Saturday, March 09, 2019

Two New Poem Drafts


I see the sea turn gold
at the dawning of the light;
I see it fierce and bold
and leaping to the fight.
I see the glory pouring down
for the crowning of the wave
with angelic might,
and I know that we are saved.

Extreme Unction

as with some ancient memory,
but of what is above
as well as what is behind,
the recollection of serenity,
too often lost, yet always there,
descends with soothing scent,
the flesh pants like a hart,
yearning for living water,
loving and yearning to love,
with a kiss of the crucifix;
the heart is sick in the presence of God,
sickness merely a lacking of God,
a distance as upon a cross
that may be raised in sacrifice,
a purifying as if by fire.
Upon the head which knows,
upon the hands which do,
upon the body and its means,
the Spirit is given,
the oil is given,
and like the penitent thief
stealing into paradise,
the soul shares the Passion of God
in the mortality of the body,
and the spirit overflows,
redounding in splendid glory,
that the body be made sign
of its own resurrection.

Lent IV

...a sacrament properly speaking is that which is ordained to signify our sanctification. In which three things may be considered; viz. the very cause of our sanctification, which is Christ's passion; the form of our sanctification, which is grace and the virtues; and the ultimate end of our sanctification, which is eternal life. And all these are signified by the sacraments. Consequently a sacrament is a sign that is both a reminder of the past, i.e. the passion of Christ; and an indication of that which is effected in us by Christ's passion, i.e. grace; and a prognostic, that is, a foretelling of future glory.

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.60.3.]

Friday, March 08, 2019

Dashed Off V

When people say 'methodological naturalism', they often mean 'teleological naturalism' -- i.e., they are not actually taking naturalism as a method of inquiry but as an end.

"if something, no matter what, exists, then it must be conceded that something exists necessarily" Kant A585/B613
- necessary being is required for morality and religion (as a ground of the unity and purposiveness of the phenomenal world) A466/B494
- necessary being is required for theoretical reason (as a ground for the greatest possible unity of appearances) A617-8/B645-6

Note that Kant's Doctrine of Virtue is in fact a doctrina *officiorum* virtutis.

Vatsyayana: Conjunction causes new entities, so cannot be merely proximity and contact.

Virtue is unified because virtues are mutually supporting, and what is mutually supporting is unified, as we see in bodies and groups, which we can recognize as unified because their parts are mutually supporting; thus it is proved.

As human deeds take the form of thought, word, and external action, God commanded that when they sin, they should bring a ritual sacrifice as an action, confess as a word, and burn the sacrifice symbolically as a thought, replacing or substituting the thought, word, and deed of the sacrifice for that of their sin, so that, knowing they have sinned against God and that it would be more fitting to be sacrificed than to do so, they will know the mercy and lovingkindness of God. (Compare Nahmanides on Lv 1:9)

The probability of an event is relative to a frame of measurement.

We are not usually aiming at pleasure but at pleasant things; to aim at pleasure requires a higher-order reflection.

Effective policing requires recognizing two things:
(1) That people resent punishment given for reasons that they do not understand and regard as at least reasonable.
(2) That people resent punishment given by people who do not seem to be considering their best interests, at least broadly and generically.

"Only the simplest of pleasurable experiences are readily accessible to all." Joad

The exemplar cause is a term of imitation. Thus the sacraments can be seen as means of imitation. But this is surely not enough, for the sacraments are means of imitation by being instruments of divine acts, God acting on us so that we may imitate Christ,such that the imitation is a cooperation between us and the divine act itself.

God cuts with a scalpel, man with a hatchet.

Love is halfway to skill.

"Every generation is guided, and to a great extent governed, by ideal conceptions; and the conceptions which influence any given age are indicated by the abstract words which find most favour with it." James Fitzjames Stephen

imputability : act :: responsibility : agent (Grenier)

Marriage is sacred even as a natural institution, just as parental authority is hieratic even as a natural institution.

The rights of the state to educate are rights to assist and to supplement the education proceeding from the more basic parental right to educate, and to provide resources for educating in specifically civil matters (like civics or military training). The rights of the Church to educate spring from its divine mission; they include subsidiary and supplementary rights similar to those of states (but in a different order) and the rights of evangelization, catechesis, and the like.

