Saturday, October 05, 2013

Fordyce's Sermons

By tea-time, however, the dose had been enough, and Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but on beholding it (for every thing announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. -- Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. -- Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce's Sermons. Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him with,

``Do you know, mama, that my uncle Philips talks of turning away Richard, and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him. My aunt told me so herself on Saturday. I shall walk to Meryton to-morrow to hear more about it, and to ask when Mr. Denny comes back from town.''
[Austen, Pride and Prejudice, chapter 14]

The full title of the book would be Sermons to Young Women. And this is the table of contents for that scintillating book (by 1809, the two volumes were presented in a handy one-volume work):

Volume I
1. On the Importance of the Female Sex, Especially the Younger Part
2. On Modesty of Apparel
3. On Female Reserve
4. On Female Virtue
5. On Female Virtue, Friendship, and Conversation
6. On Female Virtue, with Domestic and Elegant Accomplishments
7. On Female Virtue, with Intellectual Accomplishments

Volume II
8. On Female Virtue, with Intellectual Accomplishments
9. On Female Piety
10. On the Same Subject
11. On the Same Subject
12. On Good Works
13. On Female Meekness
14. On the Same Subject

I actually wonder if there is more going on in the scene than is usually given credit. Obviously we have Mr. Collins "with very monotonous solemnity" reading a book of sermons because he refuses to read novels, which tells us a very great deal about Mr. Collins. And it's almost certain that she's mocking Fordyce, whose method of educating young women is perhaps less than well calculated to keep their attention. And one has only to dip into the sermons to find that they do not exactly sparkle, being exactly the sorts of sermons one might read with very monotonous solemnity. Nonetheless, there are often layers and layers of irony in Austen, and it is noticeable that Lydia, who gapes at the very idea of reading sermons and who rudely interrupts, arguably needs the sort of lessons Fordyce is trying to get across, even if not in a sermon monotonously read. Here is a selection from Sermon III, On Female Reserve, after he has broached the virtue of shamefacedness and noted that it should not be confused with pretences.

Has Virtue then forsaken the sex? God forbid. But I am bold to say, her favourite walks are not in those places of public entertainment, now so fondly frequented by so many women. She loves the shade. There she finds herself most secure from the blights of calumny, and the heats of temptation. Ah! ye mothers of this land, how can you expose so rashly those tender blossoms committed to your care? Have ye forgotten that every unkindly breath is ready to blast them? Are ye ignorant, how soon the whitest innocence may be sullied; that it is possible, even for the strictest principles to be corrupted? Is there nothing in your own minds that whispers of the frailty of your sex?...

[He imagines here what the parents might say to him about the necessity of making sure their daughters are not naive, but have some carefully supervised introduction to the world.]

We admit your arguments, so far as they go. Keep within these bounds, and be blameless. But do the parents of the present generation commonly keep within them? Are not many of those parents as fond of gaiety and show as the merest girl can possibly be? Is it surprising to see the daughters of such become very early the votaries of Folly, when every other day or night they are conducted in triumph to her temples, without any precaution, any previous pains taken to instruct them in the emptiness and worthlessness of the object worshipped there; worshipped with every circumstance that can serve to propagate the idolatry, while the poor innocents are inflamed by 'the concurrence of company, dress, flattery, example; the example of those whom, hv nature and education, they are disposed to respect most highly, and to imitate most implicitly? It were strange indeed, if in this situation their too susceptible hearts should escape the fashionable contagion. But what can be said for those, who thus directly, and with their eyes open, lead their children into a snare ?—Cease, thou restless and raging spirit of hell, who art "going about "seeking whom thou maycst devour," cease thy cruel toil. The parents of Britain render it needless....

If you think about Lydia's situation, it seems to hit a spot, doesn't it? And Austen herself read sermons quite often; although she expresses a preference in one of her letters for Thomas Sherlock's sermons over any of the competitors.

This does not change the fact that there is something very, very Mr.-Collins-ish about Fordyce:

...there seem to me to be very few, in the style of Novel, that you can read with safety, and yet fewer that you can read with advantage.— What shall we say of certain books, which we are assured (for we have not read them) are in their nature so shameful, in their tendency so pestife rous, and contain such rank treason against the royalty of Virtue, such horrible violation of all decorum, that she who can bear to peruse them must in her soul be a prostitute, let her reputation in life be what it will. But can it be true—say, ye chaste stars, that with innumerable eyes inspect the midnight behaviour of mortals—can it be true, that any young woman, pretending to decency, should endure for a moment to look on this infernal brood of futility and lewdness?

Nor do we condemn those writings only, that, with an effrontery which defies the laws of God and man, carry on their very forehead the mark of the beast. We consider the general run of Novels as utterly unfit for you. Instruction they convey none. They paint scenes of pleasure and passion altogether improper for you to behold, even with the mind's eye. Their descriptions are often loose and luscious in a high degree ; their representations of love between the sexes are almost universally overstrained.

