Saturday, September 15, 2012

Edna Ferber, Cimarron


Opening Passage:

All the Venables sat at Sunday dinner. All those handsome inbred Venable faces were turned, enthralled, toward Yancey Cravat, who was talking. The combined effect was almost blinding, as of incandescence; but Yancey Cravat was not bedazzled. A sun surrounded by lesser planets, he gave out a radiance so powerful as to dim the luminous circle about him.

Summary: Cimarron is the story of Sabra Cravat, née Venable, who marries the larger-than-life Yancey Cravat, but it keeps forgetting that; the story begins with Yancey, it ends with Yancey, and gets its name from Yancey (whose nickname was Cimarron). Structurally it is the story of how women like Sabra Cravat tamed the Oklahoma Territory, but it cannot break free from the romantic appeal of Yancey Cravat, who, despite being out of the story for large sections of the book, nonetheless lingers throughout as a background image that cannot be erased. In a sense, of course, this mirrors how we think about frontiers and pioneers. Frontiers are civilized by hard work, intelligent organization, and a deliberate attempt to break down the impediments to 'soft living' and the like; but what we remember about frontiers are the wild and crazy parts, the semi-legends and quasi-myths that spring up whenever human beings face the dangers of the wilderness to say that here cities will nonetheless rise. I'm reminded of a passage in Louis L'Amour's Sackett in which someone comes upon the main character, a rough-and-tumble cowboy, and discovers to her surprise that he is reading Blackstone's commentary on the laws of England. It's an image with a point. The West was won by people who insisted on law and order, and kept insisting on law and order, so that law and order spread despite local setbacks; not people slinging guns but people reading Blackstone. But this is the long, tedious work of endless numbers of people, most of whom are hardly even remembered; what strikes the mind with force is instead the madness at the edges, where law breaks down or struggles against lawlessness.

I don't think the novel is a complete success because of this. It could have taken the route of showing the struggle between these two aspects of pioneer life, but while this does get some showing in the novel, especially toward the beginning, it is not consistent enough throughout to give us more than vague indications. It could have focused on the longsuffering Sabra, and structurally it does, but Yancey seems pretty much to get a free pass throughout the whole, just because he's picturesque. It could have focused on Yancey, but then it would have to have been a novel all of edges, all frontier and no civilizing of it. It could have been the story of the town of Osage, using the Cravats just as reference points. As it is, it can't make up its mind which of these it wants to be, and so doesn't quite do justice to any of them.

The Osage Indians also don't get a fair shake through the book; the white liberalism of the novel can see them as people but can't see things from their perspective.

Favorite Passage: This is Yancey Cravat speaking.

"...You can't read the history of the United States, my friends" (all this he later used in an Oklahoma Fourth of July speech when they tried to make him Governor) "without learning the great story of those thousands of unnamed women--women like this one I've described--women in mud-caked boots and calico dresses and sunbonnets, crossing the prairies and the desert and the mountains enduring hardship and privation. Good women, with a terrible and rigid goodness that comes of work and self-denial. Nothing picturesque or romantic about them, I suppose--though occasionally one of them flashes--Belle Starr the outlaw--Rose of the Cimarron--Jeanette Daisy who jumped from a moving Santa Fé train to stake her claim--but the others--no, their story's never really been told. But it's there, just the same. And if it's ever told straight you'll know it's the sunbonnet and not the sombrero that has settled this country."

Recommendation: As Ferber says in her foreword, "Only the more fantastic and improbable events contained in this book are true." This is a very well-done local color kind of novel, with an interesting set of characters, although it never quite manages to decide what it wants to do with them. If you like Western tales, this is a good one, and takes a rather different approach from that which most Westerns take.

Undercutting Defeaters

I decided to look at how people use 'undercutting defeater'. Because it's a lazy Saturday morning, I am only using online sources and am not being very systematic; it's just to further make my point about the ambiguous use.

Undercutting defeat as local
Typically used in discussions of defeasible reasoning

* Robert Koons's SEP article on Defeasible Reasoning: "give one a reason for doubting that the usual relationship between the premises and the conclusion hold in the given case" and "provide a reason for doubting that q provides any support, in the actual circumstances, for r"

* Thomas Kelly's SEP article on Evidence: "Intuitively, where E is evidence for H, an undercutting defeater is evidence which undermines the evidential connection between E and H. "

* John Pollock, How to Build a Person: A Prolegomena: "Undercutting defeaters attack the connection between the reason and the conclusion rather than attacking the conclusion directly. Where P is a prima facie reason for Q, R is an undercutting defeater if and only if R is a reason for denying that P would not be true unless Q were true." [Note, incidentally, that this is an extraordinarily generous account of what counts as an undercutting defeater: an inference could have many undercutting defeaters in this sense and still be an excellent inference -- indeed, could still be the most rational inference available. This connects with another common ambiguity in discussions of undercutting defeaters, namely, whether they are supposed to be reasons to think the inference could give the wrong answer under some circumstances, or whether they are supposed to be reasons to think the inference fails, simply speaking. There are also very different things, since on one having an undercutting defeater is extremely common and no big deal and on the other it is devastating to an argument. I think this ambiguity arises a byproduct of the local/global ambiguity, but I'm not certain; it may just be due to the associations people have with the words 'undercut' and 'defeat' interacting with what one wants to use 'undercutting defeater' to talk about.]

* J. Anthony Blair, Groundwork in the Theory of Argumentation: "An undercutting defeater is an argument whose conclusion is the negation of the inference from the evidence to the conclusion of the argument it aims to defeat."

Undercutting defeat as global
Typically used in discussions of justification, reliabilism, etc.

* Michael Sudduth's article on Defeaters in Epistemology: "An undercutting defeater for some belief that p is a reason (in the broad sense) for no longer believing p, not for believing the negation of p (Pollock, 1986, p. 39). More specifically, it is a reason for supposing that one’s ground for believing p is not sufficiently indicative of the truth of the belief."

cf. also Michael Sudduth's article, "Reformed Epistemology and Christian Apologetics": "An undercutting defeater is an overriding reason for supposing that the grounds of some belief that p are inadequate, i.e., do not provide the appropriate sort of support for the belief that p."

