Saturday, December 19, 2015

O Radix Jesse

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, who stands a sign for the people,
before you kings will shut their mouths,
of you the nations will beg pardon:
come to free us, and tarry no longer.

Confucian Four Books Index

The Analects (Lun Yu)
Book I
Books II-III
Books IV-VI
Books VII-X
Books XI-XII
Books XIX-XX

The Mencius (Mengzi)
Book I
Book II
Book III
Book IV
Book V
Book VI
Book VII

The Great Learning (Da Xue)
Part I
Part II

The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhong Yong)
Part I
Part II
Part III

Friday, December 18, 2015

O Adonai

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Lord, and Ruler of the house of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush,
and also gave the law to him on Sinai,
come to redeem us with outstretched arm.

Zhong Yong (Part III)

Chapter XXI-XXVI

Chapter XX had raised the issue of cheng, usually translated as 'sincerity' and meaning something like 'being true to one's human nature'. Chapter XXI takes this theme and begins the final line of development of the book, as we begin to learn the nature of the true sage, summarizing the essential principle that studious reflection or intelligence and sincerity interrelate. Some people, the sages, are such that being true to their nature issues without impediment into studious reflection; others there are whose studious reflection brings about their being true to their nature. Zhu Xi takes the next twelve chapters to comment directly on this.

Chapter XXII connects sincerity to the Confucian thesis of moral influence, and also the beginning of the claim that this moral influence is of cosmic scope. Sincerity is what allows one to express fully one's true nature. This allows one to influence others in the full expression of their true nature. In doing this, the wholly sincere can develop the true natures of animals and other things. In doing that, one can develop the elements and forces of Heaven and Earth; and in doing that, one becomes a triad with Heaven and Earth. The influence on other human beings obviously occurs by example and teaching. Zhu Xi suggests that the influence on animals and other things consists of coming to know them and giving them an appropriate role to play in one's own activities. In essence, we might say, the sincere person gives even the nonhuman world a moral destiny and value. Thus the Way of the Sage as it were unites the Way of Heaven and the Way of Earth.

But even those who have not yet attained this level of sincerity may be doing great things, by cultivating the sprouts of goodness in their nature in such a way that they may become sincere (XXIII). As this incipient sincerity develops, it begins expressing itself outwardly; in doing so, it becomes something that can be an example and lesson to others, moving them. The influence of the sage is that toward which this process tends.

Sincerity gives its possessor the ability to divine matters of good and bad, like a spiritual being (XXIV); sincerity is what it is to be complete as a self and therefore is the end to which the self is directed, but it also overflows into others by way of moral authority and knowledge (XXV). This sincerity is thus ceaselessly active which gives it endurance; endurance gives it an expansive self-expression capable of incorporating everything simply by manifesting itself, and it is this that makes the sage an equal of Heaven and Earth (XXVI). Without showiness, it shows forth; without moving, it moves; without trying, it succeeds (XXVI).

Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVII gives a famous praise of the Way of the Sage. Like water in the water-cycle, the influence of the sage goes out to all things on Earth and even rises to Heaven. All rules of ritual and propriety merely express facets of the sage's Dao, and it is the person of propriety and moral authority that walks it. Because of this, the noble who seek to attain this Way attempt to develop themselves through study and self-reflection according to the Mean discussed earlier in the work, and do so no matter the social positions they happen to occupy.

The Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, the seventeenth century Jesuit commentary on the Four Books, takes the description of the cosmic significance of the sage as a possible prophecy of Jesus Christ. This is the sort of thing one would not find in modern scholarship on Chinese philosophy, of course, but it is worth noting as (1) an early attempt to identify a connection between Chinese and Christian approaches, namely, by suggesting that what the Confucians speak about when they talk about the sage, Christians find in Christ; and (2) perceived links like this are what originally led to the spread of interest in Confucian philosophy in Europe, and the eventual result of Confucius, however understood or misunderstood, becoming a household name in the West.