But fairness requires noting that he does recommend very highly the novels of Samuel Richardson, especially Clarissa. This is a taste of which Austen herself might well approve, at least to the very limited extent that it goes: Richardson was one of her favorite authors and Richardson's The History of Sir Charles Grandison was one of her favorite novels from an early age. (Which does not mean she will not mock him ironically when the occasion suits.)

Minor bit of trivia, incidentally: Charlotte Lucas seems to be the only female character in Austen's novels to marry a man younger than herself; because, of course, part of the point of the character is that pompous, sententious Mr. Collins, who refuses to read novels and reads sermons monotonously, is only twenty-five years old.

Poem a Day 5

Aeris Aviditas

A useful thing, to seek, to have, to hold;
it makes the corn to rise, the wine to flow,
and builds security to make us bold
and keeps us safe, and sets the world aglow
with luxuries beyond what beasts can know,
allowing more and more, and without cease,
and costs but more and more of love and peace.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Deuterocanon Friday: Fasting

When one builds and another tears down,
what do they gain but hard work?
When one prays and another curses,
to whose voice will the Lord listen?
If one washes after touching a corpse, and touches it again,
what has been gained by washing?
So if one fasts for his sins,
and goes again and does the same things,
who will listen to his prayer?
And what has he gained by humbling himself?

Sirach 34:28-31 (NRSV-C)

Links of Note and Notes that Note

* This cartoon by Jason Bach captures almost everything there is to say about recent media discussion of the Pope's interview.

* An article at Science discusses peer review in open-access journals. It concludes that sometimes there is and sometimes there really, really isn't.

* Dubious shenanigans in community college accreditation.

It's worth remembering that accreditation is a relatively recent thing, and that there is no reason to think that it does much. Canada, whose higher education system is as good as anything in the U.S., has no national or regional accreditation system; colleges are simply regulated by provincial governments, and that somewhat indirectly, and instead of jumping through hoops for accreditation, colleges simply maintain their status as members in good standing in professional associations; some particular departments and degrees have their own form of accreditation through appropriate agencies that can determine the right kind of accreditation for those programs. It's a system that works and makes sense -- it's programs and degrees, not colleges, that need accreditation, when it is needed at all. As noted at the link, we here have a case in which the accrediting organization's policies are actually interfering directly with the educational policies of the state of California, and on grounds that cannot be linked to superior educational quality.

* Ross Wolfe has a review of Victor Farias's Heidegger and Nazism at "The Charnel-House".

* Rebecca Stark looks at the basic meaning of mortification of sin, with links to Reformed resources on the subject.

* John Wilkins has a post on the idea that the brain could be downloaded, saying many salutary things.

Of course, even if it were possible, it might not be like we think; I remember a short story somewhere in which aliens learn how to hack a human being's brain, and they land on earth expecting to conquer us easily -- after all they can just break straight into our minds. And they discover that every single human brain is so different that they would have to start virtually from scratch for every single one.

* Rabbi Yaakov Ariel on Maimonides's 13 principles.

* Jana at "Wondering Aloud with Young People" discusses Rachel Carson's The Sense of Wonder, which I think is her best book.

* Hic Rhodus, hic saltus: Aesop, Erasmus, Hegel, and Marx

* T. E. Hulme Reconsidered at "The Imaginative Conservative". Hulme was born 130 years ago this past September.

I suspect history will treat Hulme reasonably well. He'll never be one of the greats, but I think people will keep coming back to him at least indirectly. His manuscripts on the philosophy of language, literature, and style are brilliant, and much better than almost any other twentieth century philosophy of language, since Hulme actually knew his subject in greater depth than being able to string words together into sentences. He is one of those philosophers who is brilliant in fragments; Leibniz is the most famous, and, ironically, given Hulme's arguments against romanticism, the Romantic philosophers. He is not as brilliant as Leibniz, and he lacks the movement the Romantics had, but he is of the same general kind. I think he will be a minor philosopher who is read far longer than many more famous for philosophy in their day.

An aphorism from his manuscripts on language: "Thought is the joining together of new analogies, and so inspiration is a matter of an accidentally seen analogy or unlooked-for resemblance."

* Another anniversary this year: Albert Camus turns 100.

* James Chastek on the trial of Socrates as the trial of all philosophy.

* John Michael Greer on the flight to the ephemeral at "The Archdruid Report".

