Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ignatios ho Theophoros, Antiokheias

Today was the feast of the St. Ignatius of Antioch, the third bishop of Antioch and according to tradition appointed by St. Peter himself. From his letter to the Ephesians (10:1-3):

And pray ye also without ceasing for the rest of mankind (for there is in them a hope of repentance), that they may find God. Therefore permit them to take lessons at least from your works. Against their outbursts of wrath be ye meek; against their proud words be ye humble; against their railings set ye your prayers; against their errors be ye stedfast in the faith; against their fierceness be ye gentle. And be not zealous to imitate them by requital. Let us show ourselves their brothers by our forbearance; but let us be zealous to be imitators of the Lord, vying with each other who shall suffer the greater wrong, who shall be defrauded, who shall be set at nought; that no herb of the devil be found in you: but in all purity and temperance abide ye in Christ Jesus, with our flesh and with your spirit.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Music on My Mind

Loreena McKennitt, "The Lady of Shalott". A shortened and adapted version of the Tennyson poem, of course.

The Flash of the North's Great Sword-Blade

An October Evening
by William Wilfrid Campbell

The woods are haggard and lonely,
The skies are hooded for snow,
The moon is cold in Heaven,
And the grasses are sere below.

The bearded swamps are breathing
A mist from meres afar,
And grimly the Great Bear circles
Under the pale Pole Star.

There is never a voice in Heaven,
Nor ever a sound on earth,
Where the spectres of winter are rising
Over the night’s wan girth.

There is slumber and death in the silence,
There is hate in the winds so keen;
And the flash of the north’s great sword-blade
Circles its cruel sheen.

The world grows agèd and wintry,
Love’s face peakèd and white;
And death is kind to the tired ones
Who sleep in the north to-night.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Many Mansions

Today is the feast of St. Teresa de Avila, Doctor of the Church. From her Interior Castle:

I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions. If we reflect, sisters, we shall see that the soul of the just man is but a paradise, in which, God tells us, He takes His delight. What, do you imagine, must that dwelling be in which a King so mighty, so wise, and so pure, containing in Himself all good, can delight to rest? Nothing can be compared to the great beauty and capabilities of a soul; however keen our intellects may be, they are as unable to comprehend them as to comprehend God, for, as He has told us, He created us in His own image and likeness....

We will now think of the others who at last enter the precincts of the castle; they are still very worldly, yet have some desire to do right, and at times, though rarely, commend themselves to God’s care. They think about their souls every now and then; although very busy, they pray a few times a month, with minds generally filled with a thousand other matters, for where their treasure is, there is their heart also. Still, occasionally they cast aside these cares; it is a great boon for them to realize to some extent the state of their souls, and to see that they will never reach the gate by the road they are following.

At length they enter the first rooms in the basement of the castle, accompanied by numerous reptiles which disturb their peace, and prevent their seeing the beauty of the building; still, it is a great gain that these persons should have found their way in at all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Medieval Women and Philosophy

Christina Van Dyke has an interesting post on philosophy and medieval women:

As I rolled up my sleeves and went to work, I discovered that although female contemplatives in the Middle Ages might not have thought of themselves as engaging in philosophy per se--and although what they wrote often tends not to fit neatly into our contemporary conceptions of even just philosophical theology--if you take a step back and think of philosophy as the love of wisdom, perennially addressing the issues that human beings have wondered about "Since the dawn of time," it turns out that medieval women have a wealth of things to say about classic philosophical debates involving, say, self-knowledge, love, human nature, ethics, God, and the meaning of life.

And this is very certainly true; they often are only touching on the philosophical topics incidentally, but in the strictest sense this is true of most of the people we think of as "medieval philosophers" -- they were theologians or doctors or lawyers doing philosophy in those contexts. As she quite rightly notes, Anselm's 'ontological argument' is part of a prayer.

She gives a number of suggestions for incorporating them into medieval philosophy courses. Another point to note is that it's often the case that women have done philosophical work on different subjects than the men were usually focusing on, particularly in cultures in which there were fairly sharp role differences between men and women, and so it's sometimes worthwhile to look at slightly different philosophical topics to see if women start showing up more -- education, for instance, or moral psychology.

