Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Blush of the Meadows that Feel Themselves Fair

Song of the Rose
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Attributed to Sappho
(From Achilles Tatius)

If Zeus chose us a King of the flowers in his mirth,
He would call to the rose and would royally crown it;
For the rose, ho, the rose ! is the grace of the earth,
Is the light of the plants that are growing upon it:
For the rose, ho, the rose! is the eye of the flowers,
Is the blush of the meadows that feel themselves fair,
Is the lightning of beauty that strikes through the bowers
On pale lovers who sit in the glow unaware.
Ho, the rose breathes of love! ho, the rose lifts the cup
To the red lips of Cypris invoked for a guest!
Ho, the rose, having curled its sweet leaves for the world,
Takes delight in the motion its petals keep up,
As they laugh to the wind as it laughs from the west!

Argument and Character

Allen Stairs on ad hominem fallacies:

The fallacy consists in claiming that a person's conclusion should be rejected because they have a bad character or have an ulterior motive. This is a fallacy because I don't have good grounds for saying that the conclusion is false. A bad person can occasionally offer a good argument, and a conclusion can be plausible even if it's argued for by someone of suspect character.

It can't be quite true that this is what the fallacy consists in, because suppose the person's conclusion is:

I have a good character


I have no ulterior motive.

Then arguing that this conclusion should be rejected because, in fact, such-and-such shows that they have a bad character or an ulterior motive, is not fallacious: you do have good grounds for saying the conclusion is false. And, of course, it doesn't have to be anywhere near this obvious: exactly the same thing will happen if the conclusion is something else entirely but can in context reasonably be taken to imply either one of these two propositions, or any proposition of a similar sort.

Should we be in a situation in which the opponent's claim does not imply anything like these two propositions, then we would indeed have the fallacy; but what the fallacy would consist in would simply be irrelevance: the objection does not affect the truth value of the claim being made.

There's a deeper issue here than it might seem. It's true, of course, that a bad person can occasionally offer a good argument and that a conclusion can be plausible even if it's argued for by someone of bad character. But it's equally true that invalid arguments can occasionally be good arguments and that conclusions can be plausible even if the argument used to reach it is an incoherent argument. What is important in those cases is that validity and coherence of the underlying argument is relevant to assessing conclusions in general. And thus the questioner, I think, has a legitimate question: why wouldn't one say that a person's character is relevant to assessing their conclusions? We know, for instance, that there are biases. We know also that, when faced with a very ingenious dishonest person, we ourselves would factor that into our assessment of whether any argument they are likely to produce can be accepted as a good argument, even if we ourselves can't discover the flaw -- because any of us might, if put in the right circumstances, refuse to accept an argument that seems sound, for no other reason than that the character of the source makes us suspect a trap. That's not a formal reason for rejecting an argument, of course; but we aren't in the realm of formal logic, anyway. Rather than simply repeating the cliche, we should perhaps ask ourselves the question: Why wouldn't the character of the arguer always be relevant to evaluating the argument?

My own (rough and incompletely developed) view on this question is that, in fact, it always is to the particular instance of the argument, but not in the same way in every instance; and this is a rather important distinction. What allows us to say that a particular attack on someone's character as a response to an argument is bad, for instance, is not that people with bad characters can have good arguments, but that people with bad characters can give arguments that people with good characters could also give. It is this that lets us abstract from the character of the particular arguer in question. But it's a much trickier question than it seems on the surface. As with most of what we call 'informal logic' we are dealing not with a systematic account of reasoning but with a widespread philosophical folklore patched together from many different sources; a folklore so widespread that it is cliched. And it's immensely easier to repeat cliches about the irrelevance of character to arguments than to stop and say: But what is the underlying account?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Whewell on Theory Change

I posted this in a comment over at Thony C.'s place, and thought it interesting enough to post here.