Authority is a precondition of liberty.

To understand the basic idea of any field of mathematics, ask what different things it unifies.

asymmetric dependency theories of mental representation // regularity theories of causation
teleological theories of representation // powers theories of causation

In an environment of toxic discourse, all apology is treated as confession and all explanation is treated as attack.

That one loves reasoning does not mean one never tires of arguing.

kinds of doxography
(1) placita (topical arrangement of opinions)
(2) lives (biographical arrangement)
(3) diadochai (philosophical successions)
(4) chronologies (metrical arrangement)
(5) incidental (e.g., in miscellanies or in passing discussion)

If you take any society's metaphors too seriously, it will always sound like a society of savages.

From the fact that Homer calls the sky a (metal) bowl, one does not learn that the Homeric sky is a metal bowl; one learns that it is smooth and arching and bright in appearance.

the splitting (or splitness) of earth and sky as a fundamental part of human experience of the world, as witnessed by myths across the globe

Appearances are a glimpse of the obscure. (Anaxagoras)

It is pointless to say that Communism has never been implemented when trying-to-reach-Communism keeps resulting in endless poverty and murder.

It is an overlooked but important point that Confucianism doesn't say all that much about how to structure a family or a kingdom; this is not its chief interest. Structure it how you will -- if you do so wisely. And how to do so wisely is the matter of importance.

It is strange that Analects 7.34 is so often read as suggesting doubt about prayer when the natural reading is that prayer is something that is always done, not confined to times. This is a problem one regularly finds. Imagine a scenario analogous to Analects 11.11:
"The man came to the Desert Father and asked about service to God. The Father said: You do not yet know how to serve your neighbor. How will you be able to serve God?"
Would anyone conclude that this was a criticism of service to God, or a sign of agnosticism, or an insistence that the purely human is more fundamental? One would take it as providing an answer to the question asked, not a dismissal of it.
The point is not that there is some true religious reading here; it is that a reading is being imposed that itself prejudges what one should learn from the teacher. And every teacher knows that this jumping-ahead is one of the errors every student must overcome in order to learn.

Confucius did not teach himself as a subject. The Analects are not his whole teachings; they are his comments (at least the ones his students found very useful) on how to learn what he taught, which were the actual arts of civilized society.

Good manners require an attention to forum as well as to form.

If I haven't met John, I may have evidence for and against his existence. If I have met John, I see that all or most of the evidence against his existence was merely apparent, but I still have all the evidence that he exists. The only 'evidence against' that matters at that point is evidence suggesting I err in thinking I have met him.

Moral agreement is not a mere agreeing-that; it is at least an agreeing-for.

To talk about reasonableness is already to assume what is right.

To recognize an Other is in part to recognize them in a normatively structured relation to oneself.

I think with you; therefore we are.

"The great and the beautiful strikes the mind with veneration, and leads us to infer intelligence as residing in it, or directing it: a careful attention to the structure of our own nature and its powers leads to the same conclusion." Hutcheson

intrinsic dignity vs expressed dignity vs tastefulness with respect to dignity (i.e., adjunct dignity)

causes of moral disagreement (Hutcheson)
(1) Different notions of happiness and what promotes it.
(2) Narrower or more expansive views (the system in which the tendency of action is considered)
(3) Different opinions of divine command.

the intrinsically colonialist character of utilitarianism

global interventionism // colonialism

Meriting is a kind of partial causing.

metaphors as representational aids in conditions of scarce representational resources (Yablo)
-- In fact, of course, there is reason to think they can do this because metaphors are themselves a major part of our representational resources -- calling them 'aids' makes them sound as if they were supplements when in reality they are a major part of how we can represent at all.

It is perfectly legitimate to read off 'ontological commitments' from figurative statement; you just can't switch to a literal reading in the middle of doing so.

Paraphrase presupposes a classification whose resources can be used to select an alternate route for description. If I try to paraphrase 'The Queen has a corgi' without using the word 'corgi', I need to have some classification of corgi (e.g. as a breed of small herding dog originating in Wales) to be able to construct a different description to the same effect.

