Saturday, September 14, 2013

Truth and Falsity

Truth is applicable to such things as ironwork ("to make their ploughs so true depends much on the truth of the ironwork"), wheels ("allows the wheels to rotate with perfect truth and freedom"), doors ("that door is out of truth"), people ("truth-seekers," "truth-finders," and "truth-bearers," this latter is surely a candidate for the role of bearer of truth), love ("truth-tried love"), and to certain character attributes, for example, constancy ("the King had always known his subject's truth and fidelity to the crown of France"), and to pledges and covenants ("I'll give thee the truth of my right hand, the truth of it I'll free gie"). In architecture, it applies to such things as houses, palaces and buildings ("in the interior of the two houses of Pansa and Sallust...restored with great apparent truth" and "in truth and skill of modelling even the sculptures of Chartres and St. Denis surpass those of Wells"). In such applications, it suggests fidelity of purposes, or the absence of deceit or pretense.

Similar considerations apply to falsity, a concept which is "properly applicable" to such things as tragedies ("he forbade him to teach or act tragedies considering their falsity unprofitable"), gods ("Socrates was informed by it of the Falsity of the Heathen's gods"), hair ("this as Miss Williams said of her hair is all a falsity"), allies ("the falsity of his ally contributed to his fall"), and the list can be extended well beyond these examples.

Such examples not only show that many things can be the "bearers" of truth or falsity, but they also show the variety of thought and nuance to which the concepts of truth and falsity lend themselves....

[Avrum Stroll and Henry Alexander, "'True' and Truth", Philosophy of Science, vol 42, no 4 (December 1975) pp. 404-405.]

Friday, September 13, 2013

Habakkuk Hanging by His Hair

Having posted the selection from Greek Daniel describing the legend of Habakkuk being hauled through the air by his hair to give supper to Daniel in the lion's den, I then thought: There's bound to be some Renaissance artist who has painted that. And of course there is. A fifteenth century French manuscript:

Daniel dans la fosse aux lions

Habakkuk in that illustration seems like he's done this before: just coolly hanging with his picnic basket in one hand and his pot of soup in the other, like someone riding a bus to a potluck. [The scroll, incidentally, is Daniel 14:37: "Daniel, take the food that God has sent you."]

I can't find any public domain version of it, but at this link you can see a print of a painting of it by sixteenth century Venetian Mannerist, Paris Bordone, which is a very interesting composition. [Added Later: The website seems to be a bit unreliable. Here is Google's cache of the image.]

Deuterocanon Friday: Vocation

Now the prophet Habakkuk was in Judea; he had made a stew and had broken bread into a bowl, and was going into the field to take it to the reapers. But the angel of the Lord said to Habakkuk, "Take the food that you have to Babylon, to Daniel, in the lion's den."

Habakkuk said, "Sir, I have never seen Babylon, and I know nothing about the den."

Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown of his head and carried him by his hair; with the speed of the wind he set him down in Babylon, right over the den.

Greek Daniel 14:33-36 (NRSV-C)

Heaven and Hell and Perfect Bliss II

The previous post on the Kronen & Reitan argument from perfect bliss has had some response. Eric Reitan discusses it at his blog. I think, in fact, however, that it merely underlines the explicit evaluation of my original objection: while there may be an argument for universalism from divine love, trying to run it by way of the perfect bliss of heaven is not the way to do it.

Reitan says:

By “perfect bliss” John and I mean unalloyed joy that is fitting to one’s circumstances—in other words, joy that is (a) faultless, in the sense that it is appropriate to feel that level of joy given the state one finds oneself in, and (b) maximal, in the sense that it is the greatest joy of which beings of our nature are capable. Hence, what Brandon takes to be “all that can be meant” is decidedly NOT all that can be meant by “perfect bliss”—and is, in fact, not what we mean.

