Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dashed Off

As usual with this sort of post, just sorting through my constant note-taking. Everything with spoons and buckets of salt, and all that.


the use of cinematographical criticism to track features of the narrative structure of reasoning (composition, mood, plot device)
- e.g., normal reasoning not uncommonly has juxtaposition of flashbacks with current reasoning to build a point

An educational system not grounded on the cultivation of teaching by good example is an educational system doomed to fail.

fields as intermediate tertium quid between action by contact and action at a distance

In any sufficiently complex society we can say that each person, deliberately or not, exhibits racism, sexism, etc. in some form. In the best cases this is merely the residue of the age, which constantly settles on us all alike, in others it is worse, to the degree that infection is allowed to take root.

Human survival is always based on more than a drive to survive or a drive to pass on genes -- in part because such drives are not wholly effective at their aims in comparison with other aims. More genes are passed on from the drive to love and be loved than from a drive to reproduce, which few of us have as such in a very strong or efficient form, anyway. More people survive from the same drive than from a sheer push to survive. Indeed, we none of us have a 'drive to pass on our genes', although we have drives that result in passing on our genes and thus survive insofar as they are genetically linked. It is remarkable how even many who insist that evolution has no purposes fail to grasp this point.

Air is a standard symbol of anything that cannot be seen but nonetheless has effects, because wind is the most obvious instance of such a thing.

'field' as a generalization of affinity once the latter is conceived of as a kind of contiguity

We know from experience that we can feel pleasure and pain at the same time, for instance, if they are due to two different things.

scale failure for arguments

Facts confirm or disconfirm theories relative to a framework for applying them to theories.

Extend trust but minimize temptation.

each clause of the Lord's Prayer as giving a reason for confidence in God

something necessary vs. some necessary thing

Calvin regards preaching as the only method for expressing the power of the Keys (Inst. 3.4 sect. 19). - but he also includes excommunication (Inst. 3.4 sect. 23)

Doctrine does not consist merely of propositions -- images, practices, concepts, and the like also can be taught.

Hello, heart's desire; meet despair.
She is lovely, is she not, and moonlight-fair.

truth, action, help

Christ's baptism: he shares in our repentance, not in having sinned, but in transforming His mind so as to begin His ministry

Whether you realize it or not, your opponents train you to respond in kind. Therefore choose your opponents well.


the Paternoster as a petition for the gifts of the Holy Spirit

"Those who cling to their own judgment so as to mistrust others and trust in themselves alone invariably prove themselves fools and are judged as such." Aq

In the Paternoster, we do not pray in our own person but in the person of the Church, & more fundamentally Christ its Head.

Forgiveness and repentance do not remove all penalty but, as it were, change punishment into purification.

"By patience we obtain peace whether times be good or evil." Aquinas

Systematic intellectual study is the outgrowth of a community.

The New Testament "consists in the infusion of the Holy Spirit who instructs interiorly." (Aq In Heb. 82. sect. 404)

We should love all, but, not being in a position to profit all, love requires that we profit most those we can profit best because of our union with or relation to them.

the things of the Tabernacle and the Temple as representations of divine magnificence

wisdom : tablets of law :: power : rod :: goodness : pot of manna (intimations of presence)
tablets of law : lamps :: manna : shewbread :: rod : altar (intimations in approach)

to speak the truth of the Lord in tavern and tabernacle

two kinds of petitio principii
(1) ignotum per ignotum
(2) ignotum per ignotius

lagom-based society (lagom in society, temperance in soul)

Where there is no trust there is no honesty.

The connection of interest to action is given a measure of indeterminacy due to the ability to deliberate; or, in other words, superior interest's issuance into a particular action is always evitable by deliberation, and therefore must be described in terms of its place in a field of distribution of probabilities.

It is demonstrably the case that there are opposites that are not exact opposites.

One can engineer with precision without being able to predict with precision -- e.g., by tinkering -- and one can predict with precision without being able to engineer with precision -- e.g., through lack of a causal mechanism.

collapse, division, merger

The propitiation of those who have been wronged is a key element in just reconciliation, and in such a way that it more often is needed for the propitiator than for the propitiated.

mythologies of morals
secularizations of sacrificial concepts

The old slogan, libertée;, egalité, fraternité is exactly right: w/o fraternity there is no truly fair set of freedoms; without liberty there can be no lasting solidarity of equals; without equality there can be no amiable face to freedom.