While etiological accounts of function are often put forward as neutrally objective and naturalistic, they are in fact irreducibly cognitive and rationalistic, for what actually does the work is not bare history but that history in particular that explains and makes intelligible.

Olfaction is a significant contributor to the ambience of the external world; consider sufferers of anosmia who, lacking all sense of smell, often find themselves disoriented, less easily able to connect to the world, perhaps because smell plays a significant role in classifying *situations* (home, presence of favorite foods, possible danger or worrisome something-or-other-wrong, being with loved ones, etc.).

It has always been tempting to think of olfaction as passive, but in fact a significant part of it is active sampling (sniff, attentive inhalation). Olfaction is basically one part of our chemical testing system; we test for chemical presence with our sense of smell.

elegance as goodness of logic-in-motion

By consistency with the principle of noncontradiction, things participate the unity of God (and vice versa: by their participation they are consistent).

Thought may give an object to a concept by empirical experience, by reflection, or by causal inference. In the first way we 'mix' with objects in the body; in the second, the mind is present to itself as object; and in the third we recognize that there is an object because of other objects.

Much of the critique of reason in Kant is simply a demonstration of what happens if you try to do rationalism with an empiricist account of existence and causation and system.

Kant's use of the term 'deduction' is legal, not logical, from the legal documents used to show that an acquired right was legitimately acquired (see Santo). Thus Kant is continuing the earlier practice of looking for 'the originals of ideas', tracing things back to what gives us the appropriate right to use them.

Welfare systems generally work by honor and shame, and break down if the latter do.

A child begins its life physically enfolded in the body of its mother, and also spiritually enfolded in the care of its parents, which lasts longer; in both cases the child is a person whose life is a partially distinct, partially indistinct part of the lives of the parents.

Kant's antinomies and the potentiality/actuality distinction
- the infinite regress side in each case as really showing that, for any given series, the series could be longer.

Etymologically the mark of an infant is not speaking (in-fans).

The prosperity of a society is the continual accumulation of modest gains.

The Scottish Enlightenment involved two elements: 200+ years of educational development (beginning with the founding of the universities -- St. Andrews 1413, Glasgow 1451, Aberdeen (King's College) 1495, Edinburgh 1583, Aberdeen (Marischal) 1593, and continuing with the Education Act 1496) combined with the new economic development arising from the Union.

It is with prudence that the natural image of God is made most clear, because by it we are most assimilated to God our providential Creator. But charity assimilates us to God in an even more fundamental way.

It is by their opposition to prudence that vices most clearly display how they degrade the human person.

Lent III

Signs are given to men, to whom it is proper to discover the unknown by means of the known. Consequently a sacrament properly so called is that which is the sign of some sacred thing pertaining to man; so that properly speaking a sacrament, as considered by us now, is defined as being the "sign of a holy thing so far as it makes men holy."

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.60.2.]

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Lent II

A sacrament occurs in a celebration when a deed done is so understood as to signify something that is received in a holy way. And so baptism and chrism, body and blood, are sacraments. These are called sacraments because, under the bodily skin of the thing, the divine power secretly works the salvation pertaining to those sacraments; thus on the basis of secret or holy power they are called 'sacraments'. These are fruitfully accomplished in the hands of the Church because the Holy Spirit dwelling in it works the effect in a a secret way....Thus in Greek it is called 'mystery', because it has a secret and concealed disposition.

[St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologies 6.19.39-42, my translation.]

I'd normally be hesitant to translate 'secretius' and similar words by 'secret', because (despite appearances) the word usually means 'private' or 'personal', not 'secret'; it's what gives us the word 'secretary'. Thus, for instance, the 'Vatican Secret Archives' sounds really confidential and mysterious in English, but the name literally just means that it is privately owned by the Pope -- it's basically the Pope's private filing cabinet (a library-sized filing cabinet!) for receipts, correspondence, and various miscellaneous documents pertaining to the Pope himself. It contrasts with the public archives of the curial offices. Here, however, while we could translate it as 'private' or 'personal', St. Isidore so emphasizes the fact of hidden power that this seems a rare case where the English word 'secret' is probably the best translation: a sacrament is a secret sacredness, a hidden hallowing.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

'Signify by Their Institution'