If this is the case, however, then Reitan cannot appeal, as he does, to the traditional doctrine of heaven to defend his (2), because the traditional doctrine of heaven does not imply that perfect bliss in this sense is involved in the state of blessedness (although perhaps it doesn't rule it out). Since traditional doctrines of heaven take heaven to be union with God in mind and will, the complete happiness of heaven resides in possession of God as the universal and consummate Good, and the joy of heaven is the delight that follows directly on this. It couldn't be otherwise. For one thing, it is very difficult to say 'perfect' in the sense that Reitan and Kronen mean in historical Latin and Greek; the closest you can come is to say that some tendency is completed or full, and indeed, the Latin word perfectus from which we get our word 'perfect' just means 'complete' or 'having achieved its end', and only started getting something like our sense very, very late. The second problem is that the traditional doctrine of heaven was formulated in the vocabulary used by Neo-Platonists, for whom the words we usually translate as 'bliss' or 'joy' or 'delight' or 'pleasure' had a technical meaning (ultimately derived from Aristotle): it is the second completion of a complete activity, arising from the fact that it is completed under the conditions appropriate to it. In Aristotle's famous phrase, it is the bloom on youth. Talk about it being faultless would have been otiose, since it just follows necessarily from the well-completed activity, and this is not a matter for which anyone could reasonably fault anyone. While it can admit of more or less, it is always tied to a specific kind of activity and thus a specific capability or capacity. Because of this, there is really no sense in which one can talk about the 'greatest joy of which beings of our nature are capable'. Capability-indexed delights are not additive. This doesn't prevent the delight or joy or bliss of one capability affecting that of another -- scholastic theologians have extensive discussions of 'overflow', and analogous discussions can be found in non-scholastic traditional theologians -- but each capability is a distinct question and its pleasure or delight requires a distinct account.

To put it all in short: (2) can't do its job in the argument if it requires a revision of the traditional conception of heaven (logically it could, of course, but it would in terms of substance just push back the question entirely and put (2) even more into contention), and it is in doubt if it does not clearly at least draw out the implications of the traditional conception, not by a vague sense of analogy, but as actually following from the way it was actually formulated. Without actually seeing how Reitan and Kronen handle the first, I wouldn't want to jump too quickly on it; but I do claim that we are at the second: it is simply in doubt whether (2) as Reitan and Kronen mean it is an actual implication of the traditional conception of heaven. The Church Fathers could not have formulated it in this way, for instance, nor could the scholastic theologians, whether Catholic or Protestant; the vocabulary they had for discussing the matter was very different, and, as I've noted, would not have made it easy for them to be as extensive in scope as Reitan and Kronen: everything would have to have been done capability by capability, and a phrase like "the greatest joy of which beings of our nature are capable" could only possibly have meant something like 'the pleasure that arises on our highest natural capabilities achieving their end'. (If anyone would like additional confirmation on this, there's plenty to be had. Discussions of the knowledge of Christ in medieval Western theology, for instance, attribute to Christ in his mortal life on earth the full experience of the blessedness of heaven, including its delight or joy. Very obviously this could not have the implication that Christ endured no pain or suffering, and for exactly the reason I've pointed out, it was never taken to have it -- the joy of heaven is complete joy for intellect and will, our highest capabilities, and bodily capabilities, not being able to take God as a direct object, participate in this joy only by 'overflow', which is not a strictly necessary or essential feature of heavenly joy. Thus Christ on the Cross knew the infinite beatitude of the Godhead, the fulfillment and joy of the blessed in heaven, and the suffering and sorrow of a man dying by a form of torture, all at once, because we are talking in each case about different capabilities. This is only one example; other examples could be adduced as confirmation of my point here.)

The only way in which (2) is really acceptable, then, assuming that we are not also supposed to be reworking the traditional Christian doctrine of heaven, would require one to show that Reitan and Kronen's conception of perfect bliss is in fact an implication of that conception -- and at the very least, the vocabulary differences make it non-obvious. And there are other aspects traditionally associated with that conception (like the very common scholastic view that I mentioned, that Christ even on the Cross experienced the Beatific Vision) that make it difficult to see how one could argue this, although, as they are not as central to the basic conception, perhaps one could get away with a minority report approach, or, failing that, with minor revisions, while still retaining the core ideas of the traditional Christian conception of heaven.

