Friday, December 07, 2018

Music on My Mind

Peter Hollens ft. The Hound + The Fox, "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen".

Currently crushed under a mix of grading and not feeling well; there are things in the pipeline, but things may also be slow around here a bit.

Roman of Romans

Today is the feast of St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church. He is unusual in having been baptized, confirmed, ordained, and consecrated a bishop all in the same week. The most Roman of the Church Fathers had been an imperial administrator in Milan. He was Christian, but still a catechumen, when Auxentius, the Arian bishop of Milan (Mediolanum), died. The Arian controversy was threatening to split Milan, so he went in person to the church to make sure that order was kept. He got up in front of everybody to give a speech about how it was important to keep the peace as a successor for Auxentius was chosen, and the crowd started shouting, "Ambrosius Episcopus!" Ambrose had to flee to a friend's house, but word had gotten back to Emperor Gratian about it and he, naturally assuming that Ambrose had actually had been chosen bishop, sent an official letter to Milan congratulating them on such an excellent choice. So he gave in and became bishop of the second most important see in the West. But Roman in his sense of duty, once he was in office, he gave away his wealth and threw himself with a will into learning everything about his role.

From his work De officiis ministrorum (Book II, Chapter IV):

There is, then, a blessedness even in pains and griefs. All which virtue with its sweetness checks and restrains, abounding as it does in natural resources for either soothing conscience or increasing grace. For Moses was blessed in no small degree when, surrounded by the Egyptians and shut in by the sea, he found by his merits a way for himself and the people to go through the waters. When was he ever braver than at the moment when, surrounded by the greatest dangers, he gave not up the hope of safety, but besought a triumph?

What of Aaron? When did he ever think himself more blessed than when he stood between the living and the dead, and by his presence stayed death from passing from the bodies of the dead to the lines of the living? What shall I say of the youth Daniel, who was so wise that, when in the midst of the lions enraged with hunger, he was by no means overcome with terror at the fierceness of the beasts. So free from fear was he, that he could eat, and was not afraid he might by his example excite the animals to feed on him.

There is, then, in pain a virtue that can display the sweetness of a good conscience, and therefore it serves as a proof that pain does not lessen the pleasure of virtue. As, then, there is no loss of blessedness to virtue through pain, so also the pleasures of the body and the enjoyment that benefits give add nothing to it. On this the Apostle says well: “What things to me were gain, those I counted loss for Christ,” and he added: “Wherefore I count all things but loss, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

From a letter to Ambrose by St. Basil the Great:

I have given glory to God, Who in every generation selects those who are well-pleasing to Him; Who of old indeed chose from the sheepfold a prince for His people; Who through the Spirit gifted Amos the herdman with power and raised him up to be a prophet; Who now has drawn forth for the care of Christ’s flock a man from the imperial city, entrusted with the government of a whole nation, exalted in character, in lineage, in position, in eloquence, in all that this world admires. This same man has flung away all the advantages of the world, counting them all loss that he may gain Christ, and has taken in his hand the helm of the ship, great and famous for its faith in God, the Church of Christ. Come, then, O man of God; not from men have you received or been taught the Gospel of Christ; it is the Lord Himself who has transferred you from the judges of the earth to the throne of the Apostles; fight the good fight; heal the infirmity of the people, if any are infected by the disease of Arian madness; renew the ancient footprints of the Fathers.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Evening Note for Wednesday, December 5

Thought for the Evening: The Tacit Mechanics of Hume

Matias Slavov has a fascinating paper in the recent Hume Studies looking at what kind of mechanics, and in particular laws of dynamics, Hume assumes in some of his arguments ("Hume on the Laws of Dynamics: The Tacit Assumption of Mechanism", Hume Studies, Vol. 42, No. 1-2 (April/November 2016) pp. 113-116). He identifies five laws of dynamics that he thinks show up explicitly in Hume's discussions:

[I] A body at rest or in motion continues for ever in its present state, till put from it by some new cause.
[II] A body impelled takes as much motion from the impelling body as it acquires itself.
[III] The moment or force of any body in motion is in the compound ration or proportion of its solid contents and its velocity.
[IV] The equality of action and re-action
[V] Gravitation produces a motion from one thing to the other.

