Saturday, January 22, 2011

One Chorus Let All Beings Raise

Universal Prayer
by Alexander Pope

Father of all! In every age,
In every clime adored,
By saint, by savage, and by sage,
Jehovah, Jove, or Lord!

Thou Great First Cause, least understood
Who all my sense confined
To know but this, that Thou art good
And that myself am blind.

Yet gave me, in this dark estate,
To see the good from ill;
And, binding Nature fast in fate,
Left free the human will.

What conscience dictates to be done,
Or warns me not to do,
This teach me more than Hell to shun,
That more than Heaven pursue.

What blessings Thy free bounty gives
Let me not cast away;
For God is paid when man receives:
To enjoy is to obey.

Yet not to earth’s contracted span
Thy goodness let me bound.
Or think Thee Lord alone of man,
When thousand worlds are round.

Let not this weak, unknowing hand
Presume Thy bolts to throw,
And teach damnation round the land
On each I judge Thy foe.

If I am right, Thy grace import
Still in the right to stay;
If I am wrong, oh teach my heart
To find that better way!

Save me alike from foolish pride,
Or impious discontent,
At aught Thy wisdom has denied,
Or aught that goodness lent.

Teach me to feel another’s woe,
To right the fault I see;
That mercy I to others show,
That mercy show to me.

Mean though I am, not wholely so,
Since quickened by Thy breath;
Oh, lead me wheresoe'er I go,
Through this day’s life or death.

This day be bread and peace my lot;
All else beneath the sun
Though know’st if best bestowed or not,
And let Thy will be done!

To Thee Whose temple is of space,—
Whose altar earth, sea, skies,—
One chorus let all beings raise!
All Nature’s incense rise.

Pope wrote this prayer, usually appended to the "Essay on Man," in 1738; part of the reason being that he became worried that some expressions in the earlier work could be read in a Spinozistic way. I find it somewhat amusing that Lennox's article in the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia says of it that "despite the piety it displays, [it] is not entirely convincing"; amusing, but I'm not sure it's entirely fair to Pope.

Bed, Boat, or Balloon

It is the great peril of our society that all its mechanisms may grow more fixed while its spirit grows more fickle. A man's minor actions and arrangements ought to be free, flexible, creative; the things that should be unchangeable are his principles, his ideals. But with us the reverse is true; our views change constantly; but our lunch does not change. Now, I should like men to have strong and rooted conceptions, but as for their lunch, let them have it sometimes in the garden, sometimes in bed, sometimes on the roof, sometimes in the top of a tree. Let them argue from the same first principles, but let them do it in a bed, or a boat, or a balloon. This alarming growth of good habits really means a too great emphasis on those virtues which mere custom can ensure, it means too little emphasis on those virtues which custom can never quite ensure, sudden and splendid virtues of inspired pity or of inspired candour. If ever that abrupt appeal is made to us we may fail. A man can get used to getting up at five o'clock in the morning. A man cannot very well get used to being burnt for his opinions; the first experiment is commonly fatal. Let us pay a little more attention to these possibilities of the heroic and unexpected.

G. K. Chesterton, "On Lying in Bed," Tremendous Trifles

Friday, January 21, 2011

Christ's Little Lamb

St. Agnes
by Alfred Tennyson

Deep on the convent-roof the snows
Are sparkling to the moon:
My breath to heaven like vapour goes:
May my soul follow soon!
The shadows of the convent-towers
Slant down the snowy sward,
Still creeping with the creeping hours
That lead me to my Lord:
Make Thou my spirit pure and clear
As are the frosty skies,
Or this first snowdrop of the year
That in my bosom lies.

As these white robes are soil'd and dark,
To yonder shining ground;
As this pale taper's earthly spark,
To yonder argent round;
So shows my soul before the Lamb,
My spirit before Thee;
So in mine earthly house I am,
To that I hope to be.
Break up the heavens, O Lord! and far,
Thro' all yon starlight keen,
Draw me, thy bride, a glittering star,
In raiment white and clean.