Individual(ized) Human Nature

Bill Vallicella has an interesting post summarizing an inconsistent tetrad whose implications he has been studying:

a. A person is a (primary) substance of a rational nature. (Boethian definition)
b. There is only one person in Christ, the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity. (Rejection of the heresy of Nestorius, according to which in Christ there are two persons in two natures rather than one person in two natures, as orthodoxy maintains.)
c. The individual(ized) human nature of Christ is a primary substance of a rational nature.
d. Every (primary) substance is its own supposit, which implies that every substance of a rational nature has its own personhood.

I think (c), in particular, requires more work. I am a primary substance of a rational nature, namely, human; but we would not say that my human nature (considered as individualized or not) is a primary substance of rational nature, since it is just what I share with other human beings precisely as human. My human nature is by definition not a primary substance; we aren't talking about primary substances when talking about natures in this way.

If, on the other hand, we take it as a roundabout way of saying 'I am a primary substance of rational nature', and thus take the phrase to mean something like 'the individual of human nature is a primary substance of a rational nature', this becomes true but problematic for treating the tetrad as a inconsistent. Statement (c) is then equivalent to "Christ is a primary substance of human nature, which is a rational nature"; this creates no obvious inconsistency, since we already know from (b) that Christ is a primary substance of rational nature, and combined with the others it merely implies that there is one supposit of Christ, who is the Word and has human nature. (It's not essential here to say anything about supposits; for the purpose in this post, in which it plays no role, we can just treat 'supposit' as a synonym for 'subject', which, despite some differences, is the closest ordinary English word.)

The reason why one would try to put it in terms of individual(ized) human nature is clear enough: what would make the inconsistency would be to establish that the having of a human nature requires having its own supposit. But it is impossible to establish this from human nature considered on its own, so the idea is to try to get out of human nature as individual(ized). However, human nature even as individual(ized) is no more a primary substance than unindividual(ized) human nature; rather, the individual of human nature, that individual thing which has human nature, is a primary substance. The latter breaks the attempt to get a supposit or person specifically for the human nature of Christ, however.

Poem a Day 4

Vehementia Delectationis

More close than clothes or vestment sewn to please,
a film so near that pain is left outside,
a garment wrapped around of scented breeze,
we wear this cloak that self and soul may hide
from all their cares, and, safely sealed inside,
we, happy, wait, as infant held in womb,
as corpse, protected, rotting, laid in tomb.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ambassador, Part II

This is the second part of a short story draft. Part I.

Had I had any sense whatsoever, I would have 'come down' with a terrible illness the moment I was invited to the Second Consul's office. Nothing good could come of such an invitation. But I suppose I took it as a sign the ice was thawing, so I walked into the office as innocent as a lamb gamboling by the slaughterhouse. I do not know how long I could have held it off in any case; a consul can only be put off so long before soldiers come by to haul you in.

"How is your father?" he asked, with a big smile. Both the question and the smile should also have set alarms ringing.

"He is doing quite well," I replied. "As active as ever. He is away with my brother looking into buying a seaside villa. The rents have been excellent the past few years."

"That is good," he said. "Would you like a drink?"

In general, you should never take a drink from someone who almost certainly favors your family's enemies, but you should also never refuse an offer of a drink from a consul. Caught between two political truths, I took the drink with thanks.

"I hope you will allow me to be frank," he said, after we had shared empty comments about the quality of the oak-aged brandy. "Your family's political fortunes have not exactly been at their highest in past years. I have always felt the situation to be regrettable, but the shifting political winds have never blown quite right for me to do anything about it. And I am not sure that they do so now. But necessity may accomplish what diplomacy cannot. An ambassadorial position has recently come open, one that can only be filled by someone of highest senatorial pedigree. It may be the route to restoring your family's political position. It is a politically sensitive position, and I do not claim that it would be easy in every way, but things are in motion that if properly kept in motion would ensure the finest political laurels."

It was this that in fact set off my alarms. I started running through all the ambassadorial positions that I knew were open, wondering what edge-of-everything hole in the wall they were going to try to stuff me, and thinking through the excuses that might get me out of them. The trouble is that there are very few excuses that you can give a consul to his face. I confess that part of my mind also began trying to figure out what my father could have possibly done that I wouldn't know about and yet could lead the Second Consul to think that he could move directly rather than through a senatorial committee; consuls normally went through great lengths to preserve the public appearance of neutrality.

I sipped my brandy, trying to sort this all out in my head. "What is the position?" I finally asked, unable to come to any likely possibilities on my own.

"The Matriarchate of Syan."

I choked on my brandy. It was worse than I had thought. Syan is where you send enemies whose careers you no longer need to destroy. It took me a while to quit coughing.

After I had recovered, I sighed. "I take it that the position was artificially rather than naturally opened."

"Officially it was a natural opening. Unofficially, he was certainly poisoned; we think he got sloppy and the Matriarch got wind of what he was doing."

"And we are just letting the Matriarchate get away with it."

