Saturday, January 23, 2016

Permanent and Progressive

As I have already said, a liberal Education ought to include both Permanent Studies which connect men with the culture of past generations, and Progressive Studies which make them feel their community with the present generation, its businesses, interests and prospects. The Permanent Studies must necessarily precede, in order to form a foundation for the Progressive; for the present Progress has grown out of the past activity of men's minds; and cannot be intelligible, except to the student of past literature and established opinions. But the Progressive Studies must be added to the Permanent; for without this step, the meaning and tendencies of the past activity of men cannot be seen, nor our own business understood. And though Progressive Studies may form the business of life, as well as of the specially educational period of it, they may with advantage be begun in that period, before each man's course of study is, as in after life it generally is, disturbed and perplexed by the constant necessity of action.

William Whewell, Of a Liberal Education in General, p. 63.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Paul's Pagan Quotations IV

A possible, but only possible, quoted phrase from a pagan author is found in Acts 26:

On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. NIV

'Kicking against the goads' does seem to derive ultimately from Greek drama, but it seems to have been a fairly common expression, so it may well not be a quotation. Both Euripides and Aeschylus have it. One reason for thinking that it might actually be a quotation rather than a general proverb is that the sense of it as we find it in Euripides' Bacchae fits Paul's situation surprisingly well, and it would make sense for Paul to add the comment as an explanation to Festus what was going on:

I would sacrifice to the god rather than kick against his spurs in anger, a mortal against a god.

Pentheus is trying to stamp out the worship of Dionysus; Dionysus himself has come, in disguise, to spread the religion. Pentheus put him in prison, but, of course, being a god he escaped. Pentheus threatens him with punishment again, and then Dionysus makes the reply above. One can well imagine Paul using the quoted phrase to allude to something like this in order to explain his point to Festus -- or, perhaps adapting the language of Euripides in order to make the point more clear in Greek.

The similarity with Aeschylus is less dramatic. From the Agamemnon:

You speak like that, you who sit at the lower oar when those upon the higher bench control the ship? Old as you are, you shall learn how bitter it is at your age to be schooled when prudence is the lesson set before you. Bonds and the pangs of hunger are far the best doctors of the spirit when it comes to instructing the old. Do you have eyes and lack understanding? Do not kick against the goads lest you strike to your own hurt.

We still have here the sense of the absurdity of rebellion; it's just not as close a fit as Euripides' use of it in the context of overwhelming divine power, and the notion that the struggle is with something well beyond the merely human.

But, of course, we have to keep in mind that it passed into a proverb, and therefore is perhaps only connected historically, not intentionally.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

'God' as a Name

The furor over the firing of Wheaton professor Larycia Hawkins for saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God has led to an eruption over the past couple of months of discussions of the issue, particularly on blogs interested in the philosophy of religion. I haven't joined in, beyond occasional comments on other blogs, because I find it a boring issue; despite repeated claims to the contrary, I think it has no major practical consequences (there are a very large number of other positions and assumptions that have to be added for us to get anywhere near a significant practical consequence), and I, at least, have yet to come across any Not-Same-God argument that I did not after evaluation regard either as incoherent or as requiring entirely ad hoc assumptions. My view on the general position was given on this a couple years ago; that post obviously doesn't address every argument that has sprung up in the past several weeks, but I still stand by the basic argument.

Bill Vallicella has been arguing for the nuanced position that it's at least not obvious that Muslims and Christians worship the same God because it will depend on your theory of reference. I think he holds that taking the object of the worship as the same requires a Millian/Kripkean theory of reference; since I don't accept Millian/Kripkean theories of reference myself, and have often argued rather vehemently against them, I obviously don't think this is the case. My own theory of reference is, in Vallicellan terms, 'Fressellian', but I am entirely on the Same-God side of the argument. (But I may simply be misunderstanding his overall argument, which involves an approach I find rather foreign. In my view, a theory of reference is simply a model for facts about meaning, which are discovered by considering the actual use of language rather than applying theories, and therefore I don't regard facts about reference as so theory-laden as the Maverick apparently does.)

In any case, I think it needs to be noted that there are other assumptions that are in play here, as well. It is not an accident that such a significant portion of people on the Not-Same side are Evangelicals of one stripe or another, or that such a significant portion of people on the Same side are Catholics of one stripe or another. And we see this quite clearly in Bill's most recent post on the subject:

So when a Christian assertively utters a token of 'God is almighty,' his use of 'God' successfully refers to God only if there is something that satisfies the sense the Christian qua Christian associates with 'God.' Now that sense must include being triune. The same goes for the Muslim except that the sense that must be satisfied for the Muslim reference to be successful must include being non-triune.

