Thursday, June 05, 2008

Vampire Rights

John Schaff and Jonah Goldberg ask, Do Vampires Have Rights? (ht)

Goldberg, I think, is wrong, even confining matters to natural law: all who are rational have rights, just as they all have responsibilities. Schaff, I think, is wrong about Buffy; due process is a civil right, requiring a shared civil institution. The pre-civil natural right on which it is based is simply whatever justice itself requires; and the situation is more like people fighting off Viking raiders than like summary execution of a fellow citizen.

As for whether demonic entities like vampires, were they members of our society, should have due process I think the right answer is stated nicely here:

Basic natural rights are not merited; God's sun shines on the wicked and just alike. (I don't think that they would help a vampire any. They have a right to be treated justly, and not to be killed unjustly, and so forth, but how is any of that going to help a thoroughly unjust vampire?) And civil rights we give not because people are angels but because they are very far from it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Necessarily Foreknown

There is an interesting argument on foreknowledge and free will at "Holy Cyclops"; I found it on a side journey while following links from the Philosophy Carnival. The argument is:

1. N(Kx—>x) (Premiss—to know that x will occur at t requires that x will occur at t)
2. N(Kx) (Premiss—it is necessarily foreknown that x will occur at t)
3. Nx (1, 2, modal modus ponens)

And to this the comment is added, "Anyone who thinks that God necessarily foreknows all events, including the outcomes of all human choices, will have to endorse the argument."

However, as Chad McIntosh notes in the comments, this appears to equivocate on what it means when people say "God necessarily foreknows all events"; the usual way of understanding it, and the one that is found in most traditional accounts of divine foreknowledge is not only not translated by N(Kx) but reject it.

N(Kx) basically says that it is necessary that x is known (by God, in this case). But this is not how "God necessarily foreknows all events" is usually understood; rather it's understood as something more like:

N(x -> Kx)

(Still confining the epistemic agents to God.) That is, It is necessary that if x, x is known by God. But this is consistent with the falsehood of N(Kx); x and Kx are both consistent with P~Kx, even though one is taken to entail the other.

I say we get something 'more like' [A] because strictly speaking we should probably be quantifying here, and this would seem to give us something along the lines of

(∀x) N ((∃x) -> Kx)


N (∀x) ((∃x) -> Kx)

or both, depending in part on what position we take with regard to the Barcan Formulas. (The difference between the two translations is the difference between "Every x is such that this is necessary: x is known by God if it occurs" and "This is necessary: every x is such that it is known by God if it occurs"; in many modal systems the two are interchangeable, but in others the former is a weaker claim.) But the interaction of modal operators and quantifiers is tricky stuff; best to avoid it when one can, and I think that on this subject we probably can.

UPDATE: Quantifiers wandering in where they shouldn't be! Mike Almeida helpfully points out in the comments that I muddled up things when adding the quantifiers. The ∃, which I put in without really thinking, shouldn't be there, so, minimally:

(∀x) N (x -> Kx)


N (∀x) (x -> Kx)

which both make more sense (since they make sense in the first place!); one could also used a truth predicate instead of the ∃ in the above.

Kant and the Golden Rule

I have been searching the web for supplementary resources on Kantian ethics for the ethics course I'm teaching at present, and one of the topics I've been looking at in particular is Kant and the Golden Rule. And, wow, there is a lot of misinformation on the topic. When I finish rebuilding Houyhnhnm Land by the end of summer I'll have to put up a page devoted particularly to the point. The most common error, of course, is to conflate Kant's categorical imperative with the Golden Rule; and this will not survive close scrutiny. (For one thing, the Golden Rule is put forward as a summarizing principle, giving a quick practical guideline for all of the law and prophets; the categorical imperative is intended as a foundational principle, from which all other moral principles can be derived.)

However, there is another common error that springs up among people who recognize this, to wit, the claim that Kant definitely criticizes the Golden Rule itself. It is not so clear that he does. Here is the passage from Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals usually adduced to argue that he does:

Let it not be thought that the common "quod tibi non vis fieri, etc." could serve here as the rule or principle. For it is only a deduction from the former, though with several limitations; it cannot be a universal law, for it does not contain the principle of duties to oneself, nor of the duties of benevolence to others (for many a one would gladly consent that others should not benefit him, provided only that he might be excused from showing benevolence to them), nor finally that of duties of strict obligation to one another, for on this principle the criminal might argue against the judge who punishes him, and so on.

None of this implies that the Golden Rule is faulty or false.

(1) It doesn't actually mention the Golden Rule at all; what is mentioned is the what is usually called the Silver Rule, i.e., Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you. The negative form and the positive form are not, contrary to common conflation, the same thing, and we shouldn't go assuming that where one is mentioned the other is implied. Kant is certainly not thinking of the Gospels here but of Thomasius (see next point).