The history of science suggests the reflection that it is very difficult for the same person at the same time to do justice to two conflicting theories. Take for example the Cartesian hypothesis of vortices and the Newtonian doctrine of universal gravitation. The adherents of the earlier opinion resisted the evidence of the Newtonian theory with a degree of obstinacy and captiousness which now appears to us quite marvellous: while on the other hand, since the complete triumph of the Newtonians, they have been unwilling to allow any merit at all to the doctrine of vortices. It cannot but seem strange, to a calm observer of such changes, that in a matter which depends upon mathematical proofs, the whole body of the mathematical world should pass over, as in this and similar cases they seem to have done, from an opinion confidently held, to its opposite. No doubt this must be, in part, ascribed to the lasting effects of education and early prejudice. The old opinion passes away with the old generation: the new theory grows to its full vigour when its congenital disciples grow to be masters. John Bernoulli continues a Cartesian to the last; Daniel, his son, is a Newtonian from the first. Newton’s doctrines are adopted at once in England, for they are the solution of a problem at which his contemporaries have been labouring for years. They find no adherents in France, where Descartes is supposed to have already explained the constitution of the world; and Fontenelle, the secretary of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, dies a Cartesian seventy years after the publication of Newton’s Principia.

Whewell, "Of the Transformation of Hypotheses in the History of Science", delivered to the Cambridge Philosophical Society on May 19, 1851. This is one of two ways in which Whewell explains (relatively) sudden change of view in the sciences: the other involves the gradual transformation of the theory until it breaks, leaving only its rivals standing.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nine-and-Fifty Swans

The Wild Swans at Coole
by William Butler Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

First Causes and Turtles on Turtles

An incidental comment by Jerry Coyne:

The people who make this argument are claiming, in effect, that God is by definition an uncaused cause, but we can properly ask “What caused God?” with exactly the same tenacity that theists ask “What caused matter?” And why is God exempt from having a cause, but matter or physical laws are not? This is just sophistry. Faitheist philosophers are always telling us that we don’t grasp the subtleties of theological argument, but that won’t wash here: Manzi’s argument is identical to that made by Aquinas and refuted by Hume and his successors. It ain’t subtle. You can look up the details.

I hope people do, because Hume's argument is rather more sophisticated, and rather more limited, than Coyne suggests.

It's worth actually considering the part of Hume's text in which this argument comes up, namely, the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Part IV. Contrary to what Coyne implies, of course, Hume doesn't have Aquinas in view. He probably never actually read Aquinas. Coleridge claimed at one point to have found a copy of Aquinas's commentary De Memoria; that would be great if true, since it would give a nice explanation for why Hume's principles of associationg are so similar to scholastic accounts of reminiscentia, but Coleridge was almost certainly wrong. So we have no reason to think that Hume had even read any Aquinas. Nor is he getting an Aquinas-like argument from some other source, because the argument he has in view is very, very specific.

The Dialogues is a conversation between three people: Cleanthes, Demea, and Philo. Cleanthes is a Newtonian theist along the lines of Colin Maclaurin. Demea is harder to pin down, although he appears partly influenced by Samuel Clarke; but he's not really relevant to our particular argument, so we can set him aside for the moment. And Philo, who is good friends with Cleanthes, is a skeptic. In some ways he's a stand-in for Hume, but there are several points in the dialogue where Hume lets Philo go too far in order to be fought back by Cleanthes; Hume is not interested in treating Cleanthes as a caricature, and he does an excellent job of keeping up the dramatic interaction. Cleanthes wins a few points, and also is the one who gives Hume's reasons for rejecting Demea's a priori argument.

Cleanthes had put forward a design argument based on the principle that like effects have like causes. (This is a very Humean principle to use; Hume lists it among his causal maxims in Treatise 1.3.15.) Cleanthes insists that the design argument is the only possible source of information about God, and at the beginning of Part IV actually goes so far as to call traditional theists Atheists, because they don't strictly follow the principle of like effects having like causes. Turnabout being fair play, Demea calls him an Anthropomorphite. As Philo notes, it's a little odd to call all idolaters and Christian theologians Atheists, but he begins to argue with Cleanthes on his own terms, with the specific intent to show that there are "inconveniences" in Cleanthes's Anthropomorphism, and in particular to argue that, whatever else it may be, there are problems with thinking of the world being caused by a diversity of distinct ideas arranged in a particular order like the blueprint of an architect. Thus he says:

It is not easy, I own, to see what is gained by this supposition, whether we judge of the matter by Reason or by Experience. We are still obliged to mount higher, in order to find the cause of this cause, which you had assigned as satisfactory and conclusive.

