Saturday, May 17, 2014

Links of Note

* Sarah Emsley's Mansfield Park event has begun.

* The pleasing detail of Mansfield Park and its painting-like yet active description at "Wuthering Heights"

* In the Image of God: John Comenius and the First Children's Picture Book at "The Public Domain Review." A good discussion, although they miss the obvious point that Orbis Sensualium Pictus, The Sensible World Depicted, is making in part the point that understanding the sensible world requires understanding that on which it depends.

* Speaking of which, Rebecca Stark discusses being in the image of God at "Out of the Ordinary"

* The 163rd Philosophers' Carnival at "The Indian Philosophy Blog"

* Mark Okrent on academia, teleology, perception, and pragmatism at "Figure/Ground Communication".

* A look at Faberge eggs.

* Charles Sonnenburg of SFDebris was interviewed on the subject of science fiction a while back at "Former People"

* Karsten Harries is interviewed on Heidegger and the philosophy of architecture at 3:AM.

* Randall Colton begins discussing the seven acts of friendship that Aquinas considers when looking at the Holy Spirit's work in rational creatures; he starts it off with the first of the seven, sharing a life.

* At the SEP, Peter Simons discusses Jan Ɓukasiewicz, the great Polish logician.

* Recent articles at the IEP:

Eve Browning on Xenophon

David Simpson on Blaise Pascal (very nicely detailed -- one of the mistakes people make with Pascal is to leave things out that shouldn't be left out)

Christopher Lutz on Alasdair MacIntyre

* One of the things I want to do this summer is to re-read all the Platonic dialogues and Xenophon's Socratic dialogues, a desire that has increased since a number of them have been coming up in various contexts, anyway. And since taking a difficult task and making it approach impossibility is my natural modus operandi, I've taken into my head that it might be a nice change to read through as much as possible of the Confucian Thirteen Classics as well -- certainly at least the Four Books (Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean, Analects, and Mencius). Does anybody have any recommendations for translations of the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean?

The Quartered Human Being

The moral being of man, a prey to internal discord, may be said to be quartered, because the four primary faculties of the soul and mind of man — Understanding and Will, Reason and Imagination, stand in a twofold opposition one to the other, and are, if we may so speak, dispersed into the four regions of existence. Reason in man is the regulating faculty of thought; and so far it occupies the first place in life and the whole system and arrangement of life; but it is unproductive in itself, and even in science it can; pretend to no real fertility or immediate intuition. Imagination on the other hand is fertile and inventive indeed, but left to itself and without guidance, it is blind, and consequently subject to illusion. The best will, devoid of discernment and understanding, can accomplish little good. Still less capable of good is a strong, and even the strongest understanding, when coupled with a wicked and corrupt character; or should such an understanding be associated with an unsteady and changeable will, the individual destitute of character, is entirely without influence.

Schlegel, The Philosophy of History, vol 1, Robertson, tr., p. 169. Schlegel goes on to argue (p. 170):

As in the intellectual character of particular men, or in any given system of human thought, fiction, or science (and these can be better described and more closely analyzed than the fleeting and transient phenomena of real life and the social relations); as in every such individual production, I say, of human thought and human action, either Reason will preponderate as a systematic methodizer and a moral regulator, or a fertile, inventive Imagination will be displayed, or a clear, penetrative understanding, or again a peculiar energy of will and strength of character will be observed; so the same holds good in the great whole of universal history — in the moral and intellectual existence — the character, or the mind of particular ages or nations in the ancient world.

Each human capacity is essential to a fully human life, but each is capable of undergoing a pathological overgrowth. Reason when pathologically dominating the other three, for instance, drives toward excessive distinction, divisiveness, sectarianism, arbitrariness of system; Imagination, required not merely for fiction but also for scientific discovery, becomes crowded out by technicalities; formulae become more important than understanding; procedures become more important than character. Similar kinds of aberrations occur with the overdominance of each of the other three.

Friday, May 16, 2014

And All My Days are Trances

To One in Paradise
by Edgar Allan Poe

Thou wast all that to me, love,
For which my soul did pine-
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.

Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
"On! on!"- but o'er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!

For, alas! alas! me
The light of Life is o'er!
"No more- no more- no more-"
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree
Or the stricken eagle soar!

And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy grey eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams-
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.

Sokrates Seilenos

A fresco painting of a Silenus comic mask:

FS exedra, comic mask

Xenophon, Symposium 4.14 [Tredennick and Waterfield, trs., Penguin (1990) p. 242]:

"What's this," said Socrates. "You're bragging as if you were more beautiful than I am."