There are a very great many reasons for a Catholic to disagree with this entirely, no matter what his or her theory of reference is. It is Catholic doctrine that the existence of God, the very same God Christians worship, can be proven by reason alone, in at least some broad sense of the word 'proven'. It is Catholic doctrine that this is not true of the doctrine of the Trinity; the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery exceeding the capacity of natural reason to establish. It is foundational to the Catholic faith to believe that God is a Trinity; but it is inconsistent with the Catholic faith to hold that you cannot refer to God without knowing that He is a Trinity, because you can prove that God exists, the very same God Christians understand by faith to be Triune, without knowing that He is Triune. By the Catholic view, the sense of the term 'God' does not include the doctrine of the Trinity; we can know the sense of the term 'God' by reason alone, but we only get the doctrine of the Trinity by faith.

(There is, it should be noted, good reason for Muslims to disagree with the thesis, as well. The Qur'an pretty clearly commits the Muslim to saying that Muslims, Christians, and Jews all worship the same God; and the most reasonable interpretation of extended passages in the Qur'an is that the Christians worship the same God but that they commit the sin of shirk in doing so.)

If we look at the most influential and explicitly Catholic account of the meaning of the word 'God', that of Aquinas, it includes the following basic conclusions:

(1) We can use names that apply to God on the basis of reasoning from creatures.
(2) The names that genuinely apply to God are not necessarily synonymous.
(3) 'God' ('Deus') is applied to God on the basis of divine activity, in order to signify the divine nature.
(4) 'God' is not a proper name, precisely because it signifies the divine nature rather than the divine suppositum.
(5) Uses of 'God' improperly to talk about things that are not God have a respect or ordering to the proper use of 'God' to talk about God.
(6) Both Catholics and non-Catholics apply names to God, including 'God', on the basis of causation, excellence, or remotion.

None of this sits well with the notion that we can only apply 'God' to the God if we understand that God is Triune. To be sure, a Catholic could hold a different theory of divine names than Aquinas does; but any such theory is going to be constrained by some basic Catholic doctrines, one of which is that we can reasonably conclude that God, the one and only God, exists on the basis of reason alone, without any inkling of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Thus the Maverick's argument depends not only on issues of linguistic reference but on some fairly controvertible religious assumptions, as well. You can be Catholic while insisting on the Not-Same position; but the rational difficulty of doing so consistently is massively greater than it would be for many Protestants, who do not have the same emphasis on natural reason in religious matters that Catholics do. (It's a bit surprising that the assumption here is so Protestant, but he might be getting the assumption from Lydia McGrew's characterizations of the arguments.)


As a minor side issue, one difficulty I have had with many of the Not-Same arguments, as well as Vallicella's Depends-on-Your-Theory arguments, is that it's so consistently put in terms of successful or unsuccessful reference, as if there were only these options. But in fact it's possible to have confused reference, ambiguous reference, obscure reference, wavering reference, and so forth. I don't know how this ultimately affects some of these arguments, but I would certainly argue that a theory of reference that has difficulty making sense of Cyrano de Bergerac is perhaps unlikely to be adequate for dealing with theology.

Paul's Pagan Quotations III

Another passage in which Paul seems to be quoting a pagan author is in I Corinthians 15:

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame. [NIV]

'Bad company corrupts good character' is widely regarded from very early as a quotation. It actually is a good iambic line in the Greek, and so is exactly the sort of thing you would expect to find in a Greek tragedy or comedy.

In his Ecclesiastical History, from the fifth century, Socrates Scholasticus claims that it is a quotation of Euripides. In context (Book III, Chapter 16), Socrates is talking about our very subject, Paul's quotations from Greek pagan literature:

Should any one imagine that in making these assertions we wrest the Scriptures from their legitimate construction, let it be remembered that the Apostle not only does not forbid our being instructed in Greek learning, but that he himself seems by no means to have neglected it, inasmuch as he knows many of the sayings of the Greeks. Whence did he get the saying, ‘The Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow-bellies,’ but from a perusal of The Oracles of Epimenides, the Cretan Initiator? Or how would he have known this, ‘For we are also his offspring,’ had he not been acquainted with The Phenomena of Aratus the astronomer? Again this sentence, ‘Evil communications corrupt good manners,’ is a sufficient proof that he was conversant with the tragedies of Euripides.

Unfortunately, the line doesn't occur in any extant play by Euripides. It's worth keeping in mind that this doesn't mean much. We only have at most 19 complete plays out of an oeuvre that may have originally had as many as 90, and the ones we had are a bit of an odd selection, since we get them from one anthology of ten plays that was probably used in schools and one surviving volume of a larger alphabetical collection of his plays (which is why so many of the titles of Euripides' extant plays start with H or I), somewhat as if we were trying to reconstruct Shakespeare from a school textbook and volume 3 of an alphabetical collected works. There's lots of room for the line being in one of the many lost plays.