If Reason (I mean abstract reason, derived from enquiries a priori) be not alike mute with regard to all questions concerning cause and effect, this sentence at least it will venture to pronounce, That a mental world, or universe of ideas, requires a cause as much, as does a material world, or universe of objects; and, if similar in its arrangement, must require a similar cause. For what is there in this subject, which should occasion a different conclusion or inference? In an abstract view, they are entirely alike; and no difficulty attends the one supposition, which is not common to both of them.

So the problem is that, if the plan in the divine mind simply mirrors the universe itself, as Cleanthes's Anthropomorphism requires, we are faced with the problem of now having twice as much to explain: a material world and its exact immaterial duplicate. Since the ideas exactly duplicates the world, or, rather, the material world exactly duplicates the ideal world, everything that holds of one holds of the other, so Cleanthes's Anthropomorphism commits him to turning God into just an ideal world and saying that the cause of the material world is that ideal world. But then, says Philo, we have turtles:

Have we not the same reason to trace that ideal world into another ideal world, or new intelligent principle? But if we stop, and go no further; why go so far? why not stop at the material world? How can we satisfy ourselves without going on in infinitum? And, after all, what satisfaction is there in that infinite progression? Let us remember the story of the Indian philosopher and his elephant. It was never more applicable than to the present subject. If the material world rests upon a similar ideal world, this ideal world must rest upon some other; and so on, without end. It were better, therefore, never to look beyond the present material world. By supposing it to contain the principle of its order within itself, we really assert it to be God; and the sooner we arrive at that Divine Being, so much the better. When you go one step beyond the mundane system, you only excite an inquisitive humour which it is impossible ever to satisfy.

So in other words, since Philo has argued that Cleanthes has effectively turned God into an ideal world that exactly duplicates the material world, it would be much more parsimonious simply to get rid of duplicate worlds altogether and make the material world God. (Philo will come back to this suggestion more than once.)

Cleanthes is unimpressed by the argument: "Even in common life, if I assign a cause for any event, is it any objection, Philo, that I cannot assign the cause of that cause, and answer every new question which may incessantly be started?" That is, if you have an argument that Y causes Z, it is unreasonable to deny that conclusion simply on the basis that you haven't shown what causes Y. That would be to guarantee that no causal explanations could ever get off the ground. The "common life" point, by the way, is a sharp crack at Philo: Philo has already put a great deal of emphasis on common life, a phrase that shows up repeatedly throughout the dialogue as central to Philo's view that we should not reason beyond what we find in common life. What is more, Cleanthes points out, everyone will eventually reach a point beyond which they can't give causes.

Philo concedes the point but says there is still a problem:

Naturalists indeed very justly explain particular effects by more general causes, though these general causes themselves should remain in the end totally inexplicable; but they never surely thought it satisfactory to explain a particular effect by a particular cause, which was no more to be accounted for than the effect itself. An ideal system, arranged of itself, without a precedent design, is not a whit more explicable than a material one, which attains its order in a like manner; nor is there any more difficulty in the latter supposition than in the former.

Philo doesn't give Cleanthes a chance to respond, but continues on to argue the inconveniences of Cleanthes's Anthropomorphism.

Let's stop here a moment and consider what's going on. Philo is not employing this argument against the basic position that the world has a cause. He is employing it against Cleanthes's contention that, contrary to the usual theistic position, the cause has to be as similar as possible to the case of an architect building a house on the basis of specific ideas ordered in a certain way. This, says Philo, effectively makes God an ideal world that the material world copies, and nothing more.

The difference is important. If it were a just a matter of the causal principle, giving a cause to the material world would be a matter of subsumption under a general causal law; but Cleanthes is proposing to explain the material world by an immaterial world that is completely isomorphic to it, and suggesting that, despite the fact that they are isomorphic, one arranges itself on its own and the other does not. But if the ideal world arranges itself on its own, then, given the isomorphism, so can the material world.

It's a very clever argument. The only possible option open to Cleanthes would be to argue that there is something special about ideas themselves -- that the very fact that the world is ideal is the one difference that makes a difference here. That's the way a Platonist would argue. But Cleanthes is not a Platonist, and this option is not open to Cleanthes: because he's committed himself a strict application of the principle that like effects have like causes, the ideas in question have to be like human ideas, but bigger. And human ideas, at least if you're not a rationalist, don't arrange themselves without "precedent design". Very clever. It's the first point on which Philo has blocked Cleanthes in.