However, I do see better, given Reitan's response, that the real point is not to take (2) to be true, but to force a dilemma between (2) and the existence of hell. That does make a bit more sense, but it makes the argument even weaker, because everything ends up depending on whether 'perfect bliss' as Reitan and Kronen is coherent, sufficiently precise, and adequately relevant. I'm not worried about the first -- it's never reasonable simply to demand that people show that their reasoning is coherent -- but I very much doubt the other two. The appeal to feeling and emotion worries me, for instance, because Greek and Latin, in which the traditional doctrine of heaven was formulated, are both much, much more precise about the kinds of things that we call feelings and emotions than English is; there's a lot of risk of bringing in unjustified assumptions when switching from one to the other. That's not to say that any such thing is going on, but without having in hand the argument showing how 'perfect bliss' in the Kronen and Reitan sense actually relates to the traditional conception of heaven, as actually formulated traditionally, it is not something I have any way to rule out. (But it's possible, of course, that they discuss it at greater length in their book; as I noted in the prior post, the argument is new to me.)

There's a broader problem, though. The actual point of my post was, as I said at the time, that it seems that trying to get to universalism from divine love by way of perfect bliss is a non-starter to begin with, and I think the rest of Reitan's response actually just confirms this, since I don't see why Reitan thinks that it's doing any work in his argument -- that is, the argument really seems to boil down to holding that the conclusion follows from divine love, and neither loses nor gains regardless of whether one throws this roundabout appeal to perfect bliss in the blessed into the mix or not. The basic argument is that those who love God (like the blessed) love as God loves; God loves the damned (assuming that there are any) and so is grieved over them; therefore the blessed will be grieved over them; therefore they will not have perfect bliss; therefore there will be no heaven. But given the definitions, it seems to follow directly from God being grieved about anything that heaven is impossible; the fact that the blessed are grieved is just a trivial consequence of heaven's impossibility, given that heaven involves loving as God loves, if God is grieved for anything, which he would be in this case due to divine love. The detour through the bliss of the blessed seems to contribute nothing to this; it just takes a straightforward argument -- no joy in heaven if God is grieved -- and turns it into a weaker and more roundabout argument in which we try to talk about whether the blessed could have perfect bliss if they knew there were any damned, as if the argument didn't already imply that the blessed are grieved if God is grieved, even before we get to that question. Perhaps the idea is that we have a better grasp of what God would do for the blessed than of what's involved in the experience of heaven? I'm not sure why this route is somehow important; it seems very much like a detour that does no substantive work. (I also don't quite see how Reitan's argument in the post avoids the conclusion that Christian doctrine simply implies that there is no perfect bliss in the Reitan & Kronen sense. After all, in whatever sense one may say that God would grieve for the damned, it already seems to be true that God grieves for sin; thus, God being grieved over it, the blessed are grieved over it; and being grieved over it, they don't have perfect bliss in the sense it is used by Kronen and Reitan. It's possible, though, that this could be fixed by restructuring the argument, or that an additional assumption somewhere could neutralize it.)

It turns out that Kronen also, indirectly, responded to it:

Eric and I take up exactly the sort of critique that Brandon mentions in our book and respond to it at some length. In general it is amazing to me that someone who believes that the blessed are in union with one who is love itself also believes that the blessed wouldn’t have their love of all persons increased rather than being so caught up in their OWN union with God that they take no notice of thousands suffering in hell. This makes it sound as if the union of the blessed with God is like some sort of teenage infatuation (or drug high) which cuts people of from concern for others; I think nothing could be farther from the truth. “How can you love God if you don’t love your fellow man”, applies to the blessed just as much to the pilgrims here.

