Saturday, February 07, 2009

Flowers Preach

Consider the Lilies of the Field
Christina Rosetti

Flowers preach to us if we will hear:--
The rose saith in the dewy morn:
I am most fair;
Yet all my loveliness is born
Upon a thorn.
The poppy saith amid the corn:
Let but my scarlet head appear
And I am held in scorn;
Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
Within my cup of curious dyes.
The lilies say: Behold how we
Preach without words of purity.
The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.
But not alone the fairest flowers:
The merest grass
Along the roadside where we pass,
Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
Tell of His love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Dashed Off

Lots of reading of St. Thomas on law shows through in this small selection from my constant note-writing.

No one sets out to be intellectually dishonest; it usually arises from lack of self-criticism in the course of criticizing others. It is worth remembering this.

It is awkward that we have no general word for the imperfect & incomplete beginning of virtue, and so often bestow on the merely initial the laudatory & positive terms that bleong properly to the complete and final. Perhaps we could call them 'decencies'? Thus continence or restraint is a decency, but temperance a virtue, and the restrained person is decent but the temperate person virtuous in the proper sense. And so forth with all the virtues, so that decent people are those who progress toward being virtuous people, although not without faults, related to the virtues being considered, that have yet to be overcome.

The sign of virtue, rather than merely progress toward it, is that good deeds are done gladly and without hesitation, not only here and there, but always.

The Gospel is chiefly the grace of the Holy Spirit itself.

death as a mitigated evil

If paternal authority is authority of admonition rather than coercion (Aristotle, Ethics X.9 1180a18; Aquinas ST I-IIae.105.4 ad 5) then it follows that while certain punishments fall under that authority, as being admonitory, nonetheless the perntal power of punishment is sharply limited, and when punishment goes beyond that limit it can only be when it is clear the common good of society at large requires it. And it follows again that parents should be reprimanded, or even sharply punished, for exceeding this limit when it is not clear that common good requires it (just as it is clear that parental power to admonish and guide, even firmly, should be carefully protected as itself belonging to common good).

moderation in pursuing the advantage of victory

Common use has two aspects
(1) to care in commmon for things, as required by their use
(2) to use in common in a reasonable way
Private property presupposes both: (2) for its existence, since it is the best way to facilitate good stewardship that benefits all,e ven when abuses are conceded; and (1) for its maintenance, so that, e.g., what is lost is cared for until the owner is found, or when the owner cannot care for it others will help to care for it.

Ps 67 & the menorah

the slow pressure of a mind working on a problem for years

the resurrectional face of Torah, the redemptional face, the Messianic face

the Psalms as the battle songs of virtue

"Anyone whose deeds are more than his wisdom -- his wisdom will endure; and anyone whose wisdom is more than his deeds -- his wisdom will not endure." R. Haninah b. Dosa (Tract Abot 3:9)

The teachers of children are the guardians of society; and the first among such teachers are mothers.

The true Land of Israel is the study of Torah (Leviticus Rabbah 34:16).

usury as a symbol of spiritual pride

Civic friendship is primarily expressed by beneficial reciprocity.

the Mishnah as collaborative philosophy
- indeed, rabbinical Judaism is arguably a very good example of symphilosophie, a case from which we could learn a considerable amount if people would take the trouble of taking it seriously as philosophical work

A marriage, like any other society, has a common good that practical reason must keep in view, a good common to those who belong to that society, simply by virtue of their belonging to it.

Only insofar as one is a good human being can one philosophize well; although, reason not being wholly lost, even bad philosophers can hit on good things.

inner conversation + thinking about thinking

The values of a people do not guarantee their greatness.

The pursuit of clarity, like the pursuit of pleasure, confuses success with our sense of being successful.

By living a virtuous life, people personify the virtues they live.

Proof analysis itself assumes principles of proof & inference.