To allow circular demonstration would be to treat all demonstrables as convertibles.

To claim that a demonstration presupposes infinitely many prior demonstrations is to claim that there are definitions with infinitely many elements.

three facets of death
(1) the natural cause (we are composite beings)
(2) the gift of immortality ( original justice issuing into the soul's certain grip on the body)
(3) the merit of death (whereby we do not merit the gift and by demirt are cause sof death and must take responsibility for it)

Torah is the shadow of glory and Gospel the image of it.

The distinction between understanding (intelligentia) and knowledge (scientia) guarantees that one may grasp a principle, fully and properly, yet not see its limits, for the latter pertains to conclusions demonstrable from the principles.

Faith becomes a virtue by being ordered toward beatitude.

anger as the impulse to vindicate

Anger is detrimental to liberty insofar as it suppresses reason rather than being corrected by it.

A sin that is less blameful may be more shameful and vice versa.

Detraction, theft, etc. take on a special social significance because they are such that restitution and repair are quite commonly difficult, and this can be troublesome for social peace. Thus they lend themselves naturally to treatment by law, which cna regularize prevention, punishment, and reparation.

Ordination and matrimony are sacraments perfecting the life of the whole Churhc; for through them both the assistance of nature and the strength of grace pour out into all the rest of the Church.

Even setting aside questions of sin and wrongdoing, piety itself, in various forms, serves to construct basic structures of government.

Lex aeterna is pure and universal rationality, to which other kinds of rationality approach, so that to extent a kind of rationality approaches it, to that extent excels as rationality. (This is speaking in terms of practical reason.)

Given the ideas of good that we discover by (say) sentiment, we can compare these ideas so as to examine on their own the relations of these ideas.

If human life were not in some way good but instead the reverse, "We ought not to take human life" could not be justified; but the reverse is not true, because human life can be good even were "We ought not to take human life" not justifiable. Further, the fact that human life is good has a more extensive role in reasoning than the dictum that we ought not to take it, which concerns only actions.

Lying is wrong because it disassociates one's character from the goodness of truth.

The notion of a right presupposes the notion of what is proper to someone, or, more colloquially, what belongs to someone, where 'belongs' is fairly general.

Not all immediate principles are principles of demonstration: singular and particular propositions may be immediate but not suffice for demonstration.

"Properly basic beliefs" are really opinions based on experience (sensible or otherwise) rather than other opinions. "Justified belief" is simply well-founded opinion.

The reason it makes some sort of sense to say taht something becomes property by your 'mixing your labor' with it is that in this way the thing becomes in some way yours; it is your own in some way. But that something is your own in ssome way does not entail that it is your own in the way required by discussions of what we call property, i.e., the way relevant to ownership in the strict sense.

In Descartes's view we learn about the nature of the soul through meditation by pure intellect, about the nature of the body through mathematical use of imagination, and about the nature of their union from the practices of living a life.

The family is an emblem of the Trinity insofar (and only insofar) as it exhibits condilection.

Every faculty of the soul can be said to have a 'theology'; for just as we think about God, we feel and imagine when we think about God. And which 'theology' you prioritize will affect your actual theological views. But these 'theologies' are not all on par, and a theology based on a sensibility, e.g., a phenomenology of the sense of the unconditioned, or on imagination, e.g., theological personalism with design, will be seriously defective if not corrected by the development of the 'theology' of the higher faculties.

The cogitative power mediates between imagination and intellect by (perhaps) organizing imaginations into experienceable groups by similarities and analogies. For instance, a striking feature of direct experience is that some things seem animate, self-moving, and some don't. Of those that do we find some interact, like humans, some move around, like other animals, and some merely grow, like plants. When we think of things that have such features, it presents us with a template, so to speak, base don these precedents and analogies of experience.
- how much of this can be handled by association in the imagination itself?

