Saturday, August 08, 2015

The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (Volume II)


Volume I

Summary: In this middle stretch of the Nights, the narrative frame as become mostly background, with explicit mentions of it almost entirely just marking out the various nights. This does not mean that it has ceased to be relevant, however. One begins to notice by this point certain themes that come up regularly, one of which is kings and Caliphs showing mercy in exchange for a good story. Shahrazad is not telling her tales aimlessly. A good example of this is found in the Tale of Abu al-Husn and His Slave Girl. This story consists mostly of the titular slave girl showing her learning in a very long catechism on a wide variety of subjects (thus showing indirectly that Shahrazad knows it all as well), and ends with a relatively rare direct comment on the story by Shahrazad herself:

Marvel then, O King, at the eloquence of this damsel and the hugeness of her learning and understanding and her perfect excellence in all branches of art and science; and consider the generosity of the Commander of the Faithful, Harun al-Rashid, in that he gave her master this money and said to her, "Ask a boon of me"; and she besought him to restore her to her lord. So he restored her to him and gave her five thousand dinars for herself and made him one of his boon-companions. Where is such generosity to be found after the Abbaside Caliphs?--May Allah Almighty have mercy upon them, one and all! (p. 1821)

Hmm. Indeed, where is a king who could show such generosity -- O king? Again, Shahrazad is not telling her tales aimlessly.

Much of this middle stretch consists of smaller tales of diverse kinds. Some of them are no more than brief anecdotes or bawdy jokes of the kind that open with lines like, "The Caliph Harun al-Rashid once slept with three slave-girls, a Meccan, a Medinite and an Irakite" (p. 1655). There is also an Islamized version of the story of Susannah and the Elders (the Tale of the Devout Woman and the Two Wicked Elders), and several stories that have a striking and lovely fairy-tale quality (The Tale of the Ebony Horse, the Tale of the Queen of the Serpents). And, of course, we get a few story-series the Seven Voyages of Sindbad, which are more violent and comical than I remember from other sources: immense numbers of people die, but somehow or another Sindbad gets wealthier each time around in entirely crazy ways. There are also some humorous tales about rogues and sharpers throughout, of which I thought the best was the Tale of the Rogueries of Dalilah the Crafty and Her Daughter Zaynab.

To this point we have reached the 738th night and page 2650, bringing us two-thirds of the way through.

Favorite Passage: From the Adventures of Bulukiya, which is part of the Tale of the Queen of the Serpents:

Quoth the bird, 'I am one of the birds of Eden and followed Adam when Allah Almighty cast him out thence. And know, O my brother, that Allah also cast out with him four leaves of the trees of the garden to cover his nakedness withal, and they fell to the ground after awhile. One of them was eaten by a worm, and of it came silk: the gazelles ate the second and thence proceeded musk; the third was eaten by bees and gave rise to honey, whilst the fourth fell in the land of Hind and from it sprang all manner of spices. As for me, I wandered over the face of earth till Allah deigned to give me this island for a dwelling-place, and I took up my abode here. And every Friday from night till morning the Saints and Princes of the Faith flock to this place and make pious visitation and eat from this table spread by Allah Almighty; and after they have eaten, the table is taken up again to Heaven: nor doth the food ever waste or corrupt.' (p. 1989)

Because this is just the second volume of a three-volume edition that I will (eventually!) be completing, I will only do the usual 'Recommendation' section at the end for all three volumes.

Rosmini for August VIII

In the spiritual combat, provided we persevere and pray and believe in God's help, the victory may indeed be more or less prompt or slow, but it is certain.
Letters 7574 [SC]

Friday, August 07, 2015

Rosmini for August VII

To abandon ourselves wholly to Divine Providence: there is perhaps no maxim which helps us more than this to obtain the peace of heart and evenness of mind proper to the Christian life.
Maxims of Christian Perfection iv.1 [SC]

Thursday, August 06, 2015


Transfiguration by fra Angelico (San Marco Cell 6)

The Transfiguration of Convent San Marco, by Blessed Giovanni da Fiesole, also known as Fra Angelico.

