Saturday, March 01, 2014

Joseph Bedier, The Romance of Tristan and Iseult


Opening Passage: I'll give the full opening passage, despite its length, since it is the key background story. I'll take it from Belloc's original version, rather than the version supplemented by Paul Rosenfield, which is slightly longer.

My lords, if you would hear a high tale of love and of death, here is that of Tristan and Queen Iseult; how to their full joy, but to their sorrow also, they loved each other, and how at last they died of that love together upon one day; she by him and he by her.

Long ago, when Mark was King over Cornwall, Rivalen, King of Lyonesse, heard that Mark’s enemies waged war on him; so he crossed the sea to bring him aid; and so faithfully did he serve him with counsel and sword that Mark gave him his sister Blanchefleur, whom King Rivalen loved most marvellously.

He wedded her in Tintagel Minster, but hardly was she wed when the news came to him that his old enemy Duke Morgan had fallen on Lyonesse and was wasting town and field. Then Rivalen manned his ships in haste, and took Blanchefleur with him to his far land; but she was with child. He landed below his castle of Kanoƫl and gave the Queen in ward to his Marshal Rohalt, and after that set off to wage his war.

Blanchefleur waited for him continually, but he did not come home, till she learnt upon a day that Duke Morgan had killed him in foul ambush. She did not weep: she made no cry or lamentation, but her limbs failed her and grew weak, and her soul was filled with a strong desire to be rid of the flesh, and though Rohalt tried to soothe her she would not hear. Three days she awaited re-union with her lord, and on the fourth she brought forth a son; and taking him in her arms she said:

“Little son, I have longed a while to see you, and now I see you the fairest thing ever a woman bore. In sadness came I hither, in sadness did I bring forth, and in sadness has your first feast day gone. And as by sadness you came into the world, your name shall be called Tristan; that is the child of sadness.”

Summary: The tale of Tristan and Iseult is perhaps famous enough that there is no need to re-tell it; but it is worth a moment to re-trace its lineaments nonetheless. Tristan, nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, comes to serve his uncle. Hardly has he arrived when he takes up the challenge to fight the greatest champion of Ireland for his uncle's honor and to win the right of Cornwall to be free of tribute; he kills the champion but is wounded with a poisoned sword. (Poison is a theme throughout the story.) Tristan begs his uncle a last favor, which is simply to go out to sea, perhaps to find some land where he can be healed, and it is granted; he is too weak to use sail or oar, so he is simply laid in the boat with his harp and set adrift. Eventually he is discovered, on the verge of death, by fishermen, who bring them to their lady, a generous woman of extraordinary ability in herbs and the like, which she had learned from her mother. The lady's name was Iseult the Fair, or Iseult of the Golden Hair, and she was a princess in Ireland. Not realizing it, she healed the wounds of her country's greatest enemy, the wounds inflicted by her country's greatest champion. He returns home for a while, and, because Mark, having no son, treats Tristan as if he were a son, some of Mark's other barons are jealous. They attempt to get him to marry, but as it happens their attempt leads to Tristan setting sail to retrieve for Mark Iseult the Fair. He does this by slaying a dragon, thus both managing to remain alive once the Irish know who he is, and get Mark a queen, and establish peace between Ireland and Cornwall. His handling of it, however, already shows a devious streak. All this is merely preparatory.

Iseult's mother gives Iseult's lady-in-waiting a special philtre. This potion is to be placed in the cups of Mark and Iseult on their wedding night; and its result will be to make them love each other wholly for their whole lives. Due to mischance, Tristan and Iseult happen to drink of it, and thus the second phase of the tale begins. They are both seized with an obsessive love. Up to this point, Tristan has done everything for honor and his king and uncle. These never cease to be important to him; but now he feels bound to Iseult in his every thought and desire. It is the beginning of the destruction of everything Tristan is; and it is also the beginning of the destruction of Iseult, as well. The philtre, of course, is not a mere appurtenance; it is utterly essential to the course of the tale. What seizes Tristan and Iseult is in itself not their fault, and it is not in itself resistible. This is the primary reason the two lovers can be reasonable objects of sympathy through the rest of the tale; the madness that has seized them will end up degrading them in ways neither could have imagined, but precisely because it is a kind of madness it shields their honor from their shame. In some versions of the tale it is made clear that at some point their actions are motivated less by the madness of the philtre than by their complacency in the deed, so that necessity transforms into an excuse for sin, as it often does; but Bedier carefully leaves it more ambiguous, so that by default compulsion remains the most obvious explanation until the end -- but it is notable that Tristan and Iseult both refuse penance.

The tale continues from there with many twists and turns. There is much trickery and both Tristan and Iseult expend considerable ingenuity in deceiving Mark and others without actually lying. They are not exactly in a state conducive to prudence, however, and they eventually are caught and have to go on the run. This problem is resolved, but they end up in a forced separation, painful to them both. For this is a significant feature of their love: they literally love so much it hurts, "Anguish without end". And yet -- when each is offered a chance to ease the hurt, each gives it up because they each refuse to be comforted if the other suffers.

The third phase of the story sees them both increasingly irrational due to their separation. They both become paranoid that the other might be falling out of love. Tristan, for reasons that are obscure -- but all their reasons become increasingly obscure -- and to a woman who, rather ominously, is named Iseult as well, Iseult of the White Hands. One of the important aspects of the story is the sheer burden Tristan and Iseult place on the two originally innocent people in the arrangement, Mark and Iseult of the White Hands; Iseult the Fair and Tristan marry them already betraying them. And yet, because Mark truly loves Iseult the Fair and Iseult of the White Hands truly loves Tristan, they both exhibit the same symptoms, the same irrationalities, and they both do terrible things. The only thing that makes them less sympathetic is that they were not poisoned by the philtre.

Tristan eventually is wounded by a poisoned spear, and symmetry asserts itself. Tristan sends for Iseult the Fair; but he fears that she no longer loves him, so he arranges a sign. If the ship returns with white sail, Iseult comes; if the ship returns with black sail, she does not. Unfortunately, Iseult of the White Hands overhears the arrangement and its reason, and when the ship appears on the horizon with white sails, she reports that its sails are black. Tristan dies of grief even as Iseult the Fair comes to shore; and she dies of grief beside him. The philtre as a poison was long in acting and there was never any guarantee of when it would achieve its mark; but it was an effective one, and more effective than the poisons that were designed to kill. They at least had a cure.

