Saturday, January 09, 2010

Rauser on Reduplication and the Incarnation

Randal Rauser has some interesting posts, but he completely bungles reduplication. In theology reduplication is a way of describing Chalcedonianism (especially as developed in the Tome of Leo and later elaborated at the Third Council of Constantinople). The idea is that Jesus is both God and man, and insofar as He is human Jesus has human qualities; insofar as He is divine, He has divine qualities.

Now, Rauser makes an error in explicating this and an error in objecting to it. Let's take the former first.

(1) Rauser says:

Let's begin by defining the concept of nature. A "nature" is merely a kind-essential set of properties. To exemplify a human nature (and thus to be human) means that you exemplify the set of properties essential for being human. The same goes for any other nature: tree nature, rock nature, divine nature, and so on.

This is an extremely anachronistic way of describing how nature is to be understood in this context. One will search in vain for any Greek philosopher with whom the Fathers might have been directly or indirectly familiar who thinks of nature (physis) as a set of properties. Precise definitions are not always forthcoming, but 'human nature' is what makes you human and in particular makes it possible for you to act in a human way. That is, it is a principle of action and passion, of operation and potential. This is actually quite important: properties as we usually understand them are things you have. They don't do anything. But repeatedly, over and over again, the Church Fathers speak of nature as something that does something. As Leo says, "Each form does the acts that pertain to it."

This is key for understanding where Rauser goes wrong in the objection.

(2) Rauser goes on to suggest the problem for the reduplicative view:

The problem is that it is not the natures that exemplify their constitutive properties, rather it is Jesus. It is not the human nature that is ignorant but rather Jesus. It is not the divine nature that is omniscient but rather Jesus.

Thus it makes no sense to say that Jesus was ignorant qua his humanity but omniscient qua his divinity. You're still saying that Jesus was simultaneously ignorant and omniscient which is a contradiction.

We should at once be suspicious of this sort of reasoning; if it were the case then reduplication would never under any circumstances be legitimate. We could not say, for instance, that Tom has responsibility for the actions of the police insofar as he is a mayor and does not have this responsibility insofar as he is a father. But, of course, this is a perfectly sensible thing to say about Tom: he does have the responsibility for actions of the police insofar as he is mayor, and he does not have that responsibility insofar as he is a father, because his being mayor is the reason he has the responsibility, and the responsibility is not a paternal responsibility.

Thus we need to be careful when dealing with reduplication. You can only know something given your particular abilities. This is obviously true; from the act to the power to act is a very sure kind of inference. But people can (and do) have different kinds of abilities. I can have experienced Devil's Tower insofar as I have the ability to see it and not insofar as I have the ability to climb it (assuming I have the ability to climb it!). And thus every property exemplified that involves some sort of action, activity, operation, reception, potential, etc., involves, so to speak, the ability to do or undergo that particular action or whatever. So, for instance, the finitude of my human knowledge is due to the fact that I have a finite human ability to know. Thus, while I have the property of being necessarily not omniscient, I do not have it simpliciter; I have it because I have only a particular kind of ability to know things. Thus the property I actually have is necessary non-omniscience insofar as this ability is considered.

But what if I were to have two distinct abilities to know? Then I could in a legitimate sense be both necessarily omniscient and necessarily non-omniscient because, again, I do not have either of these properties simply speaking, but only in a qualified way: I can have an ability to know that is necessarily omniscient and an ability to know that is necessarily non-omniscient.

This shows, incidentally, that it is simply false to assume that it is necessarily the subject that directly exemplifies properties rather than the nature. This is clear if the powers and abilities pertain to nature -- and I have never come across a reduplicationist who did not hold this. 'Omniscience' applies directly not to a subject (of any sort) but to an ability to know, either in itself or as exercised: an ability to know might be capable of omniscience. There are cases where this is quite obvious: I am finite in the sense that my power to effect things is finite, and this would be true even if I were infinite in some other way. If we want to talk only about properties exemplified by subjects, then I do not have the property 'non-omniscient'; I have the property 'non-omniscient given my particular ability to know things'. Only given the reduplication can I distinguish distinct properties; given the reduplication, it's not difficult at all to do so.