Thursday Virtues and Vices Index

Third Series -- Virtues

Chastity (Temperance)

Observantia (Justice)

Studiousness (Temperance)

Patience (Fortitude)

Moderatio Exteriorum Motuum / Modesty of External Action (Temperance)

Third Series -- Vices

Cruelty (Temperance)

Odium / Hatred (Justice)

Irony (Justice)

Discord (Justice)

Pusillanimity (Fortitude)

Second Series -- Virtues

Magnanimity (Fortitude)

Pietas / Xiao / Filial Piety (Justice)

Clemency (Temperance)

Affability (Justice)

Magnificence (Fortitude)

Second Series -- Vices

Audacity (Fortitude)

Ingratitude (Justice)

Susurration (Justice)

Civil Impiety (Justice)

Boorishness (Temperance)

First Series -- Virtues

Solertia and Eustochia (Prudence)

Gentleness / Meekness / Mildness / Mansuetude (Temperance)

Truthfulness (Justice)

Religion (Justice)

First Series -- Vices

Mollience / Effeminacy (Fortitude)

Craftiness, Guile, and Fraud (Justice)

Superstition (Justice)

Rosmini for August VI

A continual secret working is going on in every soul for good or for evil. He who does not attentively watch this interior working and gradual transformation may one day become aware of the fact that he is altogether different from what he was formerly. He may find himself in a miserable state of spiritual languor or even mortal sickness, without being able to account for this fatal issue.
Letters 7378 [SC]

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Radio Greats: NC9-8012 (Candy Matson, Yukon-28209)

Hello. Yukon-28209. Yes, this is Candy Matson.

It's a classic trope: the noir detective is in his office when a blonde bombshell walks in with a case. And what if the noir detective is the blonde bombshell? Then you know you are in the office of Candy Matson.

In the age when noir detectives could be found in every newspaper stall and on every radio station, people were trying out every variation they could think of. Candy Matson is perhaps the most memorable of these. She's a gorgeous woman who could hold her own in a cocktail dress at a Hollywood party who is nonetheless a hardboiled private investigator. She does all the noir detective things, but as a sultry smart-talking blonde living in a fancy penthouse who is trying to get the guy she has her eye on, Lt. Ray Mallard, actually to commit; and that's pretty much the whole of what she was written to do. This means that her plots are rather limited, being for the most part very generic noir detective plots, and not always successful when they deviate from them. If you want a richly plotted hardboiled detective tale, you go to Johnny Dollar, not Candy Matson. But the whole thing works for one very big reason: they have a lot of fun with it. One problem with all the male-lead noir detective stories was that they often took themselves too seriously, and thus lost something of what makes it fun to listen to a good noir detective story. Not Candy Matson, though, which tends to be fun through and through.

This is seen in the aspect of noir detective fiction that Candy Matson does better than any other detective series: the dialogue. What do people find memorable about Sam Spade or any of the others? One of the things is always the dialogue, the snappy comeback, the witty snark, the cool sarcasm. And because Candy Matson is all about having fun with all that's fun in noir, this is front and center in the series. Candy often doesn't so much solve a case as outlast it as it unravels on its own, but that doesn't matter: the banter sparkles all the way through. And Natalie Parks Masters was born to play the part.

Since you tune in for Candy and friends more than the plot, you can jump in at pretty much any episode. That's perhaps a good thing, because almost all of the Candy Matson series is lost: out of 92 episodes that aired from June 29, 1949 to May 20, 1951, only a handful are extant. You can listen to them all at Internet Archive.

My recommendation for a first beginning is "NC9-8012" (episode 27, number 7 on the list at Internet Archive), which has some excellent Matson-Mallard interaction, plenty of Candy's sidekick, Rembrandt Watson, and a fairly interesting story. Lieutenant Mallard -- somewhat unexpectedly and suspiciously -- throws a case Candy's way: investigating a fatal plane crash at a small airport.

