Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ernest Haycox, The Adventurers


Opening Passage:
An hour after announced sailing time the shore gangs still worked cargo aboard the Jennie North and the little groups of well-wishers on the dock, having exhausted their stock of pleasantries, began to grow restive. Prolonged farewells are unnatural, Mark Sheridan decided; it was best to say good-by and to turn quickly away. A man in an attractive fawn-brown suit sauntered along the deck and stopped beside him at the ship's railing.

Summary: The Adventurers follows the attempt of Mark Sheridan to make his fortune. As the book opens he is leaving San Francisco and heading off to Portland, Oregon, in the hope of doing better there. Sheridan's distinctive characteristic throughout the book is that he is an optimist in a land of pessimists. The man he is talking to in the above passage is George Revelwood; and they will soon meet up with an alluring woman named Clara Dale. The fate of the three is bound together for most of the book, because the Jennie North, overloaded, will founder, and they will be three of the only four survivors. We will shortly afterward meet the Morvains, of whom Katherine Morvain, a stubborn young woman in a family of layabouts, will be the most important. The book has a sort of string-of-pearls structure; it really is a bunch of episodes, but each episode moves forward to the next, and it does do it in a reasonably seamless fashion. All of them are struggling not to fall down into nothing, each in their own ways, and the book is the story of their success -- or failure.

A Western fiction writer needs to have a good sense of both scene and action, and Haycox is extraordinarily good at both. There are several scenes -- the most notable are the sinking of the Jennie North and an extended few chapters on a forest fire, which are rousingly written. But the scenes and action are done well throughout.

Although optimism does win out in the end, barely, it is something of a nihilistic book in flavor, since nothing goes well for anyone, and, as I said, pretty much everyone except Mark is a pessimist. So parts can be a bit depressing; it has a happy ending, in some sense, but it's not a cheerful story, although it helps that Mark Sheridan bounces back easily, so we aren't dragging in despair for the whole twenty-eight chapters. Then, too, like life so much happens in the book and everyone is constantly doing things, so it's never mopey. Perhaps a better way to describe it is that it presents a very sober, sometimes somber, view of life.

One thing I personally liked quite a bit about it was its setting. It occurs almost entirely in what would today be the Portland Metropolitan Area, from Forest Grove in the west to The Dalles in the east, although it gets as far down as Salem in the south. In those days, of course, those were big distances to travel; but, at the same time, traveling them was essential for anyone who wanted to get things done.

Favorite Passage: (Mrs. Colson is an elderly widow.)

"Deputy?" asked Mrs. Colson, and blew the notion out of the room with her tart observation. "We don't need a deputy any more than we need a cat with two tails."

"Well," said Morvain, "things happen--"

"Nothing happens," said Mrs. Colson decisively. "And it don't take a man with a star to fix it, if it does. I can shoot, and so can everybody else. Such a silly notion. We never had a deputy." Then she corrected herself and added thoughtfully, "Oh, yes we did, once, Conover."

"Poor soul," said the minister.

"Well," said Mrs. Colson, "I don't know. He was fool enough to interfere with somebody else's business--instead of minding his own." It was sharply intended, but she cut the edge of it by seeming to be preoccupied with the things on the table. "Have some more meat, Reverend. Conover didn't have sense enough to run his own life, so he naturally wanted to run others'. Katherine, there's more cream in the pantry."

Recommendation: I'm surprised nobody ever made a movie out of the book; it would have made a pretty good one. Recommended for light reading, although, as I said, this is not a comedy, but a sturdy story about the hardships of life and the need for both a strong will and the help of others to handle them.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Celerity, Certainty, and Security

In my Ethics course I always have a class on government ethics, which I basically teach as a look at civil service, which, of course, was created in order to be an ethical instrument of government, and which has all sorts of ethical regulations in place to keep it so. In discussing the background, I look at the Star Route scandal, which was the government corruption that finally did the most to convince people of the need for civil service reform. Originally, of course, we were on a patronage system, or what is usually called a spoils system ("to the victor go the spoils"). When a new President was elected, practically the entire administration would be replaced. Presidents could, and sometimes did, make exceptions for exceptionally good officeholders, and more exceptions tended to be made when the previous administration was of the same party, but there were always large numbers of appointments to be made. So if you helped the President out while he was still campaigning, or pulled a few strings for him, you would likely be appointed to a government position when he came into office. If you did him a really good turn, you would get a nice customs inspector position, which paid reasonably well but beyond that allowed for commissions. You could get very wealthy very quickly with a job like that.

The disadvantages of the spoils system should perhaps not be exaggerated. After all, the US still has a spoils system -- ambassadorships and advisory positions are the choice plums these days -- and there's an argument to be made that it's a good way to increase the chances that important positions will go to competent people, or at least to people ambitious enough to try to be competent, and it does mean there will be no lower-level sabotage of higher-level decisions (which is an argument, for instance, for keeping ambassadorships as non-civil-service positions). Indeed, if you think of all the disadvantages of bureaucracy that you can, many of them are avoided by a spoils system, for the simple reason that it forces the bureaucracy to reset almost completely every new administration. Nonetheless, the ethical risks of such a system are very real and obvious to any thinking person. Corruption is inevitable in such a system, and while there are plenty of ways to handle this on an individual level, the system is especially vulnerable to collusive or condoned corruption organized by groups or factions. The most notorious of these occurred with star routes.