The objection is that there is a contradiction even if the reduplication is accepted. But we see by reflecting on this that this is entirely false. And indeed this is quite obvious: you can only get the contradiction by dropping the qualification added by the reduplication, in effect changing "non-omniscient given this particular ability to know" to "not omniscient given any abilities to know" and changing "omniscient given this particular ability to know" to "omniscient in at least one ability to know". This does indeed create a contradiction; but it is quite clearly not what the reduplicationist is saying.

Reduplication, of course, does not explain anything, or at least, it only explains why something is not contradictory if reduplication is allowed; it is purely logical in character. This is why the objection is problematic from the get-go: it is really an attack on reduplication as such, which is absurd, since reduplication in general admits of a perfectly respectable (if occasionally somewhat complicated) account. Someone who rejects the reduplicationist move should be attacking the reasons for reduplicating here in the first place, not arguing that reduplication still allows contradiction when it obviously doesn't. Since the reasons for reduplicating are laid out quite clearly in the conciliar letters to Cyril, the Tome of Leo, the Chalcedonian Definition, the Letter of Agatho, and the Definition of the Third Council of Constantinople, and each one of these documents itself already uses some reduplicative expressions at least on occasion, and even more often uses expressions that can easily be re-expressed reduplicatively, rejecting reduplication tout court means rejecting a massive amount of conciliar Christology. What Rauser is actually advocating is straightforward Monophysitism: his argument is easily shown to be a version of a standard Monophysite argument against Chalcedon (which they did indeed accuse of Nestorianism); it is unfortunate, after having made so much fuss about the Nestorianism of reduplicationism, that he did not think to mention the fact that treating the matter the way he does makes it impossible to repudiate Monophysitism. This is information that people might think important.

The chief problem with Rauser's post is that he presents the matter as if it were simple and easy, completely glossing over how much has to be given up if the objection is right. There are good, solid reasons why reduplication (in various forms) has been so popular a response through the ages, and it is these that need to be addressed.

Princess Elisabeth and the Determination Problem for Dualism (Repost)

This is a reposted discussion, with minor revision, from 2006.

Suppose you are a Cartesian dualist, holding that (1) you have a mind; (2) you have a body; (3) your mind is an immaterial, unextended substance capable of existing on its own; (4) your body is a material, extended substance capable of existing on its own; (5) your mind and your body are united together somehow.

The fifth of these has troubled people for quite some time now.* In her correspondence with Descartes, Elisabeth von der Pfalz, the Princess Palatine, famously brought the problem up in her May 1643 letter:
For it seems every determination of movement happens from the impulsion of a thing moved, according to the manner in which it is pushed by that which moves it, or else, depends on the qualification and figures of the superficies of the latter. Contact is required for the first two conditions, extension is required for the third. You entirely exclude extension from your notion of the soul, and contact seems to me incompatible with an immaterial thing.

This has usually been interpreted as an expression of the interaction problem. Roughly, the interaction problem is this. Given that the mind is an immaterial, unextended substance and the body is a material, extended substance, how is it that they interact at all?

Now, one of the problems with this problem is that it isn't clear how much of a problem it really is. Why, for example, should this be seen as a problem for the Cartesian rather than as a research project? There is, in fact, good reason for the Cartesian not to be too worried about the interaction problem; and the reason is that interaction is always a difficult question. Take bodies, for example. We know that bodies interact with other bodies; but finding a non-question-begging explanation of this interaction is another thing entirely. We simply don't have, right off, a good handle on what the interaction between bodies really is. Finding out, and properly formulating what we've found out, requires an immense amount of work. If you don't believe me, ask your friendly neighborhood physicist to explain to you precisely, accurately, and completely what gravity is, and note their reaction.

But we do know that bodies interact (somehow) because we can sense them doing so. And Descartes notes that we know (5) in much the same way. When you want to move your hand, it generally moves; indeed, to prevent it from moving there has to be some unusual circumstance involved. So the interaction problem shows that the Cartesian hasn't answered all questions about mind and body; but he didn't claim to do so. Some of those questions are for further study. This isn't problematic for mind-body dualism.

It's noteworthy, however, that Elisabeth does not actually frame her objection in terms of mere interaction, but in terms of determination; and the two are not the same. To see this, we need to take a little detour through Cartesian physics. Suppose you hit a ball with a racquet; it hits the ground and bounces upward at an angle. What is the explanation of the motion of the ball as it is traveling upward? Descartes distinguishes between explaining the (mere) motion and explaining the determination of the motion. If you want to explain the fact that the ball is in motion at all, with the speed it has, your explanation will primarily appeal to the racquet. Gravity, the ground, and air resistance have something to contribute to the explanation, but the racquet is the primary contributor here. However, if you want to explain the way the ball is moving, your explanation will primarily appeal to the ground (although other factors will have some role to play), because that explains the direction, the fact that the ball follows path A rather than another path. The determination of motion can change without the fact of motion changing; so the two are not the same.

