Saturday, July 25, 2015

None 'Neath Sky so Rich as I

My Riches
by Emily Tolman

Mine is the gold of sunset,
The glory of the dawn,
The splendid star that shines afar,
The dew-bejewelled lawn.

Mine are the pearls and opals
That fall from wayside spring,
The silvery notes from thrushes' throats
Through woodland aisles that ring.

Mine is the rare embroidery
Of lichen on the wall,
The airy grace of fair fern-lace,
Meet for a prince's hall.

Softer than Persian carpet
The moss beneath my feet,
In dewy dells, where floral bells
Toll out their perfume sweet.

Banks cannot hold my treasure;
It needs no lock nor key;
None 'neath the sky so rich as I,
Who hold the world in fee.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Music on My Mind

Johanna Kurkela, "Kuolevainen". 'Kuolevainen' means 'mortal'; you can find lyrics and translation here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cedar of Lebanon

Today is the Feast of St. Sharbel Makhlouf (1828-1898); he is commemorated by Maronites on the third Sunday of July (his properly Maronite commemoration) and on the 23rd (his commemoration according to Rome's general calendar), and which of the two is emphasized more seems to vary according to the Maronite parish. As it happens, I was at a Maronite liturgy both last Saturday evening for the Vigil and today at two different Maronite churches, so I caught both commemorations.

St. Sharbel, or Charbel, was the son of a mule-driver who used to sneak away to pray at the monastery of St. Maron in Annaya, Lebanon. He eventually became a Lebanese Maronite monk there, but after some time there he decided to go further and become a hermit (this requires special permission, which he received). He was a hermit for twenty-three years, and gained a widespread reputation for hospitality and holiness.


Cedars grow tall on Liban hills,
life rooted deeper than human will;
flame is bright over muddy grave
of a hermit-saint who hid his face;
the heart is kissed by burning light
as cedar soars to sun and sky,
is charged with day without a night,
and burns but is not burned.

Thursday Virtue: Moderatio Exteriorum Motuum

There is no good English translation for the Latin word modestia. Indeed, it is difficult to explain what it is in the first place. It suggests moderation, but not all kinds of moderation are modestia; perhaps the best way to think of it is as moderation in how one presents oneself externally.

In his influential work, De Officiis, Ambrose of Milan argues that modestia is one of the most important duties/responsibilities (officiis) of youth; he takes it to be the restraint of oneself in word and action, giving as examples chastity, humility, sobriety, silence, and the like. One of the kinds of modestia he notes is that concerned with gesture and gait of body:

Modesty must further be guarded in our very movements and gestures and gait. For the condition of the mind is often seen in the attitude of the body. For this reason the hidden man of our heart (our inner self) is considered to be either frivolous, boastful, or boisterous, or, on the other hand, steady, firm, pure, and dependable. Thus the movement of the body is a sort of voice of the soul.

Since there is an intimate relation between our bodies and our souls, there is a relationship between our outward movement and our character, with the former serving as a sign of the latter. Ambrose is rather brutal in his assessment; he gives specific examples of people he has known who showed their arrogance or faithlessness in how they walked and moved their hands. One of the Ambrose's concerns is our tendency to posture and preen, to treat our body as if it were a way to manipulate other people. Another is that our lack of priorities often shows up in how we move -- our hastiness, our self-importance, our lack of respect for ourselves and our position. Our movements should be simple and plain, appropriate to our situation and our station, communicating the spiritual beauty of our characters through the natural ease and dignity of our use of our bodies. Conceit and deceit, arrogance and artifice, are especially to be avoided.

Aquinas follows Ambrose in accepting that there must be such a virtue (2-2.168.1), again, because denying that morality includes this sort of thing in its scope is to falsify the relationship between soul and body. Morality is concerned with the direction of action by reason; and our physical movements are directions capable of being directed by reason. Thus there is a virtue of moving rationally. It is a subjective part (particular kind) of modestia, which is a potential part (close cousin) of temperance -- the difference being that temperance, the more important virtue, is concerned with internal matters.

