Saturday, February 16, 2013

Notable Links

* "biblioklept" has a post on Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds. I've always liked Flann O'Brien much more than James Joyce, with whom he is often compared (he's less pretentious and pompous, for one thing); his The Third Policeman was one of my favorite books in college ("biblioklept" had a post on that one a year ago).

If you want a very brief taste of what he's like, try his short-short story, An Insoluble Question, or read this very short passage from The Third Policeman.

* Sean D. Collins discusses instrumental causality

* Agatha Christie's brush with MI5, when she was investigated because they were worried she was leaking secret information.

* Alberto Vanzo notes the problem with glossing the empiricist/rationalist position in terms of innate ideas.

* Charts on Thomas Aquinas's account of the structure of the Pauline Corpus. I talked about Aquinas's view on this a long time ago.

* "Geographic Travels" looks at the 'non-European Popes', i.e., those who came from places we don't normally think of as Europe -- mostly the Levant and North Africa.

* A new SEP article on Adam Smith's Moral and Political Philosophy

* Pope Benedict XVI discusses Vatican II:

I would now like to add yet a third point: there was the Council of the Fathers - the true Council - but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself, and the world perceived the Council through them, through the media. So the immediately efficiently Council that got thorough to the people, was that of the media, not that of the Fathers....So while the whole council - as I said - moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within the categories of the media of today, that is outside of the faith, with different hermeneutics. It was a hermeneutic of politics. The media saw the Council as a political struggle, a struggle for power between different currents within the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world.

Lent IV

To that, however, which is objected, that the flesh is in our power; it must be said, that even if it is in our power according to the order of nature, yet on according to the perversity of concupiscence in many it both reigns as handmaid and serves as lady, and too much love for the flesh makes the belly be man’s god; and for that reason it is not in our power, until we are liberated from the power of this body, with the help of the grace of God through Christ Jesus Our Lord. For so great is the force of love, that it subjects in a certain manner the lover to the beloved. Wherefore even if a son is in the power of (his) father, yet it is not easy for the father to slay or afflict the son, but (rather) very difficult; so must it be understood in the proposed, because no one ever holds his own flesh in hatred, but he nourishes and keeps it warm.

St. Bonaventure, Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, 2d21a2q3ad4. (The question is whether temptations of the flesh are more difficult to overcome than temptations of the devil; Bonaventure's response is that if we are considering the same sin, temptation of the flesh is the more difficult temptation.)

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Enlightenment and Race

Justin E. H. Smith has an interesting discussion of racism and the Enlightenment. However, I do think one thing needs to be corrected:

Scholars have been aware for a long time of the curious paradox of Enlightenment thought, that the supposedly universal aspiration to liberty, equality and fraternity in fact only operated within a very circumscribed universe. Equality was only ever conceived as equality among people presumed in advance to be equal, and if some person or group fell by definition outside of the circle of equality, then it was no failure to live up to this political ideal to treat them as unequal.

It would take explicitly counter-Enlightenment thinkers in the 18th century, such as Johann Gottfried Herder, to formulate anti-racist views of human diversity. In response to Kant and other contemporaries who were positively obsessed with finding a scientific explanation for the causes of black skin, Herder pointed out that there is nothing inherently more in need of explanation here than in the case of white skin: it is an analytic mistake to presume that whiteness amounts to the default setting, so to speak, of the human species.

But you do have examples of Enlightenment thinkers in the 18th century who formulate anti-racist views of human diversity. One in particular I occasionally talk about here, namely, James Beattie, and I've briefly discussed Beattie's argument, against Hume, for human equality and "the sacred rights of mankind". In Beattie's view the only reason anyone would deny human equality would be to justify things like slavery, which he regards as a crime against man and God. It might be worthwhile quoting his appeal to his fellow Britons on the point:

It is easy to see, with what views some modern authors throw out these hints to prove the natural inferiority of negroes. But let every friend to humanity pray, that they may be disappointed. Britons are famous for generosity; a virtue in which it is easy for them to excel both the Romans and the Greeks. Let it never be said, that slavery is countenanced by the bravest and most generous people on earth; by a people who are animated with that heroic passion, the love of liberty, beyond all nations ancient or modern; and the fame of whose toilsome, but unwearied perseverance, in vindicating, at the expense of life and fortune, the sacred rights of mankind, will strike terror into the hearts of sycophants and tyrants, and excite the admiration and gratitude of all good men, to the latest posterity.

