Friday, August 15, 2008


Brian Weatherson has an argument that intuition isn't unreliable. My own view of the argument is that it is one of those cases of 'so close yet so far'. Weatherson notes that a lot of falsehoods are counterintuitive, so there is some reason to attribute reliability to intuition; but one might still refuse to consider it reliable for one of two reasons.

(1) We may think it's impossible to measure how reliable or unreliable it is (because there would be infinitely many successes and failures alike, or because there is no clear way to decide what counts as a single intuition).

(2) We may think that the question, "Is intuition reliable?", is ill-formed because 'intuition' doesn't mark a single type of thing, but several different types of things.

He gives arguments in each case that we could still at least deny that appeal to intuition is epistemologically suspect.

I think (2) is where the money is at; as I've noted before, in the eighteenth century James Beattie identified eight distinct types of things, each with its own quirks, to do the same general sort of work our contemporaries are trying to do with the one word, 'intuition'. And what is more, Beattie and his contemporaries had more sophisticated accounts of each of the eight types than we have of this supposedly single type of thing, 'intuition'. Thus I think any defense of intuition has to recognize that it is not a univocal term, whatever different kinds of intuitions may have in common to deserve the single label. So "Is intuition reliable?" is not a good question to ask, because it can only be answered with a question: "Which kinds of intuition do you mean?" Weatherson recognizes this, but the way he tries to handle it involves dividing the classes of intuition in an odd way: he divides them into philosophical, epistemological, moral, etc. This is a very bizarre way to divide the class of things called 'intuition' because it still leaves the question unanswerable. Consider philatelic intuitions. It makes no sense to ask as a general question, "Are my philatelic intuitions reliable?" If someone were to ask such a question, it would still require the clarificatory question, "What kinds of intuitions do you mean?" If we are tracking reliability we don't want to divide intuitions up according to the fields for which they are useful; we want to divide them according to the kinds of things they are. And to add 'moral' to 'intuition' no more clarifies what the intuition is supposed than adding 'philatelic' does; it simply clarifies the subject matter we're thinking about, not the way we're thinking about it. If we were to divide intuitions into classes based on kinds of intuition rather than subject matter (e.g., by adapting Beattie's classification), we could then give a thorough and excellent account of the reliability of this or that kind of intuition. Then we could run the sort of argument Weatherson wants to run.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Equivocal Language and Univocal Science

It is fascinating to watch the never-ending struggle as language and scientific method develop side by side. The process is always the same. The scientist seizes upon a word originally made by the common poet, and enceavours to restrict it to a single, definite meaning which shall be the same in every context. The physicist, for instance, takes a word like "force" or "energy" and uses it to denote a particular factor in physics that can be mathematically expressed. To his horror, the general public refuses to restrict the word in this manner, and innumerable misunderstandings occur. Not only does the common man continue to use the words in metaphorical meanings which they cannot bear in scientific contexts: he also reads those meanings into the scientist's expositions of physics, deducing from them all kinds of metaphysical conclusions quite foreign to the physicist's intentions. Or, if the scientist does succeed in capturing a word and restricting its meaning, some other word will arrive and take over all the former meanings of the original word; so that the same pair of words may be used in successive centuries to mean totally different things, and may even become substituted for one another, without anybody's noticing what has happened.

Dorothy Sayers, "Creative Mind," Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids: 1969) 86-87. I don't know how general it actually is, but I've noticed this a few times myself. It also happens with words used to describe not just what science studies but the practice of science itself; when a scientist describes the scientific method, you can't always assume that the words have the same meaning to the scientist that they do to you, because oftentimes the word is being used not because of its colloquial meaning but because of something else. I've had scientists (more than one, independently!) tell me that of two theories one was better than the other because the two were indistinguishable; what they meant was actually quite coherent and illuminating, but I don't think I ever managed to convey to them how utterly confusing it was to put the point like that, and that 'indistinguishable' is never in ordinary language used asymmetrically. That sort of thing just takes a bit of vigilance, though; it's rather more tricky when we are talking the actual details of biology and physics.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dooyeweerd's Philosophy of Furniture