If we generalize this slightly to talk about causation rather than just motion, we can see that the interactionist objection is discussing the ultimate cause for the body's motion itself. Elisabeth, however, is asking for a cause of the determination of its motion. The two problems are not the same. Elisabeth elsewhere suggests very strongly that she considers herself to be, more or less, a Cartesian dualist; it's just that she has qualms about how the body is influenced by the mind in particular ways, and so is willing to entertain possibilities a strict Cartesian wouldn't (e.g., that bodily extension is a secondary property of the mind). So for her there's no real worry about interaction; and if there were, Descartes's response that we know the interaction occurs due to sensation would be an adequate answer. But Descartes's response isn't an adequate answer to the determination problem.

Consider an action like writing my name. A Cartesian will hold that something like the following happens. The mind interacts with the animal spirits in the brain. The animal spirits travel down the nerves and activate the muscles, which write my name. Now here's the problem: if the nerves are capable of carrying the information for writing my name, the body is capable of carrying information for intelligent action. If the body is capable of carrying information for intelligent action, however, it might seem that the separate mind is superfluous (at least for the purposes of physical action). Is the Cartesian mind needed for an explanation of the determination of the body's motion? It doesn't seem so, or so one could argue.

Elisabeth doesn't go quite this far, although she clearly recognizes the intelligent nerves problem. This is largely because her major concerns are always ethical: she's worried about what an inability to solve the determination problem does to ethics and to the possibility of busy people like her to engage in intellectual contemplation despite physical distractions. And the problem runs both ways; it's very important to ethics to have some idea of how mind determines body and body determines mind. She's also not looking for a problem for Cartesian dualism; she's just found one for which she can see no obvious solution and is asking Descartes for advice on it. (Descartes, like most people after him, seems to misinterpret her as proposing an interaction problem.) Nonetheless, she recognizes the problem, and it is a serious one -- certainly more serious than the interaction problem. Arguably, it's a question any dualism will have to face.


* In some of what follows I am heavily influenced by Deborah Tollefsen's excellent paper, Princess Elisabeth and the Problem of Mind-Body Interaction. There are one or two key differences between my presentation and Tollefsen's, however. (For instance, I take the determination problem to be more general than she does.) The passage from Elisabeth is quoted from her paper.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Linkable Links

* Ron Leonard, Testing the Validity of Conditional Arguments Using Physical Models (PDF)

* P. S. Ruckman, Jr., gives his list of the top ten clemency stories of 2009 at "Pardon Power".

* Rothbard on Buridan on money.

* A BBC radio program on Thomas Aquinas.

* Ralph Wedgwood discusses what he thinks is the deepest error in Kant's ethics. It leads to some interesting discussion. I'm not sure it's the 'deepest error', but I would agree that it's an important one, for reasons too complicated to get into here.

* Massimo Pigliucci has a YouTube video on David Hume. I'm afraid I'm not impressed of it as a description of, or even an introduction to, Hume, even setting aside the fact that 'jovial' is not the word to describe the affable but very phlegmatic Hume. It's a series of the standard sort of garblings of Hume, and myths about him, that arise when 'skeptics' uncritically read their own concerns into Hume's text, sometimes on the basis of work done decades and decades ago, before much work had been done on Hume's historical context. But it's useful for summarizing a common and persistent view of Hume, in which Hume's often very subtle skeptical maneuvers are broadened and flattened for the purposes of a less impressively thought-out skepticism.

* Possony and Pournelle's classic work on technological warfare.

* Jonathan Jarrett on the medieval warming period.

Kinds of Bad Argument

When we talk about something's being a 'bad argument' it's important to keep three things distinct. Unfortunately, we have a bad habit of not doing so, and this ends up messing up how many people talk about fallacies and fallacious reasoning.