Thus one can indeed find Enlightenment thinkers who are insistent on the equality of all human beings, regardless of their race. But, of course, this gets into the fact that not all Enlightenment thinkers are the same; they are quite a diverse bunch.

Lent III

Although a man is called blind, blindness is not in any part of him except in the eye, where sight ought to be; for blindness is not in the hand or in the foot. And when a man is called deaf, deafness is nowhere except in the ear. Similarly, even though the mass of the human race is called sinful, sin is not in any part of the human race except (as I have said) in the will....

St. Anselm of Canterbury, De Conceptu Virginali 15 (Jasper Hopkins, tr.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Poetic Catharsis is Social

Aristotle in the Poetics famously says that the effect of tragedy is catharsis, purification or purgation, particularly of pity and fear, but (also famously) does not give us much information about what this purification is. The word usually means a medical release of fluids. Some interpretations take this very seriously, and thus regard tragedy as being a healing venture, releasing poisonous passions; others think this is heavy-handed use of an obvious figure of speech. There are many other interpretations.

One of the things that I think hampers many interpretations of Aristotle on catharsis is a failure to take into account its social character. The Poetics is not the only place in which Aristotle talks about poetic catharsis. He also mentions it in the Politics, in which he actually refers to the Poetics. The passage (1341b-1342a) is worth quoting at length, but I will break it up a bit and add a few comments, always with the caveat that this is difficult and controversial material.

And since we accept the classification of melodies made by some philosophers, as ethical melodies, melodies of action, and passionate melodies, distributing the various harmonies among these classes as being in nature akin to one or the other, and as we say that music ought to be employed not for the purpose of one benefit that it confers but on account of several

Aristotle had previously noted three kinds of object for music, and raised the question of what it is suitable for:

(1) to relax and amuse, like sleeping and drinking and perhaps dancing, which are all things devoted to what is merely pleasant and removes care;
(2) to cultivate virtue, like athletics (gymnastics), since music affects character by accustoming us to feel rightly;
(3) to contribute to intellectual leisure and culture.

As he says here, he thinks that music can contribute effectively to all three of these, allowing people to occupy their leisure in noble ways. This is all part of a discussion of education for civic life, so Aristotle's concern is how music might aid the young in becoming good citizens and soldiers.

(for it serves the purpose both of education and of purgation—the term purgation we use for the present without explanation, but we will return to discuss the meaning that we give to it more explicitly in our treatise on poetry—and thirdly it serves for amusement, serving to relax our tension and to give rest from it),

It is somewhat ironic that, despite the reference to the poetics, this is actually the closest thing we have in the Aristotelian corpus to an explanation of catharsis; the reference seems to be to the second book of the Poetics, which, of course, is lost. Keep an eye out for it if you visit any ancient monasteries; it would be one of the greatest finds of all time.

He had a little before this passage said that we should not teach the young the flute, because the flute does not teach young people to pay attention, and thus does not moderate but excite, and should only be used for purgation rather than education.

it is clear that we should employ all the harmonies, yet not employ them all in the same way, but use the most ethical ones for education, and the active and passionate kinds for listening to when others are performing (for any experience that occurs violently in some souls is found in all, though with different degrees of intensity—for example pity and fear, and also religious excitement; for some persons are very liable to this form of emotion, and under the influence of sacred music we see these people, when they use tunes that violently arouse the soul, being thrown into a state as if they had received medicinal treatment and taken a purge; the same experience then must come also to the compassionate and the timid and the other emotional people generally in such degree as befalls each individual of these classes, and all must undergo a purgation and a pleasant feeling of relief; and similarly also the purgative melodies afford harmless delight to people).

So here we see that Aristotle himself seems to take the medical metaphor quite seriously. Passionate kinds of music violently arouse the soul, so that people who hear them are"thrown into a state as if they had received medicinal treatment and taken a purge" involving a "pleasant feeling of relief" and thus giving "harmless delight to people".