I think I mentioned a while ago that I'm reading Dooyeweerd's New Critique of Theoretical Thought. I have read it before, but it was some years back; and I find that there's a great deal in it that I didn't remember at all. This isn't really surprising, given how large the book is. I don't find his history of philosophy any more persuasive than I did when I first read it -- I think a great deal of it is inaccurate (which is not to say that there aren't really great moments of insight; anyone who recognizes the importance of the Alciphron to understanding Berkeley's thought gets massive kudos in my book, even if he overestimates the degree to which it represents a break from Berkeley's earlier work). Unsurprisingly, I think his account of Aquinas is off, although given the resources he was drawing on, understandably so; and as a Thomist of sorts, I have the gut reaction to much of it that any Thomist would have to the philosophy of the cosmonomic Idea, namely, that it's great as far as it goes, but makes the typical modernist mistake of confusing descriptions of human experience with descriptions of the real world, that, indeed, it is saved from being merely secularist nonsense in this regard almost entirely by the fact that tries to accommodate within that framework a Christian view of the world. Having an imagination that does a good job of sympathizing widely, I fully recognize, of course, that such a description would drive a Dooyeweerdian as crazy as Dooyeweerd's descriptions of Thomism do, and that this is in some sense just Dooyeweerd's view of Thomism seen in the opposite direction, and an artifact of the fact that both camps see themselves as solid, even if improvable, examples of Christian philosophy (where that is understood as necessarily Catholic in the one case and necessarily Reformed in the other).

But I am digressing, and getting into subjects that would eat up many, many posts on their own. One of the things that makes Dooyeweerd a great philosopher is that he doesn't merely retread old paths. Indeed, one of the strengths of his philosophy, and particularly of the doctrine of modal spheres, is that it forces him to take a more comprehensive view of human life, and this leads him to discuss philosophically things that are often not discussed much by philosophers. A good example of this is his discussion of furniture (in volume 3 of the Freeman-Jongste translation). In fact, in this context Dooyeweerd expressly discusses this:

This may seem to be a trivial subject. Does it really imply philosophical problems?...Is it, in other words, necessary for philosophy to lose itself into a detailed examination of the typcial structures of such things as these?

We can reply that our philosophy cannot neglect the things of naive experience....Any resemblance of triviality is the result of the attitude of apostate human consciousness casting its shadow over the richness of God's creation and levelling out its structural particularities in the monotonous uniformities of general schemes. Naive experience, when viewed in the light of Divine Revelation, becomes rich in meaning. (p. 128)

So what richness of meaning do we find in tables and chairs? Like aesthetic objects, furniture is "formed out of specific materials in accordance with a free human project" (p. 129). We have a set of materials, with their own physical and chemical features, and these physical and chemical features are taken in hand (so to speak) by the artisan and used to fulfill the artisan's design. In Dooyeweerd's terminology this is called enkaptic binding: the structures involved in its being the material it is are 'enkaptically bound' to the structures involved in its being the object of use it is made to be; and the latter depends crucially on the former.

Let's confine our attention for a moment to wood furniture. Wood comes from trees; and the most salient fact about trees is that they are living things -- in Dooyeweerd's terminology, their qualifying or leading function is biotic. But, of course, once we take it from the tree the cells begin to die; this physico-chemical aspect of the wood is no longer 'enkaptically bound' in the living tree. So the most salient facts about the wood are simply facts about its physics and chemistry; and thus its 'qualifying function' is physico-chemical. However, it's also fairly clear that wood retains some sort of secondary relation to the original biotic function; after all, oak wood is very different from, say, chestnut wood, whether it's on the tree or off. The way Dooyeweerd calls this its variability-type: oak wood betrays the fact that it came from an oak, even though it no longer has a number of key features that it had when it was part of the living oak, and even though its organs have lost their standard functions (the capillaries no longer conducting water to where the tree needs it, for instance).