"If we want to be fair judges of others, let us persuade ourselves of this first: that none of us is without fault. For it is from this point above all that retributive anger arises: 'I did nothing wrong,' and 'I did nothing'. No, rather, you don't admit to anything." Seneca, (De Ira II.28)

culpa est totam persequi culpam (Seneca)

tragedy as "a school of equity, and therefore of mercy" (Nussbaum)

Liberty is often understood primarily in terms of choices; but this is not really the best way to think of it. What really makes the free human person free is deliberation; and cultivation of political liberty requires creating an environment for rational weighing of alternatives, rather than mere provision of alternatives. No one is made more free, no one's liberty is more supported and protected, when they are given more types of laundry detergent from which to choose; but make the array of alternatives more amenable for reasoned deliberation and you are now into important matters. Choices seized at blindly are not freedom; one might as well be flipping a coin or slavishly obeying commands. Reason is the root of genuine choice, and the real locus of political freedom.

the link between the tragic & the normative

computer technology as synthetic imagination (artificial interior sense, so to speak)

Epistemic possibility is a consistent domain but doxastic possibility is not; more precisely, construction reaches to non-normal as well as normal domains.

in all this world that I've roamed
never did find a heart of stone
until I met it in you

properly focused contempt

"It pertains to the very notion of a nation that the mutual relations of the citizens be ordered by just laws." Aquinas ST 2-1.105.2

One of the first signs of bad reasooning is dropping qualifications & restrictions without either necessity or tests to show that they can be safely dropped.

"He who comes to you with censure is your teacher; he who comes with approbation is your friend; but he who flatters you is your enemy." Hsun-tzu

In matters ceremonial and symbolic we must have regard not only for inferences of reason but also for associations of imagination.

The measure of your rationality is not how rational you deem yourself but how much better others are in mind and life because of their interaction with you.

the grain offering of baptism

Ceremony as a protection against idolatry: the Lord does not want sacrifices but required them in order that people will be less tempted to sacrifice to baalim
- in this sense the rabbis had the right idea after the destruction of the Temple & rabbinical Judaism nicely carries forward levitical Judaism. Where there is no Temple, all of life must be a sort of Temple worship, that people not chase after false gods.
- it is right in another way, in that the Temple that is built only symbolizes the Temple that is the people of Israel; so lacking the former, the latter must be made more manifest.

Every law is given to a people, and must take them into account. This is why it sometimes happens that a law willb e good for one people, promoting virtue and assisting them to prosperity, but be ineffective or even detrimental for another, promoting resentment and rebellion.

incense as a symbol of things that are occasions for rejoicing

Every virtue has a corruptible and an incorruptible form; and the thing is for what is sown corruptible to be raised incorruptible.

Law that cannot be a good symbol of true justice is more usurpation that law. Through its code of law a nation not merely organizes itself but presents a symbolic representation of a just society; we judge laws good and bad as a whole based on how well or poorly they depict such a community of just people.

Law does not make one just, but it signifies, and disposes one to, justice.

Charity is both an obligation and something transcending all obligation: an obligation in that it is a principle of rational law to love God and neighbor, thus referring everything in our lives to God as end and seeking in everything the good of others, so that failure to do this is wrong; and something transcending all obligation in that following moral norms and principles is only perfected when they are followed charitably and lovingly, even where law or duty itself does nto strictly require this.

A law can only forbid something as undue, or as detrimental, by whatever happenstance, to something due.

"Logic makes us reject certain arguments, but it cannot make us believe any argument." Lebesgue
- the editors of Lakatos, Proofs & Refs (p. 53n4) claim that modern logic shows this is false if taken literally; we can determine, precisely, that some arguments are valid, & therefore logic can make us believe the argument even if not the conclusion.
- But what we can characterize precisely is validity for a domain; and thus we are back at Lebesgue, for one can say taht we still have the question of whether the domain is rightly chosen. The editors have slipped, either they have forgotten Lakatos for the moment or thinkk logic works differently from mathematics.
-I see by their further note on Lakato's historical note (56n) that this is their considered opinion. Disappointingly unimaginative and uncritical; what is worse, they think they can have this for free: infallible arguments without infallible principles. This is simply absurd; it is pulling certainty out of a hat.

conscientious guessing (audacious but humble)

Charity is naturally described in terms of other virtues because it initiates acts of such virtues.