(2) Suppose, though, that Kant intended the Golden Rule to be included here -- which admittedly you can do without being all that unreasonable. The criticism can't be that the Rule is faulty as a moral imperative; he explicitly says that it is a deduction from the categorical imperative "though with several limitations". But lots of perfectly good moral principles meet this description: "Do not lie," for instance. The argument here is simply that the Rule cannot fulfill the function of the categorical imperative. The duties that follow are not criticisms of the Rule as a moral principle; they are simply cases it does not explicate the way a categorical imperative would. I suspect that Kant's view is that the principle only describes duties of respect to others; he says it doesn't cover duties to oneself, and it doesn't cover "duties of strict obligation," which description suggests duties of right. It also doesn't cover duties of benevolence to others, which description suggests Kant's duties of love. This leaves duties of respect to others as a class of duties that he does not explicitly deny to the Rule. And this makes sense, actually: duties of respect to others include not harming them or, more broadly, not treating them as mere means. (Incidentally, the conclusion that duties of respect are deliberately not excluded becomes even more plausible if we interpret the comment in such a way as not to imply to the Golden Rule but only to the negative form, which was in fact in common use in certain areas of German moral philosophy in Kant's time, most notably in the work of Thomasius, who proposes it as the first principle of justice in exactly the form Kant quotes.)

(3) Thus the only support for saying that Kant criticizes the Golden Rule is to interpret, as some do, the word translated 'common' above by the word 'banal' or 'trivial'. The phrase "das trivale" could certainly indicate that he thought it was a banality (but then why bother to connect it to the categorical imperative?); but it could also mean that he thought it was a commonplace. The former would imply a criticism of the Rule, but not that it is false: what it suggests is that it would be, as we say, "trivially true".

And thus the claim that Kant criticizes the Golden Rule seems to rest on a single ambiguous word (if we take the negative form not to be important, and thus take the comment to tell us anything about the Golden Rule at all). It's not an unreasonable view, just going on the GMM; but the support for it is actually surprisingly weak, and it should not be stated as definitively true. (Unfortunately I find too many lectures notes online by philosophy professors stating or suggesting otherwise, one going even so far as to attribute to Kant the view that the Golden Rule was a "deeply misguided ethical principle". Given Kant's extreme caution and care whenever it comes to the words of Jesus, it is so utterly implausible to imagine Kant conveying at any point that anything Jesus said is "deeply misguided" that one hardly knows where to begin. One can imagine him arguing that it only applies under certain conditions, or that it has been commonly misinterpreted and giving his own possibly strained interpretation, but Kant would never, ever suggest that Jesus was misguided.)

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Hymn Draft

Jack Perry posted a translation of the original hymn, which got me thinking on the matter. I have taken more liberties than are quite right. I don't really like the fourth line, but the last stanza turned out well enough.

Lucis Creator Optime

Supreme creator of the vital light,
who light sends forth each age to conquer night,
and lays the earth's foundation now anew
on light as fresh as youth of morning dew;

who bade the joining of the eve and morn
that lo! the turn of day and night be born,
let all the dark and rolling chaos fall
and hear our tearful prayers as we call:

May minds borne down by charge in inner court
to hopeless worldly craving not resort,
nor let them wander from the gift of life,
from endless grace turned by the spirit's strife;

May they knock on heaven's inmost gates
and have the prize of life writ for their fate;
May we flee each thing that causes harm
and purge ourselves of baser things that charm;

Grant this, Father, lovingkind and true,
through the One and Only born of You,
with Spirit Paraclete one God sublime
ruling all the worlds and for all time.

Links for Thinking

* The always interesting Crispin Sartwell recently issued a challenge:

He has additional You Tube videos on the subject, against some standard approaches for legitimating state power: social contract theory, utilitarianism, decision theory, Rawlsianism.

* Dr. Kiki Sanford discusses the science behind cooking in the ON Networks program, Food Science. Kiki, a.k.a. Kirsten, Sanford is a neurophysiologist who has moved into science journalism. She also hosts the This Week in Science radio program.

* There has been some discussion of my favorite area of philosophy of science, the philosophy of chemistry, at The Philosopher's Playground and Adventures in Ethics and Science.

* The 70th Philosopher's Carnival is up at "Big Ideas". Especially recommended:
The History and Methodology of Ontology in Analytic Philosophy (Objects and Arrows)
socially constructed vs natural disadvantages (Philosophy Journal)
Towards a More Ancience Conception of Proportion (Movement of Existence)
Allowing Experimental Philosophy (

Some older links that I've had for a while but haven't posted.

* An essay on Saint Gianna Beretta Molla at "Insight Scoop"

* At the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Rev. Michael Orsi warns bloggers about the sin of calumny. I think the side swipe at anonymous bloggers is misguided; there is no reason to think anonymous bloggers are more calumnious than non-anonymous ones. But the basic warning, against calumny in the blogosphere, is a sound one.

* Related to that, Father Stephen at "Glory to God for All Things" discusses some words of St. Seraphim of Sarov.