He lifts me to the golden doors;
The flashes come and go;
All heaven bursts her starry floors,
And strows her lights below,
And deepens on and up! the gates
Roll back, and far within
For me the Heavenly Bridegroom waits,
To make me pure of sin.
The sabbaths of Eternity,
One sabbath deep and wide--
A light upon the shining sea--
The bridegroom with his bride!

Today is the Feast of St. Agnes, the most widely known of the Virgin Martyrs. Tennyson's poem was later re-titled "St. Agnes' Eve," which echoes Keats's poem of the same name; and, indeed, it's clear that this poem is nothing other than Tennyson's riff on Keats's poem.

Everyone should know the basic story of St. Agnes, if only because it has been so common a theme in art and literature. Because she's an early martyr, there are lots of variations, of course, and thus a lot of room for artists and writers to take a bit of artistic license.

St. Agnes plays a key role (although is not the main character) in Cardinal Wiseman's novel Fabiola, which is actually pretty decent if you want some fairly light reading about her.

Linkable Links

* Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" has apparently been banned from Canadian radio and television

* The practical difficulties of the (in-principle possible) task of making something that is to cats what lasers are to photons.

* John Wilkins talks about species.

* A discussion of civil rights advocate T.R.M. Howard.

* An argument that there's a close connection between Galileo's Dante scholarship and his physics. The basic idea in the argument is that a blunder in Galileo's lectures on the Inferno -- which had been important for his early reputation as a Florentine intellectual in a time and place when reputation was livelihood -- made Galileo realize the importance of scaling laws. (ht) ADDED LATER: Thony C corrects some misapprehensions arising from the article.

* Werner Arber has been appointed to head the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Arber is a Swiss microbiologist most famous for his work in discovering restriction enzymes, for which he shared the 1978 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Arber is replacing Nicola Cabibbo, and is the first Protestant to head the Academy in its 200-something year history. (Not 400-something, as the article says -- to stretch the duration back that far you have to include predecessor organizations that dissolved or were abolished at one point or another for 400 years. It would be more accurate to say that, barring some gaps, for 400 years there has been some organization doing more or less what the Pontifical Academy has been doing since the 1800s, but the Pontifical Academy itself is merely the latest instance.)

* Tim Troutman on unity and beauty.

* Will Thomas has an excellent post on Hume's 'philosophical chemistry' of sentiments and explanation of the passions.

* D. G. Myers on William James and the liberal arts.

The Art is Long, His Cash Got Short

Love and Physic
by Bret Harte

A clever man was Dr. Digg;
Misfortunes well he bore;
He never lost his patience till
He had no patients more;
And though his practice once was large,
It did not swell his gains;
The pains he labored for were but
The labor for his pains.

The "art is long," his cash got short,
And well might Galen dread it,
For who will trust a name unknown
When merit gets no credit?
To marry seemed the only way
To ease his mind of trouble;
Misfortunes never singly come,
And misery made him double.

He had a patient, rich and fair,
That hearts by scores was breaking,
And as he once had felt her wrist,
He thought her hand of taking;
But what the law makes strangers do,
Did strike his comprehension;
Who live in these United States,
Do first declare intention.

And so he called. His beating heart
With anxious fears was swelling,
And half in habit took her hand
And on her tongue was dwelling;
But thrice tho' he essayed to speak,
He stopp'd, and stuck, and blundered;
For say, what mortal could be cool
Whose pulse was most a hundred?

"Madam," at last he faltered out,--
His love had grown courageous,--
"I have discerned a new complaint,
I hope to prove contagious;
And when the symptoms I relate,
And show its diagnosis,
Ah, let me hope from those dear lips,
Some favorable prognosis.

"This done," he cries, "let's tie those ties
Which none but death can sever;
Since 'like cures like,' I do infer
That love cures love, forever."
He paused -- she blushed; however strange
It seems on first perusal,
Altho' there was no promise made,
She gave him a refusal.