Socrates seems to be the only person to attribute the line to the tragedies of Euripides. The most common attribution is to the comedies of Menander. This attribution appears to be due to Jerome in his Commentary on Titus (chapter 1), although some others also mention it; unfortunately, I have neither a hardcopy nor an online version of this work, so I only know this through a secondary source. Unfortunately, we don't have any extant play be Menander in which the line occurs, either; we only have one complete Menander play and a lot of fragments.

It is possible that, if Menander has the line, that he was quoting Euripides; there are known cases of him having quoted Euripides elsewhere. If that's so, though, we have no way whatsoever of knowing whether Paul was quoting Menander or Euripides -- beyond the bare antecedent probability that it seems more likely that he would be quoting a tragedy, with its high moral tone, than a comedy, particularly in the middle of a serious admonition. On the other hand, Justin Martyr can be found less than a century later either quoting or alluding in a favorable way to Menander on another topic (First Apology, Chapter XX), and the same can be said for Clement of Alexandria, who refers to him a fair amount, so even that doesn't seem to weigh all that much.

So tragic Euripides or comic Menander? We don't know, although the evidence is reasonably good that he's quoting one or the other.

It has also been suggested that Menander is being quoted or paraphrased in I Timothy 1:15 and 4:9:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. [NIV]

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. [NIV]

'This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance' has some similarities to a comment in a play by Terence, Adelphoi, which heavily adapts from Menander. But, of course, it's also possible that this is just coincidental, or that the phrase just became a common phrase in some quarters, and thus is not a quotation at all.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Whewell on Analytic Mathematics in Liberal Education

Analytical operations in Mathematics do not discipline the reason; they do not familiarize the student with a chain of syllogisms connected by a manifest necessity at every link: they do not show that many kinds of subjects may be held by such chains: and at the same time, that the possibility of so reasoning on any subject must depend upon our conceiving the subject so distinctly as to be able to lay down axiomatic principles as the basis of our reasoning.

52 With reference to analytical mathematics, the argument in favour of the use of Mathematics as a permanent educational study, loses all its force. If we can only have analytical mathematics in our system of education, we have little reason to wish to have in it any mathematics at all. Our education will be very imperfect without Mathematics, or some substitute for that element; but mere analytical mathematics does not remedy the imperfection. If we can only have analytical mathematics, it is well worth considering whether we may not find a much better educational study to supply its place in Logic, or Jurisprudence. The general belief, for undoubtedly it is a general belief, that Mathematics is a valuable element in education, has arisen through the use of Geometrical Mathematics. If Mathematics had only been presented to men in an analytical form, such a belief could not have arisen. If, in any place of education, Mathematics is studied only in an analytical form, such a belief must soon fade away.

William Whewell, Of a Liberal Education in General, pp. 49-50.

This can be easily misread if one is not familiar with the whole of Whewell's argument. He is not claiming that analytical mathematics -- algebra and calculus -- are inferior mathematics, or that they are ill-suited to discovery of mathematical truths; in fact, he thinks the opposite is true. He is also not saying that they should not be part of education at all. His argument is rather that they are not good as foundations -- education, insofar as it is mathematical, should build up to them, not take them as basic. It's the perfection of analytical mathematics, its capacity for extremely abstract representation, that makes it poorly suited for getting people used to thinking mathematically and rationally. And this is because in analytical mathematics, as such, you don't actually think about problems -- you think about formulas and abstract relations that can be interpreted in many different ways for many different kinds of problems. If people get started too early on this, it is easy for them to start using these x's and y's and formulas concerning them as nothing but a crutch. In geometry, however, which Whewell argues should be a major and foundational part of education, thinking about this particular problem, and what this particular problem requires, and going through it step by step, is an immense part of what you do.

I think it's interesting that our educational systems have generally done what Whewell says they should not do -- focus on analytic mathematics rather than geometry, in both mathematics and the sciences -- and that the result he predicts has in fact come about -- people in general often don't see the point of their mathematics education. Whether the one is caused directly by the other is a trickier question, but it is worth thinking about.

Incompleteness Arguments

Megill and Linford have a very puzzling post up at "Philosophical Percolations", looking at theistic incompleteness arguments. By a theistic incompleteness argument, they mean an argument against atheistic naturalism (AN) of something like the following form:

(1) Humans have some property P; but (2) If AN is true, then humans could not have property P (because, e.g., such a property could not exist given AN); therefore, (3) AN is false.

Their argument is that these arguments cannot ever succeed. This would actually be quite significant, since, as can be seen on reading through their argument, the argument that theistic incompleteness arguments cannot succeed would be quite easily generalizable to any kind of incompleteness argument. Incompleteness arguments in general, however, are extraordinarily common rational instruments. I'll talk a bit more about the implications of this at the end of the post, but let's focus on the particular version they give. This is how they start out:

Consider two putative epistemically possible worlds, w and w*. These worlds are near duplicates of each other except in one of these worlds, w, God exists, but in the other world, w*, God does not exist. Moreover, one of these worlds is the actual world. In other words, if God exists, then we exist in w, but if God does not exist, then we exist in w*.