In passing, talking about some of Mark's barons, who were almost obsessively out to foil the two lovers, the narrator describes how they, too, will die, and says, "Thus God who hates all excess will avenge the lovers on their enemies" (p. 97). It is a remarkable thing to say in a story in which no one acts with moderation. But it is consistently true that the only excesses in the story that do not automatically call forth their own punishments are those committed early on by Tristan and Iseult, operating under the influence of the philtre. And the implacable enmity with which the narrator regards the barons is not entirely misplaced. They are the ones who started it all. Tristan destroyed the Irish champion because the barons would not; their jealous intrigue leads to Tristan's return to Ireland; and when he returns they aggravate every situation. They don't genuinely care about the honor of Mark, as Tristan and Iseult both do even while disgracing it; they are doing it to maintain their power and influence in the kingdom, and to get rid of Tristan, who seems likely to be Mark's heir and yet is too talented to kill directly. It's a twist that I think can easily be lost in the rest of the story: Tristan and Iseult do what is dishonorable but nonetheless struggle to do what is honorable, whereas the barons do what is superficially honorable out of dishonorable motives. And thus we see another aspect of it: despite the wild excesses of Tristan and Iseult -- they are trying to be moderate. We see this reflected in the fact that, to the end, they are both comforters of the poor and suffering around them. It's just that under the circumstances there is no way they can succeed very well. The barons, on the other hand, never try to moderate themselves; they only stay their hand out of fear or calculation.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the story is how it reflects the paradox of love. Love raised to passionate excess is folly, shame, death. Yet something in love seems only to attain perfection when it is love so great one may die of it. The tale itself provides no solution, only the paradox. Well, perhaps it does suggest a solution, in Ogrin the Hermit's insistence on penance; but of that route the story can tell us nothing.

Favorite Passage:

One day when the wind had fallen and the sails hung slack Tristan dropped anchor by an Island and the hundred knights of Cornwall and the sailors, weary of the sea, landed all. Iseult alone remained aboard and a little serving maid, when Tristan came near the Queen to calm her sorrow. The sun was hot above them and they were athirst and, as they called, the little maid looked about for drink for them and found that pitcher which the mother of Iseult had given into Brangien’s keeping. And when she came on it, the child cried, “I have found you wine!” Now she had found not wine — but Passion and Joy most sharp, and Anguish without end, and Death.

The Queen drank deep of that draught and gave it to Tristan and he drank also long and emptied it all.

Brangien came in upon them; she saw them gazing at each other in silence as though ravished and apart; she saw before them the pitcher standing there; she snatched it up and cast it into the shuddering sea and cried aloud: “Cursed be the day I was born and cursed the day that first I trod this deck. Iseult, my friend, and Tristan, you, you have drunk death together.”

Recommendation: The tale in general is one of those that every educated person should have read in some form, and Bédier's is easily the most accessible and coherent of the versions. Highly recommended.

Potentiality and Actuality

In what I am now there lies something that I am now not actually, but will become actually at some time in the future. And what I now am actually, I already was previously, but not actually. My present being contains the possibility for future actual being and supposes a possibility in my earlier being. My present being is at once actual and potential being; and insofar as it is actual, it is the actualization of a potency that already exited earlier. As modes of being, actuality and potentiality are contained in the sheer fact of being [schlichte Seinstatsche] and from it they are to be inferred.

St. Edith Stein, Potency and Act, Redmond, tr. ICS Publications [Washington, DC: 2009] p. 12.

I have very little serious German. I take it that 'schlichte Seinstatsche' literally means something like 'definitive apprehension of being'? [ADDED LATER: Arsen notes that it's a typo (mine, rather than Redmond's) -- it should actually be 'Seinstatsache', which means pretty straightforwardly 'fact of being'.]

Friday, February 28, 2014

Too Fierce for Bodies of Mortals

Libera Me
by Ernest Dowson

Goddess the laughter-loving, Aphrodite, befriend!
Long have I served thine altars, serve me now at the end,
Let me have peace of thee, truce of thee, golden one, send.

Heart of my heart have I offered thee, pain of my pain,
Yielding my life for the love of thee into thy chain;
Lady and goddess be merciful, loose me again.

All things I had that were fairest, my dearest and best,
Fed the fierce flames on thine altar: ah, surely, my breast
Shrined thee alone among goddesses, spurning the rest.

Blossom of youth thou hast plucked of me, flower of my days;
Stinted I nought in thine honouring, walked in thy ways,
Song of my soul pouring out to thee, all in thy praise.

Fierce was the flame while it lasted, and strong was thy wine,
Meet for immortals that die not, for throats such as thine,
Too fierce for bodies of mortals, too potent for mine.

Blossom and bloom hast thou taken, now render to me
Ashes of life that remain to me, few though they be,
Truce of the love of thee, Cyprian, let me go free.

Goddess the laughter-loving, Aphrodite, restore
Life to the limbs of me, liberty, hold me no more
Having the first-fruits and flower of me, cast me the core.

Aristotle and Absolute Space and Time

In Aristotle's physics, is there an absolute space and time (or absolute motion and rest)? I've come across a number of places in which people assume that it does. Obviously, to some extent it depends on what you mean by absolute space and time. Suppose we use Newton's definition of absolute space and absolute time from the Principia:

I. Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external, and by another name is called duration: relative, apparent, and common time, is some sensible and external (whether accurate or unequable) measure of duration by the means of motion, which is commonly used instead of true time; such as an hour, a day, a month, a year.

II. Absolute space, in its own nature, without relation to anything external, remains always similar and immovable. Relative space is some movable dimension or measure of the absolute spaces; which our senses determine by its position to bodies; and which is commonly taken for immovable space; such is the dimension of a subterraneous, an aerial, or celestial space, determined by its position in respect of the earth.

By these definitions Aristotle's physics has no absolute space and no absolute time -- indeed, in Aristotle's physics absolute space and absolute time are simply impossible. 'When' for Aristotle is by definition relative to motion; 'where' is by definition relative to body. This is why we get the kinds of discussions in physics that we find in the medieval scholastics; whenever they talk about time, they are always talking about clocks, and whenever they talk about space they are always talking about containers (in a broad sense of the term). Aristotle's physics has no absolute time or absolute space in Newton's sense; time is always relative to some clock and space is always relative to some container.