It is important, however, to understand how limited it is. The Dialogues don't end here for the obvious reason that Philo hasn't refuted anything. All he has shown is that Cleanthes is committed to the existence of infinite duplicate worlds, each one cause of the next. But Cleanthes is right that the original argument still stands. Which raises the second point at which this is a very limited result: it all hinges not on the original causal argument but on Cleanthes's insistence that the cause has to be as exactly like a human mind, with its ideas, as possible. Cleanthes points out at the end of Part IV that all of Philo's "inconveniences" (of which he lists several more) do nothing whatsoever to eliminate the original argument. And Hume's Cleanthes is an honest and astute man: he is exactly right on this point.

It's not until Part VII that Philo goes beyond this to an idea that, he tells Cleanthes, "if just, must go near to subvert all your reasoning, and destroy even your first inferences." This is the famous series of different analogies, which leads into the Epicurean hypothesis in Part VIII.

In Part IX we find a character suggesting that if God might be necessary, we could just as well call matter necessary. It is not Philo, but Cleanthes. Demea has proposed that God is necessary in the sense that it would be contradictory for him not to exist. Cleanthes, still arguing that the design argument and only the design argument can give knowledge of God, will have none of it: he will accept no other argument, and so says,

But further, why may not the material universe be the necessarily existent being, according to this pretended explication of necessity? We dare not affirm that we know all the qualities of matter; and for aught we can determine, it may contain some qualities, which, were they known, would make its non- existence appear as great a contradiction as that twice two is five.

But the argument here is already based on Cleanthes's insistence that nothing exists necessarily; it's not a suggestion that the world exists necessarily but another example purporting how absurd it is to say that anything exists necessarily. Philo, however, uses the opportunity to deliver a subtle jab at Cleanthes by noting that adding necessity to the mix is dangerous because the numbers have an order that a "superficial observer" might think was due to chance or design, but that someone with sufficient insight could show was not designed at all, but necessary, and that one could by analogy reason that the world was like that, too. It's a subtle hint at another analogy that Cleanthes failed to consider. But, of course, Cleanthes would not accept that actually existing things ever have the relevant sort of necessity.

So Hume doesn't provide a refutation of Cleanthes's causal argument. Indeed, as commentators on the Dialogues have noted for quite some decades now, Hume's Philo explicitly denies having refuted it, and denies even trying to refute it. The closest he comes is in his comment that the analogies come "near" to destroying Cleanthes's original reasoning. But near is all: on a Humean account of analogy, analogies can't refute analogies. What they ultimately do is call into question Cleanthes's Anthropomorphism: not only must the original cause be like a system of ideas in the mind of an architect, it must also be like the cause of vegetation, animal generation, putrefaction, &c., and in some ways even more so. Like effects have like causes.

It is, of course, the case that someone can ask "Who made God?" as much as they can ask "Who made the material world?" But that's a feature of language, not of the subject matter. Anyone can ask any question about anything; the quesion is whether it makes sense to ask it given the arguments that have gone before. Philo points out that Cleanthes's argument, given the way he has taken it, makes sense of such a question. But this is not a refutation of the argument; it just clarifies what one is committed to. And Philo notes that if you decide to stop at matter instead, this is as much to say, Spinoza-like, that the material world is God, Natura naturans. Philo is able to press this issue not because of the causal argument itself, but as an "inconvenience" of Cleanthes's particular way of taking it. You will search in vain for a refutation of the causal argument itself; Hume very deliberately avoids giving one, very explicitly denies giving one. Commentators disagree as to why he does this.

As to whether others went farther, I don't know; I don't know who Coyne means by the "successors" of Hume. Russell, of course, raised it in the debate with Copleston; but he raised it as a challenge to be answered, not as a refutation in its own right. So, again, very limited. I'm not sure who else he would have in mind.

In the end, I think this sort of thing is why Coyne's approach is very likely to fail. It's not that he doesn't know the opposing arguments, e.g., those of Aquinas (who gives, explicitly, several arguments in the Summa Contra Gentiles why there has to be a cause of which it is incoherent to ask what caused it). It's not an ideal rational state, by any means, but as a straightforward matter of human history, lots of approaches have done very, very well despite ignorance of the arguments they opposed. But not knowing your own arguments is another thing entirely. It isn't really like demanding that Coyne have an intimate familiarity with the ins and outs of Iamblichus-style pagan Neoplatonism; it's simply the reasonable expectation that if Coyne is actually going to appeal to Hume as successfully refuting an argument that he would actually bother to take the trouble to do justice to that argument. And yet Hume's very subtle, beautifully designed argument gets mangled in the service of Coyne's sneering. People who don't respect their own arguments will eventually find themselves abandoned by them; having mangled even friendly reasoning, they will inevitably begin to look unreasonable altogether.

