Saturday, July 04, 2015

Five Greatest Women Philosophers

Aeon Ideas asks, who are the five greatest women philosophers?

Nigel Warburton lists (deliberately restricting himself to the twentieth century):

(1) Simone de Beauvoir
(2) Hannah Arendt
(3) Judith Jarvis Thomson
(4) Patricia Churchland
(5) Martha Nussbaum

Amusingly, he refuses Anscombe a position entirely on the basis of her views of sex, and includes Thomson entirely on the basis of an argument for abortion.

Gene Glotzer lists:

(1) Simone de Beauvoir
(2) Elizabeth Anscombe
(3) Philippa Foot
(4) Martha Nussbaum
(5) Hannah Arendt

Avinash Jha lists (explicitly warning that the list is not so much a list of greatest as simply candidates for it based on personal experience):

(1) Simone Weil
(2) Hannah Arendt
(3) Luce Irigaray
(4) Susanne Langer
(5) Adriana Cavarero

As they all note, it's not a trivial question; there are lots of women philosophers, and it's difficult in their case to use direct influence as a proxy measure for estimating whether you are doing more than just indicating personal preferences, simply because the extent and nature of their influence has often depended on the culture of the day.

These questions are less interesting for who gets on the list than for who gets considered as a candidate and why. Assuming a standard of philosophical greatness in which we must have direct reasoning from the philosopher at first hand (thus eliminating very famous women philosophers like Hypatia, whose reasoning we can only guess at given a few anecdotes and the philosophical movements of the day, and a few fairly influential women philosophers like St. Macrina the Younger, whose reasoning we have but only second-hand), confining myself to those who are dead (since it is at least prima facie reasonable to hold that we need some distance in order to appreciate philosophers properly, and thus eliminating reasonable candidates like Onora O'Neill and Martha Nussbaum) and just using a purely subjective assessment of how seriously the philosopher should be taken today, this would be my first rough attempt (in no particular order):

(1) Lady Mary Shepherd
(2) Edith Stein
(3) Elizabeth Anscombe
(4) Simone de Beauvoir
(5) Simone Weil

But Arendt and Foot are both very reasonable candidates from the original lists, even under the conditions I've suggested. There are women philosophers I would recommend highly, of course, who aren't on the list. I think both Mary Astell and Catherine Trotter Cockburn are seriously worth anyone's time, for instance, but I don't know if I could point to anything giving me reason to rank them comparatively that much better than many other excellent women philosophers.

False Zeal

There is a maxim upon which as a foundation stone the little society of Calvario rests.... It is the following: "we must so earnestly take heed to ourselves, as to value nothing except in reference to the salvation and perfection of our own souls," and regard all that concerns our neighbour merely as a means of pleasing God or sanctifying ourselves.

This maxim excludes that false zeal which renders people more anxious about their neighbour's salvation than their own, the offspring of secret pride, through which a man shrinks from considering his own shortcomings and presumes to think himself necessary to his neighbour, as though his own affairs were all settled and in good order. This mode of acting is also a sign of little faith in the Goodness and Providence of God, as though He did not watch over mankind with a Father's care, without need of our assistance.

Antonio Rosmini, Letters, Chiefly on Religious Subjects, pp. 605-606.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Summer Days for Me

by Christina Rossetti

Winter is cold-hearted
Spring is yea and nay,
Autumn is a weather-cock
Blown every way:
Summer days for me
When every leaf is on its tree;

When Robin's not a beggar,
And Jenny Wren's a bride,
And larks hang singing, singing, singing,
Over the wheat-fields wide,
And anchored lilies ride,
And the pendulum spider
Swings from side to side,

And blue-black beetles transact business,
And gnats fly in a host,
And furry caterpillars hasten
That no time be lost,
And moths grow fat and thrive,
And ladybirds arrive.

