Friday, July 04, 2008

The Cause of Justice, of Liberty, and of Human Nature

From John Witherspoon's The Dominion of Providence over the Passions (May 1776):

If your cause is just—you may look with confidence to the Lord and intreat him to plead it as his own. You are all my witnesses, that this is the first time of my introducing any political subject into the pulpit. At this season however, it is not only lawful but necessary, and I willingly embrace the opportunity of declaring my opinion without any hesitation, that the cause in which America is now in arms, is the cause of justice, of liberty, and of human nature. So far as we have hitherto proceeded, I am satisfied that the confederacy of the colonies, has not been the effect of pride, resentment, or sedition, but of a deep and general conviction, that our civil and religious liberties, and consequently in a great measure the temporal and eternal happiness of us and our posterity, depended on the issue. The knowledge of God and his truths have from the beginning of the world been chiefly, if not entirely, confined to those parts of the earth, where some degree of liberty and political justice were to be seen, and great were the difficulties with which they had to struggle from the imperfection of human society, and the unjust decisions of usurped authority. There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire. If therefore we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Healy's Raging Pique

Kieran Healy is considering a new custom whenever someone says 'Correlation is Not Causation':

I grudgingly admit that it’s a plausible-sounding rule, and in the textbooks and stuff. But, to be honest, I read it too many times in various posts and comments threads the other day, and in my raging pique I found myself thinking that the next time it happened I would say, "That’s completely backwards: in fact, causation is just correlation" and fling a copy of Hume’s first Enquiry at their head. Or at the screen, I suppose, but that image is less satisfying, because now who’s the crank on the internet, etc.

I know the feeling. I would settle for asking "Why not?" because what it is that makes causation different from correlation is always swept under the rug; and although I'm pretty sure Hume's wrong, I think that if some common assumptions about causes were true Hume would have to be right (from which follows by modus tollens, etc.). In any case, uncritical complacency about a slogan is more than a bit annoying, even when the slogan is right.

But to do it properly you'd need to fling it repeatedly at the back of their head.

Two Poem Drafts

To Die

To die is but to reason on one's own
of things beyond the call of human thought,
experiments of fancy turned within
to deeper things than images of life.
To die is but to reason in the night
when lanterns all grow dim and greater lights
have faded in the sky's all-stealing void
and we are left to whistle in the dark
before the angel brings us to the seat
where reason bows to Word and death has died.

The Space Between My Words

The space between my words is formed of steel;
the silence in the sound is iron-wrought.
As temples formed of stone can only rise
within an empty space, as written words
will not be writ on any but blank page,
so thought itself, and voice, and deed, and life,
require a frame on which to build and rise,
an empty volume for a soaring spire,
a place to write, a silence for the song,
a frame of secret strength and empty space
without which all would fall and crash to dust.
Never need I fear my words will fall:
the space between my words is formed of steel,
supporting all my thought as it appears,
a buttress certain for the rising walls,
a silence, more than void, in which the sound
can grow into a voice to sing Amen.

The Begetting of Wisdom

Desist from your wordly wisdom, my neighbors. Wisdom is begotten, not made. As Wisdom is begotten in God, so is it begotten on earth. Begotten wisdom creates, but is not created.

So, you braggarts brag about your intellect! What is your intellect except remembering many facts? And if you remem­ber so much, how could you have forgotten the moments of the wondrous begetting of wisdom within you? Sometimes I hear you talking about great thoughts that were born to you unexpectedly without any effort. Who bore these thoughts to you, intellectuals? How were they begotten without a father, if you admit that you did not father them?

Truly I say to you: the father of these thoughts is the All-Holy Spirit, and their mother survives as the virgin corner of your soul, where the All-Holy Spirit still dares to enter.

Thus every wisdom in heaven and on earth is begotten of the Virgin and the All-Holy Spirit. The All-Holy Spirit hovered over the chastity of the first hypostasis, and the Ultimate Man, the Wisdom of God, was begotten.

What the chastity of the Father is in heaven, the virginity of the Mother is on earth. What the action of the Holy Spirit is in heaven, His action is on earth. What the begetting of wisdom is in heaven, the begetting of wisdom is on earth.

