Saturday, November 10, 2018

Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea(s)


Opening Passage: Using Walter's translation:

The year 1866 was marked by a bizarre development, an unexplained and downright inexplicable phenomenon that surely no one has forgotten. Without getting into those rumors that upset civilians in the seaports and deranged the public mind even far inland, it must be said that professional seamen were especially alarmed. Traders, shipowners, captains of vessels, skippers, and master mariners from Europe and America, naval officers from every country, and at their heels the various national governments on these two continents, were all extremely disturbed by the business.

In essence, over a period of time several ships had encountered “an enormous thing” at sea, a long spindle-shaped object, sometimes giving off a phosphorescent glow, infinitely bigger and faster than any whale.

Summary: Pierre Aronnax, of the Paris Museum, is asked to assist the Abraham Lincoln in hunting a mysterious monster that has been damaging ships. With his servant Conseil and the harpoonist Ned Land, he discovers that the sea monster is in fact a submarine ship powered by sodium-ion batteries, an extraordinary achievement of technology, built and captained by the mysterious Captain Nemo.

One of the nice things about the work is how well it captures the joy of sheer discovery, of diggining into the treasury of the unknown. Professor Aronnax goes from an expert on the sea who has written speculative books about it based on traces of evidence to having plumbed the depths and seen it all firsthand. Between the two there is a wide gap.

I've always found Ned Land's role in the book to be a bit odd, since he spends most of it complaining. His harpooning skills do occasionally come in handy, but I think the real role he plays is to keep the theme of freedom in the forefront of the narrative, since Aronnax is liable to get lost in the adventure. Nemo fled to the depths of the sea in search of freedom, but he has nonetheless taken the freedom of the three travelers, as surely as the freedom of his own native land was taken (this is left mysterious here, but it is later said in The Mysterious Island that Nemo is a prince of India who attempted to fight the British Empire in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and not only was defeated but lost his wife and child, although Verne's original idea was that Nemo would be Polish and hate the Russian Empire). The entire book can be seen as a reflection on freedom: freedom of inquiry, freedom from oppression, the perils of freedom, the exhilaration of freedom. Perhaps this is the reason why Verne will eventually try to find some resolution to Nemo's tale in The Mysterious Island, which is also about freedom; there is no resolution here, since the book deliberately ends with unknowns.

I read the work in two translations, Walter's and Lewis's; Walter's is infinite superior. I also listened to both the Family Theater (#180) and the Favorite Story; they both attempt to be faithful but in the attempt to compress it down to a radio episode they end up being quite different. Favorite Story focuses on Captain Nemo; Family Theater focuses on Pierre Aronnax. Unsurprisingly, given the usual approaches of each series, Family Theater plays up the hope of Nemo's redemption much more than Favorite Story does. It's remarkable how reasonably faithful adaptations can go in some very different directions. But both are quite good.

Favorite Passage:

“You love the sea, captain.”

“Yes, I love it! The sea is the be all and end all! It covers seven-tenths of the planet earth. Its breath is clean and healthy. It’s an immense wilderness where a man is never lonely, because he feels life astir on every side. The sea is simply the vehicle for a prodigious, unearthly mode of existence; it’s simply movement and love; it’s living infinity, as one of your poets put it. And in essence, professor, nature is here made manifest by all three of her kingdoms, mineral, vegetable, and animal. The last of these is amply represented by the four zoophyte groups, three classes of articulates, five classes of mollusks, and three vertebrate classes: mammals, reptiles, and those countless legions of fish, an infinite order of animals totaling more than 13,000 species, of which only one-tenth belong to fresh water. The sea is a vast pool of nature. Our globe began with the sea, so to speak, and who can say we won’t end with it! Here lies supreme tranquility. The sea doesn’t belong to tyrants. On its surface they can still exercise their iniquitous claims, battle each other, devour each other, haul every earthly horror. But thirty feet below sea level, their dominion ceases, their influence fades, their power vanishes! Ah, sir, live! Live in the heart of the seas! Here alone lies independence! Here I recognize no superiors! Here I’m free!”

