Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hume's Three Types of Goods

Since MacIntyre links the notion of a society structured for the satisfaction of consumers to Hume, it seems fitting to give an example of precisely the sort of thing he probably has in mind. The following is from Hume's discussion of property (Treatise

There are three different species of goods, which we are possess'd of; the internal satisfaction of our minds, the external advantages of our body, and the enjoyment of such possessions as we have acquir'd by our industry and good fortune. We are perfectly secure in the enjoyment of the first. The second may be ravish'd from us, but can be of no advantage to him who deprives us of them. The last only are both expos'd to the violence of others, and may be transferr'd without suffering any loss or alteration; while at the same time, there is not a sufficient quantity of them to supply every one's desires and necessities. As the improvement, therefore, of these goods is the chief advantage of society, so the instability of their possession, along with their scarcity, is the chief impediment.

Hume lists three different kinds of goods that we possess:

(1) the internal satisfaction of our minds;
(2) the external advantages of our bodies;
(3) the enjoyment of our possessions.

It seems that this is supposed to be an exhaustive list; the argument is that, alone of all the goods that we may possess, the third presents a serious set of problems for society. Superficially it looks like the age-old list, going back to Plato and found in Aristotle, of the goods of soul, the goods of body, and the purely extrinsic goods (like money). But, first of all, Hume's types of good boil down to (1) mental satisfaction; (2) bodily 'advantages' like strength and beauty; (3) enjoyable use of your property. This is very different from the traditional list, where something like property is seen as itself good (albeit good as an instrument for obtaining other goods), and where the goods of the soul cannot be summarized as "internal satisfaction." But most notably, Hume's use of his list would end up turning the traditional list on its head. In Plato's Laws (743e), for instance, the discussion in which the traditional list comes up is on the subject of the purpose of the laws of a good state, and the argument is that the laws should observe a clear order among the goods, encouraging virtue (which brings about goods of the soul) first, then gymnastic (which brings about goods of the body), and only then money. The primary purpose of law, then, is to encourage virtue; and, secondary to this, health; and only in third place to handle matters of property. But Hume's argument requires us to regard law as existing primarily to protect property. Far from being something that can be cultivated by wise law and impeded by foolish law, internal satisfaction of mind is something law has no influence over -- regardless of the law, we are able to get the same internal satisfaction. Bodily goods are protected not primarily by law but by the fact that others can derive no advantage from taking them from me. And thus for Hume the primary value of society is that it helps us to protect our possessions, and the chief purpose of government is to protect the possessions of those who have them. Plato's government would succeed in its function primarily by doing what can be done to encourage a society based on mutual friendship; and Aristotle is not far different. Hume's government would succeed in its function, one could well argue, primarily by guaranteeing that property is "fenced against every mortal, in every possible case" (Treatise At the very least, Hume takes for granted that property must be so fenced; and thus goods you can buy, sell, and own are treated as the lifeblood of the society.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Light Bulb Passage

Sometimes you read a passage, sometimes one you've read before, and suddenly a light bulb goes on. I had that experience reading the following this evening:

Aristotle's presupposed social context is one in which evaluation is primarily in terms of the achievement of the ends of activity; Hume's is one in which evaluation is primarily in terms of the satisfaction of consumers.

Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, p. 298.

Given that we live in a society that is more or less Humean (any modern capitalist society will be more or less Humean), a number of things suddenly make a great deal of sense. Take happiness, which is always understood at least partly in terms of a social context. For an Aristotelian, happiness is understood in terms of excellent achievement. This is why, for instance, Aristotle seriously entertains the idea that your life, otherwise happy, can be made unhappy by something that happens after you die. But someone who thinks of happiness as a matter of a matter of satisfying consumption will scarcely be able to make sense of the notion of being made unhappy by something after your death. A person who focuses on achievement won't be able to make much sense of a man being happy even though, unbeknownst to him, his wife and love of his life is cheating on him with his best friend. That sort of life is not an excellent achievement. But a person who focuses on consumption will take the 'unbeknownst to him' clause as crucially important: what he doesn't know doesn't affect him. He's still a highly satisfied consumer. Happiness in terms of excellent achievement requires virtues of some sort; happiness in terms of satisfying consumption just requires something, anything, that pleases you greatly and keeps pleasing you greatly. To put it at the limit case, in light of one you would treat the bliss of heaven as the full perfection of the best things you do, e.g., understanding and love of what is most important. In light of the other you would treat it as a never-ending succession of satisfying things you get, e.g., the pleasures of the company of family and friends with all the unsatisfying parts removed. Examples could be multiplied elsewhere. (It also puts in quite clear terms just how massive the obstacles facing those of us with Aristotelian inclinations really are.)

