Saturday, March 16, 2013

Regularly Scheduled Justified-True-Belief Post

Plato's theory of knowledge does not identify knowledge with justified true belief. I've said it before, but I've recently come across several cases of people referring to the opposite as (for instance) "well-known"; to the extent that it is "well-known", it is one of those "well-known" things that is false and does not stand up to serious examination of evidence. The usual source identified, of course, is the Theaetetus. In this dialogue, Plato's Socrates examines three proposals for what knowledge is:

true judgment
true judgment with logos

Logos is always a tricky word, but here it means something like 'account', 'explanation', 'reason'. Whether "true judgment with logos" can be prodded and poked into a shape equivalent to "justified true belief" is a difficult question, depending heavily on what assumptions one makes, but suppose it does. Nonetheless, in this dialogue Socrates rejects all three positions. The last one he even calls a bunch of wind before he heads out to his trial. The problem with it is that, under any plausible theory of what counts as logos, the definition either (a) makes knowledge indistinguishable from various kinds of lucky opinion; or (b) just means "true judgment with whatever it is that would turn true judgment into knowledge". The famous Gettier cases against JTB as an analysis of knowledge are really taking advantage of what Plato had already pointed out in (a). Even if one takes Plato to have considered JTB as an account of knowledge -- which is controvertible -- he rejected it as obviously untenable. At least, he has Socrates do so.

Plato's account of knowledge is not a JTB account. It needs to be repeated until professional philosophers stop saying that it is.

Music on My Mind

Kate Miller-Heidke, "Politics in Space." About time someone wrote a genuine Generation X anthem. It has the requisite ironic mockery of Baby Boomers and their fixation on the 60s, as well as a recognition of the awfulness of the world and the right mix of sarcastic good cheer and resignation in facing it. I've never yet met a Millenial who understood the extraordinary importance of coolly acidic sarcasm, or even how to twist snarkiness in just the right way to get it; they try, but it's just not the same. Good kids, but they take themselves too seriously. It's a very sobering thing, looking on one of the important arts of truth and justice and realizing that you are apparently its pinnacle, that it seems to be all downhill from here. It makes me want to make a special effort to be sarcastic, just so it won't go to waste.

And the song has the Answer to Every Question:

Are you alright? Pretty much.
Are you okay? Pretty much.
You got your health? Pretty much.
You know the way? Pretty much.
You know your limit? Pretty much.
You understand? Pretty much.
Are you the man? Pretty much, pretty much, pretty much.

Plus, I like operatic sopranos singing pop songs.

In any case, since I brought it all up, it's worth pointing out that the stereotypes of GenX as the sour-faced materialistic slacker generation were mostly due to GenXers worrying about whether they were growing up to be sour-faced, or materialistic, or slackers. All statistical indications are that GenX is happier, more family-oriented, better educated, more actively interested in helping others, and more socially responsible than any other generation currently alive. It's statistics, so you know it has to be true. I've yet to come across statistics proving that we are more sarcastic than any other generation, though; so who will write the grant proposal?


Oh tepidity! If those who give way to it only rightly understood what it is, they would less easily fall victims to it, for they would dread to become the slaves of so cruel a tyrant. If we are free from this vice, nothing we can do or suffer for God, even death itself, seems too great a burden, whereas the victim of tepidity finds a straw too heavy for him to carry. This vice ruins a man's spiritual life, and it not only stops all perseverance in the good he had commenced, but even causes him to repent of having begun it, thus turning into bitterness what should be sweeter than honey to his soul.

The Israelites who journeyed through the desert had appetites so disordered that they could not enjoy the manna "containing in itself all sweetness," which God sent them. Their blindness was so great that they did not find fault with themselves, or with the evil condition of their health, but with the food, which was of the most savoury kind. They asked for some other sort of viand with which they thought they would be better satisfied and pleased:—it was given them, but at the cost of their lives. We are to learn by this that even if the things of God are not always agreeable to us, still we must not wish for what is contrary to them, however delightful it may seem to us, for without doubt it would poison our souls. We should rather rid ourselves of the disgust we feel for religion, and then, when the appetites of our soul are healthy, we shall feel a right and pleasant relish for the food God gives His children.

To work slothfully and tepidly in God's service will cause you to lead so unhappy a life that you will be forced to change your ways. Besides, such a life is disloyal to our Saviour Who laboured with such ardent love to redeem us, and so willingly took up the cross that His love for us exceeded His suffering. The tepid soul cannot enjoy the world's pleasures, having given them up in the desire of doing right, and yet, for want of fervour, it does not find happiness in God. In this way such a soul is placed between two opposites, each of which is a torment to it; it suffers such severe afflictions that at last it leaves the right road, and with miserable fatuity seeks the flesh-pots of the Egypt it had left, because it cannot endure the hardships of the desert. Compare the trouble that is undergone by one who serves God diligently and fervently, with that which the tepid soul suffers through sloth, and you will find that the burden borne by tepidity is a thousand times the heavier. It is indeed wonderful that vigils, prayer, fasting, mortification and other works undertaken for our Lord should bring more pleasure to fervent souls than the tepid find in all their feasts, and riches, and other indulgences. The lukewarm Christian appears gay, but grief gnaws at his heart: while the just man, though his life be one of penance, has happiness within his soul.

St. John of Avila, from Letters of Blessed Juan de Avila, pp. 91-92.

Friday, March 15, 2013

'Moral Status'

The SEP has a new article up on The Grounds of Moral Status, by Agnieszka Jaworska and Julie Tannenbaum. According to the article, "An entity has moral status if and only if it or its interests morally matter to some degree for the entity's own sake, such that it can be wronged."

