Friday, May 07, 2010

'Every event has a cause'

One interesting feature of the history of philosophy is how it is affected by purely verbal shifts. For instance, there was once almost universal agreement that "Every event has a cause" is a necessary truth. This later breaks down, and it would be difficult to find anyone who would agree to it without qualification today. But this is a matter of words shifting their meaning. Originally 'event' and 'effect' were virtually synonymous; literally, an event is something that comes from something else. It was the latinate form of the word 'outcome', and meant exactly the same thing. But over time (it began fairly early) the word 'event' breaks away from its connection with 'effect' and 'outcome' and takes on a more abstract sense of what happens during a stretch of time; that is, while it could be used in both senses, the 'outcome' usage slowly declines. There is a slow growth from talking about causation as the relation between events and their causes or antecedents to talking about causation as a relation between two events (which had originally been used to talk about time).

One of the things that is interesting about such things is that these verbal shifts set up sandbars that make it harder to read prior works accurately; someone who goes back and reads, say, Welton, on causes will run the danger of misunderstanding what Welton means when he says 'Every event has a cause'. There are many examples of this. For instance, 'conjecture' originally meant 'probable inference'. Bernoulli's classic treatise on probability was entitled, The Art of Conjecture. When Malebranche says we know that other minds exist by conjecture he is saying that we know it by probable inference. Hume in ECHU uses the word at least once as an explicit synonym of 'probability', and wherever you find it in Hume, this is what it clearly has to mean. Someone unaware of this, however, would be like to understand the term in our modern sense, in which it means 'guess', leading to any number of misunderstandings. Language is reason's finest instrument; but it is a slippery instrument, and a certain delicacy and art is required in order to handle it properly.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Rose and Amaranth Twined

The Flower of Love
by Thomas Love Peacock

'Tis said the rose is Love's own flower,
Its blush so bright, its thorns so many;
And winter on its bloom has power,
But has not on its sweetness any.
For though young Love's ethereal rose
Will droop on Age's wintry bosom,
Yet still its faded leaves disclose
The fragrance of their earliest blossom.

But ah! the fragrance lingering there
Is like the sweets that mournful duty
Bestows with sadly-soothing care,
To deck the grave of bloom and beauty.
For when its leaves are shrunk and dry,
Its blush extinct, to kindle never,
That fragrance is but Memory's sigh,
That breathes of pleasures past for ever.

Why did not Love the amaranth choose,
That bears no thorns, and cannot perish ?
Alas! no sweets its flowers diffuse,
And only sweets Love's life can cherish.
But be the rose and amaranth twined,
And Love, their mingled powers assuming,
Shall round his brows a chaplet bind,
For ever sweet, for ever blooming.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Southwell on Old Age

Old age is venerable, not long; to be measured by increase of virtues, not by number of years; for gravity consisteth in wisdom, and an unspotted life is the ripeness of the perfectest age.

Robert Southwell, The Triumphs over Death

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Amazon History Meme

Megan McArdle suggests looking back at your history of orders to see what your first order was. (ht)

I was living in Portland at the time, and so, of course, we had Powell's, which sufficed for most book needs. Thus I started relatively late and almost all of my purchases for the first few years were gifts for other people. But I did make a few purchases for myself. My very first purchase was on January 17, 1999; it was Hyman and Walsh's Philosophy in the Middle Ages: The Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions and was for the medieval philosophy class I was taking. My first purchases for myself in the strict and proper sense were a couple of weeks later, on February 1:

Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation
(Thomas Aquinas; Timothy McDermott, ed.)

Anselm of Canterbury: Major Works (Oxford World Classics)

Despite the subject matter, they weren't for my medieval philosophy class, but just out of interest. The next purchase for myself was on March 13, and was George MacDonald's Phantastes, and then I didn't order anything for myself again until August of 2001, and only sporadically after that. It's only in the past two or three years that I've used very much.

Self-Delight the Seed of Woe

Man's Civil War
by Robert Southwell

My hovering thoughts would fly to heaven
And quiet nestle in the sky,
Fain would my ship in Virtue's shore
Without remove at anchor lie.

But mounting thoughts are halèd down
With heavy poise of mortal load,
And blustring storms deny my ship
In Virtue's haven secure abode.

When inward eye to heavenly sights
Doth draw my longing heart's desire,
The world with jesses of delights
Would to her perch my thoughts retire,

Fond Fancy trains to Pleasure's lure,
Though Reason stiffly do repine;
Though Wisdom woo me to the saint,
Yet Sense would win me to the shrine.