Thinking about today's Lenten quote from St. Bonaventure, and particularly the point where he says that sacraments signify by their institution, I suddenly saw something that I probably should have seen before, but only just realized. That sacraments signify by their institution is a standard position (as positive signs, it's obvious that they get their primary meaning from institution), but on Bonaventure's account of institution, it's not something that happens all at once. There is no single moment of institution. Christ did not, one day, out of the blue, suddenly say, "From now on, do this thing you've had no inkling of before." Rather, the institution as Bonaventure describes it (1) is a multi-stage action that (2) can be done in more than one way. In every case it involves some kind of build-up to a completion, and in every case the kind of institution is appropriate to the role of the sacrament in the overall sacramental economy of the Church.

Bonaventure divides the sacraments into several groups in terms of the kind of institution they received. Matrimony and Penance go together, Confirmation and Unction go together, and Baptism, Eucharist, and Order go together.

Matrimony and Penance: Bonaventure says that the kind of institution Matrimony and Penance have was that Christ "confirmed, approved, and brought [them] to perfection" (p. 221). The build-up to Matrimony and Penance is a very, very long build-up. Alexander of Hales had argued that Matrimony and Penance were both instituted as sacraments in Paradise, before the Fall, and after the Fall they were modified to be remedial, without becoming entirely different. Bonaventure doesn't go that far with Penance, but he does with Matrimony; he states multiple times that Matrimony is a paradisial sacrament. And he thinks there was a sacramental form of penance predating the Incarnation. God had already initiated sacraments of Matrimony and Penance, concerned with procreation and repentance. So what Christ does is confirm and complete these long-building sacraments, making them sacraments of the New Covenant "by preaching repentance, attending the wedding feast, and reasserting the command concerning the marriage" (p. 223). There wasn't much he actually had to do in order to institute Matrimony and Penance as evangelical sacraments; he just had to give them the final touch by making repentance a gospel precept, giving his example at the wedding at Cana, and establishing the conditions for marriage under the gospel.

Confirmation and Unction: Confirmation and Unction are very different sacraments but they do have definite similarities -- they both use oil, and they both have historically been adjunct to other sacraments (Baptism for Confirmation and Penance for Unction) -- so it's interesting that Bonaventure also groups them together for independent reasons. Bonaventure says that Christ instituted these two sacraments by insinuation and introduction. These sacraments had their essential features put together during Christ's life, when the disciples were participating in the work of the Holy Spirit but in an incomplete and anticipatory way. Thus the institution of some sacraments partakes of this anticipatory character. Confirmation was instituted "by imposing his hands on the little ones, and by foretelling that his disciples would 'be baptized with the Holy Spirit'" (p. 224); thus Christ gives his example and alludes to Confirmation. Unction was instituted "by sending the disciples to cure the sick whom they 'anointed with oil'" (p. 224); thus Christ combines the example and the allusion by giving his disciples the pattern that they will use.

Baptism, Eucharist, and Order: Christ instituted Baptism, Eucharist, and Order in a full and complete way; he "inaugurated, brought to perfection, and received" all three. Baptism as a distinctive sacrament was inaugurated and received by Christ's Baptism in the Jordan; he also completed it by giving it a definite form (the Trinitarian forum) and making it a precept. Order was instituted first by giving the power of the keys, and then by giving the power to confect the Eucharist. The Eucharist was instituted by Christ's comparing himself to a grain of wheat in John 12:24-25 (which is an odd choice, but I take it that this is supposed to be representative of Christ's Eucharist-relevant claims, rather than the sole component) and by the Lord's Supper. Bonaventure's view is that these sacraments were given special institution by Christ, to emphasize that they are the essential evangelical sacraments. (This contrasts with common Reformation and Counter-Reformation discussions which take Baptism, Eucharist, and sometimes Order to have the paradigmatic institution. Protestants would argue, for instance, that other sacraments were not sacraments because they were not instituted the way Baptism and Eucharist were; Catholics would disagree, but they still tended to take these two as being the standard pattern for sacramental institution. There is no standard or paradigmatic kind of sacramental institution on Bonaventure's account, however, since the institutions vary for reasons having to do with the different ways the sacraments are supposed to work, and the institution of these three is so far from being the standard template that their institution is extraordinary specifically to emphasize that they are especially central.) For the same reason, these three have the most Old Testament prefiguring.