Catechism should not only teach dogmas; it should also teach icons.

testimony of justice as an effect of faith
faith as sparking a desire for justice (cf. Rom. 10:10)

unity of citizenship
(1) through peace
(2) through justice
(3) through mutual interaction so as to be self-sufficient as a body
(4) through shared stabilities

All the world's a symbol-set searching for its Logos.

idea development through stigmergy

It is the place of rhetoric and poetics, not analytics, to make language clear, elegant, and efficient.

Subalternation & universal instantiation as both following from dictum de omni

Vainglory builds a facade of reason for itself by substituting the perspective of a partial spectator for an impartial one.

True diligence is an act of love; all other forms are imitations.

sloth & the feeling of being besieged and alone

Since prudence opposes all vices, every vice defends itself by creating its own false prudence.

the bookishness of some virtues

If representation by State is not democratic representation, the Federal government cannot represent the people in (e.g.) the United Nations: the principles are the same.

depravity, deprivation, suffering, death

ameliorating grace

charity to travelers by hospitality, to prisoners by compassion, to the poor by assistance

Eliminating hypotheses is, in general, an inefficient form of inquiry. It only becomes valuable under certain conditions, namely those that have already yielded a reasonable basis for understanding how different hypotheses are relvant and capable of being eliminated in a reasonably clean way.

"Nature is as free as air: art is forced to look probable." GKC

belief revision by term refinement

affective register for an argument

A claim that seems trivial in one context may in another be of great moment.

a language in which interrogative is the default mood -- declarative requiring an evidentiary particle and imperative a particle of imposition

a historical sociology of philosophy in terms of its practices (& internal goods) & institutions (& exteral goods)
practice of philosophical inquiry
of philosophical teaching
of philosophical dispute
each of which requires the establishment of standards of excellence and virtues (excellences) of person
each of which requires the adaptation and use of institutions, which are capable of both furthering and impeding the practices

Is the virtue of constancy in Austen best seen as an important special virtue, or as a general feature of all virtue?

expedient agreeableness vs. true amiability

the one, the true, the good, the beautiful as ends of philosophical inquiry

The mean of virtue defines a range, not a point.

If it is worth thinking through philosophically, it is worth saying poetically.

Paleyan biology, like Paleyan ethics, is utilitarian.

Fusion is pretty much thoroughly useless for a mereology of arguments; arguments must be taken as given, not as being every which-way composed, and nothing about a fusion of premises makes it an argument.

catascopia as a function of philosophy

Hearing is especially suitable for faith because one may recognize by hearing things not available to sight.

3 elements of a sustainable business
(1) ethical interaction
(2) logical planning
(3) favorable mathematics

strategic vindications of probable inferences

We work so as to have good leisure.

concepts simultaneously ethical and religious (e.g., saintliness)

philosophy as midwivery (Theaetetus)
as assimilation to God (Theat.)
as practice for dying (Phaedo)

obligations of consistency maintenance
obligations of inference recognition

May you know the truth and in it see
where you were its steadfast enemy
Thus I curse you; so mote it be
May you find the good in purity
and know that you have not been free
Thus I curse you; so mote it be

the signs on the page are as prayer.

Labels and Arguments

In the recent arguments over ID and its compatibility with Thomism that have taken place over a number of blogs, I have been twice accused, in different contexts, of being a deist for opposing ID; which is truly remarkable, given (1) that it is ID that shares the same basic inferential structure as deism; and (2) that the Thomistic reasons for opposing ID that have been identified all imply that God's action is involved in every natural action. What is going on, of course, is the power of a cleverly chosen name: ID gets pass after pass because any sort of intelligent causation gets counted as "intelligent design". But ID theorists are making very specific arguments based on very specific grounds and they are making very specific claims about the status of the conclusions these arguments reach. 'Intelligent design' is a term of art, and one must adhere to its exact meaning in this context. ID, however, is repeatedly being conflated with positions to which it only has some verbal similarities, and criticisms of ID are treated as criticisms of any sort of account of creation or providence. This is the sort of move that I have seen made by some of the less impressive village atheists in recent years; that there are so many theists who have bought into the same thing is very sad -- and also a testimony to the ability of good advertising copy and labeling practices to influence the course of arguments. But in the end what matters is what the arguments and analyses actually require.