Simplicius on Aristotle's Definition of Change

That he marvellously defined change we may learn from this: for what is actually that which it is said to be, while it is in that state, would not be said to be changing in that respect; thus a man, so long as he is a man, would not change in regard to manhood, nor, if he is actually white, does he change with regard to whiteness so long as he is white. But if a man who is actually white were to be potentially black, since he was capable of becoming black, when the turning from whiteness to blackness occurred in him, as was natural, i.e., in accordance with this capacity to become black, he would then be said to turn black. And again, when the blackness as come about it then remains constant in him and he is no longer changing with regard to blackness, but is actually black. Thus nothing is changed qua actual; nor indeed qua potential: when it remains potential and merely suitable it would not be said to be changing. But when it sbeing transformed from being potential into actuality while retaining its potentiality, then it is said to be changing. So he reasonably added 'as such' in order that to emphasize the actualization of what remains potential. For when there ceases to be potentiality there is no longer change.

Simplicius, On Aristotle's Physics 3, J. O. Urmson, tr. Cornell UP (Ithaca, NY: 2002) p. 30. I happened to come across several of the works of Simplicius in this series for $2.40 each at Half Price Books; quite the deal. So I'm doing some reading of Simplicius.

An' the Gobble-uns'll Get Ya

Little Orphant Annie
by James Whitcomb Riley

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers,--
An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An' seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout:--
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;
An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'fore she knowed what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

Notes and Links

* The 96th Philosopher's Carnival is up at "The Brooks Blog". The paper on Adam Smith and punishment is worth recommending to anyone interested in either subject.

* A fascinating post about how Plenty Coups, leader of the Crow nation, managed to reconceive the Crow way of life during the time of severe disruption, when the Crow were forced to transition from life as a thriving nation to the sharp limitations of reservation life.

* Water-based and air-based computing:
Programmable Water
Pneumatic AND Gate

Due to messiness and the complexity required (serious computing requires many, many logic gates), hydraulic and pneumatic computing is not usually practical; but such problems can be greatly alleviated at cellular scales. Thus we're likely to see many more of them in the future. Mechanical logic gates are also possible:

LEGO Logic Gates

And, of course, the first programmable computers were in fact entirely mechnical: no electronics at all. Light is also capable of being used, and optical logic gates are currently being studied. (It's easy enough to build optical hybrids, e.g., partly electrical, partly optical. But all-optical logical circuitry is apparently trickier.)

* Designing the Ford-class supercarrier.

* A rather scathing review by Mark Murphy of a book by Sinnott-Armstrong. It does seem to be common to treat divine command theory as only a carcature, despite the actual existence of genuinely sophisticated forms of it (Warburton in traditional DCT, Adams in more contemporary DCT). This is a pity.

* I was recently reading that the largest marine protected area in the world is Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii; it was created by George W. Bush in 2006 (apparently after watching a documentary on the area), covers more area of the earth than all of the U.S.'s land-bound national parks combined (it's about the size of Germany, and just smaller than Montana), and is administed by NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

* It's a very American thing, but I love living in a country where something the size of Germany is still smaller than one of our states (and not the largest, at that, since Montana is #4). It conveys the idea of a vast region in which there's always much more to explore. I know some Canadians feel the same about the size of Canada; I wouldn't be surprised if Russians, Chinese, Brazilians, and Australians occasionally felt the same.

* Fred Sanders has a nice post on Christina Rossetti's "The Lowest Room".

* A funny ACLU ad. Quite good.

* An interesting distinction between slippery slope arguments and camel's nose arguments at "Man Bits Blog". Tom continues the discussion of the distinction at "Disputations".

* The GP2 Project is organizing a clean-up expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2010; the first of many, one assumes, since it's a massive patch.

* A theory about the mystery of how Celtic illuminators were able to keep tiny lines so perfectly parallel without magnifying glasses. (ht)

* A fascinating discussion of late Roman economic policy.