Before green apples blush,
Before green nuts embrown,
Why, one day in the country
Is worth a month in town;
Is worth a day and a year
Of the dusty, musty, lag-last fashion
That days drone elsewhere.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Thursday Vice: Irony

The Greek word eironeia originally meant something like a fake or fictional ignorance. Aristotle (NE IV.7 1127a-1127b) uses it to describe a vice of defect opposing both the virtue of truthfulness about oneself and the excessive vice of boastfulness (alazoneia). It is not as blameworthy a vice as boastfulness, since the self-deprecating will tend to come across as more civilized than the boastful, but deliberately telling falsehoods is in itself an ignoble thing. He also speaks briefly of it in the Rhetoric (II.2 1379b, 1382b), noting that we tend to get angry at the ironical when we are being serious, because we interpret it as a sign of contempt for us, and also that the ironical can be something to fear because you can never be sure how close they are to doing something harmful to you -- they hide their real attitudes. On the other side, though, he also emphasizes the apparently civilized character of eironeia, because the ironical man tends to jest at his own expense rather than the expense of others.

Theophrastus in his Characters describes eironeia as "affectation of the worse in word or deed". The picture he paints is of a very dishonest man, the sort who treats his enemies as if they were friends -- to their faces, at least -- and who will never commit to saying what he is actually doing, hiding under the excuse that he is only thinking about things.

Aquinas's account of the virtue of truthfulness is much more expansive than Aristotle's, which was primarily about oneself, but he stays closer to Aristotle in describing the vice of ironia (ST 2-2.113), as it comes out in Latin. It is in some way saying something lesser about oneself. The act of saying lesser things about oneself than are strictly true could be done salva veritate, as a way of appropriately concealing one's greater qualities in a context in which they would distract from what is important; but the vice of ironia concerns cases in which one falls away from the truth, as when you attribute to yourself a failing you don't actually think you have, or when you deny something great about yourself that you are confident you do have. Such falling away from the truth is a kind of mendacity and is intrinsically wrong. Aquinas argues that Aristotle's ranking of irony as less bad than boastfulness is a matter of the usual motives behind them: the boastful are more likely to have a base motive of grasping after money or honors than the ironical are. Nonetheless, it can, he insists, be the case that irony is worse than boastfulness if its motives are worse.

Since ironia opposes truthfulness, which is a potential part of justice and thus a kind of justice-in-a-broad-sense, its wrongness constitutes a form of injustice -- against oneself, one assumes, although perhaps also indirectly against any kind of good, since it involves depreciating and obscuring good for one's own ends.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

A Class of Men Loathed for Their Vices

Yesterday was the Feast of the Protomartyrs of Rome, so here's a description of them from a non-Christian source, Tacitus (Annals 15.44):

But neither human help, nor imperial munificence, nor all the modes of placating Heaven, could stifle scandal or dispel the belief that the fire had taken place by order. Therefore, to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians.

Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. First, then, the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next, on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race.

And derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts' skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night. Nero had offered his Gardens for the spectacle, and gave an exhibition in his Circus, mixing with the crowd in the habit of a charioteer, or mounted on his car. Hence, in spite of a guilt which had earned the most exemplary punishment, there arose a sentiment of pity, due to the impression that they were being sacrificed not for the welfare of the state but to the ferocity of a single man.

A major fire, lasting for six days, had devastated the city of Rome; toward the end of the conflagration, a second fire broke out suddenly and unexpectedly. (This is the same fire that led to the story that 'Nero fiddled while Rome burned'.) And the rumor went around, and would not be squelched, that the Emperor Nero had actually started the second fire himself to make sure that the parts of the city he wanted to rebuild would have to be rebuilt. And even the Romans, who had no reason to be sympathetic with the Christians in general, had difficulty seeing the large-scale executions as anything other than an attempted scapegoating and distraction.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Analects, Books XVI-XVIII

Book XVI

Book XVI gives us longer, more complicated analects; it has also occasionally been noticed by commentators that some of it explicitly, and perhaps much of it implicitly, concerns the corruption of the family of Ji, as represented by the unreasonable and unjustified attack of Chi on the independent state of Zhuanyu. Confucius refuses to accept the excuse of Ran You that it is being done against his advice and insists that the action is a sign of internal weakness and bad advice (16.1). The next two analects seem to carry this theme forward.