A star route gets its name from the fact that it was marked with stars (***) in the postal listings. Inland mail was not handled directly by the U.S. Post Office, but was contracted out to stage and coach services. You may remember the Pony Express from school. Pony Express riders weren't government employees; the Express was the fast mail branch of a freight company, which eventually took the name of the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company, who held a number of delivery contracts with the U.S. Postal Service. The company hoped to add exclusive fast mail contracts with the Postal Service, which is why they went through the expensive and difficult organizational hassle of trying to build a system that could deliver mail from one end of the country to the other in times so short that they were usually considered impossible. The company never actually managed to get the exclusive contracts, because they didn't have the political connections; the contracts went instead to a partnership between Butterfield Overland and Wells, Fargo & Company. That was an unusual sort of situation, because they were trying to create a new kind of postal contract. Star routes, which were contracted for less populated southern and western areas, by law had to be auctioned to the lowest bidder who could prove that they were capable of delivering, and once the contract was had, the only conditions were that the delivery be performed with "due celerity, certainty, and security". Auctions have always had the problem that they can be rigged by the interested parties, however, and this is precisely what happened after the Civil War -- the potential candidates would collude to make sure that the lowest bid was very high. If you could get the postal officals on your side, either through bribery or through political string-pulling, you could make the Postal Service pay through the nose. And people did; the spoils system made the political string-pulling and getting wealthy on government contracts quite easy.

Investigations were begun under the Grant Administration, but the investigations were derailed by bribery, and as it seems likely that several very important officials in the Grant Administration were involved, nothing ever came of it. The expense of the corruption, however, made it so that it continued to be a big issue. Hayes put a stop to new star route contracts, and Garfield launched a full-scale investigation. Garfield, of course, was assassinated. The reason had to do with spoils system, in fact, although not directly with the star routes themselves. The Democrats had begun to bounce back from the Civil War, so locking in the Presidency increasingly required Republican unity. However, the Republicans were divided among themselves. Garfield was one of the Moderates, who were pushing an anti-corruption platform that included eliminating the spoils system. The Moderates had the upper hand, but needed the support of their opposite number, the Stalwarts, who defended the spoils system. Because of this, Garfield chose Arthur, a widely respected Stalwart, for his running mate. The Stalwarts hoped that this would mean that Garfield would at least compromise, but as it turned out, Garfield was not the compromising kind. In any case, a mentally disturbed man named Charles Guiteau had done some campaigning for Garfield, and he expected his spoils. When it became clear he wasn't getting any, he shot Garfield in the back, and reportedly shouted as he was led away, "I am the Stalwart of Stalwarts and Arthur will be President!" The Stalwarts were now the ones in charge. To the surprise of everyone, however, Arthur the Stalwart managed to do what none of the Moderates did, and perhaps what none of them could have done: he forced the reforms through. The assassination had apparently convinced him that something absolutely had to be done, and Arthur the Stalwart broke the Stalwarts. His most famous act in this regard was hammering through Congress the Pendleton Act, which established the Civil Service as a non-appointed executive for all but the highest positions in government. But he also pushed so hard on the star routes investigation that no amount of bribery could turn it aside. The conspiracies were shut down and prosecution trials were held. Alas, almost no one was convicted; Arthur could terrorize the executive branch into doing the right thing, but the courts have the ultimate say in such matters, and almost all government officials involved went off scot free, being defended by lawyers like Robert Ingersoll who could work the court system. But the mere fact of doing what he could to kill government corruption should earn Arthur a relatively high place on any list of the greatest American Presidents. Mark Twain once said of Arthur that no one had ever entered the Office of the President under such suspicion or left it so respected; this was a bit of an exaggeration, since you don't overturn political systems without making bitter enemies, but it is true that the public was tired of the sort of corruption they could see in things like the star routes scandal, and Arthur was the first one to do something that wasn't merely a band-aid solution.

Star routes continued -- technically they still exist, although since 1970 it has been under a different name -- but the fraud was shut down. Civil service is susceptible to corruption, but it is a different kind of corruption, and it is at least resistant to the large-scale collusion and winking that infected the patronage system it replaced.

All this has been coming to mind as I've been reading Haycox's The Adventurers; the protagonist, Mark Sheridan, is trying to make his fortune in Oregon, and one part of his plan is the establishing of a western Oregon mail line. The ins and outs of establishing such a business are actually one of the most fascinating parts of the book. The book is set earlier than any of this -- about three-quarters of the way through, Oregon gets news of the Battle of Appomattox -- but one sees precisely the things that will make the later problems possible -- the need to be not just provably competent but to curry favor, the power of having a Senator in your debt, the cunning and calculating use of favors and personal connections to get rich.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Some Links of Note, Noted

* Another reason to think that we live in the calamitous decline of Western civilization: eroticizing Jane Austen novels. One feels that one should be shocked by the impropriety in some way, but one finds that one is simply bored with the bad taste and bad writing of it all. On the plus side, most of us will be able to tell our grandchildren exactly where the modern life became a demented parody of itself, just a long series of juvenile fantasies tastelessly and arbitrarily embedded in the legacy we have been given.