It is worrisome already to be talking about possible worlds being the actual world; there are good reasons for refusing to identify actual worlds with any given possible world. The obvious riposte is "But surely the actual world is possible, and thus a possible world?" But unless we are modal realists, holding that every possible world is actual, we actually hold that the actual world is able to be in different ways; which means that our account of a possible world is actually an incomplete account of the actual world insofar as it is capable of being this way rather than some other way. In this sense, every description of any possible world is a description of some particular possible way the actual world itself can be. It's illegitimate to lay out possible worlds and simple say, "This possible world is this actual world," because this possible world by definition can't be any other possible world. The actual world would be necessary. To be sure, you can get around this with some highly controversial assumptions; but they are highly controversial.

Megill and Linford then go on to talk a bit about epistemic possibility; I find their characterization also worrying since they put it in terms of certainty, which we know can be fragmentary and even in real life inconsistent. But I don't know that this affects the structure of the argument, beyond what I note below, so I will continue.

The atheist thinks that we live in w*, so the theist needs to convince the atheist that w* cannot be the actual world; and the way that incompleteness arguments try to do this is by arguing that some property P could not be in w* in the absence of God. There are two possibilities: either the atheist thinks P is in fact in w* or not. That is, either P is a property in AN’s ontology or it is not; this is an instance of excluded middle. Suppose that P is not in AN’s ontology; the atheistic naturalist does not even think that P exists. But if not, then the relevant incompleteness argument cannot succeed; if an atheist does not believe that property P exists in the first place, they will not be troubled by AN’s alleged failure to explain the existence of P. On this scenario, the theist might as well fault AN for failing to explain the existence of phlogiston.

So the idea is that we have these two epistemically possible worlds, possible ways the world could be given what we know about the world, w in which God exists, and w* in which there is no God and these are "near duplicates". The incompleteness argument is that there is a property that actually requires God to exist, despite the fact that there is no God in w*. So the first thing Megill and Linford do is consider the case in which the atheist holds that the property is not found in w* (i.e., the atheistic world). That is, the atheist holds that such a property does not exist. Then, say Megill and Linford, the incompleteness argument is not a problem for the atheist; he doesn't think P, which requires God, exists, so he's not committed by it to holding that God exists.

This is a slightly problematic characterization. An obvious minor worry is that the atheist's not admitting P just pushes the argument back one step; it does not stop the incompleteness argument, because in arguing that P requires God's existence, the theist is ipso facto arguing that everything that requires P requires God's existence, and it may, for all we know, be the case that the atheist admits the existence of one of these. If w* includes Q, and Q requires P which requires God's existence, not admitting the existence of P and God doesn't actually get the atheist out of anything. This worry is only minor, and doesn't affect the argument as a whole; it's actually a reflection of the fact that Megill and Linford are making a completely general argument against theistic incompleteness arguments, not objecting to one particular theistic incompleteness argument.

Far more worrisome is the implication that nobody need to be worried about anything that's not in their ontology, which, however, gets into more serious generalizability issues that I will talk about below. Let's move on and consider the next leg of the argument.

But suppose that the atheist does think that P is in w*. Now, the theist who advances an incompleteness argument has to show that w* is not epistemically possible because without God, P could not exist. The theist needs to convince the atheist to move from w* to w, to recognize that God must be added to w* because some property P in w* could not exist in a Godless world. Suppose that the theist produces an argument that P could not exist without God. This argument is designed to convince the atheist to reject w* for w; but in this scenario, w* and w will almost be perfect duplicates; they are qualitatively identical aside from the existence of God and the existence of the property P that God’s existence makes possible.... But this is problematic

Here is where I think the argument really starts to go off the rails, or at least to become puzzling in terms of how it is supposed to work. By the supposition previously noted, w and w* are near duplicates, differing as such only in whether God exists, and we are considering cases in which w* is thought to include P, having already considered the case in which it is thought not to include it. We run into the same worry I noted then, about the fact that in arguing that P requires God's existence, the theist is ipso facto arguing that anything that requires P requires God's existence. If w and w* are really possible worlds, they have to be consistent -- inconsistent worlds are impossible worlds, not possible ones. In the case of epistemic possibility, the consistency has to be with what we know, in some sense of the word. But precisely the theist's argument, in the case where the theist and the atheist both recognize the existence of P, is that any atheistic account of the world is not consistent, and thus not actually epistemically possible, even if the atheist mistakenly thinks it is.