* Thomas Grundman, "Reliabilism and the Problem of Defeaters": "evidence for the unreliability of the source of her belief....defeaters are evidence which removes justification"

* William P. Alston, Realism and Anti-Realism: "An undercutting defeater undermines the rationality of holding a belief not by entailing or supporting its denial but rather by calling into question the soundness of its grounds."

I found it much easier to find examples of people defining undercutting defeaters in the local way, but most of the examples of the phrase in use that I've come across are global -- I think it's just that people specifically talking about defeasible reasoning are much more likely to give an actual definition than simply take it as known to everybody or clarify by example alone.

Poem a Day XV

Prayer of the Elements

Almighty God, may all throughout the earth adore
your everlasting name, and may they come to see
Beauty in your Teaching, like beryl bright
written on the tablets and on Moses' face.
Call your people home, Creator of the earth,
and give to them the Land. What is this Land?
Dwelling in your Doctrine, in Sabbath-rest,
living in meditation on your Law, your Holy Word.
Everlasting is the excellence of the one
who rests within the fortress of your Word,
Fearing your Holy Name, forbearing from all sin,
singing out your praises on the Temple Mount.
Great is your Name, O Lord, great your Glory,
wherever your people are, your Presence rests there,
Heavy with the holiness of your Name;
whoever studies Torah bears eternal weight.
I was rooted in iniquity, transgression,
covered with deep waters, in dark despair;
Justice raised me out, returned my joy,
when it kissed most holy mercy beneath your Throne.
King of heaven, Keeper of the just,
let mercy and truth be joined in righteous peace,
Let your lovingkindness rain with grace
on those who seek your Teaching and your Way,
Making them to live in the Mercy of your Light
that they may dwell long days in your Land.
Never let them fall into nothing, Lord,
but give to them the wisdom of your Way;
Open to them the ocean, the floodgates, of your Truth,
each moment an age of ages to praise your Holy Name;
Pour on them your Presence like oil of gladness
scented with your Splendor, your victorious might.
Quiet am I before you, Lord, but by you quickened,
as David in the Psalm was stilled to knowledge;
Raise me, Lord, unto the righteousness of your Way,
as you will raise Israel in the coming of your day,
Save me from my foes; I seek your Splendor
and from your Holy Doctrine I do not seek to stray,
Truth alone I seek; I seek it in your Teaching,
and in reverence unto you I hope to pass may days
Up on your Temple mount, your unction on my heart,
reciting out the Psalms, living by your Torah,
Victorious not in arms, but in the holy virtue
your Word alone can give, as you alone give life,
Wondering at your Wisdom, in which I feast
with overflowing cup for everlasting days.
Xenodochial have been your dealings, mercy your xenium,
the hospitality of your gifts a holy theoxeny;
You alone are worthy, from yore to now
to everlasting age, you alone are worthy of all praise.
Zealous shall we be for Torah; zeal shall I have for your House;
with zeal, O Lord, Most Holy, lift up your servants.

(Yes, X was hard; but 'xenodochial' and 'xenium' should be widely used words, anyway, because they actually are pretty handy words to know. Use one today!)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cohen on the Sabbath

The Sabbath became the most effective patron and protector of the Jewish people. All through the Middle Ages they led an existence almost like that of slaves. Even now not all of this has disappeared. But when the Sabbath candles are lightened, the Jew in the Ghetto threw away all the toil of his daily life. All insult was shaken off. God's love, which once more brought him the Sabbath on every seventh day, also brought back to him, in his lowly hut, his honor and his human rights.

Even today the scholars dispute -- in self-mockery and ignorance -- what in the last instance could have effected the continuance of the Jews. They do not want to acknowledge the truth of the unique God as the final reason for it. They prefer to make the law responsible for it. They think that they are at the same time able to despise the latter because of its legalistic formality and lack of inwardness.

However, the Sabbath is the most genuine and most intimate representative of the law. And through the Sabbath the law, in accorance with the unique God who loves men, has preserved Judaism as well as the Jews....

Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism, p. 158.

Poem a Day XIV


Sunset swirls,
whirlpool of day
down to night:

I by the phone,
impatient, wait.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Today was the feast of St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church. He was born in Antioch in the fourth century, at a time when Antioch was perhaps the second most important city in the Roman empire. He was never known as 'Chrysostom' in his lifetime; 'Chrysostom' is an agnomen later conferred on him to distinguish him from all other St. Johns; it means 'Golden-mouthed'.

We don't have a very in-focus view of his life. He became deacon for Meletius of Antioch, who was the presiding bishop of the First Council of Constantinople, and was later ordained a priest by Meletius's successor, who was probably Flavian. He was tasked with preaching, and it turned out that he was an impressive preacher. He developed his own style of preaching, which went successively through Scripture and looked at it step by step. His sermons when collected, therefore, made very close, very careful literal commentaries, and would on their own qualify Chrysostom to be considered one of the greatest theologians of his day.

In 397, however, he was suddenly and unexpectedly made Patriarch of Constantinople after the death of Patriarch Nectarius; he was a sort of dark horse, vaulted to the position for little reason other than the fact that he was a brilliant theologian who did not belong to any of the intensely opposed ecclesiastical factions that plagued Constantinople at the time. It was an interesting choice, because Chrysostom, unamused by the frivolity and finery of the capital, set out immediately to engage in an intensive reform of just about everything and to start preaching vehemently against the wealthy of the city. It took some time, but it was inevitable that something bad would happen to St. John; it was impossible to avoid politics in the capital, and Chrysostom, being a powerful preacher who was brilliant and spoke his mind, could hardly have avoided igniting an explosion at some point. At the instigation of the Empress, he was brought up before a synod on trumped-up charges, deposed, and exiled. However, his enemies hadn't quite reckoned on how much the poor of the city loved their Patriarch; they were on the verge of rioting before he was recalled from exile and reinstated. Tensions were still high, though; his enemies still looked for ways to depose him and at least two attempts were made on his life. Finally he was simply dragged out of church one day and sent into exile again. After he left the cathedral went up in flames, burning a large portion of the city with it; his supporters were accused of the arson and executed wherever they were found. Pope Innocent I protested his treatment, but was unable to do much. Chrysostom still had an extensive correspondence, which meant that his enemies couldn't be content even to leave him alone in exile; they captured him again and marched him off to an even more remote location, where he died along the way. His tomb is in Pitsunda, in the modern country of Georgia.