* What would (likely) happen if you pitched a baseball at 90% the speed of light?

* Robert Yanal on Two Gaps in Hume's Essay on Taste

* Talkeetna, Alaska, has a cat for a mayor. He recently reached his fifteenth year in office. The town, while functionally a town of about 900 people, is technically a historical district, and therefore the mayoral office is mostly an honorary and ceremonial position, anyway, but Mayor Stubbs has done excellent in the work in representing the town, since he's considerably increased tourism, bringing quite a bit of money into the little place.

* If I were a rich man, this is the sort of thing I would be tempted to fritter away my money on: Castles for Sale

* Catherine Hundleby is building a web resource for teachers of critical thinking courses.

* An interesting summary of the defense obligations of the US to other countries.

Exists and Every

The Maverick Philosopher has a second van Inwagen argument for the univocity of 'exists' up:

1. 'Every' is univocal.

2. ''Exist(s)' and 'every' are interdefinable: 'Fs exist' is equivalent to 'It is not the case that everything is not an F.'


3. 'Exist(s)' is univocal.

He seems to regard this one as better, but it seems to me to be even more obviously bad. The first one just went imprecise at exactly the point at which it needed to be precise, but this one is just plain. Let's consider the underlying reason for (2) a moment:

(A) 'Fs exist' is equivalent to 'It is not the case that everything is not an F.'

This is in fact only true if it is understood in the following way:

(A') 'At least some Fs exist' is equivalent to 'It is not the case that everything that exists is not an F'.

If 'Fs exist' in (A) were indefinite in quantity, in the strict sense that it were impossible to say whether it were universal or particular, the claim would not be true; 'Fs exist' would be equivalent to a disjunction. Nor can we merely assume that it is particular, because, while rare, universals of this kind do exist, and are meaningful because they could be argued over, e.g.:

Every possible God exists.
Every possible world exists.

In the same way, 'everything' has to be taken to mean 'everything that exists', because if it means something else, e.g., 'everything that I am thinking might exist', the equivalence is lost.

All this is, of course, far more consistent with the way we usually think of this interdefinability, which is not in terms of the interdefinability of 'exists' and 'every' but in terms of the interdefinability of 'at least some' and 'every'. But when we look at the argument again, we see that (A') does not establish (2); 'exists' is found on both sides, and there's no way to cash out the 'exists' in 'everything that exists' in terms of another 'every' because that would in this case just lead to infinite regress -- the new 'every' could only maintain the equivalence if it were understood to mean 'everything that exists', i.e., 'It is not the case that everything that exists among everything that exists is not an F'.

If we were to put it in broadly Boolean algebraic terms rather than Fregean terms, this would all admit of the easy and obvious diagnosis that van Inwagen's (2) confuses two distinct logical functions, that of the logical domain (indicated by 'exists', although there are reasons to think that this word on its own leaves the domain insufficiently defined and that more background is needed) and that of the logical quantity (indicated by 'every', which tells us how much of the domain is included in the claim). Of course, van Inwagen is not himself operating in Boolean terms but Fregean terms, and Fregeans tend not to think one needs a precisely defined domain in the way that the old algebraic logicians did.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


One of the true heroes of the nineteenth century was a French military doctor named Dominique-Jean Larrey. Larrey was the chief surgeon of Napoleon's army and has claim to be considered one of the most important doctors of modern times. One of his important innovations was his idea of the flying ambulance. 'Flying artillery' is another name for horse-drawn artillery, which had been radically changing the face of battle. Originally, field hospitals (called ambulances, short form of hôpital ambulant = walking hospital) for the wounded were required to maintain a certain distance from the battlefield; they would have to be carried back to pick-up points, which meant in practice that they were simply left on the field until the battle was over. They would then have to be picked up and carried to where they could get treatment. It was pretty clear to everyone in those war-stricken days that this was not a very good way of doing things, but the big problem is finding alternatives that are genuinely better than what they are trying to replace. What Larrey proposed was that there should be horse-drawn ambulances that could go actually go out on the field in the wake of the horse-drawn artillery; hence the name 'flying hospitals' or 'flying ambulances'. This turned out to be trickier than it sounds; moving the wounded is difficult business, and most ordinary means of transportation are not very suitable for it at all, and this was particularly true in days before motorized vehicles with suspensions. In fact, what Larrey used after ruling out several alternatives was precisely the horse-drawn version of the same: light carriages mounted on springs to absorb some of the shock of rough terrain. As he summarizes this aspect of his ambulance (remember, 'ambulance' at here is just an abbreviation indicating a mobile hospital; it's the source of our sense of the word, but not the same, since Larrey's 'ambulance' is an entire field staff over three hundred with equipment, formed into divisions):

Each division of ambulance consisted of twelve light carriages on springs for the transportation of the wounded: they were of two sorts, some with two wheels, others with four. The former kind were calculated for flat level countries, the others to carry the wounded across the mountains. The frame of the former resembled an elongated cube, curved on the top: it had two small windows on each side, a folding door opened before and behind. The floor of the body was moveable; and on it were placed a hair mattress, and a bolster of the same, covered with leather. This floor moved easily on the two sides of the body, by means of four small rollers; on the sides were four iron handles through which the sashes of the soldiers were passed, while putting the wounded on the sliding floor. These sashes served instead of litters for carrying the wounded; they were dressed on these floors, when the weather did not permit them to be dressed on the ground.