I have to take my hat off to Kronen here. The argument in my post explicitly left open the question of whether one could establish universalism, and explicitly confined itself to the single argument under question, arguing that perfect bliss did not seem a viable way to make the argument -- it seems to drop out of consideration. What Kronen responds with is a vague reference to the book, a rant that does not address the matter of perfect bliss and involves a completely made-up claim (that it has anything to do with the belief that "the blessed wouldn’t have their love of all persons increased rather than being so caught up in their OWN union with God that they take no notice of thousands suffering in hell", which anyone can see from re-reading my post is explicitly not affirmed in my comment about Fr. Kimel's argument in favor of (2)) that he then takes as established so that he can talk about how the completely made-up claim 'makes it sound like', and, the straw-man duly built, can fiercely knock it down. To manage in four sentences to be uninformative, irrelevant, and false, while insinuating that someone daring to criticize an argument as weak -- just one argument -- must necessarily have an idiotic understanding of heaven and a morally depraved and potentially heretical conception of love, is a very extraordinary achievement in nonresponse.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Habits of a Closed Mind

To be able to restrict one's practical reasoning to what will enable one to discharge the responsibilities of one's socially approved roles is to have imposed on one's thinking a set of artificial restrictions. It is to have arbitrarily closed one's mind to certain possibilities of action. And, although others may provide one with motives for effecting such a closure, it is only with one's own active co-operation that the habits of mind can be developed which make such closure possible.

Alasdair MacIntyre, "Social Structures and their Threats to Moral Agency," Philosophy, vol 74 no 289 (July 1999) p. 326.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Heaven and Hell and Perfect Bliss

For some reason a lot of people have been discussing the doctrine of hell recently. It's worth noting in most of these discussions that, just as original sin is formally lack of original justice and materially concupiscence (craving for lesser goods) arising from such a lack, so hell is formally lack of contrition and materially penalty intrinsic or appropriate to such a lack. Everything else is either fully or partly symbolic, and no serious universalism is possible unless it accounts for universal contrition. (Most universalists don't even make an attempt at such an account, but a few -- like George MacDonald or Hans Urs von Balthasar -- do.)

In any case, most of the relevant arguments are old hat. However, I did recently come across a new one to me, at least in this particular form, which I thought nicely done, in a post by Fr. Kimel, in which he quotes Kronan & Reitan's version of an argument by Thomas Talbott:

1. Anyone in a state of eternal blessedness possesses both perfect bliss and universal love for all persons.

2. Anyone who possesses universal love for all persons and who is aware that some persons are eternally damned cannot possess perfect bliss.

3. Therefore, anyone who is aware that some persons are eternally damned cannot possess eternal blessedness (1, 2).

4. If anyone is eternally damned, anyone who possesses eternal blessedness would be aware of this.

5. Thus, if anyone is eternally damned, then none possess eternal blessedness (3, 4).

6. God, out of benevolent love for His creatures, confers blessedness at least on those who earnestly repent and seek communion with Him.

7. Therefore, God does not eternally damn anyone (5, 6).

As Fr. Kimel notes, (2) is the most controversial premise, and, although he provides some argument to motivate it, it is in fact fatally wrong: while it may be possible to provide a reasonably workable argument from divine love to universalism, one cannot possibly do it by way of the bliss of heaven. The particular complete joy that is intrinsic to heaven itself (which is all that can be meant by perfect bliss in (1)) consists of possession of God as universal and consummate good by love and understanding, or to look at it in the opposite direction, being energized by God as universal good in both understanding and will. It follows immediately and directly from such a union, and therefore cannot be affected by anything else, however important in other ways. Indeed, since by nature it flows directly from God in that union, it is not in the power of the blessed not to have it, regardless of anything else that may happen to them. Now, one can argue (as Fr. Kimel does) that God would in fact seek to please the blessed in secondary ways that presuppose this complete joy -- and there is reason for thinking this at least sometimes true -- but this turns what at first sight looks like a rigorous argument into a rather weak, merely probabilistic and limited one: as (2) then becomes only probable and all-things-considered, the conclusion can be only probable and all-things-considered. It is at best a default that can be defeated by contrary reasons. Thus the argument against hell ironically founders on its conception of heavenly bliss.