Defeaters and the Apologetics Fallacy

I'm always interested in finding new things that people are calling fallacies, so I was interested in this interesting discussion at "ex-apologist", on 'the Apologetics Fallacy'. The rational flaw is a common one -- I've encountered it most commonly in politics, but I've no doubt it is found in religious apologetics as well -- but I think the characterization of it is a little off here, although for reasons that are understandable.

The basic idea has to do with defeaters. A defeater, to put it quite roughly, is something that shows that an argument fails, either by showing that the conclusion is itself false, or that the premises do not support the conclusion, or both. The first kind is called a rebutting defeater, the second an undercutting defeater. There are kinds of defeaters that can be both, and they occasionally are studied, too. In any case, any reference to defeaters is somewhat complicated by the fact that the label 'undercutting defeater' is used ambiguously. To take just an obvious and handy example: Robert Koons's SEP article on defeasible reasoning characterizes undercutting defeaters as giving one "a reason for doubting that the usual relationship between the premises and the conclusion hold in the given case". Michael Sudduth's IEP article on defeaters in epistemology characterizes an undercutting defeater as "a reason (in the broad sense) for no longer believing p, not for believing the negation of p". These are not equivalent. Koons-undercutting is local: an undercutting defeater of this sort is always a defeater for a given premise set in an argument, showing that it does not support the conclusion. Sudduth-undercutting is global: an undercutting defeater of this sort has to undercut all reasons for holding the conclusion, or it's not a reason for doubting the conclusion. A Koons-undercutter is not necessarily a reason to doubt the conclusion -- there may be other arguments, unaffected, that still support the conclusion -- and a single undercutter can only be both a Koons-undercutter or a Sudduth-undercutter if either (1) there is only one available argument supporting the conclusion; or (2) if more than one argument supports the conclusion, it happens to undercut them all simultaneously. The ambiguity seems quite common, and I think traces back to the fact that philosophers from Pollock on have appealed to defeaters both to discuss particular reasons and to discuss justification of belief. One finds similar ambiguities elsewhere; when people talk about suspending judgment, for instance, they usually mean global suspense (I suspend judgment about P) but sometimes slip into talking as if they meant local suspense (I suspend judgment about P to the extent that judgment that P would be based on this argument). I think in many ways it makes more sense (in terms of simplicity, flexibility, utility, etc.) to talk in terms of Koons-undercutting, but the post in question takes a Sudduth-undercutting approach (an undercutting defeater "neutralizes one's evidence for the truth of P" and "gives one a reason to suspend judgment with respect to P"), so we'll go with that. (Although I should say that the appeal to the Morrison paper as providing a paradigmatic example makes this seem a bit murky: as far as I can see, we have Koons-undercutting there, not Sudduth-undercutting. But I may be missing something.)

Exapologist notes:

An important implication of this is that a defeater D may fail to show that P is false, and yet succeed in indicating a live epistemic possibility that's incompatible with the truth of P. In such a case, D succeeds in showing that B ought to suspend judgment about the truth of P, even though D fails to show that B ought to believe that P is false.

"Live epistemic possibility" in this context means that there is a possibility not ruled out by the evidence (consistent with all the premises of the available arguments that support the conclusion) that entails that P (the conclusion) is false. Earlier in the post exapologist had said, "A common form of undercutting defeater for P is a live epistemic possibility (i.e., a scenario that one's evidence can't rule out as false or unjustified) that, if true, entails that P is false." This is certainly not true as it stands, since all probable arguments are by their nature consistent with live epistemic possibilities in this sense -- if a probable argument could rule out all possibilities entailing the falsehood of its conclusion, it would be a demonstrative argument, not a probable one. 'Liveliness' has to be more robust to account for the undercutting defeaters in question; I'm not sure what the best way to revise the claim would be. Nonetheless, the key point here is that if you have shown that a supposed refutation or objection is not a rebutting defeater, it still might be an undercutting defeater. And this is indeed worth noting.

However, how do we get any fallacy out of this? The idea is that "if a person A asserts that P is true, and another person B offers D as a defeater for P, it's not enough for A to show that D fails to show that P is false; A must also show that D fails to neutralize the evidence for P." I dislike talk about what arguers 'must do', since this rarely does justice to real argumentative situations, and because I firmly believe that obligations of argument and dialectical norms must be negotiated and not merely dictated by fiat, but we can rephrase this pretty easily: if a person A asserts that P is true, and another person B offers D as a defeater for P, if A shows only that D is not a rebutting defeater, it may nonetheless still be a defeater, namely, an undercutting defeater. On the basis of this, we get to the fallacy in the following way

The preceding discussion reveals a dialectical norm: in dialectical contexts of the sort sketched above, a person in A's position must not only show that (i) D fails as a rebutting defeater for P, but also that (ii) D fails as an undercutting defeater for P. And to assume that A discharges their dialectical obligations in offering justification for P to B in such contexts by accomplishing (i) alone is to commit a certain sort of dialectical fallacy.

