Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Howard-Snyder on Panmetaphoricism

Daniel Howard-Snyder has a forthcoming paper (PDF) arguing against what he calls 'panmetaphoricism', which is to say, the position that all language about God must be metaphorical (in a broad sense of the term). Unfortunately, I think his argument clearly fails at several points due to a lack of clarity about figurative language.

The first and basic argument Howard-Snyder gives, and then presupposes throughout the paper, is this:

Panmetaphoricism possesses an unenviable property: if it is true, then it is false. For if our speech about God can only be metaphorical, then the predicate “can be talked about by us only metaphorically” applies to God literally. But in that case, our talk about God cannot only be metaphorical, contrary to panmetaphoricism. Panmetaphoricism is self-refuting.

Unfortunately this is much too fast, and, indeed, it becomes clear when one considers the peculiarities of this predicate; Howard-Snyder begins to consider this point, but does not press it hard enough. If I say that something 'applies to X literally', the only thing I can mean is, 'when taken literally applies to X'. But the panmetaphoricist simply does not have to take the predicate in question literally; the panmetaphoricist doesn't -- and indeed cannot -- think that talking about God is talking about God in the sense we take the phrase when taking it literally; so all our talking about God is talking about God involving at least some kind of figurative element. Howard-Snyder tries to block this move with a further argument:

She says that no predicate of ours can apply literally to God. When we remind her of the predicate “cannot be talked about literally by us,” she replies, “And that one doesn’t either”. But if that’s the case, there must be something about God in virtue of which no predicate of ours can apply literally to God, not even the predicate “cannot be talked about literally by us”. It isn’t just magic, or an inexplicable brute fact. But then we can introduce a new predicate into our lexicon—say, “is illiterable”—and we can stipulate that it signifies literally whatever that something is, from which it follows that some predicate of ours can apply literally to God after all.

This, however, is simply question-begging; if we stipulate that 'is illiterable' applies when taken literally, we are doing nothing other than stipulating the success of a kind of language the panmetaphoricist denies. The panmetaphoricist will say that 'is illiterable' applies when taken figuratively; it cannot apply when taken literally. Obviously it is true that if you stipulate that panmetaphoricism is wrong then it will follow that panmetaphoricism is wrong. But this is not a refutation. What Howard-Snyder needs, and does not give, is an argument for why the panmetaphoricist herself cannot say that there is at least some metaphoricity, some figurative aspect to such predicates.

And the seriousness of this lapse becomes worse when we consider more closely the possible panmetaphoricist response that Howard-Snyder himself considers. He imagines the panmetaphoricist saying that first-order speech about God is only metaphorical, leaving open the status of second-order speech (language about our language about God). But the fact that we are able to make any such distinction intelligible at all shows the problem with Howard-Snyder's argument: the kinds of predicate his arguments use (like 'can be talked about by us only metaphorically') involve transfers from one domain to another. Speech about God and speech about speech about God are not talking about God in the same sense of 'talking about God'. And all cross-domain transfer is metaphor in the broad sense. Far from establishing that panmetaphoricism is self-refuting, Howard-Snyder's predicates make it more secure.

The problem appears very much to be a bad theory of metaphor. We see this in another of his arguments:

One concern is this: according to Abrahamic religion, God exists, really exists. However, if our first-order speech about God can only be metaphorical—as our panmetaphoricist insists—then no first-order speech of ours can be used literally of God, including the predicate “exists”. But if the predicate “exists” cannot be used of God literally, then there is nothing about God in virtue of which the predicate “exists” can apply to him literally. And if there is nothing about God in virtue of which the predicate “exists” can apply to him literally, then the statement “God exists, really exists” is false, which is to say that God does not exist, not really.

But this is simply false. If there is nothing about God in virtue of which the predicate 'exists' can apply to him literally, all that follows is that the statement 'God exists, really exists' is false when taken strictly literally. But the panmetaphoricist has every reason to accept this. She will simply say that God does exist, does really exist, if we take those phrases metaphorically. Howard-Snyder does consider this, but argues:

If our panmetaphoricist replies that she means for her use of these predicates to be merely metaphorical, she will fail to solve the problem for which she invoked them. For if they don’t apply to God literally, and if “exists” and the like don’t either, God won’t show up anywhere on the ontological map, not as an existent or a non-existent object, not as a denizen of reality or unreality—which, on the terms of the ontology she invokes, is incoherent.

But this again is simply false; the panmetaphoricist will obviously reply that they do show up on the ontological map in such a way that only metaphorical expressions can describe them. Howard-Snyder is assuming that reality -- and thus ontology -- is literal. But neither reality nor ontology have any intrinsic connection to literalness; literalness is a matter of the language we use, not reality or ontology. We can talk about reality in expressions to be taken literally, but we can also talk about reality in expressions to be taken metaphorically. Our ontological map can be drawn using expressions that are literal or expressions that are figurative. The panmetaphoricist is saying that God does show up 'on the ontological map' -- but that there are parts of the ontological map that can only be drawn with metaphors and God shows up there. Or, indeed, the panmetaphoricist may say that there are really several different ontological maps that human beings lack the means to reconcile into a single map; and God is on an ontological map only metaphorical expressions are robust enough to trace. 'Really' and 'literally' are not synonyms; nor do they mutually apply each other. They don't even belong to the same domain.

The more disastrous issue is that Howard-Snyder is begging the question in every step of the argument, because subject terms are talk about things, too. Consider an analogy. Suppose I were to say, "Colloquial, conversational English can only talk about black holes metaphorically." Is this self-refuting in the way Howard-Snyder had suggested? No. If we use the predicate 'can only be talked about metaphorically' of something we are already metaphorically calling 'black holes', we are still only talking about it metaphorically. The same is true if we say, 'black holes are illiterable'. The same is true if we say 'black holes exist'. In order for Howard-Snyder's argument to work, he must first assume that 'God' in 'God can only be talked about metaphorically' involves no implicit metaphor -- that is, he must first assume that panmetaphoricism is false. (But even if we set this aside, we run into the cross-domain transfer problem noted above, once the panmetaphoricist makes a distinction between first-order and second-order language.) And the same is true of 'God exists'.

But suppose we even ignore this. Consider our analogy again, ignoring the fact that the subject term is a metaphor. Is there anything inconsistent about saying that 'Black holes really exist' is true only if we take the predicate to apply metaphorically? There is not; whether or not it is true, it is entirely possible to have a version of English in which the words 'really exist' only apply literally to things very different from black holes. Does this claim commit us to saying that black holes are not on our 'ontological map'? It does not. At the very least, Howard-Snyder needs an argument to show that it does, and he has provided no such argument. He is merely assuming it. And in the same way, if we say, "Human languages can only talk about God metaphorically," we seem neither to have any inconsistency, nor to have any problem with saying that God exists -- if understood in the right way.

We see the same problem later when Howard-Snyder considers a version of panmetaphoricism using Thomistic language:

if , as my friends insist, his doctrines of analogical predication and divine simplicity imply that the predicate “is personal” can only be predicated analogically of God and humans, and if, as my friends insist, that implication itself implies that the predicate “is personal” cannot apply literally to God, then God is not personal, not really.

Howard-Snyder's friends are simply wrong about Aquinas, but it doesn't really matter, anyway, since Howard-Snyder is simply not justified in drawing th econclusion. If the predicate 'is personal' cannot apply literally to God, but it does apply to God, then God is personal, really, when 'is personal' is not taken literally but in the appropriate figurative way, in the same way that when we rightly say that 'Such and such astronomical phenomenon is a black hole', the astronomical phenomenon is a black hole, really, as long as we take 'is a black hole' in the appropriate figurative way.

And, indeed, this is the whole problem of Howard-Snyder's argument: it involves a shoddy understanding of the distinction between the literal and the figurative that lets Howard-Snyder slide back and forth between between treating the distinction as linguistic and treating it as somehow ontological. This is quite easily visible in Howard-Snyder's continual sliding between 'literally' and 'really'. This is simply untenable, and cannot be seriously maintained after a moment's thought. Howard-Snyder's argument, however, depends crucially on it: it repeatedly comes up, and can't be eliminated from the argument without eliminating the argument.

Of course, the panmetaphoricist view fails, but for precisely the reason Howard-Snyder's argument against it fails: it's based on a false view of the literal/figurative distinction. But that's another argument.

Music on My Mind

Regina Spektor, "My Dear Acquaintance". It's a good rendition, but it would be very, very hard to beat Peggy Lee's original version.

A happy New Year to all that is living, to all that is gentle, kind, and forgiving....

