Saturday, August 08, 2009

Uses of Analogy

In nineteenth-century Britain Butler's Analogy of Religion was widely read and studied. One of the results of this was a certain amount of work done on the workings of analogy and analogical argument. And one important example of this was the explicit recognition of the distinction between positive and negative uses of analogy.

Eager summarizes the positive use of analogy in the following terms:

It is lawful to argue from a resemblance of relations to the resemblance of other relations, provided that the two sets of relations can be shown to depend one on the other, or both on the same cause.

We find this principle used in law all the time, and Eager uses a legal example. Suppose we have no laws about landlords and tenants; we can then construct the relevant laws by borrowing from the laws we have about borrowers and sellers. This, of course, is constructive, but one can find nonconstructive examples. Being analogy-based, they all yield only probability, and can turn out to be wrong (just as the constructive case could turn out to be unworkable) but they do exist. For instance, if you had never come across a spore before, certain similarities of seeds to spores could allow you to conclude, defeasibly, that seeds and spores did much the same thing.

Eager describes the negative use of analogy in the following way:

It is lawful to answer an objection to the consistency of two terms, when related in any way to one another, by showing that other terms, admitted to be similarly related, are liable to the same objection.

In effect, the negative use of analogy is a parity argument. Thus the overall structure of Butler's Analogy consists in the argument, against the deists, that objections made against a divine moral government have analogues in objections made against a divine natural providence, and that objections against revealed religion have analogues in objections made against natural religion, and that therefore the replies made to the objections in one case have analogues in the other case.

Both of these uses bring out clearly that analogy, despite the fact that it is far from demonstrative, is a close friend of consistency. People often make objections that, given their other commitments, they could not reasonably accept because the underlying principle of the objection is inconsistent with some principle they rely on elsewhere; and negative analogy hunts those out, although, again, it does so only with probability.

Of course, I think it could be argued that there are more uses of analogy than these two. For instance, I think there is a neutral use of analogy that does not work to establish truth (as in positive analogy) or falsehood (as in negative analogy), but merely intelligibility -- for instance, Hume uses such analogy extensively in his account of belief. And there are probably as many uses of analogies as there are interesting modal operators or 'truth values'.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Neo-Humean Theology

He has, in truth, in his speculations, given, without knowing it, the skeleton of the noblest and most purely Religious System of the human mind which has ever yet been unfolded to the world ; for if, in pursuing those which he has entered into on cause and effect, (the most important and original part of his system,) we but carry this principle along with us, that, in all constant conjunctions of natural events, the mind feels the constancy and regularity of the operation to be a sign of intelligence and design, and that the belief which is felt in consequence is nothing but the sentiment of trust in that Supreme Intelligence; then, I say, we shall perceive that the system of Mr Hume is a system of the most pervading theology.

Robert Morehead, Dialogues on Natural and Revealed Religion, Note O.

Morehead's Dialogues are a rather curious nineteenth-century work. Morehead takes Hume's characters from the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: Philo, Cleanthes, Pamphilus writing to Hermippus. However, in his Dialogues we see the three toward the end of their lives -- Philo, in fact, seems to be not all that far from death -- and time has changed them. Cleanthes is less brazen than he used to be, although he is still a deist insisting on empirical evidence. Philo still has a tendency to be overimaginative in his speculations, but he has long since changed his basic views: he became disenchanted with skepticism and became a Christian. Despite this, however, there is still a discernible Humean tinge to Philo's extensive discussion of his belief that experiences of sublimity and beauty in nature are confused experiences of God. Morehead is able to accomplish this by a very clever move in which he takes advantage of the Humean account of causation. Hume's account of causation has some very original aspects to it, but much of it is taken over from Malebranche's occasionalism (a fact that becomes very clear in ECHU Section VII, Part I, where Hume takes over, sometimes nearly word for word, several Malebranchean arguments and then finally concludes by rejecting Malebranche's own system). Thus Hume's skepticism is already next door to Malebranche's rationalist enthusiasm ('enthusiasm' being here taken in the early modern sense rather than our sense). Morehead makes a very slight modification to Hume's account of causation: instead of rejecting the claim that we get the idea of causation from the experience of volition, accept it. Then, on Humean principles, all causation becomes a form of volition, either God's or another mind's; Humean naturalism shifts into a kind of occasionalism, and Humean empiricism becomes a sort of theistic nature mysticism. Since causation is pervasive in our experience, Humean associationism automatically becomes an experience of the dependence of all things on the divine will; the Humean account of belief becomes an account of trust in the divine will. And Hume already accepts, or at least more than once refuses to reject, a basic form of design argument, so the whole thing can be done quite consistently: the resulting new Hume has a great many similarities to Berkeley, although Morehead's Philo insists that the material world exists. There are weaknesses in execution, since Morehead lacks Hume's incisiveness, but it is rather clever, and more thoroughly done than its closest cousin, Hamann's modification of Humean skepticism into a form of fideism.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Light from Light