The first and most obvious point at which an argument may go bad is in terms of its logical structure. It's important to keep in mind that this is not some logical structure out in a Platonic heaven, but the logical structure of the argument as it is in fact used. An argument that is formally invalid, for instance, only has gone wrong in terms of logical structure if it ought to be valid -- that is, a formally invalid argument can be entirely fine if it is not put forward as if it were formally valid. Obviously all formal fallacies deal with this sort of thing. However, the reverse is not true -- there are fallacies that are not strictly formal that can nonetheless prevent an argument from being well-structured; the most important of these are fallacies of equivocation. They are not strictly formal since they deal with the meaning of the term rather than the structure of the argument; but they mess up formal structure because formal structure requires consistency in the terms.

But arguments are not merely a matter of structure, and even a well-structured argument may be a bad argument. The reason is that you are not just putting arguments out there and contemplating them; you are trying to do things with them -- make a point, persuade, refute, whatever. This is a practical question, and practical questions are questions about means and ends. Whenever you are trying to do something with an argument, the question of competence always arises: is that argument a good means for the end you have in view? Most fallacies on this question are fallacies of irrelevance, but, again, the reverse is not true. Indeed, one of the most striking cases of an ineffective argument (as we might call it) can be both formally flawless and entirely relevant to the topic at hand, namely, the fallacy of petitio principii or begging the question.

But practical matters are never merely matters of competence; if you can ask whether the means are good means for their ends, you can ask whether the ends are good ends in the first place. Thus the ethical question arises. A good example of a fallacy that is ethical in character is what is usually known as 'poisoning the well'. Indeed, its origins are entirely ethical. Kingsley had insinuated that Newman lacked that all-important English virtue, 'candour'; Newman's reply used the image of an army poisoning the well, to suggest that the sort of insinuation in which Kingsley was engaging was itself less than fair and candid.

It is clear that we are often not clear about which of these is in play. When we accuse someone of a 'straw man fallacy', for instance, it is often difficult to say whether we are accusing them of arguing ineffectively or arguingly deceitfully. Indeed, it seems to me that most people make the most they can of the ambiguity, officially only criticizing the appropriateness of the argument the other person set up to destroy, but still insinuating at every turn that the other person is dishonestly trying to pull a fast one. Needless to say, this is not always a naive confusion, and at least sometimes is a clear case of dishonesty itself.

There is also a bad habit -- a very, very bad habit -- of treating questions of competence and ethical behavior as if they were somehow logical questions. Thus an argument is accused of an 'ad hominem' fallacy, and this is treated as somehow a feature intrinsic to the very character of the argument as an argument. But if the logical features of the argument trace out its flesh and bones, the practical and ethical features trace out its life and behavior. They are distinct questions. The same behavior that may vitiate an argument in one context might not in another context, if circumstances have changed enough to change the standards of ethical evaluation.

Given all this we can propose a better way of distributing fallacies than we usually get:

(1) pertaining to flaws in the argument as considered in itself
(1a) formal/structural: formal fallacies, e.g., denying the antecedent
(1b) material/terminal: fallacies of equivocation

(2) pertaining to flaws in the argument insofar as it is a means to an end
(2a) involving irrelevance: forms of ignoratio elenchi
(2b) relevant but not effective: forms of petitio principii

(3) pertaining to the argument insofar as it is a means to a flawed end

But one could probably do better. I'm not sure that ignoratio elenchi and petitio principii exhaust (2), for instance; false dilemmas are clearly a case of (2), but one might argue that they are not strictly a kind of ignoratio elenchi. (3) can be broken down, but all such methods of analysis seem to be haphazard; I know of no systematic way of doing so.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Deg Gud Till Aere, Oss Till Gavn

On my grandfather's side I have a thoroughly Scandinavian heritage, Norwegian and Danish, and like many Americans with Norway in the blood, I occasionally said the popular Norwegian table prayer growing up. I have a little wooden plaque, which belonged to my grandmother, on which it is written:

I Jesu navn går vi til bords
Spise og drikke på dit ord.
Deg Gud till aere, oss till gavn,
Så for vi mat i Jesu navn.