None of this, of course, determines matters one way or another, since one's doctrine of the afterlife should certainly not be based on such tenuous considerations; it's just a matter of an interesting argument that has an interesting flaw.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Flash Fulgent in My Sight

Amateur Poet
by Robert William Service

You see that sheaf of slender books
Upon the topmost shelf,
At which no browser ever looks,
Because they're by . . . myself;
They're neatly bound in navy blue,
But no one ever heeds;
Their print is clear and candid too,
Yet no one ever reads.

Poor wistful books! How much they cost
To me in time and gold!
I count them now as labour lost,
For none I ever sold;
No copy could I give away,
For all my friends would shrink,
And look at me as if to say:
"What waste of printer's ink!"

And as I gaze at them on high,
Although my eyes are sad,
I cannot help but breathe a sigh
To think what joy I had -
What ecstasy as I would seek
To make my rhyme come right,
And find at last the phrase unique
Flash fulgent in my sight.

Maybe that rapture was my gain
Far more than cheap success;
So I'll forget my striving vain,
And blot out bitterness.
Oh records of my radiant youth,
No broken heart I'll rue,
For all my best of love and truth
Is there, alive in you.

A minor irony of this poem is that Robert William Service, the Bard of the Yukon, wrote what has turned out to be the single best-selling book of poetry published in the twentieth century, Songs of a Sourdough. As far as I am aware, no other book of poetry published in the twentieth century has come close to it. There are a number of famous poems in that book, but the single most famous is "The Cremation of Sam McGee". You can listen to Johnny Cash recite that poem here,and you can listen to Robert W. Service himself recite it here. Both are quite good, although very different readings; but if you listen to one, you have to at least listen to Service's, which is in full story-telling style.

Willing Suspension of Disbelief

Samuel Taylor Coleridge once suggested that when reading fiction or viewing film we temporarily abandon our standards concerning what is real and what is make-believe. He said: "Willing suspension of disbelief for the moment...constitutes poetic faith." But, according to Noël Carroll, many problems arise with this account. To begin, in order to disbelieve something willingly, one must first be aware of the belief--in order to disbelieve it. We are rarely aware of these beliefs while reading fiction or watching a movie. Also we do not have the ability to will, or to decide consciously, what we do and do not believe. A willing suspension of disbelief suggests that belief is somehow something over which we have conscious control.
[Sarah E. Worth, "Aristotle, Thought, and Mimesis: Our Response to Fiction" The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 58, no. 4 (Autumn 2000) p. 334. It should be noted that, despite the way the first sentence reads, Worth is not suggesting that Coleridge discussed the watching of films! It should also be said that none of what follows is an objection to Worth, but to the understanding of the phrase in Carroll's argument, of which she is simply providing a handy summary.]

Neither of these seem to be a genuine problem for the idea of willing suspension of disbelief. Coleridge's phrase is pretty clearly a twist on the much more common phrase, "suspension of judgment". Suspending judgment is indistinguishable from, and is sometimes called, suspension of belief; that was the whole point of the phrase when skeptics first started talking about it. It's not at all obvious that we can only suspend judgment in matters where we are only considering one particular point, rather than on a whole topic; for instance, you can suspend judgment on matters out of your field of expertise, without considering any particular claims. Why wouldn't the same be true of suspension of disbelief? Nor does it seem plausible to claim that no one can possibly suspend judgment about anything because we can't believe at will; first, because we do, in fact, believe at will (we just can't change our beliefs by the mere decision to do so), but more importantly, and less controversially, because suspension of belief clearly is a matter of suspending active occurrences of belief, rather than standing, habitual beliefs. That is, you suspend belief by suspending active believing, or active expressions of belief, rather than by ripping out the belief altogether. The same is true of a suspension of disbelief: in a sense it doesn't matter what you disbelieve in the ongoing sense, it just matters whether you mentally express it or things that follow from it. Willingly to suspend disbelief in unicorns is quite clearly not the same as refusing to disbelieve in unicorns in any sense at all; it is just the suspension of disbelief in some sense.