[I], of course, is the principle of inertia. [IV], which is Newton's Third Law, is mentioned only once (in the Dialogues) in order to argue against the possibility of mind affecting body; Slavov notes, however, that Hume seems to have a very different notion of force than Newton does. While Hume will occasionally talking about things that are interacting, he doesn't seem to countenance genuine interaction, in part because he takes causes and effects to be entirely separable in principle. For this to be the case, every interaction has to be something that can be broken down into two distinct happenings, each of which is attributed to one and only one thing. There is no genuinely shared action. As Slavov puts it:

Consider the following scenario explained by Newton's third law of motion. I press the table with my hand; the table presses my hand with equal and opposite force. What is the cause, and what is the effect in this scenario? Is my pressing of the table the cause, or the pressing coming from the table? In Newtonian dynamics forces are generated through interactions. Although Newton's second law is the causal law and his third law is rather a law of co-existence, it is still difficult to separate the supposed cause and supposed effect in dynamic interactions (for forces appear between mass points). But this is what Hume's separability principle requires. (pp.124-125)

(It is perhaps worth noting, to strengthen the point, that Newtonians often did interpret the Third Law as a causal law; William Whewell is in this tradition later when he uses the Third Law to argue that causation must be simultaneous. This last makes me wonder if it is not only the separability principle but also the principle that the cause must be temporally prior to the effect that makes a difference here. If one looks at Lady Mary Shepherd's causal theory, for instance, which is designed to handle interactions very well -- and in fact tends to treat all causation as interaction -- it's a theory that requires a fundamental commitment to simultaneity of causation. If cause and effect are separable, this means that interactions can be reduced to lower-order non-interactions; but one might think of them as hooking together somehow. If the cause must precede the effect in time, however, this means they are not only separable, they are actually separate. Simultaneity of causation is not enough to give you genuine interactions, but it seems to be a precondition for them.)

Slavov thus argues that Hume's view is in some sense mechanistic -- he has a mechanistic account of laws -- even though he rejects corpuscularianism, at least in the sense of being agnostic about most microstructural explanations, and so is not mechanistic in another sense. Mechanists in this latter sense treat laws as regularities of microstructure, whereas Hume treats laws as regularities of experiences that may or may not have much to do with any further microstructure. It also leads one to the conclusion that Hume, while in some sense Newtonian, is in a number of ways radically at odds with the Newtonian picture of the world. (Some things that Slavov says suggest that he thinks of Hume as lying somewhere between Cartesian physics and Newtonian physics.)

Various Links of Interest

* Aikin and Talisse have an interesting discussion of polarization and civic enmity (which they define as "the condition that prevails when democratic citizens lose the capacity to regard those with whom they disagree as entitled to an equal share of political power") at "3 Quarks Daily"

* Sandra Shapshay discusses the sublime at "Aeon"

* The Age of Metaphysical Revolution is a interesting project that looks at a letter from David Lewis each month as a way to look at his role in the transformation of analytic philosophy.

* Robert Paul Wolff on Alice Walker's The Color Purple

* Emily Thomas, Are spirits in space? Exploding spirits and absolute theories of space and time

* Thony Christie on Egnatio Danti: Cosmographer to a Grand Duke and a Pope

* Sebastian Musch, The Atomic Priesthood and Nuclear Waste Management - Religion, Sci-fi Literature and the End of our Civilization

* William Ewald, The Emergence of First-Order Logic, at the SEP

* Julien Dutant, The legend of the justified true belief analysis (PDF)

* Brian Kemple reviews Carrie Jenkins's What Love Is

* It looks like Newman is on his way toward canonization.

* John Brungardt on the possibility of a dispositional analysis for the principle of least action.

* Ricky Jay, often considered the best sleight-of-hand artist in the world and certainly its foremost historian, recently died. One of his personal assistants (not magic assistants) reflects on him.

* Rabbi Josh Yuter, "Love the Stranger" -- The Ger in Jewish Society

* Timothy Hsiao, The Moral Case for Corporal Punishment

* Megan Kimble, Austin's Fix for Homelessness: Tiny Houses, and Lots of Neighbors. It's a nice profile of Community First! Village, a charitable organization here in Central Texas. It's not a complete answer to homelessness, but it's a powerful one, because it recognizes that homelessness is not a lack of housing so much as it is a lack of community connection. I've occasionally had students who volunteered there for their service learning projects, and it seems to be a very solid idea. It's a sign of how a little ingenuity can go a long way in dealing with serious problems. Take someone off the urban street and put them in a village, with a little house and community gatherings and some ways to earn a small income, and sometimes they thrive.