Indeed, given some of the way Newton phrases things, I actually wonder if Newton might be deliberately anti-Aristotelian here. Newton posits absolute space and absolute time because his physics crucially requires us to break away from the purely sensible -- Newtonian physics can explain a great many things, but it does so by abstraction from the sensible. Taking time itself, or space itself, to be a measure, as Aristotelian physics effectively does, from his perspective means that physical theories never talk about realities, but only about measurements. At least, this seems to be one of the ways his scholium on the subject can be read.

There is a sense, though, in which the Aristotelians admitted something that we could think of as absolute space and time. For while time is relative to clocks or changes and place to containers, the old Aristotelian universe had something capable of operating as a general clock or container: the primum mobile, which as that which has the first and most general change can serve as both a universal clock and a universal container. Time is necessarily relative to a change that can act as (in some sense) a clock -- but there happens to be a change that can be a clock for any other change. Place is necessarily relative to a body that can act as (in some sense) a container -- but there happens to be a body that can be a container for every other body. If by 'There is an absolute time' we meant 'There is a universal clock', and by 'There is an absolute space' we meant 'There is a universal container', the Aristotelians typically did hold that there was an absolute space and time. But this does need to be distinguished from Newton's sense; these things are relative, not absolute, space and time for Newton.

(The fact that Newton thinks of relative space and time as tied to the senses does complicate this conclusion somewhat, it should be said; the way in which the primum mobile works as a 'clock' or a 'container' in Aristotelian physics doesn't so obviously tie it to the senses. There are also some variations among Aristotelians, and there was some puzzlement arising from the fact that if place is relative to a container, the primum mobile is not in any place, which sounds a bit odd.)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Brief Guide to Reading Kant

Today we started Kantianism in my ethics course. Very difficult to teach students properly. Here's the one-page reading guide I gave them.

A Brief Guide to Reading Kant

1. Don’t panic. If you have difficulty understanding him on your first reading, you’re in the position practically everyone is. The flip side of this is that if you think you’ve understood him on your first reading, you should stop lying to yourself.

2. Kant likes to approach the same ideas from multiple angles. If you don’t understand something, read on, and he will likely cover the same ground in a different way later on.

3. The key concept for understanding Kant is a priori, which in the Kantian context means ‘prior to, and thus independent of, experience’. All of Kant’s philosophy consists of arguing that much of the order with which we experience the world does not come from the world but from our minds; he thus is trying to identify the features of our mind that make it possible for us to interpret the world in the way we do. This includes our experience of the world in a moral way.

4. If you’re having difficulty with a passage, you might consider reading it out loud. Many of Kant’s stylistic peculiarities are linked to the fact that he tends to write as if he were lecturing. Hearing the lecture rather than trying just to look at it on the page can often make a difference. When heard rather than simply read, one often finds that the style is more accessible than it might at first appear.

5. Much of the key to understanding Kant lies in the vocabulary; he’s using a technical and quasi-technical vocabulary that would have been very familiar to educated people in his day, even if it has since become less common. Don’t just skip words you don’t know! Sometimes they are the key to the whole argument.

6. Kant is a systematizer. It’s never enough merely to understand particular arguments; you also need to understand how they fit into the overall structure of thought he is trying to build.

7. There is some excellent Kant scholarship out there. Onora O’Neill, David Velleman, and others have often studied particular passages in close detail and also have written useful summaries of basic ideas. Don’t be afraid to draw on the secondary scholarship – it’s foolhardy to study someone like Kant entirely on your own, no matter how clever you are. If you come across a difficult passage, you can practically guarantee that someone else has looked at it in close detail, so look around to see what other people are saying. When you’re reading Kant, it is time to take some initiative.

8. There are reasons Kant is so influential, and there are reasons why reading groups sprang up to read Kant when his work first came out. If you aren’t seeing them, you need to look harder for the unique and distinctive features of his ideas. He will often take an idea, even a very mundane idea, and raise it to an entirely new level.

The End of the World Was Long Ago

Before the gods that made the gods
Had seen their sunrise pass,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was cut out of the grass.

Before the gods that made the gods
Had drunk at dawn their fill,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was hoary on the hill.

Age beyond age on British land,
Aeons on aeons gone,
Was peace and war in western hills,
And the White Horse looked on.

For the White Horse knew England
When there was none to know;
He saw the first oar break or bend,
He saw heaven fall and the world end,
O God, how long ago.

For the end of the world was long ago,
And all we dwell to-day
As children of some second birth,
Like a strange people left on earth
After a judgment day.

For the end of the world was long ago,
When the ends of the world waxed free,
When Rome was sunk in a waste of slaves,
And the sun drowned in the sea.

For some reason I've been thinking recently of G. K. Chesterton's best poem, The Ballad of the White Horse, which is a serious candidate for the best narrative poem of the twentieth century. The above, which opens Book I, is about the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire, the end of the world long ago, as the barbarians began to march. In the midst of the chaos, the hero of the story, Alfred, becomes King of Wessex in a time of Danish invasion, when it seems that Wessex might not survive. He attempts to stave it off, but then there comes an invasion he cannot hold off. He has a vision of the Virgin Mary and asks her what the fate of his people will be. And she tells him that while the pagans may mark their times and triumphs, the fate of those who drink the blood of God is to go singing to their deaths, to have joy when there is no cause for it, and to have faith when there is no hope.

In Book II Alfred begins to gather his army, and when they ask why they should come, he tells them the truth:

"I am that oft-defeated King
Whose failure fills the land,
Who fled before the Danes of old,
Who chaffered with the Danes with gold,
Who now upon the Wessex wold
Hardly has feet to stand.

"But out of the mouth of the Mother of God
I have seen the truth like fire,
This—that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher."

And they come, to fight and die.

In Book III, Alfred is surveying the territory when he is captured by a band of Danes, who, not recognizing him and seeing that he has a harp, drag him back to the army, vast like the sea, to play for the chieftains. Other bards play, singing songs of ancient defeat and the dark fate of the world, and then Alfred sings his defiant song in response:

"What sign have we save blood and smoke?
Here is my answer then.

"That on you is fallen the shadow,
And not upon the Name;
That though we scatter and though we fly,
And you hang over us like the sky,
You are more tired of victory,
Than we are tired of shame.

"That though you hunt the Christian man
Like a hare on the hill-side,
The hare has still more heart to run
Than you have heart to ride.

"That though all lances split on you,
All swords be heaved in vain,
We have more lust again to lose
Than you to win again.