Since sacraments signify by their institution, and since Bonaventure, unlike many, takes institution to be a multi-part thing, on Bonaventure's account, the signification of each sacrament has multiple elements. Marriage in the Garden of Eden does not merely anticipate sacramental marriage; it is actually part of the sacramental sign, as is the wedding at Cana. Christ's Baptism is part of the sacramental sign in sacramental Baptism. And so forth. And the differences in how each sacrament has traditionally been found in the Gospels are essential components in how they differ in signification. Christ didn't give Anointing the Sick a defective institution by never saying "Do this in memory of me" or "Go out and do this to all nations", the way he did with the Eucharist and Baptism; he gave it the institution that was appropriate to it as a very different kind of sacrament with a very different role in the sacramental economy. And so forth. It's a very interesting approach.


St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Monti, ed. and tr., Franciscan Institute Publications (Saint Bonaventure, NY: 2005).

Lent I

We must maintain the following about the source of the sacraments: that they are sensible signs divinely instituted as remedies in which, "under the cover of material realities, divine power operates in a hidden manner." Thus, "they represent by similitude, signify by their institution, and confer a certain spiritual grace by sanctification" through which the soul is cured from the weakness of its vices. They are principally ordained to this as their final end; but as subordinate ends, they also are a means of humiliation, instruction, and exercise.

[St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Monti, ed. and tr., Franciscan Institute Publications (Saint Bonaventure, NY: 2005) pp. 211-212. The quotations are from St. Isidore (Etymologies 6.19.40) and Hugh of St. Victor (On the Sacraments 1.9.2).]

I've decided this Lent to make sacraments the theme.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Evening Note for Tuesday, March 5

Thought for the Evening: Person as Subsistent Right

Antion Rosmini wrote a voluminous philosophical study of the concepts of 'right' and 'rights'. 'Right' he defines as "a moral power, or authority to act" or "a faculty of acting, protected by moral law, which obligates others to respect it" (The Essence of Right, Book I, Chapter I). 'Rights' are right as applied to specific cases, and they are known on the proprietà, which Cleary and Watson like to translate, sensibly, as 'ownership', but which I think could sometimes be better translated as 'belonging'. Rights concern what is your own, what belongs to you, what is proper to a person.

The most obvious thing we might want to say is your own is you. But obviously in some sense it's also odd to say that you belong to you. The reason is that your 'right to your own person' is not a right like other rights, but in some sense more fundamental. If we think about the definition of 'right', where do we find it? All the elements of it are found in the person, as an intellectual subject capable of free action. Right is just a way of being a person. On the basis of this, Rosmini argues, we should say that a person is subsistent right (Rights of the Individual, Book I, Chapter III, Article I). To talk of human rights is just to talk about the human person.

We can see this in another direction by considering reason itself, and how it gives everyone who has it a power of dominion or authority:

But because the dignity of the light of reason (ideal being) is infinite, nothing can be superior to the personal principle which of its nature acts on the promptings of a teacher and lord of infinite dignity. Such a principle is naturally supreme; no one has the right to command that which depends upon the commands of the infinite.
[Antonio Rosmini, Rights of the Individual, Cleary & Watson, trs., Rosmini House (Durham:1993) p. 21.]

It follows from this that one always has a duty not to injure the person. But right is the complement of duty. Thus the person is subsistent right. All specific rights concern what belongs to a person, what is proper to the person, what is personal. The person has dominion, first over the capabilities and capacities they have by nature, then over extensions of these as we acquire new personalia, things that are ours, things that become united to us.

All of rational jurisprudence, then, can be derived from the proper understanding of the person; and, conversely, a poor understanding of the person will lead to a poor understandings of the rights that a person has or can have. The human person is the principle or standard that establishes the genus of all human rights. It also follows from this recognition that there are natural rights (although Rosmini prefers to call them 'rational rights'), and that all positive rights in fact depend on these natural rights and ultimately on subsistent right itself.

Various Links of Interest

* Richard Pettigrew, Dutch Books, Money Pumps, and 'By Their Fruits' Reasoning

* Namwali Serpell, The Banality of Empathy. This is a fascinating discussion of literature and ethics, and I'm still sorting through what my thoughts about it are.