Of course, with a definition like this, the big questions become "What does it mean for something or its interests to matter morally for one's own sake?" and "What does it mean for something to be wronged?" In practice, of course, philosophers don't tend to ask this question, which is surprising; or perhaps not surprising, since the most natural answer to the first question is, "They can be considered in good moral reasoning as an end or valuable" and the most natural answer to the second is "Something is wronged when its value is not properly regarded". These answers, though, would make talk of moral status otiose -- it would contribute nothing that could not be said better another way, and almost anything could have 'moral status' in this sense at some point or another. What philosophers in practice use 'moral status' to do is to argue that things should be denied rights, and answers that give everything moral status, even if only contingently, even if only intermittently, would make 'moral status' nearly useless in such arguments. (It would still be possible to have such arguments, but 'moral status' wouldn't be very handy for them.) Yet there is very little reason to deny that things can morally matter for their own sake at least some of the time; and almost any account that did deny it would end up being very difficult to apply consistently without the kinds of actions that many people would consider egregiously unjust.

I think that virtually all discussions of 'moral status' are nonsense of the worst sort. The article, however, is quite good; it lays out the common positions fairly, and while it does not consider the whole problem head-on, it does consider part of the problem. As the authors state (FMS means 'full moral status'):

Nonetheless, providing an adequate theory to account for the FMS of unimpaired infants and cognitively impaired human beings without attributing the same status to most animals has proven very difficult. In fact, our survey in section 4 suggests that this challenge has not been met by any of the existing accounts of the grounds of moral status. Some philosophers have, as a result, questioned or even abandoned this seemingly commonsense view, including the aspect that holds all adult cognitively unimpaired human beings have FMS (see the end of section 4.1).

Of course, we could also accept the point instead of trying to save our accounts of 'moral status' by insisting that not all "adult cognitively unimpaired human beings" have full moral status, and conclude that accounts of 'moral status' don't really contribute anything of importance. But then we couldn't have a cottage industry of people just making up criteria for 'moral status', completely disconnected from common sense or any other way of determining whether they are even heading very roughly in the right direction.


Man is a vessel which God fashioned for himself, which he imbued with his spirit, so that he might accomplish his works in him; for God does not work as man does but by the order of his command all things are carried out. Grasses, brush, and trees appeared; the sun, the moon, and the stars also came about by his care, and the waters produced fish and birds, and flocks and beasts arose as well, which minister all things to men, as God commanded. Man alone did not recognize Him. For when God prepared great knowledge for man, man lifted himself up in his spirit and turned himself away from God. For God looked on man to perfect all his works in him, but the ancient deceiver beguiled him and infected him with the crime of disobedience, the love of the unstable wind, when he sought more than he should have....

...Who desire to accomplish the works of God, let them always consider that they are earthen vessels, since they are men, and let them always reflect on what they are and what they will be, and leave heavenly things to [him] who is of heaven, since they are exiles, not knowing heavenly things, but only reciting the mysteries of God, just as a trumpet only makes sounds, but does not cause them; someone blows in it in order to make the sound. But the mild put on the cuirass of faith, being gentle, poor, and unfortunate, having the simple habits of children, just as he whose trumpet sounds they are was a Lamb, since God always scourges those who sing in his trumpet, taking care lest their earthen vessel perish, except as it pleases Him.

St. Hildegard of Bingen, Letter to Elisabeth of Schoenau. That last sentence takes some cracking, but yes, it does make sense.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dashed Off

As always, just some notes, jottings, and ideas; take with grain of salt.

Validity requires only truth-preservation, not that the conclusion assert no more than the premises. (It is simply that the latter scenario is the easiest to prove truth-preserving.)

observation, colligation, iteration, erasure (cf. Peirce on the general elements of reasoning)

outward vs inward element of sacrifice

language, culture, and genealogy as tradition

the Church as exhibiting infallibility in principle, in consensus (confidelity), and in convergent terminus

Logos as the source of all merit

the need for a constition to recognize extra-constitutional powers

Simply having words down on a paper does not establish a right; there must be custom among the people.

With saints, at least generally, one must start with learning, not admiration.

the Church as a society oriented toward virtue
- requires at its source
(1) principle of peaceful union
(2) direction to good
(3) instruments of action
- requires for maintenance
(4) orderly succession
(5) instruments of sanction
(6) defense against external danger
- and in addition, for all of these
(7) means of improvement
(8) means of reformation

The Liturgy of the Word is catechetical (and note that the older equivalent was called the Liturgy of the Catechumen).

truly, really, substantially
truly: at least by sign
really: not merely by sign but at least with what signifies
substantially: not merely with what signifies

One of the crucial truths of government is that rule of administration is not rule of law. There is not a tinpot dictatorship that does not have as full an administrative apparatus, as elobrate a ssytem of administrative proceeding, as active an officialdom, as one could want. But this is all merely a parody of the rule of law.

Laws unenforced fade in promulgation.

Worry or frustration about things out of one's control can easily become a moral defect.

purity as a form of intrinsic rationality

the Eucharist as figure of conversion to God
(1) we are not merely made signs of God
(2) we are not merely recipients of grace
(3) we do not merely have something of God's presence in us
(4) we also put off the old Adam and put on new Christ

The Calvinist account of Scripture gives to it the features Catholics give to sacraments.

Hesed: Eucharist
Din: Reconciliation
Rahamim: Confirmation
Hod: Unction
Nezach: Orders
Yesod: Baptism
Malkhut: Matrimony

The sacrament of Orders is the sacrament of Apostolic Succession, apostolic succession as a sacrament.

(1) the aspect of the sacrament in its prefiguration
(2) the aspect of the sacrament in the Passion of Christ
(3) the aspect of the sacrament in its place in the sacramental ministry
(4) the aspect of the sacrament in its relation to other sacraments
(5) the aspect of the sacrament in the relation of other sacraments to it

The line between the rational and the irrational is drawn between planning and refusing to change one's plans.