"We would have to be in a position to do otherwise. You know how touchy they are; and we are in no shape to go to war over an assassination they can just deny. We could never get our allies to give money or troops for that."

He put down his snifter. "Look," he said. "I know you exactly what you are thinking. And normally you would be right. Your predecessor was stuffed into the position to keep him safely out of the way until precisely something like this would happen, or until he was too old to be useful. And in Syan it's a rare ambassador who grows old. But he was more cunning than his enemies expected, and he was somehow able to use the position to leverage some important concession from the Five Cities. Concessions we need. The Republic is planning to move against Syan. The deal is that we get the concessions by not intervening, at least until matters are in hand, beyond providing some minor cover. But we need someone there to reduce the chance that they will try to renege on the deal. The Matriarch knows us nearly as well as we do; she knows that it is a position given to members of disgraced high-level families; sending someone from a minor family would be taken as an insult, and to send someone from a family on the upswing would make her suspicious. We need a trustworthy black sheep. Even people who hate your family concede that you are, one and all, good citizens of the Empire, and you were deemed the least risky of your family." He spread his hands. "Such is politics; we are all puppets held by the strings of the very webs we weave."

"I take it, then, that there is no room for me to turn down this offer."

"Let us simply say that it is your duty as an Imperial citizen, and, as I said, whatever others may think of your family, nobody impugns your sense of duty." Which in senatorial circles is a polite way of telling you to shut up and just accept that you have no alternative.

And so I was packed off on the next transport to Syan.

to be continued

Virtue and the Need for Reproof and Advice

Samuel Johnson, Rambler #172. So the implied conclusion, of course, is that the next time you see someone wealthy, or famous, or in a position of power -- those 'higher stations' that multiply sycophants and lead to people not being rebuked or given advice whether they feel they need it or not -- your response should be to pity them and to say, with trembling, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

Poem a Day 3


You are a body! Taste the fruit divine,
a wisdom sprung from tree in garden set,
and see, not merely taste, in hue and line
the goodness edible, the sugars wet
that melt upon the tongue and, better yet,
bring joy, pure joy within, of world without,
the spy who turns your victory to rout.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

O'Neill on Treating Persons as Persons

A full understanding of treating others as persons should, I suggest, take some account of the particularities of persons. It must allow that we take seriously the possibility of dissent and consent for others who, far from being ideally rational and independent beings, have their particular limitations that affect their abilities to dissent and to consent variously in varying circumstances. We are concerned not only to be treated as a person -- any person -- but to some extent to be treated as the particular persons we are. We are not merely possibly consenting adults, but particular friends, colleagues, clients, rivals, relations, lovers, neighbors; we have each of us a particular history, character, set of abilities and weaknesses, interests and desires. Even when others do not deceive or coerce us, or treat us in any ways as tools, we may yet feel that they do not treat us as persons either.

[Onora O'Neill, Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant's Practical Philosophy, Cambridge (New York: 1989) p. 111.]

Poem a Day 2

Amor Humanae Gloriae

In glory clarity is seen; in fame,
a mirror raised to mind, the face is found.
How sweet the crown of well-reputed name,
how fair approval, like to scenic ground!
Not knowing only -- known, and known around
with toast and praise; we thus ourselves adorn
with words on words, and sounds of meaning shorn.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Poem a Day 1

Regina Omnium Vitiorum

The mountain rises high with ice, so high
the air grows thin, the sun grows clear, so bright,
all else seems nothing, tiny gnat or fly;
the splendor, clarity of soaring bursts of light
seems truth itself; it crowns the peaks of white.
The glory radiates! It does not hide!
Of course: for such is Lucifer in pride.

Also in Silence with Thy Soul

Sonnet 21
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem "a cuckoo-song," as thou dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Belov├Ęd, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain
Cry, "Speak once more—thou lovest!" Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll
The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Verecundia Problem

Aquinas's ethics is, and has always been, something of a famous tour de force, and even if nothing else of his work had survived, there is no question but that he would still be regarded as one of the most important medieval philosophers because of it. When Greeks like George Scholarios or Bessarion started looking at Latin theologians for the Council of Florence, they were utterly floored by the Secunda Secundae (Second Part of the Second Part of the Summa Theologiae), in which Aquinas takes almost the entire Western moral tradition, from Plato and Aristotle through the Latin (and sometimes Greek) Church Fathers and makes it make sense in 170 questions that put practically every virtue ever talked about in its place. Aquinas's achievement didn't occur in a void -- it was prepared for by the major work of Philip the Chancellor, Alexander of Hales, Albert the Great, and Raymond of Penyafort -- but there's no question that he took it to a new level. If you ever want proof that ethics as a philosophical field makes progress, you only have to compare the materials on which the Secunda Secundae is based with the Secunda Secundae itself.