Four Poem Drafts

How Softly Death Walks

How softly Death walks
among infant pines;
it is strange
you do not notice him
winding his way
as wind whips around him.

Perhaps you cannot see him
because your eyes, too weak,
cannot see the dryads,
his cousins once removed,
with whom he gossips.


The wind you feel,
sharp and chill,
spirates from frozen mountains,
breathed out like love,
some frigid dove,
to rest on Jordan's fountains,
but cold with rage.
It forms the age
with subtle inspiration;
accuser's breath,
it pours down death
on souls in every nation.

Paternal Counsels

From age to age fathers' words
have been spoken, have been heard,
perhaps ignored, yet laid away
to be spoken again some other day
by the sons, now fathers too,
who wish to speak the word anew:

Seek the good and shun the vile,
mix dovelike grace with snakelike wiles.
Protect all those who need protection,
provide for those who need provision.
Be not afraid yourself to doubt,
or when uncertain to bow out;
be not afraid yourself to trust,
or ever to do the thing you must.
To aid of the weak give ceaseless thought,
and to aid of women, weak or not;
with such women, old or young,
listen well, control your tongue,
learn courtesy and kind restraint:
such chivalry is never quaint.
Be loyal to wife and child and friend;
let such loyalty never end.
Accept without grumble the lesser part;
no glory seek save greatness of heart.
Avoid the idle, use well your time,
rarely shout and never whine.
Do the work that must be done;
in crisis be the patient one.
Never hard-working men despise.
Keep your mouth from filth of lies.
Do well all things that come to hand:
act, in short, as befits a man.


Fire-brilliance in reason born
through the veil of time has torn,
felt the sun of the silent morn
of heaven in silence streaming
above the Sleepers dreaming.

Sevenfold in drifting sleep
they secrets find and secrets keep,
secreted in the caverns deep
beyond the starlight gleaming
of heaven in silence streaming.

The angels, each in silent course,
move with love's all-moving force
to shape the tides of time's recourse
in realms of truth and seeming
beyond the starlight gleaming.

But one stands silent in the night,
bears the horn whose note in might
will wake all sleep to morning light,
above the Sleepers dreaming
from sun of justice beaming.

Links for Thinking

* Sharon Howard has reposted her classic post, Women’s history/gender history: what and why?

* Mike Liccione continues his musings on the Filioque; I think this is his best post on the subject so far.

* Dale Tuggy is discussing tactics people use to deal with apparent inconsistencies. So far he has: Part I, Part II

* D. G. D. Davidson examines the flaws and limitations of Sheldonism as a Christian approach to literature -- Sheldonism being that approach found in the works of Charles Sheldon (best known for In His Steps).

* The Thomist considers oversimplifications of the doctrine of the mean.

* Jason Kuznicki looks at Hegel on the State.

* Kevin Edgecomb discusses The Way of a Pilgrim and the Philokalia.

* Bonnie at Intellectuelle considers a quote from Simone de Beauvoir.

* Jane Austen's Evening Prayers.

And since I previously quoted from MacIntyre's discussion of Austen's view of the virtues, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that she had a sense of humor about them.

* The Seven Deadly Sins in Dante, Langland, Chaucer, and Spenser. The Seven Deadly Sins, of course, are (strictly speaking) the acts of the Seven Capital Vices, although the former phrase often covers the latter as well. Some lovely pictures of medieval trees of virtues and vices (discussion in PDF of this genre).

I recently discussed remedy in traditional virtue ethics with my ethics class; and it occurred to me that this is an important feature of traditional virtue ethics that receives relatively little discussion in modern virtue ethics. There are some exceptions, especially in more historically aware explorations of themes in virtue ethics; e.g., some of Rebecca Konyndyk De Young's work.

* N. T. Wright and Richard John Neuhaus argue.


* I only just came across this, although it is a bit old by now. Under Harper the Canadian government took a step it should have taken decades ago: the Prime Minister apologizes to Canada's aboriginal nations for mismanagement of Indian residential schools. Now it needs to take that momentum and convert it into practical action.