'Bords', table, has an English cognate in 'board' (as in 'room and board'). So, although I'm not fluent in Norwegian, we could perhaps translate as:

In Jesus' name we go to board
to wine and dine as in His word;
to God the glory, to us the gain,
and so we eat in Jesus' name.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Always Fight the Zeitgeist

Joe Carter is taking on the torture question:

Do Only Radical Pacifists Oppose Torture?
Thiessen's Catechism on Torture
Torture and Ticking Timebombs: A Christian Ethics Symposium
[ADDED LATER: Thiessen's Catechism on Torture (Part II)]

It always astounds me that there is any dispute here at all, much more that there is so much dispute, and for some of the defenses of these practices I have no patience whatsoever. If there is any topic that shows that Christians concede far, far more to the Zeitgeist than they should, this is one of them. The fundamental fact is that no Christian should ever support doing anything to anyone that they would not support doing to their own brother or sister, unless justice strictly requires it; and even then mercy should have a considerable say. Failure to do this introduces a massive incoherence into Christian life. Speaking about the relation between Christian life and the Zeitgeist, Schlegel in one of his lectures makes a comment that I think is quite appropriate here [Friedrich von Schlegel, The Philosophy of History, James Baron Robertson, tr. Bohn (London: 1846) pp. 474-475]:

Christianity is the emancipation of the human race from the bondage of that inimical spirit who denies God, and, as far as in him lies, leads all created intelligences astray. Hence the Scripture styles him, "the prince of this world;" and so he was in fact, but in ancient history only, when among all the nations of the earth, and amid the pomp of martial glory, and the splendour of Pagan life, he had established the throne of his domination. Since this divine era in the history of man, since the commencement of his emancipation in modern times, this spirit can no longer be called the prince of this world, but the spirit of time [Zeitgeist], the spirit opposed to divine influence, and to the Christian religion, apparent in those who consider and estimate time and all things temporal, not by the law and feeling of eternity, but for temporal interests, or from temporal motives, change, or undervalue it, and forget the thoughts and faith of eternity.

This is the key truth in the old slogan, semper reformanda. In the end there is one and only choice: you are either inspired by the Spirit of the Age, or you are inspired by the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is the beginning of divine life; but the Spirit of the Age is always the beginning of hell itself, however much it may dress itself up as nobility, or honor, or passion for liberty, or worldly wisdom, or practicality. If you do not measure things by how they look when you love as God loves in Christ, you are not using a Christian measuring stick. It is not an easy standard, and we will fail at times to meet it, but it is the standard to which we are called.

Attila and the Nibelung Gold

Attila the Hun left a major impression on fifth century Europe, invading not only cities and lands but legends as well. He turns out to have a small but very notable role in one of the most important Germannic legend-cycles, the tale of the Nibelungs.

You will remember the basic outline of the story, or at least one version of the story: the great hero Sigurd (Sivard/Siegfried) slays a dragon and comes into possession of its gold, which was cursed long ago by its original owner, Andvari. This gold is the Nibelung gold Soon after he meets Brynhild (Brunnehilde). Here is the first connection to Attila; in the Volsunga Saga, Brynhild is the daughter of a king named Budli. Budli has other children, one of whom is named Atli (Etzel), and is pretty clearly a fictionalized version of Attila. So Brynhild in at least some versions of the story is sister to Attila. She is also a Valkyrie who, having disobeyed Odin on the battlefield, has been doomed to marriage. She is asleep, Sigurd wakes her, they fall in love, and he proposes to her with the most precious part of the treasure, the ring of Andvari, and heads out to make his fortune.

Sigurd comes to the court of King Gjuki. He meets Gjuki's son, Gunnar (Gunther), and they get along famously, but dark things are a-foot. Gjuki is married to a sorceress, Grimhild (Ute), who takes into her mind the notion that Sigurd would make an excellent husband for their daughter, Gudrun (Kriemhild). She arranges for Sigurd to drink a magic potion that makes him forget about Brynhild; Sigurd and Gudrun marry. Grimhild decides it's also a good idea for Gunnar to marry the Valkyrie, but Brynhild is currently in a castle surrounded by flames -- Gunnar can't get to her. Through Grimhild's magic, Sigurd is given Gunnar's appearance and rides through the flame, thus winning the Valkyrie for Gunnar; he takes the ring of Andvari from her. In some legends, however, Brynhild is in the hands not of fate but of politics: Gunnar and his brothers lay siege to one of Atli's castles, and to get them off his back, Atli promises Brynhild in marriage to Gunnar; since Brynhild has sworn to marry only Sigurd, this occasions the deception in question. So here we have Attila again.