Monday, December 30, 2013

Desolation of Smaug

I went to see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug yesterday. I don't have all that much to add to what everyone else says, and the most obvious problem with the movie is precisely what everyone says it is -- the pacing is completely off. We keep lingering on side issues and speeding through essentials.

I think a great deal of the problem is that Jackson has sliced the movies badly, plus let too much filler be added to the script. If you really had to make a movie for The-Hobbit-plus-background-to-LOTR, the second movie should really have involved two things: the dwarves making their way to Smaug and the Council of the Wise assaulting Dol Guldur. We barely got anything related to the latter here, which means that the third movie is going to have to see the death of Smaug, the assault on Dol Guldur, the Battle of the Five Armies, and everyone getting home, which is far too much even for three hours -- something is going to get shortchanged. And, frankly, from the all the made-up action sequences here, it's quite clear that something like the assault on Dol Guldur was needed here. It would also have been able to take care of a lot of what the filler was thrown in for. Need a strong female character? Have Galadriel direct troops in person. Need spectacular special effects? Let's see Saruman's magnificent assault weapons. And it would have been more faithful -- Galadriel might well have been there in person, and LOTR explicitly tells us that Saruman's machinery was a major part of the assault.

The filler is also getting to be a bit much. I don't have much of a problem with modification for cinema, but it's a problem when the filler is starting to choke out the original -- it begins looking like bad fan fiction. The filler needs justification. It makes sense that we would get more Legolas here than in the book, since he would have been there doing something anyway, and the movie is a prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy; it's reasonable to set things up, then, for the Legolas-Gimli interaction. Tauriel, on her own, is a not-unreasonable kind of character. But the Legolas set-up is a secondary matter, and invented characters should either simplify the story (e.g., by summing up what would otherwise require several characters or complex scenes) or add nice touches, not require their own entirely fabricated storylines. We spend a ridiculous amount of time on Tauriel here, and we already have the Azog filler spilling over from the first movie. We aren't just dealing with added storylines here; we're being subjected to major divergences at significant points, since they are starting to interfere with the main story.

Other weaknesses: Smaug is too talky -- yes, he's a vain dragon, but he just never shuts up. We never get any sense of why the Master celebrates the dwarves, perhaps because the reason is that he wants to get them out of town as fast as he can and the script leaves a third of them in town for no good reason. Almost the entire Lake-town portion is botched, in fact. We don't get enough of the mirkiness of Mirkwood.

The strengths: Martin Freeman is such a good Bilbo Baggins that he deserves a better Hobbit movie. In fact virtually all the acting is quite good, even for the made-up characters. Despite an endless number of liberties being taken, the barrel sequence was done well (it helped that the liberties taken actually make some sense in terms of cinematic structure, since it made sense to have a bit more action at that point, and that it was done with a sort of zany zest without any pretentiousness, and that it was better done than the mountain sequence in the previous movie). I liked seeing the dwarven forges, which are the single best scenic part of the movies so far. Many of the smaller touches of the movie are just splendid -- it baffles me how so much obvious love and care can be lavished on little details when the seams of the main story are so sloppily stitched together, but the detail-work is often excellent, whether it's Beorn's bees, Gloin's portrait of Gimli, Bilbo's first introduction to the treasure under the mountain, or the scenery in Esgaroth which manages to tell us more about what's really going on than the script does.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Austen Unfinished

Virginia Woolf on what might have happened had Austen lived past 42:

She would have stayed in London, dined out, lunched out, met famous people, made new friends, read, travelled, and carried back to the quiet country cottage a hoard of observations to feast upon at leisure. And what effect would all this have had upon the six novels that Jane Austen did not write? She would not have written of crime, of passion, or of adventure. She would not have been rushed by the importunity of publishers or the Battery of friends into slovenliness or insincerity. But she would have known more. Her sense of security would have been shaken. Her comedy would have suffered. She would have trusted less (this is already perceptible in Persuasion) to dialogue and more to reflection to give us a knowledge of her characters. Those marvelous little speeches which sum up in a few minutes' chatter all that we need in order to know an Admiral Croft or a Mrs. Musgrove forever, that shorthand, hit-or-miss method which contains chapters of analysis and psychology, would have become too crude to hold all that she now perceived of the complexity of human nature. She would have devised a method, clear and composed as ever, but deeper and more suggestive, for conveying not only what people say, but what they leave unsaid; not only what they are, but (if we may be pardoned the vagueness of the expression) what life is. She would have stood further away from her characters, and seen them more as a group, less as individuals. Her satire, while it played less incessantly, would have been more stringent and severe. She would have been the forerunner of Henry James and of Proust—but enough. Vain are these speculations: she died “just as she was beginning to feel confidence in her own success.”

It's dangerous to disagree with Woolf on a matter of writing, but I think she is partly misled here by her reading of Persuasion and by the error of thinking that dining in London and meeting famous people is much of a way to gain a new appreciation for the complexities of human nature. While Woolf does have some interesting and plausible things to say about Persuasion if read as a transitional book, which it certainly is, a number of features Woolf attributes to Persuasion are found much earlier; and some of the harshness of the work, assuming it is not due to the fact that Austen never had time to put a final polish on it, is due to the fact that Persuasion, more than the other books, is about how human beings can be a detriment, intentionally or unintentionally, to other human beings.

When we look at Sanditon, the unfinished novel, we find that the satire is indeed more stringent and severe -- but it is in fact more incessant, becoming a sort of subtle atmosphere. I do think it likely that Woolf is right about Austen trusting less to dialogue and using the suggestive more, since this seems to be something of a trend within The Six themselves. But all the signs are that this makes Austen more satirical, not less. There seems to be another trend in her heroines, a trend toward more intense virtue; or, perhaps, it would be better to call it 'sophistication of virtue'. And, with all respect to Woolf, the kind of people one meets when dining and lunching out and meeting famous people and staying in London show up worse, not better, against such a heroine. We see this in Sanditon, as well, for all that we get only a very limited glimpse of the heroine; she seems on the way to being a wittier Anne, and everyone looks even more ridiculous in comparison, because she sees through them. It makes her the perfect heroine for a work that looks like it would probably have been, among other things, a commentary on the moral hypochondria and convalescence of the day -- that is, on excuses for not doing the right and sensible thing. And this is almost certainly what Austen would have seen in Woolf's scenario: more excuses, more hypocrisies, more superficialities masquerading as sophistications. It does seem that as The Six progress we get more of a sense of people in groups, so it's likely Woolf is right that this would continue; but the result, contrary to Woolf's suggestion, is more individuality, not less. By seeing them in groups, Austen sees more of the heart of each character, not less.

An Austen novel about London would be worth reading; and all indications are that such a novel would be harsh, ruthless, and devastating. But even that, of course, assumes that Austen would have found London interesting enough to write about; she might well not have. She spent time at Bath and in the novels we only occasionally get there; Austen as we know her likes more scenery and less artificiality than that. Bath ends up being a contrast to human nature, or a device for mixing things that wouldn't ordinarily be mixed. There's no reason to think London would have been different. And I think Sanditon shows us that she would probably have gone a different direction even if she wanted to write about London. Londoners in their native habitat can hide their quirks, or pass them off as reason; get them into new situations, let their fads and fashions carry them out of their element, and that is where an author like Austen would give us her telling of what London is. And the danger of it is that there might not be a novel's worth there. While Woolf, no doubt, would give us an excellent account of London that explores subtleties too nuanced for a hit-and-miss method, Austen herself might well have found it precisely the sort of thing to sum up in a few devastating lines and dismiss forever.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Third Kind of Martyr

The holy days immediately after Christmas are a curious mix. We start with St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr, the first specifically and explicitly Christian martyr, and whose martyrdom is a sort of template for other martyrdoms. We then move to St. John the Evangelist, who is according to tradition the only apostle who wasn't martyred (he was exiled, not killed). And today we meet the Holy Innocents, who are the martyrs least like anything we expect martyrs to be.

The mix did not escape our predecessors. Aquinas mentions somewhere a sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux arguing that there were three kinds of martyrdom: martyrdom in will but not in physical death, as with St. John; martyrdom in will and in physical death, as with St. Stephen; and martyrdom in physical death but not in will, as with the Holy Innocents.

Genuine martyrdom is an act of witness; but to be the sort of martyrdom celebrated by the Church it must be an act of God. As typically understood, this is by the way of the infused virtue of fortitude, which is to say, inspired fortitude, whose most encompassing act is witness in violent death. In St. Stephen we see this full complete sense of martyrdom: God acts as principal agent of the witness, Stephen through inspired fortitude is the instrumental agent of witness, and the act is able, in context, to be a complete act of witness in violent death. The relation of this to St. John is easy to see: God still acts as principal agent of John's witness, John through inspired fortitude is still instrumental agent of the witness, but as it happens the fortitude is only ever expressed in acts less than full martyrdom.