Testable predictions are only of value if they are rational predictions.

modal operators as searches

immaculate conception -> perfect mediation and redemption

(1) somatic homogeneity
(2) nuptial meaning
(3) mutual self-giving
(4) internal fidelity
(5) sacramental bond

plasticity of scholarship

All expiation is cooperative.

What is implicit in faith is drawn out by the impetus of love.

translation as communication among scholars

order of ordinations
image of God -> Baptismal character -> Confirmation character -> Ordained character
(successive transformations of image, which makes one priestly)
That the image of God is a proto-character explains why marriage, without conferring a character, has a hieratic side: it is a natural venue for the priestly character, the proto-character, we have by nature.

Men who play chess with the devil will lose; but it is harder to avoid the game than one might think.

(1) Human beings have a natural desire to know the causes of effects, as seen in wonder.
(2) This natural desire would be in vain if the human mind could not attain to a first cause of things.

All long-enduring human customs have an intrinsic rationality. It is sometimes limited and sometimes unlovely, but nothing can be human for long and lack rationality completely.

the natural inclination to attribute personal attributes to moral principles

materia plenaformis (seminal principles)
forma plena virtute (active power)
virtus plena effectibus (causation)

rhetoric as the study of rational cascades.

Everything grasped by the intellect is either nonbeing, or potential, or actual.

Intellectual cowardice is too often mistaken for intellectual humility.

A moral vocabulary and language requires a habitation appropriate to it, and a history by means of which it can be shaped.

Descartes's entire approach is an attempt to build a logic of discovery (see esp. the Principles).

apocalyptic literature as indirect moral discourse

People regularly confuse certainty with authority; this is a very bad habit.

skepticism as an autoimmune disorder

Giving thanks is a human way of multiplying good.

The horizon of the past is constantly changing.

the Church as the general motive of credibility

In charging human beings to subdue and have dominion, the Lord gave human beings a role, a participation, in His work of adornment.

"For art was the especial gift of the Children of Ilúvatar." Ainulindale B

The sacraments are enigmas of glory.

sexuality as otherness within

Invalid sacraments may still be occasions of grace, if there was innocent intent; they just aren't themselves acts of grace.

Greatness lies not in battle, but in endurance and in victory, even if sometimes that victory is the victory of death.

Shaftesbury's account of ridicule makes the adornment the test of the adorned, like judging a man by his clothes.

The strength of Latin and Greek is that they served simultaneously as languages of high speech and of common speech (in the sense of common rather than colloquial).

the world as an ascetic economy (Origen, Butler)

Price is not the only measure used in buying and selling; people also consider estimates of quality and overall value by classifying into folk economic categories. (Not in Rubin's sense of 'folk economics', which shows neither any grasp of heuristic character, nor any ability to distinguish cognitive tendency and prevalent opinion.)

Saruman errs by preferring to be a Power to being one of the Wise.

We think ourselves decent for lacking slaves; but our society is structured in such a way that we only lack slaves because we have substitutes for what slaves would do. We may thank God for that, but we should still be suspicious of the fact that our decency looks largely accidental.

Hume in effect concedes Malebranche's main vision in God argument, but simply goes skeptical on the conclusion to be drawn. (Treatise 1.1.7)

"The best defense against hypocrisy is love" Kierkegaard

God alone are we asked to love more than ourselves. Angels we are to love as ourselves; saints as ourselves; the Virgin as ourselves; no matter how high a thing may be above us, or in what way, except for God we are to love them as ourselves.

To love well, one must win one's way to love.

Love 'faiths' everything, hopes everything.

Augustine: marriage as union for procreation is nonfradulent sexual companionship (every association abhors fraudulent companionship) -- it is that kind of sexual partnership in which the partners do not defraud each other or themselves

Remedy for concupiscence arises fo rAugustine not from marriage as such but from conjugal chastity, which he understands as involving a desire not merely for children but for children who are children of God.

For any human court to claim unrestricted jurisdiction over human rights, which is to claim jurisdiction as extensive as human reason, is a violation of human rights. This is a sometimes difficult truth, but it cannot be ignored.

Many philosophical evaluations of reasoning fail by not distinguishing what's good in the market and what's good in the workshop.

To love our neighbor as ourselves we must love them in a way we can love ourselves, and we must love ourselves in a way that we can love our neighbor.

'Knowledge by acquaintance' is just acquaintance.

the Eucharist as source & summit of preaching -- it is the sacrament of preaching (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis 5)

When talking about bodily integrity rights, people often conflate two different kinds of rights: bodily integrity and bodily dominion.

In marriage one is not merely human but elect.

Privative terms are domain-relative.

Occasional causation reequires that the intention fo the effect include the occasion. Occasionality links to disposition.

Time is the serially enumerable relation of change to change by means of change.

intrinsic & extrinsic title to dissent

time as the quantitative measure of incomplete actuality

To use instruments to discover things that cannot be sensed requires that scientists use the principle taht what begins to exist (in the instrument) has a cause.

reading as a reparative activity

Mathematics arises not from sense but from experience; it requires deliberate intellectual experiments involving sense and imagination.

Bias is just the word for the influence of the merely contingent and accidental on reasoning.

Heroes of any kind are presented in minimally counterintuitive (minimally schema-inconsistent) ways, regardless of character (consider Victorian treatment of Newton, our treatment of Einstein). This is a storytelling function: no one is heroic or a role model except within the context of at least a basic story; and the greater the need or desire to emphasize their importance, the more purely heroic their role-performance or activity must become, hence the MCI. This in turn gives them a sort of social dominance in terms of exemplarity or influencel contributing to social cohesion by way of honor and shame (e.g., Einstein or Newton as paradigms for scientific honor).

inheritance as the link between genealogy and covenant (cf. Galatians)

Nature knows no inefficiencies because inefficiency presupposes art. In this it is different from, say, inefficacy. What acts in a way to which skill is not relevant cannot be inefficient.

Politicians teach people by example what kind of power to seek.