Book IV, after he has escaped, gives the famous story of Alfred and the cakes, and the army of Alfred goes to war. Book V sees preparations for the Battle of Ethandune, which we see in Book VI as the chiefs of Alfred's army fall in battle, one by one; and in Book VII Alfred leads the last desperate charge:

Wild stared the Danes at the double ways
Where they loitered, all at large,
As that dark line for the last time
Doubled the knee to charge—

And caught their weapons clumsily,
And marvelled how and why—
In such degree, by rule and rod,
The people of the peace of God
Went roaring down to die.

But Alfred sees the Virgin again, and the tide of battle turns. Guthrum the pagan king dies; and Book VII ends lauding him for his greatness and burying him. With Book VIII, we find Alfred prophesying of things to come: heathen will again come to conquer, with new ways:

"By all men bond to Nothing,
Being slaves without a lord,
By one blind idiot world obeyed,
Too blind to be abhorred;

"By terror and the cruel tales
Of curse in bone and kin,
By weird and weakness winning,
Accursed from the beginning,
By detail of the sinning,
And denial of the sin;

"By thought a crawling ruin,
By life a leaping mire,
By a broken heart in the breast of the world,
And the end of the world's desire;

"By God and man dishonoured,
By death and life made vain,
Know ye the old barbarian,
The barbarian come again—

But how such barbarians are to be defeated, Alfred does not know; but he rides off to finish his task.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Antony on Epistemic Peers

I've had a significant upsurge of hits for this old post on epistemic peers and equal weight arguments. I think the reason is probably due to this interview on atheism with Louise Antony in "The Stone", in which the topic comes up:

G.G.: No, they may both be rational. But suppose you and your theist friend are equally adept at reasoning, equally informed about relevant evidence, equally honest and fair-minded — suppose, that is, you are what philosophers call epistemic peers: equally reliable as knowers. Then shouldn’t each of you recognize that you’re no more likely to be right than your peer is, and so both retreat to an agnostic position?

L.A.: Yes, this is an interesting puzzle in the abstract: How could two epistemic peers — two equally rational, equally well-informed thinkers — fail to converge on the same opinions? But it is not a problem in the real world. In the real world, there are no epistemic peers — no matter how similar our experiences and our psychological capacities, no two of us are exactly alike, and any difference in either of these respects can be rationally relevant to what we believe.

G.G.: So is your point that we always have reason to think that people who disagree are not epistemic peers?

L.A.: It’s worse than that. The whole notion of epistemic peers belongs only to the abstract study of knowledge, and has no role to play in real life. Take the notion of “equal cognitive powers”: speaking in terms of real human minds, we have no idea how to seriously compare the cognitive powers of two people.

Very much agreed with Antony on this; I discussed something in the broad vicinity of Antony's argument in another post on epistemic peers. In any case, it's nice to see a top-notch epistemologist pointing it out.


Helen De Cruz has an interesting counterargument on the point. It seems to me that the argument conflates epistemic peerage with another kind of peerage, which I call intellectual peerage in the post at the link in the last paragraph above. But this is a purely practical assessment. And contrary to her suggestion, I see no way in which it can salvage Gutting's argument; why would one think that disagreement of informed people or even experts should lead to agnosticism, given that the differences will in principle allow you to assess which one is right, or more likely to be right? All we seem to get is that each person should continue to develop their views, taking into account the arguments and reasons of the other, not retreat to agnosticism.

Renewal of Lost Innocence

Extreme Unction
by Ernest Dowson

Upon the eyes, the lips, the feet,
On all the passages of sense,
The atoning oil is spread with sweet
Renewal of lost innocence.

The feet, that lately ran so fast
To meet desire, are soothly sealed;
The eyes, that were so often cast
On vanity, are touched and healed.

From troublous sights and sounds set free;
In such a twilight hour of breath,
Shall one retrace his life, or see,
Through shadows, the true face of death?

Vials of mercy! Sacring oils!
I know not where nor when I come,
Nor through what wanderings and toils,
To crave of you Viaticum.

Yet, when the walls of flesh grow weak,
In such an hour, it well may be,
Through mist and darkness, light will break,
And each anointed sense will see.

If the standard of excellent poetry is to say something about a subject in the best way to say it, I think this poem comes close to doing so; the one thing it is lacking is the recognition that extreme unction expresses by sign the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and bodily life in the world to come. It comes very close to this in the last stanza, but doesn't quite express the theology of redundantia or overflow -- i.e., that the grace and glory of the beatified soul will overflow the body. (I've been meaning to write a post on the subject for ages; perhaps this will motivate me to get around to it sooner.) We get almost there -- maybe, maybe, maybe we get there in the last line -- but if so, it's left a bit obscure. At the same time, extreme unction is not exactly the easiest sacrament to express in words.

I know very little about Dowson. Indeed, before some recent reading I'm not sure if I had ever even heard of him before. Apparently he's usually considered one of the Decadents and was a friend of Oscar Wilde.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Debrabander on "Stand Your Ground"

Firmin Debrabander has a truly bad post at "The Stone" on so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws. I am just baffled at his argument. He gives us a characterization of the particular features of "Stand Your Ground" in which he is interested:

Florida’s Stand your Ground statute says that a person may use force, “including deadly force if [he] reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself …” It is a logical extension of the increasingly expansive gun legislation in many parts of the country. Ohio recently approved its own version of the law, and others are poised to join in. Still, controversies surrounding the law continue to pile up.

OK, so Debrabander himself tells us that the law is that you are protected from penalty if you kill someone when you "reasonably believe" that if you don't you yourself will be killed or maimed. And he gives us his overall opinion of "Stand Your Ground", which is that it encourages the wrong kind of society. That is fine, as well. Where the whole post goes obviously haywire is when he goes beyond merely giving his personal opinion and tries to build a relevant philosophical argument on the subject.

The philosophical argument is based on Locke's concept of the 'state of nature'. Locke gives us a whole discussion of the state of nature, so we have a pretty good idea of what it is supposed to be. But what does it have to do with "Stand Your Ground" laws? According to Debrabander:

Proponents and defenders of Stand Your Ground effectively wish to return us to a State of Nature and its attendant “Inconveniences” — and dangers. LaPierre urges individuals to presume the worst about supposed assailants — damn the consequences.