With the Holy Innocents, on the other hand, we seem to have a somewhat different situation. Nothing absolute prevents an infant from receiving inspired fortitude, but this is in a sense incidental to the question, since an infant is not in a position to be an instrumental agent through such an infused virtue but only, at best, an instrumental patient. Thus God is principal agent of the witness of the Holy Innocents, and the act of witness in violent death is complete, but the Holy Innocents are not agents of witness in the way Stephen and John are. Yet they are no less martyrs and saints. One importance of the Holy Innocents is that they show that the witness of martyrdom, if genuine, must be very much an act of God. (The medieval theology of the Holy Innocents ends up being more complicated than this makes it sound, because, of course, the Holy Innocents were Jewish boys who were circumcised. Circumcision already made them signs of Christ and is the anticipatory sign of baptism into Christ. Thus their witness to Christ is an expression of the covenant between God and Israel that is fulfilled in Christ. Thus they were already going to be saints -- but because of their deaths they participate in the victory of martyrs as well and merit the veneration of the Church. Contrary to what some mis-attribute to medieval theologians, they weren't bothered by the fact that unbaptized children could be saints in heaven, since this was actually easily accommodated, but puzzled by the sense in which they were martyrs. Yet they were also clear that not only are they martyrs, they are an important kind of martyr, as well; all martyrs in some sense die in the place of Christ, for instance, but the Holy Innocents are the only martyrs who literally died in the place of Christ.)

Pusey has a famous sermon, entitled, "God's glories in infants set forth in the Holy Innocents," in which he notes that one of the clear lessons of the feast is the dignity of children: even an infant may be a saint of God, a witness to truth, and a temple of the Holy Spirit; and we are not just called to life everlasting, but born to the call. And this dignity does not depend on their being able to engage in great projects or elaborate choices; it does not depend on their autonomy or their consciousness of their place in this world or their ability to attribute to their own existence some basic value; it does not depend on sophisticated cognitive capabilities or having identifiable interests. Their deaths are not merely of moral interest; their deaths are things to make a man tremble; their deaths show that their lives are infinitely precious. It is in the greatest of human deaths that we see the full greatness of human life; and in Christian terms, the greatest of human deaths is martyrdom, the victory that is most victorious, and infants can have it. Some infant boys who had no idea what was going on were martyred once; and thereby they showed that their lives were capable of being, in witness, the expression of the greatest goods in the world. The Feast of Holy Innocents is a feast that says a lot.

Classical and Popular

Both from Frank Baum's The Patchwork Girl of Oz:

"The only record I have with me," explained the phonograph, "is one the Magician attached just before we had our quarrel. It's a highly classical composition."

"A what?" inquired Scraps.

"It is classical music, and is considered the best and most puzzling ever manufactured. You're supposed to like it, whether you do or not, and if you don't, the proper thing is to look as if you did. Understand?"
(Chapter Seven)

"It's the latest popular song," declared the phonograph, speaking in a sulky tone of voice.

"A popular song?"

"Yes. One that the feeble-minded can remember the words of and those ignorant of music can whistle or sing. That makes a popular song popular, and the time is coming when it will take the place of all other songs."
(Chapter Eleven)

And the phonograph would seem to be a sort of expert on the subject.

Dashed Off I

As always, what it says on the tin: dashed off; so take with a grain or two of salt. I'm very behind on these, so this will be a series.

collective vs distributive interpretations of each modality

Treating logic in a purely syntactical way increases rather than reduces interpretive assumptions, because inference and proof are not a kind of syntax.

Rigid & nonrigid designation show that there is a modal component in every term.

If you take seriously Hume's claim that his account of causation covers matter & form, you get something like a process ontology.

You can tell the philosophers whose arguments are most dangerous to Nietzsche's claims: they are the ones with whom his responses become most epigrammatic and scathing, without consideration of details. This is the Nietzschean cunning: to pass lightly over what is dangerous.

the promissory sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, and Orders -- all involve promising God something. Note that these are the three character sacraments plus the quasi-character covenant of Matrimony (all the character sacraments involve the sealing of a covenant, just as Matrimony does; they only differ in the covenantal structure)

Pictures are capable not merely of denoting but of quasi-exemplifying (cp Goodman on metaphorical exemplification).

vagueness as superposition of at least apparent possibilities

Exemplification, as in swatches and paint chips, is quasi-conventional, relative to a classification and conventions of use or regard.

Nothing seems actually to fit Goodman's criteria for a notational system; the closest one gets is practical equivalence for certain functions.

A musical score is a recipe.

The composer's score is an authoritative recommendation, not definitive of works or performances.

The performer plays in the tradition of the composer.

monomane and yugen in the hana of the Christ-like life; the myo of the saints, the rojaku of the ascetics

"A trading country is the habitat of Socinianism." Newman

entropy as a measure of distinguishability

the iconic economy and its relation to the sacramental economy

II Nicaea bases Tradition on the promise of Christ
II Nicaea lists as examples of the lawful traditions: the Book of the Gospels, the image of the Cross, the pictorial icons, the holy relics of martyrs; it specifically and explicitly attributes the same account to the first three

The Church in its Tradition is a seal of the righteousness of faith, in testimony of God's grace towards us, to the confirming of faith and the imprinting of the promises of God on our hearts; it is a testimony of God's love, founded on the promise of Christ, to be with us always.

Scripture as evangelical proclamation, icon of Christ, and sacramental whose office is to prepare one for any and all sacraments (thus being part of the catechetical/doctrinal/magisterial, iconic, and sacramental economies of the Church, and binding them all together)

possible world semantics & the problem of modal overdetermination.

We see the meaningfulness of the universe reflected in human beings around us as the image of God; without the latter, we have no clear sight of the former.

Affability is the virtue of speaking the language of friendship in deed and word.

the passage of time itself as playing a role in cognition

symbolic participation in divine providence

the Sabbath as a day for cultivating affability

curation of ideas

The tendency to act and accomplish is more fundamental than the tendency to self-preservation.

Aristotle's eleven virtues as a template for civilized life

a political community shares
(1) money: liberality, magnificence
(2) honors: ambition, magnanimity
(3) social interaction: truth, eutrapelia, affability
(this leaves courage, mildness, justice, & temperance; c, m, and temp all deal with basic aspects of human passional life: fear, anger, pleasure and pain; justice has a regard for the political structure itself)

modality -> mereotopology -> geometry

Pain is an entire portfolio of responses to the world.

Baptism is the primary and principal means of transmitting the faith; indeed, in a sense the entire Christian life is the sacrament of Baptism, the rippling out in sign and thing of the rite of sign and thing.

..by coherence (direct)
....external (including inference to best explanation)
..by analogy (derivative)
(both of these show that plausibility is a consistency with cognitive consequences)

mortal apings of immortality

"Counterpart theory" is applicable whenever we can talk about a topic entirely in terms of similarity, quantification, and mereology. Formally it applies just as much to organizational counterparts in organizations as individuals in worlds.

Aesthetics needs something like a doctrine of the mean that allows us to evaluate beyond the capacities of our language. Clearly there is a sort of mean in art, but it doesn't seem to be stable, in the way that virtues are stable means, i.e., grounded in definite and consistent features of the agetn as such. It seems to be now in this, now in that.

Causes as we usually think of them are able to specify the initial conditions of a system; laws as we usually think of them are not. Causes pertain to being, laws to order.

Dt 30:10-14 & the purpose of Torah

The fear of the Lord is His law in us and in our actions.

The purpose of the parable of the Good Samaritan is to block attempts to justify oneself.

Governments, more than any other institutions, are in danger of becoming parasitic on fears and hopes when they should be reducing the harm of them.

Hell is being unable to get past Good Friday, Purgatory is waiting through Holy Saturday, and Heaven is the Paschal Day of Resurrection.

"every effect is a sigh of the cause, an exemplate of the exemplar, and a path to the end" Bonaventure

effects lead to causes (Bonaventure)
(1) by proper representation (natural similitude)
(2) by prophetic prefiguration (Scriptural type)
(3) by angelic operation (mediated theophanic works)
(4) by superadded institution (sacrament)

"to the Church is entrusted the care of all the sacraments, but in a special way of matrimony, because of the variations which may occur in relation to it, and because of the concomitant disease." Bonaventure

Scripture as four-dimensional: breadth (canon), length (salvation history, creation->judgment), height (theological scope, God-creatures), depth (manifold sense)

Gandalf before Black Rider V.4 // Gandalf before Balrog II.5

the structural principles of Aquinas's account of virtues
(1) acquired vs infused (the Summa discusses infused virtues)
(2) doctrine of the mean
(3) the seven major virtues
(4) the mereology of virtue

accessibility relations as representation relations (possible world semantics as a system of signs)

Every sign is an exemplate effect tending to an end.