Megill and Linford had previously set up apparatus to block this point by arguing that the atheist believes w* is the actual world and thus is epistemically possible; therefore, "for the atheist, w* is the actual world and so must be epistemically possible." They then claim that the only way it could turn out not to be epistemically possible is if we could be "completely certain of the truth of theism". But all of this is obviously not true, and appears to involve confusing "what someone believes follows from what they know" and "what follows from what someone knows". If atheists were logically omniscient, we could rest satisfied that what they think follows from what they know really does follow from what they know. But they aren't; none of us are. We can be mistaken about what is actually consistent with what we know. Not every view of the world someone may have describes an epistemically possible world; some only seem that way if you overlook some important inconsistency or contradiction. Worldviews are not hermetically sealed; they have to answer to the real world, and come from what we know of the real world, and they can be assessed for consistency in doing so.

So if we aren't assuming that atheists know all of the implications of all that they know, we aren't really dealing with what is epistemically possible, but with what they atheist thinks is epistemically possible. Not at all the same thing. And because of that, the atheist may well be inconsistent -- which is yet another way in which the atheistic claim could turn out not to be epistemically possible, besides being certain of the truth of theism. (It could turn out, for instance, that we are left uncertain whether theism is true, but that on the basis of the incompleteness argument, we can see that this particular form of atheism is untenable.)

Megill and Linford give three reasons why they think the incompleteness argument is problematic in the case where the atheist admits the existence of P.

First, from the atheist’s perspective, it looks like the theist is simply tacking God on to a world, and God is then somehow able to magically imbue the lives in that world with some important property without changing anything else about the world. Second, it appears that God is largely an epiphenomena in such a world; after all, nothing else about the world changes with the addition of God, who then somehow brings P into the world without changing anything else. Third, if two lives can be qualitatively identical aside from the existence of a property P, then it seems that P does not supervene on or depend upon any of the other properties of the lives. But how can we completely sever moral significance, rationality, meaning and so on from the content of particular lives?

There seems to be some strange slippage with regard to the notion of 'near duplicate possible worlds'. As noted above, despite the tendency of Megill and Linford to say that w and w* only differ in the existence of God and (depending on the situation) the existence of P, in reality they also differ in everything that genuinely requires the things in which they differ. Thus the most nearly duplicate epistemically possible worlds may not actually be very similar -- to claim that they are very similar is just to claim that the way in which they differ doesn't matter much at all. But the atheist is not entitled to assume that w and w* really are only slightly different; that is equivalent to saying that God's existence has almost no implications, a claim that is not conceded by the incompleteness argument itself nor follows from the mere difference of w and w*. That the theist is only arguing about P does not change the fact, noted above, that it would also apply to anything that requires P, if anything does -- and that chain might, for all we know at this general level, extend back to lots and lots and lots and lots of things. Thus the atheist is not in a position to determine whether God is just 'tacked on' as an arbitrary difference or not; the implications of God's existence or nonexistence might (as far as we know) be quite extensive, even in terms of what only follows from this particular argument itself. Only by following through all the implications would it be possible to determine how big a difference it might be; the atheist has no warrant, however, for assuming that nothing but P, alone, is on the table. It just happens to be P that the theist is trying to link to God's existence; if he succeeds, P brings along anything whatsoever that requires P, despite the fact that none of them have been explicitly discussed. It might also bring along other things that don't themselves require P but are similar enough to P to require parity of argument. P is just the central element of what may end up being a very large package of things (we can't tell without investigating P more closely), and thus the differences between these 'near duplicate worlds' might, as far as we know, be quite considerable. In fact, the three arguments trade on the oddity of thinking that that it would make very little difference. But that it would make very little difference is not at all an assumption theists are committed to in incompleteness arguments; the argument is not that P and nothing but P requires the existence of God, but that at least P requires it, and it is a direct implication of it that anything that requires P would also require it, just by transitivity.

All these are mere initial worries and might seem evadable. But the interesting thing about the Megill & Linford argument, and the reason for talking about it at all, is that it is highly generalizable. It doesn't depend on particular features of the arguments, but only on their general shape; it doesn't depend on precisely what kind of theism is in view or what God is or what the property in question is. This is because it is supposed to be a general argument against all theistic incompleteness arguments. But it is in fact easily generalizable to any situation with the following characteristics:

(1) Position A involves holding that something, X, does not exist.
(2) Position B involves holding that X does exist.
(3) The person who holds position B argues against position A that there is some property P in the world that requires the existence of X.

