Friday, October 24, 2008

Dashed Off

It has been a while since I've done one of these posts. Semi-random thoughts from the notebook I carry around everywhere, some interesting, some silly, some somewhere in between.

the triple solidarity of the Church
(1) solidarity by similitude (each in the Image of Christ)
(2) solidarity by division of labor (the organic Body of Christ)
(3) solidarity by equability (the bond of charity and peace)

principium exclusae collisionis officiorum

reason that is lively & mixed with some propensity

doxastic uneasiness ("uneasiness arises from the opposition of two contrary principles" T 206)
(1) sacrifice one principle to the other
(2) oscillating assent
(3) palliative hypothesis (we muddle the matter up so the opposition is less obvious)
(4) restrict one or both of the principles

"Not being able to do the work of the angels in choir, we can at least write about them." Thomas Aquinas

networks of influence vs. hierarchies of prestige

ethics works on the basis of an infrastructure, which it requires; but it has little infrastructure of its own & so borrows political, social, & religious infrastructure

the use of associative correlatives (Treat. SBN 107) in poetry & art (description by associative correlatives)

In the Vision at Ostia, the conversation of Monica and Augustine adumbrates the conversation of the saints in heaven.

For Hume's "calm passion" substitute "settled principle of action" (cf. T 419)

Education is indeed an artificial cause, & its maxims are frequently contrary to reason, & even to themselves at different times & places; but it is not, for all that, a fallacious ground of assent, merely an incomplete one. It grounds assent together with the grounds for the doctrine itself; those grounds remain as they are whether we are aware of them or not. In education, then, we witness an intellectual division of labor (sometimes this division is merely temporary & provisional, sometimes not), and see how being rational involves, and does not merely suggest, being social.

the philosophical Grand Tour

networks of personal acquaintance
vs. networks of philosophical influence
vs. networks of infrastructure
vs. networks of opposition

"Novels are the Socratic dialogues of our time." Schlegel

We act according to our rational natures when we desire virtue, strive for virtue, and contemplate what is.

Sophists always prove themselves wrong by showing how they are right.

exclusive or as exclusive some

It is part of human nature to be joined together in a bond of peace.

sagacity: scent of the truth in advance

Nota notae rei est nota rei ipsius.
Repugnans nota notae rei, repugnat rei ipsi.
->it would seem that these both need qualification

Faith as a capacity for invention, by which we are qualified for transfiguring & divinizing in new ways the elements of our lives

the horse-taming Trojans tamed by a horse

Thought experiments & intuition pumps & counterexamples presuppose univocity (this is because they are abbreviated inductions & inductions require an adequate division).

One may describe through the ratio or analogy of two vocabularies what neither vocabulary on its own can describe.

We sing not merely with voice but with human reason.

"For there is in me a lamentable darkness in which my latent possibilities are hidden from myself, so that my mind, questioning itself upon its own powers, feels that it cannot rightly trust its own report." Augustine Conf. X.xxxiii.48

Defeasible reasoning may be provably undefeated.

philosophy: common sense :: poetry : natural language

a system in which people vote for candidates not to be in office

It was written, it is written still,
but you never knew me, you never will.
Thus now speaks the Lord your God:
In the vineyard the grapes are trod,
the cup of wrath to fill.

the visceral pedagogy of rhetoric

A church unable to reabsorb schismatics (consistently) is defective. (Cf. Donatism)

"A Spell for Inducing Genius"
Ring the world around with reason,
and reason's reason, and pile again
reason unto the highest of heights;
for madness is but flooding reason
and madness and genius are allied.
Place the lunar sphere within the mind,
the fickle, changing rays of moon,
to deal out dreams until dreams pour out
and live in waking as in nightly sleep;
this is madness, to genius near allied.
But add to all that single steel-born thread
we call the common sense that, rarely forged,
can chain the Fenris-wolf with silken touch,
and hang the earth, with triple-wrought thread
from the very throne of Zeus;
and anchor it to solid earth and life,
for genius is to madness allied,
but, through that unsplit thread, only allied!
And reason pressed to madness,
and dream let loose like madness,
and common sense giving sane anchor,
reforged as one, make genius.