There are two things we need to keep in mind in order to achieve this modestia of movement: we need to make our movements appropriate to the people with whom we deal (including ourselves), and we need to make our movements appropriate to the situation in which we find ourselves. Thus Aquinas identifies two elements to this moderation of external movements: ornatus, which concerns the former, and bona ordinatio, which concerns the latter. (He gets the terms from Andronicus of Rhodes.)

This all might sound a bit odd as a matter of ethics, and again, we have no actual word in English to describe the virtue in question. However, a little thought shows that there must be something to it. One of our most basic notions of 'good behavior' consists entirely in the kind of moderation of physical movement covered by good behavior. We see this especially in how we train children, but we occasionally express the same sort of approval and disapproval in how we regard adults, and our annoyance and social penalizing of jostlers, those who invade people's personal space or take up more room than they need to, those who rush around, those who flail wildly, those who cannot keep their hands to themselves. And it is unsurprising, really: how we move is one of our forms of communication, and we get exasperated at people who move in such ways that they act as if they were the only person who mattered, or as if they were trying to dominate others or the situation. Like Ambrose, most people recognize that you can move in ways that force others to adapt and that communicate exactly the wrong things; and, like Ambrose, most people get exasperated at the kinds of outward movements suggestive of arrogance or pretense. Nobody, whether Ambrose or Aquinas or anyone else, considers the virtue in question to be among the most important virtues; but that there is something about moral life involved can hardly be put into question.

Bringing Starry Wisdom Down

The Fellowship of the Dead
by George Boole

Fellowship of spirits bright,
Crowned with laurel, clad with light,
From what labours are ye sped,
By what common impulse led,
With what deep remembrance bound,
'Mid the mighty concourse round,
That ye thus together stand,
An inseparable band?

Mortal! well hast thou divined
What the chains that strongest bind;
For the free unfettered soul
Bows to no enforced control;
Sympathy of feelings shared,
Deeds achieved, and perils dared,
These to spirits are—beyond
Time and place—the noblest bond.

All who felt the sacred flame
Rising at oppression's name,
All who toiled for equal laws.
All who loved the righteous cause,
All whose world-embracing span
Bound them to each brother man
Are upon the spirit-coast
An indissoluble host.

All who with a pure intent
Were on Nature's knowledge bent.
Watched the comet's wheeling flight,
Traced the subtle web of light,
And the wide dominion saw
Of the universal law.
In this land of souls agree
With a deep-felt sympathy.

All that to the love of truth
Gave the fervour of their youth.
Then for others spread the store
Of their rich and studious lore,
Bringing starry wisdom down
To the peasant and the clown.
Are with us in spirit-land,
An inseparable band.

Whether they were known to fame,
Whether silence wrapt their name,
Whether dwellers in the strife
Or the still and cloistered life;
If with pure and humble thought
For the good alone they wrought.
When the earthly life is done,
In the heavenly they are one.

And their souls together twine
In a fellowship divine,
And they see the ages roll
Onward to their destined goal,
Dark with shadows of the past,
Till the morning come at last.
And an Eden bloom again
For the weary sons of men.

This George Boole is the George Boole, best known for his work on differential equations and on algebraic logic. Boole, who was a mostly self-taught polymath, was an avid reader of poetry and occasionally wrote it for relaxation. This particular poem was published well after George Boole's death, in Mary Everest Boole's The Message of Psychic Science to the World (which was privately printed in a small run in 1883 but published for general readership in 1908).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Mencius, Book II

Book II.A (Gong Sun Chou I)

Much of Book II seems focused on Mencius in the state of Qi, where he spent several of his years. Most of the discussion that is given some explicit link to society is linked to Qi in some way, and II.B will end with Mencius leaving Qi.