Internal structure is not sufficient for distinguishing natural kinds.

laws as identifying exemplar causation: exemplate as that which follows according to intrinsic law

Natural selection is primarily a matter of differential chemical response; everything else follows from this. We should think of it less on the biological level (which over-assimilates it to artificial selection) and think of it more as a statistical feature of chemical interaction with a complex environment.

It is not mere measurement but recorded organizations of measurements that scientific inquiry uses.

Economic transaction is built out of the products of the liberal arts.

Nobody who does not recognize that the natural end of sex is friendship can do justice to the evil of rape; part of what makes rape a perversion is that it is an intimate betrayal.

OT:nature :: NT:character (cp Schelling)

The baptism-chrismation link is the Easter-Pentecost link.

The syllogism is not the structure of discovery but of scientia in the soul.

Reinach's pure law is to natural law as Platonic forms are to Aristotelian forms.

The Church receives Scripture as a gift and imposes it canonically by promulgating it, by continually interpreting it, and in and through preaching, prayer, and practice of it, and also by upholding it in matters of dispute.

money as a form of hypothetical honor

Stein's account of the state shows its weakness in her discussion of international law

The criteria used in historical Jesus studies establish firmness of historicity; none of the standard ones are suitable for determining non-historicity.

Money does not make things commensurable strictly, but it makes them commensurable enough for exchange.

liturgy as combinatorial symbolism

intelligibility, verifiability, provability
value, exchange, market
node, edge, graph
agent, relation, network
grace, sacrament, sacramental economy
combinator, combination, combinatorial set
term, proposition, argument
claim, inference, inferential system
intending, inferring, narrating

"a sign is something knowing which we know something more" Peirce

the consensus gentium of philosophical tradition

When people talk about pragmatics, they really mean modes of practice.

Grice's conversational maxims are maximal propositions or topoi for specific kinds of means-end reasoning, based on four ends of communication. Gricean pragmatics is a teleology.

Vico's languages of gods, of heroes, and of men are in fact the three layers of all human language.

the Sacred Heart as synecdoche of the Word made flesh, and thus metaphor for all that pertains to the Incarnation

"The implicit philosophy of any phenomenology of religion is the renewal of a theory of reminiscence." Ricoeur

Pr 8:7 // Cant 2:3
Ps 19:10 // Cant 4:11

One must beware of attempts to appeal to 'Ockham's Razor' to argue that looking at a thing stupidly is better than looking at it with one's whole mind.

Real knowledge is always layered.

abduction as recognition of phenomena as an icon of a symbol (a likeness of a general conception) (Peirce EP 2:287)

abduction leading to conclusions in interrogative mood

abduction as concerned with economy of money, time, thought, and energy (Peirce CP 5.600)

abduction : inference through icon :: induction : inference through index :: deduction : inference through symbol

abduction as divine: NEM 3.206; CP 8.212; CP 6.476-477 MS 843.7
(cp Peirce on agapistic evolution)

abduction as guided by the notion of good

Tropes are all ways of keeping to the conversational maxims as much as literal language is; tropical intent is often posited to preserve relevance, informativeness, etc.

the sacraments as objective correlatives

The mimetic theory of art, properly understood, is a theory of art as a generative power of the mind.

We think the mirror inverts only by a sort of mental sympathy with our own image. What we have in a mirror is not inversion, properly speaking, but reflected congruence.

All of Eco's arguments for saying that mirrors do not produce signs are wrong, being based on an equivocation with presence and absence and a false assumption, or at least a dubious one, about the contingency of signification.

remote-view & close-view examinations of philosophical problems

corrective & restorative duties

The periodic table is in essence a combinatorial analysis, although slightly complicated by principles governing electron orbits.

Human remembering is not in itself an ordering process, although we can order events in light of it.

superposition as indicative of real possibility

using the good things that pass to hold fast to the good things that endure forever

relics as indicators of saints-as-icons

Arguments can be coded into other arguments by analogy.

Humean virtue ethics is semiotic: acts as signs of character
Humean virtue ethics already includes everything considered by situationism in its account of artificial virtues and utility; but it diversifies situations rather than considering them as fi they were all the same kind of thing.

Old works in philosophy are often full of eccentric arguments on curious topics; but in working out their underlying rules one often finds treasures.

prayer as the breath of the Church, both inspiration and expiration

Confirmation gives us not just grace within, but an atmosphere or ambience of grace (all anointing sacraments do so in their own way).

the counterparts of Aristotle's eleven virtues for the Republic of Letters

forms of inquiry that require an ambience of reason to survive

judgments about character as necessary to testimonial evidence

Marriage is constituted not by vow but by consent.

closely binding contexts vs loosely binding contexts (the need for positive reason to generalize out of closely binding contexts)

more generalized forms of Gricean maxims as maxims of charitable interpretation

Syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics are all abstracted from original intelligibility; each is that one intelligibility considered in a particular light.

"A verse is never freed from its peshut." Rashi

the Decalogue as a guide to Scriptural interpretation

More obviously than any other virtues, temperance and its secondary virtues must be *grown*.

partial lending & borrowing of virtue (this is most obvious with prudence, through counsel, but temperance and fortitude both require cultural effort and can in some sense be communicated or participated in at remote)

type of existence proof // type of argument for God's existence
necessary rational posit // ontological I
probable rational posit // ontological II
direct empirical presentation // religious experience
indirect empirical presentation by causal inference // cosmological
indirect empirical presentation by implication of confirmed model // teleological
pragmatic requirement // moral

A good liturgy intimates wisdom (tablets of law, lamps), power (rod, altar), goodness (pot of manna, shew-bread).

They are most suitable to being moved by the Spirit through Scripture who strive through reason to know themselves.

"Opposition not only enlarges the soul; but the soul, when full of courage and magnanimity, in a manner seeks opposition." Hume SBN 434

mimesis, catharsis, and rhaumaton as the elements or dimensions of plausibility

Historical scholarship begins with principles of evidence and paradigms thereof, not with skepticism; if it did not, it would never get either to history or to scholarship.

sophological vs eschatological makarisms (both concern kinds of trust)

Prophetic oracle is by its nature a riot of connections, a flood of weighty interrelations.

liturgy as covenant festival memorializing theophany under the supervision of cultic officials

The reasonable question with documentary evidence is not, "Do these agree or disagree?" but "How dot he causal lines resulting these relate to each other?"

The rise of written tradition does not kill off oral tradition, but it does make it possible for it to be assimilated into a tradition of reading.

tradition 1 Cor 11:23ff; 15:1ff

Ascension as accession

Sins of lust are such that even being uncovered is often a natural punishment for them. (This uncovering has to be distinguished from indirect revelation; they can be distinguished by how evidences are handled.)

Shame is an imagination of disgrace.

chastity as an 'integrity of the powers of love and life'

It is straightforward nonsense to expect people to maximize communicative efficiency.

Gricean pragmatics is really concerned with deriving principles of communication from more general principles of cooperative activity.

Grice's maxim of manner is defective: it should be 'be appropriate', thus subsuming Gricean manner, style, and Leech's principle of politeness.
(1) be truthful
(2) be helpful/just
(3) be relevant
(4) be appropriate
(3):(4)::end:means; i.e., have the appropriate subordinate subordinate ends, have the appropriate means to all the ends.
->public vs private ends of communication
->justice generically structures cooperation, truthfulness specifically structures rational communication

Divine knowledge exceeds any enunciable specification.

distortions of finite time limits for moral reasoning

To consider: The diffusion of innovations is related to teh structure of the innovations themselves.

Julian of Norwich: the privation theory of evil implies that evil cannot be recognized "except by the pain caused by it" (13.27.406)

4th Lateran Council on privation theory of evil

Depravity springs from deprivation.

In Julian's account, divine immutability is absolutely central to atonement.

the paradox of tragedy and the problem of evil

The extent to which religions have converged historically is quite remarkable given the sheer diversity of them. Part of this is moral, since moral principles are grounded in reason; part of it is aesthetic, since symbolisms expand and human beings pursue beauty; part of it is dialectical, since the arguments of others cannot always simply be ignored; and part of it is metaphysics, since reality constrains the mind in all things, however roomy the space for mental freedom may be.

Cryogenic freezing would freeze one's interests in an unfrozen world.

A great deal of consensus in any fast-moving inquiry or discipline is negotiated as a way of sustaining research interests -- the beginning, so to speak, and not the result, of inquiry.