Rosmini for August V

Simplicity lies in love, prudence in thought. Love is simple, intelligence is prudent. Love prays, intelligence watches. Watch and pray: there you see prudence and simplicity reconciled. Love is like the moaning dove; the active intelligence is like the serpent that never falls or strikes against any obstacle, because it uses its head to feel its way along over the inequalities of the road.
Letters 6477 [SC]

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Mencius, Book IV

Book IV.A (Li Lou I)

Unlike most of the books of the Mengzi, this book is not named after Mencius's first interlocutor, but after the first person he mentions. Much of the book seems to take place in, or discuss matters relevant to the state of Qi, but thematically benevolence or humanity to self and others, especially in government, comes up often. The beginning of IV.A, in fact, has a number of sections that together make up a fairly thorough discussion of the subject.

IV.A.I gives Master Meng's account of why he insists so much on the importance of the Former Kings. In a given art, to reach new heights, the genius or sage has to strain himself to the utmost. However, one of the things that happens in the progress of an art is that the one wise in it also comes to invent ways to do it more easily. Thus it once took the very best draftsmen to draw excellent squares and circles; but one of the things those great draftsmen learned how to do was to use carpenter's squares and compasses. Once tuning took an extraordinary ear; but with this extraordinary feat came also, eventually, the pitch-pipe. And so too the sages of a former day strained themselves to the utmost to govern well, and through this they learned the basic principles of benevolent government. To try to govern without building on their discovery is like insisting on drawing perfect circles without any help. A state depends on its governors having principles, so that they can be understood, their courtiers know how to act, the measures that make trade possible can be regarded with complete trust as uncorrupted and incorruptible, the nobles are not degenerate, and the commoners are not in constant danger of punishment. The sages of yesterday are the templates, the compasses and squares, for good governance (IV.A.2). And this is seen by the fact that genuine success, seen through the long lens of history, is so closely connected with the question: empires on the rise become famous for making people's lives better, while those in decline become famous for cruelty and suffering; humane lords tend to prosper and cruel ones we see to be sowing the seeds of their own destruction; and so on down to the commoner who is more likely to live a long and enjoyable life if he is humane than if he is cruel (IV.A.3). Through humanity to self and others rulers become loved and their realms orderly (IV.A.4, IV.A.5, IV.A.6). When people do not follow the Way, the entire order of things becomes unstable and upside down, with those who are unable to rule well ruling those who would be able to rule well, but one who takes the Former Kings as model can become truly great in a very short time (IV.A.7; cp. IV.A. 13). Nor is this surprising: cruel men are the men least inclined to listen to reason, thus contributing to their destruction (IV.A.8), and a state depends on the love of its people, which requires being humane to them (IV.A.9).

What is more, it is the more natural path, that one that requires doing less violence to oneself and others, the one that makes things work with the least effort. It is something of which we are all capable:
Benevolence is man's peaceful abode and rightness his proper path. It is indeed lamentable for anyone not to live in his peaceful abode and not to follow his proper path (IV.A.10).

What is required to start achieving it is to love one's parents and defer to one's elders (IV.A.11). (IV.A.12 is often regarded as an interpolation, because it has a number of stylistic differences from most of the rest of the book, but it does fit in fairly well with the thought that the book has developed so far.) All of this is a matter of actually doing, not merely saying the words (IV.A.21, IV.A.22, IV.A.23).

IV.A.27 gives us the key elements of the virtuous life, along with the actions by which we begin to express them:

ren benevolence (humanity to self and others) serving one's parents
yi rightness (correctness, dutifulness) deference to one's elder brothers
chih wisdom (understanding) understanding & committing to benevelence & rightness
li rites (appropriate norms of behavior) orderly adornment of benevolence & rightness
yue music delight in benevolence & rightness

It seems reasonable to see a progression here: benevolence and rightness make possible wisdom, which, because it is an understanding and commitment to them, inevitably leads to rites that show forth their excellence; and when this is done, they begin to take forms that are delightful. When that happens, the moral life has begun to flourish.