Recent interesting finds at Google Book

George Augustine Thomas O'Brien, An Essay on Mediaeval Economic Teaching

Berardus Bonjoannes, Compendium of the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Prima Pars (An English translation of a 16th century work; it's a very readable account of Thomistic doctrine in the Prima Pars.)

Friedrich von Schlegel, The Philosophy of History, in a Course of Lectures Delivered at Vienna

The Aesthetic and Miscellaneous Works of Friedrich von Schlegel

MLK Jr. and Thomas Aquinas on Unjust Law

A re-post.


In ST 1-2.96.4, Thomas Aquinas argues that laws bind the conscience, i.e., obligate, when and only when they conform to the eternal law, particularly insofar as the eternal law is exhibited in the universal principles of practical reason (a.k.a. natural law). To be just, a law must be good as to:

(1) its end: it must be ordered to the common good;
(2) its author: it must not exceed the jurisdiction of the one who imposes it;
(3) its form: it must not place disproportionate burdens on any of the subjects involved.

A law, however, that is unjust in any of these ways does not impose any obligation. That is, a law ceases to have binding force if any of these is true:

(1) it is not ordered to the common good, but merely to the private good of those who impose it;
(2) it exceeds the authority of those who impose it;
(3) it places disproportionate burdens on any of the people in the community.

An act that does any of these things is, says Aquinas, more like an act of violence than like a law; it may share some features of a just law, but it is not a law in precisely the same sense. Thus Aquinas favorably quotes Augustine as saying that it seems that an unjust law is no law at all. The only way in which an unjust law may obligate is indirectly, namely, when it is clear that disobeying it would lead to evils worse than obeying it.

One thing that is often overlooked is that Aquinas considers an argument (3rd objection) that human laws do not obligate because they sometimes bring injury and loss of character on human beings: they oppress the poor and the humble. And Aquinas accepts it, for those cases in which the hurt induced on anyone is unjust. Oppressive laws are perversions of law, usurpations, acts of violence; no one need have conscientious qualms about disobeying them.

It is this line of reasoning that Martin Luther King, Jr. took up in his famous 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail. There he argues that a nonviolent campaign follows four stages:

(1) collection of facts to determine whether injustice actually exists;
(2) negotiation in order to resolve the matter peacefully;
(3) self-purification, in which there is careful preparation for nonviolent direct action;
(4) direct action through nonviolent means.

A major worry, of course, through all of this is breaking the law. To alleviate this worry, King appeals to Aquinas's argument, and does so, I think, more thoroughly and insightfully than is usually thought. King says, "Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality." This move fits very comfortably with Aquinas's acceptance of the argument in the 3rd Objection, which connects the non-obligatoriness of unjust laws with the moral and physical injury they induce. It's not a bare appeal to Aquinas, as it might seem on a superficial reading; Aquinas is not just thrown out there as an authority or as an example. Rather, it's an insightful and reasonable application of Aquinas's argument, one that shows that the natural law position has strength where it counts.

Telegraph's "50 Best Cult Books"

From here. Books I've read are bolded. There are a few here that I keep intending to read but never have gotten around to reading, and a few I've read parts of but not cover to cover. (Yes, I have read Baby and Child Care cover to cover.) Most of the ones I have read I had read before the end of high school; but there are actually some decent members of the list, including one or two that the reviewers for the Telegraph panned, so of the ones I've read, I've starred those that I recommend generally and double-starred those I especially recommend.

1. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
2. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell (1957-60)
3. A Rebours by JK Huysmans (1884)
4. Baby and Child Care by Dr Benjamin Spock (1946)
5. The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (1991)
6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
8. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
9. The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (1993)
10. The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (1971)
11. Chariots of the Gods: Was God An Astronaut? by Erich Von Däniken (1968)
12. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980) **
13. Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1782)
14. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)
15. Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health by L Ron Hubbard (1950)
16. The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley (1954)
17. Dune by Frank Herbert (1965) *
18. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979) **
19. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)
20. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (1973)
21. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
22. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943) *
23. Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R Hofstadter (1979)
24. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
35. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (1982)
26. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)
27. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino (1979)
28. Iron John: a Book About Men by Robert Bly (1990)
29. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Russell Munson (1970) *
30. The Magus by John Fowles (1966)
31. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1962) **
32. The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958)
33. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1967)
34. No Logo by Naomi Klein (2000)
35. On The Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
36. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson (1971)
37. The Outsider by Colin Wilson (1956)
38. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (1923)
39. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell (1914)
40. The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám tr by Edward FitzGerald (1859) **
41. The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1937)
42. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)
43. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774)
44. Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954)
45. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
46. The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda (1968)
47. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)
48. Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1883-85) **
49. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) **
50. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an Inquiry into Values by Robert M Pirsig (1974)

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Yesterday was the Feast of the Visitation.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."

And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever."

And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

Lk 1:39-56 (ESV)