Consequentialism is either circular or based on self-evident moral principles of reason.

problem mitosis

Human experience again and again shows that despair is a greater evil than pain.

Civilizations degrade by trying to compensate for sin with sin.

pain "purifies, and makes us to know ourselves and to ask mercy" (Julian 11.27)

prophetic discourse as discourse in direct address contending against the spirit of the age, particularly as found in structures of power, in light of God's ends (cp Westphal)

'Health' is necessarily a moral term, grounding obligations to others as well as moral excellences.

Depending on the method of analysis, a change can be analyzed into objects, actions, capabilities, relations, parts and boundaries, and any number of other things; this does not mean, of itself, that change is any of these things.

Hume's causal relation has to be temporal because temporal contiguity is the only directional kind of association in his account (resemblance and spatial contiguity are both symmetric)

similitude and order terms in a broader mereology

the metaphysical foundations of the preconditions for explanation

politics as the personation of diagnoses and treatments

Hobbes's Trinitarian personations as symbolic appropriations based on mission

Coming-to-know may be a cultural artifact without what is known being so.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Circumfultus Undique

In This Vale of Wretchedness
(a traditional St. Stephen's Day carol)

Pray for us that we saved be,
Protomartyr Stephane

In this vale of wretchedness,
Yprovëd was thy meekness,
Where thou art in joy and bliss,
Circumfultus undique.

With faith all armed in field to fight,
Sad thou stoodest as God's (own) knight,
Teaching the people, of God His might,
O facies plena gracie!

Before the tyrant thou were brought,
Strokes of pain thou dreadedst nought,
God was with thee in all thy thought,
Spes eterne glorie.

With sinful wretches thou were take,
Thy faith thou wouldest not forsake,
But rather to die to Godes sake,
Circumfuso sanguine.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Charter

A Christmas Song for Three Guilds
by G. K. Chesterton



St. Joseph to the Carpenters said on a Christmas Day:
"The master shall have patience and the prentice shall obey;
And your word unto your women shall be nowise hard or wild:
For the sake of me, your master, who have worshipped Wife and Child.
But softly you shall frame the fence, and softly carve the door,
And softly plane the table—as to spread it for the poor,
And all your thoughts be soft and white as the wood of the white tree.
But if they tear the Charter, Jet the tocsin speak for me!
Let the wooden sign above your shop be prouder to be scarred
Than the lion-shield of Lancelot that hung at Joyous Garde."


St. Crispin to the shoemakers said on a Christmastide:
"Who fashions at another's feet will get no good of pride.
They were bleeding on the Mountain, the feet that brought good news,
The latchet of whose shoes we were not worthy to unloose.
See that your feet offend not, nor lightly lift your head,
Tread softly on the sunlit roads the bright dust of the dead.
Let your own feet be shod with peace; be lowly all your lives.
But if they touch the Charter, ye shall nail it with your knives.
And the bill-blades of the commons drive in all as dense array
As once a crash of arrows came, upon St. Crispin's Day."


St. Luke unto the painters on Christmas Day he said:
"See that the robes are white you dare to dip in gold and red;
For only gold the kings can give, and only blood the saints;
And his high task grows perilous that mixes them in paints.
Keep you the ancient order; follow the men that knew
The labyrinth of black and whits, the maze of green and blue;
Paint mighty things, paint paltry things, paint silly things or sweet.
But if men break the Charter, you may slay them in the street.
And if you paint one post for them, then ... but you know it well,
You paint a harlot's face to drag all heroes down to hell."


Almighty God to all mankind on Christmas Day said He:
"I rent you from the old red hills and, rending, made you free.
There was charter, there was challenge; in a blast of breath I gave;
You can be all things other; you cannot be a slave.
You shall be tired and tolerant of fancies as they fade,
But if men doubt the Charter, ye shall call on the Crusade—
Trumpet and torch and catapult, cannon and bow and blade,
Because it was My challenge to all the things I made."

Merry Christmas to you all, and remember that today is the day in the calendar that proclaims that all human beings are so to be loved that it would be fitting for even God to live and die to save them, if that be the price.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Men Seem Men so Suddenly

The Truce of Christmas
by G. K. Chesterton

Passionate peace is in the sky—
And in the snow in silver sealed
The beasts are perfect in the field,
And men seem men so suddenly—
(But take ten swords and ten times ten
And blow the bugle in praising men;
For we are for all men under the sun,
And they are against us every one;
And misers haggle and madmen clutch,
And there is peril in praising much.
And we have the terrible tongues uncurled
That praise the world to the sons of the world.)

The idle humble hill and wood
Are bowed upon the sacred birth,
And for one little hour the earth
Is lazy with the love of good—
(But ready are you, and ready am I,
If the battle blow and the guns go by;
For we are for all men under the sun,
And they are against us every one;
And the men that hate herd all together,
To pride and gold, and the great white feather
And the thing is graven in star and stone
That the men who love are all alone.)

Hunger is hard and time is tough,
But bless the beggars and kiss the kings,
For hope has broken the heart of things,
And nothing was ever praised enough.
(But bold the shield for a sudden swing
And point the sword when you praise a thing,
For we are for all men under the sun,
And they are against us every one;
And mime and merchant, thane and thrall
Hate us because we love them all;
Only till Christmastide go by
Passionate peace is in the sky.)

A Poem Draft

Snow on Pine

Outside the window, snow on pine
is swiftly falling, forming line
along each bough in purest white;
the day is dim, the tree is bright.
The day is dim, the tree with light
on every limb leaps out to sight
as flakes that fall will glint and shine
outside the window: snow on pine.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Nativity in Paintings IV (Re-post)

Conrad von Soest 004

This is a painting by Conrad von Soest, from about the early fifteenth century; it is a small panel on the Niederwildungen Altarpiece, which, thanks to the joy that is Flickr, you can see in full here. This altarpiece is in a Protestant church in Bad Wildungen in Germany.

One of the big issues in any painting of the Nativity is what to do with St. Joseph. He doesn't have a big role to play; obviously all eyes are on Virgin and Child. And the Gospels don't actually tell us much about him. We know he was a carpenter (actually a tekton, which is a skilled artisan, but taking it as indicating a woodworker goes back at least to the second century). We know some of his dreams (which should have more paintings devoted to them than they do, although Rembrandt has a very lovely one and Daniele Crespi another). He never speaks -- not one word is attributed to him. What we do know is that he travels like crazy; every time we see him he is either in the middle of a journey, or about to start one, or has just finished one. He travels from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Bethlehem to Jerusalem, down to Egypt, up to Nazareth, and the last we hear of him directly, he and Mary are taking yearly trips to Jerusalem for Passover. That's a lot of moving. But the Bible doesn't give much to paint when it comes to Joseph and the Nativity; and unlike most of the other details that are left open, you can't really do anything you want with him, although painters sometimes do get creative.

Usually we find Joseph holding a candle, and sometimes sleeping. This is one of those Bridgettine details; in Birgitta's vision, Joseph is holding a candle, whose light is obliterated, swallowed up, in the light from the Christ Child. It's a feature often found even in paintings that are otherwise not all that Bridgettine; the candle was in the Flémalle painting. Joseph is cut out of the Nativity at Night painting; but the painting on which it is based certainly had him, and almost certainly had him holding a candle. There are other things he can do. In the Hohenfurth painting he is pouring water. von Soest's painting, however, is the only painting I have ever seen in which Joseph is cooking a meal. Somehow I like that very much -- it shows Joseph as a practical man of action. With so much travel he must have been an excellent organizer.

Because we are never told Joseph's age in the Bible, there are two different traditions in painting: the Old Man tradition and the Young Man tradition. The Old Man tradition has going for it the fact that Joseph disappears from the scene relatively early; he was certainly alive when Jesus was twelve, but beyond that we are told very little. Third- and fourth-century legends, most notably the Protevangelium of James, always portray him as old, though. The Panarion of St. Epiphanius of Salamis, which is perhaps the first to give an age, goes so far as to claim he was about eighty (with four sons and two daughters) when he was betrothed to Mary. And overwhelmingly this is what we overwhelmingly get until about the seventeenth century, although most painters paint him as rather younger than eighty. But here and there in very, very early representations he is portrayed as a much younger man, and this has become more common in the modern era.

To the Place Where God Was Homeless

The House of Christmas
by G. K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Nativity in Paintings III (Re-post)

Robert Campin - Anbetung der Hirten - ca1420

This is an early fifteenth-century painting by the Master of Flémalle, who has come to be identified with Robert Campin. Campin was something of a pioneer; he took realism in painting farther than most of his contemporaries (although, as you can see in the painting above, he also is considerably influenced by the conventions of manuscript illumination), and was one of the first to experiment with the switch from egg-based tempera to oil.