I've said before that Christians should perhaps take a solemn feast devoted to Christ as in some sense their own, to struggle to carry it through to all the other days of the year. Most people, no doubt, would find it in Christmas or Easter; but mine is today, the Great Feast of the Holy Transfiguration.

Walk as children of the Light,
for the fruit of the Light
consists in all goodness and justice and truth,
and find out what pleases the Lord.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness,
but rather expose them,
for it is shameful even to mention
what the disobedient do in secret.
But all things that are exposed by the Light become manifest,
for Light is what makes manifest.
This is why it is said:
"Wake, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light."
Be very careful, then, how you live,
not as the unwise but as the wise,
making the most of every opportunity,
for the days are evil.
Therefore do not be foolish,
but understand what the Lord's will is.

Hulga and Malebranche (re-post)

This is a repost, with some modification, of something first posted in July 2006, with part of another post posted in October 2007.

From Flannery O'Connor's short story, "Good Country People":

She was brilliant but she didn't have a grain of sense. It seemed to Mrs. Hopewell that every year she grew less like other people and more like herself--bloated, rude, and squint-eyed. And she said such strange things! To her own mother she had said--without warming, without excuse, standing up in the middle of a meal with her face purple and her mouth half full--"Woman! do you ever look inside? Do you ever look inside and see what you are not? God!" she had cried sinking down again and staring at her plate, "Malebranche was right: we are not our own light. We are not our own light!" Mrs. Hopewell had no idea to this day what brought that on. She had only made the remark, hoping Joy would take it in, that a smile never hurt anyone.

The girl had taken in a Ph.D. in philosophy and this left Mrs. Hopewell at a complete loss. You could say, "My daughter is a nurse," or "My daughter is a schoolteacher," or even, "My daughter is a chemical engineer." You could not say, "My daughter is a philosopher." That was something that had ended with the Greeks and Romans. All day Joy sat on her neck in a deep chair, reading. Sometimes she went for walks but she didn't like dogs or cats or birds or flowers or nature or nice young men. She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity.

Malebranche does indeed insist that we are not our own light; it's actually a quotation from Augustine, whom Malebranche quotes often, and it is far and away his favorite quotation. It comes up repeatedly in the long dispute with Arnauld, because from Malebranche's perspective (although, of course, not from Arnauld's), Arnauld is denying Augustine's dictum by denying Malebranche's claim that we see all things in God.

I don't know how much O'Connor knew about Malebranche, but this scene is beautifully done. There is considerable irony in Joy's (or, to use the name she prefers, Hulga's) reference to Malebranche here. Malebranche, of course, has a thoroughly theistic metaphysics and epistemology; when he is quoting this line from Augustine (who is making a point about our metaphysical dependence on God in our ability to know), he is making a thoroughly theistic point. But Hulga, of course, is an atheist and nihilist. Nonetheless, her description here, if taken in a literal way she didn't intend, describes Malebranche's point to a T. "Do you ever look inside and see what you are not? God!" The last bit is clearly just a cry of exasperation; but the whole thing describes a good portion of Malebranche's argument, which is that when we look in side we see that we are not God, we are not a light to ourselves; it is in His light that we see light. But of course, she is making the opposite point, that we are nothing, that there is nothing to believe in, the sort of thing O'Connor has her reading in the book that strikes simple Mrs. Hopewell as an "evil incantation":

One day Mrs. Hopewell had picked up one of the books the girl had just put down, and opening it at random, she read, "Science, on the other hand, has to assert ist soberness and seriousness afresh and declare that it is concerned solely with what-is. Nothing--how can it be for science anything but a horror and a phantasm? If science is right,t hen one thing stands firm: science wishes to know nothing of nothing. Such is after all the strictly scientific approach to Nothing. We know it by wishing to know nothing of Nothing."