Monday, October 12, 2015

And Heaven Broke Forth in Song

The Clerk
by Charles Williams

The clerk sat on a stool
And added up a column,
Looking a very fool,
Staid he was and solemn.
He said: 'Nineteen and one.
Mark nought and carry two.'
And that was all that he had done
And all that he could do.

The clerk sat on his stool
And another line began:
The heroes called him fool
But God had called him man.
He said: 'Two fives are ten
And carry one along.'
The devil shuddered in his den
And Heaven broke forth in song.

As I always say, the devil fears great deeds done humbly and small deeds done well.

Lying by Omission

Robin Davenport criticizes Sam Harris's position on lying:

However, this evasive tactic of withholding one’s actual feelings by instead inserting a less relevant, albeit true, statement, is a far cry from being honest. In fact, this ‘skillful truth-telling’ is nothing more than lying by another name. Harris is therefore being disingenuous when he suggests that we can avoid lying by articulating irrelevant truths. Honesty requires that we bare our souls, so to speak, and potentially voice difficult truths, not simply avoid them. Stating verifiable facts that have little to do with our real sentiments does not let us off the hook, especially when the irrelevances are designed to hide tough underlying relevant truths. So on closer inspection, we realize that, without calling it such, Harris is suggesting here that we replace a lie of commission with a lie of omission.

One occasionally comes across the phrase 'lying by omission' in legal contexts, in which it is well defined: it involves the failure to disclose information one is legally obliged to disclose. It is less clear how it would work in situations in which there is no legal obligation; there is good reason to think we would often have a moral obligation not to say certain things to certain people.

Even if one extends the concept to outside a legal context (and it does seem that sometimes one would be dishonest by not saying something), it seems somewhat misleading, since 'lie of omission' would not, as it seems, be a parallel concept to 'lie of commission'; you can have a 'lie of commission' simply by asserting something false so as to deceive, but you couldn't have a 'lie of omission' except where some obligation requires you to tell the truth. Quite obviously we are not required to tell every truth to everyone, so there must be some standard of when we would by doing wrong by the omission. This means that 'lie of omission' is not a lie in the same sense as a 'lie of commission', and will work differently. It's simply not true, that "Honesty requires that we bare our souls"; this is such a hyperbolic claim that it can hardly be taken seriously, and actually putting it into practice would seem a recipe for creating a person whose relations with other people are entirely focused on expressing himself.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Fortnightly Book, October 11

This next week will, like the past week, be a busy grading week, so the next fortnight needs to be a shorter book and/or re-read; and it is both: Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland. Herland was serialized in 1915 in The Forerunner, a magazine that Gilman produced, wrote, and edited herself every month for seven years. The purpose of the magazine was to further the progress of women by stimulating them to act for themselves. The magazine is summed up in an advertisement from volume 1, number 1:



What is The Forerunner? It is a monthly magazine, publishing stories short and serial, article and essay; drama, verse, satire and sermon; dialogue, fable and fantasy, comment and review. It is written entirely by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

What is it For? It is to stimulate thought: to arouse hope, courage and impatience; to offer practical suggestions and solutions, to voice the strong assurance of better living, here, now, in our own hands to make.

What is it about? It is about people, principles, and the questions of every-day life; the personal and public problems of to-day. It gives a clear, consistent view of human life and how to live it.

Is it a Woman's magazine? It will treat all three phases of our existence—male, female and human. It will discuss Man, in his true place in life; Woman, the Unknown Power; the Child, the most important citizen.

Is it a Socialist Magazine? It is a magazine for humanity, and humanity is social. It holds that Socialism, the economic theory, is part of our gradual Socialization, and that the duty of conscious humanity is to promote Socialization.

Why is it published? It is published to express ideas which need a special medium; and in the belief that there are enough persons interested in those ideas to justify the undertaking.

Herland is in genre a feminist utopia, a Lost World story, in fact, depicting a society composed entirely of women discovered by a small scientific expedition of which Lost World stories are so fond. As the expedition consists of three men, both sides find the discovery somewhat unexpected and challenging....