It turns out that he classifies the Dorian mode as an educational melody, because it is sedate and manly, and strongly disagrees with Plato's inclusion of the Phrygian mode as educational, because it is too exciting, as shown in its association with Dionysus. (I know nothing about music, but Wikipedia says that the modern Dorian mode is probably closest to the Greek Phrygian mode.) We seem to have no clear idea what was going on with ancient Greek modes, but here is an attempt to present something like what the ancient Greeks would have recognized as Dorian mode.

We don't get much clarity about musical education. But we do get some indication of the importance of catharsis as a social feature; it is so important that it needs to be considered as a matter of how to educate the young to be participants in their society. Hans-Georg Gadamer, I think, is probably on the right track when he says in Truth and Method that the key to tragic catharsis is that the experience is truly common (note Aristotle's explicit statement that "any experience that occurs violently in some souls is found in all, though with different degrees of intensity"), and thus we see ourselves in the tragic characters, and thus our own limitations and subjection to fate. The commonality of the experience seems quite crucial. We are all in some sense caught up together, and, releasing our passions in a civilized way, find relief, restoration, cure. This is very much the Neoplatonist view of the matter. In discussing the Mysteries, Iamblichus happens to comment that human passions, when exercised moderately, provide delight and are calmed, so that in tragedy and comedy we contemplate the passions of others and become more moderate in our own passions, thereby curing ourselves.

In any case, I think it's clear enough that any interpretation of catharsis has to recognize it as having a clear social character, and any interpretation that does not recognize this is probably wrong.

On the Importance of Grasping the Spirit

History of Philosophy, as a discipline, involves a lot of technicalities -- every kind of technicality, in fact, because they all show up somewhere in the actual history of philosophy or its study. But there's also a sort of je ne sais quoi quality to good HoP-work. Obviously, since it's je ne sais quoi, I don't know exactly or completely what it is, and don't think anyone else does. But bits and pieces of it can be brought out. I was thinking of one way to do it the other day; one hard-to-pin-down aspect of HoP is grasping the spirit or sense of a time, a movement, or a philosopher. On the one hand, it's an absolutely essential skill, which can save you from many of the worst kinds of errors. On the other hand, there is no method to it, and no definite way to learn it. This makes it one of the hard things about study the history of philosophy.

An example might help. I once ran across a website, by a professional philosopher, for one of his Intro or Ethics classes (I forget which). And he claimed that Kant held that the Golden Rule was a "deeply misguided principle." Now, this and this alone would immediately set alarm bells ringing for anyone who had any sort of sense of Kant. It's just not the sort of thing Kant would ever say or commit to. The Golden Rule, of course, was stated by Jesus, and to put it very baldly, Kant would never contradict Jesus. If Kant did have a problem with the Golden Rule, anyone with familiarity with Kant knows what he'd do: he'd argue that it was an excellent principle but only for a very specific domain, or he would say it had been widely misinterpreted and give his own interpretation. It is in fact difficult to get a sense of what Kant's view of the Golden Rule is, because he has only scattered comments that can be considered even relevant -- but having a sense of Kant, grasping the spirit of Kant, would have prevented this particular philosopher from an egregious misinterpretation.

Or consider the Scottish Enlightenment. One of the difficult things about interpreting the Scottish Enlightenment are the overwhelmingly important roles played by law and aesthetics. Jurisprudence and good taste -- each of them affects almost everything in almost every major philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment. This is especially difficult for us because in general we don't live in an intellectual world where law and taste are the governing principles of most of life. But it can prevent you from making a serious mistake, like the old view that Thomas Reid just 'tacked on' the Essay on Taste to his book on Intellectual Powers, or like not noticing how much of Hume's account of morality is actually an account of law. Or, to take two other examples from the same period, it's difficult to grasp the complicated balance between French intellectual life and English intellectual life that governs so much of Scottish intellectual life, or the utter urgency with which almost everyone insists that there needs to be some kind of middle-of-the-way between enthusiasm and priestcraft.

There's no easy way to learn these things, or even determine what will be important for diving in. It makes HoP a perpetual adventure. But it trips everyone up sometimes, and everyone comes to a point where they realize that some previous view they held was not even remotely plausible, however much it looked at the time like the text supported it.

