Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Unknown Nerves

The opening of Mortiz Schlick's General Theory of Knowledge:

There was once a time when philosophers marvelled that man could move his limbs even though he was not familiar with the nerve and muscle processes on which such movements depended. They even went so far as to conclude that man was quite incapable of moving his body by himself. Whenever he wished to perform some movement, they believed, a higher power had to come to his aid and do it for him. (Schlick, General Theory of Knowledge, Blumberg, tr., Open Court [La Salle, IL: 1974] p. 1)

One does not go to logical positivists for competent history of philosophy, but this idea with which Schlick starts is not made-up, although the vagueness of it makes it at least sound exaggerated, since it's only one lineage of philosophers who reasoned in this way. The most influential proponent of the idea described here is Nicolas Malebranche, since this is one of Malebranche's arguments against second causes, and his major argument against the idea that the mind causes the body to move. We find an example of this kind of argument in the Fifteenth Elucidation to The Search after Truth:

But I deny that my will is the true cause of my arm's movement, of my mind's ideas, and of other things accompanying my volitions, for I see no relation whatever between such different things. I even see clearly that there can be no relation between the volition I have to move my arm and the agitation of the animal spirits, i.e., of certain tiny bodies whose motion and figure I do not know and which choose certain nerve canals from a million others I do not know in order to cause in me the motion I desire through an infinity of movements I do not desire. (LO 669)

I deny that there is a relation between our thoughts and the motion of matter. I deny that the soul has the least knowledge of the animal spirits of which it makes use to move the body it animates. Finally, even if the soul had an exact knowledge of the animal spirits, and even if it were capable of moving them, or of determining their motion, I deny that it could thereby select the nerve ducts, of which it has no knowledge, in order to impel the spirits into them and thus move the body with the promptness, exactness, ad force observed even in those who least know the structure of their body. (LO 671)

For, in short, since the soul is a particular cause and cannot know exactly the size and agitation of an infinite number of particles that collide with each other when the spirits are in the muscles, it could neither establish a general law of the communication of motion, nor follow it exactly had it established it. Thus, it is evident that the soul could not move its arm, even if it had the power of determining the motion of the animal spirits in the brain. (LO 671)

When you will to move your arm, you do not will the micromotions that are required for your arm to move, because you have no knowledge of them. All you do know is that you will, and the motion follows, unless something interferes. The motion operates entirely by 'a general law of communication of motion'; and laws of nature, in a Cartesian system, are acts of God.

Ironically, part of Malebranche's overall argument is that descriptions like 'the union of the mind and body' and 'the will's power to move the body' are associated with no clear idea and therefore are merely "vague and indeterminate words" that are used by prejudice so that those who use them do not know what they are saying, which is very much a forerunner of the logical positivist attack on metaphysics as meaningless.

Hume takes up Malebranche's argument in ECHU, Section VII (which repeats a significant number of Malebranchean arguments for occasionalism):

Here the mind wills a certain event: Immediately another event, unknown to ourselves, and totally different from the one intended, is produced: This event produces another, equally unknown: Till at last, through a long succession, the desired event is produced. But if the original power were felt, it must be known: Were it known, its effect also must be known; since all power is relative to its effect. And vice versa, if the effect be not known, the power cannot be known nor felt. How indeed can we be conscious of a power to move our limbs, when we have no such power; but only that to move certain animal spirits, which, though they produce at last the motion of our limbs, yet operate in such a manner as is wholly beyond our comprehension?

He later notes the positive Malebranchean proposal (in order to reject it):

In like manner, it is not any energy in the will that produces local motion in our members: It is God himself, who is pleased to second our will, in itself impotent, and to command that motion which we erroneously attribute to our own power and efficacy.

Hume thus accepts Malebranche's negative argument but not his positive solution, a recurring pattern in Section VII, which is heavily influenced by Malebranche's arguments for occasionalism. It's notable that in describing the Malebranchean position, Hume also uses the generic term 'philosophers' (that it is Malebranche's is mentioned only briefly, in passing, in a footnote at the end), as he has occasionally does throughout the Enquiry; it's a tempting hypothesis that Schlick's generic 'philosophers' is an imitation of this habit, particularly as Schlick is raising the point in order to argue that there is a flaw in skepticism.