Err, no; this is obvious hyperbole, and at a fatal point in the argument. In Locke's state of nature there is no civil society at all; there would be no SYG laws in the state of nature because the only law in the state of nature is natural law. Further, in the state of nature, each human being is executive enforcer of every single law, and thus may punish someone for any actual crime under natural law; but SYG laws -- as Debrabander well knows, having actually quoted a typical one -- are restricted in scope. They do not say that you can use deadly force in the face of any crime.

In addition, the distinguishing feature of civil society as opposed to the state of nature is, as Debrabander says, that civil society is based on the principle that men should not act as magistrates in their own cases. But obviously this does not imply that men can do nothing unless authorized by the magistrate; it means that there should be common magistrates determining such cases as prevent abuses involving violence and partiality to one's cause. And SYG laws don't do away with the common magistrate or judge; they depend on them, because it will be such magistrates who determine that yes, the person in question is protected under the law. Locke recognizes one kind of state of nature in our age of civil societies: the state of nature existing between sovereigns. But SYG is based on there being a higher magistrate to which one may appeal and before which one may be held accountable.

We see the problems with Debrabander's hyperbole in one of the arguments he makes:

Without recourse to a Common Judge, violent reprisals spawn violent reprisals in turn, which are each seemingly just, and a cycle of violence — a state of war — is born. Civil society, and its institution of a Common Judge who takes over executing the law of nature, relieves us of the “Inconveniences of the State of Nature,” Locke argues — which can be dire indeed.

This is what leads directly into his claim that proponents of the SYG laws are advocating the state of nature. But SYG has nothing at all to do with reprisal; Debrabander explicitly noted that they were concerned with self-defense, which is not reprisal.

So not only does SYG not establish, or even get one anywhere near, a state of nature, depending as it does on common judges, but the state of nature is not a state of war at all, and civil society does not make the state of war impossible. In fact, if we go back to the scenario envisaged in Florida's SYG law, which Debrabander had quoted, it is clear that it's a law protecting the right to defend yourself, even if it means killing, if someone else initiates a state of war against you. That's how would one characterize it in Lockean terms. And what is more, it is clear that Locke would think this thoroughly reasonable:

... the law, which was made for my preservation, where it cannot interpose to secure my life from present force, which if lost is capable of no reparation, permits me my own defence and the right of war, a liberty to kill the aggressor, because the aggressor allows not time to appeal to our common judge, nor the decision of the law, for remedy in a case where the mischief may be irreparable.

Indeed, Locke thinks that this means that you could kill someone deliberately trying to steal your coat (his own example). But contrary to Debrabander this has nothing to do with the state of nature; it has everything to do with the fact that the other person has initiated a state of war against you, whether you are in a state of nature or in a political society. (He is quite clear that the state of war is initiated by anyone who violates the natural rights of another, regardless of the kind of society in which they live.)

Now, in fact Locke does think that in civil society we give up our executive powers to the commonwealth government. But the government has this power in order to sustain the natural law, in which individual preservation ranks high. Thus the people in civil society, according to Locke's view, have the right to demand that the government pass whatever laws are required to protect the people against aggressors. While Locke obviously doesn't consider the matter in detail, it's clear enough that Locke's conception of how the commonwealth relates to natural law directly implies that the legislature has no right to demand that people let other people kill or maim them: so either it guarantees that this will not happen, or it recognizes under law the ways in which people can defend themselves. This does not return matters to a state of nature, because it is under law. It does not establish a state of war; it protects people against whom someone else has established a state of war.

None of this, of course, has much to do with whether SYG laws are any good; nor does it imply that you couldn't have a general argument on Lockean principles against them. Rather, it's that Debrabander's attempt to turn Locke 'round against it collapses under its own exaggeration. In reality, the real question of SYG is this: How far can the state go in recognizing your right to defend yourself against someone threatening your life and body? That's pretty much it; no need for talk about states of nature. (It's worth noting that David French, to whose argument Debrabander is responding, never appeals to Locke on the state of nature; he quotes Locke on the state of war, and on the natural law, both of which would be stronger points to press. Why Debrabander takes this turn into talking about the state of nature is beyond me.)

Notable Notes and Linkable Links

* Between visitors and misplacing the book for several days, the fortnightly book was delayed, so I decided just to extend it an extra week; we'll be getting Tristan and Iseult on Saturday.

* The backstory on the Ukraine can be found in Timothy Snyder's "Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine" (ht)

* Angela Roothaan discusses the recent movie about Hannah Arendt.

* Charlie Huenemann on Leibniz's foray into the field of mine engineering.

* Sayeh Meisami on the great Persian philosopher, Mulla Sadra.

* A recent fatwa apparently claims that going to Mars is not acceptable under Islamic law. It's worth pointing out, perhaps, that while fatwas are authoritative, they are not definitive; their authority is that of a legal opinion, and you can have conflicting fatwas from different authorities. Most Muslims online, at least, seem to find this one more amusing than anything.

* The McGrews have in recent months been talking about undesigned coincidences in evidential assessment of texts:

Tim McGrew at "Christian Apologetics Alliance"
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

Lydia McGrew at "What's Wrong with the World"
What We're Reading: Horae Paulinae

* In comments recently, Lucian of Samosata's Double Indictment came up recently, since it's a Menippean satire about Menippean satire. As I mentioned there, Menippean satire is a philosophical genre (Menippus was a Cynic philosopher, and historically the genre has been used as a way of handling matters suitable neither to more traditional dialogues nor to treatises). If you want the basic idea of how Menippean satire works, this is the best source.

* George Demacopoulos discusss, from an Orthodox perspective, what caused the sacramental rupture between East and West.

* Enbrethiliel at "Shredded Cheddar" has been doing a book club on Michael Crichton's State of Fear. I haven't read the book, but I thought the following comment she made on a passage in it, about the blunders of environmentalists, interesting:

You could have knocked me over with a dodo feather when I got to that passage and realised that you could substitute "environmentalists" with "Traditionalists," make other context-appropriate changes, and have basically the same moral. For despite what some butt-hurt bloggers will tell you, the real problem of the Traditionalist Catholic movement is not a supposed "lack of charity," but a lack of understanding of what it takes to preserve an environment. (Hint: it's not with capes, cigars and Chesterton.)

* The Norwegians have investigated Anders Behring Breivik's claims he is being tortured in prison by not being allowed to upgrade his Playstation and being forced to use non-weaponizable pens and by having to use a desk chair instead of having a nice armchair. Unsurprisingly, they have concluded that he is not being tortured.