Lent II

Everything takes its species from its form: and it has been stated (2) that the species of original sin is taken from its cause. Consequently the formal element of original sin must be considered in respect of the cause of original sin. But contraries have contrary causes. Therefore the cause of original sin must be considered with respect to the cause of original justice, which is opposed to it. Now the whole order of original justice consists in man's will being subject to God: which subjection, first and chiefly, was in the will, whose function it is to move all the other parts to the end, as stated above (Question 9, Article 1), so that the will being turned away from God, all the other powers of the soul become inordinate. Accordingly the privation of original justice, whereby the will was made subject to God, is the formal element in original sin; while every other disorder of the soul's powers, is a kind of material element in respect of original sin. Now the inordinateness of the other powers of the soul consists chiefly in their turning inordinately to mutable good; which inordinateness may be called by the general name of concupiscence. Hence original sin is concupiscence, materially, but privation of original justice, formally.

St. Thomas Aquinas, ST 2-1.82.3

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Some Questions about Moral Realism

Peter Hurford has some interesting questions for moral realists. So here are my answers; unfortunately I only have time to be quite brief at the moment.

(1) Why is there only one particular morality?

'Morality' is not the sort of thing that can be one or many; it's just an abstract common category. One might as well ask why there is only one particular humanity; that could mean any number of very different things. And there are several different things that might be meant if we take the question to be a metonymy. For instance, we might be asking why there are universal moral principles; to which we would have to reply that it's because some universal rational principles fall into the category labeled by 'morality' -- those governing whether it's rational to throw out all standards of rationality, for instance, or the principle of noncontradiction as applied to moral situations. On the other hand, the word 'particular' suggests that the question is asking why there is only one moral code, understood as including all moral principles? And the answer is that there isn't: application of universal principles to diverse particular situations will diversify particular moral principles. This divergence affects the answers to all the questions.

(2) Where does morality come from?

If we are talking about universal principles, at least some of them are simply intrinsically necessary, while others are necessary given certain common natural facts (e.g., that human beings need to eat in order to live, or that human beings seek to learn by both imitation and reasoning). If we are talking about particular principles, they are solutions to problems raised by particular kinds of circumstances, based on the general universal moral propositions and the circumstantial facts. Hurford also asks, "Are moral facts contingent; could morality have been different? Is it possible to make it different in the future?" And we can see that some aren't contingent and some are, and that some can be made different in the future. by changing circumstances, and others can't (and, it should be said, the two distinctions are different: a moral principle being contingent does not of itself imply that it could be changed in the future).

(3) Why should we care about (your) morality?

The answer is that it no more matters whether anyone cares about moral principles, assuming that's what's in view, than it matters whether people care about rational standards in reasoning, and for exactly the same reason. This ties in to the question of wordplay that Hurford raises. If someone were to change the meaning of 'rationality' so that it allowed 'accepting contradictions as true just because one feels like it', it wouldn't change any of the obvious problems with being 'rational' in this way, nor would it change anything fundamental, because the whole point of realism is that it's not a matter of how one defines words, but a matter of facts and necessities. Whether people care, of course, is just a matter of motivation; whether people care about abstract algebra is completely irrelevant to the question of what's true about abstract algebra, and equally irrelevant to the question of what a given person can and can't rationally believe about abstract algebra. Changing the definition of the words 'rationality' or 'morality' doesn't affect any of the actual facts, necessities, or possibilities.

Hurford recognizes the possibility of raising this point, but I suspect he is assuming the division between what is commonly called instrumental rationality and epistemic rationality, and taking this to be exhaustive. This, however, is an untenable dichotomy. If we have rationality concerning means, we can sum over all possible means to get rationality concerning ends: there will be ends that cannot be reached by any possible means. So there's a non-epistemic rationality that is not itself what people generally regard as instrumental rationality. We can do similar things starting from epistemic rationality. The distinction between the two is not exhaustive, and there has never been any good reason to think it is exhaustive; it's quite easy to start with with them and show that either alone or in combination imply forms of rationality that cannot be put into either category. And, of course, what I said about 'morality' applies to 'rationality'; these are abstract category-labels able to include multitudes of different things, not unitary things in their own right. Rationality is as extensive as reason itself; it cannot be arbitrarily chopped up into bits.