In fact, this is not true, and part of the reason this is not true is that we are dealing with Sudduth-undercutting, which is global and requires cutting off a conclusion from the entire field of evidence apparently supporting it. If I make a claim, like "Milk is full of nutrients," and you give some supposed defeater or other, and I show that your supposed defeater does not show that my claim is false, there is absolutely nothing unreasonable about leaving it at that. It is true that it could still possibly be an undercutting defeater, but merely failing to be completely thorough is not a 'fallacy'. No one thinks that everyone has a rational responsibility to show that an objection not only doesn't prove their conclusion wrong but also doesn't eliminate their entire field of evidence. For one thing, actual objections that successfully eliminate every available line of evidence for a conclusion supported by several different lines of evidence are going to be rare. In general people will assume -- and in general it is a reasonable thing to assume -- that if you have lots of lines of evidence for X, no single undercutting defeater will defeat them all, even if it manages to be successful for defeating some. To take an extreme example: if someone proposed a possible defeater to Darwin on natural selection, and he showed that it did not prove his conclusions wrong but left it at that, would anyone seriously blame him for not also showing that it wasn't a Sudduth-undercutter given that Darwin's argument for natural selection is a book-length argument with dozens of distinct lines of argument? Of course not. For another, Sudduth-undercutting is difficult to give success conditions for, much harder than Koons-undercutting, because people can have honest disagreements about what is to be counted in the field of evidence. What do we have to do to give reasonable certainty that an apparent defeater really does cut off the conclusion from every available line of evidence, so that rather than believe the conclusion we should simply suspend judgment? In Koons-undercutting we have specific arguments in view, and we only have to show that the defeater cuts off the conclusion from these specific arguments (but we still leave open the possibility that we should not suspend judgment about the conclusion for some other reason that hasn't been considered); in Sudduth-undercutting, however, we have to make sure that the defeater cuts off the conclusion from every argument that might currently be put on the table for it. The latter is such a high standard we can only occasionally meet it uncontroversially, and it is difficult to see why anyone should regard it as having definitely been met until someone actually shows that it has been.

It seems to me, then, that (1) it would be more sensible to put this in terms of Koons-undercutting rather than Sudduth-undercutting, and thus do away with the whole useless talk about suspension of judgment, which is rarely even a serious option on the table except with very weakly supported positions or very powerful skeptical objections; and (2) regardless, it is obviously not a 'fallacy' of any sort, but just a way that an argument can fail to be a complete answer, which is an entirely different sort of argumentative weakness.

Multiplying by Nine on Your Fingers

I mentioned finger-counting in a recent comment as a cognitive activity that was not all 'in the brain'. We tend to think of finger-counting as a pretty elementary thing, but this is simply a matter of what you do with them. It put me in mind of a handy trick for multiplying single-digit numbers by nine on your fingers.

(1) Put both hands in front of you, fingers stretched out.
(2) Counting from the left, bend down the finger you want to multiply by nine. For instance, if you want to multiply by 2, bend down the second finger of your left hand. If you want to multiply by 6, bend down the thumb of your right hand.
(3) The number of fingers to the left of the bent finger is the tens-place digit and the number of fingers to the right of the bent-finger is the ones-place digit of your answer.

Pretty neat. And, of course, you can do much more. For instance, you can do many numbers with more than one digits in exactly the same way -- the rules get more complicated because you have to start reserving fingers for a hundreds-place, but they can still be done. For instance, to multiply nine by thirteen, you hold out your hands, bend the third finger of your left hand, read your left pinky finger as a 100, the next finger as a 10, and the rest of your fingers as 1's, giving you 117. And you can do it in reverse (I asked myself, which number is it again that gives you 117 when you multiply it by 9, put 117 on the fingers and read it right off). You can also do the same thing with number systems of a lower base than ten. For instance, you can multiply things times 7 in base-8 arithmetic by ignoring a finger on each hand. And there are other tricks for other numbers.

Basically what you are doing is taking advantage of some basic number theory in order to use your fingers as a crude abacus, which is the underlying principle of things like the Chisanbop calculation method, which had some popularity a couple of decades ago. Even if you, like most people, remember your multiplication table, such things can be ways of keeping track of calculations or avoiding simple arithmetic mistakes.

Poem a Day XIII

Human Life in the Round

The world is at our feet but death is at our door.
The winds of fortune speed from north to south to west,
more changing than our minds, although their strength is more
than strength of human hands.

We sacrifice the substance for a bit of zest;
we kill the golden goose to buy a breakfast poor
and smash the mill of plenty for a smashing jest.

And yet we are not rotten to the inner core.
In truth, in all we do we want the very best,
yet always fail, for nothing more do we adore
than strength of human hands.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Defending Rats

Drew Nelles, Wild Justice

Ever the opportunists, some lawyers built their careers by defending animals. A sixteenth-century French jurist named Bartholomew ChassenĂ©e made his name as the counsel to some rats who were accused, in an ecclesiastical trial in Autun, of decimating the area’s barley crops. Rats being rats, ChassenĂ©e could hardly rely on his clients’ sympathetic qualities to get them off the hook. So, like numerous lawyers before and since, he built his argument on technicalities: the defendants couldn’t be expected to appear in court, as Evans says, "owing to the unwearied vigilance of their mortal enemies, the cats, who watched all their movements, and, with fell intent, lay in wait for them at every corner and passage."

I wouldn't be hugely surprised if this were partly apocryphal, but such trials did occasionally happen, and it's a funny story either way.

Dashed Off

As usual, this is just a set of things from my constant note-taking. Grains of salt and all that.

instrumental externalization of second nature

Minds too narrow fill up too quickly, minds too open do not fill up at all.

the sense of the sublime as evidence for the supersensible character of intellect

Constant conjunction is an effect, and implies a cause.

Christian vocation is a convocation.

Hume's philosophy would change considerably by keeping the copy principle and its method of application but merely allowing intelligible as well as sensible impressions. Think on this.

peaceful laws, just treaties, sound coinage

constitutions as teleologically constrained circulations of power

That all men by nature desire to know we see from the joy of discovery.

the sufficiency of bodily goods instrumentally required for virtuous life

Virtuous society requires three things as its source: peaceful union, direction to good, supply of the instruments of virtuous action. It requires three things for its maintenance: orderly appointment and succession, means of restraint and inducement, defense against external danger. And since virutous society that does not improve will dissolve under the corrosion of fortune, continual improvement and correction of error is required in each of these things.

permissibility vs. advisability

philosophy & the art of making things intelligible (illuminating)

Humean empiricism is a digital empiricism: minimal sensibles organized by associative rule sets. It is unclear, though, that vivacity is not intended by Hume to be continuous. But its operation as described by him is not obviously inconsistent with discrete values.