It only becomes a more significant achievement when you look at the problems Aquinas had to deal with in handling specific virtues. Aquinas's first major way of organizing the discussion is to do it by what he calls principal virtues, which are the three theological virtues (Faith, Hope, Love) and the four cardinal virtues (Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance). That was not uncommon, but it is by no means enough. For, as Aquinas (following Philip the Chancellor, although here and there Aristotle says things that suggest he anticipated the point at least for Justice) notes, we talk about the latter four in two different ways: in one way we take them as general properties of all virtues, and in another we take them as distinct virtues in their own right. So when looking at what people say about virtue, we're constantly having to distinguish between these two ways of talking about them. Aristotle's Andreia, for instance, is courage as exemplified most perfectly by the soldier; it is a specific virtue. When the Roman Stoics and Cicero talk about Fortitudo, they are sometimes talking about a more general version of this, and sometimes they are talking about a sort of stick-to-it-iveness every virtue needs; when Jane Austen, much later, will talk about Constancy, she is quite clearly talking about a general property required for having virtue at all -- it is exactly what Aquinas would call Fortitude as a general property. Since the specific virtues are the virtues that most clearly show the general property they are associated with by name, there are lots of places, though, where it's not possible to say without careful thought which is in view.

As if that weren't enough, names aren't always consistent over time. (To take two examples: the virtue of honestas is not at all the virtue of honesty, despite the fact that we get the latter name from the former, and modestia, while obviously related to modesty in the sense of 'modesty in dress and demeanor', doesn't work exactly like what we usually call 'modesty' in that context, and is very different from modesty in the sense of 'modesty about one's achievements'.) Part of it is just confusion, part of it is just change of words over time, and part of it is something noted by Aristotle, namely, that with a very small number of assumptions you can prove that there are virtues and vices for which a given language has no words at all, or even sometimes that the virtue and one of its corresponding vices is called by exactly the same name. The doctrine of mean, which is what led Aristotle to the discovery, is another of Aquinas's organizing principles.

Another of Aquinas's organizing principles is his mereology of virtues. There are three kinds of 'parts of virtue'. There are quasi-integral parts: these are smaller virtues out of which more important virtues are 'built'. There are subjective parts: these are all the same virtue, but in such different circumstances that it makes sense to distinguish them (they are modalities of the same virtue), as with Temperance in food and Temperance in sex, which are both fully Temperance in the strict sense, but necessarily have some very different expressions and problems. And there are potential parts, which are satellite virtues that can stand on their own but also follow from a larger virtue; the potential parts of justice, for instance, are all 'justice in a broad sense'. With this mereology we start seeing that different virtues sometimes raise very different problems.

Prudence, for instance, is internally quite complicated -- Aquinas, in order to do justice both to what Prudence is about (moral reasoning) and to what people had said about it previously, has to give it eight distinct parts. Justice in comparison is internally very, very simple -- it's basically just seek equal good and don't harm others; but since it has to do with relationships with other people, which have an infinite diversity of circumstances, trying to give an exhaustive account of its important and notable subjective parts is probably impossible. And Justice also has the peculiarity that the easiest way to discuss its subjective parts is by talking about its jillion different vices. An example I've used before is that in trying to put the subjective parts of Justice in order, Aquinas at one point breaks it down to the category of extrajudicial verbal commutative particular injustices against the will of another, and he still has to assign that category five different vices. Prudence has a vast number of internal parts because moral reasoning has a vast number of parts; Justice has a vast number of modalities because our relationships with other people have a vast number of modalities. Fortitude has a completely different set of problems that have to be solved, due to the fact that, despite its being more important than Temperance, there is very little said about it, and our vocabulary for talking about is correspondingly very impoverished. We simply don't have the words, and keep using the same words for talking about fortitude itself, its integral parts, and its potential parts; and, what is more, much of what we do have treats the soldier as the exemplar of Fortitude, whereas Aquinas as a Catholic wants to say it is the martyr who shows the highest and purest form of Fortitude. (Aquinas also argues that close analysis shows it to have the peculiarity of have no subjective parts or modalities at all: Fortitude shows exactly the same face in all circumstances, which is an oddity, and not at all what you would expect.)

All of this is a long introduction (but the background is all necessary) to the the problems of Temperance, which is self-control in the face of the temptation of great pleasures. If there is any virtue that defeats Aquinas's best efforts to put it into order, Temperance is it. What Aquinas inherited on the subject of Temperance is all over the map. The vocabulary is not very standardized at all, for instance, and the words seem to change so quickly and easily in meaning that it's hard to get fix on them. And this has never stopped being true. Trying to translate the questions on Temperance (140-170) into English is a nightmare. It's like trying to translate something that consists entirely of false cognates into a language that has no words that adequately cover what the original words mean. Transliterate, and you are suddenly fifteen miles away from where you should be; try to translate, and you find no words ever fit quite as well as you'd like.