* The collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, online.

Currently Reading

Jules Verne, The Lighthouse at the End of the World
Elaine Landry, ed., Categories for the Working Philosopher
Harry V. Jaffa, Thomism and Scholasticism
Gilles Emery, The Trinity

Wild as Cowslips on the Common Land

A Party Question
by G. K. Chesterton

The golden roses of the glorious mysteries
Grew wild as cowslips on the common land
Hers, who was more humanity's than history's,
Until you banned them as a badge is banned.

The silver roses of the sorrow of Mary,
And the red roses of her royal mirth,
Were free; till you, turned petulant and wary,
Went weeding wild flowers from your mother-earth

Mother of Man; the Mother of the Maker;
Silently speaking as the flowering trees,
What made of her a striker and a breaker
Who spoke no scorn even of men like these?

She named no hypocrites a viper race,
She nailed no tyrant for a vulpine cur,
She flogged no hucksters from the holy place;
Why was your new wise world in dread of her?

Whom had she greeted and not graced in greeting,
Whom did she touch and touch not his peace;
And what are you, that made of such a meeting
Quarrels and quibbles and a taunt to tease?

Who made that inn a fortress? What strange blindness
Beat on the open door of that great heart,
Stood on its guard against unguarded kindness
And made the sun a secret set apart?

By this we measure you upon your showing
So many shields to her who bore no sword,
All your unnatural nature and the flowing
Of sundering rivers now so hard to ford.

We know God's priests had drunken iniquity,
Through our sins too did such offences come,
Mad Martin's bell, the mouth of anarchy,
Knox and the horror of that hollow drum.

We know the tale; half truth and double treason,
Borgia and Torquemada in the throng,
Bad men who had no right to their right reason,
Good men who had good reason to be wrong.

But when that tangled war our fathers waged
Stirred against her—then could we hear right well,
Through roar of men not wrongfully enraged,
The little hiss that only comes from hell.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Last of the Church Fathers

Today was the memorial for St. Yanah ibn Mansur ibn Sarjun, better known as St. John Damascene, Doctor of the Church. Born into Muslim-occupied Syria, his family were civil servants working in the court at Damascus; it is possible that he served for a while as a financial officer to the caliph, although we don't know for sure. He eventually became a monk, and became one of the major critics of the Iconoclast heresy -- since he lived under the Muslim caliph, the Byzantine emperor could not touch him. He died in 749. He is sometimes called the last of the Church Fathers, although there are several other people who also get that nickname, depending on what you are talking about. From his Exposition of the Faith (I.2):

We, therefore, both know and confess that God is without beginning, without end, eternal and everlasting, uncreate, unchangeable, invariable, simple, uncompound, incorporeal, invisible, impalpable, uncircumscribed, infinite, incognisable, indefinable, incomprehensible, good, just, maker of all things created, almighty, all-ruling, all-surveying, of all overseer, sovereign, judge; and that God is One, that is to say, one essence; and that He is known, and has His being in three subsistences, in Father, I say, and Son and Holy Spirit; and that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in all respects, except in that of not being begotten, that of being begotten, and that of procession; and that the Only-begotten Son and Word of God and God, in His bowels of mercy, for our salvation, by the good pleasure of God and the co-operation of the Holy Spirit, being conceived without seed, was born uncorruptedly of the Holy Virgin and Mother of God, Mary, by the Holy Spirit, and became of her perfect Man; and that the Same is at once perfect God and perfect Man, of two natures, Godhead and Manhood, and in two natures possessing intelligence, will and energy, and freedom, and, in a word, perfect according to the measure and proportion proper to each, at once to the divinity, I say, and to the humanity, yet to one composite person; and that He suffered hunger and thirst and weariness, and was crucified, and for three days submitted to the experience of death and burial, and ascended to heaven, from which also He came to us, and shall come again. And the Holy Scripture is witness to this and the whole choir of the Saints.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Descartes's Primitive Notion of Union