* YouTube finds
Amanda Miguel, Un día de estos
Mahalia Jackson & Nat King Cole, Steal Away

Mahalia Jackson, Down by the Riverside

The second and third are quite a treat; Jackson is often known as the Queen of Gospel because of her excellence as a Gospel soloist. She often reminds people of Ella Fitzgerald, in the sense that almost every performance can blow you away in one way or another.

* Top ten 'worst' Bible verses. (ht) Despite the sensationalistic title, the point -- that it's dangerous simply to deal with isolated verses -- is something any Baptist preacher could tell you; and I've known more than a few who could give more interesting and less obvious examples of the danger of selective quotation than this.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

But a Counter to My Coin

A Divine Rapture
by Francis Quarles

E’en like two little bank-dividing brooks,
That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams,
And having ranged and search’d a thousand nooks,
Meet both at length in silver-breasted Thames,
Where in a greater current they conjoin:
So I my Best-belovèd’s am; so He is mine.

E’en so we met; and after long pursuit,
E’en so we joined; we both became entire;
No need for either to renew a suit,
For I was flax, and He was flames of fire:
Our firm-united souls did more than twine;
So I my Best-belovèd’s am; so He is mine.

If all those glittering Monarchs, that command
The servile quarters of this earthly ball,
Should tender in exchange their shares of land,
I would not change my fortunes for them all:
Their wealth is but a counter to my coin:
The world ’s but theirs; but my Belovèd’s mine.

You don't see much about Francis Quarles; he was extraordinarily well-known in the first part of the seventeenth century, but, unlike most of the other major metaphysical poets, there has never quite been a significant revival of interest in him. I think that's bound to change someday. His poetic craftsmanship is often excellent, and his conceits are often more striking than even Donne's. If he has a weakness, it is that he can be gushy; but not everybody minds gushy.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Aquinas on Manual Labor

'Manual labor' has a much broader sense here than we usually give it; it's still much closer to the root meaning of 'work done with one's hands'. Hunting, sewing, and gardening would all count.

Manual labor is directed to four things.

First and principally to obtain food; wherefore it was said to the first man (Genesis 3:19): "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread," and it is written (Psalm 127:2): "For thou shalt eat the labors of thy hands."

Secondly, it is directed to the removal of idleness whence arise many evils; hence it is written (Sirach 33:28,29): "Send" thy slave "to work, that he be not idle, for idleness hath taught much evil."

Thirdly, it is directed to the curbing of concupiscence, inasmuch as it is a means of afflicting the body; hence it is written (2 Corinthians 6:5-6): "In labors, in watchings, in fastings, in chastity."

Fourthly, it is directed to almsgiving, wherefore it is written (Ephesians 4:28): "He that stole, let him now steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have something to give to him that suffereth need."

[ST 2-2.187.3]

This was a big issue at the time, of course; the rise of universities and the mendicant orders put front and center the question of how and in what way manual labor should be required of everyone, so it was important to determine what the proper role for manual labor should be in a civilized society. St. Thomas's answer on that point, which is a compromise position, is that it is a matter of natural law that people who are able should do the work required to sustain themselves rather than live off of others; but that this is a higher-level precept, i.e., it admits of individual exceptions where there is some greater benefit to the common good of everyone -- Thomas's major example, of course, is at least partial exemption of teachers from manual labor so that they can be less fettered in providing the good of education. In any case, one has to determine what the rational ends of manual labor are, and this is his answer: it provides the means of supporting oneself, it gives one something constructive to do, it develops habits of self-discipline, and it gives you the means of helping others who need help. And Aquinas, of course, takes a hard line on the latter, a high standard against which most of us would fail: if you don't need it to support yourself you are obligated to use it for the good of others (although he allows that there may be a great many different ways to do this).

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Existence and Intelligibility

Existence--the existence of material realities--is given us at first by sense; sense attains the object as existing; that is to say, in the real and existing influence by which it acts upon our sensorial organs. This is why the pattern of all true knowledge is the intuition of the thing that I see, and that sheds its light upon me. Sense attains existence in act without itself knowing that it is existence. Sense delivers existence to the intellect; it gives the intellect an intelligible treasure which sense does not know to be intelligible, and which the intellect, for its part, knows and calls by its name, which is being.

Jacques Maritain, Existence and the Existent, p. 21.