* Canada's National Post had an interesting article on a Catholic priest in the Central African Republic protecting fleeing Muslim refugees from being slaughtered by Christian militia:

He and his friends laugh when asked if they ever thought they would live at a church. However, they recognize the gravity of the situation that now faces them.

“If it weren’t for the church and the peacekeepers, we’d all be dead,” says Mahmoud Laminou, who has been here for two weeks.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Assailant Position

The opponents of Christianity always choose their own position; and the position they choose is always that of the assailant. They bring forward objections; but never attempt to defend themselves against the objections to which they are exposed.

The cause of this it is easy to perceive. Objections—not only plausible, but real, valid, and sometimes unanswerable objections—may be brought against what is nevertheless true, and capable of being fully established by a preponderance of probability;—by showing that there are more and weightier objections on the opposite side. If, therefore, any one can induce you to attend to the objections on one side only, wholly overlooking the (perhaps weightier) opposite ones, he may easily gain an apparent triumph. A barrister would have an easy task if he were allowed to bring forward all that could be said against the party he was opposed to, and to pass over in silence all that could be urged on the other side, as not worth answering.

Richard Whately, in the Introduction to his annotated edition of William Paley's Evidences of Christianity.

Whately, of course, is an important figure in the history of logic, being one of the central movers in the logical renaissance of the nineteenth century. One of his more famous works (which he goes on shortly after this passage to allude to) is the hilarious Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte, in which he 'proves' on Humean principles that Napoleon didn't exist and was probably made up in order to sell newspapers. The work was published in 1819 and Napoleon, of course, was still alive (he died in 1821), having only been defeated at Waterloo, after an immense war effort, four years before.

I Would Not Change for Thine

Song to Celia
by Ben Jonson

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
It could not withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
Not of itself, but thee.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dashed Off V

Exchanges and markets, like everything else, must be set in order.

rhetoric as the logic governing the social use of knowledge, belief, and suspicion

Kant is curiously quiet about teleological judgment of human design -- scattered mentions, but he seem to have no clear way of recognizing design in things we know to be designed by others like us. -- Consider how oddly sect. 77 reads when we are considering human products. -- Also note the antinomy; the proposition would include products of human art.

The human body clearly exhibits technique as well as the mechanism of nature.

Forgiveness of sins is not merely something the Church receives from God; it is a mission of the Church (Jn 20:22-23) as Spirit-filled.

Catechesis is in part a teaching of the forgiveness of sins.

taste as partly precedent-governed

All inquiry is a pursuit of the beautiful in some form or another.

the implicit civilization of forensic investigation

The kinds of inquiry one pursues demonstrate one's character; the pursuits of inquiry come from deep inside us.

If we are genuinely interested in truth conditions, we should use a typed logic.

Note Kant's ironic diagnosis of Spinozism as an outgrowth of teleological judgment!

One of the key skills of a good democratic citizen is to know what preferences not to politicize.

sacramentalia & liturgical purposiveness of things, given purpose

We feel ourselves analogous to other things.

presential self-knowledge as allowing self-knowledge by remotion (cp Malebranche)

Note that Kant seems to give more weight to analogy than probable opinion (it is causal parity).

Proofs tend to conviction not because of the proofs but because of the end and tendency of the intellect.

Steiner is in effect what Kant was trying to avoid. We see something of this in Kant on Swedenborg; Dreams is a tracing of rationalized vision and visionary reason to show them the same.

To posit an end is to posit many means.

pleasure as the minimum of (discernible) good with respect to a faculty

Kant's account of happiness is inconsistent with attributing happiness to God.

A soldier must make sense of his orders or he is a liability he has the duty not to be; and the same is true with a commander giving orders that make sense, in themselves and in context. Battles and wars are won and lost on the basis of understanding or failures of understanding.

We can await grace while doing much; waiting for grace does not mean doing nothing.

Integrity in inclinations is the result of prudence.

Life-giving is the work of love.

natural law as prefiguration of total good & thus the Beatific Vision

Kant's account of Christ's use of Mosaic law borders on Marcionite.

As a teaching faith, Christian faith must be both scholarly and open to all, even the simple, for we are all in the school of the Holy Spirit as students, and yet we are all also teachers in the same school, each specializing in his own way and teaching according to his own method, according to talent, vocation, and gifts. For it is really the Holy Spirit who teaches; but He calls us all to be instruments of His teaching, each one in his or her own way.

Some saints, like visionaries, teach us by encouragement or warning; others, like the just, by example to imitate; others, like extraordinary mortifiers or great ascetics, by showing us that human nature is not so limited as we think, and thus that we cannot easily appeal to such limits as excuses in our own tasks, which are usually far from the limits they show; others, like doctors, by words of doctrine; others, like virgins and martyrs, by being themselves signs and in a special way human sacramentals; and many by some mix of these.

Kant's view of anthropomorphism is almost backward; theoretical anthropomorphism is more dangerous than the practical.

Not all grace is invisible and secret.

Without good life-conduct, none can be pleasing to God, but from this it does not follow that, when it is had, nothing over and above it can be pleasing to God.

The yoke of law is not a pseudo-service, whatever its limitations.

Kant's account of conscience is rigorist (unsurprisingly -- no room for prudence).

rites as schemata for duties

Kant is so worried about the problem of us being well-pleasing to God that he neglects the problem of us finding God well-pleasing.

The sacraments, being signs of the Word, point to something from which even reason itself comes.

Kant mostly assumes that the means of grace are our means rather than God's.

We serve God by receiving His grace.

Contingent truths of history prove necessary truths of reason by establishing possibilities.

The natural law leads directly to God, serving as a pledge of divine reason; God reveals Himself through it.

To want to be worthy of happiness is certainly to want to be happy; for who can be worthy of happiness who does not want those worthy of happiness to be happy? (Kant gets this, although he sometimes does not explain it clearly; many of those who have studied Kant don't.)

the Ideals as providing genetic explanations of real experience

The possible is not opposed to the real.

teleological judgment in historical work

Human language develops primarily between humans, but also between man and environment (including other animals).

If philosophy is the love a reasonable being has for the ends of human reason, the question of the Beatific Vision is of crucial philosophical significance.

The constitution of something *as appearances* depends on the cognitive powers.

discursive reason as the faculty of as-if

the interest of wisdom as above the speculative and practical interests of reason

beauty, sublimity, and design as forms of order in experience

There are many different kinds of pleasure, not all qualitatively the same.

trying things out as a philosophical activity

occasions of rational reluctance vs occasions of deliberate evasion

some kinds of beauty can be known only by inference.