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Always, Everywhere, and for Everyone

Francisco Mejia Uribe attempts (unsuccessfully) to defend W. K. Clifford's argument about the ethics of belief from criticisms. One of the constant criticisms of Clifford's argument is that it is based on an exaggerated view that every single belief, without fail, is of serious social consequence (a view for which Clifford never gives adequate evidence). Uribe argues:

I think critics had a point – had – but that is no longer so. In a world in which just about everyone’s beliefs are instantly shareable, at minimal cost, to a global audience, every single belief has the capacity to be truly consequential in the way Clifford imagined. If you still believe this is an exaggeration, think about how beliefs fashioned in a cave in Afghanistan lead to acts that ended lives in New York, Paris and London. Or consider how influential the ramblings pouring through your social media feeds have become in your very own daily behaviour. In the digital global village that we now inhabit, false beliefs cast a wider social net, hence Clifford’s argument might have been hyperbole when he first made it, but is no longer so today.

This is obviously an absurd response. Not only is this evidence also completely inadequate to establish the claim being made, it's simply wrong. If John believes without any evidence that Mary has ten pairs of socks (e.g., if he just assumes that everyone has ten pairs like he does), how does the existence of social media and global travel and communication make 'the stakes very high'? If Francisco Mejia Uribe believes without adequate evidence that "every single belief has the capacity to be truly consequential", why should I consider this a serious moral wrong, rather than just bad reasoning without all the moralism about it?

Mejia Uribe also tries to defend on exactly the same grounds Clifford's argument that every single act of belief has a definite effect on our character, despite the fact that 'character' in this sense is a word used to describe something that is established by repeated actions, not single actions. It fails for this point, as well; there is simply no evidence that "careless believing" in the very, very weak sense it has to mean here -- namely, believing even one thing without adequate evidence -- "turns us into easy prey for fake-news pedlars, conspiracy theorists and charlatans".

Mejia Uribe's defense of Clifford's common property argument is no better:

Today, we truly have a global reservoir of belief into which all of our commitments are being painstakingly added: it’s called Big Data. You don’t even need to be an active netizen posting on Twitter or ranting on Facebook: more and more of what we do in the real world is being recorded and digitised, and from there algorithms can easily infer what we believe before we even express a view. In turn, this enormous pool of stored belief is used by algorithms to make decisions for and about us.

Big Data is not any kind of belief at all; it is data, as the name suggests, which is a different thing entirely. And as anyone knows who has dealt with algorithms, algorithms themselves often put forward false things on inadequate evidence. And as has been noted, a problem with Clifford's common property argument is that part of our common property consists of hypotheses and speculations put forward for further inquiry. Much of what we say we know is likely to need modification when new evidence comes in, or new ways of looking at old evidence are developed. And since the process of sorting and refinement is not affected whether the things in this treasury of things we think we know are even true or false, it's not clear why adding something on inadequate evidence (which might be false, but might also be true) would make any difference at all.

In any case, as I've noted before, the whole set of arguments fails because they are the wrong arguments to get the conclusion that Clifford wants; he wants to conclude "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence", but what the arguments would actually prove, if they worked, is "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything that tends to morally relevant bad consequences". Clifford never does anything to establish that the latter implies the former, nor does Mejia Uribe, and even if they did the 'always, everywhere, and for anyone' is just assumed, not established on sufficient evidence. Always, Everywhere, and Anyone are strong modal operators; they require that one have established a complete lack of exceptions.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Scotus Day

Today is the feast of Blessed John Duns Scotus. Hug a Scotist!

Know that in regard to another, one can act rightly either by giving oneself to another as far as one can or by giving him something else that belongs to him. The virtue inclining one to the first is friendship, by which one gives oneself to one's neighbor insofar as one can and one's neighbor can have one; and this is the most perfect of the moral virtues, because justice as a whole is more perfect than virtues that are directed to oneself, and this is the most perfect form of justice.