When the army was engaged in rugged mountains, it was indispensably necessary to have mules, or packhorses, with panniers to carry the materials for dressings, with the surgical instruments, medicines, &c.

The small carriages, Were thirty-two inches wide, and were drawn by two horses. Two patients could conveniently Heat full length in them; to the sides were attach ed several pockets, to receive bottles or other articles necessary for the sick. These carriages united solidity with lightness and elegance.

The second kind of light carriages, on springs, was a chariot with four wheels; the body of which was larger and longer than those with two wheels, but of a similar form; it was also hung on four springs, and furnished with an immoveable mattress, and the pannels were stuffed a foot in height, like the bodies of the small carriages. The left side of the body opens almost its whole length, by means of two sliding doors, so as to permit the'wounded to be laid in a horizontal position. Small windows disposed at proper distances have a good effect in ventilating the carriage. A hand-barrow may be fix ed under these carriages for various useful purposes.

The large carriages also have pockets, and behind, a place to carry forage; they were drawn by four horses, and had two drivers. In these carriages four men might lie with their legs slightly contracted.

A hospital that moves. The idea, of course, worked brilliantly, although it took an extraordinary amount of practical ingenuity to get into feasible shape. Battles had become increasingly fluid, and field medicine had to become correspondingly fluid. There were other systems that attempted to address this; Larrey's just ended up being the most effective. But the influence was not merely one way: the introduction of Larrey-style ambulance divisions increased the chances of soldiers surviving increasingly dangerous battle situations and boosted morale of the soldiers. Whereas before a soldier might have to wait for hours or days, under Larrey's system a soldier could usually get treatment within fifteen minutes of having been wounded, and less than a few hours under the worst conditions.

But the single most important idea Larrey had was that of triage. Originally, when resources or time were limited (which is usually the case in the field), they would be distributed according to the perceived importance of the patient, which in practice came to rank and whether they could be restored to fighting condition. Larrey organized his field work on an entirely different principle: treatment decisions in such cases would be decided entirely on the basis of purely medical necessity in the pursuit of the purely medical ends of keeping alive and restoring to health, as they came up. It was a revolution in medical ethics, this notion of doctors not prioritizing patients according to preconceived notions but according to severity and urgency of purely medical need. It is a principle that, strictly followed, guarantees that the many judgment calls that have to be made in the field do not turn into slippery slopes; it is a principle admitting of a more reasonable justification than most alternatives; and it is one that treats human beings like human beings while at the same time doing justice to the hardships of extreme situations. Where it is newly implemented, there is medical and ethical progress; where it is forgotten -- and there is always temptation to mingle it with the very same kind of principle it was developed to replace -- medicine and especially medical ethics regress as practical disciplines. It is not a perfect solution, nor a universal principle; but as a way of handling situations with no perfect solution it was a medical and ethical revolution.

He saved extraordinary numbers of people in extraordinarily difficult situations, facing difficult conditions with genius and bravery. It is said that at Waterloo Wellington noted Larrey on the battlefield, ordered his men to avoid shooting him and his assistants, and doffed his hat in salute to him. Of course, he was very much a soldier as well; he once drew his sword and charged a group of soldiers trying to run away from a battle, screaming at them to stop being cowards and to help their comrades. And he was a great admirer of Napoleon, who in turn admired him. But in many ways he approached the ideal of a doctor and a physician: compassionate, brilliant, practical, fair, putting his patients above even his own safety.

Larrey died July 25, 1842, at the age of 76.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Many Receptions of Hume's Essay on Miracles

R. Joseph Hoffman has an interesting, but in many ways peculiar, post on (among other things) the course of how Hume's essay on miracles was read. Some comments (you should read his post first).

(1) He says:

But what really convinces you that what you do as a Christian of any denomination is the right thing to do is what theologians in the eighteenth century, the great period after the Newtonian revolution of the seventeenth, called "Christian Evidences."

What puzzles me about this is that this is, as far as I can see, anachronistic. 'Christian Evidences' is a nineteenth-century term. I can't think of any work prior to the 1800's that uses the term [i.e., in this precise sense], and (while its datasets are somewhat patchy) Google N-Gram bears out my memory (looking at the datasets, at least some of the pre-1800 bumps are clear false positives, e.g., a magazine issue filed under the wrong date). To be sure, there were things done in the eighteenth century that would later be called Christian Evidences (especially on the subject of miracles), usually arising from anti-deist arguments, but it's really the 19th century that consolidates Christian Evidences as a field and gives it a name. And it's not surprising why -- there is one author who, above all others, contributes to making it a distinctive and unified field, and that is none other than William Paley, whose View of the Evidences of Christianity, published in 1794, is what really gave the term its vogue as Paley became more and more a key part of standard curriculum in the nineteenth century. All those manuals of Christian Evidences are imitating, refining, correcting, and building on Paley. It's a nineteenth century thing.

