Saturday, May 01, 2010

Hashem's Rays Fire Blaze Burn Bright and I Believe

Having difficulty getting this out of my head.

Sterne and Fun with Argument Classification

My uncle Toby would never offer to answer this by any other kind of argument than that of whistling half a dozen bars of Lillibullero.—You must know it was the usual channel through which his passions got vent, when anything shocked or surprised him;—but especially when anything which he deemed very absurd was offered.

As not one of our logical writers, nor any of the commentators upon them, that I remember, have thought proper to give a name to this particular species of argument, I here take the liberty to do it myself, for two reasons: first, That, in order to prevent all confusion in disputes, it may stand as much distinguished for ever, from every other species of argument—as the Argumentum ad Vericundiam, ex Absurdo, ex Fortiori, or any other argument whatsoever:—and, secondly, that it may be said, by my children's children, when my head is laid to rest,— that their learned grandfather's head had been busied to as much purpose once as other people's;—that he had invented a name,—and generously thrown it into the TREASURY of the Ars Logica, for one of the most unanswerable arguments in the whole science. And, if the end of disputation is more to silence than convince,—they may add, if they please, to one of the best arguments too.

I do, therefore, by these presents, strictly order and command, That it be known and distinguished by the name and title of the Argumentum Fistulatorium, and no other;—and that it rank hereafter with the Argumentum Baculinum and the Argumentum ad Crumenam, and for ever hereafter be treated of in the same chapter.

As for the Argumentum Tripodium, which is never used but by the woman against the man;—and the Argumentum ad Rem, which contrariwise, is made use of by the man only against the woman,—as these two are enough in conscience for one lecture —and, moreover, as the one is the best answer to the other—let them likewise be kept apart, and be treated of in a place by themselves.
[Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, i. xxi.]

Argumentum fistulatorium means, roughly, 'argument by piping'. Ad verecundiam, ex absurdo, and ex Fortiori are, respectively, argument from authority, from the absurdity of the position, and from the truth of a stronger conclusion. They would have been found in real lists of argument-types at the time. All the rest are jokes, but argumentum baculinum was an old one by Sterne's time; it occurs when you resolve an argument by beating your opponent with a club or a stick. Remarkably, later, more humorless lists of fallacies (which are descendants of the argument-classifications Sterne is mocking) will often list an argumentum ad baculum as an actual fallacy, namely, one in which you try to end a conversation by threatening someone. Argumentum ad Crumenam would be appeal to the purse. Argumentum Tripodium and Argumentum ad Rem are bawdy, involving references to genitalia. The second one is rather clever; literally it means something like, 'argument to the point or purpose', i.e., a relevant argument, and so he manages simultaneously to be bawdy and make the age-old and otherwise tired joke about how only men stick to the point.

You can hear Lillibullero here. The song mocks Irish Catholics and the tune became popular among English soldiers (hence Uncle Toby's familiarity with it). The tune, which long predates the words, is still popular; the Orange Order still use it, with new words, in The Protestant Boys, and the BBC used it for certain programs in WWII. It's also the official regimental march of the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Some Poem Drafts


Sunlight, golden-hued,
bursts from behind clouds,
a slow tide.
The wind whips around us;
your smile is now framed
with my sigh,
carried out to you
that we might share life.


The water-flow now falling by
in cataract and waterfall
will whirl beneath the April sky
until the lines of time unfold
into a tessaract unflawed
and river pours into its source,
an origamic game of awe
by which the end begins its course.
And by old nature's mystic laws
the mists of time will burn away,
returning cycle to its cause
from which it journeys day by day
and whither it by nature tends
across the rounding universe
in roundel verse that stream-like wends
with action's hunger, nature's thirst,
unthwarted by old jealous time.
And time itself, an instrument,
is turned around upon a sphere;
its bold, straight line and lineament
will circle round but will not veer,
and by old nature's patterns laid
will new circumference draw in course
to symbolize in pattern made
the cycle's cycle's unmade source.


