Friday, February 29, 2008


I have recently been re-reading Thomas Aquinas's commentary on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, in Richard Berquist's translation. One thing that has jumped out me more this time around than before is just how different the Aristotelian approach to first principles is, compared to what is usually found today. First principles are, for the Aristotelians, immediate principles -- but this term 'immediate' is potentially misleading, because by 'immediate' the Aristotelians mean, quite literally, unmiddled. Immediate propositions are those that require no middle term. And Aristotle's Posterior Analytics can be interpreted entirely as a reflection on the relationship between middled and unmiddled propositions: it clarifies what is meant by both, proves that the latter must exist, gives methods for moving from mediate propositions to immediate propositions, and so forth. This is very different from what you'd find in most kinds of modern foundationalism, which are based not on objective methods but (usually) on identifying some privileged sort of experience (the way to get at first principles after Descartes, I suppose). But most of the issues with this sort of foundationalism don't exist for the Aristotelian approach to first principles: there is an objective (even if, on occasion, difficult) method for identifying first principles, so there is no problem of whether we know them: after all, we do know them, or at least can: you just follow the method up through mediate principles and you'll eventually arrive at them. Epistemological questions end up being purely a matter of detail: given that you know them, you naturally want to know what's involved in knowing them, and that's all the work there is for epistemologists to do. This is not minor work, but it makes justification a relatively minor issue. There is no appeal to special experiences (self-referential, or direct, or what have you); the first principles are established by a method that is, at least in a broad sense, logical. That's a very different perspective than what usually seems to be assumed in modern discussions of foundationalism.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Name That Philosopher

We may be able quite to comprehend that God can communicate immediately with man, for without the intervention of bodily means He communicates to our minds His essence; still, a man who can by pure intuition comprehend ideas which are neither contained in nor deducible from the foundations of our natural knowledge, must necessarily possess a mind far superior to those of his fellow men, nor do I believe that any have been so endowed save Christ. To Him the ordinances of God leading men to salvation were revealed directly without words or visions, so that God manifested Himself to the Apostles through the mind of Christ as He formerly did to Moses through the supernatural voice. In this sense the voice of Christ, like the voice which Moses heard, may be called the voice of God, and it may be said that the wisdom of God (i.e. wisdom more than human) took upon itself in Christ human nature, and that Christ was the way of salvation.

The answer is interesting, and I'll be saying something about it at some point in the future.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

From Tar-Water to the Trinity

As some of my readers know, Siris takes its name from a work by Bishop George Berkeley, Siris. However, the subheading I use, "A Golden Chain from Tar-Water to the Trinity, With Thoughts Relating to Philosophy, Christian Theology, and the Universe Generally," is not the subtitle of the book. The subtitle of Berkeley's Siris is "A Chain of Philosophical Reflexions and Inquiries Concerning the Virtues of Tar-Water and Diverse Other Subjects Connected Together and Arising One from Another." The "with Thoughts," etc. is simply a description of the content of the weblog. The "from tar-water to the Trinity" does describe Berkeley's work, though; it is due to Horace Walpole. While searching for something else I came across a quotation of Walpole's full statement in Balfour's Essays and Addresses; I paste it here for those who are interested.

Text not available
Essays and Addresses By Arthur James Balfour

We shouldn't, by the way, take Walpole's comment about women too much at face value; it is not the only disparagement of the intelligence of women that is attributed to him. As Balfour says for a different case (Queen Caroline's love of Butler's Analogy), "Walpole and his set would certainly be unwilling to believe that anyone, much less any woman,...could find a meaning in abstract arguments which they themselves had never taken the trouble to understand" (p. 92).

Monday, February 25, 2008

Dashed Off

Again, a diverse and semi-random selection from my notes. They are, as the sidebar says, pollen and literary seedings.

It is noteworthy that people generally make a fuss about Enlightenment values only when they are incompetent to build an Enlightenment. Such pale reflected images, seen as if in a dream, selected and collected like little daisies to remind oneself that fields can possibly exist!