As she describes herself later on, "I'm one of those people who see through to nothing."

Malebranche has an interesting passage in which he talks about seeing nothing (Search 3.2.8, Lennon-Olscamp 241):

The clear, intimate, and necessary presence of God (i.e., the being without individual restriction, the infinite being, being in general) to the mind of man acts upon it with greater force than the presence of all finite objects. The mind cannot entirely rid itself of this general idea of being, because it cannot subsist outside God....One might well not think about oneself for some time, but it seems to me one cannot subsist a moment without thinking of being, and at the very time that one takes himself to be thinking of nothing, one is necessarily filled with the vague and general idea of being.

As Malebranche says later, "nothingness is neither perceptible nor intelligible" (LO 321); what we call 'nothing' is really just nothing in particular. But nothing in particular is not being-less; it is being in general, without consideration of how it relates to any particulars. And on Malebranche's metaphysics, being in general, as an object of thought, is divine (unrestricted being). So for him, someone who is "seeing through to nothing" is really just seeing being in general in the divine being, without recognizing it as such. In her allusion to Malebranche, Hulga has (without apparently realizing it at all) entangled herself in a rather massive philosophical irony, one that (I hate to use the word, but it'll do) subverts her own nihilism by juxtaposing it with its complementary opposite.

I find that students of O'Connor tend not to think that she was deliberately engaging in irony there. Of course, students of O'Connor tend not to realize that there is any irony in the situation. A typical instance seems to be Ralph C. Wood:

This is an apt, if pretentious, allusion for Hulga the Heideggerian to make, for Malebranche stands in the Cartesian tradition that runs from Hume and Berkeley through Kant and Heidegger. Malebranche held that we do not, in fact, see by our own light but by what he called "vision in God." He was obsessed with the Cartesian problem of human knowledge about objects outside themselves. Together with Descartes, he argued that knowledge of the world does not come from either sensation or imagination but from clear and distinct ideas perceived by the understanding. Yet unlike his master -- and much closer to Spinoza -- Malebranche held that "created things are in themselves causally inefficacious and that God is the sole true cause of change in the universe" (Willis Doney, "Malebranche, Nicholas," in Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. V, ed. Paul Edwards [New York: Macmillan, 1967], p. 140). Malebranche's denial of the mind's ability to perceive truth through the natural order of things, together with his denial of secondary causes and thus of real human freedom, would make Hulga an ideal disciple of so unsacramental a thinker.

[Ralph C. Wood, Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2005), p. 201n.]

There are a number of confusions here (I wasn't aware that the Cartesian tradition ran from Berkeley to Heidegger, which is a new twist on the history of philosophy). But whereas I would suggest that Hulga's taste for Malebranche is highly ironic -- Malebranche is explicitly and aggressively Catholic, and his ontologism is in severe contrast to Hulga's nihilism -- Woods treats them as well-matched. I think there are two questions raised by this:

(1) What is the real function of Malebranche in "Good Country People" and are there any Malebranchean links in other stories?
(2) What did O'Connor actually know about Malebranche?

With regard to (2) I find Wood's interpretation rather implausible; surely O'Connor would have heard enough of Malebranche to know that he was both a Catholic and an ontologist -- she knows at least enough that she has Hulga quote Malebranche's favorite quotation from Augustine, although it's not impossible that she didn't recognize that it was a quotation. So that's perhaps a third question:

(3) Did O'Connor recognize the original Augustinian implications of the statement, "We are not our own light" or did she interpret it in another way?

There is, related to this, another irony that I did not mention in the first post: namely, that Hulga's entire problem throughout the story is that she acts as if she were her own light. This confidence in her own intellect is what allows her to be deceived by Pointer.