Indeed, this is quite clearly what Coleridge had in mind. The phrase comes from his discussion in the Biographia Literaria of his collaboration with Wordsworth on the Lyrical Ballads:

In this idea originated the plan of the 'Lyrical Ballads'; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.

Note that it is a temporary phenomenon -- "for the moment" -- which simply eliminating your disbelief could not possibly be. Note also that this is not a mere 'not-disbelieving by choice' -- it explicitly requires that the material in question have enough "human interest" and "semblance of truth" to make it possible, so it partly requires movement from outside. And this is confirmed by an earlier claim, in which he says of the kind of poem he was to write,

In the one, the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real. And real in this sense they have been to every human being who, from whatever source of delusion, has at any time believed himself under supernatural agency.

So here we have an "interesting of the affections" and a "dramatic truth" in the expression of emotion that would go with the relevant situations "supposing them real". The latter phrase I find particularly interesting, since willing suspension of disbelief does seem to very like reasoning on the basis of a supposition: you can obviously take assumptions you disbelieve and, in something like a willing suspension of disbelief, simply set this aside in order to see what follows. I would suggest, actually, that the two are simply different examples of exactly the same phenomena: as plausibility is the poetic counterpart of validity, so reasoning ex hypothesi is the dialectical counterpart of willingly suspending disbelief. Indeed, far from being a strange or irrational phenomenon, it is all part of what one must do in order to understand properly any position with which one disagrees.

The connection of the phenomenon to faith, by the phrase 'poetic faith', is also quite clearly deliberate, since Coleridge is explicitly drawing on Romantic analogies between poetry and religion: the poems in question are to evoke the experience of the supernatural by describing supernatural events in such a way as to allow the poetic analogue of the response to supernatural experience, faith. This shows another way in which both the arguments fail. To have faith you do not have to have some specific point to believe in mind; faith being a disposition, you can be simply waiting for revelation, so to speak; and, likewise, whether one holds that there is any such thing as belief at will, it is nonetheless the case that belief and disbelief on the basis of faith is in some way voluntary. And nothing prevents us from having a voluntary (and thus willing) openness to what the poet is revealing, despite the fact that we would actively disbelieve it in other contexts.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Wherein I Defend the Vegetarians

Julian Baggini has a truly awful argument up at Aeon. The subject is vegeterians and lab-grown meat. Vegetarian organizations are at best ambivalent about it, from which Baggini concludes:

The only logical way to make sense of the reluctance of many vegetarians to back IVM is that their choices are not as driven by animal welfare and environmental considerations as we — and they — assume. Perhaps a distate for eating meat is a visceral feeling that is only loosely connected to a ethically motivated imperative not to cause undue suffering to animals. Many people cannot distinguish between their ‘all-things-considered’ moral judgment and their unmediated gut feelings, mistaking reflex revulsion for ethical insight.

First of all, this is far from the only logical way to make sense of it; Baggini has just quoted someone noting that one reason for being reluctant to jump on the bandwagon is that it might feed into the sentiment that meat-eating is really the only normal way to go and that the whole vegetarian and vegan approach was just a quixotic attempt to be abnormal all along. Further, Baggini has also just pointed out someone whose response was simply, Why would one go through so much trouble for something so unnecessary?

Second, Baggini is conflating reasons for becoming vegetarian with reasons for remaining vegetarian; people who become vegetarians may genuinely become vegetarians for purely animal suffering reasons and then become convinced that there are other ethical reasons for being vegetarian, such that even if you could remove animal suffering, they would have principled reasons for not changing back. Nothing Baggini has said shows otherwise.

Third, Baggini's evidence here is a bit of mish-mash -- we have several quotations from vegetarian organizations which give reasons for their reluctance, then we have a reference to a poll that is not about backing lab-grown meat but about whether they, personally, would eat it. There is no particular reason to conflate the two; indeed, Baggini goes on to quote someone who 'backs' it but says they wouldn't eat it themselves.