Since it's unlikely that Schlick ever read much Malebranche himself, the only source Schlick seems to have other than Hume is Arnold Geulincx. Geulincx may actually have the priority over Malebranche as the originator of the argument, but given the late posthumous publication of most of Geulincx's works and Malebranche's general contempt for non-Catholic philosophers, it's difficult to imagine any serious influence. In any case, Geulincx's notion is summed up in his famous phrase, Quod nescis quomodo fiat, id non facis, which might be colloquially translated as, "If you don't know how you're doing it, you're not doing it." Given that this idea is more or less what Schlick will diagnose as the false assumption of skepticism about knowledge, and that Schlick will mention Geulincx twice by name later in the work, it makes sense that Geulincx would be specifically in mind here. Geulincx had been revived by authors of works about the history of philosophy and for a while was much better known than he is today.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Dashed Off I

As always, dashed-off notes.

intransitive to be: to exist
transitive to be: to cause x (to make x to be)
intr. reflexive to be: to act (to be so)
trans. reflexive to be: to do x (to enact x)

excluded middle as a feature of universes of discourse (its failure as a sign that we are not dividing one universe of discourse)

int. to live: to be alive/to live
trans. to live: to enliven/quicken/give life to x
intr. ref. to live: to live as
trans ref. to live: to give life as

int. to think: to think (to be thinking)
trans. to think: to think of x
intr. ref. to think: to reflect (to be reflective)
trans. ref. to think: to reflect on x

int. to make: to be a maker
trans. to make: to make x
intr. refl. to make: to cultivate oneself
trans. refl. to make: to cultivate oneself as x (to make oneself be x)

The Kantian postulation of God is essentially a postulation of the (ultimate) unity of practical reason.

Kant on holy wills & the postulation of the possibility of angels

Pfleiderer's argument for teleology based on will as original would also work for moral realism, with minor modification (indeed, specifically moral teleology).

Material implication detaches implication from inference; which is why 'material' should perhaps be taken as alienans.

assertion : ordinary inference :: command : challenge :: question : search?

arity is a modal notion: how many objects a relation *can* relate

self-identity as relating subject and predicate: the self-identity of F is F's being F.

first subject, first ground, first totality

'What is?' as a necessary question

Modern governments are too high-maintenance to be indefinitely sustainable.

"Truth may be safely borrowed from all quarters, and it is not the less true because it has been borrowed." Max Muller

The error of quietism involves confusing 'love God for Himself and not for the sake of reward' with 'love God without regard for reward'. It creates a fictional kind of love divorced from all hope or fulfillment.

the course of every healthy inquiry:
(1) consideration of truth, dialectically
(2) contemplation of truth, intellectually
(3) admiration of the majesty or beauty of truth

"We can easily distinguish three classes of miracles. Some miracles are ideas materialised, others facts idealised, while a third class owes its origin to a simple misunderstanding of metaphorical phraseology." Max Muller
-- This is a neat and clean summary of the liberal position on miracles.
-- Note that these are in fact the three kinds of story (although one would have to state the third less tendentiously).

Modern heresies, among those who remain Catholic, tend to be, in one way or another, misconceivings of the common good of the Church.

"Whatever in nature had to be named, could at first be named as an agent only. Why? Because the roots of language were at first expressive of agency." Muller

"To overcome an error, we must discern its partial truth." E Caird

kinds of epistemological theistic argument
(1) error (Royce)
(2) skepticism-breaking
(3) illuminationist: (a) ontologistic (b) non-ontologistic
(4) epistemic precondition

Prediction is merely a branching complexity problem; it is detachable from questions of determinism. Prediction, in other words, is a use of a system of conditionals.
Prediction is hypothetical by nature.

Note that Frege takes yes/no questions to have the same thought/proposition but not the same force.
(The usual problem raised for this is that "John knows that Bill is coming" is not equivalent to "John knows whether Bill is coming"; but this seems to assume falsely that the latter is literally an embedded question.)

The yes/no of yes/no questions works exactly like true/false.

In punishment one can
(1) communicate what is the appropriate behavior for common good (public rebuke)
(2) correct behavior by discipline so as to be more appropriate to common good (corporal, shaming)
(3) force a restitution to common good (fines, community service)
(4) impede ability to harm common good further (imprisonment, exile)
(5) end ability to harm common good further (death)

Social rights in constitutions often have addressability problems: e.g., if people shall have free water, who is being addressed, specifically in this implied imperative? This interacts with the fact that different possible addressees have different capabilities and limits.