Says she, "If well I understand
The sentiments you're saying,
You do propose to take a hand--
A game that two are playing--
At whist; one's partner ought to be
As silent as a mummy,
But in the game of love, I think,
I shall not take a dummy.

"I cannot marry one who lives
By other folks' distresses;
The man I marry, I must love,
Nor fear his fond caresses;
For who, whatever be their sex,
However strange the case is,
Would like to have a doctor's bill
Stuck up into their faces?"

Perhaps you think, 'twixt love and rage,
He took some deadly potion,
Or with his lancet breathed a vein
To ease his pulse's motion.
To guess the vent of his despair,
The wisest one might miss it;
He reached his office -- then and there
He charged her for the visit!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On a Recent Contagion of Madness in the Catholic Blogosphere

One of the recent furors in the Catholic blogosphere has been over sexual continence for permanent deacons. It is a good example of the sheer nastiness of Catholics in debate, and several of the offerings in the debate have been cases of attacks that are either dishonest or extraordinarily uncharitable toward Ed Peters, the canon lawyer who inadvertently touched off the whole thing by simply noting that canon law has no provision exempting permanent deacons from the clerical obligation to refrain from sex. I've found it somewhat disturbing, especially as a number of the nastier responses have been from people who ordinarily have good sense.

Peters is not talking out of ignorance here; he's done a considerable amount of study on the subject, and the argument he lays out is quite solid. Law, including canon law, can be weird because it can have unusual conventions (arising from its practical function) that affect what arguments can be accepted or rejected, but structurally there's no problem with it, and Peters is savvy enough not to get tripped up on quirks in canon law conventions. The argument is basically this: Canon law requires of clerics a "perfect and perpetual continence," that is, exceptionless and permanent abstinence from sexual relations. Permanent deacons are clerics. While it exempts permanent deacons from a number of other obligations required of clerics generally (e.g., it allows non-celibates, which in canon law simply means married men, to become permanent deacons), canon law never actually exempts permanent deacons from "perfect and perpetual continence." Indeed, several features of canon law, such as the requirement that married men receive the consent of their wives before being ordained, and the fact that an exemption to this very obligation was dropped from the final promulgation of the 1983 Code, are reasonably interpreted as implying that, all things considered, the obligation to sexual continence does apply to permanent deacons. This does not conform to common assumptions by permanent deacons, nor their assumptions to it, and for reasons not really their fault, since it is not standard practice to inform candidates for the diaconate and their wives. By canon law as well, no one gives up a right if they are not aware that in doing something it is expected for them to do so, and wives have the right to conjugal relations. Thus those deacons who are not currently exercising "perfect and perpetual continence" will in general not be guilty of any fault according to canon law, if they are otherwise being chaste; but, despite the importance of custom to canon law, the conditions under which this customary understanding has developed (namely, simply not informing candidates to the diaconate of even the possibility that they might be under such an obligation, and having existed for less than thirty years) are not such as to allow the custom to be the ground for an exception for permanent deacons. On the basis of this, Peters argues, there are a few options: either the law as it stands should be kept, and deacons from now on made aware of the expectation; or it should be changed on the basis of a developed and coherent theological account of the distinction between deacons and priests, one that has not yet been put forward. What is certainly not going to work is having the law as it stands and nobody following it.