And the verbal confusion is connected with another issue, which is that Temperance and its associated virtues are remarkably sensitive to culture. In every society you can find people who dress modestly, which is a potential part of Temperance; there's no question that there's such a virtue in that sense. Put all these modest people from different societies into one room, however, and they will all be shocked at the immodesty of what the other people are wearing. The virtue is identifiably the same; what is done to express it can be radically different. And yet it seems we still can make cross-cultural evaluations that make sense, and you can find surprising agreements across very different cultures.

In addition, the sins associated with Temperance are, with a few exceptions, embarrassing in a greater measure than they are harmful, and ironically this makes it far harder to talk about them. So instead we talk about them in sloppy ways, avoiding precision, and we are constantly using euphemisms and deliberately conflating the vices with things that are more like medical conditions (and while we take it to an art, this was true in Aquinas's day, and probably always has been). The whole thing is a crazy mess, and while here and there you can make it less crazy, you still have a mess. And I think we still get a mess when we look at Aquinas on the subject -- much, much less of a mess than what he inherited, but still something riddled with unsolved -- and in some cases, due to the sheer confusion we wreak on our vocabulary for even formulating the problems -- and unsolvable problems. Aquinas, of course, has at least partial solutions to many of these, even beyond his organizing principles -- it is very noticeable, for instance, that whenever he can, he talks about the vices associated with Temperance in terms of how they are related to other virtues, especially Justice. Justice is the most orderly of the virtues, in a sense, because of its close connection with law, and so it makes sense to borrow from it to sort out the messiest of the virtues. But problems still remain.

One of the problems has to do with the quasi-integral parts of Temperance. Integral parts, remember, are parts in something like our usual sense of the word: the integral parts of a house are walls, floor, ceiling, etc., that is, the things that make it up as a whole (hence the word 'integral'). It's a little bit baffling to make sense of what Aquinas is trying to convey when he discusses the quasi-integral parts of Temperance. When he discusses the integral parts of Temperance in general, he very clearly states that Temperance has two integral parts: verecundia and honestas. Each of these suffers all the problems I've mentioned: they were not used consistently in Aquinas's day, and the words we might translate them by are not used consistently in ours. None of the words we might use to translate them fits them perfectly, and the differences can make for very different readings of what Aquinas is saying. And Aquinas's discussion is already quite difficult. Set aside honestas, which has its own problems, and let's look at the problem of verecundia.

How do we translate it? If you look at most translations, they use 'shame'; the Dominican Fathers translation linked above uses 'shamefacedness'. It fits, sort of. It's one way you can translate it. But it can cover mere bashfulness, too. You can also use it to mean 'respect' or 'deference'. In fact, this is not an uncommon use of it: when people accuse other people of arguing ad verecundiam because they read it in a book of fallacies somewhere, they are accusing them of simply appealing to authority without having any other foundation. And the sense of 'respect' here could either be respect in the positive sense of involving a kind of admiration, or it could be respect in the sense that a good hiker will respect the danger represented by a rattlesnake. It makes a huge difference to the discussion whether you emphasize the shame aspect or the respect aspect of the word. Aquinas when he first talks about it says it involves fleeing from the disgraceful (turpitudem, another word that's hard to get right in translation, since our cognate word, turpitude, seems to be much too strong). That makes it sound like shame. But the pairing with honestas should make us cautious, because honestas seems to be a respect-word here, associated with honoring beauty. So it would make sense of everything Aquinas says if we took Temperance to be a kind of overall respect: its two key features would be to respect, i.e., honor, the beauty of moderation, and to respect, i.e., treat with appropriate seriousness, the danger of the dishonorably immoderate. That gives us a different picture than if we translate the words (as we could) by 'shame' and 'honor'. You can to an extent see how they might be related -- but they are different pictures.

It gets worse. Verecundia is an integral part of Temperance. In every other case in which Aquinas talks about integral parts, integral parts of a virtue are virtues. And it doesn't seem that an integral part of a virtue could be anything other than a virtue in its own right. And Aquinas very clearly states that verecundia is an integral part of Temperance. Having that clear, we turn to the next question and discover that it is not a virtue. That would make sense on its own, since Aristotle says that verecundia (or rather the Greek word that was translated into Latin in this way) is not a virtue, but simply something associated with it.