Book II.A opens with a common theme throughout the work, Master Meng opposing common conceptions of success. Gong Sun Chou proposes two famous statesmen from the history of Qi: (1) Guan Zhong, a reforming Prime Minister who, by restructuring the revenues of the state and introducing new kinds of taxation, massively strengthened the state, making it possible for his king, Duke Huan, to rise to become hegemon of the feudal states loosely allied to the Zhou. (2) Yan Ying, also known as Ping Zhong or Yanzi, sometimes considered the most brilliant politician of the Spring and Autumn period; he is mentioned favorably by Confucius in the Analects for his humility despite the success of his plans and his position as advisor to three successive kings of Qi

Mencius replies by telling a story of Zeng Xi, the disciple of Confucius, who was asked specifically about these two. Zeng Xi repeats Master Kong's approval of Yanzi, but is offended at being compared with Guan Zhong because he accomplished so little despite having so much to work with. Gong Sun Chou is surprised at this assessment, noting that Guan Zhong made his prince a leader among leaders; but Master Meng replies that one could go much further: to make the King of Qi the King is "as easy as turning over one's hand" (p. 74). Gong Sun Chou points to the famous Chinese hero, King Wen of Zhou; even he did not manage to accomplish this. But Mencius is entirely admiring of King Wen. The difference is that while becoming the King is easy, not everyone starts in the same place. King Wen started at a time when aristocratic traditions were strong; there were many competent statesmen elsewhere in those days; and he had almost nothing to start with. The task may be easy but that does not mean that it does not take time, and King Wen, who famously lived to the age of a hundred, did not have the time given all of the difficulties he faced rising to power. But the modern day is not like this; Qi already has the territory, it already has the population, and all it requires is humane government to become the foremost power in China -- the people, who have suffered greatly, are practically crying out for it and, as Mencius says, it is easy to feed the starving and give drink to the parched.

The conversation with Gong Sun Chou continues in II.A.2, in which Mencius contrasts two extremes, of focusing too much on the external act and of focusing too much on the internal impulse, and emphasizes the importance of cultivating both properly. Thus we get the story of the Man from Sung (a proverbial expression for a stupid person):

There was a man from Sung who pulled at his rice plants because he was worried about their failure to grow. Having done so, he went on his way home, not realizing what he had done. "I am worn out today," said he to his family. "I have been helping the rice plants to grow." His son rushed out to take a look and there the plants were, all shrivelled up. There are few in the world who can resist the urge to help their rice plants grow. There are some who leave the plants unattended, thinking that nothing they can do will be of any use. They are the people who do not even bother to weed. There are others who help the plants grow. They are the people who pull at them. (p. 78)

II.A.6 is one of the most famous passages in the book. Master Meng argues that the principles of morality are found in human nature itself, in what he calls the shoots or sprouts. We see that these are in human nature by considering the case of a child falling into a well, and recognizing that human beings in such a case would be moved to compassion, but not because of any prior regard for profit or reputation. Analogous argument can be given for the sense of shame, the sense of responsibility, and the sense of right. Each of these shoots, properly cultivated, grows into a virtue. Thus we have the following correspondence:

Shoot Rough Meaning of Shoot Corresponding Virtue (Common Translation) Rough Meaning of Virtue
Sense of Compassion ce-yin: ache for the pain of others Benevolence ren: humanity to self and others
Sense of Shame xiu-wu: distaste for badness Righteousness yi: accordance with role and duty
Sense of Responsibility ci-rang: deference to others Propriety li: maintaining appropriateness of behavior
Sense of Right shi-fei: approving and disapproving Wisdom zhi: knowing how to act

The meanings given are all rough and approximated out of different common translations. The four virtues listed are four of the Five Constant Virtues based on Confucius's discussion of good character at Analects 17.6. The virtue that is missing here is xin, meaning something like fidelity, sincerity, integrity; the standard Neo-Confucian interpretation of this absence, if I understand it correctly, is that xin is just the virtue of having the other virtues with proper commitment.

The question often arises as to how the Confucian virtues relate to the Aristotelian virtues; a common view seems to be that Aristotle's phronesis or prudence is fairly close to the Confucian zhi or (occasionally) yi. I will not go into a full discussion of this here. But given Mencius's accounts both of the shoots and the cultivation, it seems to me that all of the Five Constant Virtues have a relation to character analogous to phronesis in action, and thus if one wanted to synthesize them, the route that would make the most sense is to see each of the five as expressing an aspect of phronesis.

