Saturday, January 14, 2017

Dashed Off I

As always, dashed-off notes, to be taken with a grain of salt.

cooperation with external objects
practical knowledge of the externality of the world (cp. resistance, which can be seen as practical knowledge of independence)

Vagueness is always relative to an end.

Educational systems are systems of trust relationships.

system: list + principled reasons for items in list

beauty as such as a supposition for coherence of the world
the manifestation of unifying appropriateness

condign & congruous dignity

modalities as discovered by analogies

Liturgy, like Platonic Myth as understood by Olympiodorus, appeals to reason (by exhortation) and to spirit (by authoritative proclamation) and to imagination and the passions (by sign and symbol).

Serious and honest questions tend naturally to be pitched at a level lower than what is required to answer them; otherwise there would be scant reason to ask them.

The faith is not based on abstract metaphysics, but if you ask an abstract metaphysical question about it, it is absurd to demand that you not be given an abstract metaphysical answer.

The problem with phyletism is that it concedes too much to Babel and not enough to Pentecost.

the structure of conspiracy-theory thinking and the notion of priestcraft in early modern thought

rational soul: type
rational principles: principles
reasoning: coherence
memory & anticipation: conservation and anticipation
experience/history: assimilation
action: vigor

principles // conservation // vigor
organization // anticipation // assimilation

chronic vigor as (defeasible) sign of charity in doctrine.

Rosmini's celerity as closeness of fit between means and end

Every theodicy has implications for prudence.

viability: Diamond; inevitability: Box

The possibility of union with Truth itself is the precondition for the possibility of reasoning.

appreciation of arguments vs. acceptance of them

gratitude : grace :: justice : law
(cp Hobbes)

approaches to problem-solving
- transformation-of-problem approaches
- desiderata approaches
- trial-and-error approaches
- analogy-to-other-problems approaches
elements of the problem situation
- problem itself: problem aspects; solution requirements
- other problems: analogous problems
- path to solution: prior solving experience (habits of problem-solving)
- solution

Falsifiability and nonfalsifiability are said in many ways; there is not only one kind.

hyperanalogization as heuristic
hyperanalogization with trial as the primary principle undergirding the scientific revolution

measurement as a means of analogizing

dependency length minimization as a rhetorical constraint

exception as organizing hierarchies of universes of discourse

One of the key points of Frodo's pity for Gollum is that Frodo pitied him even without fully knowing how pitiable he truly was.

Even attending a poorly done Mass will teach a lot of good Catholic theology to those who have no prior experience with it.

the overwhelming importance of seeing law as a product of reason (even if sometimes defective reason)
- legislation as complex liberal art

classical utilitarianism & emergent pleasures from different combinations of utilities

honor in ownership, allegiance, and exchange

forms of nonconsonance-with-a-truth that are not inconsistency

We sometimes apply the word 'dignity' to mean 'consonance with dignity'.

immediate vs mediate consonance
direct vs symbolic consonance

sacramentalia and consonance with sacraments

Not all intrinsic goods are equally good.

peace, dignity, sufficiency, liberty, harmony, knowledge, virtue

decisive-battle refutations vs blockade refutations

We do not sense gaps in sensation; at least, they cannot be distinguished from mere changes or differences.

different conceptions of romance as meetaphors for inquiry into external world

gratitude-gifts, homage-gifts, encouragement-gifts, community-gifts

Kantianism as a reflection on unities (subject, series, system)

Romantic glorification of the past is dangerous, but so are most of the ways of avoiding it.

three primary rights of the faithful with regard to the liturgy
(1) that it be genuine and authentic
(2) that it be done appropriately and suitably to Church teaching
(3) that it be appropriate to the sacraments, and their natures, themselves

the sacramental interest of all the participants in the liturgical commonwealth

triadic families of arguments for existence of God:
possibility, essence, idea
partial act (becoming), complete act (being), duration (continuing to be)
intentionality, natural system, design

'karmic linkage' among databases

extensions as parts that are effects

An improvement, considered as such, is a kind of means.

