Saturday, May 04, 2013

Music on My Mind

The Dunn Boys, "Lullaby"

Bentham on Infanticide

The Bentham Project is putting online Jeremy Bentham's Not Paul, but Jesus, Volume III, which has never been published. The basic thesis of NPBJ is that Paul was an imposter who parasitically inserted his own views into the religion of Jesus, including, most importantly, the teaching of ascetic self-denial. Only volume I was ever published, and that under the synonym Gamaliel Smith.

Volume III is the most interesting philosophically, since it is really only here that we get Bentham's full argument against what he keeps calling ascetic self-denial. Bentham's hatred of this idea is very, very strong: the greatest pleasure for the greatest number of people requires that there only be self-denial for the specific purpose of getting even greater pleasures, and Bentham does not hesitate to make clear that he regards advocates of ascetic self-denial as morally detestable. It has often been noted that to this end he strongly advocates the importance of abortion and homosexual sex for population control; it's somewhat less often recognized that he also advocates infanticide and pedophilia. I found the discussion of infanticide particularly interesting, since he argues that the pain caused by punishment of infanticide far exceeds any pain caused by infanticide, because infanticide causes no pain of the first order -- infant psychology is too undeveloped to be seriously harmed -- and no pain of the second order -- since the death of one infant cannot make other infants anxious -- whereas punishing infanticide, particularly as a form of murder, causes great pain of the first order -- since the punishment induces pain -- and also of the second order -- since it prevents others from using the remedy to eliminate misery. Plus, infanticide is a remedy for overpopulation -- "this gentlest of all remedies", which seems a bit of an exaggeration even on his own terms.

In any case, I found his response to the claim that this should not be a matter of calculation to sum Bentham up to a T:

No calculation! no calculation! exclaims the shallow and empty-headed sentimentalist, who, by ostentation of passion, trusting to congenial weakness on the part of his reader, trusts, and in point of experience on but too good grounds, to drive reason out of the field.

No calculation! as if the distinction of right and wrong—as if the determination of an act in respect of conduciveness or destructiveness to human happiness—depended on any thing else than calculation.

In morals or politics, no calculation! in trade, as well might a man cry, no taking of stock! no keeping of accounts: thus thinking to serve economy―economy in trade.

The trade analogy is curiously not to the point. The objection to which he is responding is not committed to saying that reasoning is never appropriate but
only to saying that there are at least some topics on which utilitarian calculation is not appropriate. No serious businessman thinks that every business decision is determined by taking of stock and keeping of accounts; even in the most blatant caricatures one can find of greedy businessmen one rarely finds any suggestion that there are no areas of business that should be governed by just bare ordinary human decency and respectability rather than calculation for profit. Economy in trade does not reduce to taking stock and keeping accounts; these things simply trace the line between what is feasible and what is not.

It is interesting, too, to contrast this attitude on the question with Mill's utilitarianism, in which "the determination of an act in respect of conduciveness or destructiveness to human happiness" does depend on something else besides calculation (namely, cultivated taste).

Aquinas for May IV

Sicut in rebus naturalibus sunt propria principia activa in unoquoque genere, licet Deus sit causa agens prima et communis, ita etiam requiritur proprium lumen intellectuale in homine, quamvis Deus sit prima lux omnes communiter illuminans.

"Just as in a natural thing of whatever kind there are its own active principles, although God is the primary and common agent cause, so also there must be in man his own intellectual light, however much God may be the first light illuminating all in common."

De anima art. 4 ad 7

Friday, May 03, 2013

Athanasius the Great

Yesterday was the memorial of St. Athanasius, Doctor of the Church. From his book against the heathen, Part III (sect. 40):

Who then is this, save the Father of Christ, most holy and above all created existence, Who like an excellent pilot, by His own Wisdom and His own Word, our Lord and Saviour Christ, steers and preserves and orders all things, and does as seems to Him best? But that is best which has been done, and which we see taking place, since that is what He wills; and this a man can hardly refuse to believe.