I was born a quiet soul
as cats are born with quiet eyes;
the light had not yet broken in
the cell within which thought is hid;
it merely played around the edge
upon the surface of the skin
with reddish gold and purple form
that twisted, melded, like the clouds.
But from each birth the patterns move.
They shape a course and show a way.
Some pain lifts up the hiding lid
and eye then sees the light of day;
a pain that startled opened sight
and I took in the flood of day.


I hear your words;
they whistle by my ear.
I wonder how they come
so close, so near,
yet fail,
fall short of the heart;
and if you cannot hit it,
how can I start
to love you yet again?

Touzet on Distributed Cognition and Online Cooperative Learning

While looking for something else, I just stumbled across this interesting paper (PDF) by Joan Touzet on the subject of distributed cognition and online cooperative learning environments; it happens to quote a post from Siris from a few years back.

Stranger in His Country

My Greatest Need Is You
by Rabi'ah al-Adawiyya

Your hope in my heart the rarest treasure,
Your Name on my tongue the sweetest word,
My choicest hours my hours with you --
O God, I cannot live in this world
Without remembrance of You;
How then could I endure the next
Without vision of Your face?
I am a stranger in Your country,
solitary among Your worshippers:
This is the heart of my complaint.

Purified Hopes and Austere Truths

Although the necessity of renunciation is evidence of the existence of evil, yet Christianity, in preaching it, has shown a wisdom exceeding that of the Promethean philosophy of rebellion. It must be admitted that, of the things we desire, some, though they prove impossible, are yet real goods; others, however, as ardently longed for, do not form part of a fully purified ideal. The belief that what must be renounced is bad, though sometimes false, is far less often false than untamed passion supposes; and the creed of religion, by providing a reason for proving that it is never false, has been the means of purifying our hopes by the discovery of many austere truths.

Bertrand Russell, A Free Man's Worship

The Space Aliens and the Ontological Ground for Moral Facts

I've said before that you know that you do philosophy when you dream philosophy. Kenny recently had a dream that would actually make an excellent science fiction story in the right hands:

In my dream, some space aliens discovered that platonism was false. They were very disturbed by this because, they thought, without platonic objects, there was nothing to serve as the ontological ground for moral facts. So the aliens convened a galactic council, and held a sort of lottery. Earth lost the lottery, so the aliens were rounding up all the humans and putting them into a simulation. In the simulation, the humans would have every possible experience. The choices made by the humans in the simulation would then provide the ontological ground for moral facts. Then I woke up. (Either that, or I'm presently in a simulation designed to create moral truths; I suppose I'm not really sure which.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Middlesex Philosophy

I've found the news that Middlesex University is closing down its philosophy department rather interesting as yet another sign of the slow implosion overtaking our standard systems of education. What is remarkable about this particular case that is not about many other department closures is that the very fact that this was considered an option at all shows that Middlesex does not consider teaching and research to be among its primary goals. Middlesex Philosophy has an extraordinary reputation: it's the premier continental philosophy department in the English-speaking world, and is world-renowned for its work. Not only does it get high scores on evaluations of research, it has the highest research evaluation scores at Middlesex. It's one of the departments that makes a notable contribution to Middlesex's reputation, and has turned out a long string of notable students. But that's apparently not enough. And what is further remarkable is that it is being shut down not because it is financially unsustainable -- it is doing well and trending upward -- but apparently because the administration is speculating that it can make more of a profit if it invests resources currently invested in that department elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On the Great Science Fiction Novel

John C. Wright has an interesting post with the title, Great Book of Science Fiction---Yet to be Written? He identifies four features that such a Great Book would have to exhibit:

(1) Timeless appeal;
(2) Infinite readability;
(3) Relevance to great ideas;
(4) Speculative sense of wonder.