Some things are obviously wrong to anyone of good sense, and some are so only to the wise and prudent and experiences, from whom the rest of us must take the trouble to learn: Rise up before the hoary head (Lv 19:32).

The kinds of laws that are good laws vary somewhat depending on the character of a community and the constitution of its government (cf. Aquinas St I-II.100.2(. Partly this is due to the fact that the mutual duties by which people live together will vary slightly from place to place, and partly because the government will be related differently to common good depending on its constitution, and partly because different kinds of communities, and different kinds of governments, will have different strengths and weaknesses. Thus a constitutional monarchy may at times have scope safely to legislate what a republic cannot, and vice versa; and a republic may require restrictions on its legislation a parliamentary commonwealth does not, and vice versa.

Particular acts of virtue are never duties except where the virtue of justice is also involved, and the act itself pertains in some way to justice as well as to its own proper virtue.

Reading mathematicians can be frustrating because it involves reading people who are constantly modifying the language in which they are speaking.

Torah disposes us to Christ as the partial disposes to the complete, and the taste to the feast.

"every law aims at establishing friendship" ST I-II.99.1 ad 2

The devious trip over the obvious.

"All rites begin in simplicity, are brought to fulfillment in elegant form, and end in joy." Hsun-tzu

Nothing is practically useless that is morally meaningful.

obligations contracted in the course of rational interaction

punishment to defend the dignity of those hurt by the offence

"Mencius said, 'Only when a man will not do some things is he capable of doing great things." Mencius IV.B.8

diminution-vitiation vs. debasement-vitiation

correlative updates of belief systems

Mercy is the heart of man and justice is his road.

Many disasters in practical thought are the result of failing to recognize that even if you have good seed and a sturdy hoe you still would do well to wait for the right season.

Totalitarianism being the antithesis of rule of law, legal stability is for it merely a convenient illusion.

analytical montage

the almost automatic general humanity of a civilized people.

The speaking of words is often the most effective deed.

Honor never lies in loyalty alone.

Human law is medicinal, but is rarely a cure for what it treats: medicine, but imperfect medicine.

We forget too easily that Thomas's discussion of 'just war' requires that war is a sin opposed to peace (it occurs in the context of vices opposed to peace, and therefore charity, of which peace is a further act). It is flanked by discord, contention, schism, on the one side, and quarrelling and sedition on the other. War is explicitly said, like schism, quarrelling, and sedition, to be a sin that opposes peace in our actions. 'Just war' theory is the argument that a very narrow class of acts that we sometimes call 'warring' are not this sin of war.

In every fault-finding we should ask ourselves, "Do I really fret about this fault because I love the one in whom it is found?" If the answer is No, our fault-finding is itself faulty.
-This is a standard that would show us how shot through with flaws we ourselves are.

No one has yet developed an adequately anti-Nazi philosophy; too many think it adequate simply to contemn Hitler and affirm a few vague things; but Nazism is a many-headed thing and consists of errors folded within errors, and we have yet to organize, regularize, and develop all the promising seeds of opposing responses (Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, &c.).

Laws should not be changed whenever anything that seems better comes along, but only when the good of changing is clearly a great one, or the evil of not changing is clearly a great one, or when the change is clearly small and would make the law easier to obey in a way consistent with common good. Laws that are in continual flux are hardly laws at all, and too great a facility in changing them is itself detrimental to common good, even if the changes themselves are largely good-- which is anway difficult to guarantee when laws are changed often. And even when it is clearly good & necessary to change the law, it is necessary not merely to change it, but to take thought for any harm to common good resulting from the change itself, and to compensate for it in whatever manner is feasible & suitable.