The success of a longterm political movement depends almost wholly on how well those who are in it learn.

When probabilities are credences AND evidential measures AND chances of events AND accuracies of propositions, something is bound to break somewhere.

the five motives for trying to know (St. Bernard, 36.iii/3 on Song)
(1) base curiosity
(2) base vanity
(3) base gain
(4) charity
(5) prudence

The Incarnate Word is the efficient cause of human completion.

Christ's humanity: conjoined instrument :: Christ's sacraments : separated instruments

adoption as participation and image of natural filiation

Christianity begins with the filial piety of Christ.

The acquired virtue of religion is to God as Creator; the infused virtue of religion to God as Our Father. In the first we stand as creatures; in the second we stand as children, not metaphorical but adopted.

matrimony as remedy of concupiscence // Passion and baptism as remedy for original sin
(much stronger than mere parallel, actually)

God as integra causa amoris

Lv 9:6-24 and the Beatific Vision

deification or theosis as opposed to the falsehood of idols
- discussion of the falsehood of idols in Wis, Baruch, etc., as tracing by negative what belongs to our deification by grace

moral exemplarity of Passion // pedagogical influence of matrimony

For Christ's Passion to be morally exemplary, it must exhibit moral satisfaction.

the institution of the sacraments according to the Confession of Dositheus
(1) Baptism: Mt 28:19; Mk 16:16
(2) Chrismation: lk 24:49
(3) Priesthood: Lk 22:19; Mt 18:18
(4) Sacrifice: Mt 26-27; Jn 6:53
(5) Marriage: Mt 9:6
(6) Penance: Jn 22:23;Lk 13:3,5
(7) Holy Oil or Prayer Oil: Mk 6:13
- the Confession also notes apostolic witness for Chrism (2 Cor 1; also notes Dionysius); Marriage (Eph 5) and Unction (Jas 5).
- note Confession on Eucharist: 'being instituted by the Substantial Word, and hallowed by the invocation of the Holy Spirit, is perfected by the presence of the thing signified, i.e., of the Body and Blood of Christ'

the vicarious as instrumental

Tradition is the final cause of sacred doctrine as human act.

To be complete is actually to be according to a mode.

two major issues for any account of Beatific Vision: (1) proportionality (2) medium

grace // seminal reasons

principle, form, relation to another

'Sooth itself a-couths.'

can, could, couth, cunning

tool, build, stuff, lure

unknown cannot be learned from known
(1) boundness to perception
(2) bare difference
unknown can be learned from known
(1) by native means: (a) concept (b) mechanism
(2) by abstraction

decay rates of measurements

the linguistic turn as a form of positivism (language as measurement)

Possession conceptually requires free use or enjoyment. (Although may be potential, future, etc.)

global skepticism as conspiracy theory

human equality: origin, nature, end

Catherine of Siena (Dial 1.7): God distributes virtues diversely, not equally, so that we would work together in virtue.

the relation between humor and puzzlement about causes

pragmatic and moral arguments for God's existence // arguments for existence of free will?

recognizing ourselves as secondary subject, as secondary causes, as secondary unifiers of possibilities

fine-tuning arguments for the Church

Being able to will X entails being able to mean X.

speech acts and social acts as acts intrinsically related to other acts

humor & the ugly that doe snot displace or destroy the beautiful

regularist vs necessitarian acocunts of moral obligations

prima facie duties as ceteris paribus laws

gratitude as quasi-mereological

consent theories of obligation // regularist theories of laws of nature

sacraments as presumptively beneficial public goods

anarchism as a form of skepticism

the image of God with respect to the divine unity
the image of God with respect to the divine trinity

theodicies & convention-breaking in literary improvement

Aesthetic Colouring

It would be an error to suppose that aesthetic principles apply only to our judgments of works of art or of those natural objects which we attend to chiefly on account of their beauty. Every idea which is formed in the human mind, every activity and emotion, has some relation, direct or indirect, to pain and pleasure. If, as is the case in all the more important instances, these fluid activities and emotions precipitate, as it were, in their evanescence certain psychical solids called ideas of things, then the concomitant pleasures are incorporated more or less in those concrete ideas and the things acquire an aesthetic colouring. And although this aesthetic colouring may be the last quality we notice in objects of practical interest, its influence upon us is none the less real, and often accounts for a great deal in our moral and practical attitude.