Let's take an example. Person A and person B disagree about whether there are gravitons, A holding there are no such things, and B holding that there are. B argues against A that there is some material property, P, that requires the existence of gravitons. In other words, B is arguing that A's position is incomplete. Suppose that A does not accept the existence of P. 'Then the relevant incompleteness argument cannot succeed; if A does not believe that property P exists in the first place, they will not be troubled by their position's alleged failure to explain the existence of P. On this scenario, B might as well fault A for failing to explain the existence of phlogiston.' Suppose that A does think that P exists. Then 'B needs to convince A to move from w* (the epistemically possible world without gravitons) to w (the one with), to recognize that gravitons must be added to w* because some property P in w* could not exist in a world without gravitons'. But then 'from A's perspective, it looks like gravitons are just tacked on to the world, and that gravitons are somehow able to magically imbue things in the world with some important property without changing anything else about the world.' Further, 'it appears that gravitons are largely an epiphenomena in such a world; after all, nothing else about the world changes with the addition of them.' Moreover, 'if two things can be qualitatively identical aside from the existence of a property P, then it seems that P does not supervene on or depend upon any of the other properties of the things.' But how is this supposed to work for gravitons as explanations of material phenomena? 'Either a given property used in an incompleteness argument is in A's ontology or it isn’t. If it isn’t, A has nothing to explain. If it is, then B is committed to divorcing these properties from anything else, along with other bizarre claims. A has no reason to accept any incompleteness argument.'

You can have infinite fun with this. Let's take the material world. A holds that there is no material world; B holds that there is, and argues that A's account of the world is incomplete without the existence of the material world.Suppose that A does not accept the existence of P. 'Then the relevant incompleteness argument cannot succeed; if A does not believe that property P exists in the first place, they will not be troubled by their position's alleged failure to explain the existence of P. On this scenario, B might as well fault A for failing to explain the existence of phlogiston.' Suppose that A does think that P exists. Then 'B needs to convince A to move from w* (the epistemically possible world without material things) to w (the one with), to recognize that matter must be added to w* because some property P in w* could not exist in an immaterial world'. But then 'from A's perspective, it looks like matter is just tacked on to the world, and that matter is somehow able to magically imbue things in the world with some important property without changing anything else about the world.' Further, 'it appears that matter is largely an epiphenomena in such a world; after all, nothing else about the world changes with the addition of it.' Moreover, 'if two things can be qualitatively identical aside from the existence of a property P, then it seems that P does not supervene on or depend upon any of the other properties of the things.' But how is this supposed to work for the material world itself? 'Either a given property used in an incompleteness argument is in A's ontology or it isn’t. If it isn’t, A has nothing to explain. If it is, then B is committed to divorcing these properties from anything else, along with other bizarre claims. A has no reason to accept any incompleteness argument.'

That's actually quite close to some of Berkeley's arguments, in fact. All standard arguments for the material world are incompleteness arguments: they claim that there is something in our experiences of the world such that any account of them is incomplete without bringing in matter. And it doesn't take much generalization at all from the Megill-Linford argument; given the structure of the argument, there is nothing to prevent the generalization. By parity, if we reject incompleteness-without-God arguments for Megill & Linford's specific reason, we should also reject incompleteness-without-matter arguments.

And we can generalize even further, without any difficulty at all. While not all arguments to the existence of a cause are incompleteness arguments, most are: they take some phenomenon E and argue that our account of E cannot be complete without the existence of such-and-such cause C.

When we reach this point it becomes easy to see an important feature of the Megill-Linford argument: it depends on a separability principle, and thus is analogous to Hume's separability argument about causation, although, of course, Hume doesn't use the elaborate apparatus of possible worlds. Hume's version of the separability principle is, "Wherever the imagination perceives a difference among ideas, it can easily produce a separation". The basic idea of this in the context of Hume's theory of ideas is that if two ideas are distinguishable, they are capable of existing separately. Hume then argues that because cause and effect are distinct, we can conceive of something coming into existence without any cause. There is thus no necessary connection in the usual sense of the word between effect and cause; if we're just considering the idea of the effect and the idea of the cause, nothing about the one actually requires the other. You can't demonstrate the existence of one from the other, or the existence of anything from the existence of any other thing. What this is doing is blocking incompleteness arguments -- that you can't completely account for the effect without the cause, or for the cause without the effect. Megill and Linford's argument works an analogous way, and assumes an analogous separability principle. The question is whether P requires the existence of God; in the argument, if we assume the existence of P, the world-with-P can be conceived on its own without God, so the world-with-P can't require that God exist. Despite the rationalist apparatus of possible worlds, it is an entirely Humean argument.

And it has an entirely Humean skepticism as its end result; since there is nothing to stop generalizing, it generalizes to the furthest extent, to any case where the existence of one thing is claimed to require the existence of another. And the reasons for thinking it can't be right are exactly all the reasons for denying separability principles and holding that given something's existence you can prove another thing's existence.

