Friday, May 13, 2011

Admin Note

As you probably know, there was a serious problem with Blogger over the past day or so, leading to all sorts of problems for everyone. The two posts that are currently missing should appear again at some point, but if they don't I'll repost them in some form or other.

This weekend I'll be busy with grading, and not much else.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Another Poem Draft

This was actually an attempt, in a bout of insomnia, to throw out something that used only bacchii and antibacchii as its metrical feet (I cheat on the last line with a spondee). Tricky, tricky feet, those two; in accentual poetry of the sort we have in English, it's very difficult to make it so that they don't sound clunky . This needs work, but I think it can be classed as a reasonably successful experiment, particularly the first stanza.

Times and Tides

In times past the world fled
from dark days, hearts broken;
but this age of cold souls
from black times seeks tokens.

(Tides flowing back quickly
hopes carry in cold foam;
ships sail in storms raging,
catch tempest and fly home.)

In times past the tides taught
the hot hearts to slow down;
new ages speed faster,
seek ever new crowns.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

No Greater Glory for Men or for Gods

Hymn to Zeus
by Cleanthes
tr. by M. A. C. Ellery

Most glorious of the immortals, invoked by many names, ever all-powerful,
Zeus, the First Cause of Nature, who rules all things with Law,
Hail! It is right for mortals to call upon you,
since from you we have our being, we whose lot it is to be God's image,
we alone of all mortal creatures that live and move upon the earth.
Accordingly, I will praise you with my hymn and ever sing of your might.
The whole universe, spinning around the earth,
goes wherever you lead it and is willingly guided by you.
So great is the servant which you hold in your invincible hands,
your eternal, two-edged, lightning-forked thunderbolt.
By its strokes all the works of nature came to be established,
and with it you guide the universal Word of Reason which moves through all creation,
mingling with the great sun and the small stars.
O God, without you nothing comes to be on earth,
neither in the region of the heavenly poles, nor in the sea,
except what evil men do in their folly.
But you know how to make extraordinary things suitable,
and how to bring order forth from chaos; and even that which is unlovely is lovely to you.
For thus you have joined all things, the good with the bad, into one,
so that the eternal Word of all came to be one.
This Word, however, evil mortals flee, poor wretches;
though they are desirous of good things for their possession,
they neither see nor listen to God's universal Law;
and yet, if they obey it intelligently, they would have the good life.
But they are senselessly driven to one evil after another:
some are eager for fame, no matter how godlessly it is acquired;
others are set on making money without any orderly principles in their lives;
and others are bent on ease and on the pleasures and delights of the body.
They do these foolish things, time and again,
and are swept along, eagerly defeating all they really wish for.
O Zeus, giver of all, shrouded in dark clouds and holding the vivid bright lightning,
rescue men from painful ignorance.
Scatter that ignorance far from their hearts.
and deign to rule all things in justice.
so that, honored in this way, we may render honor to you in return,
and sing your deeds unceasingly, as befits mortals;
for there is no greater glory for men
or for gods than to justly praise the universal Word of Reason.

Cleanthes (331-232 B.C.) was one of the great early Stoic philosophers; this hymn essentially takes standard mythological epithets of Zeus and gives them interpretations in terms of Stoic cosmology. You'll notice the broad analogies to certain features of Christian thought, which may at times through direct influence of later Stoicism on the Christian vocabulary but is often mediated by Middle Platonism (which appropriated many Stoic ideas), especially as it developed in the context of Hellenistic Judaism. It's worthwhile to compare and contrast this hymn to the opening of the Gospel of John or the hymn at Colossians 1:15-20.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

He Descends in His Chariot

Between 7:30 and 8:00 pm today I was walking to the grocery store and saw a sublime sight. Over to the West the sun was setting, but it was clothed with a great thundercloud coming out of the West at the same time. The sun, still too bright to look at directly, set the entire cloud aflame with a splendid rose-gold, and all around the sun there was lightning, both in the clouds and between the clouds and the ground.

I wish I had had a camera with me, but no photograph could capture the experience of being there. The epiphany of the sun covered quite literally half the sky, while the lightning cast electric-white light on everything below at every strike. There was thunder in the air, but not merely that, there was thunder in the ground as well, reverberating upward through the soles of the feet; on the skin I could feel both the electric charge in the air and the alternating stillness and gust of the wind; and every so often the gust would bring a hint, and only a hint, of the tang of spring rain.

It did not last long; perhaps no more than twenty minutes; then the sun continued to descend the cloud continued its way, and they both became their ordinary selves. Then the sky itself began to weep great drops of cold rain and night fell on everything.