There already are some genuine candidates for greatness along these lines, and in two cases -- Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s Canticle for Leibowitz -- I think the case can be made very, very plausible. There are many other lovely works in science fiction, of course, but examples of works that speak in a fundamental way to the human condition (if you'll pardon the awful cliché) in literarily great ways are not easy to find. Part of this is simply the subculture; science fiction is dominated by a pulp past and is heavily geared simply to spinning a good yarn. The more brilliant works are usually little experiments in this or that rather than something that we can point to as something that will never get old.

But there is never just one Great Book, and we live in a time in which there seem to be many quite excellent science fiction authors. But despite the fact that this is likely to result in much good reading, I don't know that we'll see many Great Books in the genre. Wright's brilliant, but he'll never write one; he lacks the seriousness. Stephenson has the sweep but he lacks the good sense that can put that sweep in a striking and straightforward narrative. Actually, that's a problem with many of the great science fiction writers of our time; too clever for their own good. Flynn has that good sense that can meld sweep with craft, but I think putting Eifelheim next to Canticle for Leibowitz shows that there's still something of a chasm to be leapt.

But, as they say, it is the Muse that decides. We are in a time where most writing is very plodding and uninspired; perhaps in all this aridity a new spring will break forth somewhere.

Scotism and ID

Michael Sullivan at "The Smithy" has been musing on the recent Thomism vs. ID controversy from a Scotistic perspective:

Is "Intelligent Design" Scotistic?

Nature, Artifacts, and Machines 1

Nature, Artifacts, and Machines 2

"Intelligent Design" and Scotism

ADDED LATER: Nature, Artifacts, Meaning, and Providence

Reply to Dr. Torley

The basic problems with ID from most* scholastic perspectives will be the views it assumes of living things and of intelligence.

* I say 'most' because one could treat Cartesianism as a partially scholastic perspective -- Thomists, at least, have been classifying Cartesianism as a degenerate form of late scholasticism for years -- and Cartesianism and ID actually have the potential to get along very well and make a much more plausible alliance.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Links of Linkable Thinking

* Japanese Madonnas

* How old was Anne Boleyn at her death?

* Five classic cocktails

* A fascinating comments-thread discussion about women in philosophy

* The U.S. Supreme Court has some difficulty with the idea of texting. Still, better that they ask if they don't know, and in matters of law it's always best to be clear.

* GameStation inserted a gag clause into its online shopping terms and conditions in which those who did not click a certain box agreed to give GameStation their immortal souls. Most people did not opt out.

* Unable to fly because of volcanic dust, John Cleese paid over $5000 for a taxi trip (fifteen hours) from Oslo to Brussels.

* Eduardo Palacio-Perez, Cave Art and the Theory of Art: The Origins of the Religious Interpretation of Palaeolithic Graphic Expression

* A famous Chinese poetry tour de force. It tells a short story about a lion-eating poet in a cave. Chinese meaning, of course, depends heavily on tone, and in the poem it is carried entirely by tone. The author, Chao Yuen Ren, may have written it in part to show the limits of the practice of romanizing Chinese, i.e., writing Chinese in Roman characters rather than proper Chinese ones. You can read the translation at Wikipedia.

* The Bible in 66 verses (ht)

* John Gray reviews Grayling's Ideas that Matter:

This tirade against Kierkegaard is a good example of that silliness that marks so much of Grayling’s oeuvre. The notion that irrationalist philosophers are responsible for the crimes of history smacks of Monty Python.

[ADDED LATER: And Grayling's response, which is surprisingly weak. I expected more bite and less bluster.]

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Of Amaranthine Bloom

by William Wordsworth

On to Iona!--What can she afford
To us save matter for a thoughtful sigh,
Heaved over ruin with stability
In urgent contrast? To diffuse the WORD
(Thy Paramount, mighty Nature! and Time's Lord)
Her Temples rose, 'mid pagan gloom; but why,
Even for a moment, has our verse deplored
Their wrongs, since they fulfilled their destiny?
And when, subjected to a common doom
Of mutability, those far-famed Piles
Shall disappear from both the sister Isles,
Iona's Saints, forgetting not past days,
Garlands shall wear of amaranthine bloom,
While heaven's vast sea of voices chants their praise.