St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prayers by the Lake, Prayer X

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

True North

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers.

O Canada! Terre de nos aïeux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!
Car ton bras sait porter l'épée,
Il sait porter la croix!
Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.
Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.

Sous l'oeil de Dieu, près du fleuve géant,
Le Canadien grandit en espérant,
Il est né d'une race fière,
Béni fut son berceau;
Le ciel a marqué sa carrière
Dans ce monde nouveau.
Toujours guidé par Sa lumière,
Il gardera l'honneur de son drapeau,
Il gardera l'honneur de son drapeau.

De son patron, précurseur du vrai Dieu,
Il porte au front l'auréole de feu;
Ennemi de la tyrannie,
Mais plein de loyauté,
Il veut garder dans l'harmonie
Sa fière liberté.
Et par l'effort de son génie,
Sur notre Sol asseoir la vérité,
Sur notre Sol asseoir la vérité!

Amour sacré du trône et de l'autel
Remplis nos coeurs de ton souffle immortel.
Parmi les races étrangères
Notre guide est la foi;
Sachons être un peuple de frères,
Sous le joug de la loi;
Et répétons comme nos pères
Le cri vainqueur: «Pour le Christ et le Roi»
Le cri vainqueur: «Pour le Christ et le Roi».

From my blogroll, Rebecca Stark celebrates Canada's beauty and Scott Gilbreath mourns its going astray.

Monday, June 30, 2008


I am in the midst of giving oral exams for my ethics course, so substantial posting will have to wait a bit; but expect a post on the philosophical justification of Judaism in IV Maccabees, which keeps whirling in my head and will have to be let out at some point in the near future. Some things about town:

* I intended to mention this before, but kept forgetting: David Corfield discusses the sublime in mathematics at "A Dialogue on Infinity".

* Roger Scruton, Cities for Living, discusses Léon Krier's vision for urban humanity.

* Franklin Freeman discusses Flann O'Brien. At-Swim-Two-Birds had its moments, but The Third Policeman is a stunningly good book. I would say it's better than anything Joyce wrote, but I suppose that that would be one more point on which I'd find myself in a minority.

* Dale Tuggy's series on dealing with apparent inconsistencies is up to eight posts:
Part 1: The Four R's
Part 2: Redirection
Part 3: Restraint
Part 4: Restraint and Implicit Faith
Part 5: Aquinas on Implicit Faith
Part 6: Restraint, Implicit Belief, and Stalin
Part 7: Resolution by Rational Reinterpretation
Part 8: Rational Reinterpretation, Cont.
Part 9: Rational Reinterpretation, Cont. [Added Later]
Here and there I make a nuisance of myself since, already seeing as I do even most ordinary philosophical arguments not merely in terms of premises and form but also in terms of tactic and strategy, I am very much more optimistic than Dale is about the pedigree and the rationality, at least under certain circumstances, of some of these tactics.

* Terry Tomkow discusses the need for open access philosophy. He also suggests an Open Access Pledge. I wouldn't sign it, because I don't generally sign pledges (having a tendency to forget that I signed them), but the guidelines are ones to which I am very sympathetic, and I think everyone should look them over as a way to start thinking about how the mode of their academic philosophical work could be improved.

Mrs. Norris

The division of gratifying sensations ought not, in strict justice, to have been equal; for Sir Thomas was fully resolved to be the real and consistent patron of the selected child, and Mrs. Norris had not the least intention of being at any expense whatever in her maintenance. As far as walking, talking, and contriving reached, she was thoroughly benevolent, and nobody knew better how to dictate liberality to others; but her love of money was equal to her love of directing, and she knew quite as well how to save her own as to spend that of her friends. Having married on a narrower income than she had been used to look forward to, she had, from the first, fancied a very strict line of economy necessary; and what was begun as a matter of prudence, soon grew into a matter of choice, as an object of that needful solicitude, which there were no children to supply. Had there been a family to provide for, Mrs. Norris might never have saved her money; but having no care of that kind, there was nothing to impede her frugality, or lessen the comfort of making a yearly addition to an income which they had never lived up to. Under this infatuating principle, counteracted by no real affection for her sister, it was impossible for her to aim at more than the credit of projecting and arranging so expensive a charity; though perhaps she might so little know herself, as to walk home to the Parsonage after this conversation, in the happy belief of being the most liberal-minded sister and aunt in the world.