In the leading political and moral idea of our time, in the idea of democracy, I think there is a strong aesthetic ingredient, and the power of the idea of democracy over the imagination is an illustration of that effect of multiplicity in uniformity which we have been studying.

George Santayana, The Sense of Beauty, section 27. It's an essential point: political schemes and ideas get popular power only by aesthetic appeal, because it is only the aesthetic appeal that makes people regard the ideas as vivid and living, and thus as sacrifice-worthy.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Athanasius of the West

Today is the Feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church, often called the most Greek of the Latin Fathers. St. Hilary was a highly educated pagan Neoplatonist who converted to Christianity along with his wife and daughter, and was so respected in Poitiers that somewhere around 350 they forced him to become bishop, despite the fact that he was still married. He became active in opposition to the Arian heresy, and spent four years exiled for his opposition. It was during his exile in Phrygia that he turned his attention to a problem he was one of the few to recognize: a lack of communication between the orthodox in the East and the orthodox in the West, resulting in a failure of cooperation. Out of this recognition came the two works that most contribute to his status as one of the Church's great teachers: the De synodis, which explained the doctrines of several major Eastern councils (Ancyra, Antioch, Sirmium) and analyzed apparent differences between Eastern and Western formulations, and the De trinitate, the first systematic and thorough examination of Nicene Christology in Latin and a major early conduit for introducing Greek theological ideas to the West. Defense of orthodoxy in both East and West had often been a matter of simply defending what one's local church had always done; Hilary was one of the few who fully grasped the fact that an adequate response to Arianism required both East and West supporting each other.

From the Liber de synodis, speaking of the Nicene homoousion:

But perhaps on the opposite side it will be said that it ought to meet with disapproval, because an erroneous interpretation is generally put upon it. If such is our fear, we ought to erase the words of the Apostle, There is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, because Photinus uses this to support his heresy, and refuse to read it because he interprets it mischievously. And the fire or the sponge should annihilate the Epistle to the Philippians, lest Marcion should read again in it, And was found in fashion as a man, and say Christ's body was only a phantasm and not a body. Away with the Gospel of John, lest Sabellius learn from it, I and the Father are one. Nor must those who now affirm the Son to be a creature find it written, The Father is greater than I. Nor must those who wish to declare that the Son is unlike the Father read: But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father....Shall we, because the wise men of the world have not understood these things, and they are foolish unto them, be wise as the world is wise and believe these things foolish? Because they are hidden from the godless, shall we refuse to shine with the truth of a doctrine which we understand? We prejudice the cause of divine doctrines when we think that they ought not to exist, because some do not regard them as holy. If so, we must not glory in the cross of Christ, because it is a stumbling-block to the world; and we must not preach death in connection with the living God, lest the godless argue that God is dead.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A New Poem Draft and a Poem Re-Draft


In homely church on lonely hill
the prayers born of hope are stored,
a warehouse small with whispers filled,
reserves of longing for the Lord.
Around the church the roses grow;
they bloom with sunrise-smiles bright,
the confidence of those who know
that darkness loses to the light.

The hopes are small; you cannot see
their turnings save in brilliant flame;
they dance in subtle verses free
like children hiding in a game,
and some dissolve, the bubble breaks,
upon the wind, by time resolved;
but some grow strong, a dream that wakes,
an angel from a breeze evolved.

A Song of David

Less was I than all my brothers,
youngest of my father's sons,
simple shepherd of the flocks,
ruler of the kids and goats.