Someone who didn't desire "morality" at all would be quite literally insane: they wouldn't desire, directly as an end or indirectly as a means, to conform to rational norms, social standards, prudential reasoning about means, or their own aesthetic tastes, all of which at least partly fall under the label. Beyond that, we'd have to look at each sort of thing in its own right.

Lent I

It is laudable for the sinner to confess his sin as quickly as he conveniently can because a grace is conferred through the sacrament of penance which makes a man stronger in resisting sin. However, some said that he is bound to confess as quickly as the opportunity of confessing offered itself so that if he delays he sins. This is against the intelligible structure of an affirmative precept which, although it obliges always, does not however oblige for always but obliges for a fixed place and time. Now the time for fulfilling the precept concerning confession is when an occasion is imminent in which it is necessary for a man to confess, e.g. if the moment of death is imminent, or the necessity of receiving the Eucharist or Holy Orders or the like, for which it is necessary for a man to be prepared by being cleansed through confession. So if one of these events is imminent and someone neglects confession, he sins as long as a due opportunity is present. And because from the Church’s precept all believers are bound to take the communion of the sacrament at least once a year, on the feast of Easter especially, therefore the Church decreed that once a year when the time for taking the Eucharist is near all believers should confess. Therefore, I say that delaying confession until this time, essentially speaking, is permitted, but it can become unlawful accidentally, e.g. if a moment in which confession is required should be near, or if someone delays confession out of contempt. And likewise such a delay may be accidentally meritorious if he delays so that he may confess more prudently or more devoutly because of the holy season.

St. Thomas Aquinas, QQ1.5 (Sandra Edwards, tr.)

Music on My Mind

Kate Miller-Heidke, "The Tiger Inside Will Eat the Child"

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fortnightly Book, February 10

Yes, this is up late.

The 1950s saw a spate of 'gray flannel' novels, named after what was perhaps the most successful example, Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, which was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones. These novels explored the harsh world of post-WWII business, with its sense of open horizons combined with bizarre and stunting impositions of conformity. It's probably the only period of time they could seriously have been written, at least for a while; if anybody tried to write about the period today, they would hardly be able to cut through the grease of nostalgia and distorted TV renderings to the way things actually were. It was the age of Organization Man, apparently capable of absolutely anything except human accountability, the age of Mass Society and Mass-Produced Humanity, the age of the paradoxes of cheap luxury and progress into self-destruction. There were a lot of worries in the 50s.

The next fortnightly book is one of these novels, The Big Company Look by J. Harvey Howells, published in 1958. I actually intended to do this one way back in October, but other books kept jumping ahead in the line. It has been very difficult to find information on either the book or its author. J. Harvey Howells seems to have worked in advertising in New Orleans, but was better known for his radio and TV scripts. He wrote several episodes for Robert Montgomery Presents, and seems to have received a Writers' Guild Award for one of them. He wrote this book. His name shows up here and there in some newspapers because of it. And then he seems to have dropped off the face of the planet. I can't find anything at all about him after 1959.

The book likewise gets considerable notice immediately after publishing and then, just as suddenly, nothing. It tells the story of a man in the cutthroat grocery business, pulling in grocery stores and supermarkets as clients for the United States Grocery Company. This man, Jackson Pollett, spends a life making the right business choices, ascending rapidly, stepping over friends, until finally he finds himself a little fish in a pond of Big Company Men whom he can't outmaneuver.

We'll see what it's like.

Card and Superman and Counterproductive Campaigns

I was somewhat amused to see that one of the big news items today is that DC Comics has hired Orson Scott Card as author for a new Superman series, and a campaign has begun to try to get him fired for being anti-gay:

The news has sparked a furious backlash from Card's critics. Card is a long-time critic of homosexuality and has called gay marriage "the end of democracy in America". In 2009 he became a board member of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that campaigns against same-sex marriage.