The rest of this part focuses on the importance of humanity to self and others (II.A.7), the importance of being willing to learn (II.A.8), and the importance of moderation in how one relates to imperfect and sometimes awful human beings (II.A.9).

Book II.B (Gong Sun Chou II)

Many of the sections in the early part involve Mencius answering criticism of himself for his actions in the service of the state of Qi. In II.B.2, Mencius is getting in trouble for not showing the the king of Qi proper respect; he responds that he is the man in Qi who most respects the king, because he is the only one who insists on telling the king what he must do to be virtuous. When impatiently told that this is not the issue, but his failure to conform to proper rites, Mencius responds that since rank, age, and virtue all have their proper claim to be recognized with respect, the king should consult those with the latter, and not peremptorily summon them, as if age and virtue were somehow less important to the kingdom than rank.

Beginning with II.B.10, we get a series of sections discussing what happened when Mencius resigned his position and left Qi. A common theme is that Mencius will not remain for any price; he came to advise the king and was not heeded, so there is no point in his staying.

to be continued

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Apostolic Doctor

Today is the Feast of St. Lorenzo da Brindisi (1559-1619), Doctor of the Church. He's a hard one to find in English; translations have been done, but because he's not an especially widely known saint in the Anglophone world, they go out of print quickly or else end up being extremely expensive. He was born Cesare Giulio Russo, and was famous for his language skills: he knew Greek and Hebrew, and was conversationally fluent in Italian, Latin, German, Spanish, French, and a few others. Part of this was native talent, and part of it was that he used them all extensively, since he both traveled widely as a Franciscan preacher and was appointed to a number of diplomatic missions by Rome. His sermons on the Virgin Mary have always been especially highly praised. He was beatified by Pius VI, canonized by Leo XIII, and named Doctor of the Church by John XXIII.

Some links on Lawrence of Brindisi:

St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Apostolic Doctor

The 'Woman Clothed with the Sun' according to St. Lawrence of Brindisi

"Hail, Full of Grace": Sermons of St. Lawrence of Brindisi

Monday, July 20, 2015

Love, Hide Thy Face

Summer in England, 1914
by Alice Meynell

On London fell a clearer light;
Caressing pencils of the sun
Defined the distances, the white
Houses transfigured one by one,
The “long, unlovely street” impearled.
O what a sky has walked the world!

Most happy year! And out of town
The hay was prosperous, and the wheat;
The silken harvest climbed the down:
Moon after moon was heavenly-sweet,
Stroking the bread within the sheaves,
Looking ’twixt apples and their leaves.

And while this rose made round her cup,
The armies died convulsed. And when
This chaste young silver sun went up
Softly, a thousand shattered men,
One wet corruption, heaped the plain,
After a league-long throb of pain.

Flower following tender flower; and birds,
And berries; and benignant skies
Made thrive the serried flocks and herds.—
Yonder are men shot through the eyes.
Love, hide thy face
From man’s unpardonable race.

* * *

Who said “No man hath greater love than this,
To die to serve his friend”?
So these have loved us all unto the end.
Chide thou no more, O thou unsacrificed!
The soldier dying dies upon a kiss,
The very kiss of Christ.