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cassandras and Cranks

Another quotable quote from the blogosphere, this time from Jack Perry:

What's the difference between a Cassandra and a crank? People write stories about Cassandra; cranks write stories about themselves.

There are actually a few quotables in that post; I liked this one as well:

Every culture, while being self-aware and cherishing the genuinely good aspects of its heritage, must forge a future for itself that applies its particular genius both to the challenges of the present and the foreseeable challenges of the future.

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Peter then was true; or rather was Christ true in Peter? Now when the Lord Jesus Christ would, He abandoned Peter, and Peter was found a man; but when it so pleased the Lord Jesus Christ, He filled Peter, and Peter was found true. The Rock (Petra) made Peter true, for the Rock was Christ. And what did He announce to him, when he answered a third time that he loved Christ, and a third time the Lord commended His little sheep to Peter? He announced to him beforehand his suffering. When you were young, says He, you girded yourself, and wentest whither you would, but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall gird you, and carry you whither you would not. The Evangelist has explained to us Christ's meaning. This spoke He, says he, signifying by what death he should glorify God; that is that he was crucified for Christ; for this is, You shall stretch forth your hands. Where now is that denier? Then after this the Lord Christ said, Follow Me. Not in the same sense as before, when he called the disciples. For then too He said, Follow Me; but then to instruction, now to a crown. Was he not afraid to be put to death when he denied Christ? He was afraid to suffer that which Christ suffered. But now he must be afraid no more. For he saw Him now Alive in the Flesh, whom he had seen hanging on the Tree. By His Resurrection Christ took away the fear of death; and forasmuch as He had taken away the fear of death, with good reason did He enquire of Peter's love. Fear had thrice denied, love thrice confessed. The threefoldness of denial, the forsaking of the Truth; the threefoldness of confession, the testimony of love.

Augustine, Sermon 97 on the New Testament

Two Poem Drafts


Out the corner of my eye
I see that Sleep is passing by.
Dreams and yawns are in the air;
they swoop and swing and hover there.
The light of sun has aged to sighs
of thoughts that dwell on hours by,
and moonlight wanders, fresh and fair,
farther than the sunlight dared.

Your Words

Like fingernails across my heart
where ache like blood flows out
in a misery of doubt
and frenzied strokes of art,
a madness and a shout
that echoes in the ear
like the shrieks and screams of fear
of an army turned to rout,
I am cut by steel-edged swords,
darts of darkness, and your words.

Metaphysical Lunacy

A famous passage from Thomas Reid:

Text not available
An inquiry into the human mind, on the principles of common sense By Thomas Reid

I have on occasion seen this represented as a 'madness' argument against skepticism, i.e., the argument that it would be simply mad to be a skeptic. But this is not, I think, accurate. The passage is not primarily an argument against skepticism at all; it is a diagnosis of it, namely, as a form of madness, and, without explicitly stating a cure, obviously suggests one -- namely, interaction with society. But a diagnosis of a particular instance of a philosophical error is only an argument against it for those who share the account underlying the diagnosis; and a general diagnosis of a kind of philosophical error is not really an argument against it at all, but a classification of it assuming that it is, indeed, an error or, at least, a malady (since the two need not coincide perfectly).

However, it is closely related to a common argument against skepticism, namely, the apraxia objection, the argument that skepticism would make practical life impossible. This bothered Hume enough to consider the matter; and we find the answer in Treatise 1.4, especially (but not exclusively) in 1.4.7. Reid's diagnosis is interesting in that it is a diagnosis of skepticism derived from Hume, the person who, for Reid, is almost a paradigm example of a skeptic. In making this diagnosis, Reid is simply building on Hume's own diagnosis of the situation, since Hume makes the same diagnosis, calling it a "philosophical melancholy and delirium" and also regards it as intermittent, dissipating on exposure to society. Thus it is important to note that you can be a skeptic and agree with Reid's diagnosis; Hume is the prime example, since, in fact, Reid's diagnosis is simply taken from Hume.