The brain is a powerful organ, but one must think with one's whole body.

Even the damned are human in nature.

That Heidegger could see Nazism as a possible solution to the problem of technology is a sign that he misconceived the problem.

To make well a resolution like marriage one needs genuine self-knowledge.

The vocation of marriage is to abide.

juxtaposition as proto-metaphor
liturgical development as selective consolidation of proto-metaphor into metaphor

What counts as the neighborhood of an argument is always relative to an operation on the argument space.

Hell is what you are when all your self-deceptions run out: a burning darkness, a weeping, a gnashing of teeth.

sensory systems as imagination extenders

One of the most egregious confusions one can make is to confuse intellectual humility and intellectual timidity.

adapting Bobbitt's modalities of constitutional interpretation to traditional adaptation and development
(1) historical research & rediscovery
(2) textual implication and requirement
(3) coherence with overall systemic analogies
(4) use of precedented methods
(5) teleological fitting
(6) economy (expedience)

One sign of weakness & strength in argument is whether it can survive a reasonable change in vocabulary.

Annunciation : Ascension :: Nativity : Pentecost

Love is drama.

Pen and sword alike are applications of force.

Intellectual airs have often been used to cover mere license.

Morality needs symbolisms to infuse.

When sophistry lays a trap for us, we are the bait for ourselves.

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. That leaves a region of ambiguity: those who believe but are not baptized, like the good thief or the trembling devils.

Fairness of outcome is not something anyone can completely control. Slight differences in one place can yield massive differences elswehere.

broadly monastic life as carrying forward the essential features of primitive Church into new circumstances

Operationalism guarantees that scientific reasoning is nonmonotonic or at least imperfectly monotonic (bounded resources, etc.).

Feuerbach's argument that God is human anture taken objective also has the implication the world is human nature taken objectively; it is based on the proposition that the object of any subject is the subject's own nature taken objectively. He does, of course, deny that this is true for the senses, in which consciousness of object is distinguishable from consciousness of self, due to externality and independence, but we cannot reduce the world to such externality and independence as we find in the senses themselves, and the world as alter ego clearly runs into the same issues; and the more we open the problem to let the world escape, themore we open it to let God escape as well. External world realism as well as religion is the childlike condition of humanity.

"Different systems of expression are often of the greatest advantage." Peirce

probability as ration of frequency of species to frequency of genus (Peirce)
-> this would make probablility always of a species relative to a genus

You can only actually find out what you don't know by laying out what you seem to know and finding aporia.

With Humean causes there is no effect except order.

A state is a selective organization of monopoly.

Christ's atonement is (1) persuasive; (2) imputative; and (3) assimilative.

All folly is mutilated wisdom.

To teach technique without teaching virtue is to teach slavery.

Newton's first law does not state that constant motion needs no cause but only that all change of velocity of motion needs a particular kind of cause.

Truly long-range plans still require the urgency of the immanent end.

the causal principle as intrinsic to human curiosity (curiosity has a structure described by the principle, cf. questions) -- Beattie

To say that He is the Holy Spirit is to say that He is the Spirit of saints.

Bede uses the letters of Gregory to establish a pattern for the faithful English nation by tracing the wisdom at its roots.

Loss of hope is poison to friendships.

the intimation of priesthood, prophethood, and royalty in marriage

Tyrell is right about one thing: "The religion of all men must be the religion of the whole man -- Catholic in depth as well as in extension". Very true, and well said. But he has just spent a whole book cutting off parts of the whole man.

The fundamental problem Augustine scholarship must overcome is that Augustine is often read as dogmatic even when there is clear textual evidence that he is being tentative, or just considering a possibility, or even arguing in someone else's terms or on someone else's assumptions.

our knowledge of the external world in terms of causation, relation, and remotion

levels of contemplation
(1) consideration of the sensible
(2) transition from the sensible to the intelligible
(3) evaluation of the sensible in light of the intelligible
(4) consideration of the intelligible reached by the sensible, in its own right
(5) consideration of the intelligible not reached by the sensible but only by reason
(6) consideration of the inexhaustible intelligible, divine truth

'All shall be well' as a summary of penance

Much knowledge of much is still never enough.

servile love of knowledge, mercenary love of knowledge, pure love of knowledge

The waters of baptism find their own level.

The post-Tridentine nationalizing of spirituality seems to be a side effect of communication patterns.

Schelling's philosophy of nature is a philosophy of pre-reason.

philosophical perception as dual: to have an object and contemplate the having of it. (philosophy in this sense is like common sense working with the external senses.)
-> indeed, while there are many defective conceptions of philosophy, this point seems to have a powerful hold, and is found through many, sometimes as the very last residue: not to forget or overlook the possibility of the reflective element of the act

Every explanation must appeal to what is actual; to say a change has no actual cause is to claim that there is nothing that can actually explain it, that it is purely unaccountable. And for no change can it be demonstrated that there is no explanation for the change, that no account at all can be given of it.

Virtue is a principle of ordered action.

Without a principle of ordering there is no order.

Most modern 'accounts of causation' are just claims about how causal statements can be classified.

Sacraments are primarily signs of mysteries and secondarily signs of allegiance.

Pragmatism is the poor man's Kantianism. (cf. Kant's influence on Peirce and John Watson's discussion of James)

The primary line of response to polytheism (Baruch; cf. Boniface's letter in Bede 2.10) is that human beings are more noble than their supposed gods, and that human beings as the image of God are more noble than idols as images of the gods.

Chess is a good analogy for argument only if we imagine chess in which every move can open a new game, games within games within games.

People are not canonized because they are admirable, but because they are living pictures of aspects of grace.

Miracles, by showing something different, by, so to speak, putting the point in a new and poetic figure of speech, show how wonderful the ordinary course of nature is.