In paintings we find two major traditions for the location of the scene: the Cave or the Shed. Both are usually highly stylized, with the animal shed, for instance, often being little more than a canopy. The Nativity at Night appears to be in the Cave tradition, while the Hohenfurth painting is very definitely in the Shed tradition. Here we have a remarkably realistic, and very rickety, old animal shed; the fact that the shed is virtually falling apart does multiple duty here by creating a contrast with both the Christ Child in the foreground and the castle representing the centers of power in the background, and also by opening up more space for painting, thus allowing us to get the ox and (behind the ox) the ass.

The Cave vs. Shed option is an interesting one. Of course, when we talk about Christ in the stable, in our sense of the word, we are appealing to the Shed tradition. In fact, neither Matthew nor Luke give us any indication beyond Luke saying that there was a manger available. It could very well have been simply an adjoining room of the house dug in a little lower than the main room to keep the animals out of the latter; or, if the house was near a cave, a cave is certainly a possibility; it's unlikely to have been an out and out shed, but a sort of crude approximation to one adjoined to a house can't be wholly ruled out, either, since the word for 'manger' can also sometimes indicate an animal pen or stall.

The Cave tradition, however, seems to have the longest history; Justin Martyr in the second century states unequivocally in the Dialogue with Trypho (chapter 78) that Jesus was born in a cave just outside of Bethlehem:

Joseph took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him.

And Origen writing a little bit later also states it. The Church of the Nativity itself is in this tradition: the Basilica of the Nativity (the Orthodox portion of the Church of the Nativity) is built over the Grotto of the Nativity, an underground cave that by long tradition is the place where Jesus was born, and, even if not, has for over a millenium and a half done as a proxy for it.

As far as painting goes, of course, artists will paint according to customs and times; and paintings will tend to paint Jesus as where the animals are in the culture in which the painter lives. The rise of the standalone Nativity creche has probably also given a boost to the Shed tradition since the thirteenth century, since it is easier to have a standalone stable than a standalone cave. In painting, the Shed tradition allows one to have a richer background than the Cave tradition; as with the painting above, the Shed tradition allows one to paint the Christ Child as situated within a much more vast world, while the Cave tradition instead puts greater emphasis on the foregrounded figures.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Nativity in Paintings II (Re-post)

Meister von Hohenfurth 002

This painting, by the Master of Hohenfurth, also known as the Master of Vyšší Brod, dates to the fourteenth century and originally was part of an altarpiece devoted to the life of Christ. The painting is a mix of Eastern and Western styles. The posture of the Virgin, lying in bed with the newly born Christ Child rather than kneeling before a manger is (at least in the late medieval and Renassiance period in the West) usually a sign of Byzantine influence, which often came by way of Byzantine communities in Italy. In general this attitude, associating the Nativity with more standard birthing practices, emphasizes the humanity of Christ, while the genuflecting attitude emphasizes the divinity of Christ; naturally, the more realistic the style of painting the more one would want to do to represent the divinity of Christ by symbolism, while in a more stylized style one might well prefer to emphasize the humanity of Christ.

Notice the ox and the ass, which are very nicely painted here in the background. They were there in the previous painting, as well, although there the ass is a little difficult to see. The two animals are not found in either Matthew or Luke, but are pretty much ubiquitous. They come from another Bible verse, Isaiah 1:3, in which the prophet says, "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib." Indeed, the ox and the ass pre-date almost all other artistic conventions regarding the representation of the Nativity; it is possible to find very early representations of the Nativity consisting entirely of Christ in swaddling clothes with an ox on one side and an ass on the other, nothing else in sight. That particular representation seems to owe itself to another prophet, Habakkuk 3:2, at least in the Septuagint:

O Lord, I have heard thy report, and was afraid: I considered thy works, and was amazed: thou shalt be known between the two living creatures, thou shalt be acknowledged when the years draw nigh; thou shalt be manifested when the time is come; when my soul is troubled, thou wilt in wrath remember mercy.

Thus in those artistic representations Christ is known between the two living creatures, ox and donkey. The two animals gain more significance in that they they are sometimes seen as symbolic of the faithful children of Israel (the ox) and the just Gentiles (the ass); in that way, the placing of the Christ Child in the manger of the ox and the ass serves as a metaphor for the Incarnation itself, for we are the ox and the ass, and He has come among us. It is really rather remarkable how constant the imagery of the ox and the ass has been; we're talking about an artistic tradition that's only just short of two millenia old. It probably helps that the ox and the ass are a free detail: since the conventions for how one represents the ox and the ass are not very elaborate, an artist can do almost anything with them, and thus contribute something unique to the depiction of the scene. It's always interesting, when looking at a painting of the Nativity, to ask yourself: What is the artist doing with the ox and the ass? It's usually not anything theologically profound, but there are times when it really adds some nice touches to the painting.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Nativity in Paintings I (Re-post)

Geertgen tot Sint Jans - Nativity, at Night - WGA08514

This is one of the most famous Nativity paintings, called Nativity at Night. It is a fairly small oil painting on oak panel that was made in the late 15th century by Geertgen van Haarlem; it was probably for private devotional use. It is actually an adaptation of an earlier painting by Hugo van der Goes which no longer survives; from descriptions and other versions (the most famous of which is Michael Sittow's early 16th-century version) we know that Geertgen's version shrinks and simplifies the original, and also reverses the orientation. The effect of the simplification, however, is quite striking, and I think makes for much of the attraction of the painting: it is all light and darkness.

All major Nativity scenes in painting are mediated versions of the original stories, much as all Christmas pageant plays are mediated versions of the originals. In this case the mediation is by way of St. Birgitta of Sweden's vision of the Nativity, which still exercises its influence. It is to Birgitta that we owe the image of the Virgin kneeling before the manger; on the basis of the striking description she gives of this in her Revelations, this became a popular scene in paintings, and thus a common part of Nativity scenes in any medium. And the brilliant light radiating from the Christ Child, which makes this painting so striking, is a Bridgettine detail, as well.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Links of Note

* Metallica concert in Antarctica

* Stephanie Anne Golberg on Miguel de Unamuno

* Joshua Berman has finished his series on Orthodox Judaism and Biblical criticism (you can find links to the whole series at the link).

* I've seen several people recently recommend The Pulp Magazines Project

* The political significance of the Regina Mundi cathedral in South Africa

* Thony Christie discusses Bl. Nicholas Steno

* Nobel Prize winner Randy Shekman criticizes the top-tier science journals

* Todd Gooch on Ludwig Feuerbach at the SEP

* A good website on Ramon Llull

* At the Constitute Project you can read and compare constitutions from all over the world

* Former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson reflects on the importance of reading Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

* There have been rumors recently that Heidegger's schwarze Hefte, or 'black notebooks', which are soon to be published, are likely to contain very explicit anti-semitic comments. Whatever turns out to be the case, it will change nothing, of course; people will just find new arguments to maintain whatever their evaluation already is. But we'll see how people respond.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fortnightly Books Index

There will be a brief pause in fortnightly books, to be back after various holiday things. We're about forty-two or so books in, so it seemed good to give an index to it all. A lot of them have been re-reads, but of those that were first-times, the most pleasant surprises, I think, were Njal's Saga and Death Comes for the Archbishop, and perhaps also The Song of Bernadette. The biggest disappointment is still The Red and the Black.

November 24: Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange& Mr Norrell
Introduction; Review

November 10: Charles Williams, Many Dimensions
Introduction; Review

October 27: Bram Stoker, Dracula
Introduction; Review

October 13: Jane Austen, Lady Susan
Introduction; Review

September 29: Rudyard Kipling, Kim
Introduction; Review

September 15: Tim Powers, Declare
Introduction; Review

September 1: Mac Hyman, No Time for Sergeants
Introduction; Review

August 18: Booth Tarkington, Monsieur Beaucaire
Introduction; Review

August 4: J.R.R. Tolkien, Roverandom
Introduction; Review

July 14: Mark Twain, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc
Introduction; Review; Background Timeline

June 23: Franz Werfel, The Song of Bernadette
Introduction; Review; Background Timeline

June 9: Frank Herbert, The Santaroga Barrier
Introduction; Review

May 26: Dale Brown, Storming Heaven; Dale Brown, Shadows of Steel
Introduction; Review

April 28: John P. Marquand, Think Fast, Mr. Moto
Introduction; Review

April 14: Roger Donlon (as told to Warren Rogers), Outpost of Freedom
Introduction; Review

March 31: George Bernard Shaw, Two Plays for Puritans; George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman
Introduction; Review

March 10: Lord Dunsany, The King of Elfland's Daughter
Introduction; Review

February 24: Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship
Introduction; Review

February 10: J. Harvey Howells, The Big Company Look
Introduction; Review

January 27: Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
Introduction; Review

January 13: George B. Markle IV, The Teka Stone
Introduction; Review


November 25: Njal's Saga
Introduction; Review

November 11: J. R. R. Tolkien, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrén
Introduction; Review

October 28: The Kalevala
Introduction; Review

October 14: C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces
Introduction; Review

September 30: Kenneth Dodson, Away All Boats
Introduction; Review

September 16: James Fenimore Cooper, The Deerslayer
Introduction; Review

September 2: Edna Ferber, Cimarron
Introduction; Review

August 19: Johann Wyss, The Swiss Family Robinson
Introduction; Review

Prior to August 19, the series was 'Book a Week'; it was changed to 'Fortnightly Book' to make it a bit more manageable in busy times.

