Saturday, January 05, 2013


Veronese, The Marriage at Cana (1563)

Tomorrow is Epiphany, of course, which is the feast of revelation, and is associated with three things: the visit of the Magi to the infant Christ, the wedding feast at Cana, and the baptism in the Jordan, each of which is in a different way a story about the revelation of Christ to the world. This is a very famous painting by the sixteenth-century Venetian painter, Paolo Veronese; Dante Gabriel Rossetti regarded it as the greatest painting in the world. The thing is utterly huge and intricately detailed; you should click through to see the Wikimedia Commons image, which allows you to zoom in on particular parts.

Epiphany is often considered the fourth most important feast in the Christian calendar, after Easter, Christmas, and Pentecost. I'll be putting up several notable Epiphany-themed poems throughout the day tomorrow.

Music on My Mind

Leaves' Eyes, "The Holy Bond".

Half a Pleasure, Half a Grief

by Adelaide Anne Procter

Listen, friend, and I will tell you
Why I sometimes seem so glad,
Then, without a reason changing,
Soon become so grave and sad.

Half my life I live a beggar,
Ragged, helpless, and alone;
But the other half a monarch,
With my courtiers round my throne.

Half my life is full of sorrow,
Half of joy, still fresh and new;
One of these lives is a fancy,
But the other one is true.

While I live and feast on gladness,
Still I feel the thought remain,
This must soon end,—nearer, nearer
Comes the life of grief and pain.

While I live a wretched beggar,
One bright hope my lot can cheer;
Soon, soon, thou shalt have thy kingdom,
Brighter hours are drawing near.

So you see my life is twofold,
Half a pleasure, half a grief;
Thus all joy is somewhat tempered,
And all sorrow finds relief.

Which, you ask me, is the real life,
Which the Dream—the joy, or woe?
Hush, friend! it is little matter,
And, indeed—I never know.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Links of Note

* Gary Banham discusses Rawls's account of autonomy

* Lin, Mehlman, Abney, Enhanced Warfighters: Risk, Ethics, and Policy (PDF)

* Evan Munsing, What Caeser Told His Centurions: Lessons of Classical Leadership and Discipline for a Post-Modern Military

* Rebecca Johnson discusses ethics and security in the age of social media.

* MrsD has an excellent post on the "True God from True God" phrase in the Creed.

* Matthew Walther discusses Brideshead Revisited.

* Rita Levi-Montalcini died this past Sunday. The Nobel Prize winner (in Physiology/Medicine) was 103. She was a remarkable woman, and her memoirs are quite interesting. Unable to pursue her research in Mussolini's Italy due to being ethnically Jewish, she started a secret laboratory in her house to continue it, and it became the nucleus of the work that would get her the Nobel Prize. That about sums her up -- she was that sort of person. Intellectually brilliant, with dramatic flair and iron will: she was cool-headed and passionate, elegant and courageous.

* The Thomas Friedman Op-Ed Generator

* "Letters of Note" recently had a post on Mark Twain and Santa Claus

* Ronald Knox's classic short work on impetratory or impetrative prayer, Bread or Stone. As Knox puts it, impetratory prayer is prayer "which is directed in the first instance, not towards the discipline of our own souls, or the enjoyment of union with God, but towards the obtaining of special favours from him, whether for ourselves or for others."

Also, his excellent Meditations on the Psalms

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Philosophical Folklore and the Reification Fallacy

Among the many things worth studying, one of the most interesting is what I call ‘philosophical folklore’. Folklore, of course, consists of micro-traditions passed down within communities as part of the ordinary ways of life of the people in those communities. We usually think of these micro-traditions as artistic, but much folklore is philosophical in character. Studying this kind of folklore, often fascinating in its own right, can be quite illuminating.