Flute I fashioned from the reed;
harp my fingers shaped most fair;
glory gave I to the Lord.
Mountains cannot tell His splendor;
hills cannot proclaim His Name.

Take my words, O tall-topped trees,
sing my melodies, baaing sheep.
Who can thus declare or speak?
God our Lord has seen all things;
He has given His attention.

Prophet He sent with holy oil:
Samuel came to grace my brow.
Out my brothers went to meet him,
handsome-formed and handsome-faced.
Tall they were; their hair was thick.
God did not anoint them kings.

Fetched was I from behind the flock,
oil pure poured on my head,
prince He made me of His people,
ruler in His covenant.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Evening Note for Wednesday, January 11

Thoughts for the Evening

When I teach my Ethics course, I often (if time allows) have a class on business ethics and a class on government ethics after we've looked at the big approaches to reasoning (consequentialism, deontology, virtue ethics). For government ethics I usually discuss basic civil service issues, and for business ethics I usually look at ethical crisis management. But at times instead of focusing on avoiding and handling ethical crises in business ethics, I've looked at the notion of 'conflict of interest', which is relevant to both fields. It has been a number of years since I've done it, but given that it keeps coming up politically, this is pretty clearly a term in which it should be a topic. So I've been reviewing the state of discussion about it.

'Conflict of interest' is a curious term. It is relatively recent -- less than a century old, and it hasn't been popular for more than sixty or seventy years. Originally when people talked about conflicts of interest they meant literally conflicting interests, but this is neither necessary nor sufficient to have a conflict of interest in our sense. A lot of things that we would say are there in order to avoid conflicts of interests -- civil service procedures, for instance, or judicial recusal, or the like -- were not originally rationalized in quite these terms. And because it is a heavily practical term, it has always been difficult to pin down a general meaning for it. Despite its being of obvious importance to fields like business ethics, there is no consensus on how best to define it -- although there are some major candidates floating about. There's not even much agreement about whether the label is a good one for what it describes. It's widely held that there need not be an actual conflict in order to have (something that could plausibly be called) a conflict of interest, and it's somewhat disputed whether it need to be put in terms of interests at all.

But there is, of course, a natural preference for keeping term and label fairly close -- maybe cases without conflicts or without interests are COI-like but best kept in a separate basket, and given that we keep calling it a 'conflict of interest' it's a little absurd to say that it doesn't at least usually involve conflicts and interests in some way.

So if we accept that line of thought, we can go on to a few desiderata for a decent definition of COI:

(1) There should be at least two interests.
(2) Since we don't talk about COI when dealing with purely private matters, at least one of the interests should be, in some sense, a public interest -- something arising in a public forum due to one's role within that forum.
(3) While it's pretty clear that you could have COI with only public interests, it seems important for any definition to elucidate clearly the most serious cases, which are where a public interest is conflicting with a private interest.
(4) The definition should allow both for cases in which there is a general tendency of the interests to conflict and for cases in which they simply do by coincidence.
(5) A definition of COI should make clear that COI is ethically problematic, but also make clear that it is not itself ethically culpable -- having a conflict of interest is often unavoidable, so having one doesn't automatically put you in the moral wrong, just in a tricky position for ethical reasoning.
(6) While the ways of mitigating COIs wouldn't be part of the definition itself, a good definition of COI would shed light on how to deal with one.

While there might be room for quibble, I think most people studying the matter would agree with something like these. But I'm not sure any definition that you usually run across does all that well by this standard.

One reason, I think, is that people tend to shy away from teleology and focus on the situation itself. But COI is pretty clearly a teleological concept -- an interest involves being directed at goals, and so is always teleological, and I think both (5) and (6) require taking this far more seriously than most people do. And I also think that people tend to try to give an approach-neutral definition, and I'm not wholly convinced that this is possible. Virtue ethics can handle the concept of COI pretty well -- it's already close to the kinds of concepts virtue ethicists tend to be using anyway. But, from what I've seen, it's far trickier to have a consequentialist or deontological account of COI. I don't say it's impossible; but it's not a particularly natural concept for the latter two approaches, and I think this often gums up the works.