"Of course," said Critobulus, "otherwise I should be uglier than any Silenus in the satyr-plays."

Plato, Symposium 215a-216e:

[Alcibiades:] And now, my boys, I shall praise Socrates in a figure which will appear to him to be a caricature, and yet I speak, not to make fun of him, but only for the truth's sake. I say, that he is exactly like the busts of Silenus, which are set up in the statuaries, shops, holding pipes and flutes in their mouths; and they are made to open in the middle, and have images of gods inside them. I say also that he is like Marsyas the satyr. You yourself will not deny, Socrates, that your face is like that of a satyr.

The Man on the Rock in the Sea

Today is the feast of St. Brendan the Navigator. So here's a brief retelling of an episode from the legends of his life; you can find the most common version in the Irish classic, The Voyage of St. Brendan.

As St. Brendan and his mariners sailed southward in their search for Paradise, St. Brendan saw a very thick cloud. At the center of the cloud there was something in the shape of a man. Some of the brethren though tit a bird, others a bot, but St. Brendan commanded them to be silent and to steer for the place. There they found a man on a rough rock. All around him the waves were frozen.

"Who are you?" asked St. Brendan. "For what crime were you abandoned here?"

"My name," said the man, "is Judas Iscariot. I am placed here not for my crime but for mercy. My crime abandons me to terrible torment; but through the forbearance of the Redeemer I am allowed this cool respite, in honor of His Resurrection. I know it every Lord's Day from first vespers to second, and every Christmastide from Christmas to Epiphany, and the feasts of the Purification and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. In comparison with my punishment in the fires of Hell, this seems to me to be a paradise. And therefore I beg of you to intercede with the Lord Jesus that I may remain here in my customary respite, for I fear the demons, drawn here by you, will come to torment me or drag me off to my punishment."

Then St. Brendan replied, "The will of the Lord should be done. You will not be taken before your time."

As evening came on, demons began to gather around the rock in the sea, and they began to shout for St. Brendan to depart and not to protect the traitor.

St. Brendan replied, "This man is not under my protection, but he has been given an allotted time by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself."

The demons cried out, "How dare you invoke that name on behalf of the one who has betrayed him?" But St. Brendan commanded them in the name of the Lord that they should do no harm to Judas before his time was ended.

As dawn drew onward and the mariners of St. Brendan prepared to be underway, the demons shouted to the saint that Judas would receive double his punishment because of St. Brendan's interference.

Then St. Brendan said sternly, "You have no power take what God gives, and I command you in the name of the Lord that you are to punish him not one whit more than his allotted punishment."

"Are you the Lord of All that you should command such as we?" replied the demons.

"No," said St. Brendan, "but I am a servant under his authority; what I command in His name is done, and I am His servant in what He grants me."

The demons pursued St. Brendan with furious blasphemy until he was far away from Judas Iscariot; then with a rushing and howling like a tempest wind they carried off that miserable soul.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Schlegel on the Zeitgeist

Christianity is the emancipation of the human race from the bondage of that inimical spirit who denies God, and, as far as in him lies, leads all created intelligences astray. Hence the Scripture styles him, "the prince of this world;" and so he was in fact, but in ancient history only, when among all the nations of the earth, and amid the pomp of martial glory, and the splendour of Pagan life, he had established the throne of his domination. Since this divine era in the history of man, since the commencement of his emancipation in modern times, this spirit can no longer be called the prince of this world, but the spirit of time [Zeitgeist], the spirit opposed to divine influence, and to the Christian religion, apparent in those who consider and estimate time and all things temporal, not by the law and feeling of eternity, but for temporal interests, or from temporal motives, change, or undervalue it, and forget the thoughts and faith of eternity.

[Friedrich von Schlegel, The Philosophy of History, James Baron Robertson, tr. Bohn (London: 1846) pp. 474-475]

Schlegel, of course, was one of the major German Romantic philosophers of the early nineteenth century. His wife Dorothea was the daughter of Moses Mendelssohn, he was roommates with Schleiermacher for a while, he quarreled with Schiller, and he knew many of the major philosophers of the day. He converted to Catholicism in 1808. Philosophie der Geschichte was published in 1829. One of the theses of the book is that one can define a direction of progress in history, and it is in terms of understanding, both speculative and practical, of human beings as being in the image of God, when this is itself worked out historically. One of the things the Zeitgeist does is try to shortcircuit this natural progress, leading Schlegel to reflect that error is always unhistorical and the Zeitgeist is always motivated by passion rather than calm judgment. In particular, it involves a certain kind of idolatry, taking one aspect of the image of God and raising it up as an excuse for every kind of usurpation. The idolatry of the modern age, according to Schlegel, is an idolatry of freedom, which becomes an excuse of perverting reason itself into a kind of partisanship, or expecting it to take its marching orders from the passions of the day.