One can, of course, simply use this wood to build your furniture with. But for a number of reasons, not least of which is durability, we usually prefer to refine it into a technical product (e.g., we treat it and saw it into planks). In so doing the wood becomes 'enkaptically bound' to a different type of structure, and begins to take on a function in the 'cultural' or 'historical' modality. (The historical modality has to do with the formation and production of things, and so includes, among other things, technology and handicraft.) We might say, loosely, that its wood-ness is 'enkaptically bound' to its plank-ness.

I said however, that it begins to take on a function in the historical modality. In fact, a wooden plank is not much of anything; it's just materials, like the original wood, made a bit more ready to be used, and it's only when it is used that it really takes on a new kind of function. Dooyeweerd refers to it as a "semi-formed technical product". As a plank it has a cultural destination, we might say; its most salient feature is that it is a physico-chemical product suitable for cultural use.

Now, when we take this suitable wood-material and make it into a chair, it is clear enough that the chair-aspect is not the same as the wood-aspect; you can make a chair out of all sorts of different materials, so while you need some materials to have a chair, being a chair involves taking on features that are not simply identical with any features of the materials used to make it. There is a sense, of course, in which a wooden chair just is its wood. The way Dooyeweerd cashes this out is by distinguishing between subjective functions and objective functions. The chair's ultimate subjective function is physico-chemical; we get the other functions not by considering it as a subject but by considering it as an object.

Like everything in the world, a chair has some sort of function in all the modalities. It has mathematical features, for instance, that are necessary conditions for its functioning as furniture. But we notice a curious thing here. For the mathematical features of a chair, while necessary for its functioning as a chair, depend in a way on its being a chair. We might say the artisan picks out these mathematical specifications rather than those in order to make it the right sort of chair. As Dooyeweerd says, "they are freely projected in the internal conception of their designer, and are realized in the actual thing by a free formative activity" (p. 133). To function as furniture presupposes mathematical and spatial characteristics; but the particular mathematical and spatial characteristics the furniture has is chosen in order to fulfill the function of being furniture.

We find the same thing when we look to its dynamical features. To function as a chair presupposes, for instance, certain load-bearing properties; but these are freely chosen precisely so that they may subserve the function of being a chair. The fact that the wooden materials were capable of bearing such-and-such load meant that their physical aspect had an anticipatory potentiality for certain technical functions. They're a good fit; they cohere well.

Chairs are designed to accommodate themselves to the human body. Well, at least good chairs are designed to accommodate themselves to the human body; they serve as objects for human biotic functions by giving us rest and support, and are specifically designed to do so. But, of course, they don't serve as objects for just any human biotic functions. They serve as objects for human biotic functions insofar as they anticipate certain cultural functions. We build chairs not merely to have something to sit on -- rocks and floors would do for that -- but to facilitate civilized life. You can sit on rocks of a certain shape in much the same way you do a chair; but the chair is more suitable for playing certain roles, like being part of a dining set, or lounging on while you read or watch TV, and this, of course, is entirely deliberate. Chairs are not mere seats; they are historical objects, elements of human culture, features of our particular form of civilization.

But, of course, even within chairs the exact character of this will vary depending on what, precisely, we have in mind, and this will be even more true of furniture in general. As Dooyeweerd puts it,

The typical objective destination of furniture is inseparably interwoven with the entire arrangement of a human dwelling. The further differentiation of the structural type, table or chair, depends upon whether they are to furnish a living-room, kitchen, garden, library, restaurant, office, etc. (p. 137)

One of the things this brings us up against is that, however beautiful, there's a very straightforward sense in which a real chair is not a work of art. That is, it may be a 'work of art' in a loose sense, but it will never really be a work of art in the sense that this is its leading function. It will have an aesthetic function if done by a great artist; but if it's well-made as a chair, this is not, and cannot be, its dominant function. It can be stunningly beautiful; but this beauty is a 'bound' beauty, i.e., it is bound over to serve a function other than just being beautiful. Chairs are not art for art's sake. This shouldn't be taken to minimize the aesthetic aspect of the chair; the aesthetic aspect of furniture, that is, the furniture-style, has a real importance. After all, you'll often want your dining set to match, rather than just look like it was a sort of yard sale accident. You don't want to try to make a Louis XIV arm-chair serve the function of a lawn chair; the style, the beauty, subserves the function of being a chair, but it's not a style or beauty that you want in a lawn-chair. Similarly, even a very elegantly designed wooden-lawn chair just won't work in a formal waiting-room in the Palace of Versailles.