Sacramental character indicates priestly covenant.

six days to work in Torah, one day to rest in Torah

The errors of Fénelon can be reduced to the problem of treating the internal as external. You can always get orthodox results if one makes this explicit with each of the condemned propositions. The soul in pure love no longer desires eternal salvation as something external to the love itself; it may sacrifice all conception fo happiness as external, it may be indifferent to external standards, seeking only the internal organic development of perfection and virtue, it may lose sight of Christ as external to itself. All these go wrong if one assumes that this external remotion is an internal or absolute remotion; and failing to realize this was Fénelon's great mistake -- and also why it was not a mistake anywhere on the level of the major mystical heretics of the day. It is a failure of clarity, so that truht was hard to distinguish from error, not a rejection of truth or full acceptance of error.

Our language about God necessarily consists of diverse fragments; these fragments can be coordinated but not conflated.

Humility before truth is bold.

Poem a Day XII

Steel and Layered Ice

With reason may you charge my heart
of being steel and layered ice;
I know the words of love by rote
but I am not a soul enticed
by easy things; I wander far,
unbound by bond and fancy-free.
To learn again domestic ways
requires more than hours or days.
But do not write me off in full.
My feelings may be glacier-slow
but they are strong when once they flow:
their levels do not flux or fall
but, built of steel, are solid, sure,
and can be trusted to endure.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cohen on the Jewish Response to Evil

Perhaps the absence of tragedy in Israel's mind can be explained through the onesidedness of its monotheism. Suffering is to be resolved in reality and not merely in the illusory feeling of the spectator. The prophet becomes the practical moralist, the politician and jurist, because he intends to end the suffering of the poor. And it is not enough for him to assume these various callings; he has to become a psychologist as well: he must make pity the primeval feeling of man; he must, as it were, discover in pity man as fellowman and man in general.

Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism, p. 143.

Poem a Day XI


The lion paces in my brain,
roar and roar and roar again,
one half cunning, all insane,
and he does not cease;

the hunt is on, he stalks the prey
and leaps with claw into the fray;
the blood will flow like dawning day
with red and without peace.

To surge and slash! To overawe
and render reason by the claw,
to rule as king by bloody maw
with reign that will not cease!

With fluid force and hunting pride
I harry, herd, and pounce from side;
I roar and will not be denied
till I rule, for that is peace.

Monday, September 10, 2012

'Feminist Protagonist'

I recently came across this ranking of Disney princesses in terms of how feminist they are. It actually clarified something for me about what bothers me whenever one comes across discussions of whether female protagonists are 'feminist'. The ranking given is:

(10) Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)
(9) Snow White (Snow White)
(8) Cinderella (Cinderella)
(7) Ariel (The Little Mermaid)
(6) Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
(5) Jasmine (Aladdin)
(4) Rapunzel (Tangled)
(3) Tiana (The Princess and the Frog)
(2) Pocahontas (Pocahontas)
(1) Mulan (Mulan)

It's very noticeable that, except for Rapunzel, this is chronological order. But the thing that struck me most was that the rationale for each place heavily depends on defining each character in terms of what happens to her. This is the whole reason, for instance, why Belle is so absurdly low on the list. The author notes that Belle is usually considered the most 'feminist' Disney princess, and then goes on to reject this by listing what happens to her in the movie -- she "voluntarily makes herself a prisoner" and "falls for a domineering man, because she thinks she can change him". What's left out are all the obvious reasons that explain why Belle is usually seen as Disney's most feminist female protagonist: she's the one whose character is least defined by, and thus least at the mercy of, other people, she stands up for herself the entire movie, she doesn't wait passively in the face of her problems but actively sets out to solve them, and (what is in its own way perhaps most important) she does what she thinks is right and is fairly consistently right because of it. Of all the Disney princesses, Belle is the one who is most consistently an agent in her own right. We see this with the supposed reasons why she gets her low ranking. She "voluntarily makes herself a prisoner" -- yes, by courageously negotiating for her father's release so that she can save his life. She "falls for a domineering man, because she thinks she can change him" -- no, because she falls for the man only when she has already changed him by refusing to be intimidated by him and insisting that he act like a civilized person, and he does.

The problem with this conception of a 'feminist protagonist' is that it defines 'feminist protagonist' as an entirely external status -- it's an approval the heroine gets solely to the extent that she's a good girl who makes sure she only ends up in the right kind of situation. One sign of this in the article is how often marriage comes up as a reason for downgrading the protagonist's status as feminist: marriage is a bad thing to want and a worse thing to achieve. There's no sense here that how strong a female character is could possibly depend on her: what makes a protagonist a 'feminist' protagonist or not is how she happens to fit or not into a man's world. This is perverse in the extreme.

Much the same thing can be said about 'feminist' antagonists, although I find it interesting that people don't talk about them as much. Aurora in Sleeping Beauty is a fairly passive character, but what often goes unremarked is that Prince Phillip is also quite passive, because the movie is structured as an elaborate indirect battle between Maleficent and the Three Good Fairies, and Aurora and Phillip are merely the pieces on the board. Maleficent uses Aurora as an instrument of revenge, and the Three Good Fairies bring Maleficent down by weakening Maleficent's curse and rasing Phillip up as an instrument of restoration. For all practical purposes the movie is a war between goddesses; like the ancient Olympians, who could not overturn the set will of an opposing god, neither Maleficent nor the Three Good Fairies can simply undo the other side's moves, and therefore must work around them. And the result is that the thing people really remember about Sleeping Beauty is neither Aurora nor Phillip but Maleficent, who is arguably still Disney's single best villain. Maleficent is the villain whose evil is least cartoonish and least derivative, and therefore darkest, and therefore least in need of any explanation in terms of any external factors. There's an increasing tendency to try to give psychological explanations to wicked queens in modern re-tellings of fairy tales -- in the recent Snow White and the Huntsman, for instance, Queen Ravenna's behavior is explained as a sort of lifelong retaliation against her kidnapping (and possible rape) as a young girl. In other words, she is a function of what was done to her. It is intended to humanize her, but contrary to the intention it dehumanizes her, robbing her of her own responsibility, the resolute wickedness that is her own most fascinating literary feature, and gives it to a man. It is impossible to imagine Maleficent, Mistress of All Evil, who wields the powers of Hell, ever being reducible to an output from a patriarchal input. She is a fairy-tale Lucifer, a beautiful and intelligent creature full of pride and glory who is evil because that is what she chooses to be, end of story. She is defined not by others, and certainly not by any men, but solely by her own character and choices. And she is an impressive villain because of it, standing out as distinctively memorable in a field full of stereotypes because of it. She is wicked in her own right.