(2) Hoffman says that Hume appeals to "common sense"; but a reading of the essay shows that this is not at all that to which Hume appeals. He appeals rather to some controversial elements of Humean epistemology. For instance, he appeals to the counterpoise of ideas, an idea that was roundly ridiculed for nearly a hundred years as incoherent and absurd, because it makes sense only if you have essentially conceded all the major points of Hume's particular variety of empiricism.

(3) Hoffman identifies as Hume's conclusion what is in fact only the conclusion to Part I. Now this gets into thorny interpretive territory -- there is no general agreement among Hume scholars as to what, precisely, Hume means by the conclusion of Part I. But one thing that is quite clear is that, however it is interpreted, it is not Hume's conclusion, but a secondary conclusion on the way to his conclusion, which is that, while there is nothing that absolutely rules out reasonably believing a miracle has happened on testimony, if the testimony is sufficiently good (he explicitly gives a hypothetical example later in which he proposes the testimony would be sufficiently good), nonetheless religious miracles and especially miracles serving to found religions, always involve so much potential distortion of judgment by the passions that no testimony for them has ever reached the level of testimonial quality that would be required.

However, much of the post is quite interesting, and the history of how the essay was read is definitely worth some reflection.

Nearly everyone thought that Hume's essay on miracles was obvious sophistry when it came out; and within a decade and a half of its publication, it was generally thought to have been decisively refuted by George Campbell's Dissertation on Miracles. Within a century, it was widely thought to have been devastatingly ridiculed by Richard Whately's Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte. Babbage's Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, published in 1837 and despite the name not actually a Bridgewater Treatise, put Hume to the test of Bayesian mathematics and concluded that the theory of probability told against Hume, and proposed a computer-based model for miracles that got around all of Hume's strictures. Ironically, Christian Evidences probably helped keep Hume's argument alive: it was the best argument against believing in miracles available, so it became the argument everyone refuted. But the refutations passed, as fashions pass, and Hume had even then, here and there, his defenders. And after the fall of British idealism, the rise of respect for Hume in general began, and Hume's discussion of miracles benefitted from more sympathetic readers who had never even heard of Campbell, knew nothing of Whately's mockery, and had never read Babbage's non-Bridgewater reflections on the Bridgewater approach to natural theology.

And thus the essay on miracles sees the rise in its fortunes as it increasingly became a staple of undergraduate philosophy courses, a rise that went largely unabated until Earman's publication of Hume's Abject Failure (in, if I recall correctly, 2000) revised and extended Babbage's argument and led to the current state of the field, which consists largely of anti-Hume Bayesian interpreters (building on Earman), pro-Hume Bayesian interpreters (increasingly, it seems, a minority, although it has some notable defenders, like Peter Millican, although most of them will now also argue that the pure Humean argument needs modification), and a very diverse group of people like myself who, despite having no problem with Bayesian statistics, think Bayesian epistemology is cracked, and don't think Hume's epistemology is accurately represented or reasonably interpreted in Bayesian terms at all. The only real agreement on Hume's essay these days is that it's hard to interpret. What's the actual relation between Part I and Part II? What does Hume mean when he talks about weighing entire proofs against each other? What is the underlying theory of laws of nature in the argument? What's the actual relation to Tillotson's anti-transubstantiation argument, which Hume claims (almost certainly with deliberate mischief) is parallel? Does Hume's argument, especially in Part II, really have the adequate explanation for the propagation of miracle stories that it would need? What is the point of the eight days of darkness example? Does the argument he gives actually yield the conclusions he says it does? Why does he end up restricting his claim to religious miracles? All of these are currently matters of some dispute. After being read for decades as pretty obvious and simple, it is now read as a thornily difficult bit of argument, even by people who think the argument works. Part of this has to do with the turning of Fortune's wheel with regard to the interpretation of Hume himself: in the nineteenth century he was largely read as a pretty wacky and immoderate skeptic, full of paradoxes that were built on arguments that, while perhaps clever, could never convinced a reasonable person because they would require him to affirm ignorance about things like whether he was the same person yesterday that he is today. For much of the middle of the twentieth century he was read as a positivist avant la lettre. As positivism itself declined, he began to be read as a mildly skeptical naturalist, cresting perhaps with the New Hume debate, which is still in some sense going on. And it's still too early to say how this century will treat Hume. Every phase of interpretation has reinterpreted the essay on Miracles to read Hume in its own light, so it has shown itself to be amenable to a rather wide variety of interpretations.

Contrastives and Reduplication

I've been thinking of contrastive clauses recently, and as it happens an interesting example of the importance of contrastive phrases came up recently. You may be aware of the recent uproar about Chick-fil-A and gay marriage. According to certain news reports, "'Guilty as charged,', Cathy said when asked about his company's support of the traditional family unit as opposed to gay marriage." The problem is that if you actually compare reports, you realize that Cathy wasn't asked about "his company's support of the traditional family unit as opposed to gay marriage" and doesn't seem to have said anything about gay marriage; rather, he seems to have been asked a vague question about his company's explicit support of the traditional family, and he responded with the vague answer that Chick-fil-A was guilty as charged, and were very supportive of the traditional family. And as Terry Mattingly points out, this doesn't tell us anything about gay marriage. Whatever Cathy himself may have meant, 'supporting the traditional family' and 'supporting the traditional family as opposed to gay marriage' are two distinct things; they do not have the same logical implications and they really do need to be distinguished.