Noah Webster on the empire of reason

interior instinctus ad credendum

It is easier to know that a thing is not what it is not than to know that it is so as to know that iti s identical to itself.

the NT miracles as emblematic of the sacraments (Wiseman)

Butler's Analogy is really an argument from the conditions that make prudence possible.

the law of excluded middle as a rule for the construction of a limited domain

"My own realm of thoughts, i.e., the totality S of all things, which can be objects of my thought, is infinite. For if s signifies an element of S, then is the thought s', that s can be an object of my thought, itself an element of S." Dedekind

good philosophy as incipient virtue
philosophy -> wisdom -> order of virtue

The pagan Greeks had a conception of philosophy as a search for wisdom not had: the philosopher is neither wise nor foolish, but one who, knowing that he does not know, seeks to know. But it is also possible to have a conception of philosophy as the radiance of wisdom received, as the unfolding of a wisdom already possessed; and the two are not mutually exclusive. Christian philosophy is an example: faith is an incipient gift of wisdom, unfolded in the search for wisdom in fullness. Exitus: it goes forth from wisdom. Reditus: unto wisdom it returns. For Wisdom is inexhaustible; receiving it, there is always more to receive; participating it, there is always more to participate.

philosophy the draughtsman of being (Rosmini)
-> i.e., in its subsistence, in its intelligibility, and in its lovableness or goodness

"...what philosophy imagined was less than Abraham's actual achievement, just as the simple faith of truth is greater than the deceitful boast of eloquence." Ambrose, On Abraham, bk 1 ch. 2

art : fear of the Lord
knowledge : knowledge
  piety is its practical part
prudence : counsel
  fortitude is its practical part
understanding : understanding
wisdom : wisdom

the Christian calling: to do the truth in charity (Eph. 4:15)

We can have natural inclination to the acts characteristic of this or that virtue; it is another thing entirely to say we can be naturally inclined to what is characteristic of them all. To be naturally inclined to the labors of fortitude tends to conflict with natural inclination to gentleness; even if we hold that for every virtue we have a sort of natural openness (since we can acquire any virtue), a serious inclination to firm daring will tend on its own to suppress our openness to cautious prudence, so that we have no particular inclination to it. It is only by coordinating, restraining, cultivating, that we can develop an inclination to all virtue.

Sacred doctrine uses philosophical texts as extrinsic and ancillary; it uses Scriptural texts as intrinsic and basic; and it uses the texts of the doctors of the Church as intrinsic and ancillary.

When formality and etiquette decay, the result is not less hypocrisy but more crass hypocrisy.

"Who has ever seen men persuaded to love God by harshness?" Juan de la Cruz

Christ's union with the Church is a union of habitation, for it is His Temple; a union of affection, for it is His Bride; a union of operation, for it is His instrument; a union of grace, fo rit is His sacrament in the world; and a union of moral communication, for He imparts His dignity and excellence to it.

For an act to be sinful, it must be by consent, free, and advertent. (Liguori)

Liguori's syllogism
An insufficiently promulgated law does not oblige.
A law doubtful to the prudent is insufficiently promulgated.
.: A law doubtful to the prudent does not oblige.

Successful sophistry is based on three things:
1) cunning estimation of the people involved
2) shrewdness in the means of flattery and persuasion
3) impudent confidence so as not to waver in a way that will be seen to be vain or base

scholia as the drinking songs of academics, crooked music for a thought-drunken round

The true rhetoric of instruction involves goodness, power, and understanding.

philotimia and philhedonia as the chief anti-philosophical desires

- compressed air engines
-> major problem is efficiency, since efficient air compression is difficult. Safety's an issue, too, but arguably this is a matter that can be handled by good design.

Polemic as a sort of intellectual vigilantism
-> to the extent it is justified this is because the intellectual realm is in chaos, and even vigilante justice is better than none. But it is a sign of chaos, being an emergency provision, a patch to cover the gaps of justice on the intellectual frontier

It is to our glory to overlook an offense, because wisdom is the root of true patience. (Pr. 19:11)

Faith is new light on all things, though it be but a glimmer.

The Parts of Logic
(1) Pertaining to intellectual representation
(2) Pertaining to composition and division in judgment
(3) Pertaining to procession from one thing to another
  (3a) so as to allow resolution into first principles
    (3a1) with certitude insofar as this comes from reasoning
    (3a2) with certitude insofar as this comes from understanding of the propositions used
  (3b) so as to allow inquiry
    (3b1) on a basis that allows belief or opinion
    (3b2) on a basis that allows only suspicion
    (3b3) on a basis that allows only inclination of sympathy and imagination
  (3c) so as to undergo deviation into error

A proposition or enunciation is either part of a contradiction, where contradiction is an opposition allowing no middle ground.

The problem with aequiprobabilism is that it is difficult to determine what equal probability would be.