Where Reason loathes, there Fancy loves,
And overrules the captive will;
Foes senses are to Virtue's lore,
They draw the wit their wish to fill.

Need craves consent of soul to sense,
Yet divers bents breed civil fray;
Hard hap where halves must disagree,
Or truce halves the whole betray!

O cruel fight! where fighting friend
With love doth kill a favoring foe,
Where peace with sense is war with God,
And self-delight the seed of woe!

Dame Pleasure's drugs are steeped in sin,
Their sugared taste doth breed annoy;
O fickle sense! beware her gin,
Sell not thy soul to brittle joy!

Monday, May 03, 2010

When Sun Is Set, the Little Stars Will Shine

Scorn Not the Least
by Robert Southwell

Where wards are weak and foes encount'ring strong,
Where mightier do assault than do defend,
The feebler part puts up enforcèd wrong,
And silent sees that speech could not amend.
Yet higher powers must think, though they repine,
When sun is set, the little stars will shine.

While pike doth range the seely tench doth fly,
And crouch in privy creeks with smaller fish ;
Yet pikes are caught when little fish go by,
These fleet afloat while those do fill the dish.
There is a time even for the worm to creep,
And suck the dew while all her foes do sleep.

The merlin cannot ever soar on high,
Nor greedy greyhound still pursue the chase ;
The tender lark will find a time to fly,
And fearful hare to run a quiet race :
He that high growth on cedars did bestow,
Gave also lowly mushrumps leave to grow.

In Aman's pomp poor Mardocheus wept,
Yet God did turn his fate upon his foe ;
The lazar pined while Dives' feast was kept,
Yet he to heaven, to Hell did Dives go.
We trample grass, and prize the flowers of May,
Yet grass is green when flowers do fade away.

Possible Light Posting Over Next Two Weeks

This week and next are the last weeks of term, and I can already tell that they are going to be a doozy this time around, so posting is likely to be light and I'll probably be slow at times in responding to comments. I have a few things already in the pipeline (including a promised post on hypotheses), though, and they may start coming through if I have any significant free time.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

May Never Was the Month of Love

Love's Servile Lot
by Robert Southwell

Love, mistress is of many minds,
Yet few know whom they serve;
They reckon least how little Love
Their service doth deserve.

The will she robbeth from the wit,
The sense from reason's lore;
She is delightful in the rind,
Corrupted in the core.

She shroudeth vice in virtue's veil,
Pretending good in ill;
She offereth joy, affordeth grief,
A kiss where she doth kill.

A honey-shower rains from her lips,
Sweet lights shine in her face;
She hath the blush of virgin mind,
The mind of viper's race.

She makes thee seek, yet fear to find
To find, but not enjoy:
In many frowns some gliding smiles
She yields to more annoy.

She woos thee to come near her fire,
Yet doth she draw it from thee
Far off she makes thy heart to fry,
And yet to freeze within thee.

She letteth fall some luring baits
For fools to gather up;
Too sweet, too sour, to every taste
She tempereth her cup.

Soft souls she binds in tender twist,
Small flies in spinner's web;
She sets afloat some luring streams,
But makes them soon to ebb.

Her watery eyes have burning force;
Her floods and flames conspire:
Tears kindle sparks, sobs fuel are,
And sighs do blow her fire.

May never was the month of love,
For May is full of flowers;
But rather April, wet by kind,
For love is full of showers.

Like tyrant, cruel wounds she gives,
Like surgeon, salve she lends;
But salve and sore have equal force,
For death is both their ends.

With soothing words enthralled souls
She chains in servile bands;
Her eye in silence hath a speech
Which eye best understands.

Her little sweet hath many sours,
Short hap immortal harms;
Her loving looks are murd'ring darts,
Her song bewitching charms.

Like winter rose and summer ice,
Her joys are still untimely;
Before her Hope, behind Remorse:
Fair first, in fine unseemly.

Moods, passions, fancy's jealous fits
Attend upon her train:
She yieldeth rest without repose,
And heaven in hellish pain.

Her house is Sloth, her door Deceit,
And slippery Hope her stairs;
Unbashful Boldness bids her guests,
And every vice repairs.

Her diet is of such delights
As please till they be past;
But then the poison kills the heart
That did entice the taste.

Her sleep in sin doth end in wrath,
Remorse rings her awake;
Death calls her up, Shame drives her out,
Despairs her upshot make.

Plough not the seas, sow not the sands,
Leave off your idle pain;
Seek other mistress for your minds,
Love's service is in vain.

Robert Southwell, by the way, is on the calendar of saints; he was not just a poet but also a Jesuit martyr at Tyburn, and is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales who share as their feast-day October 25.