The Spell Dissolv'd, th' Enchantress gone

Sonnet 13
by Anna Seward

Thou child of Night and Silence, balmy Sleep,
Shed thy soft poppies on my aching brow!
And charm to rest the thoughts of whence, or how
Vanish'd that priz'd Affection, wont to keep
Each grief of mine from rankling into woe.
Then stern Misfortune from her bended bow
Loos'd the dire strings;-and Care, and anxious Dread
From my cheer'd heart, on sullen pinion fled.
But now, the spell dissolv'd, th' enchantress gone,
Ceaseless those cruel fiends infest my day,
And sunny hours but light them to their prey.
Then welcome midnight shades, when thy wish'd boon
May in oblivious dews my eye-lids steep,
Thou child of Night and Silence, balmy Sleep!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Elements of Modal Logic III

Part I. Part II.

Suppose our Reference Table summarizes your schedule for a given week. This means that the Reference Table is not one of the tables described by itself, because it is not a day of the week. Suppose further that this is your Reference Table:

REFERENCE TABLE (Schedule for the Week)
□ (If it is the day before trash collection day, I take out the trash)
□ (I brush my teeth)
□ (I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen)
◇ (I do not mow the lawn and I do not weed the garden)
◇ (It is the day before trash collection day)
◇ (I do not clean the kitchen)
◇ (I do not take out the trash)
◇ (I do not weed the garden and I do not clean the kitchen)
◇ (I do not clean the kitchen and I do not mow the lawn)
◇ (It is Monday and it is not the day before trash collection day)
◇ (I go to the movies)

So what do we know here, if we just go off the information in our Reference Table? Although I only stated half of each rule in the previous post, our reasoning gives us a complete rule for each modal operator. We have a rule for Box:

(1) □ on the Reference Table means the statement would be found on any table there might be.

And we have a rule for Diamond:

(2) ◇ on the Reference Table means that there is a table on which the statement is found.

So we get eight tables, in no particular order, indicated by our Diamond-ed statements (more on the number in a bit), and each of these will have the statement on it and also every statement that is Box-ed. I'll label each one with a letter.

Table A: Some Day or Other in the Week
If it is the day before trash collection day, I take out the trash
I brush my teeth
I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen
I do not mow the lawn and I do not weed the garden

Table B: Some Day or Other in the Week
If it is the day before trash collection day, I take out the trash
I brush my teeth
I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen
It is the day before trash collection day

Table C: Some Day or Other in the Week
If it is the day before trash collection day, I take out the trash
I brush my teeth
I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen
I do not clean the kitchen

Table D: Some Day or Other in the Week
If it is the day before trash collection day, I take out the trash
I brush my teeth
I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen
I do not take out the trash

Table E: Some Day or Other in the Week
If it is the day before trash collection day, I take out the trash
I brush my teeth
I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen
I do not weed the garden and I do not clean the kitchen

Table F: Some Day or Other in the Week
If it is the day before trash collection day, I take out the trash
I brush my teeth
I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen
I do not clean the kitchen and I do not mow the lawn

Table G: Some Day or Other in the Week
If it is the day before trash collection day, I take out the trash
I brush my teeth
I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen
It is Monday and it is not the day before trash collection day

Table H: Some Day or Other in the Week
If it is the day before trash collection day, I take out the trash
I brush my teeth
I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen
I go to the movies

Let's look a little more closely at Table A. One of our statements in Table A is "I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen," while another statement is "I do not mow the lawn and I do not weed the garden". If we put these two together, we can see that the only way they can both be put together as part of our schedule for the day is if, on whatever day A may be, I clean the kitchen. So this follows as a conclusion on Table A, and we can write it down as something we know about A; to indicate that it's a conclusion, I'll put it below a line.

Table A: Some Day or Other in the Week
If it is the day before trash collection day, I take out the trash
I brush my teeth
I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen
I do not mow the lawn and I do not weed the garden
I clean the kitchen

We can do the same thing with other tables: look to see if what the Reference Table requires for that day gives us a conclusion specific to that day. For instance, with Table B:

Table B: Some Day or Other in the Week
If it is the day before trash collection day, I take out the trash
I brush my teeth
I mow the lawn, or I weed the garden, or I clean the kitchen
It is the day before trash collection day
I take out the trash

The conclusions you can get may vary from table to table. On some tables we might not have enough information to derive these kinds of additional conclusions, but this is just a matter of how much we're told by the Reference Table.