We also get the lists of three, which seem to exist as a pedagogical tool for organizing important points. There are three kinds of beneficial friendship and three kinds of harmful friendship (16.4), three kinds of beneficial pleasure and three kinds of harmful pleasure (16.5), three mistakes made in attending on the noble (16.6), three things the noble guard against (16.7), three things the noble hold in awe (16.8), nine things to which the noble attend (16.10). We also get a ranking of knowers (16.9) and an interesting anecdote about Confucius's relationship with his son Boyu (16.13).


Book XVII, which seems to have a special concern with oppositions between appearance and reality, seems also to have clear links to the prior one. We begin again with the politics of the Ji family, since Yang Huo (17.1) was someone who usurped power from them and Gongshan Furao (17.4) was involved in a rebellion against them. We also get lists: the five practices relevant to ren (17.5), six hidden consequences (17.7), three weaknesses of antiquity and modernity (17.14), and hatreds (17.22). We also get a saying concerned with Confucius's relationship with is son (17.8).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is the picture it gives of Master Kong, since we find him involved in some startling things. He is willing to work with a usurper (17.1), and to help rebels despite his shocked students arguing that it is against his principles (17.4; 17.6). He also gives a student advice to do as he deems best but then criticizes him when he leaves (17.19) and seems to be actively rude to another (17.20).


This book, unlike most of the others, has a very definite and very obvious theme: that of leaving. At 18.1, Master Kong praises those who fled the bad reign of Zhou. Liu Xia Hui, on the other hand, refuses to leave even when dismissed (18.2). When Duke Jing of Qi refuses to employ Master Kong, he leaves (18.3) and likewise leaves at the bad behavior of one of the family of Ji (18.4). Confucius hears the Madman of Chu singing a song about virtue and rushes out to find him, only to discover that the Madman has already left (18.5). Master Kong is criticized for not becoming a recluse (18.6) and a recluse is criticized for not participating in society (18.7). The end of the book is somewhat cryptic, but they carry forward the theme: 18.8 seems to look at motivations for retiring from the world, 18.9 seems to list examples of people who left for other places, 18.10 is about why the noble might not leave, and 18.11 seems to be a list of people who did not leave but stayed and participated.

Thus the book has to do with a standing problem: if your advice is not heeded, what is the proper course of action? Should you stay and keep trying, or should you leave? And the book's response seems to be that finding a solution to that is very complicated, and requires carefully considering a number of different issues.

to be continued

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Poem Re-Draft

This one is an adaptation of an old ballad.


Christ was looking to the heavens,
looking with a sigh and frown,
looking for the time of day;
'Judas, make my way,' he said,
'buy a room in Zion-town.'
Judas said, 'A stately dwelling
I will buy us for the feast,
Money rings within the wallet,
bells of silver, thirty piece.'
Judas searched then high and low,
Judas searched then broad and deep.
Nowhere did he find a dwelling,
nowhere was a room for having,
nowhere would his money buy it,
coins of silver, thirty piece.
Tired from his ceaseless searching,
ceased he then to nap a while,
deeply on the lawn he slumbered.
When he woke soon past the noon-hour,
nowhere could he find the purse,
nowhere could he find the money,
treasured silver, thirty piece.
Judas wept and beat his breast,
Crying, 'What can now be done?'
Judas wept for thought of failure,
wept (for what would others say?),
fearing to return to Jesus
without dwelling, without wallet,
without silver, thirty piece.