It only makes sense of people to choose their government if the majority, or close to the majority, of those who choose do so with a sense of moderation, of responsibility, and of vigilance for common weal. This is one reason why it is better for voting to be voluntary, fo rin such a case those who actually vote are more likely to take it seriously, if reasonable accommodation is made so that it is possible for everyone to vote who wishes to vote. This is also why reasonable steps should be taken to prevent votes from being bought or sold or coerced.

Citizens should obey the laws in such a way that it can reasonably be said that they are rationally applied; and where they cannot rationally be applied they should not be obeyed.

Laws are concerned with every virtue, but not every act of every virtue, sinc ethey concern only acts that contribute to common good, and that not even in full, but only insofar as it is feasible to do so in actual circumstances.

We construct international law by starting on one side from natural law and on the other from positive law and work to a point between. If we started from natural law alone, the result would be inadequate for use; if from positive law alone, the result would be inadequate for virtue and reason; and if we started from international law rather than concluding to it, we would lack the means for making necessary distinctions.

Positive law is only good law if it is has the following features:
(1) it is just, for an unjust law has no authority
(2) it is decent, for laws must foster rather than impede virtue
(3) it is possible according to nature, for law must take into account what those affected by it can do, and recognize distinctions in ability among them
(4) it is congruent with custom, for custom is the order of society, and law must fit the society for which it is made
(5) it is suitable for the time and place, for law must account for significant differences in circumstances
(6) it is necessary, for laws should not be arbitrarily multiplied
(7) it is useful, for laws must contribute to common good
(8) it is clearly expressed, for laws must be properly promulgated, and harm from the law itself must be minimized
(9) it is not framed for private benefit, for law pertains to the good of all
In this light we can see that our codes are filled with poor excuses for laws and, perhaps worse, miss laws they need (e.g., a Constitutional amendment protecting the rights of Native American tribes, inasmuch as history has shown that this protection cannot be trusted to treaty and statute).

ends of marriage (Liguori)
(1) intrinsic essential
(1a) mutual self-giving
(1b) indissoluble fidelity
(2) intrinsic incidental
(2a) procreation
(2b) remedy
extrinsic (pleasure, conciliation of feuds, etc.)

Movie & TV production would be a great context for looking at utilitarian analysis in miniature.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Boswell, 1764 (III)

The third installment of my series on James Boswell's 1764 visits with Rousseau and Voltaire is up at Houyhnhnm Land.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Millard Fuller

Millard Fuller, who with his wife Linda was founder of Habitat for Humanity International, died on February 2nd. He was 74. He was a member of the denomination Christian Church, Disciples, and his charitable organization grew out of his search for what he called the "economics of Jesus" and the "theology of the hammer". One of his major influences, a verse he would quote all his life, was Exodus 22:25. As a result Habitat has built something like 200,000 houses for poor around the world.

It was, unfortunately, not entirely rosy; he was fired a couple years back due to sexual harassment allegations (which were investigated but inconclusively), not the first that were made against him. According to Fuller and his wife (and his friend Jimmy Carter), this was just due to the fact that he was raised a 'hugger', and therefore sometimes failed to remember that others were not so comfortable with it.

Whatever may be the case in that regard, Fuller's organization has been quite a force for good in the lives both of those who have been sheltered by it and those who have contributed to building that shelter. We need more organizations like this.

U.S. Party Systems

Speaking of political parties, while reading the Globe and Mail website I came across a mention of an account of party development that I don't think I've come across before. And so I looked into it, and thought it was fairly interesting.

First Party System
Federalist Party vs. Democratic-Republican Party
During Washington's administration, the Feds collected around Hamilton (the Secretary of the Treasury), the Dems around Jefferson (the Secretary of State). Thus, thanks to Hamilton's political maneuvering and Jefferson's response, the two-party system was born. The fight was bitter, but during the Era of Good Feelings it abated due to serious weakness on the part of the Federalists, which led effectively to the dominance of the Democratic-Republicans.