There's no question that Card is a vehement opponent of gay marriage, although if anyone bothered to check facts, they would know that what Card called "the end of democracy in America" was not gay marriage but courts determining issues that should be left to legislatures; but I understand that this is the sort of issue on which people don't want to be bothered with nuances, because it interferes with simply treating their opponents as evil. The article continues:

"Superman stands for truth, justice and the American way. Orson Scott Card does not stand for any idea of truth, justice or the American way that I can subscribe to," said Jono Jarrett of Geeks Out, a gay fan group. "It's a deeply disappointing and frankly weird choice."

Disappointing it may well be, especially given how uneven Card is as a writer, but it's obviously not very 'weird': Card is one of the best-selling science fiction authors of all time; he has had a recent resurgence, perhaps due to rumors of that the Ender's Game movie will come out this November, and Ender's Game, published in 1985, was the best-selling science fiction book of 2012, outselling the next two books combined. It is currently #23 on the New York Times Best-Sellers list for mass-market fiction. Card is the only author ever to have won both the Hugo and the Nebula two years in row. It honestly does not require any deep thinking to figure out what DC Comics was thinking in hiring him.

Petitioning is itself reasonable behavior, and shouldn't be disparaged, but the problem with this sort of campaign is that it is necessarily generic. Privately owned businesses can be swayed on principle, but corporations only pay attention to petitions like this when they see clear warning signs of profit loss. Mere controversy will not suffice, for the obvious reason that controversy is good for business. Electronic Arts Games, the video game maker, was caught a couple years back faking protests against its Dante's Inferno game; they hired people to pretend to be Christians upset with the game, carrying around signs saying things like, "Hell is not a game". The whole point was to stir up controversy, so people would hear about the game and perhaps be curious enough to buy it. It's possible they were also calculating that there are potential customers who are more than happy to buy something just to stick it in the eye of Christian fundamentalists. And it seemed to be working quite well until reporters stumbled onto the fact that it was staged. A campaign like this is far more likely to increase DC's profits and Card's reputation than it is to threaten them in any way; more people have heard about Card writing Superman due to the campaign than due to DC hiring him. Merely by hiring him, for that matter, DC has, because of this campaign, guaranteed that more people will hear about its new digital Superman series than would ever have otherwise heard about it. Comic books are not a high-profit product; any increase in sales is a big win. And the only way this campaign can possibly not increase their sales is if it grows so big as to become a nationwide backlash, which it will not, because, quite frankly, the number of people who care about who writes Superman comics is very tiny, and the number of supporters of gay marriage who will think it productive to devote that much energy to a single person is also very tiny.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Logic Geometrically

(1) Let terms be represented by lines.

(2) Where two lines are parallel, the corresponding terms exclude each other. For two lines to be parallel is for no part of one to be part of the other.

(3) Where two lines intersect, the terms at least partly overlap. For two lines to intersect is for part of one to be part of the other.

(4) Part of part of a line is part of that line.

(5) Lines that intersect a line in whatever way are not thereby assumed to intersect its parallels at any point. We should think of the lines as finite line segments or arcs.

(6) We can then give geometrical representation to each of the four families of categorical propositions.

A (Every S is P): the whole line S is at least part of the line P

[There's no easy way to represent this in this post. I simply draw a line for P, and then put parentheses on the line, labeled S, to indicate that the whole line S is at least part of P

E (No S is P): the whole line S is parallel to the line P


I (Some S is P): the line S intersects the line P

[This is obviously also difficult to represent simply by a keyboard, although it is easy to draw. One thing that we have to be careful about is that the geometrical representation of logic used here does not care about any angles beyond whether they are equal to 0. Thus an I proposition, despite its appearance in the above representation, is consistent with an A proposition: the A proposition is just the I proposition with a zero degree angle between the subject and the predicate, so that the subject line is at least part of the predicate line. As such it might be more convenient to represent an I proposition as being one of two possible diagrams, the one just given and the diagram for A propositions. If we do this, the above diagram is actual for the exclusive rather than the standard particular: it tells us not that Some S is P but that Only some S is P. I haven't decided which is the handier way of doing it.]

O (Some S is not P): the line S intersects a line parallel to P


(7) Conversion is built into the representation, as are some of the other immediate inferences.

Obversion of A: If the whole line S is part of the line P, the whole line S is parallel to any line parallel to P.
Obversion of E: If line S is parallel to the line P, the whole line S is at least part of a nonP line.
Obversion of I: If the line S intersects line P, at least part of the line S intersects a line parallel to nonP.
Obversion of O: If the line S intersects a line parallel to P, at least part of the line S is at least part of a nonP line.

