more inclined to fight it out than to compromise. It will be unstable, and everyone knows that it will be unstable. The best the Liberals can hope for here is time and luck enough to regain the confidence of Canadians that they are capable of guiding the nation, so that when the unstable coalition dissolves and an election is called they will be able to take the reins again in a stronger position. The NDP, meanwhile, gets the Conservatives, their primary opponents, out of power for at least a while. The Bloc gets concessions it has never had before -- for a while. And to do it everyone has to live in relative peace with parties they can't really stand.

(2) The Governor-General (currently Michaelle Jean) could, in principle, simply give the Liberal-NDP coalition the government. This would be unprecedented and is extraordinarily unlikely, since it would generally be seen as an abuse of viceregal power.

(3) Prime Minister Harper could prorogue Parliament. This would be a suspension of Parliament until the Throne Speech on January 27; Conservatives would stay in power until then, and thus have time to work out a solution. To do this, the Prime Minister must issue an Order-in-Council and get the assent of the Governor-General. In principle, it's possible that she could refuse it, but this is highly unlikely; as long as the Prime Minister is in power, the Governor-General is expected to use her powers solely in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, unless she has clear reason to believe that doing so would threaten the Canadian constition. But there still is a bare possibility, unlikely though it may be, that she would require that the government show that it can survive a test of confidence -- in which case we are back at the confidence vote.

(4) Harper could ask the Governor-General to call an election. The problem, of course, is that elections are very expensive and Canadians just went through one in October, and it is unclear whether it would move matters much. And the Governor-General could in principle also require that the election be a last resort.

You'll notice that a lot actually depends on Rideau Hall, i.e., the Governor-General; and it's not very clear what room she has to maneuver. And since there is no particular procedure -- we are entirely into the unwritten area of Canada's constitution, the one usually governed by precedent and tradition rather than formal rules -- it's anyone's guess what will happen. Chances are the coalition with succeed; chances are it won't last long; chances are the Conservatives will be back in power within the year. But it's all just chances; no certainties here. It will be interesting to see what happens.

UPDATE: Parliament is prorogued. The pause button has been hit; we'll see how things go when Parliament returns in January.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Puzzle about Malebranche and Mathematics

A puzzle that I will need to unravel at some point.

Text not available
Journal of Sacred Literature

A very interesting idea (although one would wish for some sort of evidence to back it up). However, L'Hopital's book was not written by L'Hopital, but, it would seem, by Johann Bernoulli; it was a course, purchased from Bernoulli by L'Hopital under a very unusual contract, that was merely published under L'Hopital's name. L'Hopital and Bernoulli seem to have become acquainted by way of Malebranche, who interacted with a number of mathematicians and was a strong advocate of Leibniz's calculus, and a leader of the 'infinitesimalists' in the Academy of Sciences. The Analyse was the first significant textbook for the differential calculus; in substance it was largely Bernoulli's, with some revisions. So here's the puzzle. If that's the case, what room is there for Malebranche's editing? Presumably he could still have done the diagrams by hand; but what revisions, if at all, were due to him, and what to L'Hopital? And for each of these questions what's the actual state of the evidence? Is this really just a legend, a just-so story concocted on the basis of Malebranche's association with the great mathematicians of the time, or is there substance to it? And if there is substance to it, how much?

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Some disjointed thoughts I've had recently that are bound together by the notion of workshop-philosophy; the phrase is formed on the analogy of 'workshop-art', i.e., the art in the workshop itself, including sketches, half-formed ideas, first attempts, etc., as well as finished works.

Jorge Gracia, in A Theory of Textuality, suggests a useful terminology for talking about commentary-type 'interpretations'. We have an interpretandum, the text to be interpreted, and the interpretans, text which is added to the interpretandum by the interpreter, and the union of the two is what we often call 'the interpretation'. ('Text' here would include spoken as well as written use of signs.) So, for instance, 'Averroes's interpretation of Aristotle' is Aristotle (as Averroes would have had him) plus Averroes's text added to Aristotle's text. Seen in this light, the crafting of a good interpretans is a major part of what philosophers do: even if you are simply discussing an argument made by a contemporary, what you are doing is creating an interpretans to go with it.

An interpretans must be crafted; it is like a work of art. Part of its relation to the interpretandum is merely logical -- one aims at consistency between interpretans and interpretandum; but no one settles for this, either. What seems to be added above this is a set of aesthetic criteria -- a sort of theory of genius and good taste (to use the early modern terms), or at least rules of thumb and rought approximations tending toward such a theory. So, for instance, we like interpretantes that add new harmony, but prefer this new harmony to grow organically (as it were) out of the interpretandum, just as we find marble sculptures striking and impressive where they seem to grow naturally and easily out of the marble itself. Integrity or completeness, proportion or consonance, clarity or splendor.