For if the movement of creation were irrational, and the universe were borne along without plan, a man might fairly disbelieve what we say. But if it subsist in reason and wisdom and skill, and is perfectly ordered throughout, it follows that He that is over it and has ordered it is none other than the [reason or] Word of God.

But by Word I mean, not that which is involved and inherent in all things created, which some are wont to call the seminal principle, which is without soul and has no power of reason or thought, but only works by external art, according to the skill of him that applies it—nor such a word as belongs to rational beings and which consists of syllables, and has the air as its vehicle of expression—but I mean the living and powerful Word of the good God, the God of the Universe, the very Word which is God John 1:1, Who while different from things that are made, and from all Creation, is the One own Word of the good Father, Who by His own providence ordered and illumines this Universe.

For being the good Word of the Good Father He produced the order of all things, combining one with another things contrary, and reducing them to one harmonious order. He being the Power of God and Wisdom of God causes the heaven to revolve, and has suspended the earth, and made it fast, though resting upon nothing, by His own nod. Illumined by Him, the sun gives light to the world, and the moon has her measured period of shining. By reason of Him the water is suspended in the clouds; the rains shower upon the earth, and the sea is kept within bounds, while the earth bears grasses and is clothed with all manner of plants.

And if a man were incredulously to ask, as regards what we are saying, if there be a Word of God at all , such an one would indeed be mad to doubt concerning the Word of God, but yet demonstration is possible from what is seen, because all things subsist by the Word and Wisdom of God, nor would any created thing have had a fixed existence had it not been made by reason, and that reason the Word of God, as we have said.

Athanasius was patriarch of Alexandria for forty-five years; he spent seventeen or so of those years in exile, having been exiled no less than five distinct times by four different Emperors (once by Constantine due to an apparently false accusation, twice by the pro-Arian Constantius, once by the pagan Julian, and once by the pro-Arian Valens). He was a pillar of the Roman-Alexandrian alliance that constituted the most important and influential structural element of the Church in the fourth century, and which made up the bulwark of the Church in the resistance to Arianism; the most significant act of Pope St. Julius I was to insist repeatedly on Athanasius's legitimacy during his second exile.

Aquinas for May III

Creatura assimilatur Deo in unitate, in quantum unaquaeque in se una est, et in quantum omnes unum sunt unitate ordinis.

"The creature is likened to God in unity, inasmuch as it is one in itself, and inasmuch as all are one by the unity of order."

De potentia q. 3 art 16 ad 2

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Aquinas for May II

Posse eligere malum, non est de ratione liberi arbitrii; sed consequitur liberum arbitrium, secundum quod est in natura creata possibili ad defectum.

"To be able to choose evil is not intrinsic to the concept of free will; but it follows from a free will insofar as it is in a created nature capable of failing."

De Veritate q. 24 art 3 ad 2

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Aquinas for May I

Prima principia, quorum cognitio est nobis innata, sunt quaedam similitudines increatae veritatis.

"First principles, the cognition of which is innate to us, are particular likenesses to uncreated truth."

De Veritate q. 10 art 6 ad 6

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chemical Names for Water

I've entered 'grading hell' as Major Projects roll in and I prepare next week to start grading take-home tests.

I've been thinking about chemical names for water. People occasionally come to my blog searching for chemical names for water, and land on my (presumably not very helpful) posts about the longstanding reasons in philosophy of chemistry for not regarding water as H2O but as either a chemical process or active substance composed of a wide number of closely related and interacting molecules of which H2O is the most important -- H2O is still the water-constituting molecule, since if you take a bunch of H2O molecules, you get water as they decompose into other molecules (such as OH) and recompose as H2O; it is, so to speak, the index molecule for water.

In any case, the chemical names for the water-constituting molecule are interesting in their own right. There are different common systems for naming molecules and water is covered by several of them. Four seem to be most important, at least as far as this non-chemist can tell.

The first is just hydrogen oxide; this is a bare structural name. Sometimes people jokingly refer to it as dihydrogen monoxide, but while this doesn't seem to be absolutely incorrect, it's redundant and used only in jokes.