Rites are an agreed-upon language within a community; this comm. is its communicative context.

In poetic syllogism we can convert A & O?

The most pernicious hypocrisy: To call rational merely whatever seems good to one.

"Nothing is so destitute as a mind philosophizing about God when it is without Him." Diadochos of Photiki (On Spiritual Knowledge 7:254)

The first step in metaphysics is the poetry of reason as the mind makes its first attempts to express its wonder at things, to formulate in the best terms the puzzles that have begun to strike it, and to set its experiences in a rational and intelligible order.

my heart is writ with a mapamound

"Yo he visto en la noche oscura / llover sobre mi cabeza / los rayos de lumbre pura / de la divina belleza." Martí

The three laws of intellectual survival: save it, use it, make it do

Every human being is at once a moral agent and a social instrument.

The difference between Heaven and Hell is that in Heaven utility presupposes morality, without which it cannot properly be defined. But Hell is based on the violation of fundamental moral obligations, thus rendering null and void any apparent obligation contingent on those; but an imperfect utility transaction can still exist, morally null and void as to normative force, but still able to give purposeful structure to action. In Hell, utility substitutes for morality, and utility is itself a shadow of the utility of Heaven, just as cosmetic good looks are a shadow and imitation of the good looks of cheerful good health, just as flattery is a shadow and imitation of evaluation, just as sophistry is a shadow and imitation of philosophy.

naturalist drawing as science and art at once
->indeed natural history generally can be seen as such
Naturalist drawing is the attempt to interpret evidence artistically (w/ drawing utensils) in such a way that the artistic result is itself useful for scientific reasoning.
->cf. also uses of photography & 3D models & diagrams

One of the most difficult things to learn is how to distinguish good sloppiness from bad sloppiness (and, conversely, good precision from useless precision).

One of the things philosophy is: the Long War against the sophists of every age and every nation, a war to last until the end of time.

And the mice eat all our bowstrings,
and the mice bring madness down,
and the angel of the Lord, still mocking,
casts the army to the ground.

curiositas : studiositas :: superstitio : religio

"the living clockwork of the State must be repaired while it is still striking" Schiller

moral obligations that are affected by observation

etiquette as a package of protections against ethical crises, a set of compensations to reduce ethical risks

That etiquette, however much a lesser morality, is relevant to morals can be seen in many extreme situations (e.g., suicidal callers to emergency hotlines).

"Men never do evil so completely & cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." Pascal (#895)

Boethius begins to write his lament & complaint; but is prevent by Philosophy, who makes him feel foolish, although he cannot yet see that it is Philosophy that prevents him. This is a figure that captures well how Philosophy often works: exposed to Philosophy in our educations, she whispers in our ears elsewhere, whether we recognize her voice or not.

"Every person is the seed of an infinite genius." Novalis NRE #63

fantastics: invention :: logic : ratiocination

lux pulchrificat, quia sine luce omnia sunt turpia

Ex divina pulchritudine esse omnium derivatur.

outsit, outperform, & divide

Human interaction is the infrastructure of thought.

Not all that is water eases your thirst.

"Torah and wisdom are twin sisters." Isaac Satanow (Mishlei 'Asaf II p. 70a)

Derash, unlike peshat, is constrastive, and thus requires not merely understanding of the words but reasonings about their use.

the importance of rational play

Make no arguments unless they can be prayed.