But a young man near was shouting,
'Have you heard? The priests have posted
prize for word to help them capture
Joshua the Nazorean,
trouble-making, rabble-raising:
prize of silver, thirty piece!
Straightway Satan spoke to Judas,
'Never has the Lord been caught,
Grasping hands he has eluded.
Can they capture one who conquers
blindness, sickness, lameness, death
walks on water, loaves and fishes
multiplies like subtle thoughts,
water turns to wedding wine?
Crowds he passes through unharmed!
If he from the temple height
were to fall, the Lord's own angels,
soaring down, would surely save him!
If he were in starving hunger,
stones he'd surely change to bread!
If he wanted all the kingdoms,
bright and splendid, of the world,
kings would fall before his power!'
So, like Christ had faced before him,
Judas faced the cunning tempter,
tempting with the touch of truth.
Judas to the scribes and priests
made a promise to betray,
promised to deliver Jesus.

Judas came again to Jesus,
saying he had found no place,
nowhere taking merely silver.
Christ then looked up to the heavens,
looking with a sigh and frown.
John he called, and also Peter,
gave to them a mission new:
'Silver cannot buy a dwelling,
time is short, too soon too late.
Go now quickly to the city.
When you enter in the gate
you will find a water-bearer;
let him guide you to his home.
Ask the master of the house
"Where is found the special room?
He who asks has pressing need."'

Judas followed, worries lightened
thinking how he was so clever,
how the priests he had outsmarted,
how he trusted in his Master,
thinking he would get the money,
shining silver, thirty piece.

A Person and A Story

The only two things that can satisfy the soul are a person and a story; and even a story must be about a person. There are indeed very voluptuous appetites and enjoyments in mere abstractions like mathematics, logic, or chess. But these mere pleasures of the mind are like mere pleasures of the body. That is, they are mere pleasures, though they may be gigantic pleasures; they can never by a mere increase of themselves amount to happiness. A man just about to be hanged may enjoy his breakfast; especially if it be his favourite breakfast; and in the same way he may enjoy an argument with the chaplain about heresy, especially if it is his favourite heresy. But whether he can enjoy either of them does not depend on either of them; it depends upon his spiritual attitude towards a subsequent event. And that event is really interesting to the soul; because it is the end of a story and (as some hold) the end of a person.

G. K. Chesterton, "The Priest of Spring", A Miscellany of Men.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Some Notable Links

Have been traveling today, so I thought that I'd take the opportunity just to clear out some of the links I've been collecting.

Several items of interest with regard to Eastern Catholicism:

* The Armenian Catholic Patriarch, Nerses Bedros XIX (né Pierre Taza), died on Thursday, June 25, at the age of 75. Egyptian by birth, he had an active ecclesiastical career and was elected Armenian Catholic Patriarch in 1999.

* In its recent synod, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church decided to expand its calendar of saints:

They decided to add Saints Sharbel Makhluf, Francis of Assisi, Rafqa, Rita, Nimatullah al-Hardini, Don Bosco, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, John Paul II, John XXIII, Vincent de Paul, Mary of Jesus Crucified and Alphonsine to the Ordo of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. Those saints will be commemorated on their feast-day according to the Ordo of their original Church so that they can be examples for everyone on the path to holiness.

Sharbel, Rafqa, and Nimatullah are Maronite saints; Mary of Jesus Crucified is Melkite; the others are Latin (although St. Marie Alphonsine was an 'Eastern' saint, she was associated with the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem). All of them are already on the Roman calendar.

* The Chaldean Patriarch, Louis Raphael Sako, who is very active, has apparently written a book arguing that military action against ISIS is consistent with just war principles. The Chaldean Catholics, of course, have been seriously harmed by the advance of ISIS.

* The Maronite Monks of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph have begun fundraising for building a monastery in Washington state, about 1 hour north of Portland.


And some other notable links, of various kinds:

* Sara L. Uckelman, A very brief, incomplete, and stopgap account of women in medieval logic

* Derek Baker, Deliberators Must Be Imperfect

* John Brungardt on Pope Francis's recent encyclical, Laudato Si'

David Mills on the same

* Thomas F. Bertonneau, Sketch of the Ecology of Knowledge

* The Institute of Catholic Culture

* The Newman-Scotus Reader looks like it would be interesting (ht)