Another gives it the name oxidane. This is a basic structural name, given on the same model as sulfane (two hydrogen, one sulfur) and selane (two hydrogen, one selenium) and azane (three hydrogen, one nitrogen -- also known as ammonia). The -ane indicates that it is a hydride, formed with hydrogen; the rest of the name obviously indicates what is bonded to the hydrogen. It apparently indicates a parent molecule in a group of molecules with similar structures. (I'm not hugely familiar with it or contexts in which it might be used, but it is clearly established by IUPAC.)

Another way to approach naming is by way of considering acids and bases. Acids have their naming conventions and bases their naming conventions. Water is amphoteric, so it actually has both. With certain bases, like ammonia, water acts somewhat like an acid; with certain acids, like hydrogen chloride, it acts somewhat like a base. The acid-name for water is hydroxic acid, although one also sees hydroxylic acid; I'm not sure which one is most correct according to current naming conventions. The alkali name (alkalis are bases that dissolve in water, and obviously if water counts as a base, it's trivially true that it dissolves in water) is hydrogen hydroxide.

Of course, none of these are hugely common; in practice, chemists call H2O either 'water' or 'H2O', depending on the context, and only use these other names when they are doing very specific things. But as Whewell noted a long time, scientific names are not mere trivialities or practical conveniences: they summarize information, and sometimes a great deal of information. There's a lot to a molecule like H2O; we are capable of locking down some of its important features according to different naming conventions.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Queen Beatrix

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, often known as Queen Bea, is stepping down (she had said she would in January, for health reasons). Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard was born in 1938 and became queen when her mother Queen Juliana stepped down in 1980. During World War II she and her sisters sent to Canada, out of harm's way. In 1945 Princess Juliana established the custom of sending a big shipment of tulips to Canada every spring in gratitude for Canadian protection of her daughters; they are displayed each year at the Canadian Tulip Festival. Princess Beatrix eventually studied law, and received a degree from Leiden.

Queen Beatrix has been remarkable in having a long reign that has had few scandals, despite her active role in Dutch politics; she is very popular, and will no doubt be missed. Her son, Willem-Alexander, who just turned 46 a few days ago, will become king. Unlike the British, the Dutch do not have a coronation -- there is no state church, so there is no official body to crown the monarch, so the monarch just swears an oath to uphold the constitution. The Dutch parliament has slowly been stripping the monarchy of power, so he will mostly be filling a ceremonial role, although the prime minister will still have to report to him; there is also a strong movement to reduce the pay of the monarch and require him to pay taxes. (There was an amusing situation in Dutch politics a while back in which some members of parliament were making a noise about how much the Queen and the royal family were paid. The eventual agreement was the the stipends would be linked to civil servant pay. Well, anyone who has ever watched Yes, Minister knows what happened later that same year: the civil servants managed to get themselves a pay raise. It was a small pay raise, of 1%, but it meant that the result of trying to restrict the pay of the Queen and royal family led almost immediately to them getting a pay raise. Government is the same the world over.) Despite that, all the recent polls show that the Dutch in general are favorably disposed to the monarchy and like Prince Willem-Alexander personally.

After her son is invested, she will no longer be Queen Beatrix, but Princess Beatrix again.

A small bit of trivia: Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom are both descended from William IV of the Netherlands, making them fifth cousins. This actually makes them relatively distantly related among European monarchs (e.g., King Harald of Norway is Queen Elizabeth's second cousin); Queen Beatrix was 807th in the British line of succession, well behind the royal families (some currently in power, some merely by line) of Norway, Russia, Romania, Yugoslavia, Prussia, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, etc.

Not Ourselves By Ourselves

Today is the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church and patron saint of Italy and Europe. From one of her letters, to Caterina of the Hospital and Giovanna di Capo:

Ah, me, misfortunate! My daughters, I believe that I am the wretched woman who is the cause of so many evils, on account of the great ingratitude and other faults which I have committed toward my Creator. Ah, me! ah, me! Who is God, who is wronged by His creatures? He is Highest and eternal Goodness, who in His love created man in His image and likeness, and recreated him by grace, after his sin, in the Blood of the immaculate and enamoured Lamb, His Only-Begotten Son. And who is mercenary and ignorant man, who wrongs his Creator? We are those who are not ourselves by ourselves, save in so far as we are made by God, but by ourselves we are full of every wretchedness. It seems as if people sought nothing except in what way they could wrong God and their fellow-creatures, in contempt of the Creator.