August 12: George MacDonald, Lilith
Introduction; Review

August 5: Noél Coward, Future Indefinite
Introduction; Review

July 29: Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin
Introduction; Review

July 22: Ernest Haycox, The Adventurers
Introduction; Review

July 15: Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Introduction; Review

July 8: Stendhal, The Red and the Black
Introduction; Review; Background Timeline

June 24: Jane Austen, Sanditon; Jane Austen, The Watsons
Introduction; Review

June 17: Theodore Morrison, The Devious Way
Introduction; Review

June 10: Joseph Conrad, Nostromo
Introduction; Review

June 3: Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
Introduction; Review

May 27: Norman Douglas, South Wind
Introduction; Review

May 20: Frank G. Slaughter, Sword and Scalpel
Introduction; Review

May 13: Magdalen King-Hall, The Diary of a Young Lady of Fashion in the Year 1764-1765
Introduction; Review

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Radio Greats: Christmas at Mission San Gabriel (Romance of the Ranchos)

The Title Insurance and Trust Company of Los Angeles put out a little book, called The Romance of the Ranchos, as a promotion. The book discussed some of the rich history of the Southern Californian land the company was selling. The stories were popular, so they turned it into a local radio program from 1941 to 1942. That's a brief time, and it only ran on the West Coast, but the program has lasted as one of the great programs of the period. Usually an episode will narrate the history of some particular region of land in Southern California through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with little vignettes to bind it together. Sometimes the format will be a little different and it will focus on some local celebrity and his relations to the local landmarks. There's always a fictionalized aspect to it -- the stories are Romance rather than History -- but they are remarkably well researched, and the fictionalization is itself well chosen, being used mostly for atmosphere as we try to imagine what the land and towns might have been like in those times.

Each episode is introduced by The Wandering Vaquero, played by Frank Graham, a very talented radio star and voice actor who would commit suicide at the age of 35. He was known as the man of 1000 voices and considered one of the best of the best -- some would even say second only to Mel Blanc, which goes far beyond just 'one of the best of the best' into 'better than almost all of even the best'. We don't get his full range of talents here, but he does make a sometimes striking host and narrator.

The episode I've selected is a charming and seasonal one -- not perfect, but very memorable -- called "Christmas as Mission San Gabriel". It's a little different from most of the others in that it involves more fictionalization than most. However, the story about the Beautiful Lady that it builds on is not mere fiction but a local legend. According to that story, shortly after the Mission San Gabriel was founded, the local Tongva natives gathered together to chase the newcomers away. The Franciscan fathers, faced with the immediate danger, responded by unfurling a large painting of Our Lady of Sorrows in front of them. The Tongva were so impressed by the beauty of the picture that they made peace with the Franciscan fathers. Of course, it's a legend; how much it connects with history is hard to say. But the painting that was supposed to have had such an effect is, from what I've read, still hanging in the chapel at Mission San Gabriel, over two centuries later.

You can listen to the episode at the Internet Archive (it's number 16), as a Christmas reminder of the power of goodness working through a human heart -- any human heart.

Notice, incidentally, that 'Los Angeles' is consistently pronounced with a hard 'g'. It was standard pronunciation at the time.

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell


Opening Passage:
Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic.

They were gentleman-magicians, which is to say they had never harmed any one by magic -- nor ever done any one the slightest good. In fact, to own the truth, not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused one leaf to tremble upon a tree, made one mote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon any one's head. But, with this one minor reservation, they enjoyed a reputation as some of the wisest and most magical gentlemen in Yorkshire.

Summary: In 1803, or thereabouts, a man named John Segundus happened to encounter a vagabond and street magician who claimed that he would tell him a great secret for a sum of money; Segundus paid, and the vagabond prophesied that one day magic would be restored to England by two magicians. Musing on this leads him to propose to the York society the question of why magic was no longer done in England, which, magicians being as argumentative as academics, led to a ferocious argument. One of the other magicians, however, suggested that he and Mr Segundus consult with a reclusive magician who was rumored to have an excellent library. This they do, and thus we meet Gilbert Norrell, who, it turns out, has been a practicing magician for some time. This touches off a chain of events that brings Mr Norrell to London with the great aim of restoring English magic.

By 'restoring English magic' Mr Norrell means, 'the magic of Mr Norrell', for he is in fact rather fearful of even the possibility of another magician. They might do it wrong, you see. And one of the reasons why Mr Norrell has such a magnificent library of magic, the best in England, besides the fact that he loves books on magic, is that he wants to make sure that he is the one who has them. Books of magic in the wrong hands, which is almost anyone else's hands, are potentially dangerous.

In trying to convince people of the importance of his project, however, Norrell makes a fateful move. Faced with the possibility of winning a powerful patron by raising his wife from the dead, Norrell does a kind of magic he thinks should not be done: he summons a fairy, a gentleman with hair like thistledown, and strikes a bargain. This will have terrible results; but it is itself the act that begins the ball rolling toward the restoration of English magic.

A couple of years later, Norrell meets Jonathan Strange, who has been trying to learn magic on his own -- and succeeded. This, of course, is Mr Norrell's great fear. But he asks Strange to demonstrate what he can do, and Strange does a kind of magic that Norrell had never come across in his reading, and for the first, and if I recall correctly, the only time in the book, laughs with delight at it. Magicians are very much like academics you see; they want all the credit, but can't help be elated at something new and remarkable and their own fields. Thus starts the curious partnership that makes up the bulk and charm of the book.

It is curious because Norrell and Strange are in many ways opposites. Norrell is retiring and cautious; Strange is bold and daring. Norrell barely fits into London society; Strange has no difficulty doing so. Norrell's actions give him a reputation for being dry and petty; not so Strange. But it is possible to overstate the difference. For they are both at root magicians, England's only two, and they share more in common than might be thought; equally presumptuous, equally absorbed in the study of magic to the point of utter selfishness, and equally caught up in something they have not even begun to understand.

Part of what makes the pairing work is that Clarke doesn't take the lazy way with it. It would be easy to make Norrell the uptight conservative impediment to progress and Strange the likable progressive hero. But this is not it at all; you misunderstand both if you read them this way. Norrell is the progressive. He wants to break with the past, the old stories of England's prior magic age about the mysterious figure of the Raven King, building a magic for the modern age, suitable to a modern England, erasing his own dependence on the very things he repudiates. Strange is the traditionalist, coming to think that the only way forward is to go back to the roots, and ultimately the Raven King himself, but more dependent on Norrell's way than he recognizes. Norrell is constantly trying to exclude the possibility of other magicians precisely because he is concerned with the progress of magic; he cannot trust other magicians actually to contribute to the progress. It is an acute case of Enlightenment despotism. Strange ends up wanting to broaden magic precisely because he wants a return to the magic of a prior day. To oversimplify massively, Norrell is the Enlightenment magician, extending into the nineteenth century, insisting upon progress, but progress done his way, while Strange is the Romantic magician, just thought-up by the nineteenth century, romanticizing the medieval golden age but at the same time attempting to impose his will on it. There's a reason the restoration of English magic requires them both. And it is inevitable that they are both wrong.

A great deal of the novel is taken up with the question of the 'English' in the phrase 'English magic'; and the book explores the intersection between the unEnglish and the uncanny. Or perhaps it would be better to say that it explores the way in which the unEnglish is itself uncanny. We certainly get an entire parade of the unEnglish, to the extent that only by dint of being an interesting story with interesting characters does the book avoid collapsing into a near-parodic white Englishwoman's checklist for diversity. But the book explores also the fact that the border between English and unEnglish is highly permeable, and has always been; the English has always been constructed out of the unEnglish, layers and layers of things once uncanny now grown canny -- or, sometimes, still uncanny in secret. For, though no one may notice, the old alliances are still in place.