Etiology is as useless as fortunetelling without an accurate understanding of its object; structural & functional analysis comes first, etiology comes after and at most revises.

Text is context put in a frame, or, rather, text and context are distinguished only by the frame.

Since history is complex and ever more complex, too much for anyone to grasp in full, historians need ways of establishing acceptable simplifications.

Eucharist as simultaneously Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot

When you think in centuries you must be able to build products of mind that can last.

Without strong traditions of honor and virtue-conducive institutions, democracy is passive-aggressive savagery, each person out for himself or herself, but by whining rather than beating; and in such a society the most savagely passive-aggressive begin to dominate others. THis can, however, be resisted, dampened, or redirected by traditions and institutions.

Validity doesn't tell us that a claim is a reason for another claim, but only that they have a structural link. Validity is nothing more than a structuring of claims with cretain formal properties.

Positive law can only prohibit thinkable crimes.

Where authority is found, pretense at authority, flim-flam, will grow; and, if unchecked, utnil the true and the sham are hard to distinguish.

To prove anything requires modal assumptions.

Odyssey: Coming home to the home we know
Aeneid: Coming home to the home we don't know

Rule of Benedict as spiritual georgic

Freedom to act and not to act is completed in the good, on both sides.

simultaneity as a spatial concept (Dooyeweerd)

Christ is the true central basic motive of Scripture; salvation history (Dooyeweerd) is secondary and not exhaustive: Christ is more than even creation-fall-redemption can encompass.

Every gift opens to reveal a responsibility.

computing as executive rather than legislative logic (Plana)


We worship God by external sacrifices and gifts, not for His own profit, but for that of ourselves and our neighbor. For He needs not our sacrifices, but wishes them to be offered to Him, in order to arouse our devotion and to profit our neighbor. Hence mercy, whereby we supply others' defects is a sacrifice more acceptable to Him, as conducing more directly to our neighbor's well-being, according to Hebrews 13:16: "Do not forget to do good and to impart, for by such sacrifices God's favor is obtained."

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2-2.30.4 ad 1

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Herrnhut Star

A considerable portion of the background of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship is taken up with the Herrnhutters. It was clear from everything said about them that they were Pietists of some kind, and I had a vague idea that they were Moravians. And, looking into it a bit further, this is exactly right. I wasn't closely familiar with the history of the Moravian Church (also known as Unitas Fratrum) in any detail, but one of its major figures, Count Zinzendorf, is mentioned many times in Goethe's novel.

The Moravians are Hussites, followers of Jan Hus, who was condemned as a heretic by the Council of Constance; he didn't actually found any organization, but after his death some of those who continued his movement after he died organized into a church, which spread quite swiftly. The Herrnhutters (or Herrnhuters) were a small branch of this church who had been underground for quite some time, but who were given shelter and protection by Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, a Lutheran Pietist who advocated what he called "religion of the heart". They were given an area of Zinzendorf's lands, where they built the village of Herrnhut, after a rocky start, things started clicking for this group, and the great Herrnhuter revival begain: Moravian educational and missionary work burst forth all over Europe, then the world, and they began a continuous watch of prayer, people praying in shifts without ceasing for literally the next century.

Reading up on the Moravians led me to the Herrnhut star (Herrnhuter Stern), which is a three-dimensional folded-paper star. The following website gives instructions for making one:

DIY Moravian Star

The Moravian or Herrnhut star, which have become a common Advent tradition, seems to have originated in Moravian schools as part of paper-folding, which was commonly done in German schools. Perhaps because of this it is often confused with the Froebel star. You can see how those are made here:

How to Make a German Paper Star -- Froebel Stern

Froebel was a German philosopher of education in the Romantic period, and the primary inventor of Kindergarten. These paper stars seem to pre-date Froebel by a considerable period of time, but paper-folding was a big part of Froebel's educational methods, so that's probably why they became associated with his name. I've mentioned Froebel before, and have been intending at some point to write up a post or two about his philosophy of education. In any case, it's interesting how one thing leads into another when you let yourself roam a bit in research.

Lent XXV

Direct thine own intention aright then, and thou shalt never receive harm from any, but shall get the greatest gain, not only from the good but even from the wicked. For on this account, as I have before said, God has suffered men to be with one another, and especially the wicked with the good, in order that they may bring them over to their own virtue. Hear at least what Christ saith to his disciples, “The Kingdom of heaven is like unto a woman who took leaven and hid it in three measures of meal.” So that the righteous have the power of leaven, in order that they may transfer the wicked to their own manner of conduct. But the righteous are few, for the leaven is small. But the smallness in no way injures the lump, but that little quantity converts the whole of the meal to itself by means of the power inherent in it. So accordingly the power also of the righteous has its force not in the magnitude of their number, but in the grace of the Spirit. There were twelve Apostles. Dost thou see how little is the leaven? The whole world was in unbelief. Dost thou see how great is the lump? But those twelve turned the whole world to themselves.

St. John Chrysostom, Three Homilies Concerning the Power of Demons, Homily III

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Kantian Antinomies

Kant has a number of antinomies in his works -- cases where, according to him, reason naturally tends to conclude both sides of a contradiction. There really isn't any standard list, so I thought I would put together one. I've stayed with things that Kant explicitly calls antinomies. I have also given a brief indication of Kant's solution to the antinomy, although, of course, it needs to be understood that there are nuances, especially with some of the later antinomies, that the indication does not capture. Let me know if you know any that I missed.