A Poem Draft

April Dreams

How gently magic like the dew
reforms upon the blades of thought
that grow grass-green within the vale
of April dreams;
enchantment like the sunlight crowns
the blitheness of the liquid brook,
its splendor on the flowing glass
thrown out in gleams!

Monday, May 09, 2011

'Dr. Warburton's Railing'

In his autobiographical essay, My Own Life, Hume says that he knew his works were having an effect when they got a reaction out of William Warburton:

I found, by Dr. Warburton's railing, that the books were beginning to be esteemed in good company

Warburton was a famously cutting polemicist, so the term 'raillery' is closely associated with his name in the eighteenth century. His Divine Legation of Moses, a philosophical work that should be more widely read than it is, if only so that philosophers will stop mischaracterizing divine command theory, provides a good example of this. The book is dedicated to freethinkers everywhere, and the dedicatory epistle consists almost entirely of contemptuously and sarcastically mocking freethinkers for what he sees as their constant (and dishonest) whining. A sample:

But to return to our subject: The poor thread-bare cant of want of liberty, I should hope then you would be, at length, persuaded to lay aside; but that I know such cant is amongst your arts of controversy; and that something is to be allowed to a weak cause, and to a reputation that requires managing. We know what to understand by it, when after a successless insult on religion, the reader is intreated to believe that you have a strong reserve: but till the door of liberty be set a little wider, you have not room to display it.

Links for Thinking

* Paul Robinson reflects on the philosophy of statistics.

* An excellent post by Beth Haile on the nature of wisdom.

* D. G. Myers posts a course of reading on the Holocaust. Halivni in particular has been on my reading list for quite some time, due to his association with the Textual Reasoning movement; definitely will have to read him fairly soon.

* Kristina Terkun, Franchise Conflict: The Tide of Antipopes in the Aftermath of the Eastern Schism (PDF) -- an interesting attempt to apply franchise theory to religious history, although you have to get past the jarring vocabulary to the abstract point. "Obviously, the Eastern Schism represented a break by Rome with the Eastern part of the Christian Church, but we argue that the impetus for this split was a desire by the Roman See to rearrange the franchise agreements with its franchisees," means very little other than "The Eastern Schism came about in large part because Rome attempted to disassociate church and state and take a more dominant role in local church affairs." The explanation makes some implausible assumptions: contrary to the suggestion of the paper while there was extensive Roman moral influence, there was no Roman hegemony until very late; and the partnerships in question were shifting and not as well-defined as the argument seems to assume (e.g., there were no 'proper procedures' or guidelines for detecting 'termination without cause'; these would all have been constantly negotiable by both diplomacy and force). But the basic ideas of incentive misalignment and opportunism are detachable from the franchise theory framework and seem certainly to be operative in the actual history.

* Good post by John Wilkins on higher education.

* Robert Skidelsky, Hayek vs. Keynes: The Road to Reconciliation

* Jonathan Neumann corrects some misunderstandings of the concept of tikkun olam (PDF). I think I may have linked to this before, but it's worth reading.

* Rebecca and her commenters mull over the question of the reasons for, and the extent of, the disinterest of women in theology. A very interesting discussion follows

* Lindsay Beyerstein notes a college that is opening up a Department of Secular Studies. If you are going to have these general Studies departments, some of which can be pretty successful when they are thought out properly, it does make sense to have something like this. I suspect that secularists will find it is not as consistently nice a thing as some of them would think; academic politics can result in all sorts of unexpected effects on such programs. But like Lindsay, I think it makes sense to study secularity systematically; and this is the way academia generally does it.

* A reminder to look occasionally at the good ideas for addressing the problems facing women in philosophy that are submitted to the blog What We're Doing About What It's Like.


* Apparently there's a new confirmation of general relativity.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Twofold Branches of the Palm

The Knights of Saint John
by Friedrich Schiller
translated by Edward Bulwer Lytton

Oh, nobly shone the fearful Cross upon your mail afar,
When Rhodes and Acre hail'd your might, O lions of the war!
When leading many a pilgrim horde, through wastes of Syrian gloom;
Or standing with the Cherub's sword before the Holy Tomb.
Yet on your forms the Apron seem'd a nobler armour far,
When by the sick man's bed ye stood, O lions of the war!
When ye, the high-born, bow'd your pride to tend the lowly weakness,
The duty, though it brought no fame, fulfilled by Christian meekness—
Religion of the Cross, thou blend'st, as in a single flower,
The twofold branches of the palm—Humility And Power.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, of course, are the Hospitallers, the one significant religious military order that both had a primary non-military mission (tending the sick) and stuck to it despite temptation. They are also, unsurprisingly, the only religious military order that is still around today.