Favorite Passage:
Strange shrugged. "Well," he said. "I have nothing better to suggest. Where is your copy of The Language of the Birds?"

He looked about the room. Every book lay where it had fallen the moment it had ceased to be a raven. "How many books are there?" he asked.

"Four or five thousand," said Norrell.

The magicians took a candle each and began to search.

Recommendation: Highly recommended. It's one of those books that everyone should read at least once; and it gets better on the re-reading.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Known, Served, Loved, and Honored

The Ave Maria of Ramon Llull
(from Blanquerna, LXI)
by Bl. Ramon Llull

Hail Mary!
Your servant salutes you on the part of the angels,
of the patriarchs, of the prophets, of the martyrs,
of the confessors, of the virginal youths and maids:
and I salute you for all the saints of glory.

Hail Mary!
Salutations I bring you from all Christians, both righteous and sinners;
the righteous salute you because you are worthy of salutation
and because you are the hope of their salvation;
the sinners salute you to beg you for pardon.

Hail Mary!
Salutations I bring you from Saracens, Jews, Greeks, Mongols, Tartars;
all of them, and many other peoples, salute you through me,
who am their channel. For them salutation I bring to you
so that your Son might remember them.

Hail Mary!
You are worthy that, through all people and in all lands,
you might be known, served, loved, and honored. They salute you!
And they beg for your help and grace and blessing through me.

(My translation.) The intercession of Mary is quite important in the theological thought of Ramon Llull, although given the range of his interests it only comes up explicitly on occasion; the importance of it is mostly in terms of the relative significance it has to have in his overall thought. One of his names for the Holy Virgin is "Mother of Many Ends", which I've always thought rather striking.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Philosophers' Carnival 158

I'm at the lunatic peak of the grading cycle, in a term in which it is a little more lunatic than normal, so don't expect any profound posting for a bit -- although I might sneak a few things in just to be doing something other than grading ethics journals, ethics exams, analysis papers, late work, and history of philosophy take-home exams, which have been pouring in and will keep doing so until the end of this week.

In any case, Richard has the 158th Philosopher's Carnival up at "Philosophy, et cetera".

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Love of Letters, Overdone

Poets and Their Bibliographies
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Old poets foster'd under friendlier skies,
Old Virgil who would write ten lines, they say,
At dawn, and lavish all the golden day
To make them wealthier in the readers' eyes;
And you, old popular Horace, you the wise
Adviser of the nine-years-ponder'd lay,
And you, that wear a wreath of sweeter bay,
Catullus, whose dead songster never dies;
If, glancing downward on the kindly sphere
That once had roll'd you round and round the sun,
You see your Art still shrined in human shelves,
You should be jubilant that you flourish'd here
Before the Love of Letters, overdone,
Had swamped the sacred poets with themselves.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Modesty of Attire

Calah Alexander of "Barefoot and Pregnant" has an excellent series of posts on modesty in clothing:

Nuking the Modesty War, Part I: Control Yourself, Not Women
Nuking the Modesty War, Part II: Stop Treating Men Like Pigs
Nuking the Modesty War, Part III: Stop Thingifying People

I've always thought it one of the many signs of the corruption of the modern age that when we think about immodesty in clothing, we start babbling about lust; when our ancestors thought about immodesty in clothing, they worried about vainglory and greed. When Chaucer's Parson, for instance, goes off on an absurd rant about men and women's fashions, what is riling him up is not indecency in our sense but the fact that rich men and women are using their clothes not in a useful or practical way but as a way of treating themselves as superior to ordinary people. While Chaucer is partly making fun of the Parson, he is able to do so largely because it's an exaggerated version of a type of rant everyone would have been familiar with in his day, because immodest dress was associated in everyone's mind with vainglory.

We see this in Aquinas as well, despite the fact that Aquinas has a quite conservative view of the matter. Aquinas notes (ST 2-2.169) that modesty in dress is not a matter of what you wear but of the way you wear it; you are modest in dress precisely to that extent that you wear your clothes moderately. Then he goes on to identify ways in which you could fail to wear your clothes moderately:

(1) By deliberate violation of customary law. In any society there are things that are just taken by people in general to be completely unacceptable to wear under particular circumstances; and if you deliberately disregard this, this is one way of being immodest.

(2.1.1) By excessive attachment to clothes due to the pleasure taken in them that arises from vainglory. This is precisely the case I already mentioned.

(2.1.2) By excessive attachment to sensible things due to the pleasure taken in them that arises from comfort.

(2.1.3) By excessive attention to one's own attire in one's practical reasoning, arising from imprudence.

(2.2.1) By inadequate attention to clothes due to the pleasure of disregarding them that arises from self-indulgence.

(2.2.2) By inadequate attention to attire due to the pleasure of disregarding it that arises from vainglory.

(2.3) By the use of clothes with the deliberate intention of provoking lust. Note, incidentally, that it is the deliberate attempt to provoke the vice of lust, not sexual desire; Aquinas is quite explicit that there are circumstances in which it is entirely reasonable to dress sexually, as long as you still show some sense in doing so.

And note, in particular, that the issue of lust only enters into the picture when we are talking about the deliberate attempt to provoke it. In any case in which someone is not deliberately trying to provoke lust, immodesty only arises from vainglory, or self-indulgence, or imprudence.

The basic principles of modesty of attire are quite simple, actually, and are touched on (organized in a different way) in Calah's discussion:

[1] Modesty and immodesty are matters of character, and thus what one is deliberately doing in wearing them, not matters of what one wears. If we are using 'immodesty' in some sense that does not have to do with personal character, we are not using it to talk about a vice, and thus it is of at most secondary moral importance.

[2] Modesty as a virtue must have two extremes, involving excessive regard for clothes and deficient regard for clothes. If we are talking about some kind of 'modesty' that does not have two extremes, we are not talking about a virtue, and thus it is of at most secondary moral importance.

[3] The seriousness of different kinds of immodesty must be related to the seriousness of the vices they express; and thus the most serious kind of immodesty occurs when people are immodest as a way of expressing the most serious vice. This is vainglory. The temptation that really matters most when it comes to immodesty is the temptation to use clothes as a way of trying to make the situation all about you and how great you are. This is something that can be done with any kind of clothing.

[4] Another person's lust cannot pollute your character; the only way it is relevant to the question at all is if you are deliberately trying to provoke it. Anyone who says otherwise is like those people who think they have a right to shut down anyone's opinion just by insisting that other people could be offended by it; it is one thing to say that people should not deliberately try to be offensive, and another thing entirely that people should let their lives be controlled by people whose capacity to take offense knows no bound. That is forcing everyone to kowtow to vice, and it is necessarily unjust.

[5] Like every other virtue associated with temperance, modesty in attire consists chiefly in love of balance, in regarding levelheadedness as beautiful and acting accordingly, and secondarily in being ashamed to act in a way that is inappropriate to the kind of rational animal we are. It's all about reason and good sense, taking the circumstances you face and living in a way appropriate to them. And that means all the circumstances you face. Yes, other people's opinions are part of those circumstances, but so is the cost of clothing, so is what people usually wear, and more important than all of these is whether it is practical or useful for doing good things. Demanding that other people dress in ways that make it harder for them to do good things is irrational and vicious -- it's a sin against both prudence and justice -- and, ultimately, the primary authority on whether a certain type of clothing is necessary or most useful for the kind of thing being done is the person wearing it. To be sure, they may choose more or less wisely, more or less safely, but it is morally vicious to demand that people only use the safest means. (Such a demand is known as tutiorism or rigorism, and it violates prudence and justice. You are perfectly free to advise what you think is a morally safer course; it is morally wrong, however, to demand that people only follow what you think is the morally safer course, because there may be riskier courses that are nonetheless perfectly fine if done right, and you have no right to attack people for acting prudently merely because they could have acted more prudently.)

So if you

(1) are not deliberately trying to shock and scandalize people by the inappropriateness of your attire;
(2) are not deliberately using your clothing to treat yourself as superior to other people;
(3) don't make clothes a huge part of your life;
(4) try to wear clothes that make sense for what you are doing; and
(5) are not using clothes as a means for making other people do bad things

then, chances are, your clothing is perfectly modest, even if you happen to be wearing nothing but a short grass skirt or form-fitting spandex. Modesty is not a virtue concerned with the value of clothes; it is, like every other virtue associated with temperance, concerned with the value of people, yourself and others, as rational creatures capable of acting with good sense and proportion. And, of course, prudence and justice require that we tailor our assessments of other people's clothing accordingly.