In any case, it's an interesting topic.

Links of Note

* Speaking of COI, Will Baude notes some puzzles about how COI legally works with the Office of President -- which has no legal standard for COI except the Constitution. (Obviously moral standards are distinct from legal ones; but when dealing with political offices, the latter are the only instruments to use to meet the former.

* Francis Su, Mathematics for Human Flourishing

* Robert Paul Wolff, Macros and PC's: A Last-Ditch Attempt to Salvage Ideological Critique

Currently Reading

I got a whole pile of books for Christmas this year, so the list is quite long. But some of the notable ones:

* Ayako Sono, Watcher from the Shore (the fortnightly book)
* G.R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones
* Mary Beard, SPQR
* Kim-chong Chong, Early Confucian Ethics

(This was a post format I used briefly once over a decade ago, and I thought I would resurrect and occasionally use it for times when I might have half-formed thoughts and the like, and also for reducing how much the links posts have been building up.)

The Annoying PPP

Xiaolu Guo discusses what it was like to move from China to England. It's a very interesting account, but the best part is when she talks about learning the language:

I particularly detested the past-perfect progressive tense, which I called the Annoying PPP: a continuous action completed at some point in the past. I felt giddy every time I heard the Annoying PPP; I just couldn’t understand how anyone was able to grasp something so complex. For example, my grammar book said: “Peter had been painting his house for weeks, but he finally gave up.” My immediate reaction, even before I got to the grammatical explanation, was: my God, how could someone paint his house for weeks and still give up? I just couldn’t see how time itself could regulate people’s actions as if they were little clocks! As for the grammar, the word order “had been” and the added flourishes like “ing” made my stomach churn. They were bizarre decorations that did nothing but obscure a simple, strong building. My instinct was to say something like: “Peter tries to paint his house, but sadness overwhelms him, causing him to lay down his brushes and give up his dream.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Taste for Freedom

Some nations pursue liberty obstinately through all kinds of dangers and sufferings, not for its material benefits; they deem it so precious and essential a boon that nothing could console them for its loss, while its enjoyment would compensate them for all possible afflictions. Others, on the contrary, grow tired of it in the midst of prosperity; they allow it to be torn from them without resistance rather than compromise the comfort it has bestowed on them by making an effort. What do they need in order to remain free? A taste for freedom.

Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution, Bonner, tr., pp. 204-205.

Monday, January 09, 2017

'No Idea'

Sean Carroll on Bayes' Theorem:

Whether you admit it or not, no matter what data you have, you implicitly have a prior probability for just about every proposition you can think of. If you say, “I have no idea whether that’s true or not,” you’re really just saying, “My prior is 50%.”

This is the kind of claim one not uncommonly sees from people hawking the Bayesian snake oil, but it deserves to be called out more, since it is at least problematic -- the 'whether you admit it or not' is effectively a 'regardless of your large amounts of evidence apparently to the contrary' -- and on closer investigation doesn't have all that much to recommend it. There are a lot of propositions of which we can think yet have no reason to think we have any prior probabilities for unless you assume Carroll's second sentence -- for instance, propositions we don't understand, or are only just now coming to understand.

But the second sentence is doubtful at least outside very specific contexts. For one thing, claims about having no idea are claims about inquiry -- "I have no idea whether that's true or not" at least implies that I do not regard myself as having done any inquiry that would be appropriate for coming to a conclusion -- whereas claims about prior probabilities are not.

For another, even if we take "I have no idea whether that's true or not" to mean just "I have no belief that that is true and no belief that it is not", this is not equivalent to "My belief in that being true is equal to my belief in that not being true", which is the usual Bayesian interpretation under degrees-of-belief assumptions. Not having started on leaning is not the same as leaning to each side equally; but this particular take on the principle of indifference cannot distinguish the two at all. Saying that the probabilities on each side are undefined is not the same as saying that the probabilities are equal. Bayesians like Carroll are really denying that the former is possible (on what grounds is always vague enough, since we always get this kind of 'whether you admit it or not' move), but the point is that "I have no idea" allows it as a possibility and "My prior is 50%" does not, and thus that they will not always mean the same.