From the Critique of Pure Reason and the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics

Mathematical Antinomies (thesis and antithesis are both false)

(1) The world has a beginning in time, and is also limited as regards space. /// The world has no beginning, and no limits in space; it is infinite as regards both time and space. [CPR]

The world has, as to time and space, a beginning (limit). /// The world is, as to time and space, infinite.[PFM]

(2) Every composite substance in the world is made up of simple parts, and nothing anywhere exists save the simple or what is composed of the simple. /// No composite thing i nt he world is made up of simple parts, and there nowhere exists in the world anything simple. [CPR]

Everything in the world is constituted out of the simple. /// There is nothing simple, but everything is composite. [PFM]

Dynamical Antinomies (thesis and antithesis are true in different ways)

(3) Causality in accordance with laws of nature is nto the only causality fromw hich the appearances of the world can one and all be derived. To explain these appearances it is necessary to assume that there is also another causality, that of freedom. /// There is no freedom; everything in the world takes place solely in accordance with laws of nature. [CPR]

There are in the world causes through freedom. /// There is no freedom, but all is nature. [PFM]

(4) There belongs to the world, either as its part or as its cause, a being that is absolutely necessary. /// An absolutely necessary being nowhere exists in the world, nor does it exist outside the world as its cause. [CPR]

In the series of world-causes, there is a necessary being. /// There is nothing necessary in the world, but in this series all is contingent. [PFM]

From the Critique of Practical Reason

Virtue-Happiness Relation (thesis and antithesis are false in different ways)

The endeavor after happiness produces a ground for a virtuous disposition. /// A virtuous disposition necessarily produces happiness. [CPrR]

From the Critique of Judgment

Aesthetical/Taste (thesis and antithesis are true in different ways)

The judgment of taste is not based upon concepts; for otherwise it would admit of controversy (would be determinable by proofs). /// The judgment of taste is based on concepts; for otherwise, despite its diversity, we could not quarrel about it (we could not claim for our judgment the necessary assent of others).

Teleological (thesis and antithesis are true in different ways)

All production of material things is possible according to merely mechanical laws. /// Some production of material things is not possible according to merely mechanical laws.

From Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone

Faith (thesis and antithesis are true in different ways)

Good works must precede faith in divine atonement. /// Faith in a merit not one's own, reconciling one to God, must precede every effort to good works.

From the Metaphysics of Morals

Possession (thesis and antithesis are true in different ways)

It is possible to have something external as mine even though I do not have possession of it. /// It is not possible to ahve something external as mine if I do not have possession of it.

Duties to self (thesis and antithesis are true in different ways; it's unclear, however, whether this is supposed to be a real antinomy or a merely apparent one)

I am the one who is obligated. /// I am the one who obligates.

Division and Monarchia

I have previously said that ecumenism is a conversation best left to saints, so I tend to avoid discussion of East-West matters beyond the point where I think I myself will benefit (like clarification of what the Council of Florence implies) or where I think there is some truly egregious and awful misunderstanding (like the bizarre tendency of certain Orthodox to take Augustine's arguments on consubstantiality as arguments for the completely fictional bugbear they call Absolute Divine Simplicity, thus actually attacking Augustine for being a vehement opponent of Arianism). I really don't have the holiness or wisdom to say much about the problems as such, so when Aaron asked me a few weeks ago if I would say something about the 'Great Schism' and Tap recently asked me to say something about Zizioulas and the Monarchy of the Father, I wasn't really sure I could say anything of significance. But I think I can manage a few scattered fragments, less extended discussion than a few hints that seem to me to be promising or important.

(1) The 'Great Schism' is historically clearly motivated more by politics than by theology. There were genuine theological issues, of course, but one regularly finds that they played less of a role than one might think. The theological issues that led Cerularius to close the Latin churches in Constantinople and the mutual excommunications of 1054 were no more severe than any other temporary breakings of communion that had occurred, and almost everyone at the time seems to have regarded it as a tiff that would blow over. Rather remarkably the bulk of the split was driven not by relations between the Patriarch and the Pope but between the Emperor and the various Western political leaders. The Venetians became major trading partners with the Byzantines, but in an attempt to reduce Venetian influence Manuel I Komnenos began to encourage trade with other Italian city-states, like Genoa and Pisa. This turned out to be a terrible mistake; rivalries among the Italian city-states were severe, and the Emperor could not maintain the peace between the different groups. Fighting became so severe among the city-states that the Venetians eventually went on a rampage through the Genoese quarter of Constantinople. In retaliation the Emperor arrested all the Venetians in the Empire and confiscated their property, which led to a war between Venice and the Empire. This took decades to settle down, but the heat between Venice and Constantinople remained. Things became even worse when Manuel I died, leaving his wife, Maria of Antioch, as regent for a few years. She was a Crusader princess, and an enthusiastic supporter of the Italians. When the regency government was overthrown by Andronikos I Komnenos, rioting led to a terrible massacre of the Italians in the city, with deaths in the tens of thousands. Trade eventually renormalized, but the hostility increased. The Normans of Sicily sacked Thessalonica (an event which led to the overthrow of Andronikos I's government), complete with its own massacre. The Fourth Crusade deviated from its intended destination to sack Constantinople -- the Fourth Crusade was essentially co-opted by the Venetians -- at which it succeeded in 1204. The Latin Kingdom of Constantinople was eventually overthrown, but the damage was irreparable: the Byzantine Empire remained fractured, weakened. The conquest led to the establishment of opposing hierarchies in the Empire, Latin and Greek, exacerbating the problem. When Michael VIII Palaiologos reestablished the Empire, an attempt was made to heal the rift, with the Second Council of Lyons in 1272, but the Emperor overplayed his hand and pushed things far too hard, leaving things worse off (he managed to get himself excommunicated by both sides at various points of time), as the Byzantines were repeatedly promised that they wouldn't have to do things that they were eventually forced to do, and as the Latins were repeatedly promised that the union was going fine, which they repeatedly discovered was not true. Tensions rose, and things got worse for both sides. The Black Plague hit Constantinople in the 1340s, decimating the population. The Fourteenth century sees a Papacy completely unable to do anything of significance: caught between the French and the Holy Roman Empire, we see the Avignon Papacy from 1309-1376, the Western Schism from 1378-1417. In the meantime, the weakened Byzantine Empire is becoming desperate in its attempt to repel the Ottoman Turks. John VIII Paleologus tried again the Michael Komnenon tack, and thus was born the Council of Basle-Ferrara-Florence, usually just known as the Council of Florence. I use the longer name because it shows one of the several problems faced by this Council: the West was in no shape to host an Ecumenical Council. Convened at Basle, the participants in the Council repeatedly tried to dictate policy to the Pope, which led to Pope Eugene IV transferring the Council to Ferrara; at this point the deal to bring Byzantine delegates was concluded, and the Council at Ferrara prepared to receive them. (A remnant remained at Basle, however, and elected an anti-pope, eventually moving itself to Lausanne, where the anti-Pope resigned and the council dissolved a decade later.) Nearly bankrupt, the Pope had the Council moved to Florence to save on expenses from the hundreds of Byzantine delegates. The Byzantines, not unreasonably, were somewhat irritated at the treatment. But they battled through and came to an agreement in 1439, and the Byzantines went back home, and nothing was done -- there was no broad acceptance, nor even time for any to build, and there was no second chance: Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1454. From then on the East is under Muslim rule, and the Muslim governments actively seek to increase the isolation of the Eastern Church from the West. The West was in no position to do anything about it, the Reformation begins in the sixteenth century, and here we are. Obviously there are other complications in the story, like the Prussian-Russian tensions, but they only are more of the same.