So, wait, is it possible for an integral part of virtue not to be a virtue? In every single other case it seems to be that an integral part of a virtue is a virtue, and fits all the definitions of a virtue. Whenever Aquinas talks about integral parts elsewhere, the integral parts of virtues would pretty obviously have to be virtues. To sharpen the matter further, the other integral part, honestas, is definitely a virtue. The two are very obviously some kind of pair. But somehow one is a virtue and the other is not -- Aquinas explicitly responds to this point and says that verecundia facilitates honestas but not so as to be as complete a good as honestas. But this is not an explanation of the difference -- virtues can be of unequal completeness and perfection -- but rather a reason why one might not automatically assume that they were both virtues. The actual argument he gives is difficult: a virtue has to be consistent with complete good, so that something intrinsically incompletely good is not a virtue even if it is very good; verecundia cannot be complete because it is fear of the disgraceful, but if we had complete virtue we would not fear the disgraceful, because we wouldn't do it or regard it as an option. It's difficult to see quite how this argument is intended to work -- maybe it does, but it's difficult to see what the nerve of the issue is. It's perhaps true that the completely virtuous would not consider the disgraceful an option, but surely if anyone proposed it they would repudiate it as inappropriate, and why wouldn't that count?

The argument makes it sound like the completely virtuous don't have verecundia. But the completely virtuous do have Temperance, and verecundia is an integral part of Temperance; so it seems you can't have Temperance without verecundia. So is verecundia not really an integral part of virtue, but something that is so important to the virtue as we usually have it that it is a little like an integral part, in that we won't usually find the virtue without this other thing? That would make verecundia a part of Temperance in something like the way 'wearing clothes' is a part of human being -- it's not strictly true, but for practical purposes we can easily consider clothing as part of a human being. But then honestas would be the only actual integral part of Temperance, which would mean that Temperance just is honestas. That would leave us the result that Temperance has no integral parts in much the same way that Fortitude has no subjective parts, which perhaps makes a little sense, but it would be quite weird -- surely we can analyze Temperance into smaller virtues? -- and doesn't seem to be in view at all when Aquinas talks about honestas.

The authority of Aristotle, of course, is why verecundia is said not to be virtue, but Aquinas is entirely capable of making a distinction between different uses of the word, and has just been doing exactly like that for a hundred and more questions, so he could have distinguished between verecundia in Aristotle's sense and some kind of virtue that could also be given that name; but all the evidence shows that he quite clearly intended not to do so. Aquinas is not immune to contradicting himself, and it would hardly be a fault to end up in a contradiction given the messiness of Temperance, but he explicitly argues the point, and so he was direclty faced with the possibility of its being a contradiction, and rejected it.

So where do we end up? These seem the possibilities. None of them are perfectly adequate in terms of the evidence.

(1) Verecundia is an integral part of Temperance, and integral parts of virtues are always virtues, and verecundia is not a virtue: This requires us to say that Aquinas contradicted himself almost immediately, very explicitly, despite having considered the question directly.

(2) Verecundia is not really an integral part of Temperance, only an integral part in a loose sense, and therefore even if integral parts of virtues are always virtues, it need not be a virtue: Why didn't St. Thomas just say that? There's no indication of this in the text, even though there's plenty of opportunity to say it. It also seems to make Temperance reduce to honestas.

(3) Verecundia is an integral part of Temperance, and it is not a virtue, so not all integral parts of virtues are virtues: But Aquinas's argument that it is not a virtue seems to cause problems for saying that it is even an integral part, and we have the question of why this seems to be the only integral part of virtue that is not a virtue.

(4) Verecundia is an integral part of Temperance, and all integral parts of virtues are virtues, but the word verecundia can mean either something that is not a virtue or something that is (e.g., the virtue of making good use of verecundia in the not-a-virtue sense), depending on the sense in which you are taking it: This would be the cleanest solution to the problem itself. But Aquinas seems to consider it and deliberately reject it.

There are possible variations on each of these. For instance, although it's not as acute as that of verecundia, we run into much the same problem with continentia, a potential part of Temperance that is not a virtue but (as Aquinas unhelpfully quotes Aristotle as saying) "some kind of mixture", being in a way a virtue but falling short of actual virtue. (And the structure of the article is very strange, too, since Aquinas is talking about two different things called continentia, which have to be treated in diametrically opposed ways.) But while this does make continentia a weird potential part, it's easier to see how a potential part -- which is really a distinguishable thing -- could be a non-virtue that nonetheless has at least most of the features of a virtue. How we can do that with an integral part is just baffling. So one possibility is that Aquinas just misclassified verecundia: it, like continentia, should be a potential part, not an integral part. But we run into the same problem of evidence; it's not as if Aquinas could have just overlooked the fact that he made verecundia an integral part, since it's not just said in passing but an essential part of the structure of the Treatise on Temperance.