The next chapters of the work comment on various features of Chapter XXVII. Chapters XXVIII and XXIX gives illustrations relevant to the sage and the noble being such in a way appropriate to their social positions. (There seems to be considerable confusion among commentators as to what is meant by "these three things" at the beginning of Chapter XXIX, because there isn't anything to which they obvious refer. Legge notes that some suggest that it means the ways of the three ancient kings; that Zhu Xi takes them to mean the prerogatives of kings mentioned in Chapter XXVIII; and that others, including himself, take them to mean virtue, station, and time.)

Chapters XXX through XXXII eulogize Confucius as an example of the sage. (Like Chapter II, it for an unknown reason refers to Confucius by a relatively uncommon name.) He brought forward the traditions of ancient times; he acted in harmony with Heaven above and in harmony with Earth below. His influence went everywhere, as one would expect from the description of the sage in Chapter XXVII. Chapter XXXI in particular gives a long list of attributes of a sage. Chapter XXXII returns us to the link between cheng or sincerity and the Way of the sage.

Chapter XXXIII

Zhu Xi, quite plausibly, takes the last chapter to serve as a compendious summary of the rest of the work. It consists of quotations from the Book of Odes that provides images which are then in commentary applied to the noble and the sage. The noble are not flashy or showy, preferring substance over style. The excellence of the noble lies in an activity no one can see -- careful self-examination. This forms their characters even when they seem to be doing nothing. But this does not imply that they have no influence; indeed, they can move others without having to resort to rewards and punishments, simply by example and advice. Through the virtues of the noble, others achieve peace and happiness. This is, in fact, the most complete form of moral authority possible, the one that makes the virtuous like Heaven itself: by an activity that is not seen or heard, their effects extend onward without limit.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, who comes forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from end to end,
mightily and sweetly disposing all,
come to teach us the way of prudence.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Music on My Mind

Frank Sinatra, "Fly Me to the Moon". December 12 was the 100th anniversary of Sinatra's birthday, which is why it's been on my mind; this happens to be one of my favorite Sinatra tunes. The song itself predates Sinatra; written in the 1950s, it was originally called "In Other Words". It was a commonly used jazz and cabaret theme, but its popularity began to skyrocket with the version by Peggy Lee in 1960. (Here it is sung by Peggy Lee in 1984, while she was in her sixties.) Joe Harnell's bossa nova version made it an instrumental favorite (and won a Grammy). But Sinatra's 1964 version has become the standard. Part of it is quality -- Sinatra's no slouch, and the accompaniment's by Count Basie -- but to a great extent it's a matter of timing. It was the version used by the Apollo program, the one played in orbit around the moon by Apollo 10 and played on the moon by Apollo 11. It was the version for the days when we were actually flying to the moon.

Sinatra and Lee are both hard versions to beat, but there are times when I like Olivia Ong's very, very laid back version best.

Lying Scenarios

Gerald Dworkin has a piece on lying at The Stone. Dworkin, as he notes, is angling toward arguing that "we could not lead our lives if we never told lies — or that if we could it would be a much worse life". (Needless to say, I think this is certainly false on general principles, and I think even if it were true, the "much worse" would likely be practically impossible to prove, given that human ingenuity can find ways not to lie in order to get similar or even better results in many situations.) He defines lying in this way:

John lies to Mary if he says X, believes X to be false, and intends that Mary believe X.

As it stands, this doesn't work, since I may say X without representing X as true, or in a context in which it need not be taken as true. We also get complications with regard to in-persona statements -- perhaps John says X, believing it to be false, because he has a legal or moral responsibility to convey a message from somebody else, but no obligation to believe the message; perhaps he even makes clear that he himself doesn't believe it. If he did however intend that Mary believe X, is that enough to make this a case of lying? That is, lying has to be a way of speaking falsely, and there seems good reason to think that says-but-believes-false accounts are not adequate accounts of what it is to speak falsely about something. Dworkin himself goes on to characterize lying as "saying what you believe to be false in order to make other people believe something false"; but the definition he gives has no 'in order to' -- the intent that Mary believe could be incidental to the saying, for instance. (Another potential problem: what if John says X to Mary, knowing it to be false, but knowing that Mary will know he is lying, and he deliberately does this with the intention that Mary will believe some other likely alternative Y, which John also knows to be false! That is, what if the deception is oblique, rather than straightforward?)