In any case, I find contrastive clauses interesting, since I find reduplication interesting and contrastive phrases are clearly kinds of reduplicative phrases. Reduplicative phrases are interesting in themselves because they can often have significant logical effects. Ignoring a reduplication can result in ignoratio elenchi, for instance, which shows that reduplication affects what's being talked about. Likewise, if for any S, R, T, and P, and for a Q that is inconsistent with P, I say, "S qua R is P" and "S qua T is Q," it's entirely possible that the two are consistent, even though S is P and S is Q, without the reduplication, are inconsistent. For instance, "Mary as mayor has the authority to close the street" is not inconsistent with "Mary as concerned parent does not have the authority to close the street". Another example of somewhat different construction: "This theory T is capable of adequately explaining the U.S. flag as a physical object" is consistent with "This theory T is not capable of adequately explaining the U.S. flag as a social symbol."

Contrastive phrases work reduplicatively in this way. If I say, "This theory T explains physical objects rather than social symbols," the "rather than social symbols" adds something of considerable importance beyond the bare statement, "This theory T explains physical objects". Likewise, saying "This theory T explains physical objects rather than social symbols" is different altogether from "This theory T explains physical objects rather than physical processes." Another example: "Why do you rob banks rather than robbing houses?" is a radically different question from "Why do you rob banks rather than not robbing anything at all?" It's an interesting question, and for which I don't have any sure answers, as to whether the contrastive character makes for important logical differences when compared with other kinds of reduplicative expressions; but it does seem that every contrastive expression "as opposed to R" is equivalent to the reduplicative expressions "as not-R" and "insofar as it is not-R", although this is not entirely adequate because many contrastive expressions are linked with ordinariy reduplicatives.

Reduplicatives and contrastives can be considered relevance-restrictors. As such they they seem to suggest that the proper logic for dealing with them is a modal logic. In philosophy one most often finds discussion of reduplicatives and contrastives in the context of contrastive explanation (answers to questions of the form "Why X rather than Y?"), but remarkably I can find nothing in the literature linking considerations of contrastive explanations with modal considerations. (Perhaps I have overlooked it?) Possibly this is because philosophers still have the nasty and out-of-date habit of thinking of modal logic in terms of possible worlds, and possible worlds are clearly not relevant here. What is relevant are aspects. In this sense, at least some reduplication seems to work somewhat like a ◊ -- "S qua R is P" is like saying "S in some aspect, namely, R, is P," which is different from saying "S in every aspect is P" and thus is consistent with "S in some aspect T is not P". Diamond modalities break contradictions in a similar way. But other kinds of reduplication, e.g., "Being qua being is the subject of metaphysics," are more complicated, and I'm not even sure where to begin with contrastives in particular.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Two Poem Drafts


The specters sport beneath the stars
as sighing winds make trees to sway;
the rustle of dark leaves to far
and distant dryads softly prays;
and you and I with shadows play
where echoes of those dryads are.

Madame Bovary

As April opens, primula glances
at warm winds passing in happenstances,
the gardens make ready for summer dances.
Through arbor lattice and out away
a river wanders, warm from day,
amid the grasses in curves that sway.
Leafless poplars enwreathed in gauze
on violet evenings drift and pause.
The cattle munch with grassy jaws
as bell from an exalted station
sounds Angelus adoration
in unceasing lamentation.

Dashed Off

Part of what makes Aristotle so powerful is that his solutions are often simultaneously historical solutions and analytical solutions.

People always only believe as it suits them; what matters is what has to be the case for something to suit them.

Whether criticism is constructive depends not only on content but also on timing.

Since disquotation is a change of supposition, it smuggles in correspondence.

Readiness to appear is discovered in interaction.

using appearances to stand for what appears

the spiritual as expressed in the intentional, the intelligible, and the personal

Apparently dead and desiccated arguments revive and flourish when put again in the right context.

All philosophical arguments can be given metaphorical presentation.

Even what is due can be given as a gift; this is part of the secret of charity.

Critical thought is a manner and not a content.
Many people make the mistake of thinkign they have critical thought when all they have is a theory about critical thought.

the Odyssey as a poem about home and hospitality as the foundations of civilized life

necessity as superpotentiality
necessity as superactuality
possibility as subpotentiality
possibility as subactuality

We establish witnesses to deed so as to facilitate proof of particular contingent events.

philosophical, poetical, and political theology in pagan thought (schools, dramatic festivals, temples)

confidence as a sort of hope in oneself

the First Amendment as rights of conscience (direct & indirect)
the First Amendment as rights of association
the First Amendment as rights of self-governance (and therein as checks against the government)

good of actual being, good of activity, good of extrinsic goal

good of means to desired end, good of desired end, good of achievement of desired end (satisfaction of desire)

misfiled arguments & the deliberate misfiling of arguments as a rhetorical maneuver

Whenever anything seems intuitive, we should ask why it appeals.

sensation as image vs. sensation as trace

a mereology of subdivisions, components & subsidiaries
wholes, qualifications, partitions, incompletions, & completions

the mereology of instrumental power (part as instrument)

supposition theory & the elements in a model

conditions of severabilty for subarguments

dialectical, rhetorical, and poetic syllogisms as indicators of free will

To think about: Kant's theory of the sublime makes a certain amoutn of sense for the musical sublime; it treats all sublimity s if it affected us, and was recognized, in the way of musical sublimity.

persistence of object, linear sequence, measurable time

If all that blackens were black, an unblackened black thing would have to exist, and it would have to be black necessarily and always.