Scotus, Ordinatio III Suppl, dist. 34, as translated by Allan Wolter in Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality, CUA Press (Washington, D.C.: 1997) p. 248.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Torchful Leaf

Autumn Orchards
by Clark Ashton Smith

Walled with far azures of the wintering year,
Late autumn on a windless altar burns;
Splendid as rubies from Sabean urns,
A holocaust of hues is gathered here.

The pear-trees lift a Tyrian tinged with blood;
Strange purples brighten in the smouldering plums;
The fire-red gold of peach and cherry comes
To storm the bronzing borders of the wood.

Rich as the pyre of some Hesperian queen,
Feeding the ultimate sunset with sad fires,
Is this, where beauty with her doom conspires
To tell in flame what death and beauty mean.

O, loveliness grown tragical and dear!
My heart has taken from the torchful leaf
A swiftly soaring glory, and the grief
Of love is colored like the dying year.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Election Day

Always worth remembering that these things are a matter of means and not ultimate ends.

But what is this power of yours, so glorious, so desirable? You creatures of the earth! You seem to preside over creation, but surely you think about those over whom you seem to preside? And you: Were you to catch sight of a nest of mice and one among them claiming power and authority for himself in preference to all the rest, what laughter would split your sides!

[Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Relihan, tr., Hackett (Indianapolis: 2001) p. 39 (Book II, Prose 6).]

Monday, November 05, 2018

Abyss & Sea 1

I wanted to do something, even if only informally, for NaNoWriMo; I have a number of things I could revise, but I've wanted to get this story 'on paper', as the saying goes, for a very long time, and decided I would just try to get it down. It's not particularly original as a story, particularly the type of high fantasy it is, but perhaps that will make it easier to get out. Usually when I do something like this, I do another blog for it, but that complicates the writing, so I decided to experiment putting it here, at least once a week.

High above the sea-cliffs of Sorea, or so it is said, there were the white, sparkling spires of Neyat Sor, rising as if the sea-mist below had turned to flowing stone. The spires were tall, and caught the tone and hue of the light of sun and moon, casting it back in new form, rainbow-like. In the tallest of the towers of the castle was a small room within a balcony. It was a room mostly bare of furniture; it had a table with a map and a stand holding a multi-faceted crystal the size of an egg and a heavy chest in the corner, and that was all. The door to the room was usually locked, and only the King and Queen of Sorea ever had the key. By some power that has been lost in these lesser days, anyone who took the crystal in his hand and looked out from that balcony could see anywhere in the world that was touched by the ocean-sea. Far to the west he could see the Chipou shores, and on the waves the swift Sorean ships that no storm could sink and no rock or reef could founder. He could see the very secrets of the deep and, by some strange twisting of sight, around the shores to the far eastern bays of the Great Realm, and to the nearly endless sea beyond.

Disan, King of Sorea, often went there. Sometimes he went alone, sometimes with his wife and queen, Baia, and sometimes, as today, with the large castle raven, Ker, who was, as all castle ravens are, very conversable.

"I do not think so," said Disan. "They will not drive directly through the storm."

Ker croaked and cocked his eye at the king.

"Yes," said Disan, who knew the raven-speech well, "but men are certainly sinkable. They will skirt it, and it will take at least an extra day."

Ker croaked again, with the usual sarcasm of a raven.

"Well," said the king, "perhaps then we should send you out with them next time, so you can be a ship raven."

"No," said Ker. He was unamused enough to make the effort to say the human word, which he would have usually pretended not to be able to speak.

Disan laughed and looked a while at the sea. He felt a great peace, as if all were well. It is the feeling you have when you have come home after a long and difficult journey, for that was indeed what Disan had recently done.

The people of Sorea were generally accounted a handsome people, and their king was generally accounted handsome for a Sorean. He was tall, as Soreans often were, with the delicately pale skin, black air, and eyes with epicanthal folds for which Soreans were well known; but his eyes, instead of the usual dark brown, were grey. They were striking and clear and piercing. No one who ever saw them could doubt that they were far-seeing.