Second Party System
Whig Party vs. Democratic Party
The Democratic-Republicans soon had problems of their own; all four of the candidates for the 1824 election were Democratic-Republicans, and intraparty disputes became serious with a hung Electoral College. The decision went to the House of Representatives, where Henry Clay helped put John Quincy Adams in the White House (and was subsequently made Secretary of State). Andrew Jackson denounced this fiercely, and the party split into two parts, the Democrats coalescing around Andrew Jackson and the Whigs, or National Republicans, around Henry Clay. This sees the spread of the two-pary system: regional political differences, although still there, become less noticeable in comparison to the fierce battles of national party politics. Jackson's Democrats put him in power in 1828, and the major showdown of the Second Party System, Jackson's battle against the Second Bank, was on. It is during this era that federal patronage, also called the Spoils System, became prominent. It remained in place until Arthur (one of our best Presidents, in my opinion, even if this were his only accomplishment) reformed the civil service.

Third Party System
Republican Party vs. Democratic Party

With the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the opposition of slave states and free states becomes intense; a number of people, fed up with Whig ineffectiveness in handling the matter (they had more or less collapsed in 1852), create the Republican Party to oppose the interests of 'Slave Power' and promote a modernizing free market alternative. Other parties had begun to step in to try to push for a place at the table, but the Republicans quickly beat out their competitors. Charges that the other party is pushing an agenda that guarantees civil war become more frequent on both sides. Buchanan tries to push in a pro-slavery direction; Stephen Douglas, who believed such matters should be decided on a state-by-state basis, breaks with him, and in the 1860 election the Democrats split North-South. Given the split and given their dominance in the Electoral College, the Republicans play a safe and apparently unimpressive moderate candidate who can reasonably be guaranteed not to do anything rash and destructive in the campaign, and who, indeed, did hardly anything at all; thus Abraham Lincoln becomes President. The Civil War and Reconstruction continue the struggle. The Republicans nearly split in 1854 over corruption in Grant's government, but the Liberal Republicans opposing Grant fail to hold together. Economic worries during Reconstruction return the Democrats to power in 1874 and continue to be the primary issue, with debates over tariffs and Free Silver dominating the political scene.

Fourth Party System
Republican Party vs. Democratic Party

As prosperity seizes the nation, the Republicans enter a phase of nearly complete dominance, and push their progressivist policies forward. Government reform becomes a major issue; investigations are started into corruption in the political parties. Class-based political struggles largely dissipate as different issues come to the fore and the focus turns to political activism. Both women's suffrage and prohibition are passed as part of this activism. World War I increases the importance of foreign policy in party disputes. Republican dominance comes crashing to an end with the fall of the stock market and the rise of the Great Depression.

Fifth Party System
Republican Party vs. Democratic Party

With Roosevelt the Democrats enter their phase of dominance and the social engineering policies of the Progressive Era give way to the economic engineering policies of the New Deal Era. This phase of dominance peaks when Johnson resoundingly defeats Goldwater in 1964 and possibly reaches a low point when economic troubles allow Reagan to win in 1980. The big issue, of course, is when this system ends; it is difficult to identify any massive shift in parties, although political scientists have of course made proposals; some suggest the election of Nixon in 1960, some the election of Reagan in 1980, some are currently suggesting the election of Obama in 2008. It has been suggested, for instance, that we have for some time been entering a period of 'dealignment', in which party loyalty plummets and parties have to scramble to woo voters who switch back and forth. Who knows? This will be a matter that will only become clear in retrospect, since we can't currently see what counts as a minor setback and what counts as a devastating defeat.