The Louis XIV arm-chair is interesting in that it is not just any sort of chair, nor indeed just any sort of arm-chair. It's the sort of arm-chair designed to express a society. It's an arm-chair designed to put you in your place; it thus in some sense serves a social function, since you wouldn't generally want a Louis XIV arm-chair except where you were trying to overwhelm people with how rich and powerful you are. We're told that when Benjamin Franklin visited Versailles he was utterly shocked by all the materials put to no use but to look fancy; and we could very well have a similar response to the Louis XIV arm-chair. It's beautiful certainly, and it has not sacrificed all use; but with it we're starting to reach a point where a flawed society is trying to make a chair not be a chair just in order to prove a point. Being a chair is beginning to take back-seat to being flashy and ostentatious. Dooyeweerd suggests that in this case we're starting to lose the distinction between furniture and architecture: the arm-chair is to some extent just a less durable and more detachable part of the building.

But this begins to bring us to a problem. I can take a chair, say, the chair George Washington sat in, and not use it as a chair. I can, for instance, put it in a museum as a display-piece. This is a distinct subjective purpose for it. We can say that this is rather different from the 'objective destination' of the chair; after all, I'm still fully aware that it is a chair, because the whole reason I'm putting it on display is that it is a chair, one of a particular sort. But is this too simple? The objective destination of a church is religious; but sometimes churches devolve into museums. They are given a different destination. In a sense the religious function has been deactivated. We can still say it is there, because it was given to it by design; but we are no longer able to activate it, any more than we are any longer able to activate the suit of armor in the museum as a major element in war. Thus, says Dooyeweerd, we should distinguish

(1) the intentional representational relation (as we find it in its being formed as the object it is by the designer, according to the designer's design)
(2) the explicational relation (as we find it in the object's having the objective character it does within human experience)
(3) the actualization relation (as we find it in the object's being used according to its various functionalities)

Dooyeweerd suggests that the church that has become a museum hasn't changed its original character; the intentional and the explicational relations are both unchanged. Rather, our practical relation to it has changed, that is to say, the actualization of it has shifted, since certain of its functionalities have become deactivated. Think of a robot: a robot's a robot whether it's being used as a robot or as a garden-piece, but in the former case its functionality as a robot has been activated, whereas in the latter case its functionality as a robot has been deactivated. When I take a chair and put it in a museum, it's still a chair; I've just deactivated its full functionality as a chair.

That gives some notion, I hope, of the sort of philosophical reflection we have on chairs. Actually, of course, we've only touched the surface; we've only discussed the chair's existence in a handful of modalities, so there are plenty of enkaptic bindings and anticipatory potentialities we haven't explored. But what we've done should be enough to see some of the richness of the sort of philosophical reflection Dooyeweerd thinks we should bring to bear even on something that most people would normally think too trivial for serious philosophical reflection: furniture.

100 Works in Philosophy

The previous book meme set me thinking about a sort of philosophical analogue. The basic idea was this: a list of a hundred books, each providing a relatively accessible portal to philosophy, likely to have something of interest to a very wide range of people, in order to encourage a wider reading in philosophy, and perhaps an interest in philosophy among those who might be turned off by anything too academic. So that constrained the list to philosophical works available in English, not too difficult to find (at least with a good library), not too overwhelming (e.g., not too long or too jargonish), potentially enjoyable to all sorts of people; there was also the constraint, considerably more limiting, that only books I'd read in some version or translation or other could be included, since only if I had read the book at least once, at some point, could I be sure it was a reasonable candidate for the list. I also tried to limit relatively recent philosophical work in order to compensate for the bias of recency. Also, with a few very readable exceptions, I have bypassed standard college course fare. The result was as follows, in no particular order. (I have linked to those available online in some form. Needless to say, and although some of the editions are quite good, this does not always or even usually indicate that this is the best edition available. The rest should be accessible through a descent university library or good bookstore. Also, it should go without saying, but might not, that inclusion on the list, while it shows that I think the work interesting, does not show that I necessarily agree with it in any way.) I have a defense of each one's deserving a place on this list, if you have any questions about a particular entry. Did I miss any good ones? Which ones have you read? If you were going to make your own list, what would be on it?