The door opened behind them, and Disan did not have to turn around to know who it was.

"My Queen," he said, still looking out at the sea.

"My King," she said, putting her arms around him and pressing her cheek into his back. She sighed. "It is good to have you here."

"It is good to be here," said Disan. "Too many days on ships and too many days in camps. It is nice to be home and do nothing." He cast a sly eye toward Ker. "Except making bets with Ker. When he loses he has to become a ship raven and actually work for his meals."

"No," replied Ker.

Disan laughed, and Baia hugged him before letting him go. Patting his back, she said, "We have had a message from King Envren. He will be here early evening tomorrow, at the latest."

He turned around and looked at her with surprise. "That is fast. What could possibly be his hurry?"

She shrugged. "Fortunately, preparations are mostly done. And if anything is rushed, I suppose they can hardly blame us given the suddenness of the visit, can they?"

He took her hand in his. "Come along, Ker," he said. "We apparently have work to do."

The raven hopped on his shoulder, and the three, king, queen, and raven, descended the tower stairs. On the walls were the tapestries, woven by an art now lost, with moving pictures of the great heroes of the House of Sorea. Here in vivid detail, Keran slew the Wolf of Fire by thrusting his sword into its mouth, thus becoming Keran One-Handed. There was Maia of the Pearls, wisest of all women, rescuing her father, King Belan, by outwitting the dragon. Here was a different King Belan, Disan's grandfather, leading a charge against the armies of the Court of Night. On and on, the stories of centuries, until at the bottom they came to a tapestry that had no pictures at all, although it was of all the tapestries the one most valued by the Kings and Queens of Sorea. It was black, dark as jet, as starless night. It was said to have been woven by Maia of the Pearls herself. They say that when she gave it to her father, he asked her why she had made a tapestry with no picture or pattern. "On this tapestry is the only universal pattern," she replied, "the final picture of all human life. For all things come to an end, and everyone falls into darkness."


The visit of another of the kings of the Great Realm was a major event. All of the castle was in a flurry activity the rest of the day, the kitchens continued preparations for most of the night, and in the space of the night between first and second sleep, Disan and Baia spent their time touring the castle to determine what else needed to be done instead of drinking lotus flower tea and talking as they usually did. The castle became fully awake before dawn, and shortly after sunlight peaked out from the east, a long line of messengers and tradesmen went back and forth between Neyat Sor and the harbor city of Soromir. Disan and Baia had ordered fine gifts from the artisans of the city, and they went in person to collect and pay for them (and, truth be told, to ensure that they were not cheated): a cunningly crafted sword with pearl-studded hilt, a casket of paragon-pearls of finest water, bolts of silk dyed in shimmering Sorean black, that rare and expensive color that can only be produced from the collected secretions of tens of thousands of the snails that thrive on the coasts of Sorea, and more. Then Baia and Disan both had to return for formal dress and preparation. Baia wore a dress, white and shimmering, embroidered with pearls, and a juliet cap of finest golden braid, pearls, and diamonds, all made especially for the occasion. Disan was in silk of Sorean black, with ceremonial armor, and strapped to his side his grandfather Belan's sword, a finely wrought weapon of orikhalh, more valuable than gold and stronger than steel. On his head was an orikalh circlet studded with pearls. The two together made a shining pair.

King Envren and his entourage arrived in the late afternoon, as the sun was swinging low. He came on a splendid stallion, for the kingdom of Ezrym had the finest horses in all the world, and beneath his road-stained riding cloak he wore fine red silk, for he too had had to prepare extensively to greet a fellow king. Disan and Baia met him in the outer courtyard as he dismounted.

"You are welcome, O Envren, son of Envren, son of Adven, to all of my hospitality and all of the hospitality of my queen and my people," said Disan.

"I thank you, O Disan, son of Rezan, son of Belan," said Envren in response, clasping Disan's arms, "and I account myself blessed to receive such generous hospitality." He smiled. "It has been too long since we last met." Then he turned to Baia, "I greet you, O Baia of Sorea, and thank you for your grace."