Notable Links and Linkable Notes

* Charles Camosy has a good post on the increasing obsession with 'fact-checking'. One of the things that I think egregious about this is that it gives people an illusion of critical thinking without itself being based on critical thinking, a very dangerous thing given that people already are tempted to use political set-pieces and slogans in place of serious thought. The fundamental problem with fact-checking is that the conclusion of any checking of facts has to be relativized to the method of checking. To take a really simple example. Suppose the question is whether unemployment went up or down. The answer to this can depend on the particular metric used -- are we counting only active job seekers without a job as unemployed, for instance, or are we counting everyone who does not have a job, or everyone of working age who does not have a job? And what is your method for collecting this information? Each of these will give you a different kind of answer, each of these answers will be suitable for some questions, and it may well be that on some such measurements that unemployment goes up and on others it goes down. As Mike Flynn likes to point out, 'fact' comes from the Latin word for 'something made', and while etymology is not destiny, it is nonetheless true that facts always have an element of construction, or, to put it in other words, that you cannot actually make sense of a fact without knowing how it was reached. Just as certain theorems in geometry depend on what constructions are allowed, so too what facts you can get will depend on what methods you use. Fact-checkers, however, position themselves as bias-less and as presenting 'the answer', and therefore present as critical thinking what is in fact hubris.

The first question should always be: What kind of argument and situation provides the context here? The second question that should be asked is: On what basis would someone claim this? Then we can ask: What other bases could be used, and what claims would they yield? And finally we can ask: Was their basis the best basis to use given the argument and situation? Only with the final question are we really in a position to 'fact-check'; and you will notice here that good 'fact-checking' is primarily a form of practical evaluation, not theoretical -- it's really about the most useful and relevant ways of getting answers to certain kinds of problems, and whether someone is using them.

* Wendell P. MacIntyre, Francis Bacon's Use of Ancient Myths in Novum Organum (PDF). I haven't had a chance to read it closely, but it looks interesting.

* Rebecca Stark and a number of others have started a new evangelical theology blog, Out of the Ordinary. All of those involved are quite excellent, so it should be a good blog.

* A recent study suggests that less than half of churchgoers in the U.S. are aware of the fact that they can register themselves officially as members of their church. Among Catholics that number is at about a third of churchgoers. This is quite remarkable given how much official membership rolls are used for charting numbers -- and it raises the question of how much purported declines in church membership are due to people who attend but never actually sign up. (Thinking about this, while I know very well that my parish has official rolls, I don't think I've ever actually filled out the paperwork, despite attending regularly. So it's not just ignorance that has an effect here.)

* Poul Anderson's "Uncleftish Beholding", a very famous little piece, in which Anderson presents basic atomic theory without using any words derived from Greek or Latin -- instead he uses Anglicized Germannic equivalents:

For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life.

The underlying kinds of stuff are the *firststuffs*, which link together in sundry ways to give rise to the rest. Formerly we knew of ninety-two firststuffs, from waterstuff, the lightest and barest, to ymirstuff, the heaviest. Now we have made more, such as aegirstuff and helstuff.

* The IEP article on St. Jeanne-Francois Fremyot de Chantal, one of my favorite early modern saints; Fr. John Conley's discussion of her philosophical ideas is quite nice, considering how little her work is studied in philosophical circles. He has a book, The Suspicion of Virtue, that I haven't read, but hope to get around to at some point.

* Crispin Sartwell's SEP article on beauty is also worth reading.

* Kirsten Walsh has a post on Emilie du Chatelet's view of scientific hypotheses.

* How to make an apple swan (there's a video, but you might have to look for it at the top by scrolling through the videos).

* I've been meaning for some time to put up a link to Ray Monk's article on Wittgenstein, and I don't think I have yet. So there it is.

* The recent little kerfuffle over whether the Democratic Party platform should continue to mention support of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has led reporters to try to pin down the State Department on what Administration policy actually is on the matter. It turns out that the State Department won't be pinned down, which I thought was interesting. (The U.S. is not alone in this, of course; very few nations recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital -- only Israel, Guatemala, and El Salvador, in fact.) Actually, looking into it further, it's more complicated than that. In 1995 the U.S. Congress passed a law stating that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by no later than May of 1999. That law is still in effect. However, it had a wiggle-room clause, intended to give flexibility if something came up, which allows the President to issue a six-month waiver. And every six months since 1999 a waiver has been issued by whichever President was in office at the time. So I suppose the official position of the Unites States on whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is that we will some day have the official position that we have officially had the position since 1999 that it is, but that currently we officially have no official position on the matter. Sir Humphrey Appleby would be very proud.

* Randall Rauser discusses John W. Loftus's "Outsider Test". You occasionally find internet atheists trumpeting it. Technically the test is applied whenever anyone converts to Christianity, so the evidence for the notion that outsiderness contributes any special element to the discussion is pretty inconclusive at best; and even if that is set aside, then, as Rauser notes, it all turns out to boil down to 'consider the evidence and arguments fairly,' with a dubious rhetorical twist that seems deliberately rigged to underplay the extent to which serious evaluation of anything requires sympathetic understanding. The real response to people applying a double standard is to urge them to have more sympathetic understanding of other people's views, not less sympathetic understanding of their own. (It is not as if sympathetic understanding hasn't widely been recognized as essential to good critical thinking: for instance, it's one way you could put John Stuart Mill's test for higher pleasures in Utilitarianism, Chapter 2, and Mill was just adapting Plato's Socrates from the Republic. Loftus's own test requires that one start with sympathetic understanding of the outsider -- how else are you going to give an accurate assessment from the outsider's perspective; so the emphasis on the outsider's skepticism rather than sympathetic understanding of the outsider is an arbitrary choice for rhetorical purposes rather than anything substantive. The whole 'test' boils down to: 'sympathetically understand why the skeptic has the objections he does', and this, far from being the extraordinary thing Loftus claims, is just an advocacy of fair evaluation.)