* Medieval Pattern Poems of Rabanus Maurus

* Drossbucket reviews The Eureka Factor; the review ends up being an excellent discussion of the nature of creative insight.

* Lynne Olson, The Hedgehog's Great Escape, tells some of the fascinating story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who joined the French Resistance, became perhaps its foremost spy, and managed to escape the Gestapo.

* Jordana Cepelewicz, Smarter Parts Make Collective Systems Too Stubborn. (The title is somewhat misleading; the article really reviews various ways in which changes to parts can improve or mess up the systems of which they are part, sometimes in surprising ways.)

* Thomas Hurka, From golf to Grand Theft Auto, why do we love playing games? I remember being in graduate school and Thom even then was arguing for Bernard Suits's analysis of games as a model of philosophical analysis. I talked about what are, in my view, the strengths and weaknesses of the analysis before (ten years ago!).

* Jacob Stegenga argues that there are serious problems with the standard reasoning by which we take the usual antidepressant medications to be antidepressant.

* Since the dose makes the poison, I shouldn't be surprised, but apparently you can become seriously intoxicated from drinking too much Earl Grey (due to the oil of bergamot). I've heard, although I don't know the medical facts, that the same is true of jasmine in tea. You have to drink a lot, though.

* Luke Timothy Johnson, Can We Still Believe in Miracles? and Michael Sweeney, Beyond Personal Piety: The Laity’s Role in the Church’s Mission from Commonweal; both of these are far superior articles than I have seen in Commonweal for a long time.

Currently Reading

Garland Roark, The Lady and the Deep Blue Sea
Blaise Pascal, Pensees
Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience
Plotinus, The Enneads
Jules Verne, L'Archipel en feu

Monday, March 04, 2019

Kant's Categorical Imperative

This is a handout I give my students when discussing Kant's categorical imperative. It's always astounded me how much confusion there is when it comes to discussing the organization of Kant's account of the formulations of the categorical imperative in the Groundwork. The discussion always seems to me to be quite lucid -- Kant gives the categorical imperative (the first on the list below) and then gives three formulations of it adapted to different kinds of moral vocabularies (the Law of Nature formulation, the End in Itself formulation, and the Kingdom of Ends formulation, which are the next three respecitvely), all three of which are supposed to be different ways of stating the one categorical imperative. Each of the formulations emphasizes a different aspect of the original statement of the categorical imperative (universality, maxim, and law, respectively).

But when you turn to discussions of it, it is remarkably how confused and confusing even some of the scholarship is. For instance, you find discussions where there are two 'Law of Nature formulations', where there is an Autonomy formulation that is distinct from the Kingdom of Ends formulation, etc. Many of these interpretive choices make no sense at all. For instance, the discussion of autonomy is quite clearly building up to the Kingdom of Ends, and Kant never actually gives a distinct 'Formula of Autonomy' at all -- the Kingdom of Ends formulation is the Autonomy formulation. There are many discussions that certainly get it right, but there are perhaps just as many that make a pig's breakfast of it, as well. And it can matter, since many of the criticisms that are made of Kant's account don't make much sense once you recognize how it is structured. For instance, people sometimes say the formulations are not equivalent, but recognizing that each formulation is simply emphasizing one of the elements of the categorical imperative makes it clear that Kant's claim that they are is at least plausible. If you chop up the discussion of the formulations in the wrong way, though, it wouldn't be surprising if you ended up with things that weren't equivalent.


Categorical Imperative

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

A ‘maxim’ is a “subjective principle of acting”; it is the rule someone makes in a decision that is based on their own circumstances and conditions.

Kant also summarizes this as: Always choose in such a way that the same willing includes the maxims of our choice as a universal law.

Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature.

‘Nature’ in its broadest sense means everything that is determined by universal laws, so this formulation emphasizes the universality.

Kant also summarizes this as: Act on maxims that can at the same time have for their object themselves as universal laws of nature.

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person, or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.