Fourth, setting aside the fact that nobody has 'unmediated' gut feelings, I very much doubt anyone confuses their reflex revulsions for ethical insights; rather they, fully recognize that they are reflex revulsions, and reasonably refuse to jump on the bandwagon supporting things that revolt them unless they are actually given good positive reasons to do so, which 'Now with less animal suffering' is not. (To get a sense of this, think of cloning human muscle tissue in the lab. No humans were hurt in the making of this human flesh! So now you personally are ready to start eating human meat, aren't you? And you'll enthusiastically back attempts to start selling it in the supermarket?) You can't throw all of human motivation out of ethics; nor can any reasonable ethical position depend on demanding, at every drop of a hat, that people back things that revolt them.

Fifth, Baggini goes on to say, " But there is a huge difference between building your position on a firm evidence base and building an evidence base to support your position." This is a common view, but it's quite clearly wrong. In practice there actually isn't all that much of a difference between building your position on a firm evidence base and building an evidence base to support your position. There are some biases that can be dealt with more easily the former way than the latter, yes; but so little does it matter whether a position is reasoned out or rationalized that it rarely makes a difference to the overall state of the argument. The reason for this is that motivated reasoning does not result in fundamentally different kinds of arguments from those built by open-minded reasoning, and in public discussion they are subjected to exactly the same standards. Further, dismissing the arguments because they are rationalized is what is often called the 'genetic fallacy', and, indeed, a paradigmatic example of why the 'genetic fallacy' got the 'fallacy' title. Psychologically, even if an argument is developed out of rationalization, that does not mean that it is not a good argument, anyway -- particularly if it withstands the test of objections and criticisms, one might well be foolish to give it up, no matter how you got it. It's absurd to treat a methodological principle about the best way to approach a subject in inquiry as if it were some overarching matter of ethical and rational integrity. Even if Baggini is right that vegetarians are merely rationalizing -- and he has not done a single thing of significance to show it -- what does it change? Nothing whatsoever. It wouldn't magically take the arguments they do give off the table, and it wouldn't change the standards of argument that have already been operative all the way through. When rationalizations are bad, it's never because they are rationalizations but because they are absurdly biased, or sloppy, or have gaping holes you can drive a truck through; all of which they could very well have if they had not been rationalizations at all. Rationalization is more likely to produce weak or bad arguments, yes; but it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition of them, and since rationalizations produce products of the same general kind, even if not consistently the same quality, as any other kind of reasoning, pretty much everything else stays exactly the same whether an argument is a rationalization or not.

The Nether Self Transdeified

by Francis Thompson

Soothsay. Behold, with rod twy-serpented,
Hermes the prophet, twining in one power
The woman with the man. Upon his head
The cloudy cap, wherewith he hath in dower
The cloud's own virtue--change and counterchange,
To show in light, and to withdraw in pall,
As mortal eyes best bear. His lineage strange
From Zeus, Truth's sire, and maiden May--the all-
Illusive Nature. His fledged feet declare
That 'tis the nether self transdeified,
And the thrice-furnaced passions, which do bear
The poet Olympusward. In him allied
Both parents clasp; and from the womb of Nature
Stern Truth takes flesh in shows of lovely feature.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Little Veil for So Great Mystery

To a Daisy
by Alice Meynell

Slight as thou art, thou art enough to hide
Like all created things, secrets from me,
And stand a barrier to eternity.
And I, how can I praise thee well and wide

From where I dwell—upon the hither side?
Thou little veil for so great mystery,
When shall I penetrate all things and thee,
And then look back? For this I must abide,

Till thou shalt grow and fold and be unfurled
Literally between me and the world.
Then I shall drink from in beneath a spring,

And from a poet’s side shall read his book.
O daisy mine, what will it be to look
From God’s side even of such a simple thing?

Musical Phonetic Pronunciation

What's remarkable is that it was entirely unrehearsed. Borge's accompaniment of an aria by Marilyn Mulvey, whom he keeps trying to throw off, is also hilariously funny.