O'Connor's use of, and knowledge of, Malebranche is certainly a worthwhile research project, if there's anyone out there interested in doing it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Three Poem Re-Drafts

Parmenides' Vision

Rapt, thrown upward, undone,
In ecstatic vision seeking vital clue,
I journeyed on a well-known path.
She came:
Great gold-winged goddess, chariot-driving,
More splendid than any Cyprian glory
On sands made manifest to mortal man.
She came,
And, speaking, said to my dreaming ears:
Two ways lie before you; one is true, one appears.
Both are gated, and above the former
The message of the gods shines forth
Like the words above the Delphic road,
What is, is, and is not what is not.
Upon that path lies your way, said she,
The way of truth and not of seeming;
What appears will pass, what is real remains;
wisdom's lover finds sweet relief
In what is.
Then that fleeting, swift-footed, golden goddess
Was gone, and I amazed.


at some distant Peniel face to face
  dimmed by shadows to our present sight
we perhaps shall come to see
  after dark and muttered wrestlings
the riddle faith has heard
  our syntax and letters reordering
  with the WORD's splendor bright
to lay bare the Enigma of Ages

Aridity and Consolation

I walked one day, a wanderer amid the trees,
singing out a song, the sun now hid from view
but hot was the air, with no whisper in the leaves
nor breeze to blow like balm to heal heat's wounds,
and I came upon a course that cut through sandy stone,
once widened by water as it wandered home,
now dry with dust, undamp, like ancient bone,
yet remembering mists and moisture long ago.

And it seemed that I could see in the silent wood
a phoenix, fireborn, that flew from bough to bough,
seeking the stream long slain by drought of old,
and, coming to the course, it cried so soft and low
even angels would but weep and echo it in dreams;
and hardly had my hearing found heaven in those strains
than the phoenix died by this drought-devoured stream
and lightly fell, finished, its fire stripped of glow.

Then, highing like a herald, a hind of silver-white
was brought with bitter haste, chased by baying hounds,
It vaulted, valiant with force and like silver moon in light,
itleaped beneath the laurel whose leaves were on it crowned,
and, taken by the dogs, it died and knew no more,
and, broken in its bones, its blood on forest floor,
it sank like sunset, thrice solemn in its woe,
a late moon: once alive, it at last was overthrown.

Then I wept, and from my eyes the water fled in grief;
it bore the salt of sorrow and sadness in my pain.
In gravest ruining it rained upon the leaves,
as mightily I mourned that the marvels I had seen
should die in death, no dawn at all in sight.
Overcome, I cried at the coming of the night
and with my breath embittered I broke with sob and sigh:
my ache, a yearning to recover, alone remained.

But wait! one whisper like the wind amid the trees
rose and rushed and roared with living force,
and wave, as in war an army like the seas
will arm and rise, did water again the course,
a pouring-out with power like thundering clouds of rain;
from furthest foreign-land a fountain broke again,
as though the gods of glory with grace, or even whim,
had compassion on the creek and carved out a living source.

First there broke a flood; then flame did burst to light
as, fire all around it, the phoenix winged in gold
did rise in ruddy glory with rays that blinded sight,
and winged up to heaven, the highest of high roads,
a scion of the sun, with shining in its wings,
so holy in its egress as to humble one who sins,
bring penitent to prayer, inspire seraphim to sing,
more glory in its going than bardic tales have told.

The blood pouring down in pools from the death of hind
with flood and flame was mingled, and force was imbued
into enveloping and flowing fire, which embraced in kind
the carcass of the conquered and, covering it with blood,
woke it to new life, washed its weariness away,
and death undid, a night undone by day,
and, leaping into life, as long ago it played,
the hind sped, a silver flash, a shot through primal wood.

The flood, I saw, was faith; the phoenix charity;
the hind was hope, the herald of new life;
and, filled with seeing vision and a flux of ecstasy,
I saw that what is saved is what is sundered, made to die,
and brought solemnly to burial to be born anew;
for all grow old, and, ancient, to awful death must go,
but then the cycle starts, and, like this shadow of the true,
new life then lives and springs up to taste the light.