Such is the argument given by Dr. Peters; if you have any doubts about it, you can read it yourself, and you will find that this is an accurate, albeit somewhat simplified, summary. It's fairly straightforward, although the relation between custom and law gets a bit tricky, and Dr. Peters draws no practical conclusion beyond arguing that the situation needs to be properly addressed, either by making people aware of the obligation or by starting the process of changing canon law as it stands so that it expresses a better theological understanding of the diaconate. Calling people's attention to something like this is a service, one of the best services to the Church a canon lawyer can render, because confusions or obscurities in canon law almost always are symptoms of deeper theological confusions or obscurities; and as the number of permanent deacons increases, better understanding of how this form of ordination optimally works will be crucial. But if you were to start not with Peters's own argument but with the responses that has been touched off when it reached the awareness of certain people in the blogosphere, you would think that the whole argument is that permanent deacons are wrong to have sex with their wives and should be punished for it, despite the fact that the whole thrust of the argument is in a very different direction. In several cases the claims that have been made about Dr. Peters have been such that they can only be considered either outright lies or signs that the person in question is condemning Dr. Peters without having even bothered to read the argument, despite its being available and open for everyone to read. This is very troubling. Dr. Peters is not advocating a "rigorist, legalistic understanding of canon law" and indeed explicitly leaves open the option that canon law should be changed: his argument is merely about what canon law actually says at present, and this has nothing to do with rigorism or legalism. He doesn't claim that there is anything "troubling about married permanent deacons having sexual relations with their wives"; he is claiming that there is an overlooked disparity between law and practice that needs to be addressed somehow. It is not a case of "legalism is trumping common sense for this busybody canonist" because not only is there no legalism here but it is thoroughly irrational to claim that a canonist is being a "busybody" for noting that a situation exists that either shows that canon law on the point is inadequate or that candidates to the diaconate (and their wives!) are not being properly informed of what they are consenting to. And Peters has made this either...or explicit at least three or four times now in the discussion; there is no excuse for ignoring it.

I confess that I am very irritated by this whole thing; this is not the sort of dispute I would ordinarily get into, because it's a tempest in a teacup: the only real issues in question here are whether an exemption needs to be explicitly added to canon law and whether practices regarding deacons need to begin slowly to change. That's the sort of thing reasonable people sit down and muse calmly over. But there have been so many disturbing attacks on Ed Peters over it, when the man is just doing his job and trying to clarify issues of canon law, that it just seemed less and less feasible to stand by while this sort of attack was going on. I have no authority whatsoever and I can pretty much guarantee that no one will listen to me even if they happen to read this, but somebody needs to say it: the people who have been slinging insults in Peters's direction need to apologize and quiet down to a calm and sensible tone. The lack of charity that has been shown on the subject has begun to disturb bystanders like myself who have no particular horse in the race, and has begun to be a flat-out embarrassment.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wisdom from Weil

To say that the world is not worth anything, that this life has no value and to give evil as the proof is absurd, for if these things are worthless what does evil take from us?

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, Routledge (New York: 2007) p. 84.

Intro Phil Hybrid

Leo asked what the syllabus for my hybrid course looked like. Most of the actual syllabus is taken up with college and department policy, but I do hand out a syllabus summary (the syllabus itself is kept in Blackboard rather than handed out in hardcopy), so here's the syllabus summary, plus a few extra details about assignments from the full syllabus. It's all very much a constant work in progress.


Plato, Republic.
Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy.
Descartes, Discourse on Method.

There will also be minor additional readings, available through Blackboard.

Technical Requirements

Because this is a hybrid course, it is important for students to make sure they have access to computer equipment sufficient for participation in the virtual half of the course. You will need:

• Browser: Mozilla Firefox 3.5, Internet Explorer 7 or higher, Safari 4.3.2 (Google Chrome and AOL are not supported for Blackboard)
• Java 1.5 or later
• Adobe Flash Player and Macromedia Flash Player
• Pentium 233Mhz or faster
• 256 MB Memory
• Sound card
• Speakers or headphones (microphone is optional)

Course Evaluation

(I) Core Modules: There will be required core learning modules available through Blackboard, on the following subjects: initial orientation, logic, ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, and early modern philosophy. These modules will serve to give students practice in key skills relevant to philosophy, to give them acquaintance with important philosophical names, terms, and concepts, and to allow more room for class discussion on days when the class meets on campus. The modules are largely self-paced, but there will be key deadlines that must be met in order to facilitate class discussion and timely grading.

(II) Quizzes: There will be three required quizzes: a logic quiz, a quiz on the history of philosophy, and a cumulative quiz for the course. All three quizzes will be take-home; they should be turned in through Blackboard or, failing that, through email.