Biblical scholars have sometimes confused literary plausibility with historical plausibility. For instance, there is a literary plausibility to JEPD, in that the distribution of divine names seems not wholly arbitrary, and exhibits at least partial patterns, and in that there are functionally coherent portions that seem otherwise concerned with particular topics. There is a literary plausibility to hypotheses about redaction and even about some historical contexts. But this is treated as if it gave historical probability to various conjectures about those contexts, actions, etc. Perhaps an even more vivid cases is the Deuteronomistic History, a hypothesis which has had plenty of insightful points with structural plausibility but could never bear the historical weight that became attributed to it, because we simply don't have that kind of evidence on that kind of scale. Yet more obvious cases can be found in historical Jesus studies. (This contrasts in part with, say, dating NT books, which has sometimes been reckless in this way but has been more concerned with evidence, and also contrasts with purely literary criticism and canonical criticism on one side and with the study of manuscript history and variants on the other.) Thus one so often gets an interesting mix of ideas, serious analysis of evidence, and discussions that proceed as if the discussants had not the faintest clue how evidence and probable reasoning actually work.

Note that Caird praises the Reformation for secularizing the faith.

Every metaphor is a seed for a story.

Human beings have a standing social fear of evil rituals (in whatever form).

If there are credences, there is no particular reason to regard them as simulations of objective chances rather than assessments of salience for practical action. Indeed, the number of accounts of psychological development and structure that would not make the latter obviously preferable is very small.

Governments in practice only respect claims of natural rights when they can interpret such claims as giving license for expanding government power.

Imperialist expansionism is the political analogue of drug addiction: first you take speed to get your work done more effectively, then you begin working to get speed at any cost; first you exert imperial power to protect your interests, then you sacrifice your interests to maintaining and expanding imperial power. Imperialism teaches desire, craving, pleonexia, as an end.

To make a factual claim about the world is to make a normative claim for reason.

The principle of noncontradiction is simultaneously an Is and an Ought.

We often think of painters as dealing with flat surfaces, but it is worthwhile to remember that painting has layers (paint layers, varnish), textures, relations to frame (note Byzantine icons, for instance). Painters use microvolume to suggest deep volume; which is different from visual effect and perspective suggestions of depth.

"The Book of Acts is rightly closed with St Paul's arrival at Rome. An insight a statesman might have envied led him step by step from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Corinth, from Corinth to Rome. The battle for the world's faith could be finally decided nowhere but in the world's capital." Gwatkin

"The roots of a belief may be deeper than the associations which suggested it or the flimsy arguments first advanced in its support." Pringle-Pattison

"The whole mind is present in every act of the mind, and every act of the mind implies the whole mind." R. Haldane

question-settling evidence
-- NB that such evidence is not necessarily indubitable; it just settles the question. E.g., if I wonder whether I have a mouse, and I see what seems to be a mouse just scurrying under the refrigerator when I turn on the light, this settles the question, not because there is no consideration that could lead me to think I was mistaken, but because there is no point in pursuing the matter further. That particular inquiry has been complete, no matter what new inquiries I might raise later.

Every step of an inference is characterizable by a question.

What premises are empirical or not can only be determined empirically, and will vary according to the empirical means available.

For it to be possible that there is something necessary, it must be necessary that there is something necessary.

Samkara's principle: Nothing even appears to be like a genuine impossibility.

Appearing-not-to-be requires relevant comprehensive search. E.g., I look over the whole room, therefore there appears to be no dog in the room. But if I only look in a corner, it does not appear to me that there is no dog in the room, but only that there is no dog in the corner. What is more, it requires that I have done a relevant search, or an action equivalent to one, in order to find what is being looked for.

external world fictionalism
-- note that Berkelely has often been read as such, although he is in fact an external world structuralist.

Note that Tillich has something like an erotetic ontological argument ("The question of God is possible because an awareness of God is present in the question of God") but characterizes it as having a transcendental structure ("This awareness precedes the question. It is not the result of the argument but its presupposition"). Systematic Theology I, 206. He does not, however, regard it as actually an argument, either.

A society involves a coming together (faith-like) in moving to a goal (hope-like) which must be accomplished by actions appropriate to a goal (love-like).

immersed vs transcending hope
E.g., a sick person may have hope for a cure, but also might have hope independent of the matter of sickness or health, e.g., hope for one's children.

In Humean ethics, the magnetism of the good is sympathy itself.

Both 'propositional meaning' and 'emotive meaning' are always operative.

Stevenson's account, despite his intent, does not save disagreement about the good; disagreement in interest is not disagreement about anything; it's just a discord of interests.

generalization to salience values, salience conditions
Salience for
-- assertions: truth (being assertible)
-- imperatives: being in force
-- questions: being askable
-- wishes: being wished (to-be-wished?)

May John get well! Therefore John is not yet well.
God save the Queen! Therefore there is a Queen
If only I were rich! Therefore I am not yet rich.