The phrase "purple prose" is too often misused. The original phrase was "purple patches", and comes from Horace's Ars Poetica:

Your opening promises some great design,
And shreds of purple with broad lustre shine
Sewed on your poem. Here in laboured strain
A sacred grove, or fair Diana's fane
Rises to view; there through delicious meads
A murmuring stream its winding water leads;
Here pours the rapid Rhine; the wat'ry bow
There bends its colours, and with pride they glow.
Beauties they are, but beauties out of place;
For though your talent be to paint with grace
A mournful cypress, would you pour its shade
O'er the tempestuous deep, if you were paid
To paint a sailor, midst the winds and waves,
When on a broken plank his life he saves?

Note that the point is not that that the patches are themselves not good (the last sentence suggests otherwise) but that they are not appropriate in the context. A literary work has purple patches when it takes one form of cloth and sews expensive royal cloth onto it in order to make it seem finer than it is. As Horace says later, why would you start out making an exquisite vase and end with making an unimpressive bowl? The mix of plain and purple creates monsters, chimeras.

Very often, however, the phrase is used to suggest that no prose should be purple. This is as absurd and stupid as saying that, because some people sew fine cloth on cheap cloth to make it seem flashier than it is, no one should make fine cloth at all. Some prose is born to the purple, and it is quite as absurd to try to dress that prose in hessian than it is to try to make a patchwork quilt of silk and burlap. But some will say: purple prose is obscure! Yes, that is the point: true Tyrian purple is dark, so dark that it seems black in the distance; but it shines with rich hues when looked at closely in the right light. To the facile glance it seems merely obscure; on closer examination it is imperial richness itself, full of depth and color. That people may look with a facile glance is no reason to write only for facile glances.

We have, then, a Scylla and a Charybdis: elimination of all purple and the abuse of purple. Somewhere between the two extremes there is room for imperial prose.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Two Causal Questions

Indeed, Mr. Hume makes a great mistake in supposing it necessary to demonstrate, in every particular instance, what particular Effect must necessarily flow from its object, in order to gain the idea of necessary Connexion. The how and the why have nothing to do with the general reasoning affecting the general proposition; for "whether like Causes shall produce like Effects" is not a question exactly the same as whether " such particular causes shall have such particular effects? which Mr. Hume seems to consider as precisely of the same import; whereas one is a general question, which however answered, in the affirmative or negative, would apply to particulars.

Lady Mary Shepherd, An Essay upon the Relation of Cause and Effect, p. 59. This is one of Shepherd's most important criticisms of Hume's account of causation. The idea is that Hume conflates two different questions:

(1) Is it necessary that like causes have like effects?
(2) Is it necessary that this particular cause have this particular effect?

And her point is that, contrary to the way Hume seems to argue when discussing sensible qualities, in order to know that like causes have like effects, you don't need already to know what those effects would be in a particular case -- you can prove the general proposition, and then use it to investigate the particular case. Likewise, even if we knew the particular case, and could see precisely why this cause must have this effect, that would still leave open the general question of whether like causes have like effects. Hume isn't quite consistent: at one time he seems to talk about how we know that, supposing the causes similar, the effects must be similar, while at another he seems to talk about how we know that the causes themselves are similar in the first place. For instance, Hume says (ECHU, Section IV, Part II):

From causes which appear similar we expect similar effects. This is the sum of all our experimental conclusions. Now it seems evident that, if this conclusion were formed by reason, it would be as perfect at first, and upon one instance, as after ever so long a course of experience. But the case is far otherwise. Nothing so like as eggs; yet no one, on account of this appearing similarity, expects the same taste and relish in all of them. It is only after a long course of uniform experiments in any kind, that we attain a firm reliance and security with regard to a particular event.

But the problem here is that what leads us to the conclusion about eggs has nothing to do with the general principle that similar causes have similar effects: it's the fact that in the case of eggs it is hard to tell what counts as a similar cause. Even if the general claim is formed by reason, it can't be applied until we have identified the right causes and recognized them as similar. And this, Shepherd will argue, is a matter of reasoning on the basis of experiment and trial, an entirely different sort of thing than the sort of reasoning that undergirds the general claim.