An absolutely universal moral principle would have to be based on something whose existence is of absolute worth or value (something that could function as an ‘end in itself’); and this means value for every rational being precisely because they are rational. The only thing that can have worth for every rational being in this way is rational nature itself. Another way to put it: The only end that can be proposed by a moral law supposed to legislate for all rational beings in all possible circumstances is an end that is available to all rational beings in all possible circumstances. The only such end is rational nature itself.

This formulation emphasizes the maxim: the categorical imperative requires restricting our maxims so that they conform with universal law; this formulation recognizes that doing so requires restricting our maxims so that rational nature is always paramount.

Act according to the maxim of a universally legislating member of a merely possible kingdom of ends.

To recognize yourself as being an end in yourself, you must recognize that you, as a rational being, are legislating universally for all rational beings, independent of any interest or incentive.

By ‘kingdom’ is meant a society of different rational beings united by common laws. Since each rational being, as rational being, legislates universally for all rational beings, one can think of a kingdom whose members are each autonomous legislators, who are able to be united because they are all willing the same law; and for this law to be universal, it would have to treat rational nature as an end in itself. Thus such a society would be a ‘kingdom of ends’. It is said to be ‘merely possible’ because we are not talking about a society that actually exists, but only a society that we can form by our actions.

‘Autonomy’ is legislating for oneself; it is the opposite of ‘heteronomy’, receiving one’s laws from another. The only law that could be universally valid for all rational beings is the kind of law that rational beings legislate for themselves as rational beings. The only permissible actions, therefore, are those consistent with the autonomy of a rational will.

Worth is determined by law. Because rational beings are self-legislating ends in themselves, and thus are the source of law, they have absolute worth. This absolute worth is called ‘dignity’, a pricelessness that means nothing else can be substituted for them as being of equal or greater value. The only correct attitude toward something with the absolute worth of dignity is respect. It is because they have dignity that human beings are called ‘persons’.

Kinds of Moral Principle that Would be Heteronomous

Empirical (based on happiness)
Private Happiness
Moral Sentiment

Rational (based on perfection)
Divine Will
Relations of Perfection

Kant tells us that moral sentiment is a better candidate than private happiness, and relations of perfection a better candidate than divine will; neither moral sentiment nor relations of perfection weaken the force and authority of moral law, whereas private happiness and divine will do. Relations of perfection are a better candidate than moral sentiment because they are matters of pure reason. None of these, however, are capable of being a foundation for morality because they separate the source of moral law from the rational being who is supposed to follow moral law.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Descartes, Montaigne, and the Story of the Method

It's well known that the opening of Descartes's Discourse on Method is echoing Montaigne's essay on presumption. From the Discourse:

Good sense is the best distributed thing in the world, for everyone thinks himself to be so well endowed with it that even those who are the most difficult to please in everything else are not at all wont to desire more of it than they have.
[Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, Cress, tr., Hackett (Indianapolis, IN: 1998), p. 1.]

From Montaigne's "On Presumption":

’Tis commonly said that the justest portion Nature has given us of her favors is that of sense; for there is no one who is not contented with his share: is it not reason? whoever should see beyond that, would see beyond his sight. I think my opinions are good and sound, but who does not think the same of his own?

There are other echoes of the essay, though. For instance, much of the essay is concerned with knowing oneself:

The world looks always opposite; I turn my sight inwards, and there fix and employ it. I have no other business but myself, I am eternally meditating upon myself, considering and tasting myself. Other men’s thoughts are ever wandering abroad, if they will but see it; they are still going forward:—

“No one thinks of descending into himself;”

for my part, I circulate in myself. This capacity of trying the truth, whatever it be, in myself, and this free humor of not over easily subjecting my belief, I owe principally to myself; for the strongest and most general imaginations I have are those that, as a man may say, were born with me; they are natural and entirely my own.

Like Part One of Descartes's Discourse, Montaigne also briefly discusses the emptiness of education:

I willingly fall again into the discourse of the vanity of our education, the end of which is not to render us good and wise, but learned, and she has obtained it. She has not taught us to follow and embrace virtue and prudence, but she has imprinted in us their derivation and etymology; we know how to decline Virtue, if we know not how to love it; if we do not know what prudence is really and in effect, and by experience, we have it however by jargon and heart: we are not content to know the extraction, kindred, and alliances of our neighbors; we desire, moreover, to have them our friends and to establish a correspondence and intelligence with them; but this education of ours has taught us definitions, divisions, and partitions of virtue, as so many surnames and branches of a genealogy, without any further care of establishing any familiarity or intimacy betwixt her and us.