"A Sign is nothing but a correlative Effect from the Same Cause." Hume ECHU (1750)
This was dropped from later editions.

assertive imperatives vs vocative imperatives

assertions : questions :: imperatives : optatives

(1) Rationality requires consistency in choice.
(2) Consistency in choice requires, for social agents, some form of governance.

optative ontological argument?
'May there be a God'; therefore, there is a God.
This *does* seem closely analogous to the Zenonian argument, but obviously the issue is how the optative would work with the necessity.

The 'feeling of understanding' is often more a feeling of breaking through to a new perspective.

Human sympathy is always approximative.

'no evil can overcome wisdom' (Wis 7:30)

You can build propositions just from vocatives and interjections. (You!--Wow!)

Hope and forgiveness are interlinked.

Caird: the phenomenal/noumenal distinction should instead be understood as a distinction between the world as imperfectly conceived and the world as more adequately conceived.

hierarchy as a kind of semiosis

By the authority of Christ the King, the Church has an inalienable right not only to Catholic places of worship and eleemosynary institutions, but also Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals, Catholic markets, and all such similar things, as prudence determines them appropriate and feasible.

A society can go far just on customs of trustworthiness, accountability, and personal initiative.

modestia as communication of dignity

analogies as the diagrams of sacramental theology

(1) A considerable portion of 'seemings' are crude and dubitable on their face; they have no 'felt verdicality' or 'assertiveness' or 'forcefulness'.
(2) 'Seeming' is an analogical, not a univocal term.
(3) 'Felt veridicality' is usually nothing other than apparent inevitability in practice or inquiry.
(4) We are often in doubt about how things seem.
(5) We can often change how things seem by changing perspective.
(6) How things seem is often contradictory.
(7) The role of seeming in inference and inquiry is entirely a matter of its being an effect.

Only by an absurdity argument against God's existence (or anything similar) can one rationally reject PSR -- i.e., by showing a case in which PSR results in an actual absurdity.

A brute fact, in the sense inconsistent with PSR, cannot be composite because its constituents are reasons explaining its being the fact it is. It cannot have intrinsically grounded relations for the same reason.

The Holy Spirit inspires sanctity in some, and part of this sanctity is a power of attracting others to sanctity, as magnet magnetizes iron; from these saints chains of others are suspended. Through these, God sways yet more souls, one drawn to the hints of sanctity in another. But there are countervailing forces, and the influence weakens down the chain.

"If ritual is suppressed in one form, it crops up in others." Mary Douglas

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that democratic popular-governance institutions are increasingly occupying a purely ceremonial role, like kings giving way to parliaments. This is related to their increase in nominal prestige; they give dignity and communicate legitimacy to other things without having much effect themselves; everyone lauds them and everyone maneuvers around them to do whatever they like.

Nomen naturae importat habitudinem principii. (Aquinas, In Phys II)

Dodgson to Mary Brown on hell, 28 June 1889

"Everything is real, so long as you do not take it for more than it is." Bosanquet

time as measure vs time as the life of the World Soul (Plotinus)

In politics, people regularly overshoot what they believe in order, first, to build a protective ring around what they do believe, and, second, to counterbalance what they think are their most serious opponents.

The actual world exhibits objective possibilities organized by causal order.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Structures of Fantasy

In her excellent Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn identifies four major forms of fantasy literature, by looking at the way in which the fantastic enters into the story, which might be roughly characterized in the following way, using Mendlesohn's labels:

(1) Portal-Quest: The characters enter by some means into a fantastic world.
(2) Immersive: The story occurs in a fantastic world treated as the real world.
(3) Intrusion: The fantastic enters into and disrupts the real world as something foreign to it.
(4) Liminal: The fantastic enters into the real world as if it were part of the real world.

I think we can generalize this a bit, and a notation would be handy in doing so. So let's take a standard set-up, the contrast between the mundane and the fantastic:


There are a few things that need to be recognized about this distinction. It will be important for later that the contrast between the mundane and the fantastic is relative, not absolute; the mundane is the 'rest state' or 'reference point' in the narrative. 'Mundane' here is not a synonym for 'real' and something obviously real can be fantastic relative to someone else. (And both are common parts of human experience. If you fall asleep and dream and then wake-up, you've from mundane to fantastic to mundane again. If you walk through a dark wood and get creeped out, you're in a fantastic state relative to your usual state.) Despite its possibly counterintuitive sound, the fantastic is also the more fundamental of the two notions -- nothing in a narrative is recognizable as mundane except in contrast to the fantastic, but the fantastic in a narrative is fantastic directly to the hearer or reader. While it's tempting to talk about 'the mundane world' and 'the fantastic world', in many situations we are not talking about worlds, but just states or contexts.

The notation we have so far doesn't of itself constitute any sort of story at all; it's just the contrast between the mundane and the fantastic. To get a story we have to do something to that contrast. There are several things we can do.