Book IV.B (Li Lou II)

IV.B is more of a mixed collection than IV.A, with some extended passages and many brief aphorisms, as well as a section (IV.B.33) in which Mencius doesn't appear at all. A number of the sections have to do with the Former Kings, so we can perhaps consider this part of the book as extending and commenting on the main arguments of IV.A.

Since a number of sage kings show up, it is perhaps worthwhile to say something about them.

Shun (IV.B.1, IV.B.19, IV.B.28, IV.B.32): According to tradition, he died somewhere around 2184 BC. He was a minister under Emperor Yao, and was so effective at administering everything that Yao named him his heir. His rein is continually associated with ritual order. He was careful and thorough with sacrifices, regularized weights and measures, divided the realm into administrative units, and enforced ceremonial norms.

Wen Wang (IV.B.1, IV.B.20): He died about 1056 BC, and was one of the greatest epic heroes of Chinese legend. He was considered the founder of the Zhou dynasty, although he himself did not live to see the victory of the Zhou dynasty over the Shang dynasty. He rose to power by the sheer force of respect: his officials admired him, other nobles admired him, allied powers admired him, and so when he needed resources to accomplish his goals, he easily found them. By tradition he is the originator of the principles that later became embodied in the I Ching.

Yu (IV.B.20, IV.B.26, IV.B.29): By tradition, he died around 2100 BC. He is said to have been the founder of the Xia dynasty and his most famous and legendary feat is controlling the flood. His father, Gun, had been charged by Emperor Yao with finding a solution to the many floods that plagued the land, but despite a great deal of ingenuity was unable to find one. Yu followed in his father's footsteps, studying the ways of water and the system of rivers, and discovered the key: the reason all the ingenious solutions had failed was that they were acting against the nature of water. The way to handle the flooding was to work with the water. In other words: the problem is solved not primarily by making dams, which could only be supplemental, but by making irrigation canals. Instead of holding the flood back, direct it to the fields where it could be useful. This was a hard task, requiring much digging and dredging, and Yu was said to have lived with the common workers while he did it. This tale could hardly have been a better allegory for Mencius's idea of the moral life if it had been specifically invented for the purpose, so it is unsurprising that Mencius puts a fair amount of emphasis on it.

Tang (IV.B.20): Tang died around 1646 BC and was the founder of the Shang dynasty. He overthrow Jie, the corrupt ruler of the Xia dynasty, by taking advantage of the fact that Jie mistreated those under his command; he offered the people and nobles better treatment, and also had a sense of when someone had useful talent. When he reigned, the kingdom expanded and became more powerful even while taxes were lowered and the army became less dependent on conscription.

Wu Wang (IV.B.20): He was the second son of King Wen and the actual first king of the Zhou dynasty. His elder brother, the Duke of Zhou, was part of the secret of his success, and also managed to hold onto the kingdom after King Wu's death, despite extensive rebellions and attempts by the Shang to regain the hegemony.

Qi (IV.B.29): He was the son of Yu and the second king of the Xia dynasty. He was actually not his father's heir, but he was so widely admired by the nobles for his work in his behalf that the heir had to step aside for him.

Yao (IV.B.32): He is, with Shun his successor and Yu the Great, one of the great legendary kings of ancient China. He organized the kingdom, worked on the development of an accurate calendar through astronomical observation, and he and Shun are often credited with inventing the earliest version of the game of Go, weiqi, in an attempt to give his wanton playboy son a more wholesome and beneficial pastime.

Despite the emphasis on the ancient kings, one of the recurring themes of this book is that the way of the Former Kings is in fact available to us all; one of the striking examples of this is in IV.B.29, in which he puts Confucius' student Yan Hui in the same class as Yu and Qi, which is extraordinarily high praise.