MacIntyre on Austen and Self-Knowledge

The counterpart to Jane Austen's preoccupation with the counterfeit is the central place she assigns to self-knowledge, a Christian rather than a Socratic self-knowledge which can only be achieved through a kind of repentance. In four of her six great novels there is a recognition scene in which the person whoom the hero or heroine recognizes is him or herself. 'Till this moment I never knew myself,' says Elizabeth Bennett. 'How to understand the deceptions she had been thus practising on herself, and living under!' meditates Emma. Self-knowledge is for Jane Austen both an intellectual and a moral virtue....

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2nd edition, p. 241. He goes on to argue that this self-knowledge is closely connected to another major virtue in the Austen universe: constancy. In defense of reading Austen as a sort of moral philosopher, MacIntyre says:

Jane Austen is in a crucial way -- along with Cobbett and the Jacobins -- the last great representative of the classical tradition of the virtues. It has proved easy for later generations not to understand her importance as a moralist because she is after all a novelist. And to them she has often appeared as not merely 'only' a writer of fiction, but a writer of fiction concerned with a very restricted social world. What they have not observed and what the juxtaposition of her insights with those of Cobbett and the Jacobins ought to teach us to observe is that both in her own time and afterwards the life of the virtues is necessarily afforded a very restricted cultural and social space. In most of the public and most of the private world the classical and medieval virtues are replaced by the meagre substitutes which modern morality affords.

(p. 243)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Two Poles of Poetry

The history of poetry in all countries, but particularly in France, registers a kind of oscillation between two poles, being diluted into prose at one extreme or distilled into an essence unapprehendable by the mind on the other. Two names will make this clearer. Voltaire represents the first pole; his formula (which Sainte-Beuve quotes several times) for ensuring himself of the quality of French verses, was to put them into prose....Mallarmé represents the other pole. Upon being criticized for his obscurity he replied, paradoxically but in all truth, that he was really perfectly lucid. Indeed, since his poetry did not propose "to be understood" it could not be obscure, and since it offered itself to the taste of the reader, such as it desired to be, it could rightly consider itself lucid exactly as it was.

Etienne Gilson, Forms and Substances in the Arts, pp. 216-217.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Excess, Defect, Simulacra

Aquinas, of course, accepts the doctrine of the mean, at least for intellectual and moral virtues. Let's set the intellectual virtues aside for a moment and focus on the moral virtues. The doctrine of the mean indicates that a virtue lies on a mean, determined by right reason, between excess and defect; thus each moral virtue is opposed by at least two vices, one of excess, one of defect. I say "at least" because Aquinas is very clear in a number of cases that a virtue can be opposed by multiple vices of excess or defect that each involve some excess or defect merely of some aspect of what is involved in the virtue. To take an example, magnanimity has at least three distinguishable vices that oppose it by excess: presumption, ambition, and vainglory. Presumption exceeds the mean of magnanimity by going beyond what is appropriate to one's ability; ambition exceeds it by excessive attention to honor, which is the material, so to speak, of magnanimity; and vainglory exceeds it by excessive desire for glory, another form of material for magnanimity.

However, there are vices identified by Aquinas whose relations to virtues are slightly harder to pin down. These are vices by simulation: vices that oppose virtues by falsely resembling them. One of his examples is pride, which is directly opposed, by excess, to the virtue of humility. It is also, however, opposed to magnanimity by being a mere simulacra of it. What this appears to indicate is that, just as a single virtue may oppose several vices by excess or by defect, depending on the aspect considered, so too may a single vice of excess (or defect) may oppose more than one virtue and more than one vice of defect (or excess). Pride is the vice of excess for humility, because it exceeds reasonable bounds, and the vice of excess for magnanimity, because it seeks great things in an excessive way. These two oppositions are not equally relevant for understanding pride; St. Thomas is clear that pride is more properly and directly opposed to humility than to magnanimity. So there are at least two kinds of opposition by excess or by defect: direct opposition and opposition by false appearance, which in cases of excess occurs (I think) when a vice opposes a virtue not by exceeding the rational bounds of its activity but by exceeding the way its activity is done (mutatis mutandis, things are the same for cases of defect).