(III) Dialogue Project: The required elements of this project are as follows (additional guidelines will be provided online):
(1) Philosophical Dialogue: Students will write their own short philosophical dialogue, consisting of at least five to six pages, on any topic they choose.
(2) Dialogue Outline: The outline will be a detailed sketch, using complete sentences, of the underlying argument of the dialogue.
(3) Peer Comment: Every dialogue should be turned in with at least one signed one- to two-page criticism of the argument of the dialogue from another student. Every student for another student (and indicate for whom they provided one on their dialogue outline). Both of these components (the peer comment from another student and providing a peer comment for someone else) are essential for this part of the Dialogue Project grade.
(4) Post-Comment Reflection: Students will also provide a one- to two-page reflection on how they might re-write their dialogue to take into account the points raised by the peer comment.

Students are strongly encouraged, in addition, to submit relevant supplementary materials with the Dialogue Project, in order to show their interaction with philosophical issues and topics during the course: journal entries, poems, short stories, dialogues, drawings, or anything else relevant to the philosophical content of the course. At the discretion of the instructor some of these may, if they are sufficiently relevant to philosophy and show the student to be thinking thoughtfully about philosophical topics beyond what is required by the course, count toward a small amount of extra credit for the course. In addition, there will be numerous extra credit opportunities throughout the term. All extra credit work is to be turned in with the Dialogue Project, including self-paced extra credit modules as they become available.

(IV) Course Participation: A key part of the final grade is course participation. This grade will have three components:
(1) Campus participation
(2) Virtual participation: The virtual participation component will have two parts. There will be regular chat sessions throughout the term during virtual office hours; students are encouraged to attend when they can and are required to participate in at least four or else arrange for an alternative. There is also a class discussion board; students will be expected to participate in the board on a weekly basis.
(3) One-on-one with instructor: Each student is required to meet one-on-one at least once with the instructor prior to the final two weeks of the course, in order to discuss any difficulties the student may be having. The one-on-one may occur either face-to-face or online, as the student finds most convenient. Office hours are the preferred time for such meetings, but when necessary students may make appointments for meeting outside those hours. Students should bring any questions they may have about the course or its content. It is the responsibility of the student to arrange for these one-on-one meetings.

The final grade for the course will break down in the following way:

Completion of Modules 20%
Quizzes 25%
Dialogue Project 30%
Course Participation 25%

For further information, see the syllabus in Blackboard.

On-campus meetings will often involve essential information for the course. Because of this, attendance at all on-campus meetings is mandatory. Only documentable medical or family emergency excuses will be allowed. Failure to attend an on-campus class without a documentable medical or emergency excuse can result in the student being withdrawn from the course by the instructor. Students should not assume, however, that absences will result in automatic withdrawals from the course.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

First Day of Class

Ah, the joys! It's the first day of class, so of course the server goes down and I am unable to access Blackboard, my college email, or anything like it; which makes updating things for my hybrid course -- half on-campus, half online -- a bit impossible. And no doubt there were students who were wanting to get some of the online orientation modules done and out of the way, and they won't be able to get on, either. Maybe someday my half-online course can have an online component.

I also somehow completely forgot that I was changing one of the books for this term (trying Plato's Republic rather than the Gorgias), and therefore have to rethink the second quarter of the course -- I have things ready to go, but I never pulled it together, because somehow I thought my plan was to wait until next term to try it, especially since this is only my second term with a hybrid and hybrids are very time-intensive to teach already. Apparently when I actually ordered the textbooks I was of a different mind. Whoops. There was an absent-minded professor thing to do. Fortunately, no harm done; I just have to edit the syllabus and the schedule of readings. Good thing I always check to see that the books came into the bookstore, though.

It will be nice not to be driving all the time, though; last term I was driving a crazy amount of time four days of week. My hybrid class's campus is way down south, about thirty minutes, but since it's hybrid, the actual class is only one day a week, and the rest of it is online. The other days of the week I'm at the campus closest to me, about 15-20 minutes walking distance at my pace (which is fairly quick). That will be nice; I cannot really convey to you how much I hate driving.

We'll see what crazy things happen tomorrow for the first day of my other two courses; something's bound to happen.