In any case, Ed Feser continues the argument in a great deal more detail than I currently can, given my lack of time.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Tedious and the Philosophical

Good discussion about philosophy writing from David McNaughton (PDF) (ht). An especially salutary point:

Nor, I contend, is it necessary to publish early and often to be a good philosopher who has an important contribution to make. As an undergraduate I was incredibly fortunate to be taught by very good philosophers who thought a great deal, published little, and devoted a great deal of time to exploring philosophy with their students. Back then, people only published if they had something to say—and the advancement of their careers depended, not on the length of their CVs, but on their reputation and the quality of their minds. Not publishing early is not a hindrance to having a productive publishing record later. Jonathan Dancy published little for nearly a decade, and Donald Davidson was another late starter. Neither would have flourished under the present tenure system.

Publication is, in fact, a poor metric of quality when we are talking about philosophy; setting aside truly stellar papers, which are a miniscule portion of those written, its primary value is simply as an indicator of active participation in philosophical inquiry. It does have the advantage of being an indicator that's fairly easy to trace. But there are many other ways of actively participating in such inquiry.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wind and String

Now if we consider the human mind, we shall find, that with regard to the passions, 'tis not of the nature of a wind-instrument of music, which in running over all the notes immediately loses the sound after the breath ceases; but rather resembles a string-instrument, where after each stroke the vibrations still retain some sound, which gradually and insensibly decays. The imagination is extremely quick and agile; but the passions are slow and restive: For which reason, when any object is presented, that affords a variety of views to the one, and emotions to the other; tho' the fancy may change its views with great celerity; each stroke will not produce a clear and distinct note of passion, but the one passion will always be mixt and confounded with the other.

Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, Book II, Part III, Section IX. One of my favorite Humean texts; both striking and insightful.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thomism and ID II

Ed Feser recently criticized intelligent design theory (ID) in a post at his blog; VJ Torley responded at "Uncommon Descent". In the process he reiterates a number of the standard confusions ID theorists make when they talk about Thomism; I'm short on time, but a few hurried points.

(1) Torley says that ID is compatible with the view "that living organisms have built-in ends, and that their biological functions are inherent to them." But he goes on to say:

The point that Professor Dembski was making in The Design Revolution was simply this: that the inherent tendencies which define living organisms and make them what they are, do not in any way explain how the first living organism came to be. To explain this occurrence, an act of external agency is required: in other words, a Designer who created the first life. Neither chance nor the laws of nature can explain the emergence of life, because they are unable to generate the functional complex specified information which characterizes life.

This means that living organisms do not have inherent ends qua living, because it is the claim that the ends that characterize life must be imposed by an act of external agency independent of the laws by which the natures organized into living organisms act. This is to say that life is an artificial form rather than a natural form; and artifical forms are accidental forms rather than substantial forms. Thus the biological functions are only inherent to an organism in the sense that shape is inherent to a sculpture, or a particular interrelationship of springs and gears and pendulum is inherent to a clock. That is, it has them; but there is nothing here that actually counts as entelechy in the way an Aristotelian would understand it.

(2) Torley seems to confuse intentio in the Fifth Way with 'aboutness' and claims that the Fifth Way suggests that laws of nature are 'prescriptive' rather than just 'descriptive'. But this is not at all right. Intentio in the Fifth Way means an order or disposition or orientation to something; the arrow is given an (extrinsic) intentio to a target by an archer, for instance. This does not mean that the arrow is given any 'aboutness'; the arrow is not about the target, it simply is disposed to have one effect (hitting the target) rather than some other effect. On a Thomistic view some intentio is necessary for there to be any causation at all. 'Laws' of nature are neither 'descriptive' nor 'prescriptive'; they aren't even properly laws at all. They are merely a metaphor for talking about order. On a Thomistic view, moreover, God gives intentio not merely extrinsically, but intrinsically: the disposing of natural is an act internal to the natural things. No extrinsic agency is required; to think that there is, is to confuse the natural with the preternatural.