The difference between Callicles and Socrates is a difference of myth.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Alexander Schmemann on Lent

LENT IS A GIFT! Lent is a gift from God to us, a gift which is admirable, marvelous, one that we desire. Now a gift of what? I would say that it is a gift of the essential – that which is essential and yet which suffers most in our life because we are living lives of confusion and fragmentation, lives which constantly conceal from us the eternal, the glorious, the divine meaning of life and take away from us that which should "push" and, thus, correct and fill our life with joy. And this essential is thanksgiving: the acceptance from God of that wonderful life, as St. Peter says, "...created out of nothing...," created exclusively by the love of God, for there is no other reason for us to exist; loved by Him even before we were born, we were taken into His marvelous light.

From a homily reprinted here

Notes and Links

* This paper, worth reading, came up in the comments recently: Charles Mills, Kant's Untermenschen (PDF)

* Congratulations, or something, to San Antonio, which manages to make the top ten cities in the United States for four of the seven deadly sins, according to Forbes magazine. Of course, it doesn't really measure the seven deadly sins; but still, John at "Verum Serum" is right: "hey, what the heck is going on in San Antonio, Texas?" On three maps: Nashville, Memphis, Washington D.C., Seattle, Detroit.

* A. C. Grayling discusses Descartes's cogito at "philosophybites".

* Here's a puzzle for you. St. Patrick's Day is a fairly important and extraordinarily popular saint's day. But St. Patrick's Day is usually celebrated on March 17, and this year March 17 falls in Holy Week. But Holy Week trumps every saint's day, so you standardly would move the feast to the next available date, which would have to be after the Octave of Easter. But you can't do that, because the next available date, March 31, is the Feast of the Annunciation, which also trumps every saint's day. So St. Patrick's Day, which usually falls on March 17, falls on April 1. But non-liturgy-related St. Patrick's Day events will still fall on March 17. So what do you do? The bishops of Ireland -- where, obviously, this is quite an important question, finally decided, with the approval of the Vatican, that they would move St. Patrick's Day back to March 15 so that it's on the closest liturgically viable day to the secular celebrations. I'm assuming that a similar situation will prevail for Montserrat, but I have been able to find no information about it. [ADDED LATER: David in the comments notes that my language in this note requires some qualification; St. Patrick's memorial being an optional memorial, it would not be moved unless special circumstances added weight to it, e.g., St. Patrick being the local patron, as he is of Ireland, or of Montserrat, or the like.]

* An important point about Thomas Aquinas's argument that the principle of intellectual operation is not corporeal; this is very often overlooked.

* Samuel Zwemer's 1902 Raymond Lull: First Missionary to the Moslems. It is, of course, remarkably inaccurate to call Bl. Raymond the first missionary to the Muslims; as a Franciscan he was following in the footsteps of St. Francis himself. (St. Francis set out to convert the Sultan or be martyred; the Sultan, either amused or impressed by him, heard him out, and then instead of killing him, set him back on a ship to Western Europe.) There had been Syrian Christians who had sought to evangelize the Muslims; in fact, part of the stimulus for the development of kalam was to provide intelligent Muslim responses to Christian arguments. But if we make a few qualifications on what is meant, the title might be allowed to stand. This is an interesting work in that it is firmly pro-Lull but slightly anti-Catholic, which is an unusual mix; and there are a few things that should be taken with a few grains of salt. But it is indeed an engaging work. (ht)

* Richard has a good post on ignorance.

* There have been some interesting discussions about Bishop Berkeley at "Philosophy Sucks!" (The Other Richard!)
A Simple Argument Against Berkeley
Has Idealism Been Refuted?

* In The Value in BS, Evelyn Brister suggests a problem with the argument in Frankfurt's popular book. It does seem that "lack of connection to a concern with truth" and "indifference to how things really are" simply aren't sufficient to mark it out, much less, as Frankfurt suggests, to characterize its essence; it's absurd to suggest, as Frankfurt's argument really does, that the only value that should be regarded in discourse is stating how things really are. (Indeed, there seem to me to be so many problems with Frankfurt's argument that it's difficult to evaluate the work as anything other than a specimen of what it claims to be studying. But certainly a great many people seemed to be charmed by the argument.)

* The Historic Cities is well worth browsing. (ht)

* I've seen this around, and it's definitely an interesting one. Os Guinness is highly critical of Frank Schaeffer's memoir.

* Philip Blosser notes that Bill Murray's older sister Nancy is also an actress; but, as a Dominican nun, she uses her acting talents in a different way.


* The Ochlophobist has a thought-provoking post on drama and affectation.