Now one thing that I've glossed over so far is an additional bit of information that's not on our Reference Table but would likely be assumed in the real world: a week has only seven days. Let's assume this little bit of information. We already knew that our tables could be all the tables or only some of them; and we already knew that some of our tables could actually be describing the same thing without our knowing it. Knowing that there are only seven days in a week, and that our tables describe days in a week, and that there are eight tables, we know that at least two tables (maybe more, but at least two) describe the same day. What is more, we can see by the statements that some tables cannot be describing the same day, because they say contradictory things.

The following pairs of tables cannot describe the same day: A and C, A and E, B and D, B and G, C and E, C and F, E and F. If we wanted to, we could add this as an extra conclusion to all of the relevant tables (e.g., we could add 'Today is not the same day as Table C' to Table A). Any of the others might be describing the same day. And, again, at least two tables, whichever ones they might be, definitely are describing the same day. And note also that H could be describing the same day as any other table.

What we're seeing here is one of the most important aspects of modal logic. Modal logic is also often called 'intensional logic', which is just a fancy way of saying that it's a logic in which it can matter what you're talking about. In this case, since we already know that a week has seven days, we can take that into account in our reasoning, because we're talking about days in the week.

There's no limit to what assumptions you could add in this way, or to what number of assumptions you can add in this way. It just depends on what you're doing. Adding assumptions in this way usually keeps our modal reasoning very simple and very weak. There are assumptions, however, that you can add that make your modal reasoning much more powerful, capable of doing much more, and there are kinds of situations where the assumptions make sense, and kinds of problems where you need that extra power. These assumptions are assumptions about Box and Diamond themselves, and they generally fall into two groups:

1. assumptions about how Box and Diamond are related to each other
2. assumptions about what it means if you have a modal operator (either Box or Diamond) for a statement that already has a modal operator (either Box or Diamond)

We'll set the second assumption aside for right now, and focus on the first kind of assumption. So far we only have a rule for Box and a rule for Diamond; they don't really have anything directly to do with each other, at least as far as we know. But what if we could get information about Box from Diamond and/or information about Diamond from Box? This would let us do a bit more. In the next post we'll start looking at some of the most important assumptions we are sometimes allowed to make.

to be continued

Single Choice Exam

From Savage Chickens:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Arguments and Persuasion

John Holbo has an interesting post on the difficulty of teaching students to build arguments. He rightly recognizes that the difficulty is actually not related to the intelligence of the students; and rightly recognizes that what gets called 'informal logic' is useless for addressing the problem when it occurs; and interestingly suggests that students are using the "makessense" stopping rule -- they judge whether everything's good in argument-land by glancing over things and seeing that everything 'makes sense', and then stopping. And it's certainly the case that whenever I ask students what makes something a good argument, they will explicitly say that it makes sense -- I ask it every term I teach Intro, and every term it is both one of the first and one of the most popular answers. In practice they are judging things by plausibility of content, not by structure or technique; the standard is not quality of argument but quality of interpretation of experience. This sort of thing is not exclusive to students; in fact, if you read the comments thread on Holbo's post with a sharp eye, you'll see instances of people who clearly think they are building arguments doing exactly the sort of thing Holbo's students are doing. Argument-building is not an instinctive practice, and cannot be a continual one, but is instead an occasional and deliberate one, and it requires even then a habit of seeing one's reasoning as something crafted as well as expressed.

In any case, one of my pet peeves arises in the comments: the view that the primary purpose of argument is to persuade. This is a useless response to the problem Holbo himself is considering (as Holbo himself briefly notes in the comments), because what most typically persuades people is exactly what the students are doing, and this is probably partly why the students are doing it. If anything the problem is that students are shortcircuiting argument-building in favor of what they think has more effect. But more than that, it is simply false. There are legions of purposes that arguments in practice fulfill -- clarify points, state reasons, raise ideas or questions or problems, provide occasions for refutation, show that one has a possible answer to a refutation, show that there are alternative approaches, and so forth -- and most arguments simply don't persuade. What is more, persuasion is clearly an extrinsic feature of argument that depends less on the features of the argument than on the attitudes and assumptions of the people dealing with it; whether any given argument persuades will depend utterly on the context, so it is not and cannot be a stable feature of argument. It's not even clear that persuasion can be an end of argument at all, as opposed to an end (sometimes) of communicating an argument, which is a distinct matter.