The point of this long litany of devastations is that almost none of this has to do with the Filioque; it has nothing at all to do with leaven in the bread or any of the other things that mattered canonically or liturgically or theologically. The Venetians were not imprisoned for these things, Constantinople was not sacked for these things, attempts at union did not fail because of these things. Some of these, like the Filioque, are undeniably important. But anyone who thinks that we ended up where we are simply because the Latins were too stubborn to reject the Filioque, or the Greeks too proud to accept it, is not looking at actual history but at their own self-righteous complacency. Much of the division began as an inability to rise above the politics of the time; the division remains due to the inability to rise above the politics of the past; and while that is not the whole matter, it is the overwhelming bulk of it. Another reason why ecumenism is for saints: none of us have any business talking about such matters unless we can throw aside the past and focus on the eternal.

(2) But sometimes we simply need some kind of clarification about where we are. A current major influence on the discussion on the Orthodox side is Metropolitan John Zizioulas, metropolitan of Pergamon. To be wholly honest I can't ever read Zizioulas without thinking this an obvious degeneration; we were all better off when the Orthodox were simply copying Florovsky, his teacher. I can hardly ever read him without seeing him as an obvious example of trying to rewrite the doctrine of the Trinity to fit his philosophical views, which are, in fact, quite modern and not at all derived from the Church Fathers. But I have no studied him extensively and would be willing to concede that perhaps I have simply not understood him. I agree with everything in the Loudovikos essay, to the extent that I've studied the matter. I think Zizioulas's emphasis on person as the dominant issue among the Cappadocians is obviously wrong: they are interested entirely in the question of hypostasis, and contrary to Zizioulas's claim, this does not become a 'synonym' for person: talk of persons only becomes admissible to the extent that it simply means 'hypostasis'. Nor does Zizioulas's disproportionate emphasis on freedom make any sense at all of how they ended up talking about these matters in the first place. Likewise, Basil clearly seems to use the word 'monarchia' to talk about what the Three share as one God. As I said, it's entirely possible that I've misread him, but everything he says about the Cappadocians seems obviously anachronistic.

Nonetheless, on the subject of the Monarchy of the Father itself, I accept the doctrine, and agree with a lot of the substance in his discussion of the Monarchy here. Like most people he forgets that Greek and Latin (and languages influenced directly by them) are not the same language; the most obvious case of this is his claim, "The term "cause" when applied to the Father, indicates a free, willing and personal agent, whereas the language of "source" or "principle" can convey a more "natural" and thus impersonal imagery...", which is exactly the reverse of true in any theological vocabulary dominated by Latin, and overlooks the fact, repeatedly stated over the centuries, that the Latins are uncomfortable with 'cause' because it suggests definite separation. His interpretation of Augustine is wrong throughout precisely because he fails to recognize the difference of languages, and that Augustine could not possibly have said in Latin the sorts of things that Zizioulas wants him to say without suggesting something obviously heretical, and it's incumbent on any Orthodox agreeing with Zizioulas to say what Augustine should instead have said in the Latin of Augustine's day. But this is minor; these things can be adjusted for. I accept St. Maximus's account of the Filioque, and would only add that the Latins understand procession as spiration, and that to deny that the Son spirates the Spirit is equivalent to denying that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son, which everyone agrees is wrong. Here we run into the usual problem; the West thinks we are really using different words to say the same thing, the East thinks we are not. Determining what is necessary for resolving that problem requires a wiser head than mine.

Looking over all of this, I don't think I've really said much: I think the divisions are in practice mostly propagated by politics, however important the theological differences; I am unimpressed by Zizioulas's theology in general, without having any strong attitude about it; and I accept both the Monarchia and the Filioque along lines laid out by St. Maximus, II Lyons, and Florence. Not much I can contribute beyond that.


Try to subdue your passions and bring them and your inclinations under the law of reason and of the holy will of God: otherwise you will never have anything but trouble and uneasiness of soul. God permits or sends to His predestined children, for their good and as a means of bringing them to His glorious beatitude, the afflictions and contradictions of this life. My dearest daughter, if you are so happy as sweetly and patiently to accept all that He sends, then be assured you will begin to taste even here on earth something of the delights of the blessed eternity of glory. But for this you must serve God willingly and love Him supremely, seeking His pleasure, choosing His divine will through holy obedience in preference to your own will, desires, or inclinations.