The idea that we cannot be ourselves simply by ourselves is an important one in her theology.

Fortnightly Book, April 28

Entering the end of term, so I would either need to forego the fortnightly book for a while or pick a fairly light and easy re-read. And I was mulling this over, my eye fell on a book I don't think I've read since high school: Think Fast, Mr. Moto, by John P. Marquand.

When we think of secret agents, we usually think of James Bond, in Her Majesty's service, furthering the cause of Britain and the Commonwealth. But before Bond the most famous fictional secret agent in the English speaking-world was from Imperial Japan. We never learn his actual name -- "Moto" is not a real Japanese name, just a lopped-off pair of syllables, as if an English secret agent went around with the name Mr. Onson. He was an aristocrat, profoundly loyal to his country, unfailingly polite, ruthlessly effective. One of the important things about Mr. Moto is that he is never the main character. It is part of his role as secret agent not to be a main character. All the Mr. Moto stories are actually about Westerners who accidentally get caught up in some tricky matter of East-West espionage, with Mr. Moto just stepping in at just the right moments. This is brilliant; Marquand's Mr. Moto stories are highly formulaic (it's been noted that they all read like highly stereotypical Golden Age B-movie romances), and largely forgettable, but Mr. Moto, in the shadows, is absolutely memorable.

The Mr. Moto stories were developed by Marquand in the 1930s when the Saturday Evening Post needed a replacement for the highly popular Charlie Chan serials after the death of their author. Mr. Moto was an immediate hit, and went to big screen; he was played by Peter Lorre, this being in the age when Hollywood gave Oriental parts to vaguely foreign-looking and foreign-sounding Europeans. (Charlie Chan first came to screen played by a Swede.) The movies were themselves a big hit, and Lorre's acting is quite good with the scripts they gave him, but they tend not to be watched much, because of the obvious and entirely reasonable racial issues. In a sense it's unfortunate that the Lorre films weren't flops: the movies make Mr. Moto less subtle and shadowy, and they both play into old Oriental stereotypes and created some of their own. In the books, for instance, it is made clear that Mr. Moto is fluent in multiple languages, including English, capable of speaking them without any accent or misstep, but that when working with Westerners he often uses the stereotypical "Ah, so"-type speech, complete with mispronounced r's, so that they will underestimate him. This doesn't really come across in the movies. The movies also play down the secret-agent side of Mr. Moto's character; he comes across more as an obvious Charlie Chan substitute, engaging in clever undercover detective-work more than international intrigue. But in the books he is a truly awesome secret agent.

In the early 1930s Imperial Japan was both unknown and familiar: it wasn't quite clear what the full intentions of the Empire were, nor were most Westerners very familiar with day-to-day life in Japan, but Japan had begun its expansionary phase, invading Manchuria in 1931, and Americans were still trying to figure out what to make of this. Mr. Moto, profoundly loyal to the Empire, at one point characterizes the expansion as Manifest Destiny -- a profoundly American term -- but he will also criticize his government's means of proceeding; we learn in the books that Mr. Moto is a moderate imperialist. He thinks the Empire should expand, but that it should do so slowly and by restrained methods rather than by aggressive war-making. But, of course, the build-up of world events put Mr. Moto in an increasingly difficult position, and after Pearl Harbor the possibility of an Imperial Japanese hero in stories was effectively zero. Indeed, the damage was quite considerable: Charlie Chan programs were canceled, and he was a Chinese-American living in Hawaii. After the war, interest in Mr. Moto returned, and he came to a radio program -- a fairly good one, actually -- in which he was reinvented as a Japanese-American secret agent in San Francisco fighting Communists.

Think Fast, Mr. Moto is the third of the Mr. Moto books. I think I also have the second one somewhere, but I couldn't find it offhand. In any case, it will do as light reading for the next two weeks.