A mundane element can move into a fantastic context.

A fantastic element can move into a mundane context.

A context recognizable as mundane can turn out also to be fantastic.

A context recognizable as fantastic can be treated as mundane.

These correspond to Mendlesohn's four major kinds of fantasy (portal-quest, intrusion, liminal, and immersive, respectively). However, again, I want to understand these at a more general level; this is not an empirical classification, but a kind of narrative movement. To these four, I think we need to add a fifth:

It can be deliberately ambiguous whether we are dealing with the mundane or fantastic. (This is often how writers try to handle Christmas stories in movies and television shows -- everything is mundane and not fantastic, but there's that one strange thing, so that maybe you were dealing with the fantastic all along? That department store Santa couldn't have really been Santa Claus -- and yet....)

We can call these five 'the standard fantasy structures'. It's important to note that these are structures, not genres or subgenres, although you could define genres of fantasy in terms of them. Because the distinction between the mundane and the fantastic is a relative one, these structures can be nested. You can have a perfectly good story that has a simple fantasy structure. But you can also have more complicated structures, and some of the great works are partly so interesting precisely because of their more complicated structures. For instance, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a paradigmatic example of a portal-quest fantasy, so its pivotal structure is naturally M|>F. The Pevensies enter Narnia. But this is not a complete characterization of the fantasy structure of the work. For one thing, Lucy enters the wardrobe, M|>F, but she returns and seems to her brothers and sister to going crazy. So Lucy's entering the wardrobe and return arguably means that she is the fantastic intruding on the mundane state of her siblings, M>|(M|>F). They end up all going through the wardrobe despite avoiding the wardrobe room because the Macready is leading a tour of the house and she somehow seems to be everywhere until the children have no choice except to enter the wardrobe; the mundane world turns out to be (maybe) fantastic already, although it's not clear, M?(M|>|(M|>F)). In Narnia they meet up with the Beavers and start getting used to the place. But a fantastic thing has happened: Aslan has returned. Narnia has become the reference point; Aslan is fantastic relative to it and is intruding into it, M?(M|>|(M|>F))|F. This is actually extraordinarily important for the character of the story: we've entered a fantastic world and a more fantastic thing is entering into that world. But this is not the end of it. Because of Edmund's betrayal, Aslan has to save him in a way that complies with the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time, which is a fantastic element discovered in Narnia-as-mundane, (M?(M|>|(M|>F))|F)F|. But, of course, there is a Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time, ((M?(M|>|(M|>F))|F)F|)F|. The Pevensies, however, become Kings and Queens, and later return through the wardrobe again, yet changed, a fantastic element entering the mundane: M<|(((M?(M|>|(M|>F))|F)F|)F|).

Likewise, the pivotal structure of The Lord of the Rings is the fantastic as mundane, since Middle Earth is a contained context and we never enter or leave it: |FM. But the full structure is immensely more complicated, since, for instance, Rohan is mundane compared to Gondor and the Shire is mundane compared to both. Nor is this interaction between mundane and fantastic built in a straightforward fashion of increasing fantastic; the mundane hobbits find the fantastic Riders intruding, and they flee and the story steps up to fantastic Tom Bombadil, and then steps back down to comparatively mundane Elves. This is why quests have become a cliche in fantasy; Tolkien's very sophisticated use of quest structure to take us naturally and easily through a dizzying array of different fantasy structures has led to others trying to replicate the richness of that experience, sometimes using Tolkien's own techniques and sometimes just doing cargo cult imitations.

However, while fantasy structures can nest, this is not the only way they can be related. For instance, the first meeting with Mr Tumnus in LWW is set up simultaneously as mundane Lucy entering fantastic Narnia and as fantastic Daughter of Eve entering mundane Narnia, and done so extraordinarily well. This is done in a way even more central to the story in Prince Caspian: the mundane Pevensies entering fantastic Narnia again are also the fantastic legendary Kings and Queens entering mundane Narnia. Is it primarily a M|>F Pevensie tale or a M<|F Caspian tale? These are not nested structures, furthering a plot in an orderly way, but two structures being used to build the overall story, each treated alternately, and in some passages more or less simultaneously, as if it is the structure of the story. Likewise, while fantasy structures essential to plot tend to nest, unless they are badly done, fantasy structures that are a matter of episode will tend to float relatively free. Lucy having tea with Mr Tumnus is a structured as a |FM that does not, in itself, constitute a plot-building structure but a character-building one; it does not need to connect up with another fantasy structure because the book is not an account of the adventures of a Faun. It's just there so that Mr Tumnus matters and the stage is set for a later crisis.