In the correspondence with Princess Elisabeth, Descartes argues that human knowledge is based on a number of primitive notions. Besides the most general such notions (being, duration, number), which apply to everything, there are certainly more specific notions that apply to particular fields of knowledge, and out of which the other notions are developed. From the notion of extension we get the further notions of shape and motion, and are therefore able to do physics. From the notion of thought we get further notions like understanding and will. And we have a third in addition to these: the notion of the union of soul and body, i.e., thought and extension, from which we have notions like the the power of the soul to move the body or the power of the body to affect the soul's sensations and passions. All of these are primitive; you can't, for instance, reduce the third to the other two. He goes on to say that we can have clear and distinct ideas of the first two, but a confused and indistinct idea of the third.

In a famously obscure passage, Descartes argues that we see this third notion at work in the Aristotelian account of weight, gravitas, because we confuse the union of soul and body with the union of body and body. In Aristotelian gravitas, a physical object is taken to have a quality directing it to its natural place at the center of the earth. The way he puts it in the Sixth Replies, when he held something like the Aristotelian theory, what he held was that gravitas was distinct from the physical object itself (he analogizes it to clothing) and carried it toward the center of the earth as if it had some awareness (cognitio) of that center. In reality, this is wrong: on Descartes's account, there is nothing to gravitas that is different from the moving body itself, and you can't have anything like this directedness without cognition, and cognition belongs to thought, not extension. As Princess Elisabeth will later respond, it's odd to explain this essential primitive notion by a theory that Descartes regards as false. But Descartes's point is that, while a mistake, it is a very easy mistake to make because it seems to make sense -- and the only reason it can be so easy to make and seem so consistently to make sense is if we actually do have some kind of basic idea in which something like it happens. This is the primitive notion of union between soul and bod, in which the mind designates a goal and the body moves in accordance with it.

An implication of this that is often not remarked enough is that Descartes's account of the union of mind and body is teleological. This is why it is relevant to Princess Elisabeth's worry. She had pointed out that in Cartesian physics, all motion of bodies is explained by initiating push, determination of the way something moves, and shape and texture; none of these explain how mind can move the body in the particular way it does. (Her worry is not, as it is often put, how the mind can move the body at all, the bare interaction, but how it can move the body in cases where the body's motion is sufficiently sophisticated that the way it moves had to have been determined by the mind.) Descartes's response is that it's a different kind of motion, one that is not reducible to extension; it is a non-mechanical motion like people under the influence of Aristotle attributed to gravitas. It's a kind of motion we have to admit, because the way our bodies move is clearly goal-directed, but goal-direction is a matter of thought, not extension; so there must here be some kind of union between thought and extension, despite the fact that thought and extension are different things.

Naturally, this still leaves open the question of how this works. Descartes's account in the Sixth Replies suggests that goal-directedness is something that can only be attributed directly to a substance, and in particular the substance of the mind. Physics, based wholly on the notion of extension, has no room for final causes. But in the motion of the body, the body's motion must somehow fall within the ambit of the mind's teleology, so that any explanation on the basis of this physics will be inadequate for explaining the motion of the body. There is never any explanation for how this works, though; the closest he comes is in the Passions, when he talks about its being a special motion instituted by nature. This is puzzling, and as Princess Elisabeth goes on to point out, it seems cleaner either to reject all teleology when it comes to bodies or else assume that bodies can have the teleology that Descartes insists only belongs to minds. It's worth pointing out, however, that it would explain why Descartes is so confident that rational behavior is a sign of other minds -- the goal-directedess of rational behavior is something that he would regard as literally impossible for a mechanical system.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Feast of the Dedication

Happy Hanukkah!

Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; they tore down the altars that had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they offered incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence. When they had done this, they fell prostrate and implored the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that, if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations. It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Chislev. They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the festival of booths, remembering how not long before, during the festival of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.

[2 Maccabees 10:1-8 NRSVACE] I particularly like the turn of phrase "Him who had given success to the purifying of His own holy place". The parallel with Sukkot here is interesting. The tale is given greater detail in 1 Maccabees 4.

Hanukkah is referred to once in the New Testament (the question of the Judeans is certainly linked to the feast, as is, of course, the reason why Jesus was in the Temple to begin with):

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’

The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.’

[John 10:22-33 NRSVACE]