Actually, of course, there is a sense in which every vice, directly or indirectly, opposes every virtue, either by excess or defect of something essential to that virtue, or by excess or defect of something helpful to it. And the virtue of prudence, to which all vices are opposed insofar as they are moral disorders, throws an additional complication into the mix, because in a sense every other virtue is merely a potential part of prudence -- that is, every other virtue presupposes prudence in some way or other, so that in a way what is involved in a virtue is not virtuous at all, being merely material for virtue, unless it is given shape and form by prudence. It is the form of the moral virtues. Charity throws in an additional complication by being the form of the virtues in yet another way; and so, too, charity opposes all vices.

There is more involved in the doctrine of the mean than one might at first think.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Philosopher's Carnival

The Seventy-First Philosopher's Carnival, er, Karneval, is up at The Ends of Thought. Roman has done a great job here, selecting some excellent posts and giving thoughtful summaries and commentary. This is the first Philosopher's Carnival in a long time (perhaps ever?) where I have liked every entry quite a bit. (There's perhaps too much Davidson, but that's a forgivable lapse of good taste.)

My post on sublimity is in the carnival. Roman says of it:

I am sympathetic to this project, but worry whether the contemporary scene can competently tend to the sublime: the French flirtation with sublimity in the late '80s, one might recall, was short-lived and not wholly productive.

I think this is a legitimate worry. I haven't read all or even much of the French work Roman mentions, but what little I have read is certainly a mixed bag. What's often called the 'religious' or 'theological' turn in phenomenology, such as one finds in Marion, is really a turn to the sublime, religion simply being one of the few contemporary fields where recognition of the sublime is still common (even if not often reflected upon). There are a few interesting things there (although perhaps only covering a limited range of the sublime). But I think Roman's right to worry that the resources for an adequate approach to the sublime are not as available today as they would need to be for there to be a serious change on this point.

An Evening Prayer by Butler

Joseph Butler, Anglican theologian and moral philosopher, died on June 16, 1752. I don't remember whether that's Old Style or New Style, but it's June 16 either way. An evening prayer by Butler:

Almighty God, whose continued providence ordereth all things both in Heaven and Earth; Who never slumberest nor sleepest; but hast divided the light from the darkness, and made the day for employment and the night for rest to Thy creatures the inhabitants of the earth: we acknowledge with all thankfulness Thy merciful preservation of us this day, by which we are brought in safety to the evening of it. We implore Thy forgiveness of all the offences which we have been guilty of in it, whether in thought, word, or deed; and desire to have a due sense of Thy goodness in keeping us out of the way of those temptations by which we might have fallen into greater sins, and in preserving us from those misfortunes and sad accidents, common to every day, and which must have befallen many others. We humbly commit ourselves to the same good providence this night, that we may sleep in quiet under Thy protection, and wake, if it be Thy will, in the morning in renewed life and strength. And we beg the assistance of Thy grace to live in such a manner, that when the few days and nights which thou shalt allot us in this world be passed away, we may die in peace, and finally obtain the resurrection unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This and a few other oft-overlooked fragments can be found in Edward Steere's Some Remains (Hitherto Unpublished) of Joseph Butler, LL.D.

Veni, O Jesse Virgula

Thinking about the Virgula verse of "Veni, Veni Emmanuel" and how it has been translated/paraphrased. The first is the Latin; the second is Neale's translation; and the rest are various variations that can be found in hymnals. (It is often the second verse, but not in every arrangment. in the 'O Antiphons' from which the hymn is derived the Radix verse, which becomes the Virgula verse in the hymn, is the fourth Antiphon.) They are different enough that you could almost sing them all together as a single hymn.

Veni, O Jesse virgula,
Ex hostis tuos ungula,
De specu tuos tartari
Educ et antro barathri.

Draw nigh, O Jesse’s Rod, draw nigh,
To free us from the enemy;
From Hell’s infernal pit to save,
And give us victory o’er the grave.

O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem
From every foe deliver them
That trust thy mighty power to save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.

O come, thou Branch of Jesse! draw
The quarry from the lion's claw;
From the dread caverns of the grave,
From nether hell, thy people save.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse's tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s Tree
Free them from Satan’s tyranny
That trust thy mighty power to save,
And give them Victory o’er the grave.

If translating literally, I'd very roughly translate the verse as : "Come, O branch of Jesse, / your own from the talon of foe, / your own from the caves of hell / and from the caverns of the abyss draw forth."