For a while things go well enough, but Brynhild and Gudrun eventually begin to quarrel over who has the better husband, and in the heat of argument Gudrun lets slip the fact that it was Sigurd who really rode through the flames, not Gunnar, and that Sigurd has given Gudrun the ring of Andvari. Brynhild is put into a rage fit for a Valkyrie over this; she begins to push Gunnar to kill Sigurd. Gunnar has sworn an oath of brotherhood to Sigurd, but eventually he gets his younger brother, Gutthorm, to kill Sigurd in his sleep, by means of a magic potion that enrages the young man; Sigurd wakes in the process, and his last act is to kill Gutthorm. Brynhild kills Sigurd's three-year-old son and then throws herself on Sigurd's funeral pyre. Solid tragic ending.

But Gudrun yet lives, and she eventually gets married off to Atli himself. Atli ends up killing her brothers, however; apparently if your family is associated with a large quantity of gold people begin to get a bit a greedy. Gudrun in revenge kills the two sons she had had with Atli, Erp and Eitli, and serves them to Atli in a feast. Atli takes sick. Gudrun kills him and burns down his hall, finally trying to kill herself by throwing herself into the sea. The sea, however, does not oblige by killing her and instead carries her to Sweden, where she marries yet again and has children who are involved in other legends entirely. But note that Attila here meets his end by Gudrun's hand.

This is actually closely associated with the stories of the death of Attila. We have two conflicting stories about how Attila died. In one story, found in Priscus, says that Attila died in 453 at a feast celebrating his marriage to Ildico. The Huns were polygamous, so Ildico was probably a new political alliance, perhaps with some line of Goths. In any case, he became so completely drunk he was unconscious, suffered a nosebleed, and choked to death in his own blood. The other story, a few decades later, is that Attila died because he was killed by one of his wives while he slept. No one knows the real answer; either story could easily have been simply made up, and either clearly provides an end to the Scourge of God that, if true, would be a case of poetic irony fit for any narrative. In any case, we see here how the stories about the death of Attila were taken up in the sagas.

I've been thinking about this from havng read Tolkien's The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, which is Tolkien's own retelling of the Sigurd and Gudrun tales (dating about the 20s and 30s). While Tolkien was professor of Anglo-Saxon, and thus is best known for his work in Old English, he was also an expert in Old Norse, as well, and had studied the sagas extensively. Taken together, they don't present this particular story in an entirely coherent way, so there was plenty of room for poetic invention. I think he manages to do a very good job at balancing a conservative approach -- no operatic changes -- with sufficient innovation to make the story cohere more completely. Christopher Tolkien provides an extensive apparatus that gets into some of these connections between legend and history.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Wicked Grammar

Apparently Mary Daly died recently; she was a well-known feminist theologian who taught at Boston College (a Jesuit college). She was also famous for insisting that she should only have to teach women, not men. Fred Sanders has a quote that is pretty typical of her writing:

We do not use words; we Muse words. Rhymes, alliterations, alteration of senses–all aid in the breaking of fatherland’s fences. Liberation is the work of Wicked Grammar, which is a basic instrument, our Witches’ Hammer. Websters denounce the patriarchal usage of women and nature and of words. We denounce both good usage and bad usage, proclaiming the termination of usage. In this process, words and women guide each other. Our guiding is reciprocal, requited. United, our movements are directed by sagacious Sin-Tactics. Together we work to expel the bore-ocratic chairmen of the bored. We strive to make the world Weirder.

Which is all lovely, but an example of telling, not showing, as was much of Daly's work when it came to empowering women: all program and proclamation and no progress and practical effects. She also had an occasional bad habit of conflating Woman with Mary Daly; her opinions were Woman's opinions, her methods Woman's methods, criticisms of her were criticisms of Woman. For that matter, she more than occasionally conflates Feminist with Mary Daly. I confess that whenever I read her (as I did quite extensively in my undergrad years, because I was interested in feminist writing) I found her for the most part extraordinarily boring. No Helene Cixous or Simone de Beauvoir, she. But some people, I think, found reading her to be a fun way to try out a different view of things. And while her use of language was neither so wicked, nor so innovative, nor even so interesting as she liked to pretend, it has to be admitted that Mary Daly's language has a zest and a life that is sometimes quite striking; as part of a fight against the bore-ocrats (a fight with which I sympathize) it had its moments.

In the Direction of the Palm Gardens

by Arthur Rimbaud
(Bertrand Mathieu, tr.)