If evaluation of an interpretans is partly a matter of critique or good taste, then the way to go about becoming good at it is the same as with every other kind of good taste:

(1) Develop a broad base of relevant experience, so you can make informed comparisons;
(2) Build the relevant skills of discernment, i.e., the acquired ability to identify important moves, novel twists, and the like;
(3) Work toward having good sense, understood as the self-critical fairmindedness that allows us to be objective and unbiased.

And then, perhaps, the good crafting itself, described by the theory of genius, is a matter of 'active taste', just as evaluation is 'passive genius' (to use Beattie's terms). Or else (as in Kant), it is giving rule to art, the idea of which the evaluator needs in order to evaluate the work in an appropriate way. Or else (as in Schiller), play, i.e., the free play of mind and imagination in such a way as to unify reason and sense, freedom and necessity.

Novalis suggests the idea of a poetry that is in the workshop: "Stories can be thought up that lack coherence, but have associations, like dreams; poems that are merely melodious, full of lovely words, yet without any sense and coherence, only single stanzas understandable, like fragments from diverse things. This true poetry can have at most an overall allegorical sense, an indirect effect, like music has. This is why nature is so purely poetic, like a magician's workshop, a laboratory, a nursery, a carpenter's storeroom." Similarly we can think of a kind of philosophical work that is still in this dream-stage, "fragments from diverse things," suggestive like music of something greater, full of endless potential like nature in its poetry. Here is an argument, there an idea, here a redaction, there a question, here a possible line of inquiry, all piled together in the storeroom, in the back of the mechanic's shop, until they might be needed. And this would not be any less philosophical than the fully developed work; it is, in fact, the beginnings of it. And if philosophy is done properly, this magician's workshop, this complicated laboratory, is there; we all have it, but simply ignore it except in rare cases where some of the results of the workshop become famous. Then, just as even Dickinson's less successful attempts or Coleridge's marginalia become unusually interesting when Dickinson or Coleridge are famous, so too does a notebook by Hume, or a scrap of conversation by Wittgenstein, or even the catalog of someone's library, become interesting when they do something that becomes famous. But the workshop was there regardless; if all of Dickinson's truly great poetry were lost, we might still have bits of her poetic workshop. It would be less obviously interesting, as a sketch by Leonardo would be less obviously interesting were it the only thing by him that it survived, but it would still be the work of genius, the workshop-work of genius. Master craftsmen don't create ex nihilo; they select their materials, their tools, their purposes, try things out and consult with others, and this is as much art as the final finishing. And so too with philosophy.

A Sign of the Madness of Mobs

And of a moral sickness in a culture that encourages them even for a day:

Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sankt Catharina mit dem Radl

Today is the Feast of Queen Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Great Martyr, patron saint of philosophers. The most famous hymn associated with the day, by none other than Adam of St. Victor:

Vox sonora nostri chori,
Nostro sonet Conditori,
Qui disponit omnia,
Per quem dimicat imbellis,
Per quem datur et puellis
De viris victoria;

Per quem plebs Alexandrina
Faeminae non feminina
Stupuit ingenia,
Quum beata Catharina
Doctos vinceret doctrina,
Ferrum patientia.

Florem teneri decoris,
Lectionis et laboris
Attrivere studia :
Nam perlegit disciplinas
Saeculares et divinas
In adolescentia.

Vas electum, vas virtutum,
Reputavit sicut lutum
Bona transitoria,
Et reduxit in contemptum
Patris opes et parentum
Larga patrimonia.

Vasis oleum includens,
Virgo sapiens et prudens
Sponso pergit obvia,
Ut, adventus ejus hora,
Praeparata, sine mora
Intret ad convivia.

Sistitur imperatori,
Cupiens pro Christo mori;
Cujus in prsesentia
Quinquagiuta sapientes
Mutos reddit et silentes
Virginis facundia.

Had I the time, I'd take up the old medieval tradition of delivering an encomium on Aristotle on this day; but I don't, so I leave it to you.

I hope everyone has a good Thanksgiving; I'll be out of town, but should be back Sunday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mill on Inexpediency and Wrongness

Mill distinguishes expediency and right & wrong: they are two different departments of the art of life that is based on the principle of utility. But how, one might ask, does this distinction work? When you have determined that an act is not conducive to the greatest happiness for the greatest number, what more do you have to add to distinguish whether it is morally wrong or simply inexpedient policy? The answer would seem to be desert. As Mill says in Utilitarianism, Chapter V:

For the truth is, that the idea of penal sanction, which is the essence of law, enters not only into the conception of injustice, but into that of any kind of wrong. We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow-creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience. This seems the real turning point of the distinction between morality and simple expediency. It is a part of the notion of Duty in every one of its forms, that a person may rightfully be compelled to fulfil it. Duty is a thing which may be exacted from a person, as one exacts a debt. Unless we think that it may be exacted from him, we do not call it his duty.