Of all subjects in philosophy, I think informal logic tends to provide the richest veins of philosophical folklore. Reasoning and evaluating reasoning are things everyone has to do. Formal logic tends to get too technical to be widespread. Informal logic, on the other hand, is almost purely folkloric in nature. Unsystematic and messy, it consists chiefly of rules of thumb, folk classifications, proverbs, slogans, and the like. While there are academic philosophers who attempt to give order to this melange, these attempts at organization are always partial, so many strands of it always escape. Further, appeals to some element or other of informal logic are widespread, not confined to academia, and can have important effects on the kinds of reasoning that are accepted in the broader community. Taking a common slogan like, “You can’t prove a negative,” we are faced immediately with a number of questions. In most of the obvious senses such a claim is false, so how did it come to be part of common wisdom? Does it owe anything to some long-forgotten context? Has it changed its meaning over time, and why? How does its use impact the kinds of argument people accept (or refuse to accept)? We can trace down the history of it and find, for instance, that “You can’t prove a negative” originally had a specific legal context, which is true of a large amount of our folklore about reasoning, and that in breaking free of its original context it has come to be used in very different ways.

Within the already fruitful field of informal logic, one of the most fruitful for the philosophical folklorist is the theory of informal fallacies. Labels for alleged fallacies spring up and spread like weeds, are widely used, and interact in fascinating and sometimes puzzling ways. One interesting element of philosophical folklore that I’ve seen bouncing around recently has been something called a ‘reification fallacy’. The ins and outs of this bit of folklore are quite complex, but if you bear with me a bit through the long story, I think it shows how interesting it can be to try to study classifications of fallacies as bits of folklore. If you’re not that patient, you can probably skip down to the last few paragraphs.

Read the rest of this post at the First Thoughts blog.


I'm back from Montana, where I spent the last two weeks visiting family. Just before New Year's we went dogsledding with Absaroka Dogsled Treks. It was an extraordinary amount of fun. Physically, it's surprisingly like riding a skateboard (with occasional moments of pushcart). We did the half-day expedition trek, about six miles out, then a picnic in the snow, and then back. Because of the hills, it was in parts probably more physically demanding at any given point than an actual race would usually be, although, of course, racing is vastly more physically demanding overall, in the sense that you keep going and going and going. (And while no activity during the trek is very difficult, there is enough that you can tire yourself out in a very short time if you don't pace yourself.)

The dogs are the best part, of course. Each one has his or her own very different personality and you end up friends with most of them. Unlike the movies, of course, you don't shout 'mush' at them all day; half the point is to make the trek fun for the dogs, since they will take care of you if you do, so the occasional encouragement, or reminder to keep going straight, or warning that you'll be stopping, is about all you do. For the rest, you just enjoy the scene and keep the sled from swinging too far to the right or left. It's not exactly cheap, but I recommend it highly, if you ever have a chance to do it.

The next few days will probably continue to be slow as I catch up with things that have piled up over the past couple of weeks.

Holy Name

by George Herbert

Jesu is in my heart, his sacred name
Is deeply carved there: but th’other week
A great affliction broke the little frame,
Ev’n all to pieces: which I went to seek:
And first I found the corner, where was J,
After, where ES, and next where U was graved,
When I had got these parcels, instantly
I sat me down to spell them, and perceived
That to my broken heart he was I ease you,
And to the whole is J E S U.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Feast of Holy Family

On the Genealogy of Christ

Long years stretch back where legends walk, and men
who toiled in the lack and famine born of sin;
long years, and endless days of men at city gates,
as women in sundry ways bore children and life's weight,
and not one, not one, knew the things God had in store,
how simple things, and true, heaven's promise bore;
not one person dreamed in households in the land
that light of heaven gleamed in married life's demand,
that fathers grown from sons and mothers made from maids
would be the chosen ones, foundations heaven-laid,
that in their daily work to live and to survive
hope would begin to lurk and glory to revive,
that God, our God, in men blood and womb would mesh
to make himself our kin, our cousin, Word made flesh.