One sees the distinction very well in cases where a fantastic structure basically floats free in a context that is deliberately eschewing anything fantastic. Dream and hallucination sequences are standard ways in which you get fantasy structures in works that are not part of the fantasy genre by any stretch of the imagination, and you could very well have a story that has nothing fantastic except a dream or a hallucination.

There can also be a great deal of ambiguity about whether a given fantasy structure is of a particular kind or is even in play. For instance, above I suggested that when Lucy returns from Narnia the first time, she comes back as a fantastic intrusion. One could dispute this, I think, although I think some of the structure of the story (in particular, how the Professor handles the matter) requires it. When Edmund goes and returns, that's pretty clearly M|>F for Edmund, but it's not shifting the reader or the other characters about at all; it's not a part of the nested structure of the plot, but just a stage-setting and character-building structure. But one could perhaps say that Lucy's return (although not her going) should be treated the same way, and not, as I've depicted, as an important element of the nested structures constituting the plot. This kind of dispute is unavoidable, I think; people will sometimes just read a story differently. This is not to say that such disputes are irresolvable, of course -- it's a very a great error to assume that the inevitability of dispute implies the irresolvability of dispute. For instance, it's inevitable that people will catch different moral tones in reading a work, and therefore disagree; but people who read The Lord of the Rings as a simplistic tale of Good vs. Evil are provably reading it badly -- you can point to a large quantity of evidence in the story that shows that they are not getting the moral tones right. Likewise, there will inevitably be disputes about how the mundane and the fantastic interact in any very sophisticated story; but there is evidence from which to argue. However, the evidence cannot be assumed in every case to decide every dispute, and if that's the case, we are left with an ambiguity. A general rule, though, is that anything that could happen naturally with regard to a story is something that could be used deliberately by a storyteller, so there may well be cases in which the ambiguity is entirely deliberate and an essential part of the story.

A Vague and Starry Magic

by James Russell Lowell

The moon shines white and silent
On the mist, which, like a tide
Of some enchanted ocean,
O'er the wide marsh doth glide,
Spreading its ghost-like billows
Silently far and wide.

A vague and starry magic
Makes all things mysteries,
And lures the earth's dumb spirit
Up to the longing skies,--
I seem to hear dim whispers,
And tremulous replies.

The fireflies o'er the meadow
In pulses come and go;
The elm-trees' heavy shadow
Weighs on the grass below;
And faintly from the distance
The dreaming cock doth crow.

All things look strange and mystic,
The very bushes swell
And take wild shapes and motions,
As if beneath a spell;
They seem not the same lilacs
From childhood known so well.

The snow of deepest silence
O'er everything doth fall,
So beautiful and quiet,
And yet so like a pall,
As if all life were ended,
And rest were come to all.

O wild and wondrous midnight,
There is a might in thee
To make the charmed body
Almost like spirit be,
And give it some faint glimpses
Of immortality!

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Evening Note for Tuesday, January 8

Thought for the Evening: Assertion, Fiction, and Truth

It's a common view in contemporary philosophy of language that the act of assertion has some special link with truth. A common view is that this is through some norm of assertion which is violated if assertion is detached from truth. There are different such norms proposed -- perhaps the norm is that we should only assert what is true, or that we should only assert what we reasonably believe to be true, or that we should only assert what we know to be true. It's also fairly commonly the case that people want to take 'truth' here as a specific kind of thing. For instance, is the following true?

Sherlock Holmes lives on Baker Street.
The usual assumption in these kinds of discussion is that it is really not. But we assert things with fictional presuppositions all the time, and we don't normally have any problem with this. As I've noted before, I seriously doubt that any of the proposed norms can account for all the things we really need assertion to do. But even if that were not so, it seems to me to be quite obvious that any account of the truth of an assertion can treat 'truth' as univocal in all cases. There is a perfectly straightforward sense in which it is true that Sherlock Holmes lives on Baker Street, and no reason to hold that this is merely metaphorical or that it is a shorthand for a more elaborate and indirect kind of truth. If I ask where Sherlock Holmes lives, there are many situations in which it would be flat-out wrong to deny that he lives on Baker Street. It is true that Sherlock Holmes lives on Baker Street; it is true that Kryptonians like Superman are psychokinetics; it is true that Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth; it is true that Eustace became a dragon. And there is no problem with saying so, because while different cases of 'true' are related to each other, there is no reason whatsoever to think that they are all the same, or that true in a story is somehow not really true at all. To be sure, there are many cases in which true in a story would not be the right kind of 'true' for whatever we are doing; but as anybody knows from those tiresome hyperliteralists who cannot enjoy a story for its own sake, assuming that 'true' in a nonfictional sense (for instance, true insofar as our best scientific theories suggest) is always necessarily relevant is also an intellectual defect. Nor does this cause any problems for logical reasoning at all, as long as you aren't unreasonably shifting the sense of 'true' in the middle of your argument.