Hume on Factions

From the essay Of Parties in General:

As much as legislators and founders of states ought to be honoured and respected among men, as much ought the founders of sects and factions to be detested and hated; because the influence of faction is directly contrary to that of laws. Factions subvert government, render laws impotent, and beget the fiercest animosities among men of the same nation, who ought to give mutual assistance and protection to each other. And what should render the founders of parties more odious is, the difficulty of extirpating these weeds, when once they have taken root in any state. They naturally propagate themselves for many centuries, and seldom end but by the total dissolution of that government, in which they are sown. They are, besides, plants which grow most plentifully in the richest soil; and though absolute governments be not wholly free from them, it must be confessed, that they rise more easily, and propagate themselves faster in free governments, where they always infect the legislature itself, which alone could be able, by the steady application of rewards and punishments, to eradicate them.

He then goes on to distinguish factions into personal factions and real factions, and distinguishes real factions into factions of interest, factions of principle, and factions of affection. Hume thinks the second group of real factions, which would include political parties in our sense, are a very strange and uniquely modern phenomenon.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Solution

Nancy Killefer withdrew her candidacy for being chief performance officer in the Obama administration due to failure to pay taxes. That's the third time this problem has arisen. What's with all these wealthy big-name Democrats not paying their taxes? None of us need this right now: it's an embarrassment to Democrats and, for that matter, everyone else. Josh Marshall proposes the solution:

Presidents need to think big, isolate the source of problems and act to fix them. So I think Obama needs to abolish the IRS so his appointees can get confirmed and his program move forward.


Enlightener of Denmark and the North

Today is the Feast of St. Ansgar, often called the Apostle of the North; he is the patron saint of Denmark. He took Isaiah 49:6 (cf. Acts 13:47) very literally, and set out to preach the message of Christ to the utmost ends of the earth -- in those days, Scandinavia. Medieval Sourcebook has a Vita Ansgari, along with some hymns in his honor.

Notam facis incredulis,
Doctrinam evangelicam,
Lucem ministrans populis
Ducis in viam coelicam.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Ita, Italia

Since I'm looking at odd etymological bits in old authors, here's another one:

Moreover, because ita, which means oui in French, is the strongest affirmation in Latin, they were not satisfied calling this country the 'Latin land,' but rather they wished that all the country beyond the mountains, which is quite large and contains many diverse countries and dominions, be called Italy.

Christine de Pisan, The Book of the City of Ladies, Part I, Chapter 33. [Richards, tr., Persea Books (New York: 1982) p. 72]. While Christine sometimes leaves a lot out, she doesn't generally put things in unless there's some basis for it in her sources. In context she's talking about "the Noble Nicostrata whom the Italians call Carmentis", who is the legendary inventor of the Roman alphabet. Many of the stories of the exemplary ladies in the book are derived from Boccaccio, and the description of Nicostrata is certainly one of them; I suspect the folk etymology for 'Italy' is also derived form Boccaccio, but I don't have Boccaccio's Famous Women on hand and it doesn't seem to be online anywhere, so I haven't had a chance to check it.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


Moreover, this command aimed at the prevention of idolatry. For idolaters believed that if mice, lizards, or the like, which they used to sacrifice to the idols, fell into the vessels or into the water, these became more pleasing to the gods. Even now some women let down uncovered vessels in honor of the nocturnal deities which they call "Janae."

Erat etiam hoc praeceptum ad declinandam idololatriam, credebant enim idololatrae quod, si mures aut lacertae, vel aliquid huiusmodi, quae immolabant idolis, cito caderent in vasa vel in aquas, quod essent diis gratiosa. Adhuc etiam aliquae mulierculae vasa dimittunt discooperta in obsequium nocturnorum numinum, quae ianas vocant.

ST I-IIae.102.5 ad 4

That there would be pagan survivals into the thirteenth century is not at all surprising, but I have been struggling to link these 'Ianae' with anything. I don't think I have ever heard of them, and I can find nothing about them anywhere. Is this a folkloric corruption of some prior pagan deities (Lares and Penates, perhaps, or Janus), the collapse of some old practice into mere omen-collecting? Or is it more probably a textual corruption? What am I missing?