So what distinguishes morality from expediency (or, indeed, worthiness, since Mill goes on to add that -- I just noticed that this parallels the System of Logic division) on Mill's view is that morality is doubly supported by utility: there is the support that comes from recognizing that the action or rule is conducive to the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and there is the higher-order support that comes from recognizing that it is conducive to the greatest happiness for the greatest number to attach sanction to it. In a sense we can say that utility governs every sort of 'ought' and 'should'; but there are many kinds of 'ought' and 'should'. I ought not take the 1L bus to get home; this is a practical judgment, and thus a rough judgment of utility. It is even a fairly good judgment of utility, because as a rule I shouldn't take the 1L to get home. But this is not a moral 'should'; and on Mill's view the difference is that it would not be conducive to the greatest happiness for the greatest number for anyone to regard failure to conform to this judgment as punishment-worthy. It is, on the contrary, entirely conducive to the greatest utility for us to consider deviation from the judgment 'I should not murder' as punishment-worthy.

This is related, I think, to two key features of Mill's utilitarianism, features that might at first glance seem to be in tension: (1) the fact that it places such immense emphasis on the importance and (relative) inviolability of good moral rules; and (2) the fact that it has so much tolerance for nonmaximizing, particularly in the forms of practical approximation, rules of thumb, and toleration of bad judgment. On Mill's view, if you have determined by utilitarian analysis that X is the best alternative, it does not immediately follow that it's wrong to do something other than X. To get that judgment we have to engage in a higher-order utilitarian analysis of whether we should regard failure to do X as deserving of punishment. If we don't have that, we've merely determined that it's better for me to do X than not; but simply having determined that doesn't tell us much about right and wrong, any more than I have learned anything about right and wrong from learning that it is better for me to take the 1M than the 1L to get home. If I take the 1L instead, that is not the best way to go, but I can still do something to bring me around to where I need to be; nothing of fundamental importance to society hangs on my being efficient or inefficient, competent or incompetent, on a matter like using the bus system to get home, despite the fact that one is better at getting me to my destination than the other. Similarly, if A is more conducive to the greatest happiness for the greatest number than B, it doesn't follow that I must do A; it could well be that B, although not as good as A, is good enough, and that in both ways I can work toward the greatest good for the greatest number, although in one way more efficiently than in the other, and perhaps in one way get a better result than in the other. For it to be the case that I must do A, I must show that the pursuit of the greatest happiness for the greatest number cannot tolerate my doing anything other than A. Not everything conducive to the greatest good for the greatest number is equally conducive to it; some are slightly conducive to it, and these are expedient, but some are such that without them the effectiveness of my pursuit of utility goes almost to nil, or even worse, my pursuit becomes actively destructive of our ability to pursue utility, and these are obligatory.

Thus it is that on Mill's system moral rules, to the extent that they are more or less good judgments of utility, override almost every other utilitarian consideration; they are multiply protected. In order even to show that it would be better not to follow a moral rule in a given case, I would have to show both that in that case it would be contrary to utility to consider violation of the rule as deserving of punishment and that following the rule is more conducive to utility than the opposite in that particular case. If I only do the latter, I haven't undone the moral rule: the moral rule is still supported by its utility-derived sanction. If I only do the former, the moral rule is no longer obligatory, but it is still the better thing to do. And this, mind you, is just in showing that it would be better not to follow the rule in that particular case; even if I did both of these, it would still be permissible to follow the moral rule. To make it so that it is not permissible to follow a moral rule in a given case, I would have to show that utilitarian considerations require that following the moral rule in that particularly case be deserving of punishment. The circumstances under which well-established moral rules would not swamp all rival considerations would have to be very peculiar. It seems clear that such cases can indeed arise on Mill's view; moral principles presumably get refined by our discovery of new circumstances of this kind, which then leads us to modify the formulation of the principle so that it properly covers even these circumstances. But for the most refined versions of the most well-founded principles, one can in any ordinary circumstance regard them as virtually iron-clad.

Thus we find that by giving an account of how both morality and expediency can both follow as distinct departments from utility that Mill can both insist upon the immense and (for most practical purposes) total superiority of morality over considerations of policy and tolerate a great deal of deviation from the ideal pursuit of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. And both of these, I would suggest, are actually very important to Mill's project of building a liberal society, since such a society requires recognizing the supremacy of considerations of justice over considerations of mere policy but also requires allowing a great deal of deviation from perfection. That makes it an interesting account, since one might have thought (and people did think, since Mill has to deal with arguments that are based on each) that both of these would give the Millian utilitarian some trouble. The moral positivism of making morality to be based on sanction, resulting in what is basically a secularized divine command theory, is not something appeals to me; but I find it interesting how Mill manages to handle so much with such a simple account of such a simple distinction.