In any case, he goes on to give a list of possible scenarios, asking his commenters at The Stone to say whether they regard them as permissible or impermissible. Whenever we deal with scenarios, we have to be on the lookout for sleight-of-hand or illusions created by wording. In several cases here, for instance, we are dealing with situations in which just a slight change of wording could change entirely whether there was even anything false. (10) is a really good example of this:

10. We heap exaggerated praise on our children all the time about their earliest attempts to sing or dance or paint or write poems. For some children this encouragement leads to future practice, which in turn promotes the development–in some — of genuine achievement.

We obviously heap praise on children for attempting difficult things, and do so all the time, and there's nothing obviously false about that, so it could sound like it's perfectly fine. And sometimes we might call this 'exaggerated praise', where that means, 'we work to make it very, very clear', like giving an exaggerated emphasis to something so that nobody misses it. But 'exaggerated praise' in this context has to mean that we are not praising the children for doing well given the difficulty, but in ways that we have reason to think they don't deserve. It's not clear that we actually do this all the time; and it's not clear how lying to children about how good they are at something actually relates to future practice in real life. (It is notorious, for instance, that children who are over-praised for things that they didn't work hard for tend to expect that things will come easily and stop working hard.)

And there are the usual issues of interpretation:

9. I am negotiating for a car with a salesperson. He asks me what the maximum I am prepared to pay is. I say $15,000. It is actually $20,000.

In the case of (9), I don't think people usually have so precise a notion of what the maximum they are prepared to pay are, and we are explicitly dealing with a negotiation. The answer could just as easily be interpreted as "let's assume for the sake of this negotiation, or at this stage of the negotiation, that it's $15000" rather than "in absolute terms, $15000".

(8) is particularly interesting:

8. In order to test whether arthroscopic surgery improved the conditions of patients’ knees a study was done in which half the patients were told the procedure was being done but it was not. Little cuts were made in the knees, the doctors talked as if it were being done, sounds were produced as if the operation were being done. The patients were under light anesthesia. It turned out that the same percentage of patients reported pain relief and increased mobility in the real and sham operations. The patients were informed in advance that they either would receive a real or a sham operation.

In (8) we are dealing with the same kind of situation as if someone were to say, "What's going to happen to you next will be either a play or a real-life situation, and we won't tell you which, because we want to compare the two." There's no clear intent for anyone to believe something false -- we've already stated that it might be false. And for what we're doing it doesn't really seem to matter whether patients believe it's a sham or not. This is another case where the distinctions noted above can matter.

Another issue that comes up in several cases is that the lying is actually just an element of a more general activity (comforting someone, for instance) which is obviously good, so that we have to be wary of confusing "The general kind of action is good" with "Doing it this particular way is good".

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Radio Greats: We Hold These Truths

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is in a great measure the father of American thought about the Bill of Rights. Prior to Roosevelt, the ten amendments making up the Bill of Rights were only rarely thought of as a unit, although they were all ratified together on December 15, 1791, and although they were ratified in order to supply the lack of a constitutional bill of rights. But Roosevelt repeatedly used the Bill of Rights as a summary of the opposition in way of life between the United States and nations like Germany under Hitler. In light of this, it's unsurprising that the Roosevelt administration wanted to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights in a big way. So they asked producer Norman Corwin to work out a major radio celebration for December 15, 1941.

Nobody knew how major it would be. On December 7, 1941, as Corwin was starting to pull together the threads for the December 15th broadcast, the Japanese Empire bombed Pearl Harbor; Germany declared war on December 11. When the program, "We Hold These Truths", aired live as planned on December 15, literally half the population of the United States tuned in -- over 60 million people, the single largest audience for any single dramatic performance in history. And that does not, of course, count any of the audience listening in later to recorded versions.