Through the sacraments God consigns His truth to perpetual remembrance. Those who are moved by the Holy Spirit are taught through the sacraments, which as instruments of the Holy Spirit carry their own evidence with them, so that participating in them we find ourselves sealed with the divine image, and our faith is not merely one of inference or opinion, but union with that in which we have faith.

the wrath of God: holiness as swift and overwhelming (furious in the sense that storm is furious)

inclusively disjunctive transcendentals vs exclusively disjunctive transcendentals

the sense of novelty as being in some (all?) cases a sense of apparent causation

Artistic movements represent possible world situations as ideals.

the preternatural in Shakespeare as expressing objectively the secret subjective

Appearances must themselves at some level be treated as things in themselves.

Polytheistic gods are shadowy without rituals, stories, and art to mark them out. Even then they can blur into each other.

Humor is at its highest when it makes "what is substantial emerge out of contingency" (Hegel).

Nothing disenchants the world except by sapping our ability to tell stories about it.

the sense of the magical -- liminality, perhaps, rather than sublimity

Luther's faith, like the Calvinist Scripture, is an indirect way of talking about the Holy Spirit.

the sublime, the beautiful, and the magical as the numinous-suggestive

Phil 3:8-14 receiving the righteousness of God depends not merely on faith but on the power of His resurrection & sharing in His passion

the conditions for rational suspicion that there is more than experience thus far shows

music as the natural analogue of signs and wonders

the power of the keys as the effluence of Christ's kingship

Our relation to Christ and our relation to the Church must be two facets of one relation.

divine causality as posited by the experience of absolute dependence

As rational we both are one or individual and yet already belong to a whole greater than ourselves.

Faith is a Godward attitude participating in a confidelity, which confidelity is itself the work of the Spirit of God.

the prophet as the artist of religious proclamation; the artist as the prophet of aesthetic proclamation

The Eucharist is the homiletic sacrament because it expresses in fact what the homilist is to express in words; it is the truth of which the homily or sermon is the caption or poetic description. The homilist intimates verbally what the Eucharist accomplishes internally.

'Quality of teaching' is too general a label to be of much practical use to anyone.

Autobiography is argument.

Every metric presupposes a mereology.

Grothendieck's heuristic: never try to prove anything that is not already almost obvious

Civilization is rooted in the power of exchanging good for good.

adultery as looting

The future is a usurious lender.

The key issue in distributive justice is prioritization of needs.

To philosophize is to recognize the consolation of lucidity, and to theologize is to recognize the freedom in faith.

One who judges for himself will find that this often requires being answerable to another.

It is not enough to recognize that there is a good; one must bear witness to the good.

Sacraments are not only signs; they are questions.

One can imagine an account of obligation modeled on Hume's account of necessary connection.

hell as definitive self-exclusion from God.

Cast widely, sort strictly.

The blossom does not refute the bud, but explicates it.

scholarly history of philosophy as philosophical culture

It is in actual knowing that philosophy best expresses the love of wisdom.

dreams as symbols of grace

divine wisdom as the final end of philosophy (cf Plato on Eros)

Association of ideas presupposes affinity of ideas.

Christ is judge as Truth.

Christian justice as foreshadow of heaven

liturgy as the social breath of the Church

the public works of the liturgical commonwealth

To veil is to teach, as it is easier to understand what a thing does when one hides or suppresses it for a while; suppresses, in the case of things that can be removed, and hides, in the case of things more essential. Human learning proceeds by a pattern of veiling and unveiling.

We have to be careful about treating disputes as being merely about words; disputes are often categorized as such when they are in fact disputes about the relevance of entire fields of thought.

the importance of the rhetoric of trivial truths: reminding people of what they know, in contexts in which their knowledge is relevant

philosophy as possessing a massively intricate and constantly moving teleology, like a living thing

All inquiry is an unfolding of oneself.

cognition as truth in us, whether clearly or confusedly

quantification as discrete mereology

cut scenes in philosophical argument

Enthymeme as the substance of advice.

To advise well, one must reason logically, cultivate good character, and understand human passions.

The greatest art is that which is truly priceless, in that its proper exchange, the only kind of exchange doing true justice to it, is generous gift rather than sale.

In the Ascension we discover that the body itself is capable of a being-with-God, as we learn in the Transfiguration that the body itself is capable of proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven.

the Ascension as teaching the destination of the body

the Ascension as the beginning of a sacramental dispensation

Now and Here are not immediate results of sense, certainly not of external sense; they become recognizable through the experience of sensus communis.

human being as a medium

The interpretation of experience in terms of substance and accident presupposes the interpretation of it in terms of being, one, true, good, and so forth.

Divine relevation cannot merely be to us; divine revelation is such that it can be in us.

permanent deacons as clerisy

marriage as sacramental sign of salvation as covenant (and thus as mutual fidelity)

Ordination is distinct from the clerical state as tree is distinct from fruitful tree.

What is contained in the Word of God is written or handed down in Tradition.

Tradition actualizes Scripture.

Since Scripture and Tradition work as a unity in the Church, partim/partim cannot be regarded as egregious in effect even if (as I think) wrong.

Profit on goods derives from the service of making them available to buy.

Tradition as evangelism precisely insofar as its agent is the Holy Spirit

the intrinsic link between liturgy and catechesis -- all catechesis is at least indirectly liturgical & all liturgy is in some way catechetical

liturgy as exchange of gifts

Torah prefigures Christ as Church.

philosophy as interpretation so as to make clear (cf Socratic pursuit of definitions)

body vibration as liminal hearing

Wolff : Stoicism :: Kant : Skepticism :: Hegel : Unhappy Consciousness

After every Palm Sunday in the Church's history there comes a Spy Wednesday.

indelible character as (1) positive disposition to grace (2) seal of divine protection (3) vocation to worship and service

By faith assenting to the word of God, we participate in the sacraments.