In addition, because Carroll holds that "there is no objective, cut-and-dried procedure for setting your priors" in other cases, it's odd that we have a cut-and-dried procedure for setting our priors for that one case, out of infinitely many mathematically possible cases, at 50%. The problems with simply assuming a principle of indifference without further clarification are well known, but if there's no procedure for priors, there's actually no reason to think that people will always, or even usually, have only one prior. Have several, and get a range, or at least a diversity of answers that may be more scattershot or less scattershot. If there's no objective, cut-and-dried procedure for setting priors, and, as we certainly can to some extent, we can imaginatively or sympathetically participate more than one perspective, it seems entirely possible that we can take a stance on which A is 15% and also take a separate stance on which it is 60%, without knowing at present which is better or on which we'll settle. In such a case, we could say we have no idea whether A is true or not, and yet the probability assignment for is not at 50% at any point at all. Allowing that we can do this arguably explains some probability mistakes people often make -- we are confusing two different assessments for the reason that we are making both and not actively distinguishing them -- and, again, without an objective procedure for setting priors, it's difficult to say why one would think it impossible.

Of course, there are some independent reason to take probabilities, including priors, as things only having meaning within the context of a particular inquiry establishing them (a possible take-away, to give just one example of such a reason, from both Bertrand's paradox and proposed responses to it); and if one takes such a view, as I do, there is independent reason to reject Carroll's claim -- one would take seriously the first point above.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Fortnightly Book, January 8

What is often called the Third Generation of post-war Japanese novelists began to come into prominence in the early 1950s. (The Third Generation author best known to English speakers is currently Shusako Endo.) The Third Generation was heavily interested in combining literary craft with daring message; it was a generation of authors that, seeing themselves as transitional, did not in general expect to have a lasting fame, which freed them to try things that might not have been fashionable or popular. The Third Generation was not a merely transitional era, though; it has been highly successful in its own terms. It was also a period that saw an explosion in women taking up the pen to write for the love of writing. Among these, one of the more popular was Ayako Sono.

Sono was born in 1931. She attended college at the University of Sacred Heart in Tokyo and, while there, began writing stories, first for various fanzines and then for more widely read publications, which were often nominated for awards. She wrote a series of bestselling novels, only a few of which have been translated into English. One of these translated works is Kami-No-Yogoreta-Te, which means something like 'The Dirty Hand of (the) God'; the English translation, however, is titled, Watcher from the Shore, and it is the next fortnightly book. The translation is by Edward Putzar; it apparently has some abridgements and revisions, but they were authorized by the author herself.

Dr. Sadaharu Nobeji is a gynecologist and obstetrician in a small town not far from the ocean. His little clinic deals with the usual kinds of cases -- ordinary births, infertility, miscarriages, abortions, children born deformed. He has a ten-year-old girl and a wife; he and his wife are not exactly at odds, but she is often gone, and has affairs with other men. He is devoted to his patients, a quiet, humble man hoping to make life better for them, and foregoing all possibility of a much more lucrative career in order to do so. He tries, beyond that, to be detached, not judgmental, not involved in the moral decisions of his patients. But things are not so simple. Cases differ widely, and some of them do not so allow him much room to be hands-off; patients, for instance, sometimes need advice and do not know who else to turn to, or they will demand things that Sadaharu cannot help but think dubious or damaging. Being a good doctor who sees his patients as people, and thus as moral agents, he cannot help but see their choices as moral choices, and as a devoted doctor sometimes cannot avoid being right in the middle of those choices. And as time goes on, he increasingly realizes that his moral framework is simply not good enough for dealing with the choices he finds himself making. It is difficult standing alone, buffeted by the wind.

[Elvis Presley, "An Evening Prayer", a song mentioned and quoted in the book.]