St. Jeanne de Chantal, Letter XCVIII to the Countess de Toulonjon

Monday, March 11, 2013

Kant on the Importance of Classics

He's very much for Classics. An interesting footnote from Kant's Critique of Judgment:

Models of taste as regards the arts of speech must be composed in a dead and learned language. The first in order that they may not suffer that change which inevitably comes over living languages, in which noble expressions become flat, common ones antiquated, and newly crated ones have only a short circulation. The second because learned languages have a grammar which is subject to no wanton change of fashion, but the rules of which are preserved unchanged.

[Kant, Critique of Judgement. Bernard, tr. Hafner Press (New York: 1951), p. 68.]

Later he mentions, in passing that "we, and rightly, recommend the works of the ancients as models and call their authors classical, thus forming among writes a kind of noble class who give laws to the people by their example" (p. 124). Kant makes a distinction between imitating and following a model, and is very much against the first, which is just copying; what we should do instead is follow in their footsteps by drawing on the same sources as the model, using the model only in order to learn how to do this. But whereas this leads him to disparage models and examples very severely in moral philosophy, he argues that we actually need examples in the philosophy of taste in order to indicate what has received approval, not just in our time, but throughout the ages. Judgments of taste, like all important judgments imply a sort of universality, but the universality in taste is not, as in morals, an objective universality arising from intrinsic necessity, but is instead a subjective universality. This makes it a much less certain thing, and trickier to establish; we need to posit classical models that please through centuries as a sort of minimum supporting this subjective universality and thus preventing us from losing the successes of civilization and thereby sliding back into barbarism. These classical models, however, have to be stable themselves, being examples of well-established and unchanging rules, in order to do this.

I can't help but smile at the idea of Kant talking with some kinds of modern thinkers about the classics.

KANT: It is extremely important for society that people learn Classical Latin and/or Greek.

MODERN: Why Latin and Ancient Greek, when there are so many other languages that can be learned?

KANT (patiently): Obviously because Classical Latin and Greek are dead languages.


He who would give alms as a set plan of his life should begin with himself and give them to himself. For almsgiving is a work of mercy, and the saying is most true: "Have mercy upon your own soul, pleasing God." The purpose of the new birth is that we should become pleasing to God, who is justly displeased with the sin we contracted in birth. This is the first almsgiving, which we give to ourselves--when through the mercy of a merciful God we come to inquire about our wretchedness and come to acknowledge the just verdict by which we were put in need of that mercy, of which the apostle says, "Judgment came by that one trespass to condemnation." And the same herald of grace then adds (in a word of thanksgiving for God's great love), "But God commendeth his love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Thus, when we come to a valid estimate of our wretchedness and begin to love God with the love he himself giveth us, we then begin to live piously and righteously.

But the Pharisees, while they gave as alms a tithing of even the least of their fruits, disregarded this "judgment and love of God." Therefore, they did not begin their almsgiving with themselves, nor did they, first of all, show mercy toward themselves. In reference to this right order of self-love, it was said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

St. Augustine of Hippo, Enchiridion ch. XX (sect. 76)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fortnightly Book, March 10

First, a bit of music:

(Mary Hopkin, "Lirazel".)

The fortnightly book this time around is Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter. Lord Dunsany was born Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, which is one of the oldest Irish noble families; Dunsany Castle, where he was born and lived, is still in the Plunkett family. Besides being an accomplished writer, he was also brilliant at chess, and still has some fame for being the inventor of the Dunsany's chess variant. He was famous for odd writing habits. He is said to have written while sitting on an old hat and always to have written with a quill pen. He also never revised, publishing only his first drafts.

The King of Elfland's Daughter was Dunsany's second novel, and has come to be regarded as his very best work, and the one likeliest to endure. Because of it he is usually regarded as having a pre-eminent place among the pre-Tolkien authors of fantastic fiction; perhaps only George MacDonald manages to be a serious rival in pre-Tolkien influence and importance for the fantasy genre. I've never I started it once but got distracted from it through no fault of the book, and so I'll set out to make things right.

The reason for the music at the beginning is that some members of the British folk rock group, Steeleye Span, put together a concept album based on The King of Elfland's Daughter, with an astounding array of talent. Wikipedia summarizes it so:

Two members of Steeleye Span (Bob Johnson and Pete Knight) wrote and produced a concept album entitled The King of Elfland's Daughter, which was inspired by the book. The singing talents of Frankie Miller (as Alveric), Mary Hopkin (as Lirazel), P.P. Arnold (as the Witch), and Alexis Korner (as a troll) are featured on the album, and the voice of Christopher Lee as the narrator and the King of Elfland. The musicians included Nigel Pegrum, Herbie Flowers, Ray Cooper and Chris Spedding.

The bits and pieces I've heard of it (including the above song) seem to confirm it's being a pretty awesome achievement of the folk revival, so it might be worth looking into. I leave you with yet more Mary Hopkin from The King of Elfland's Daughter album, this one even better, and also with a sample of Lord Dunsany's poetry.

(Mary Hopkin, "Beyond the Fields We Know")

A Dirge of Victory
by Lord Dunsany

Lift not thy trumpet, Victory, to the sky,
Nor through battalions nor by batteries blow,
But over hollows full of old wire go,
Where among dregs of war the long-dead lie
With wasted iron that the guns passed by.
When they went eastwards like a tide at flow;
There blow thy trumpet that the dead may know,
Who waited for thy coming, Victory.

It is not we that have deserved thy wreath,
They waited there among the towering weeds.
The deep mud burned under the thermite's breath,
And winter cracked the bones that no man heeds:
Hundreds of nights flamed by: the seasons passed.
And thou last come to them at last, at last!

On the Need to Think Through Your Symbolism

John Brennan has recently been confirmed as CIA Director, and the swearing-in ceremony is fraught with symbolism:

After a week in which questions about U.S. drone policy and the potential of killing American citizens on U.S. soil dominated the news, John Brennan was sworn in as the new CIA director with his hand on an original draft of the Constitution dating from 1787.