Some Poem Drafts

We Begin to Hear the Kalevala

I think my head might start to sing, recite, relate a kinsman's tale, enchant with family canticles. The words de-ice, flow out my mouth, the sentence forms are flurries pouring forth in scatters through my lips; they glance across my teeth. Come with me and sing with me, recite, relate a tale with me as kindred mind to kindred mind. Come clap with me, let fingers snap in time with me, that here the young may come to know our words, our tales, our stories drawn from old smith's forge, from shaman's belt, from brand and bow, from desert lands, from hearth and heath and human heart.

Ghost Dance

On the Milky Way in velvet skies
now walk the souls that lived and died;
it bears them to the earth below,
to these mountains crowned with snow.
Christ has sent the winds of peace,
bade the war and violence cease;
he brings to morning living rain,
brings the bison to the plain,
bears the dead to earth below,
from evening stars to crowns of snow.
But feel the darkness in the land!
The venom in the heart of man!
How will the serpent treat the dove,
the bearer of the songs of love?
The prophet dances, agents lie,
in battlefields the people die
with bullets in their hearts and hands,
their blood poured out to wet the lands;
from mountains crowned with shining snow
their spirits flee the earth below.
A prophet once was crucified
and on that tree he bled and died
as jeers beneath the bloody cross
were mocking him for pain and loss.
He was the Christ; the Roman lance
had pierced him for his spirit dance.
There was a people, proud and tall,
sun-like, hopeful, worthy all,
made the prey of Hotchkiss guns,
score by score and one by one,
for dancing in the winter snow
to bring the spirits here below.
What may live may also die.
What may laugh may also cry.
But what may die may also rise
beneath the starlight in the skies
and hunt and dance and play the games
to which their fathers gave the names;
and Christ upon a path of light
will come again some starlit night
to bring the dead to earth below
for spirit dances in the snow.

Crimson Rose

I walk within a rain that pours and flows
upon the petals of this crimson rose;
I seek the sun that breaks through leaden clouds
and turns to certainty the sky's dark doubts.
I feel within the cold and pouring rain
the hurts that make the heavens weep in pain,
the memories of the everlasting years
weighed down by faithless hopes and phantom fears.
Where this storm will end God only knows,
and wind, and rain-soaked petals on this rose.

Evening Walk

I was walking in the evening,
the dusky deep and black,
the scent of summer all around me,
rich and fair;
like a cat in living warmth
I felt my heart begin to purr
as I explored the evening
of your hair.


When in June
the flowers bloom,
they laugh out loud for joy.

They bear, in truth,
a fairer youth
than all the knights of Troy.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Percontation Point

Rhetorical questions are an interesting phenomenon; we ask questions so as indirectly to make assertions. It's usually said that rhetorical questions do this by way of expected answer, but I don't think this is quite right, because in many cases the point the rhetorical question is making is not a direct answer to the question. For instance, suppose I were to read a paper you'd written and said drily, "Do you think it is really wise to call your opponent an idiot?" This is a rhetorical question. Were you to answer the question directly, however, you would say, "Yes, I think it is really wise to call my opponent an idiot," or "No, I don't think it is really wise to call my opponent an idiot." But in doing so you would have missed the point of the question entirely, which, despite the words, is not about what you think at all: the point of the question is simply that it is, at least prima facie, not wise to call your opponent an idiot. If you ask me, "Do you like Maria?" and I say, "Is the Pope Catholic?" I'm giving an affirmative answer, but the affirmative answer I am giving is to your question, not the answer to the question, "Is the Pope Catholic?" I'm merely playing on the fact that in English you can abbreviate affirmative responses to questions with 'Yes' if the question is clear; but that's all 'Yes' does: it indicates an affirmation, but on its own doesn't tell you what is being affirmed. They don't actually have the same answer, just the same type of answer.

The title of this post is sometimes used as the name of a punctuation mark that fell out of use: a backwards question mark, which indicated that the statement was a rhetorical question ('percontation' in the broad simply means 'question'). In some ways it would actually be nice to have a written mark to indicate rhetorical questions specifically; one of the difficult things with reading questions, as opposed (usually) to hearing them, is that it can be very difficult to tell which questions are supposed to be genuinely interrogative and which are supposed to be rhetorical. And it takes only a little skill for a writer to learn how to play on the equivocation this permits. Or am I not right?