What we actually ahve are not prior and posterior probabilities but probable inferences, and what is actually important is how evidence changes probable inferences.

Kant's argument against means of grace depends crucially on the assumption that divine aid will aim at nothing but morality.

Since we are partly shaped by the company we keep, we must find ways to keep company with saints.

People refusing to make philosophy the handmaiden of theology invariably make her the handmaiden of something less exalted.

Demanding that actual persuasion be the standard of proof or good argument is demanding that reason be held hostage to the person who is most stupid.

tradition as the handing down of Scripture, not merely as a text but as a rule, as a gift, and as a proclamation

the words of Scripture carried on the breath of man and on the Breath of God

One can imagine a culture that classifies arguments heraldically.

aisthesis, mneme, empeiria, epagoge, nous
- each of these can be called a direct cognition

The grace of baptism is the act of Christ in session as mediator.

Apologetics is primarily concerned not with persuasion but with rational persuasibility.

life as the occasion of confession
life on the occasion of confession

In an imperfect world to live without remorse is a sign of damnation.

There are many kinds of absolution received in the confessional.

Confession is necessary for repentance because truth is necessary for repentance.

Only one who can forgive can truly see the image of God in a human being.

Occasional cause as incentive marks practical opportunity for achieving final cause.

reparative vs. nonreparative excuses
reparative vs. nonreparative apologies

We do not know that we truly love our neighbor until we know that we love God.

Faith is the victory in hand but not yet seen (1Jn 5). Hope is the reward of such victory, which is not yet in hand but is held in pledge.

Atheistic existentialism: confession to no one and without absolution

3 positions on the good
(1) objective, coextensive with being
(privation theory of evil)
(2) objective, noncoextensive
(some real positive evil)
(3) subjective

The similitude of cognition is not ordinary resemblance. (Aquinas DV 2.3 ad 9)

common-nature similitude vs. representative similitude
(secundum conventiam in natura vs quantum ad repraesentationem)

'Mind unmoved remains; tears fall in vain.'

meritorious, satisfactionary, and impetratory character of each good deed done under grace
--> Christ's deed merits, propitiates, expiates, satisfies, and impetrates, and we participate Christ's deed

Influence of ideas occurs not by logical implication but by perspectival appropriation.

testimony as the sign of reason (Descartes)

Every etiological account of function requires Cuvier-style conditions of existence.

temptation as an instrument of spiritual progress and as a school of humility

Being able to find what is reasonable and rational in what one finds obnoxious is one of the most important skills of critical thinking.

(1) proper to subject in itself
(2) proper to subject in its species
(3) property
(4) accident

corporate rights as indirect protections of individual rights

prayer unto detachment as the task of beginners

perinoetic & dianoetic features of inquiry

Christmas as the feast of the Headship of Christ (cf Leo, On the Feast of Nativity 6.2)

senses as prima facia quia-notices

writing as a musical score each person performs for himself

liturgy as a series of expansions and contractions of shared attention

Newman & Purgatory as catharsis

Children must learn that they are not entitled to do whatever they please. Likewise, the Decalogue teaches humanity that we are not entitled to do whatever we please -- in matters of time, of worship, of relationship, of property, of sex, of life, of impulses of the heart -- but that there is in each case a prior and more important claim on us. Thus they are right who say that each precept implicitly includes more than the bare grammatical reading suggests; for each is in fact a clear, simple command, dealing with a practical matter of nearly universal experience, indicating such a prior claim; but the prior claim itself is not confined to the occasion in which the precept directly applies, but is a claim on a whole region of human life. Thus we see one way in which the Law is a teaching law; and also the wisdom fo the rabbis in attempting to build a fence out from Torah, for while this can be abused if the spirit is forgotten, it shows a proper recognition of the fact that God teaches through Torah.

There reaches a point in epistemology at which one is trying to illuminate light.

clingy imagination & temptation

If we generalize Kant's account of sublimity to talk abouta sense of the superiority of the supersensible over nature, we get something closer to plausible; the oddities of Kant's account may be due simply to his restriction of the knowable supersensible.

Fine arts are concerned with the cultivation of difficult beauty.

In contract, covenant, treaty, or pact the parties are performing a ritual of friendship; not complete friendship, necessarily, but such friendship as is necessary and adequate for the good fatih, trust, and exchange at hand.
-> friendship & betrayal of friendship as the key to the force of promises

Gricean maxims make sense as causal inference rules, or, at least, rules of thumb. They indicate when we need a further explanation.