So it's a puzzle what to make of verecundia. Of course, progress in philosophy, on Aquinas's own view, is by resolution of dubia or aporia, which are puzzles in exactly this sense -- it seems we are called to accept both sides of a contradiction, which is a sign for the need to think through it more. There are, in fact, good reasons for going in any possible direction with regard to the problem itself, and this perhaps is part of the reason why none of the possibilities seems to fit all the evidence: we have the puzzle, because it's a puzzle Aquinas never fully resolved. Which is not such a bad thing: what puzzles is the beginning of inquiry.

Coats of Skins

An interesting passage from St. Gregory of Nyssa's The Great Catechism:

A doctrine such as this is set before us by Moses under the disguise of an historical manner. And yet this disguise of history contains a teaching which is most plain. For after, as he tells us, the earliest of mankind were brought into contact with what was forbidden, and thereby were stripped naked of that primal blessed condition, the Lord clothed these, His first-formed creatures, with coats of skins. In my opinion we are not bound to take these skins in their literal meaning. For to what sort of slain and flayed animals did this clothing devised for these humanities belong? But since all skin, after it is separated from the animal, is dead, I am certainly of opinion that He Who is the healer of our sinfulness, of His foresight invested man subsequently with that capacity of dying which had been the special attribute of the brute creation. Not that it was to last for ever; for a coat is something external put on us, lending itself to the body for a time, but not indigenous to its nature. This liability to death, then, taken from the brute creation, was, provisionally, made to envelope the nature created for immortality. It enwrapped it externally, but not internally. It grasped the sentient part of man; but laid no hold upon the Divine image. This sentient part, however, does not disappear, but is dissolved. Disappearance is the passing away into non-existence, but dissolution is the dispersion again into those constituent elements of the world of which it was composed. But that which is contained in them perishes not, though it escapes the cognisance of our senses.

The reference, of course, is to Genesis 3:21: "The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them."

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fortnightly Book, September 29

Having read Tim Powers's Declare naturally suggests the next fortnightly book, since a major character is the historical figure Kim Philby, British intelligence agent and notorious traitor. 'Kim', however, was not his real name, but a nickname; the nickname comes from Rudyard Kipling's Kim, which will be the next one.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), of course, was born in India and educated in England; he became a journalist and a roving correspondent, which brought him to America. After his marriage he intended to settled down in Vermont, where the Jungle Books in fact were written, but a major controversy with his American in-laws made it seem wiser to return to England. He spent some time covering the Boer War in South Africa, and eventually won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. He was the first person writing in English to receive it. The prize citation said,
In consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.

There's good reason to think that he was given the prize as a representative of English literature in general, and as a quintessentially English writer, there was perhaps no better representative.

Kim was published in 1901, and is often considered Kipling's greatest novel. I can pinpoint under what circumstances I first heard of it, because Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting movement, liked Kipling's works, and filled Scouting with Kiplingesque imagery and activities, one of which was Kim's Game, which was still being played when I was a Cub Scout. Despite having known about the book for so long and liking Kipling, I've never actually sat down to read it, so this will be my first time.

I am reading it in a 1962 Heritage Press (New York) edition; you can read the Sandglass for it online. It uses a Janson typeface and is illustrated by Robin Jacques.

Now on to The Great Game!


Today is Michaelmas; it's historically an important date, although we don't really use it anymore. It was one of the major feasts for Catholics until the 18th century. I don't know if they still do ever, but early Lutherans took the Feast of St. Michael pretty seriously. Here is a Michaelmas hymn by no less than Philip Melanchthon:

Lord God, we all to Thee give praise,
Thanksgivings meet to Thee we raise,
That angel hosts Thou didst create
Around Thy glorious throne to wait.

They shine with light and heav'nly grace
And constantly behold Thy face;
They heed Thy voice, they know it well,
In godly wisdom they excel.

They never rest nor sleep as we;
Their whole delight is but to be
With Thee, Lord Jesus, and to keep
Thy little flock, Thy lambs and sheep.

The ancient dragon is their foe;
His envy and his wrath they know.
It always is his aim and pride
Thy Christian people to divide.

As he of old deceived the world
And into sin and death has hurled,
So he now subtly lies in wait
To undermine both Church and state.

A roaring lion, round he goes,
No halt nor rest he ever knows;
He seeks the Christians to devour
And slay them in his dreadful pow'r.

But watchful is the angel band
That follows Christ on ev'ry hand
To guard His people where they go
And break the counsel of the foe.

For this, now and in days to be,
Our praise shall rise, O Lord, to Thee,
Whom all the angel hosts adore
With grateful songs forevermore.

Michaelmas used to be a very important holiday. It was one of the times of the year when people would reckon accounts and peasants would elect their reeves, so it became a marker-post through the year, a kind of standard due-date that was convenient for everyone to use. And it was an important feast, so people would have nice meals of goose and bannock, or whatever the local feasting dish was.