Paul's Pagan Quotations II

Paul appears to quote Epimenides twice. The first is in the sermon attributed to him in Acts 17, right before quoting Aratus:

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ [NIV]

The second time is in Titus, talking about the people of Crete and Titus's responsibilities with regard to them:

For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” This saying is true. [NIV]

Both of these quotations are from one source, the Cretica. It has not really survived, but we do have speculative stitching-togethers of bits and pieces of evidence by various scholars. (In what follows, as with the rest of the series, I am less interested in anything scholarly than in simply pointing out sources accessible online where anyone who wants to do so can make a start at looking at the matter more closely.)

It has been noted for a very long time that the Epistle to Titus is not the only source talking about Cretan liars, and one source in particular seems to be quite explicit about what the lie was that got everyone's dander up, Callimachus's Hymn to Jupiter:

The Cretans, prone to fasehood, vaunt in vain,
And impious! built thy tomb on Dicte's plain;
For Jove, th' immortal king, shall never die,
But reign o'er men and Gods above the sky.

The Cretans, in other words, claimed that the tomb of Zeus was in Crete. Other nations settled for claiming that they were the birthplace of gods; the Cretans had the temerity to claim that they were the grave of the highest god himself! This is mentioned in passing in a number of other sources. It shows up, for instance, in Lucian's Philopseudos:

But when it comes to national lies, when one finds whole cities bouncing collectively like one man, how is one to keep one's countenance? A Cretan will look you in the face, and tell you that yonder is Zeus's tomb.

You have to admire the boldness of it. Well, actually, you don't, and throughout the Roman world people were very far from admiring it.

In the early twentieth century, J. Rendel Harris noted a passage in a Christian commentary on Acts that might give more context for the original quotation:

A grave have fashioned for thee, 0 holy and high One,
the lying Kretans, who are all the time liars, evil beasts, idle bellies;
but thou diest not, for to eternity thou livest, and standest;
for in thee we live and move and have our being.

If something like this is really the original context, even if it has been distorted by time, one can see immediately why it might have stood out to Paul.

We can even add another layer to all of this. If we look at Diogenes Laertius's Life of Epimenides, we find this passage:

And when he was recognized he was considered by the Greeks as a person especially beloved by the Gods, on which account when the Athenians were afflicted by a plague, and the priestess at Delphi enjoined them to purify their city; they sent a ship and Nicias the son of Niceratus to Crete, to invite Epimenides to Athens; and he, coming there in the forty-sixth Olympiad, purified the city and eradicated the plague for that time; he took some black sheep and some white ones and led them up to the Areopagus, and from thence he let them go wherever they chose, having ordered the attendants to follow them, and wherever any one of them lay down they were to sacrifice him to the God who was the patron of the spot, and so the evil was stayed; and owing to this one may even now find in the different boroughs of the Athenians altars without names, which are a sort of memorial of the propitiation of the Gods that then took place.

So there were altars in Athens that were "without names" that came about because Epimenides, reputed for prophecy, let sheep go in the Areopagus to determine where they should be placed ; and we have Paul mentioning altars to the unknown God, and quoting Epimenides in a speech in the Areopagus. This seems like considerably more than coincidence.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Paul's Pagan Quotations I

Aratus, Phaenomena (Mair, tr.):

From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labour of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favourable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For himself it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly. Wherefore him do men ever worship first and last. Hail, O Father, mighty marvel, mighty blessing unto men. Hail to thee and to the Elder Race! Hail, ye Muses, right kindly, every one! But for me, too, in answer to my prayer direct all my lay, even as is meet, to tell the stars.

Aratus's work, a poem about the constellations, is rarely read today, but it was highly regarded in the Roman Empire. Its greatest claim to fame, however, is that one of the lines is quoted by St. Paul in his Areopagus sermon:

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ [NIV]

It's worth keeping in mind that quoting a text often alludes to context not quoted, and when one does this, it becomes easy to see that this quotation is quite appropriate. The beginning of Paul's speech to the Athenians had noted that they had altars To the Unknown God. The unquoted part of the context says that we should never leave Zeus unspoken/unexpressed/unnamed, i.e., that we should never fail to call upon him. The Aratus passage says that Zeus is everywhere and Paul says God is not far from us.

What is more, there is at least one text Paul might have known as his immediate source, a quotation of Aratus by the Jewish author Aristobulus, that explicitly and deliberately replaces Aratus's 'Zeus' with a more generic 'God', increasing the similarities. Eusebius (Preparatio Evangelica 13.12) describes him, immediately after having quoted Aratus, as saying:

It is clearly shown, I think, that all things are pervaded by the power of God: and this I have properly represented by taking away the name of Zeus which runs through the poems; for it is to God that their thought is sent up, and for that reason I have so expressed it. These quotations, therefore, which I have brought forward are not inappropriate to the questions before us. For all the philosophers agree, that we ought to hold pious opinions concerning God, and to this especially our system gives excellent exhortation; and the whole constitution of our law is arranged with reference to piety, and justice, and temperance, and all things else that are truly good. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Community of Thought and Expression

Moreover classical authors, adopted as subjects of study on the ground of their literary merits, become a bond of mental union among all liberally educated men, by supplying to their memories a common store of thoughts, images, turns of expression, histories, arguments, and modes of treating all subjects of human thought and interest, from the most trivial to the most solemn. These common intellectual possessions of educated men make them feel themselves members of a common human family; not bound together by ties of origin, or territorial abode, or material desires, but by a common mind; a family which has a community of thought and expression, not the result of extraneous accidents, but of the very internal constitution of human nature.