Links of Note, with Some Notation

* This discussion of how Justice Kennedy's comments about Confucius's view of marriage in the Obergefell decision touched off a discussion of the subject in Chinese media was somewhat interesting. Unfortunately, it is marred by dishonesty; as anyone can see who actually reads Scalia's dissent, Scalia has no "inflammatory response to Kennedy’s use of Confucius" or a "rebuttal to Confucius", since Scalia does not at any point address Kennedy's use of Confucius. The fortune cookie comment is explicitly about the first sentence of Kennedy's opinion, in a footnote where its context could not be mistaken, which itself comments explicitly on extravagant language used in the opinion, not on the sources cited. This is an excellent example of how not to criticize a text: the author makes an association that has no actual evidence in the text, treats the association as the point of the text, and then criticizes the text for the association that does not actually exist in the text. And, again, there is no excuse whatsoever for this misbehavior; we aren't talking about a case in which the context could be confused, since the comment is cordoned off into a footnote, which explicitly quotes the sentence to which the comment is directed, to a remark on the language Kennedy uses in the opinion. Moreover, one looks in vain for other people who have read the decision making this same error. And to call something a "rebuttal to Confucius" or an "inflamatory response to [a] use of Confucius" or a "mocking dismissal" of Confucius, when the text does not even mention Confucius, nor indeed appear to have anything to do with Confucius except in the critic's own imaginative association of Confucius with fortune cookies, is nothing short of a mendacious characterization of the text.

* Speaking of which I had intended a while ago to point out Brian Beutler's comment on the decision, which is the only place that I've seen that correctly notes the fact that Kennedy's decision has very little connection to the actual work and argument of gay marriage advocates: it gets the result they were looking for, but on very idiosyncratic reasoning that they are now stuck with because it's the thing they now have to work with, despite the fact that it does the sort of thing that many gay marriage advocates have repeatedly argued against -- committing the gay community to a standard template of relationship derived from heterosexual marriage rather than gay and lesbian experience, for instance -- and downplays and muddles the arguments (particularly the equality argument) that have been the primary thrust of gay marriage advocacy.

* The most difficult English poem to read out loud. I can handle most of it without much problem, but "Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet" trips me almost every single time, as does "Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant". There's just an itch to harmonize those vowels.

* A review of a life of Vaclav Havel.

* Texas is the only state with an actual gold reserve. (Other states invest in gold certificates or the like, but Texas actually has the bullion.) It's locked away in a vault in Manhattan, so it's not surprising that some Texans want it closer to home rather than to trust to Yanks and banks. Gold depositories are expensive, though, and the Texas legislature is in a perpetual state of worrying about unnecessary costs, so I don't think it's likely to return to Texas soil anytime soon.

* Mapping Metaphor

* Craig Warmke, Modal Intensionalism

* An essay on the complexities of Lewis Carroll. But it only touches the surface; the man was many-sided in every way.

* Carlos Colorado on the beatification of Oscar Romero. I've long been in favor of Romero's canonization -- not, of course, that it matters whether one is in favor of it or not, since it's not a popularity contest. An archbishop who is shot literally before the altar while saying Mass is a martyr; all the usual objections to it turn out not to have much to them.

* Philosophers' Carnival #177.

* An interesting discussion of arthāpatti and upamāna in Indian epistemology.

* Bolos and Scott, Reformed Epistemology, at the IEP.

* Thomas Stark tries to understand Cardinal Kasper in terms of adapted Hegelianism. I've noted before that Kasper seems to be responsible for the too-common Hegelian misreading of the triplex via, so add that to the evidence.

* An interesting article on the tomb of Queen Esther in Persia.

* Robert George defends Peter Singer; very broadly speaking, of course.

* Thomas Aquinas's discussion of the parts of the Mass at Sent. IV d 8 exp. text, at "New Liturgical Movement".

* A lot of interesting women-in-philosophy articles, free until the end of the year.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Fortnightly Book, July 19

I continue with the second of the three volumes of Burton's The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night in the Heritage Press edition. This volume takes us from the 273rd night to the 738th night, so it not only gets us past the first year of nights, but past the second year as well. The three volumes of this edition have continuous page numbering throughout, so this volume starts on page 1337 and ends on page 2650. It's likely to be another three-week 'fortnight'.

This part of the Nights has a very large number of minor tales, but it is notable especially for the fact that it has the most famous series of tales in the entire collection: The Voyages of Sinbad (or Sindbad, as it is in Burton's edition). These tales were originally an independent cycle that were assimilated by the Nights; and they are easily the most recognizable stories in this massive crowd of stories.