The poet lacks technical precision not from a defect in poetry but from the fact that all technical precision on the topics (s)he discusses is necessarily rationally downstream from the point at which (s)he speaks the experience for reason to consider.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Teaching Logic at the Most Basic Level

My brain is currently being anesthetized as I grade logic take-home quizzes for my Intro Phil course. One of the things this extraordinarily dull and slow exercise (and it is very slow, because in philosophical logic, unlike mathematical logic, there can be different acceptable answers depending on exactly what interpretive moves that are made, so you have to look at each attempt on its own) -- I say, if you have lost the thread of my sentence, as I almost have, that one of the things this extraordinarily dull and slow exercise does is confront you with the perpetual question of what you could have done differently in teaching it. For instance, despite my best attempts to make clear to students that a string of letters and symbols is not an argument until it is clear what the letters and symbols are supposed to mean, a number of students (some bright ones, too) simply wrote down letters without giving me the slightest clue how they are interpreting them. So, for instance, when I ask them put the following in a literal diagram,

All philosophy is a footnote to Plato,

They will give me the diagram marked with the letters Ph and Pl and never tell me whether they take Pl to mean "Plato" or "footnote to Plato" or, for that matter, "the twenty-third pavement stone in front of the City Hall of Timbuktu". I did insist on the importance of making clear how things are to be interpreted, but the regularity of the problem suggests that in future classes I'll need to be even more insistent. (And, I suspect, make sure actually to write every little thing on the board, since I suspect some of them are here and there looking at a few problems we did in class where I had identified the letters verbally but they didn't write them down in their notes because, oddly, they seem to think that their notes should copy exactly what's written on the board and nothing else. So when they go back to look at their notes, they don't pick up the interpretations.)

In any case, it occurred to me that one of the problems I'm constantly struggling with -- and constantly adapting the little logic sections I teach in Intro classes in order to overcome -- is providing simple, very clear and clean ways of teaching logic. So I use Carroll's literal diagrams -- the students hate it, but it forces them to look at all the right things in order to analyze arguments -- and some basic Sommers notation -- which has the advantage of getting across the basic idea of a syllogism without sending us on the hopeless of quest of getting the students to understand figure, mood, and distribution of terms in a few weeks. And I also teach a few basic inference rules (modus ponens, modus tollens, disjunctive syllogism, etc.). But there are bound to be other means that people use to get across the basic ideas of logic to people who simply cannot, for the life of them, figure out what subcontrariety is, no matter how much you explain it, and whose minds boggle at sorites. Have any of you come across such things -- particular ways of teaching some point of logic that are simple, clean, and effective (or as much so as could reasonably be hoped)?

Thought for the Day

If you never feel stupid, you're an idiot.

Last of the Romans

In many local calendars, today is the memorial for the martyrdom of Boethius.

bella bis quinis operatus annis
ultor Atrides Phrygiae ruinis
fratris amissos thalamos piauit;
ille dum Graiae dare uela classi
optat et uentos redimit cruore,
exuit patrem miserumque tristis
foederat natae iugulum sacerdos.
fleuit amissos Ithacus sodales,
quos ferus uasto recubans in antro
mersit immani Polyphemus aluo;
sed tamen caeco furibundus ore
gaudium maestis lacrimis rependit.
Herculem duri celebrant labores:
ille Centauros domuit superbos,
abstulit saeuo spolium leoni,
fixit et certis uolucres sagittis,
poma cernenti rapuit draconi
aureo laeuam grauior metallo,
Cerberum traxit triplici catena,
uictor immitem posuisse fertur
pabulum saeuis dominum quadrigis,
Hydra combusto periit ueneno,
fronte turpatus Achelous amnis
ora demersit pudibunda ripis,
strauit Antaeum Libycis harenis,
Cacus Euandri satiauit iras,
quosque pressurus foret altus orbis
saetiger spumis umeros notauit;
ultimus caelum labor inreflexo
sustulit collo pretiumque rursus
ultimi caelum meruit laboris.
ite nunc, fortes, ubi celsa magni
ducit exempli uia. cur inertes
terga nudatis? superata tellus
sidera donat.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hypocrites and Bulstrodes

Miriam has a nice comment at her blog on the distinction between hypocrisy, and 'Bulstrodism' (as shown in Eliot's Middlemarch):