William Whewell, Of a Liberal Education in General, p. 11.

The Leafless Trees My Fancy Please

Winter: A Dirge
By Robert Burns

The wintry west extends his blast,
And hail and rain does blaw;
Or, the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw:
While tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
And pass the heartless day.

The sweeping blast, the sky o’ercast,
The joyless winter-day,
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!

Thou Pow’r Supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfil,
Here, firm, I rest, they must be best,
Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want (O, do Thou grant
This one request of mine!)
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
Assist me to resign.

Of course, this is not what winter weather is generally like in Central Texas; but it is what literary winter is like everywhere.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Vesture of Our Humanity

Language may be considered as the outward vesture of Thought; Thought, as a body which is contained within this clothing; and we may attend especially to the one or to the other; to the body or to the garment. But further; Language includes within its folds, not merely Thought, the result of the Reason operating purely and simply; but, as we have already intimated, Thought excited, unfolded, and swayed by the various Feelings which belong to man. Language is a necessary help of the Mind, when engaged in reasoning; but Language is far more commonly and generally used in expressing the sentiments which arise out of the Desires, Affections, Emotions, and Occupations of men, in their habitual intercourse, than in obtaining and enunciating the propositions which the pure Reason contemplates. It is much more familiar, as an implement in our daily outward life, than as an instrument in our occasional internal ratiocinations. The body of which Language is the clothing, is not the Reason merely, but the whole Nature of Man; and hence, this vesture of our humanity draws to it men's attention far more generally and more strongly, than it could do, if it were merely connected with the most recondite and central portions of man's being, his Reason.

William Whewell, Of a Liberal Education in General; and with Particular Reference to the Leading Studies of the University of Cambridge, Part I: Principles and Recent History, pp. 8-9.

Maronite Year XVII

Maronites wrap up Epiphany and prepare for Lent by commemorating the dead for three Sundays -- the first devoted to deceased priests in particular, the second devoted to saints in heaven, and the third devoted to all the faithful departed. We can thus think of them as the Maronite All Saints and All Souls days. (Maronites will sometimes celebrate All Saints and All Souls when Latin Catholics do, as well, but this is only because it's fairly common practice for Maronites to celebrate major Latin holy days as well as their own. Some call this unfortunate latinization; others call it a recognition that you can never have too many holy days.)

As I noted previously, while the Commemoration Sundays are sometimes put by themselves, they are also often treated as part of the Season of Epiphany; in this sense they can be seen as considering the end of the process for which Epiphany and the Sundays of Epiphany show the beginning. That is, they show the destiny of our baptism in Christ, which is one with Christ's Baptism.

Sunday of the Priests
1 Timothy 4:6-16; Luke 12:42-48

Praise and blessing to You, O Most High Priest,
who dispense Your priestly wisdom with gifts.
Receive the vinedressers of Your vineyard;
bring them singing to the Holy of Holies.

Priests You have chosen to be Your likeness;
holy You have made them to serve Your grace.
As You raised up Aaron and the Levites,
you have enlightened us with Your holy priests.

The priests said to Jesus Christ, "Lift us high!"
He replied, "I will exalt you greatly;
you will lift Me high above the altars.
Thus you will be lifted higher than angels."

The feet that knew the sanctuary
shall pass the gates of Your holy kingdom;
may their faith reign in us in all things,
and their memory inspire us to good.

Those who shared the work of the Apostles
with the Apostles receive their blessing.
With faith, with love, with holy purity,
in reading, preaching, doctrine they showed us You.

As the good worker deserves his wages,
Your priests deserve a memorial,
here and now by our commemoration,
eternally in the holy Book of Life.

Blessed are those who dwell in the realm of life,
who sing hymns of joy with spiritual choirs,
who are seated with the righteous and just!
May Your Mysteries protect Your ministers.

They have entered Your holy house, O Lord;
they have worshiped before Your holy throne.
They have spread Your forgiveness to Your flock;
O King of Heaven, forgive all of their sins!

The Father called them; the Son taught them truth;
the Holy Spirit hovered on their hands
and came down upon the gifts as they prayed;
O Lord, may You judge them to have been worthy!

May those who trained themselves to holiness,
daily raising prayer and sacrifice,
with hospitality serving angels,
rejoice on high with angels in holy light.