She thanked him, and then they gave each other gifts in the formal greeting ceremony between kings of the Great Realm, and then processed into the Great Hall for dinner. It was a grand affair, a rhythm of Sorean servants going in and out among the dark-skinned Ezryman knights as the music played and the jugglers juggled and the tumblers tumbled and the fire-breathers spouted flame. There was shark fin soup and sea cucumber, and dishes of fish, and, a special, imported delicacy, bear's paw to crown the feast, and then vast piles of cakes and sweet breads, and, of course, kegs and kegs of the finest rhodomel. Such feasts are rare, and, for all that it had been rushed, this one would be long remembered. It went well into the night, and then the kings formally said good night.

Before he went off to bed, however, Envren said quietly to Disan, "I hope there will be time tomorrow for a long conversation. There are things of importance that we must discuss."

Disan nodded. "We will have a long lunch in the inner gardens, as long as you require."

Later that evening, drinking tea before second sleep, Disan and Baia speculated about what could have brought Envren so suddenly to Neyat Sor, and what it could be that he wanted to discuss. But they could think of nothing, at least not in the short time before returning to bed, so they left it to uncover itself the next day.


The rulers of Sorea and Ezrym had lunch in the inner gardens. The inner gardens of Neyat Sor were renowned for their excellence. Every tree useful for fruit or beautiful for flower was found there, and every kind of lily and rose, white and gold and red and a thousand colors beside. Fountains fed into ponds in which lotuses flourished. During the day, it was bright, sunlight-bright, and looking above you saw a clear and vivid blue. But it was not the sky. There was no sun in it. If you visited it at night, it would be silver-lit as if it were full moon; but there would be no moon and no stars in the blackness of the vault above. The firmament of the inner gardens was of stone, and the whole gardens were simply a vast room. How they made what was indoors seem as if it were outdoors is something we no longer know. You would walk through the archway into the gardens, and it was as if you had stepped outside. Looking back, there was an archway through which you could see the hall you had just left, but all around it, on all sides, there was only garden, going on and on. For this characteristic was also found in every true neyat in the Great Realm: it was much larger on the inside than it seemed on the outside.

The two kings and the queen held a picnic beneath a great apple tree, just flowering, near a large fountain splashing into a pool. It was a light lunch, as Soreans deem it, for lunch is usually their primary meal of the day: small cutlets of lion and mutton, followed by fruits in season, and, to drink, a sweet rhodomel flavored with lotus.

"I wish I knew the secret of your rhodomel; it is far superior to any I have had elsewhere," said Envren after the meal.

"The brewmaster would revolt if I told any secrets," said Baia, "but I will have several casks made ready so that you can take some with you."

"I thank you, and I give you now the thanks my family will certainly have." He looked at them both a moment. "When I learned that Disan had returned, I decided to come here. I am taking a grave risk, but things have become serious enough that my choice seems to be between certainly losing or gambling to open up space for a win. What have you heard about the new fleet being built by the Tavrans?"

Disan and Baia exchanged baffled glances. "The Tavrans? Tavra is landlocked except for the Great Canal," said Disan. "Why would they be building a fleet?"

"And how?" asked Baia.

"Tavra is paying Andra to build three hundred fifty ships. It has been going on for at least three years now. They have been trying to keep it quiet, and doing much of the actual building abroad, but the Andrans are the worst secret-keepers in the world, because they can't just keep a secret but have to make an elaborate show about how well they are keeping it. If you have heard nothing at all about it, you should replace all your spies in the Andran court."

"We have no spies in the Andran court," said Baia.

"That is imprudent," replied Envren. "I assure you that every royal house in the Great Realm has spies in yours."

"Including your own," said Disan drily.