The young Descartes, then, at least as presented in the Discourse, comes through his schooling with a perspective that is broadly Montaignian; having had one of the best educations in Europe, he finds himself with an ironic attitude to it. Becoming a mercenary and tramping about Europe, he continues with his mathematical studies and becomes interested in questions of method, and finds a way out of Montaigne-like skepticism into a way of 'seeking truth in the sciences', through the Montaigne-like approach of descending into himself and trying all truths in himself. The Discourse is a Montaignian history of the mind, with a very un-Montaignian end.

How true this history is of Descartes himself is hard to say; it's certainly the case that Descartes is at least stylizing his account for the purpose of his argument. But as the Discourse is a sort of sales pitch for the method, one could see it as primarily a form of persuasive outreach, trying to reach the Bright Young Things of his age, who, like Bright Young Things of every age, flirt with ideas more on the basis of style than on the basis of substance. What will entice a fashionable skeptic more than to lead them by something presented "as a story or, if you prefer, as a fable" (p. 3) from their fashionably skeptical starting-point to a scientific end? Present it in French and it will certainly get you further than a treatise in technical Latin. Pascal in the Pensées clearly had something like the same idea; one finds the influence of Montaigne as a depiction of a state of mind in Pascal as well, and Pascal's Wager is not a random argument, but one designed for fashionable skeptics who divert themselves with gambling. The rational structure of persuasion is narrative more than argument, bon mot more than jargon, conversation more than analysis; but someone who spends his hours gambling can develop an interest in an argument put in the form of the doctrine of chances. Likewise, we have Descartes appealing to the Montaigne-influenced features of fashionable life and drawing in the reader with his backhanded compliments about his top-notch education. But neither of our literary mathematicians are themselves disciples of Montaigne, although clearly deeply familiar with him; Pascal is appealing to the Montaignian aspect of the French mind in order to lead the reader to Christ -- and Descartes is appealing to the sae aspect of the French mind in order to lead the reader to Descartes.

Fortnightly Book, March 3

Garland Roark (1904-1985) was born in Groesback, Texas, near Houston. As a boy he got some minor fame in the area for continuing his paper route in the midst of the 1915 Galveston hurricane. His college career was cut short when he found that he needed to do more to support his mother and sister, so he took up a long series of odd jobs, many of which had to do with the oil and the cargo shipping industry. The personalities he found involved in the latter in particular served as the material from which he would draw his major claim to success later in life: nautical adventures. The next fortnightly book, The Lady and the Deep Blue Sea, published in 1958, which comes from the library of my grandparents, seems to have been well regarded, but there's not all that much on it. It's largely swamped by Roark's biggest success, his first novel, the bestselling Wake of the Red Witch (1946), which was adapted into a John Wayne movie. But the NY Times review for it (by E. B. Garside) called The Lady and the Deep Blue Sea "progressively gripping and expertly handled", which sounds very promising, and among the scattered popular reviews I've found, I haven't come across a genuinely negative one yet. Some people seem to have had more endurance than others for the detailed descriptions of clipper ships; but as I'm the kind of reader whose favorite part of Moby Dick is the digression on the classification of whales, that's not likely to be a problem for me.

Captain Philip Broadsider is a clipper ship captain in the 1850s with a reputation for flair, so much of a reputation for stylistic flamboyance, in fact, that the owner of the captain is seriously starting to question his judgment. To save his career, his wife, Jenny Broadsider, negotiates a test of his abilities and competence: a clipper ship race from Melbourne to Boston. If he brings the clipper Calcutta Eagle into harbor ahead of the Emperor, he'll get half ownership in the Eagle. Everything rides on it, and at sea, any number of mishaps and accidents may happen, and the owner is on board watching everything with an eagle eye. But Jenny is absolutely determined, regardless of what happens, to win her husband the race, the half-ownership, and the confirming seal on the title, "Prince of the Sea Captains". It seems widely regarded as a rousing story about how marriage can make people more than they could otherwise be, so perhaps it's a fitting follow to last fortnight's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.