Stern Parson

I've been reading Chaucer's The Parson's Tale, as well as some commentary on it, preparing for a segment on the seven deadly sins for the virtue ethics section of my ethics course. Commentators don't say much, as far as I've been able to find; they remark on its piety and its high moral tone. I think they overlook the fact that some of the Tale may have its own form of humor -- what makes The Canterbury Tales great literature is in part the fact that it shows Chaucer's mastery of very different forms of humor and comic writing, and I think The Parson's Tale is an example. It is a work of piety and high moral tone; it is the serious preparation for the palinode. But there is a form of humor that is compatible with both piety and seriousness, and there is much in the Parson's stern little discourse that might make a person smile even while taking the point. An example is the digression on clothing right in the middle of the discussion of the sin of pride:

But natheles that oon of thise speces of pride is signe of that oother, right as the gaye leefsel atte taverne is signe of the wyn that is in the celer. And this is in manye thynges: as in speche and contenaunce, and in outrageous array of clothyng. For certes, if ther ne hadde be no synne in clothyng, Crist wolde nat so soone have noted and spoken of the clothyng of thilke riche man in the gospel. And as seith Seint Gregorie, that "precious clothyng is cowpable for the derthe of it, and for his softenesse, and for his strangenesse and degisynesse, and for the superfluitee, or for the inordinat scantnesse of it." Allas! may man nat seen, as in oure dayes, the synful costlewe array of clothynge, and namely in to muche superfluite, or elles in to desordinat scantnesse?

And he goes on from there into a long discussion of the awfulness of the clothing of the day, some parts of which are quite explicit, e.g.:

Upon that oother side, to speken of the horrible disordiant scantnesse of clothyng, as been thise kutted sloppes, or haynselyns, that thurgh hire shortnesse ne covere nat the shameful membres of man, to wikked entente. Allas! somme of hem shewen the boce or hir shap, and the horrible swollen membres, that semeth lik the maladie of hirnia, in the wrappynge of hir hoses; and eek the buttokes of hem faren as it were the hyndre part of a she-ape in the fulle of the moone.

That's a memorable image: buttocks like the hind part of a she-ape under the full moon. How can one not smile at it?

It's not that it's ridiculous. The Parson attacks the clothing of the day because, on the side of superfluity, it really does harm the poor by wasting cloth and driving up costs; and he attacks overly revealing clothing because it pushes out clothing suitable for good nature and good sense in favor of sexual strutting. He attacks riding gear because it is an indulgence for the rich that allows them to pretend superiority to the poor. He attacks the diversity of food and drink on the tables of the rich for similar reasons. The Parson, whatever he may be, is not ridiculous.

The humor of it, then, is a sober, serious humor; the humor in the Parson's tale has to be compatible with the sternness of it. It's the humor of a striking image that goes to the heart of the matter -- the she-ape, the tavern-sign, etc. -- and of the perceptive dissection of the world that shows the world itself to be laughable. A worldly man might mock the Parson for his long rant against clothing as an expression of pride. We can see this point of view. But the Parson's high ground provides a platform from which you can see that the worldly man is even more mockable. There is something incongruous about taking a long detour in the middle of a discussion of pride in order to rail against fashions in clothing; it's thus somewhat funny. But a closer look shows that the incongruity is not that of the Parson himself; it's not essential to the main points about pride, but it's not a digression either. He has good reasons for it. The Parson has his finger on the pulse of his society, and he knows the unexpected ways in which pride manifests itself in that society. If you stay at the superficial level, you might smile condescendingly at the Parson, with his stern disapproval of too much and too little clothing; but if you let the Parson's words sink in, you find that the absurdity you thought you saw in the Parson's discourse was the absurdity of your own life.

Two Kinds of Division

When a univocal genus is divided into its species, the members of the division are on a par in the point of the generic idea; although considered in their nature as things, one species may surpass another in rank and perfection, as man in respect of other animals. But when we divide an analogous term, which is applied to several things, but to one before it is applied to another, nothing hinders one from ranking before another, even in the point of the generic idea; as the notion of being is applied to substance principally in relation to accident. Such is the division of virtue into various kinds of virtue: since the good defined by reason is not found in the same way in all things.

Thomas Aquinas, ST 1-2ae.61.1 ad 1