It is a star-studded hour-long program, with some of the most notable actors in the history of radio. Jimmy Stewart is the narrator; the cast includes Lionel Barrymore (best known today for his performance as Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life), Orson Welles, Walter Brennan, Marjorie Main, and Edward G. Robinson. Its orchestral score was composed by Bernard Herrman (one of the most successful writers for music for the movies) and provided by Leopold Stokowski (best known today for Disney's Fantasia) with the New York Philharmonic. And it ends with a live address from President Roosevelt himself.

One of the interesting things is the light it sheds on how American values were understood in the 40s, particularly when they start looking at the particular amendments. For instance, the interpretation given to the Second Amendment is that it guarantees that the government can't bully the people without a fight.

You can listen to "We Hold These Truths" online at the Internet Archive.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Maronite Year IX

Nimatullah Kassab al-Hardini (1808-1858), or Nemetallah El-Hardini, is one of the Maronite saints on the universal Catholic calendar. He joined the Lebanese Maronite Order and taught at their seminary; several important Maronite figures, including St. Sharbel, were his students. He lived the life of an exemplary monk and was widely regarded as a saint in his own lifetime. He was beatified in 1997 and canonized in 2004.

Feast of Saint Nemetallah El-Hardini
Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 4:18-25

Your whole heart filled with love, O saint,
you worked and prayed and taught the holy truth.
A living sacrifice to God
you offered in yourself with true worship.
You thought of yourself soberly
and, gifted with teaching, you taught your faith.
You did not follow this world's ways;
instead you looked to grow in holy love.
Jesus calls to his disciples:
"I will make you fishers of men; follow."
You followed, O Nemetallah;
your net is great with the web of prayer.
Church of God, lift up your voices;
to heaven we go, prayed for by the just.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Fortnightly Book, December 13

I've gone back and forth on whether to try to squeeze in one more fortnightly book this year or to wait until January, but I think I've finally settled on doing one more, although it might possibly end up being one of those three week 'fortnights'.

Walter M. Miller, Jr., was a tail gunner in the Army Air Corps in World War II, flying more than fifty bombing missions. One, however, changed his life forever.

The Allies were invading Italy, and the Germans and Italians had formed a series of very long and very fortified defensive lines across Italy. One of these lines, the Gustav line, ran right by the ancient abbey of Monte Cassino. It turned out to be an especially effective defense. In February of 1944, the U.S. began a massive bombing raid on the line. One of their objectives was the abbey itself, which they suspected might be the major observation post for German artillery targeting, which had been consistently effective. 1,150 tons of explosives were dropped, destroying the abbey. It was a complete failure; Monte Cassino was not being used by the Germans, and the Germans never had any intention of using it, despite its strategic location -- they had made an agreement not to use the abbey for military purposes and did not want to break it in case it would irritate the Italians. But when the abbey was destroyed by the Allies, the point was then moot, so they sent in paratroopers, occupied the ruins, and built it up into a fortress; the bombing had actually made things worse. Miller had been one of the ones participating in the bombing raid, and he was haunted the rest of his life by the silhouette of Monte Cassino he had seen while participating in its destruction.

After the war, Miller began writing science fiction, with some success. From 1955 to 1957 he wrote three novellas for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The three were thematically linked, but independent; however, as he was writing the third novella, he realized that he had the basic structure for a unified work. He made a fairly thorough revision of the three novellas and that became the fortnightly book, A Canticle for Leibowitz, which won the Hugo in 1961, has never been out of print, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time -- some say the best.

It is a world devastated by nuclear war. Through the ages one of the things that is constant is that States will grow up, and their power will wax, until the Caesar of the day begins once again to regard himself as if he had divine authority, and then is humbled in the dust from whence he came. But day in and day out, the monks continue at their prayers and their quiet work.