"There may be coarse hypocrites, who consciously affect beliefs and emotions for the sake of gulling the world, but Bulstrode was not one of them. He was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs, and who had gradually explained the gratification of his desires into satisfactory agreement with those beliefs." (Middlemarch, ch. LXI)

The hypocrite, according to GE's definition, is a self-conscious actor who knows that his practices and his principles are at odds; he deceives others, but not himself. That element of self-conscious performance is missing from Bulstrode's career, because he really has convinced himself that his behavior conforms to Christian standards (a conviction increasingly under pressure by the end of the novel, of course). He isn't "acting" like a Christian, but genuinely thinks that he is one. Which is why there's such emotional heft to Bulstrode's eventual collapse: he loses the fiction of self-righteous identity that he has constructed for himself, and thus realizes that his own self is actually a sham. In GE's terms, had Bulstrode been a hypocrite, only the public image produced for others would have been at risk.

In any event, I think that a lot of what gets written off as hypocrisy--especially religious hypocrisy, but political hypocrisy as well--is really Bulstrodism.

This is a great distinction (and one small example of why moral philosophers who don't read George Eliot should hang their heads in shame). This theme is closely related to the very difficult and tangled problem of moral self-deception; certainly Bulstrodism is a form of self-deception in a way that 'coarse' hypocrisy is not. Bulstrodism, in fact, sounds very similar to Butler's account of self-deceit:

Text not available
Sermons By Joseph Butler, Samuel Clarke

People think Bulstrode a hypocrite, but Bulstrode faced with the charge of hypocrisy can dismiss it out of hand: obviously he's not a hypocrite, because he is entirely sincere -- 'honest', as Butler says. It's a casuistical honesty. Bulstrode's rationalizing of his handling of the Raffles affair is a masterpiece of casuistical self-deception:

Text not available
Middlemarch A Study of Provincial Life By George Eliot

But it's honest. And, what is more, it is all through a form of moral reasoning: Bulstrode really does care what's right and what's wrong, and he carefully thinks it through. He just always manages to think things through until he has put himself in the right.

Making Truth Holy

Since our Sages admonished us to accept the truth whatever the source, I have also searched among the works of the gentile exegetes, and if I found them to have expressed a particular truth, I have exalted it to the Lord and it became holy.

Moses Mendelssohn, in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, quoted in David Sorkin, Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment, University of California Press (Berkeley: 1996) p. 42.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Atheist Bus Campaign

I see that the Atheist Bus Campaign finally managed to get off the ground and gather together its donations. According to the the campaign website:
As Richard Dawkins says: “This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think - and thinking is anathema to religion.”

I'm inclined to think that thinking is anathema to advertising slogans, inasmuch as they don't allow much room for things like evidence or argument; but insofar as there is a rational motivation for any sort of advertising campaign, it's not to 'make people think' but simply to establish a presence (which is all that advertising campaigns ever really do). And so I would imagine it is here.

Meanwhile, it makes the Methodists happy and got donations from religious thinktanks so I'm sure Dawkins is right that alternative slogans on buses will put religion to flight....

Learning Something New Every Day

From the Vatican City website:

Even though Vatican City has no direct access to the sea, by virtue of the Barcelona Declaration of 1921, it is allowed to sail its own vessels flying the papal flag.

However, the Vatican does not avail itself of this right at this time.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Each Partly in the Right, All in the Wrong

I cannot, I imagine, be the only person eager for this election cycle to be over, so that finally we may have a waning of the power of politics to make intelligent people say stupid things, sane people act like madmen, well-rounded people obsess about narrow issues, tolerant people slip into blatant bigotries, and rational people slip into every sort of slipping. In the meantime, here is a salutary poem by John Godfrey Saxe.