This is not new. There is in philosophy a very old name for the view that the point of argument is to persuade; it's 'sophistry'. One of the old Platonic points is that if you take argument to be primarily for the purpose of persuading people to its conclusion, what you are really saying is that reasoning is primarily a way to impose one's will. Someone who has this view is taking their own reason to be merely an instrument for gaining power and manipulating people. In healthy argument, the ends of argument are many, and persuasion is at best merely one of them, or, perhaps, at best merely one of the reasons why you might put arguments forward to someone else.

It's not surprising that it's such a common view. As social creatures we are very invested in persuading people. Further, a lot of our vocabulary and first approximations for handling even technical features of arguments comes from experience in building cases in forensic contexts, where persuasion is certainly a goal. We are also naturally invested in our own reasoning capabilities, so I don't think we can rule out the motivation of liking the taste of victory that comes when someone else ends up having to agree with us because we outmaneuvered them. It is an experience that has considerable salience, making it easy to overlook much quieter purposes of argument.

But I think it is, in fact, one of the most dangerous possible views. It never fails to lead people astray.

Two Poem Drafts

Hedge of Thorns

My heart a rose in hedge of thorns is grown;
in red of blood and sun its bloom is blown.
The thorns are long, they bite, and breath alone
can navigate that mazy, bitter maw
to reach the folded throne of love and law.
The leaves amidst the thorns are fresh and green
and lace around the vines with dewy sheen,
a velvet underlying saber keen,
and deep inside, a jewel upon the hilt,
a ruby blooms, and needs no further gilt.


The night is sailing in her ship
along a river vast and wide;
the trees are growing dark and thick
and overhang on every side.

The moon is chasing clouds away;
it pushes them with winds of light.
Their sails are puffed, their rigging splayed,
adorned with solemn lanterns bright.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Music on My Mind

George Donaldson, "The Parting Glass". This drinking song goes back at least to the eighteenth century. Recent versions tend to be oversung, but this is very much an exception; beautifully, very beautifully, done. The singer, alas, recently died.

Still valiantly fighting the Grading Beast; but the end is in sight.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fortnightly Book, May 11

The next fortnightly book will be Charles Dickens's famous novel, Buried Alive. Actually, it's A Tale of Two Cities, but Buried Alive was one of the titles he considered for it. He considered a lot of titles for it, including The Leaves of the Forest, Round and Round, Rolling Stones, One of these Days, and The Thread of Gold. The book was intended to be a serial for Dickens's new magazine, All the Year Round. He had the idea of relying on Thomas Carlyle's French Revolution, and asked Carlyle if he could send some additional information; Carlyle replied by sending Dickens his entire reference collection on the subject. By all accounts Dickens read it all, making this perhaps the first thoroughly researched historical novel.

I'll be reading it in an edition from 1938 put out by Heritage Press (New York). It is illustrated by Rene ben Sussan, who also illustrated Eugénie Grandet. It is printed in Baskerville type.

Bad Hymnody

Today in church we sang one of my least favorite hymns in the entire world, Marty Haugen's "Shepherd Me, O God", that one with:

God is my shepherd,
so nothing shall I want,
I rest in the meadows
of faithfulness and love,
I walk by the quiet waters of peace.

And, in the next verse:

Gently you raise me
and heal my weary soul,
you lead me by pathways
of righteousness and truth,
my spirit shall sing
the music of your name.

After being subjected to the hymn of explication and allegorizing, sung with the musical notes of loyalty and gentleness, accompanied by the piano of fidelity and hope, I always wish neckties were a handier way to strangle oneself than they actually are. At least it's not technically wrong about anything; this is indeed one way you could read Psalm 23. One way you could read it without being forced to sing it heavy-handedly as if it were the only thing to be had from it. You could substitute all of the abstract nouns, Mad Lib style, without seriously changing the song, so it's even worse than just an over-allegorizing hymn: it's an over-allegorizing hymn that makes the allegory empty and meaningless. You could just as easily sing:

I rest in the meadows
of honesty and truth,
I walk by the quiet waters of hope.

you lead me by pathways
of gentleness and faith...

Or anything else at all. It reminds me of the (much prettier) Bette Midler song (actually Nanci Griffith, but Bette Midler made it very famous), "From a Distance", which would not fundamentally change if you substituted "on the TV" for every instance of "from a distance":

On the TV the world looks blue and green,
and the snow-capped mountains white.
On the TV the ocean meets the stream,
and the eagle takes to flight.

I'm pretty sure I've seen that program. And I'm very sure that, somewhere out there, someone's life just suddenly makes so much more sense at the words, "God is watching us...on the TV."

The pinnacle of poetry is that every word counts, so it's not surprising that a sign of weak lyrics is that the words don't matter. This isn't a problem if you're singing "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"; it's a little more problematic when you're singing a hymn.