One of the interesting short comments in this part of the Book is IV.B.22, in which he says that influence only lasts to the fifth generation. Mencius himself is, according to tradition, the fourth from Confucius: his teacher is said to have been Zisi (Confucius's grandson), who was taught by Boyu (Confucius's son), who was, of course, taught by Confucius. The comment can perhaps be seen as expressing Mencius's sense that even the teachings of great teachers need regular renewal or they fade, and that the Confucian way that he upholds is in danger of approaching its end already. The comment also shows a savvy historical awareness of philosophical influence, which proceeds by chains of indirect teaching, each step increasing the risk of confusion, loss of thought, or loss of emphasis.

to be continued

Rosmini for August IV

Had the religious state no other advantage than that of enabling us to fight our spiritual battles, not as individual soldiers, but in a compact body, this consideration alone should have much weight with one who seeks the greater glory of God: for a greater association implies a greater power, whether for good or for evil.
Letters 5649 [SC]

Monday, August 03, 2015

Not Hired Cabs

Schopenhauer strikingly noted that the causal law was not a hired cab. You can't accept it and take it only as far as you want; once you've accepted it, you are committed to it all the way down the line. The same is true of rejecting a claim as accepting it; if you reject a claim by rejecting premise A, you have, as it were, committed yourself to never appealing to premise A, and have to accept whatever consequences there might be to it. This is one reason why it is simply an error for a philosopher to focus only on single arguments at a time. (It's fine to focus on a single argument at a time; it's an error only to do this.) Your rejection of a causal principle in natural theology may cause extraordinary complications in philosophy of science; your rejection of a premise in aesthetics might throw into confusion entire realms of political philosophy; your acceptance of an argument in ethics might commit you to rejecting any number of political views.

So how does this work? There seem to be two basic routes, that work rather differently:

(1) Logical Implication: I've been in three discussions in the past year, with nonphilosophers, in which I argued that their claim A logically implied claim B, and their only response to this was that they didn't say B, only A. If one claims that A implies B, one should certainly be willing to back this up with argument; but it's quite clear that you can't avoid logical implications simply by not stating them. But, of course, there is also the fact that our knowledge of the implications of our claims does not have closure: we don't ever know all the logical implications of what we say, and may be logically committed to something that we would consider absolutely unacceptable.

(2) Parallel: There's a somewhat trickier route, arising because of the relations between different classes of arguments. We might describe it as one argument raising the question of another argument's viability. If one accepts a particular other-minds argument for the human body, this raises the question of whether one should accept some analogue for the whole world. If you accept a particular position on what makes literature worthwhile, this might raise the question of whether you should incorporate an analogous analogous position into your account of what makes music worthwhile. Unlike logical implication, it provides no guarantee; you can take one without the other. But because the two cases resemble each other in important points, you would, as we say, need to have a principled reason for not treating them similarly. This is, indeed, precisely the principle that seems operative here: We should treat similar things similarly unless there is a difference relevant to the treatment itself.

This would seem to be exhaustive -- if A leads to B, it seems to do so by either requiring it or by suggesting it -- but I have no definite proof of that; possibly there are more complicated ways positions and arguments can be linked.

Rosmini for August III

To act with a spirit of intelligence simply means to follow the dictates of right reason, without allowing ourselves to be moved or disturbed by any passion whatever. Now the highest and most universal of all reasons for acting is that of doing always and in all things the will of God.
Letters 6648 [SC]

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Classifying Design Arguments