Contraposition of A: If the whole line S is part of the line P, the whole line nonS is part of a nonP line.
Contraposition of O: If the line S intersects a line parallel to P, the line S intersects a nonP line.

(8) The Barbara Syllogism (Every M is P, Every S is M; therefore Every S is P):


The Celarent Syllogism (No M is P; Every S is M; Therefore No S is P)



The Ferio Syllogism (No M is P; Some S is M; therefore Some S is not P)



The Darii Syllogism (All M is P; Some S is M; therefore Some S is P)


(Also difficult to represent with the keyboard, although very easy to draw: just draw line P, then mark at least part of P M, and draw line S intersecting line M.)

All other syllogisms are reducible to these in the standard way; we could even draw out our diagrams of these other syllogisms and reason geometrically to the relevant First Figure syllogism.

(9) This is similar to a kind of diagramming developed by George Englebretsen (as he notes, we have reason to think that Aristotle actually used line diagrams at least occasionally in his work on logic, but we don't have a precise idea of how he used them); but he doesn't press the fact that you could reason like Euclid with them beyond some obvious ways, whereas I think the geometrical element can be taken quite far. The geometry wouldn't be Euclid's, but it would be a genuine geometry, and it would directly represent the entire syllogistic apparatus. We can then read categorical syllogisms as construction-instructions. For instance:

Given: Every dog is a mammal; some pets are dogs.
To Prove: Some pets are mammals.



Line dog is part of line mammal. Line pet intersects line dog. But part of part of a line is part of that line. Therefore line pet intersects line mammal.

Therefore from Every dog is a mammal and some pets are dogs we have proven that some pets are mammals, QED.

Pope to Resign

Pope Benedict XVI will soon be resigning as pope, due to reasons of age and ill health:

After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

So in March there will be a new pope. It's difficult to think of who would be his likely replacement. Scola is a possibility, but I'm inclined to think that the cardinals will still be reluctant to pick an Italian. Dolan is a possibility, but I think the cardinals will also be reluctant to pick an American. Ouellet, being Canadian, might be possible, but popes tend not to be like their predecessors, and Ouellet is nicknamed the Second Ratzinger. Scherer is another might-be-considered, but he might not be regarded as strong or forceful enough. The two most likely Africans, Turkson and Sarah, are in the same boat. Lots of other candidates are likely too young to be seriously considered: cardinals are generally cautious about anyone who might end up being pope for a long time. Of course, any baptized male in principle can be made pope, but only cardinals have since the fourteenth century.

My bet, if it were admissible to bet on such things, would be on Ouellet, thus giving us the first North American pope, but you can never tell.

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables


Opening Passage:
In 1815, M. Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of D.... He was an man of about seventy-five years of age, and had held the see of D.... since 1806. Although the following details in now way affect our narrative, it mau not be useless to quote the rumors that were current about him at the moment when he came to the diocese, for what is said of men,w ehther it be true or false, often occupies as much space in their life, and especially in their destiny, as what they do. M. Myriel was the son fo a councilor of hte Parliament of Aix. It was said that his father, who intended that he should be his successor, married him at a very early age, eighteen or twenty, according to a not uncommon custom in parliamentary families. Charles Myriel, in spite of this marriage (so people said), had been the cause of much tattle. He was well built, though f short stature, elegant graceful, and witty; and the earlier par to fhis life was devoted to the world and to gallantry.

Summary: There is a lot of book between the covers of Les Misérables, and it is therefore not surprising that the novel manages to be more than one thing at the same time. Perhaps the most complete account of the book would be to call it a prose poem whose theme is God and Progress (both are repeatedly highlighted as themes) in the lives of the Wretched, the people who, however guilty, are unfortunate in a greater measure than they are culpable; it is these who give the book its name. In this sense it has no digressions from one end to the other, not even the one in which he spends almost an entire book of Volume IV reflecting on the moral significance of sewers. Poetry has no digressions, even when written in prose, if the digressions contribute to its theme. And none of the apparent digressions, especially the most digressive of them, ever stray from the theme.