(3) Obviously Thomas Aquinas holds that it is possible for God to do "something to natural things in a different way from that to which the course of nature is accustomed". Torley, quoting a passage in which Aquinas discusses this, says that these acts sound like the acts of an artificer to him. These acts are called miracles. It is precisely the point, which Torley does not see, that the sort of conflation of ideas Torley is suggesting would, if taken seriously, commit an ID theorist to claiming that ID is the scientific study of miracles, and that its central thesis is that many biological systems were the results of divine miracles. (And Torley surely cannot have failed to realize that this passage was about miracles, because the very next sentence in the book, the first sentence of the next chapter, is " Things that are at times divinely accomplished, apart from the generally established order in things, are customarily called miracles.") If ID wants to pretend to be a 'big tent' and a theory of natural science, it cannot read Aquinas here as positing anything like the same sort of intervention it posits; if this passage shows that a Thomist should be sympathetic to ID, it can only do so on the assumption that ID forfeits its claim to be doing anything other than claiming the occurrence of divine miracles. The only other option here is that any resemblance is purely superficial, and that the passage does not do what Torley claims.

(4) Throughout Torley continues to treat the analogy between art and nature as if it meant that there was no fundamental difference between the two [e.g., in how the quotations from Aquinas are used]. It is precisely this conflation that makes it impossible for there to be any real and lasting rapprochement between Thomism and ID.

(5) The ID advocates have repeatedly made the claim that ID is more accessible than Thomism. This may be true; as I said before, since it conflates everything with everything else there's less to keep track of. But to claim, as Torley does, that ID presents "an argument which is evident to most people and that practically anyone can grasp, even if their philosophical background is very limited" is blatantly false. Most people cannot follow the mathematical ideas Dembski with barely any explanation throws left and right in, say, No Free Lunch; even allowing that Dembski's argument is flawless, it's not an argument "evident to most people". What is evident to most people, due to their religious beliefs, is that things were created by God, and what most people simply assume, given what little bits and pieces they take away from ID explanations of the arguments, is that this is what ID theorists are really arguing for, even if not precisely under that description. The ease of acceptance is not based on any ease of understanding; most people simply do not understand the details of ID arguments (and surely any that do could put the same mental effort into understanding metaphysical arguments). The ease of acceptance is the ease of hitchhiking: they don't see any distinction between what ID describes and what their religion describes, and so ID gets past any suspicions they might otherwise have by blending in. It also fits with a number of metaphors and analogies that have come to be common in our society. This is a pretty standard sort of thing (e.g., most physicalists are physicalists not because they can follow any of the sophisticated physicalist arguments but because of a hodgepodge of associations and analogies), and so doesn't itself suggest any problems of ID. But the explanation for acceptance of ID is due to psychological association and sociological influence, not rational assessment.


Well, I'm back from the workshop. I felt rather too tired to be thinking at my best most of the time, but it was still great fun. It's a bit, interesting, though, to think of what it says about our Era of a Hundred Myriad schools. What you had in the workshop was quite a selection of very intelligent people working very hard to present arguments to people who, by and large, did not and could not be expected to agree with the suppositions on which the arguments were based. In history of philosophy one would handle this by going back to the basics: HoP is evidence-based, and therefore you'd go back to the textual and historical evidence and work from there. It doesn't provide a full remedy for fragmentation, but it gives a clear shared beginning-point. But philosophy of religion, like a great many other areas of philosophy, starts in medias res; thus no one has anything in common except overlapping reading lists and related rhetorical methods of presentation. Good work gets done, but without some shared vector of progress it's difficult to see how most of it can avoid falling into the void. The workshop approach works fairly well to make it worthwhile in the short term -- people share ideas in progress, argue a bit about them, and go away with a bit more of an idea how to refine both ideas and arguments. If nothing else, people have a bit of fun thinking things through, and learn where they need to argue a bit more carefully. But it does leave one wondering, at least, it leaves me wondering as an outsider, if perhaps the field is entirely managing to overcome the grinding action of the sea, breaking it up into smaller and smaller bits whose connection to other bits is just that those other bits are in the vicinity.