1. Voltaire, Candide
2. Dante, Divine Comedy
3. Plato, Apology
4. Xenophon, Apology
5. Berkeley, Alciphron
6. Aquinas, Collationes super Credo in Deum
7. Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Part II
8. Scotus, A Treatise on God as First Principle
9. Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy
10. Descartes, Discourse on Method
11. Hume, "Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences"
12. O. K. Bouwsma, "Descartes' Evil Genius"
13. Gilson, Forms and Substances in the Arts
14. Bonaventure, Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum
15. Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi; attr.), Zhuangzi
16. Fa-tsang, Treatise on the Golden Lion
17. Xuedoe/Yuanwu, The Blue Cliff Record
18. Sartre, No Exit
19. Chesterton, Manalive
20. Shaw, Saint Joan
21. Anscombe, "Modern Moral Philosophy"
22. Planck, Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers
23. Darwin, The Descent of Man
24. Kingsley, Hypatia
25. James, "The Will to Believe"
26. Carroll, "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles"
27. Whewell, On the Principles of English University Education
28. Faraday, The Chemical History of a Candle
29. Masham, Occasional Thoughts in Reference to a Virtuous Christian Life
30. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World
31. Lull, Book of the Gentile
32. Ibn Tufayl, Hayy ibn Yaqzan
33. Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
34. Butler, Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel
35. Epictetus, Enchiridion
36. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
37. Johnson, The History of Rasselas
38. More, Utopia
39. Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
40. Bacon, Essays
41. Justin Martyr, First Apology
42. Minucius Felix, Octavius
43. O'Brien, The Third Policeman
44. ***, IV Maccabees
45. Langland, Piers Plowman
46. Lewis, Abolition of Man
47. ***, Cleanness
48. Mill, Utilitarianism
49. Anselm, On Freedom of Choice (PDF)
50. Abelard, Historia Calamitatum
51. Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy
52. Kant, "Perpetual Peace"
53. Cicero, De Officiis
54. Pascal, Pensées
55. Sun Tzu, The Art of War
56. Clausewitz, On War
57. Shelley, "Queen Mab"
58. Pope, An Essay on Man
59. Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
60. Beattie, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth
61. Montaigne, Apology for Raymond Sebond
62. Casanova, History of My Life
63. Lucian, Hermotimus
64. Lorris/Meun, The Romance of the Rose
65. Sophocles, Antigone
66. Christine de Pisan, Book of the City of Ladies
67. Augustine, Confessions
68. Nicholas of Cusa, On Learned Ignorance (PDF)
69. Erasmus, The Praise of Folly
70. Abbott, Flatland
71. Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
72. Gilman, Herland
73. Saadia, Beliefs and Opinions
74. Lessing & Mendelssohn, "Pope a Metaphysician!"
75. Hume, "A Dialogue"
76. Menkin, The Love of the Righteous
77. Lessing, Nathan the Wise
78. Chateaubriand, The Genius of Christianity
79. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
80. Eliot, Romola
81. Maritain, Theonas
82. ***, The Great Learning
83. Stapledon, Sirius
84. Eco, The Name of the Rose
85. Novalis, Heinrich von Ofterdingen
86. Vico, De Nostri Temporis Studiorum Ratione (On the Study Methods of Our Time)
87. Fichte, The Vocation of Man
88. Edwards, Freedom of the Will
89. Rousseau, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences
90. Shaftesbury, "Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humor" (PDF)
91. Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua
92. Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of Western Thought
93. Kant, "On the Question: What is Enlightnment?"
94. Austen, Mansfield Park
95. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria
96. Duhem, German Science
97. Diderot, Rameau's Nephew
98. Dryden, Religio Laici
99. Chaucer, The Parson's Tale
100. Teresa of Avila, Life of Teresa of Avila, by Herself