White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said Mr. Brennan requested the copy of the Constitution, which includes George Washington’s personal handwriting and annotations, from the National Archives because he “wanted to reaffirm his commitment to the rule of law as he took the oath of office as director of the CIA.”

Good intentions, no doubt. Except, as some people have been pointing out, the 1787 draft of the Constitution has no Bill of Rights; the Bill of Rights were ratified separately from the main body of the Constitution and so were not added to the Constitution until 1791. Which means that in a time in which people are very concerned about the danger of due process violations in American military and intelligence operations, after having been grilled on these issues in his confirmation, Brennan had himself sworn in on a draft of the Constitution with no provision for protecting due process.

On the other side, to get through his confirmation, Senator Rand Paul had to stop his filibuster:

Mr. Brennan’s confirmation was held up Wednesday when Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, staged a nearly 13-hour filibuster against Mr. Obama’s pick, demanding clarifications of the administration’s drone policies targeting American citizens.

Mr. Rand only relented after receiving assurances from the White House that the president did not have the power to order lethal military drone strikes against American citizens in the United States who were not threatening or plotting imminent harm against the country.

OK, so the filibuster thing, a symbolic gesture in which the big issue was violation of due process protections against U.S. citizens, was really just to make sure that the President's powers were restricted to assassinating U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, without the usual channels police and federal agents have to go through, when they are threatening imminent harm against the country? We just wanted to make sure that the President waits to blast them off the face of the planet without warrant or trial until they've made a threat to harm the country? We just wanted to make sure that the President wasn't claiming to have the right to blast people into smithereens at a whim? Couldn't the good senator have held out for just a teensy bit more than that?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship


Opening Passage:

The play was late in breaking up: old Barbara went more than once to the window, and listened for the sound of carriages. She was waiting for Mariana, her pretty mistress, who had that night, in the afterpiece been acting the part of a young officer, to the no small delight of the public. Barbara's impatience was greater than it used to be, when she had nothing but a frugal supper to present: on this occasion Mariana was to be surprised with a packet, which Norberg, a young and wealthy merchant, had sent by the post, to show that in absence he still thought of his love. (p. 3)

Summary: Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship is a difficult book to summarize, but in nuce it is the story of how Wilhelm Meister learned that he, despite some genuine acting talent, could only fulfill his potential by leaving the stage. There are three themes that particularly stand out.

(1) We are all actors on the stage, playing our comic, tragicomic, or tragic parts. At one point in the book Wilhelm is complaining about the actors he spent much of the book and another character, the worldly-wise Jarno, replies:

"Poor dear actors! Do you know, my friend," continued he, recovering from his fit, "that you have been describing not the playhouse, but the world; that out of all ranks I could find you characters and doings in abundance, to suit your cruel pencil?...."

Acting is a reflection of living, and this accounts for the rather remarkable fact that most of the middle of the book is concerned with an extended discussion between several characters about how best to put on Shakespeare's Hamlet. Hamlet, of course, is a play which has a play inside it; and there's a sense in which Hamlet itself is a novel within the novel. (A discussion about differences between English and German drama at one point leads to the conclusion that Shakespeare's genius combined with English quirks gives the play a character that is in some ways more novelistic than dramatic, requiring adaptation in order to play it properly on the German stage.)

(2) If acting provides much of the material of the book, wandering provides much of its form. The book is famous for being an early influential Bildungsroman, a novel about how a life is built up; but it manages to be so in a highly wandering way (both in terms of Wilhelm's own wandering and in terms of the way the book itself is structured). The kind of education this wandering involves is described by the abbé, a mysterious figure who pops in and out of the story: "I augur better of a child, a youth who is wandering astray on a path of his own, than of many who are walking aright upon paths which are not theirs." Wilhelm's own wandering is described by a previous character, Theresa:

My friend, too, I honor on the same principle: the description of his life is a perpetual seeking wihtout finding,--not empty seeking, but wondrous, generous seeking; he fancies others may give him what can proceed from himself alone. (p. 497)

We learn by wandering freely, discovering things for our own selves, like wandering actors seeing the world.

(3) There is another aspect to the novel, which might be called 'family as destination'. As he wanders through the world, Wilhelm ends up slowly picking up a family to which he can truly belong: little Mignon, the best character in the book; an old harper singing of ancient losses; a vibrant young boy named Felix. As the story proceeds this group becomes more tight-knit, but the family also expands. It begins to experience life as a family, its tragedies and comedies alike, until Wilhelm can finally be said to have reached his destination. Who wanders freely will eventually wander home.

Wilhelm Meister himself is not much of a hero; Carlyle, never averse to saying it plain, calls him a "milksop", and he's quite right. At the end he notes that he has received a reward far in excess of anything that he has deserved. There is a sense in which Wilhelm Meister fails through his life, never quite succeeding at anything, however promising. But part of the point of the story is that just about anyone can educate themslees properly if they are wander in just the right way.

Favorite Passage: There are a few good ones, but here's one candidate.

"In the novel as well as in the drama, it is human nature and human action that we see. The difference between these sorts of fiction lies not merely in their outward form,--not merely in teh circumstance sthat the personages of the one are made to speak, while those of the other have commonly their history narrated. Unfortumately many dramas are but novels, which proceed by dialogue; and it would not be impossible to write a drama in the shape of letters.

"But, in the novel it is chiefly sentiments and events taht are exhibited; in teh drama, it is characters and deeds. The novel must go slowly forward; and the sentiments of the hero, by some means or another, must restrain the tendency of the whole to unfold itself and to conclude. The drama, on the other hand, must hasten; and the character of the hero must press forward to the end: it does not restrained, but is restrained...." (p.294)

Recommendation: Recommended, but you might want to re-read Hamlet first.