Design arguments for the existence of God are other minds arguments, i.e., arguments that other minds than one's own exist; this was explicitly recognized as early as Thomas Reid, who pretty clearly got the insight from Berkeley's arguments for God and for other minds, which are integrated with each other. The Argument from Analogy that serves as a starting point for almost every discussion of the problem of other minds (for instance, here and here) is a general form of the design argument discussed in Hume's Dialogues. Every kind of design argument also has a corresponding analogue for existence of minds other than God, so there is an analogy among different species in the genus. It's probably the case that there are other minds arguments with no analogue among design arguments, because design arguments are (among other things) a species of other minds arguments that involve some intermediary, and it's in principle possible that there are other minds arguments that don't -- but in general when we talk about other minds we are talking about human beings, and it is fairly clear that we know human minds through the intermediary of human bodies. We could even perhaps posit a spectrum of other minds arguments in light of the differences in intermediaries, ranging from a separate intermediary through greater degrees of integration of intermediary and mind to pure cases in which other minds are taken to be known directly and without intermediary:

(1) other minds via separated instrument
Separated instruments include anything separate from a mind that they nonetheless indicate, which makes for a very large field: computer, car, script, recorded vocal language, a corpse.

(2) other minds via conjoined instrument
The most obvious kinds of conjoined instrument are prostheses, but for our purposes we should also probably include a great many kinds of tools and instruments in active, ongoing use. A pen is a separated instrument from its designer, but a conjoined instrument for the one writing with it. According to Thomas Aquinas, angels can assume bodies but do not live them; if you met such a body and were trying to determine whether there was a mind to go with it, the body would be a conjoined instrument. Aquinas's Fifth Way would also fall here.

(3) other minds via organic instrument
The idea here is that we are dealing with something not identical to the mind but more closely integrated with it than a conjoined instrument; the mind inhabits, so to speak, the instrument. A pen in the hand is a conjoined instrument, but the hand is an organic one.

(4) other minds sans instrument
I've never run across a specific argument for an other mind that is both specifically designed to be of this kind and grown in the wild, but it's certainly possible to imagine what it might involve -- three obvious possibilities would be telepathy, innate ideas (possibly), and divine inspiration. On Aquinas's account of angelic knowledge, for instance, angels would know each other by divine inspiration and also by angelic speech (i.e., direct interaction of mind to mind). On Malebranche's account we know of God directly from God. (I say 'possibly' for innate ideas because I think it arguable that these are actually best understood as separated instruments -- e.g., Descartes's argument from the idea of God, which he does not, unlike Malebranche, regard as God Himself, analogizes ideas to machines.)

Given all of this, we can very well classify design arguments (any kind of design argument) in the same way:

(1) designer via separated instrument
What we most often call design arguments fall into this category. I see a watch, I infer there was a designer: the watch is a separated-instrument intermediary between me and the other mind that is the designer. When we are talking natural theology, these arguments are the ones that have a 'deistic' feel, although they need not actually require deism.

(2) designer via conjoined instrument
These are trickier to find; one often finds on closer analysis that candidates are really separated-instrument arguments. In natural theology, at least some arguments from miracles, from religious experiences, and from providential events would be examples. To borrow from and adapt Kant slightly, these are 'theistic' in character: they give us an designer who is not merely a cause of the intermediary but is acting or interacting through it. But, again, we need not be considering theism in particular. There are old vitalist arguments that are basically conjoined-instrument design arguments.

(3) designer via organic instrument
In natural theology these are 'pantheistic' in character, although, again, they need not actually require pantheism, or indeed any consideration of more than a small part of the world. Avatar-theophanies -- i.e., theophanies in which the god is the manifestation, such as one often finds in polytheism-- would be cases of organic instruments.

One can, of course, have arguments that are disjunctive by this classification; for instance, a design argument that does not depend on determining what kind of instrument is involved. And because intermediaries can be fairly different, none of this tells us much about the quality of any particular argument.

An interesting question, to which I have no clear answer, is how this way of thinking would impact on atheistic arguments from evil, which are 'nondesign' arguments. There tends to be a counterpart design argument for every argument from evil and a counterpart argument from evil for every design argument. So you could use this to classify arguments from evil. But it might well be a purely extrinsic classification.

Rosmini for August II

The Scriptures are one continual lesson of humility; they teach it in all sorts of ways, by means of the statements made, by the style, by the very words.
Letters 821 [SC]