Obviously it's a list that does not stay with what's expected; and as you might expect, it's partly intended to be subversive, although not as much as it might seem at first glance. In various discussions of the list so far, 39, 64, and 94 have been question on the basis of not being philosophical; and 8 on the basis of not being accessible. The fact that people keep suggesting that Mansfield Park should not be deemed a philosophical work is particularly interesting, since it shows that a lot of people are still living pre-Ryle on the subject of Austen and moral philosophy. Mansfield Park is not, of course, a philosophical treatise; it is a novel, and the concerns of a novelist, not of a treatise-writer, shape the work. But as a number of people have shown on different points, Austen often deals pretty thoroughly with issues of moral philosophy that were big in her time, and Mansfield Park is the one that does so the most. To name just one example, if you think Fanny Price virtuous, you will, if you are consistent, have serious problems with large sections of Hume's moral philosophy; and it is noteworthy just how overwhelmingly Humean ethics favors the Crawfords. Now, there is no particular reason, as far as I am aware, to think that Austen has Hume in view; but she doesn't have to. The fact that you can trace out so clearly incompatibilities between her view and Hume's shows that her moral philosophy, while not systematic (or at least no presented as such in any form we have) is nevertheless philosophically substantive, as Ryle, MacIntyre, and many others have argued. Actually, I think Mansfield Park keeps getting mentioned not because people particularly have it out for Mansfield Park but because by virtue of its stature it gets representative status as The Novel, and stands in for all the novels on the list. To the extent that's the case, then the questioning of Mansfield Park is simply based on assumptions about philosophy not shared by the maker of the list. But the most challenged work so far is A Confederacy of Dunces, which is interesting. The book, of course, is mostly just a lot of romp and fun, and not in any straightforward way didactic; but I do wonder if the people making the criticism really think that Toole just chose Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy at random, and that, despite being mentioned and alluded to over and over again, it really plays no significant role at all in the story. Perhaps. Likewise, the character of Beatrice might be wholly irrelevant to understanding the Divine Comedy of Dante; but I hope that one would at least wonder about any such claim.

The Roman in Jean de Meun's continuation certainly talks a lot of philosophy on the face of it; whether the Lorris original does is a good question, one that I would answer affirmatively. Obviously the subject is not what we usually consider 'philosophical', but the dual factor that (1) it is an allegory and (2) it is trying to make sense of the Lover's plight forces it to deal with the issue in much more reflective ways than you would get with the same story told as a straightforward tale of romance and loss.

But is Scotus's Treatise really accessible enough to be on the list -- accessible in the sense of being interesting to a wide variety of people and not so jargonish that its argument is obscured for ordinary people? It's arguably one of the borderline cases; perhaps you should read it and tell me.

Reflecting on the list further, there are definitely quirks that are just idiosyncratic (fewer than some people think, though). I think you could legitimately question why Eliot's Romola is on the list rather than Daniel Deronda (the reason: I like Romola better). Similarly, as I think Clark mentioned, Man and Superman is arguably a better candidate than Saint Joan (same reason). Someone noted that Kierkegaard is missing, and I agree that that's a pretty serious gap, particularly since I should have thought to put him on it, and didn't. (There are in addition, of course, lots of candidates that I wanted to put on the list but didn't, for one reason or another, and not always for a reason that had much to do with the list itself. Iris Murdoch, for instance, who only got left off because I got to 100 and was too attached to the others on the list to substitute her in.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Poem Draft

Lamplit Lanes

What strange, remarkless, baneful folk
now walk the streets beneath the moon,
what voodoo-dreamers,
what crowds ensorceled to a swoon!
How oddly light from old, weak lamps
upon the dirty path now falls,
spreading wanhope faces,
and casting over life a pall!
The nightmares out for midnight stroll
walk arm in arm along the way
with impudent smirk
as fearless as the gods by day;
for in their old and titan element,
void and darkness, chaos reigns;
and they are chaos,
and walk upon the lamplit lanes.