There is a famous Golden Age radio adaptation of the work. It's seven and a half hours long (in fifteen parts, I think), and very hard to find, so I don't know if I'll be listening to it, but I'll at least keep an eye out for it.

Maximes on Wisdom

The maxime was a genre of philosophical writing pioneered in the seventeenth century salons of Paris, and in particular the salon of Madeleine de Souvré, Marquise de Sablé. Sablé's salon was often the most intellectually vivacious salon of her day, and a great many new approaches to philosophy grew out of it. A maxime is a short, polished aphoristic sentence, but this does not entirely convey its character. It is properly a summation of philosophical conversation; the writing of a maxime was a collaborative exercise, in which drafts of these short sayings would be submitted to a wide variety of people and argued over until they reached a final form. If we look at the most famous of all maximes to come from Sablé's salon, those of La Rochefoucauld, there is a long drafting process behind each one, in which Sablé herself criticized and suggested revisions to La Rochefoucauld's proposal, and also sent versions to friends and acquaintances who she thought might have something to say about that particular topic, and collected their responses. Sometimes responses would be about form, devoted to eliminating logical or rhetorical awkwardnesses, or excessive complications; sometimes they would be about content, trying to get them as close to truth and clarity as possible. [Those who are interested in the historical background here might be interested in John J. Conley, SJ, The Suspicion of Virtue, which looks at a number of the salonièrres and their highly creative outside-the-box philosophical work.]

I have a lot of short aphoristic sentences built up in Dashed Off posts and notebooks. It seems to be worthwhile at least to submit them for collaborative polishing, should any be possible. So I think I will occasionally put some out and see if anyone wants to argue with them, or suggest improvements on them, or propose their own on similar topics. And so I start with a few on wisdom:

All folly is mutilated wisdom.

The young often have wisdom, but only with age can they consistently recognize it for what it is.

Without law, there is no forgiveness; without wisdom, there is no reconciliation; without love, there is no healing.

Wisdom is distilled drop by drop, as understanding is reached step by step.

The first step toward wisdom is to sit down quietly.

Goodness and wisdom naturally create traditions.

Half the power of wisdom is found in listening.

The fear of the Lord prepares for wisdom by destroying pride.

Who loves wisdom finds it everywhere.

Wisdom is fertile with measure and meaning.

Maronite Year VIII

As I noted before, the Maronite approach to Christmas draws heavily on the Gospel of Luke. But the two Sundays just before Christmas are drawn from Matthew, and they move forward toward Christmas by looking back to God's plan for Israel. Drawing from Matthew, there is an inevitable emphasis on King David: Jesus Christ, Son of David, is born of Mary, whose husband Joseph is son of David, and represents his house well by his justice.

Sunday of the Revelation to Joseph
Ephesians 3:1-13; Matthew 1:18-25

David sat before the Lord, and he said:
"Who am I, and what is my family,
that you bring us so far?
You are magnified; there is none like You;
no God can there be who is beside You;
You have done sublime things.
Of all this world's nations,
have any been redeemed like Israel,
made Your own, and saved by Your mighty hand?
You have established us,
confirmed us an everlasting people.
O Lord, fulfill Your promise to my house!"

Maiden Mary was espoused to Joseph,
but she was with child, and he was troubled;
he wished for her no harm,
and sought to shield her from an open shame.
But the angel of the Lord in dream said,
"Joseph, son of David!
Love Mary as your wife,
for she has conceived by the Spirit's might.
Her Son shall save His people from all sin."
The mystery of Christ,
once but hoped is now in fullness revealed
according to God's eternal purpose.

To be a just man is not a small thing;
in this world to do right at the right time
is to be like David.
Make us worthy, Lord God, to believe,
as Joseph believed at Your holy word,
seeking to do the right.
Like Eden's great angel,
he stood guard for Your holy Tree of life,
and for Mary, the Mother of our Lord.
To wait for the Lord God,
to abide in the presence of His Name,
is the salvation and hope of the just.