It is also, of course, the tale of an ensemble of characters, the most notable of whom is Jean Valjean, an escaped convict whose fortunes make up much of the book. When people speak of the story of the book, in fact, it is almost always in terms of Valjean and his interactions with Inspector Javert. In a sense this is curious, since the interactions do not form a large part of the book and, contrary to the way many people speak, while Valjean affects Javert's life considerably, Javert affects Valjean's life very little. Javert is not the major antagonist; he is hardly an antagonist at all. Javert is not Valjean's nemesis. Valjean has no nemesis in the story, but if he did, it would be Thénardier, not Javert. Nor is he even the person whose life is most affected by Valjean.

I think it is because Javert is, if anything, Valjean's alter ego, and because his death scene is the second best in the book (after Maboeuf's). Inspector Javert is a man of order, of law; he serves the law of man with an intensity and passion that is unmatched by anything else in the book except Valjean's attempts to do good to others. In Valjean he finds himself baffled, because Valjean is a living refutation of all his assumptions. He eventually comes to regard himself as caught in a dilemma from which he cannot escape. The law of man requires that Valjean be caught and punished. But Javert comes to think that to catch and punish Valjean would violate another law, the law of God. It is an intolerable dilemma for a man like Javert. If he arrests Valjean, he commits a crime; if he lets him go free, he commits a crime; the demand of duty in both cases is severe. Even recognizing the dilemma is progress for Javert, and his suicide is itself a sign of how much. He chooses rightly: he will not commit a crime against the God. By not sinning against God, he sins against the human law. But the law is not merely something Javert defends; it is the essential part of who he is. Justice must be done, and violations of law must be punished. So he punishes himself and commits suicide. In a few scenes we see an extraordinary depth in a man who had before mostly been seen only in half-glimpses.

It is also the most interesting interaction. Cosette and Marius, who occupy a much larger part of the book, are relatively bland. Many of the characters are hardly more than caricatures. The narrator does not merely tell the story; he as much as disavows the intent just to tell the story. He is preaching at us on the subject of progress and does not shy away from admitting it. The digressions from the story itself are extensive and filled with what must be every genre of moralizing. This is didactic sermon writ large, very large and very didactic. In introducing the book I talked about how its closest cousin is Atlas Shrugged, and despite one being avowedly altruistic and the other avowedly egoistic, they share a great deal, even to the extent of all the criticisms of Rand's book having almost exact parallels in early criticism of Les Misérables. And, in a sense, all the criticisms obviously have merit.

Yet the book has a power that is somehow not captured by any of the criticisms, however just, as seen by its enduring popularity and the enthusiastic readers it has collected in every generation since it was published. Hugo is a writer of power, able to tug at the heartstrings and to depict struggles of the heart with great facility. He will return from a long non-story discussion and, using the endless discussion of the Infinite, or of sewers, or of Napoleon as background, quickly in a single short scene, sometimes even just a few lines, perfectly capture some fundamental feature of human life. It is sermon, but it is sermon accompanied by exquisite tableaux. And we should not disparage sermon; contrary to common wisdom, everyone loves a good sermon. We are moralizing creatures, sermonizers by nature. Indeed, this is why moralizing in literature is dangerous, because human beings are so naturally inclined to sermon that we only love those that are far better than we ourselves could deliver. It is not that readers dislike sermonizing in their books; it is that good sermons are very difficult to find. But Hugo preaches a good sermon.

Favorite Passage:

Progress! this cry, which we raise so frequently, is our entire thought, and at the point of our drama which we have reached, as the idea which it contains has still more than one trial to undergo, we may be permitted, even if we do nto raise the veil, to let its gleams pierce through clearly. The which the reader has before him at this moment is, from one end to the other, in its entirety and its details, whatever its intermissions, exceptions, and short-comings may be, the progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life, from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, and from nothingness to God. the starting-point is matter, the terminus the soul; the hydra at the commencement, the angel at the end.

Recommendation: Definitely the sort of book you should read at least once in your life. But prepare for a long haul.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Admin Note

I do intend to post something on Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, but some friends unexpectedly came into town this weekend, so I will not have a chance to post it prior to Sunday evening, perhaps Monday morning at the latest.