False Liberations

In this protection racket of tolerance, everybody's sexual bottom line is rhetorically defended as freedom of expression, which has the political genius of making everybody potentially complicit through the stirring between their legs. But anyone with an ounce of political realism knows that the promise is illusory: sexual freedom is not and will not be equally deilvered, no matter how many women are sacrificed on its altar. And anyone with an ounce of political analysis should know that freedom before equality, freedom before justice, will only further liberate the power of the powerful and will never free what is most in need of expression.

Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified. Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA: 1987) p. 15. This problem is actually quite general, I think; in any context freedom in the absence of justice will be more power and protection to the powerful in their actions against the relatively powerless.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Links of Note and Notes on Links

* Has anyone else done business with I recently ordered a book from them, and was very pleased with the service -- very fast and efficient -- so I was curious whether I just lucked out or whether this is standard.

* August 9th was the feast of St. Edith Stein; Ignatius Scoop has a post on her.

* Stephen Matheson discusses Behe.

* Jimmy Akin is beginning a series of reviews on Card's Ender series. First stop: Ender's Game.

* According to this interesting script, there is a 71% chance that I'm a woman, based on my browser history; which is why you shouldn't assume things based on browser history. What's interesting is that one of the sites that tips the balance is GoodSearch, which has a very low male-to-female ratio.

* The Uncultured Project: After hearing an inspiring lecture, a graduate student at Notre Dame puts his graduate studies on hold, flies to Bangladesh, and sets out to help those who need it; this is the website for it. (ht)

* Whoever Obama picks as a running mate, it won't be Edwards.

* Martha Nussbaum on Euripedes' Hecuba and the fragility of goodness:

In a sense, Hecuba is really about the fragility of humanity: no one is so strong as to be uncrushable, and, however great one's nobility, there are things that can strip away your very humanity. Human excellence is not invulnerable, human resilience is not infinite, and Hecuba's fall from wise and merciful queen to pitiless vigilante about to topple over into inhuman madness is a striking portrayal of this fragility.

* There's an interesting discussion on moral expertise going on at "Philosophy, et cetera."

* The Tenured Radical discusses academic job advertisements. She's primarily thinking of history, of course, but virtually all of what she says carries over to other fields, and thus this post should be required reading for anyone on a search committee. I've certainly seen some absurdly uninformative advertisements in philosophy. As usual, what really gets me about this is that if there's any field that should be actively subjecting its own practices to serious critical reflection and judgment, it should be philosophy; philosophy is a field in which there is even less excuse for the sort of failings Potter is criticizing; and yet you have only to open any JFP to see every single one of them in action.

* An interesting article on the Boff brothers from Chiesa. In general, people with an interest in liberation theology tend to split between Leonardo-types and Clodovis-types.

* YouTube finds: One of my favorite versions of one of my favorite songs, Ailein Duinn by Capercaillie. Karen Matheson is hard to beat, but Méav has a decent version, too, although her pronunciation occasionally makes Scottish Gaelic sound Irish. I've always loved the opening:

Gura mise tha fo éislean
Moch sa mhaduinn is mi g'éirigh.

And nothing says loss and sorrow like the chorus:
Ò hì shiùbhlainn leat
Hì ri bhò hò ru bhì
Hì ri bhò hò rinn o ho
Ailein Duinn, ò hì shiùbhlainn leat.

The sound fits the theme flawlessly (a woman weeping at the drowning of her fiancée at sea, crying out that she wants to go wherever he goes). Someday I will learn Scots Gaelic to a level a bit more advanced than tha ga math, tapadh leibh.

Although I don't really drink, I like drinking songs. Two of my favorites are The Carlton Weaver, better known as Nancy Whiskey, (this version, perhaps the best of the best, is by Luke Kelly and the Dubliners), and Lish Young Buy-a-Broom (this version by Clannad). The Parting Glass is classic, of course.

Levan Polka by Loituma (and here). And if you like hymns, you'll probably like the slow, somber stateliness of O Kriste Kunnian Kuningas. Finnish I will also have to learn someday.