One of the recurring problems of much philosophy of language is the attempt to overload linguistic acts with special significance in order to get some solution to some problem or other. We see this in some of the elaborate epicycle-ridden systems people develop with respect to the paradox of fiction, merely in order to deny that we can have emotional attachments to fictional characters, on the ground that they do not exist. But whether a fictional character exists doesn't change anything about the telling of a story itself; if you tell the same story in a situation in which people think the character exists, in a situation in which people think the character doesn't exist, and in a third situation in which people are unsure whether the character exists or not, nothing would have to change in how the storytelling itself works on us. If there were a major difference, we would have reason to say that we are never emotionally responding to the storytelling itself. There is no difference between describing a fictional character and describing a real person; the bare act of description is not so loaded with metaphysics that it can distinguish the two, and if there is a difference in our emotional responses to the two cases, it would have to depend on things that are not particularly relevant to our responses to description, whether what is described exists or not. And likewise it's an error to think that assertion as such has much to do with a specific metaphysics of truth; we may respond to it differently depending on some metaphysical view, but nothing about assertion itself is affected by any of these things. Why would it be?

When we look at the full panoply of assertions we make -- and, indeed, reasonably make -- there seems very little reason to think that assertion, simply considered as such, always has to be concerned with truth; and even when it is concerned with truth, there seems very little reason to think that it will always be concerned with truth in exactly the same way. It's often noted that we criticize false assertions as improper; but we don't actually seem to criticize false assertions as being in any way defective as assertions -- we criticize them for being morally or practically inappropriate in a context. Truth, and whatever kind of truth is relevant in a given case, is important for assertion for moral and practical reasons that have to do with the aims of reason. But this is an indirect importance; if assertion is detached from truth, or from a specific kind of truth, it still works perfectly well as an assertion.

If this is the case, as I think it is, then a common philosophical assumption -- that you can learn something about truth by investigating assertion itself -- is not true. You might learn something by investigating particular kinds of assertions in particular kinds of cases, but for that to be done you would already need to know enough about truth to select out the kinds of assertions and kinds of contexts to study. From assertion itself you will learn nothing much about truth, just as you will learn nothing much about real existence or fictional existence from description, and nothing much about real relations among events from narration, despite the fact that we can and do use all of these acts to talk about all of these things.

Various Links of Interest

* Vaneesa Cook, Why divine immanence mattered for the Civil Rights struggle

* Jessica Murdoch, On the Relationship Between Sanctity and Knowledge: Holiness as an Epistemological Criterion in St. Thomas

* Kris McDaniel, A Philosophical Model of the Distinction between Appearances and Things in Themselves (PDF link a bit more than halfway down the page under "History of Philosophy")

* Working Off Yesterday's Technology at "DarwinCatholic"

* And MrsD recently took up the challenge of writing a story that has all the standard tropes of a Hallmark Christmas movie while giving them an occasionally different twist: Christmas in Luxembourg, Ohio.


* Scott Alexander has a nice review of Kuhn's The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions, one that (thankfully) avoids the usual mistakes people make about Kuhn. There's more that might be said on a few issues, of course. For instance, there is, in principle, no difficulty with finding the paradigms for a science, since strictly speaking you just look in the textbooks: the paradigms are the examples that keep being used to teach the theory. But it was recognized very soon after the book was written that Kuhn sometimes uses 'paradigm' in this sense, sometimes for a family of such examples, sometimes for central features of such examples, sometimes for concepts used in them, sometimes for methods exemplified by them, sometimes metonymically for the theory or for the general view in which the paradigm is seen as plausible, etc. And as David Chapman notes in the comments, the historical location of the work, published in 1962, is quite important for understanding it; logical positivism, once so impressive-seeming, was in its late stages of collapse, but its influence was still everywhere (particularly in the obsessive interest in theory and the tendency to treat physics as the paradigmatic science). While people had taken a history-of-science approach to discussing science before, Kuhn's discussion came at a time during which a lot of people were particularly willing to listen to alternatives to abstract discussions of different formal and semi-formal systems for modeling the process of theory disconfirmation and falsification. It gave them a reason to consider both actual history and messy proposals that could not be captured in a logical system. That Kuhn is often vague and ambiguous at important points arguably was part of what made the work a success -- different people could take him in different ways; that's pretty much what happened, of course, sometimes to Kuhn's exasperation.