The Blind Men and an Elephant
by John Godfrey Saxe

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said:"E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Level Playing Fields

Rebecca Roache at "Practical Ethics" discusses the 'smart drug' controversy. I don't think such things are 'cheating' myself, for reasons associated with Roache's first reason, but I think the argument goes completely off the rails here:

However, even banning cognitive enhancement would not ensure a level playing field for students. This is the second reason to answer ‘no’ to the question above. Consider that, even without access to drugs like Ritalin, most students have to compete with other students who are naturally more intelligent, disciplined, alert, and focused. As such, most students are already at a disadvantage. It may be objected that, in aiming at a level playing field, we should ignore such ‘natural’ advantages, and concentrate only on ensuring that students have equal opportunities to achieve the best grades given their existing abilities. However, even this does not leave us with a level playing field. Some students are able and willing to employ personal tutors, others are not. Some students spend most of their time out of school studying, others spend their time relaxing or working to earn money. Some students use caffeine or computer software to aid their studying—both of which are types of cognitive enhancement—others do not. Such practices ensure that, even without prescription drugs like Ritalin, students do not compete on a level playing field. And, that schools and universities do not currently outlaw the use of personal tutors, caffeine, and studying outside of school suggests that creating a level playing field is not as important as some opponents of enhancement suggest.

However, none of this is relevant to the question of a 'level playing field'. Consider athletics, where we definitely do want a 'level playing field'. And rewrite Roache's argument, mutatis mutandis:

"However, even banning physical enhancement would not ensure a level playing field for students....Consider that, even without access to drugs like steroids, most athletes have to compete with other athletes who are naturally faster and stronger, with more discipline and endurance. As such, most athletes are already at a disadvantage. It may be objected that, in aiming at a level playing field, we should ignore such ‘natural’ advantages, and concentrate only on ensuring that athletes have equal opportunities to achieve given their existing abilities. However, even this does not leave us with a level playing field. Some athletes are able and willing to employ personal trainers, others are not. Some students spend most of their time outside of the sport practicing, others spend their time relaxing or working to earn money. Some athletes use carbohydrate loading or exercise machines to aid their practice—both of which are types of physical enhancement—others do not. Such practices ensure that, even without drugs like steroids, athletes do not compete on a level playing field. And, that schools and universities do not currently outlaw the use of personal trainers, carb-loading, and practice outside of school suggests that creating a level playing field is not as important as some opponents of enhancement suggest."

Clearly something has gone utterly wrong with this sort of argument: clearly, whatever people may mean by a "level playing field," it has to be radically different from what this argument takes it to mean, since this argument makes the only level playing field a nonexistent one. So either this argument ends up being a reason for regarding the notion of a "level playing field" as simply incoherent, or it breaks down entirely.

[UPDATE: Rebecca responds to this concern in a comment.]

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Different Decalogue

Jon Rowe has an interesting post at Positive Liberty in which he notes that John Adams once suggested to Thomas Jefferson that the original Decalogue was not Exodus 20:3-17 but instead Exodus 34:14-26 (as a possibility; he explicitly doesn't commit to it). This is actually a view that became fairly common with Wellhausen in his formulation of the documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch; and Wellhausen himself held that Goethe (from whom Adams derives the suggestion) was a predecessor on this point.* In Goethe the assumption underlying the argument was that the Jewish religion could never have begun with a teaching of such abstract and universal ethics as the Exodus 20 Decalogue; the Jews were a particularistic people, and so their law must have been a particularistic covenant that was only gradually universalized through time. The view is usually seen as also requiring the assumption that Exodus 34:28 refers not to a renewal of the words of Exodus 20 (as seems certainly required by the corresponding account in Deuteronomy), but to the words of Exodus 34 themselves.

There's an article online, by Bernard Levinson, that discusses some of the later history of this proposal of a 'Ritual Decalogue' in higher criticism.

* Goethe's essay on the subject was the Zwo wichtige bisher unerörterte biblische Fragen, which Adams had heard about (but not actually read), and which was published in the collected works. As far as I can tell, the source of Adam's information on the work is unknown. Goethe eventually came to regard his own argument as a rather strange one, resulting more from his reading at the time than from having thoroughly thought the matter out.