* The trailer is out for the second Atlas Shrugged film:

The first one was very bland, although the aesthetic of it was pretty decent. A bit Russian, actually -- nothing on the level of quality of Tarkovsky or anything like that, but it had the sort of all-on-a-level, meandering, "we're not in a hurry to get to the point because the whole thing's the point, since, after all, why else are you bothering to watch it" feel of a great deal of decent Russian cinema. That fits Ayn Rand pretty well, since that's pretty much her novelistic style, but it doesn't exactly make for Hollywood. I thought the costuming and set design were actually quite nice; they blended 1950s corporate design elements with more contemporary elements in a way that was classy. They're investing more money in this one, and they have changed out the entire cast. It's an interesting line-up; the original was mostly young untried actors and actresses, this has a much more experienced roll-call, consistently mostly of high-quality TV actors. And then there's Samantha Mathis, who actually makes sense as a Dagny Taggart. And this movie will cover more of the more eventful part of the book. So it could be at least moderately interesting.

* The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (FPAQ) keeps a massive strategic maple syrup reserve, which stockpiles massive quantities of maple syrup to prevent severe failures of the maple syrup market. It was in the news recently because it was the victim of a major heist.

We don't usually think of it as such, but real maple syrup (as opposed to the fake stuff) is a minor luxury item that is in relatively high demand, and Canada dominates about three-quarters of this large market, with Quebec dominating the market in Canada. So it gets treated as a strategic commodity, just like oil, its distribution carefully planned so as to maintain the viability of the market. Contrary to the way it has sometimes been portrayed, Canada as such does not have a designated Maple Syrup Reserve, although, honestly, given the way the Canadian government works it wouldn't be much of a surprise if they did. Rather, it is maintained by FPAQ, the world's most powerful maple syrup syndicate. The thieves hit an FPAQ warehouse, and stole millions of dollars (Canadian) in maple syrup. The warehouse had $30 million in maple syrup; it wasn't all stolen, and FPAQ is keeping mum about the exact amount, but it's certainly in the millions of dollars. It's actually rather brilliant. Genuine maple syrup is, as I said, a luxury item, so you can get an excellent price for it, but unlike many luxury items it would be easy to smuggle, easy to bootleg, and hard to trace. The thieves didn't grab the bottles; they siphoned it out of the warehouse bottles, enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool to overflowing and still have some to spare, so that anyone not looking closely might not realize that anything had been stolen at all.

* I have been shamelessly lax in using diacritical marks for French names in this post. It led me to wonder why English is so rare among modern languages in having a Roman alphabet but no diacritical marks (we use them artificially when we think it's important to indicate deviant pronunciations, or in loanwords that have not been completely anglicized). It turns out that nobody knows. The best guess I've seen is that it has to do with the interaction between English pronunciation and spelling. English has a large number of phonemes, somewhere between 35 and 50 distinct sounds, in part because it has an unusual number of vowel-sounds. (For comparison, Spanish is in the 20s; and the most generous count for French, which also has an unusual number of vowel-sounds, although still fewer than English, is somewhere around the most conservative account for English.) At the same time, spelling in English is extraordinarily irregular, so only a small handful of these phonemes are associated with a regular spelling (consider: zoo, true, shoe, dew, through, you, Hindu; or, in the other direction: loud, famous, would, you, dough, mould). Some of the irregularity is due to the fact that the English alphabet is small in comparison to the sounds it has to represent; part of it is due to the fact that written English derives from many different dialects of English; and part of it is due to the fact that English-speakers are very resistant to spelling reform. You need a fairly regular phoneme representation to make diacritical marks worthwhile. So at the end of the day it seems that English has no diacritical marks because they wouldn't be good for much.

I've noted previously that English is in practice very sloppy about its syllables. It's not the only language -- anyone who listens to Quebecois French begins to wonder if they even know what a syllable is -- but English is also very generous with how you pronounce vowels. I suspect that the two are related, and I wonder if part of it's because the sheer quantity of phonemes in English are just too many to bother keeping track of without some clear way of doing so. (Of course, it's hard to disentangle this from the effects of the fact that there are just a lot of English speakers scattered over a large portion of the world, and not much to keep them in line.)

Poem a Day X


Time is a river's course;
in the sun it shines with gold,
light on the current leaps to eye,
a steady flame,
though the mirror always changes.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Cohen on the Kantian Account of Substance

The fundamental concept of substance traverses all phases of philosophy and science. And in conformity with the loftiness and maturity of thought that Leibniz achieved with his principle of living force, Kant was able to break away from all scholasticism with regard to the concept of substance, and to make it a presupposition for the concepts of relation. The position that Kant gave to substance as a precondition for causality and reciprocity of action tore away, as it were, the absolute independence of substance. It has absoluteness as a category only as a "precondition" of causality. This absoluteness does not rest in the category itself, is not confined to it itself, but realizes itself only insofar as it makes causality possible, for the latter could not do its work without the former.

Hermann Cohen, Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism, p. 60. As stated I think this is somewhat misleading; the idea that substance is a precondition of causality and reciprocity of action is itself scholastic, by way of Wolff and Leibniz, and the idea of substance as having absolute independence is Cartesian (although Descartes was himself adapting scholastic ideas). It's not the content here so much as the way in which Kant proceeds in order to establish it that is the real divergence.

Poem a Day IX


Eternal cities are not made by laws of men
yet here where old man Tiber keeps his place
one is shaped by ancient laws.
How long the count of years, a steady thrum,
how long since civil walls were made
in days of wolvish men,
how long since fair Egeria woke the fonts of right,
since every grove was filled with nodding gods!
How unforeseen transfiguration of all things,
by which each thing became a figure and a type!
Could any sibyl's thought foresee these praying hands,
that Aeneas seeking Latium would find the Lateran?