I think you can argue that Structure is in some ways to twentieth-century philosophy of science what Richard Whately's Logic was to the field of logic in the nineteenth century. Whately did come up with some interesting things on his own, but his real importance was that he gave a large number of people a new and interesting starting point, and those people did yet more new things with it, to the considerable benefit of the field. So also with Kuhn: his primary importance lies in having shaken things up at the right time.

Currently Reading

C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia
Augustine, Against the Academicians and The Teacher
Catarina Dutilh Novaes, Formalizing Medieval Logical Theories

And the Wind, the Wind in My Sails

The Windmill
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Behold! a giant am I!
Aloft here in my tower,
With my granite jaws I devour
The maize, and the wheat, and the rye,
And grind them into flour.

I look down over the farms;
In the fields of grain I see
The harvest that is to be,
And I fling to the air my arms,
For I know it is all for me.

I hear the sound of flails
Far off, from the threshing-floors
In barns, with their open doors,
And the wind, the wind in my sails,
Louder and louder roars.

I stand here in my place,
With my foot on the rock below,
And whichever way it may blow,
I meet it face to face,
As a brave man meets his foe.

And while we wrestle and strive,
My master, the miller, stands
And feeds me with his hands;
For he knows who makes him thrive,
Who makes him lord of lands.

On Sundays I take my rest;
Church-going bells begin
Their low, melodious din;
I cross my arms on my breast,
And all is peace within.

Monday, January 07, 2019

The Pancratiast

I have already once observed in a contest of pancratiasts how one of the combatants inflicted blows with hands and feet, all well aimed, and omitted nothing that could lead to his victory, but then exhausted and weakened ultimately quit the arena without the crown, whereas the one receiving the blows, a firm mass of compact flesh, dour, solid, full of the elasticity of the true athlete, all muscle, hard as rock or iron, gave no ground in the face of the blows, but by his patient and steadfast endurance reduced the strength of his adversary until he had attained complete victory. Much the same, it seems to me, is the situation of the virtuous man; his soul well fortified through firm reasoning, he compels the one who acts with violence to sink in exhaustion, sooner than himself submit to do anything contrary to his judgment.

[Philo of Alexandria, Quod Omnis Probis Liber Sit 26-27, as translated in Philo of Alexandria, The Contemplative Life, the Giants, and Selections, Winston, tr., Paulist Press (Ramsey, NJ: 1981), p. 77. A different translation of the same passage is available here.]

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Fortnightly Book, January 6

The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: 'Let's try to make a story about it.'

[C. S. Lewis, "It All Began with a Picture...", On Stories, and Other Essays in Literature, HarperOne (San Francisco: 2017) pp. 79-80.]

The next fortnightly book will be The Chronicles of Narnia, all seven books. The series got its name from Roger Lancelyn Green around the time of the publication of The Silver Chair.

There is, of course, the question of the order in which they should be read. There are three orders that are immediately on the table:

Order of Writing
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Dawn Treader
The Horse and His Boy
The Silver Chair
The Last Battle
The Magician's Nephew

Order of Publication
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician's Nephew
The Last Battle

Internal Chronological Order
The Magician's Nephew
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Horse and His Boy
Prince Caspian
The Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Last Battle

Lewis himself, in response to a young fan asking whether the internal or the publication order was the better order for reading, said that possibly it did not matter, since the whole series wasn't planned out beforehand. He's usually thought to have preferred the internal order, but I think his actual comments are more ambiguous than that; others have noted that he never changed the order of the series himself. I remember when I was in elementary school that librarians were plugging the internal order, and this has become common today. However, there seems to me to be a fundamental problem with the internal order: the entry into Narnia should be by wardrobe. The story structurally works better if it begins in medias res, in the thick of the tale. (For one thing, The Magician's Nephew works better paired with The Last Battle as a sort of higher-order comment on the rest, especially since the story makes more sense on assumption of familiarity with Narnia.) And the whole thing began with a picture about Faun. I just can't get on board with an order that doesn't start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

But it is true that Lewis was not primarily concerned with matters of order. So I think for this reading I will go with the order in which Lewis is generally thought to have written the books, in which the beginning of the tale is the end of the series. It also has the benefit that The Dawn Treader and The Horse and His Boy pair very well (adventure from and to Narnia), as do The Silver Chair and The Last Battle (the darker books of the series, both concerned with deception).

Somewhere I have the Focus on the Family adaptation on CD, so I might dig those out for a re-hearing.

Music on My Mind

Today, of course, is the Holy Feast of the Epiphany.

The Hound + The Fox (with Tim Foust), "We Three Kings". The myrrh verse just hits me every time I hear this song, in any version.