Brassington on Euthanasia and Children

Iain Brassington has a rather odd set of arguments on Belgium's recent changes to its euthanasia laws to allow child euthanasia:

The argument here doesn’t require making any claims about the permissibility of euthanasia in general. Rather, I’m inclined to take as my starting-point something much more syllogistic: that if euthanasia is going to be allowed, we should be prepared to allow it for children. The reason for this is pretty straightforwardly an anti-ageism appeal. To have a law that prevents someone from accessing assisted dying of whatever sort on Monday, but allows it on the following day because it happens to be the birthday that tips him over the line that marks the allowed from the forbidden, seems to me to be indefensibly arbitrary. If someone can make the decision on the Tuesday, the chance that he was incapable the day before is small. The same applies to his incapacity on the Monday: quite why it should vanish magically on the stroke of midnight is a bit of a mystery.

I doubt one can set aside claims about permissibility so generally; it is utterly implausible to claim that one's reasons for thinking euthanasia permissible would have no ramifications for who can take that option, or the conditions under which they can take them. To take just the blatantly obvious example, one could very well hold that the permissibility transaction of this magnitude depends directly or indirectly on full powers of autonomous contract; there is no society that recognizes such powers in children, for a rather long list of reasons. And this is unsurprising; the reasons that establish something as permissible are what usually establish the conditions under which it is permissible. Thus Brassington's argument starts in the wrong place, and what is more, it can be seen that most of Brassington's argument depends crucially on doing so, because it requires the apparent symmetries created by simply proposing the permissibility of euthanasia as a hypothesis without any further grounds, so that this indefinite permissibility -- permissible under we know not what conditions -- gets treated as if it were general permissibility -- permissible under any conditions.

Even if we set this aside, the anti-ageism appeal is also problematic. As anyone can see from the argument Brassington gives, the direct implication Brassington's appeal is that there should be no age-based boundaries for anything. It's worth noting that this means that on Brassington's account the Belgian law is not legitimate. The law requires things in the case of children that it does not in the case of adults, simply because they are children. Brassington recognizes this, but seems not to grasp its implications:

That is, children still have to jump through administrative hoops that adults don’t. That may be defensible; it may even be morally required. Given the possibility that younger people are not as sophisticated as older, we perhaps would want to advert to someone who knows them well for reassurance that the request is authentic.

The general point, though, is that the law has been reformed so that it applies in more like the same way to adults and children. In many ways, that strikes me as a good thing.

But how could the anti-ageist appeal work here if it were even possible for it to be "morally required" for children to jump through administrative hoops that adults don't? How can "the possibility that younger people are not as sophisticated as older" even be functioning as a moral reason in the context of Brassington's argument? If it can be morally required for children to jump through administrative hoops that adults don't, it may well be the case that the administrative hoops that are required may well make it more practical to assume that people under a certain age cannot in general manage it on their own -- to go through administrative hoops presupposes and requires some designated competence for doing so, and nothing prevents one from judging that children will not usually be able to have such competence or, if they do, cannot be guaranteed to have it with sufficient ease to be taken into account under law. Likewise, sophistication is not a minor issue in matters of consent; if we are already allowing people to treat children differently based on sophistication when it comes to being able to take requests as "authentic", it becomes a question why we should not also consider the position that they simply may not be, in the main, sophisticated enough to make determining the authenticity of the request feasible.

In addition, we have to take into account the fact that anti-racism, anti-sexism, and in this case anti-ageism get their primary moral bite from being compensatory: they are intended to recognize inequalities leading to some populations being significantly more vulnerable than others. They also have the problem of being easily co-opted for any number of things that only sound like they might have to do with this kind of compensatory use. The real test of whether they are being used reasonably is whether they are being used explicitly and definitely in light of such vulnerabilities. But the kinds of things that Brassington's anti-ageist appeal would eliminate are precisely the things societies put into place in order to protect children as a vulnerable population. The reason we don't recognize children as having full competence in matters of contract is not that they can't make contracts but that others can easily take advantage of them. Children as inexperienced dependents can be pressured into doing things, or accepting things, that it would be much more difficult to pressure most adults into doing or accepting. (It is perhaps worth noting that Brassington's anti-ageist argument here is exactly parallel to certain common arguments against affirmative action as racist. And Brassington needs to address the same issue that people making those arguments need to address: how does one otherwise handle the vulnerabilities of the populations in question?)

A further problem with Brassington's argument is the conflation of legal and moral permissibility. The former depends in some ways on the latter, but they are in other ways rather different, and even the link between the two is not always straightforward. The fact that we pick a birthday as a cut-off point is purely a matter of positive law. It is not concerned with the question of actual competence or ability, because law is not about whether people are actually competent in some moral sense but about whether and in what practically feasible ways society as a whole can officially recognize that competence. In the case of children, for instance, the reason for age cut-offs is not because anyone thinks that suddenly everyone after age X is mature enough to drink, or drive, or what have you, nor that no one prior to this age is mature enough to do so; it's because these are thresholds that have been deemed to meet certain basic criteria, like:

(1) by that point we as a society have good reason to think that maturity has been reached by enough people that the law need not worry about the maturity issue as a general matter;
(2) the cut-off is relatively easy to determine by anyone who needs to determine it (as assessments of actual maturity rarely are);
(3) it allows enough time for parents and guardians to prepare people for the responsibilities, dangers, and risks involved in whatever kinds of decisions are in view.

Depending on the situation, there might be others. In other words, these age thresholds are never determined solely on the basis of moral permissibility. As legal thresholds they are deliberate creations through law of new distinctions between the permissible and impermissible, and they are based on a large number of factors. This makes quite clear another point at which Brassington's argument makes an illicit leap. Legal age thresholds are arbitrary in the sense that no considerations will establish exactly when the change-over point should be. For any age threshold, you could just as easily set it a month before or after whenever you do set it, for instance. But it does not follow from this that they are arbitrary in the sense that they have no underlying reasons. No age threshold is set on the assumption that a birthday magically changes someone; they are set on the basis of deliberation about a lot of practical assessments of the typical vulnerabilities of the population, of what's practically feasible for social recognition and for enforcement, and what will be least likely to mire society in nasty complications and consequences if anything goes wrong.

And, indeed, this is a problem with Brassington's argument in general. He says that the most important thing is capacity. But the capacity in question cannot be a mere ability to make decisions; by the very nature of the situation, it has be a capacity that it makes sense for society to recognize through law, given all the concerns society might have on the subject. That is, what matters is not whether the children in question are capable of making decisions but whether it is a good idea to extend a general recognition of such capability as a legal capability, given the ends of society, the vulnerabilities of children, and the practical limitations every society has to face. None of these are given any serious recognition by Brassington's argument, despite the fact that they are all involved in these questions.