False Infinity

Monotony of evil: anything new, everything about it is equivalent. Never anything real, everything about it is imaginary.

It is because of this monotony that quantity plays so great a part. A host of women (Don Juan) or of men (Célimène), etc. One is condemned to false infinity. That is hell itself.

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, Routledge (New York: 2007) p. 69.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: He Pours Them Out Over the Face of the Land

There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground. He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land—the LORD is his name. With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin.

There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth. You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil. Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.

Amos 5:1-15 (NIV). That's the positive message of the chapter, of course. People forget that whenever Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted the famous verse (from later in the chapter), "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everlasting stream," it's not a nice, encouraging sentiment: it's a divinely backed threat against those who commit injustice. That was Amos's point: divine punishment is coming against the unjust like an unstoppable and devastating flood of water. And, of course, King knew this quite well: his view was that the preacher against injustice must be Amos, full of fire and willing to tell people that God will punish them for their sins. Our culture continually tries to sanitize King's message so that it's a feel good message of hope. But he was out to make the unjust feel the judgment of God breathing down their back if they did not change their ways. The hope came from the judgment: judgment for the oppressor is always hope for the oppressed.

Antony the Great

Today is the Feast of St. Antony the Great. From St. Athanasius's Life of St. Antony:

All the people, therefore, rejoiced when they heard the anti-Christian heresy anathematised by such a man. And all the people in the city ran together to see Antony; and the Greeks and those who are called their Priests, came into the church, saying, 'We ask to see the man of God,' for so they all called him. For in that place also the Lord cleansed many of demons, and healed those who were mad. And many Greeks asked that they might even but touch the old man, believing that they should be profited. Assuredly as many became Christians in those few days as one would have seen made in a year. Then when some thought that he was troubled by the crowds, and on this account turned them all away from him, he said, undisturbedly, that there were not more of them than of the demons with whom he wrestled in the mountain.

But when he was departing, and we were setting him forth on his way, as we arrived at the gate a woman from behind cried out, 'Stay, thou man of God, my daughter is grievously vexed by a devil. Stay, I beseech you, lest I too harm myself with running.' And the old man when he heard her, and was asked by us, willingly stayed. And when the woman drew near, the child was cast on the ground. But when Antony had prayed and called upon the name of Christ, the child was raised whole, for the unclean spirit had gone forth. And the mother blessed God, and all gave thanks. And Antony himself also rejoiced, departing to the mountain as though it were to his own home.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

'If I Show You the Roses, Will You Follow?'

I think I may have mentioned before that I like murder ballads. This one has been going through my head for much of the day.

There is a cover of this by Roy Khan and Chanty Wunder that is just as good, although making subtly different artistic choices. Nobody writes a murder ballad as well as Nick Cave; he really is the master of Southern Gothic. Another excellent Nick Cave murder ballad is his duet with P. J. Harvey, Henry Lee.

Flowers and Earwigs

Poems and poetic tales tend to be a little alike, not because Hebrews were really Chaldeans, nor because Christians were really Pagans, but because men are really men. Because there is, in spite of all the trend of modern thought, such a thing as man and the brotherhood of men. Anyone who has really looked at the moon might have called the moon a virgin and a huntress without ever having heard of Diana. Anyone who had ever looked at the sun might call it the god of oracles and of healing without having heard of Apollo. A man in love, walking about in a garden, compares a woman to a flower, and not to an earwig; though an earwig also was made by God, and has many superiorities to flowers in point of education and travel. To hear some people talk, one would think that the love of flowers had been imposed by some long priestly tradition, and the love of earwigs forbidden by some fearful tribal taboo.

Chesterton, "Monsters and the Middle Ages," from The Common Man. This short essay is actually a rather interesting one, arguing that a curious feature of the Middle Ages is that it baptized even the monsters: bizarre, fantastic beasts like dragons and griffins and unicorns, which could well be and sometimes originally were beasts to hate and kill, became things to love as emblems of cunning, or courage, or chastity, or other sacred things.