One fine morning, in a land of extremely gentle people, a very beautiful man and woman called out, quite loud, in a public space: "Dear friends, I want her to be queen!" "And I want to be queen!" She was laughing and trembling. He was telling friends about a revelation, about an ordeal they'd come through. They were weak with happiness.

As a matter of fact, they were royalty for a whole morning, while the houses were covered with bright-red bunting, and for a whole afternoon, while they walked in the direction of the palm gardens.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Seventh Day of the Month

As I sometimes do at the turn of a New Year, here is a list of the posts on the seventh day of each month of 2009.

January: no post on the seventh day of the month

February: Flowers Preach

March: Sidecar Bar & Grill
Kant and 'Existence Is Not a Real Predicate'
Lenten Giving

April: Chaospet on "The End of Philosophy"
The End of Philosophy?
Clothed with the Wisdom and the Power

May: Clausewitz on the Use of Historical Examples

June: Not Acceptable
Malebranche's Infinity Challenge (Repost)
We Have Not Sighed Deep, Laughed Free

July: Usury and Titles to Interest
Physics and Philosophy

August: Neo-Humean Theology

September: Aquinas on Manual Labor

October: Five Ways of Teaching

November: The Lotus (Part I)

December: Marenbon on 'Aquinas's Principle' (Repost)

Object and Occasion

Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained, Basic Books (New York: 2001), p. 86:

In many places Christians also treat some artifacts as endowed with special powers. People for instance go to a distant place to pray to a particualr Madonna, which means standing in front of an artifact and talking to it. (You may find this description rather crude, and retort that no one is really talking to a man-made object; peple are considering a "symbol" of the Virgin, a "sign" or "representation" of her presence and power. But that is not the case. First, people are really representing the Madonna as an artifact. If I tell them who made it, using what kind of wood and paint, they will find all that information perfectly sensible, as it would be indeed of any other man-made object. Second, it really is the artifact they are addressing. If I proposed to chop the Madonna to pieces because I needed firewood, and suggested that I could replace it with a photograph of the statue or with a sign reading "pray to the Virgin here," they would find that shocking.)

I think the conclusion Boyer is ultimately angling toward here is actually quite right: focusing on the question of representation and setting aside the question of belief (which are independent questions, the latter being rather more complicated, and having a very complicated and rarely straightforward relationship with the former) such cases are clearly cases of representing artifacts as having special powers. But this is a singularly bad argument for this conclusion. If we took Boyer's first point seriously as relevant to the conclusion, this would be as much as to say that there are no signs, symbols, or representations -- pretty much all signs, symbols, or representations are artifacts, so it is irrelevant to whether we are treating something as a sign, symbol, or representation that we represent it as having artifactual features. If I paint a squiggle on a sign to represent water, there is no question that this is an artifact; it is also a sign.

But it's the second point I just find funny. Obviously if you suggest cutting up a Madonna for firewood people will find that shocking, but this in itself tells us nothing. If the local veterans put up a wooden copy of the Marine Corps War Memorial and you suggested cutting it up for firewood, people would be shocked at that, too; but there's nothing to guarantee that people typically represent war memorials as artifacts with cognitive powers, or, indeed, any powers. People are shocked by mistreatment of symbols precisely because they are functioning as symbols. Whether they are shocked by mistreatment does not seem to have any relevance to whether they treat the artifact as an artifact simply or as possessing other-than-artifactual characteristics; but it would have to if it were to function as a sign that the artifact is an object of address rather than merely an occasion of it.

In practice the difference between object and occasion is made in a rather different way. Suppose you and I are interacting via avatars in Second Life or some similar virtual reality program. When I respond to something you say I am addressing your avatar: it is an object of address. It is also an artifact (and, indeed, a sign, symbol, or representation), and in representing the object of my address I am treating it as an artifact with cognitive characteristics -- the cognitive characteristics it displays, which are, of course, yours. I actually address the avatar; it is not merely functioning as an indicator of presence (in the way that, for instance, an instant messaging indicator that you are online). Likewise, it is clear that an icon of Mary is not functioning as a mere indicator that Mary is available or a reminder that she may be addressed, although it may do that as well; this is inconsistent with actual behavior toward the icon. It's the actual behavior involved in the address that is crucial, not the sort of emotional attachment that is the reason for being shocked at the destruction or replacement of the icon; the emotional attachment could be due to the fact that the icon is an object of address, but it could be due to any number of other things as well.