Felix Adler: "Marriage is the foundation of all morality." "The supreme festival of humanity is marriage." "The social end of marriage is to perpetuate the physical and spiritual existence of the human race, and to enhance and improve it." "The idea that marriage should cease when love ceases is a doctrine abhhorrent and blasphemous, because it forbids the performance of this supreme duty of maintaining and enhancing the spiritual life of hte world." "Marriage is fundamentally holy because it is the foundatio nof humans. All the humanities have their origin in the home. All the virtues draw from it their nourishment." "The love of husband and wife is an epitome of every other kind of love."

closure principles, e.g., the cause of every actual effect is actual
isomorphism principles, e.g., causes of the same kind have effects of the same kind
symmetry principles, e.g., differences in effects indicate differences in their causes, and vice versa

Connections may be tenuous without being nonexistent.

consensus gentium
(1) interpreted as an argument from authority
(2) interpreted as an argument to human nature
(3) interpreted as an argument for rational convergence

varieties of philosophical experience
(1) the aporetic
(2) the tranquil (cf. ataraxia)
(3) the contemplative

James's account of the value of states of mind is Humean.

Philosophy of X, where x is a discipline, is always merged with X because it is X approached philosophically. This does not, of course, imply that there is no distinction between X and phliosophical approach to X; rather, X and philosophy of X have the material of X in common and only differ in taht, in the latter, philosophy is a form of the form of X (so to speak). Philosophy of X is materially X (but X is not materially X, unless we are equivocating; the matter of X is what X studies).

the use of standing, working hypotheses in historical scholarship

the multiple realizability of genius and taste

Evolutionary debunking arguments always presuppose at least a broadly empiricist epistemology, and thus are always susceptible to the problems of empiricist epistemology.

sacraments as signs of allegiance

intellectual purity with imaginative richness

inheritance & deference; inheritance & loyalty
-> inheritance as a moral notion, moral inheritance

regular, irregular, & accidental metamorphosis

the plant-ocean teeming with insects

Confirmation is never sharp, but always through a haze, i.e., a difficulty of confirmation.

It is not the experiment that confirms or disconfirms, but the ordered network of experiments, precisely as ordered.

liturgical vestment of ethics

In the fine arts we see clearly that the intellectual word is not mere language, in nature or in expression.

Barth attributes a genuine understanding of the Church and of grace to Kant, and Niebuhr calls him the most Protestant of all philosophers.

Musical imitation is abstract, stylized, and by way of signs partly confentional and partly natural. (Note that this is just as true of many kinds of pictorial imitation.)

Music does not so much express feelings as impress them.

dance as the art of hylemorphic union

Gilson seems to overmaterialize poetry; this becomes clear when he touches on translation and on didactic poetry. The material aspect of poetry is important and ineliminable, but if you copy a marble statue crudely in wood you still have something of the original, and the didactic and so forth is an orientation of poetry, not something completely distinct. (He seems to have been misled on this by Housman's exaggerated dualism.)

Always wanting things in summary form is a mental disease.

plurality of forms as suitable to artifacts

Cohen: God as regulative idea of eternity of the arena for moral action
->Cohen, unlike Kant, sees the link as not desert & happiness but nature & moral action (Cohen doesn't think happiness should enter here at all)

the messianic idea of a unity humankind

Actual populations are not generated by chance but by previous actual populations.

One danger of politics is its extraordinary power to make people exasperated with good deeds.

the superfecundity of intellect, exceeding the means of discursive reason to explicate

Darwin underestimates the monkey's mind.

We think according to the analogies we allow ourselves.

Anthropomorphism cannot be identified without a relevantly precise account of what is uniquely human.

Emphasis on originality always results in spasmodism.

law as the civic analogue of agriculture

irrational numbers & negative theology

Necessary truths do not exclude contingent truths, nor are they separated from them; they simply do not necessitate them. Likewise in the reverse direction.

Miracles do not demonstrate, but they do pose challenges.

pesher as a mosaic method of interpretation (playing texts off each other verbally to form patterns)

computers as philosophy machines (Ted Nelson)

The species just is the genus, differentiated.

defeasible transitivity of preferences

mathematical induction as box given diamond seriality

People constantly confuse just grievance and just cause.

Forgiveness is possible because not all that is fitting is based on desert or merit.

Faith is as large as the world, and as richly varied; it has mountains and oceans, glaciers and lavaflows, jungles and deserts.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Book a Week, July 22

After so much heavy fiction recently, I need a bit of a break, so we're taking a slimmer and I hope easier volume this week, Ernest Haycox's The Adventurers, another volume from my grandfather's library that I haven't read yet. Haycox was a native of Portland, Oregon; he was a prolific writer, managing to write twelve novels and over three hundred short stories. In his day he was very highly regarded; he was, for instance, one of Ernest Hemingway's favorite authors. Except for some early works set in the American Revolution, his works seem to be all Western fiction: cowboys, frontiers, pioneers, and the like. Several of his stories were made into movies; one of his short stories, in fact, was made into a John Wayne movie, Stagecoach. Haycox is usually listed as among the greats of the genre, along with notable names like Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey, so it should at least be enjoyable light reading.