"Of course," said Envren, without hesitation. "Even though I did know your father, I would not be here taking this gamble if I did not already know a great deal about you and the kind of court you have." He shook his head at them. "You are both young, and here in Sorea you can easily come to think of yourself as far removed from the affairs of the other realms, but that is a mistake you must learn to correct. Power lies entirely in the ability to anticipate what the other houses will do, and you cannot anticipate if you are always surprised. In any case, the Tavrans are building a fleet. I do not know exactly why. Any report I can manage to get from the Tavran court is garbled and strange; old Canthan is still alive, but it seems that his daughter is the one really in charge these days, and she seems to have an extraordinary talent for secrecy. But the ships that are being built are not trading ships but warships. And it's not just the Tavrans and the Andrans. Which of the other houses are in on it is difficult to tell, but they are being backed by the Porphyry Mountain."

"You are certain of this?"

"There is no doubt of it; the High King is the one who initiated it all, and he has been slowly increasing his recruitment of soldiers and guards. Tavra, Tala, and Andra are all fully involved; I have definite suspicions about two other houses. I know that I am not involved, and I have positive reason to think that you are not involved, because Disan has been away and there has been no unusual activity here. And with the other five, petty politics among the houses makes it seem unlikely that they would be, although perhaps they are doing better at keeping the secret than they usually are. Three hundred fifty warships. Nobody suddenly builds a large number of warships unless they plan to use them. And that raises the important question. What fleets are there in the entire world that could stand against even twenty Andran warships?"

"There are none," said Disan. "With twenty Andran warships I could destroy any known fleet of any known power in the world. Such fleets don't exist. It makes no sense."

"Ah, but my friend, they exist. There are in fact fleets that could meet an Andran fleet in battle and stand a chance of winning."

Disan thought about this. "You are suggesting that they intend to use the fleet against the other kingdoms of the Great Realm."

"What other goal could they have? It is a like a cunning riddle. Only one answer is possible, but it is the unthinkable one. And yet the riddle is there, demanding that singular answer. The normal fleets of the Great Realm are more than adequate to chasing down pirates and terrifying tribes that break treaties. The only reason you would need something better is if those were the very fleets you were intending to fight. Could Sorea hold off the current Andran fleet and three hundred fifty more ships?"

"I do not know," said Disan.

"Our ships are better, our crews are better, some of them have considerably more experience with actual naval engagements," Baia said to him. "We would not be easy to defeat."

"All true," Disan replied. "And Sorea is more easily defensible than Andra. But I would prefer better odds." He thought a moment, and then said to Envren, "I take it you are not here just to tell us of all this. What is your plan?"

Envren spread his hands. "I wish had something more definite than 'prepare', but there are still too many things that are unknown. But I have reason to think that the High King is intending to sound you out, to see if you could be brought into whatever exactly their alliance is. There is the Great Council in two years, but I think you will be getting an invitation to the Porphyry Mountain very soon. I am here gambling that you are enough like your father to see the horror of a possible civil war for what it is. I have learned all that I seem to be able to learn. We need someone who might be in a better position than I to discover the details."

"You want me to accept and play double agent for you," said Disan, giving him a long look.

"I want you to accept the invitation of your High King, as you normally would, and uphold the Tablets, as you normally would. And just keep your eyes and ears open while doing so."

Disan nodded. "I suppose I could do something of the sort."

Envren smiled broadly. "You actually remind me in many ways more of your grandfather than your father. I was young when I knew him, but he was a great man. He was probably the greatest hero of the War against the Court of Night, and yet he was never haughty or arrogant."

"I once asked him if he had ridden a unicorn in the War, and he replied that a king does not ride a unicorn; he bows until it passes."

"That was the man," said Envren.

The talk turned to other things less serious. Later that day, when alone, Disan asked Baia what she thought of it all.

"He is definitely trying to use us for his political ends, whatever they are," she said.

"True enough, although that does not make any of it false. And he has a reputation for knowing practically everything that goes on."

"He could very well be paranoid."

"Also true; he has a reputation for that, as well."

"I suppose I could ask my father if he has heard any rumors," said Baia. "And as for the rest, I suppose we are simply waiting and seeing."

"And pretending to know less than we do," said Disan. "Which unfortunately might not be difficult, given how little that is. If he is right about what he is saying, it all could be worse than we thought."

King Envren left for Ezrym the next day. Three days after, a message came from the High King, asking Disan to honor him with a visit.


Kant on Our Duty to Animals

Since animals are an analogue of humanity, we observe duties to mankind when we observe them as analogues to this, and thus cultivate our duties to humanity. If a dog, for example, has served his master long and faithfully, that is an analogue of merit; hence I must reward it, and once the dog can serve no longer, must look after him to the end, for I thereby cultivate my duty to humanity, as I am called upon to do; so if the acts of animals arise out of the same principium from which human actions spring, and the animal actions are analogues of this, we have duties to animals, in that we thereby promote the cause of humanity. So if a man has his dog shot, because it can no longer earn a living for him, he is by no means in breach of any duty to the dog, since the latter is incapable of judgment, but he thereby damages the kindly and humane qualities in himself, which he ought to exercise in virtue of his duties to mankind.
[Kant, Lectures on Ethics, Heath & Schneewind, eds. Heath, tr. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge: 2001), p. 210 (27:459).]

Kant gets a lot of criticism for this argument these days, because he reduces our moral obligations to animals to our moral obligations to human beings, but I think Kant's argument here is a case of Kant excelling himself. I think he is right about a number of very important things.

(1) If you look at how we come to treat animals as morally important, I think there is good reason to think that Kant is right about the psychology: the analogy matters, psychologically, and is a considerable part of why people come to the view that they have obligations to nonhuman animals. Taking loyalty as being morally valuable in human beings, we can't easily bring ourselves to treat something like it in animals as worthless; and if we do treat the loyalty of animals as morally unimportant, that immediately raises the question of how morally important we could really be taking it to be even in the human case.

(2) More than the psychology, I think Kant is onto something very important about moral reasoning. Kant is known for holding that the only thing that is morally important is doing your duty; but people tend to forget his recognitions, as here, that doing your duty requires more than the bare duty itself -- if you have a duty to do something, you have some kind of a duty to do what prepares you to do your duty, you have some kind of duty to do what makes it easier for you to do your duty, etc. Every strict moral obligation has an aura of secondary obligations, and ignoring the latter will often get you the wrong moral answer when we are asking what your obligations are. This is especially true since we are not abstract reasoners but rational animals, trying to be moral while living an animal life in an animal world. If anything, I think Kant's failure here is not to recognize that these kinds of analogies are actually very pervasive throughout our moral lives.

(3) Kant is also right, I think, that the case of nonhuman animals is one where you cannot ignore the extraordinary moral importance of character, even if, like Kant, you do not take morality to be based on character. Deliberately to do things that 'damage the kindly and humane qualities' in you is not a some quibbling moral matter; it is a very serious one, regardless of what you take the foundations of morality to be. And our relationship with nonhuman animals in particular is a personal interaction, and our moral character is directly of relevance to everything in it. When you interact with a dog, you are doing so as a person, and you are using the same skills and habits that you develop for interacting with other human beings. That you are interacting with something that is not human does not relieve you of the responsibility to act like a human person capable of interacting humanely on a personal level with other human people; that's still there in the background. And the kind of person you are, and your ability to interact with other people, is a matter of character.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

That Heaven-Revealing Smile of Thine

Even so for Me a Vision Sanctified
by William Wordsworth

Even so for me a Vision sanctified
The sway of Death; long ere mine eyes had seen
Thy countenance—the still rapture of thy mien—
When thou, dear Sister! wert become Death's Bride:
No trace of pain or languor could abide
That change:—age on thy brow was smoothed—thy cold
Wan cheek at once was privileged to unfold
A loveliness to living youth denied.
Oh! if within me hope should e'er decline,
The lamp of faith, lost Friend! too faintly burn;
Then may that heaven-revealing smile of thine,
The bright assurance, visibly return:
And let my spirit in that power divine
Rejoice, as, through that power, it ceased to mourn.

(Nov. 1836)