Saturday, April 06, 2019

Evening Note for Saturday, April 6

Thought for the Evening: Norms of Etiquette

I was reading something or other recently and came across an argument in which it was asserted that it is a matter of social obligation that one should address people by their preferred title of address (which is not true) and, among the examples of this apparently obvious social obligation was that this would include titles like Dr. or Professor (which is very definitely not true). In any case, as titles of address are matters of etiquette, it shows the need for some understanding of the very different kinds of norms that are involved in etiquette generally.

There are probably several ways to divide up norms, but one of the more useful is to see norms of etiquette as falling into three groups:

(1) requirements of civilized life
(2) courtesies
(3) default customs.

Requirements of civilized life are known by the fact that they are justified by generalization: you don't destroy other people's property, for instance, or you don't act violently in social interaction, because it would be inconsistent with civilized society if these kinds of behaviors were to be general. Requirements of civilization are the real social obligations in etiquette. By and large, they are usually better understood by considering them as moral in the proper sense rather than as matters of etiquette ("lesser morality" in the Humean phrase), but they are nonetheless essential parts of etiquette because they establish the framework for everything else.

Courtesies are not obligations at all, but moves in a social negotiation. They are not quite optional, because failing to extend them may be ill-advised for social reasons, but they are voluntary. You are not obligated to extend a specific courtesy to anyone. The whole point is that it is supposed to be your free expression. Courtesies are extended because they are useful for social interaction, either because they make social interaction in general more mutually beneficial or because they make this particular social interaction more mutually beneficial.

In a sense, all norms of etiquette could be called default customs, but by 'default customs' I mean things that are neither requirements nor courtesies, but are nonetheless in some sense norms. In general these are a pool of standard ways of doing things that are generally safe and widely recognizable. Default customs exist primarily to make everyone's life easier, so that if you have to do something, you can fall back on them, and if someone else does them, you know exactly what they are doing. They make it possible to engage in social interaction without always doing things from scratch. There used to be a very large number of these; as etiquette has relaxed, one of the casualties has been standard ways of doing things that everybody can fall back on, with the result that social interaction, while easier in the sense that you don't have to remember as much, is harder in that you constantly have to figure out anew what the best thing to do is, and have fewer safe practices you can use to help you out. Nonetheless, there are always default customs. Examples are quite diverse; the order of forks on a table is a default custom (not a requirement), the format of a business letter is a default custom, the fact that you say 'please' when making a request is a default custom.

Activities can involve more than one norm of etiquette. For instance, it is a matter of default custom that you say 'please' when making a request, but whether you actually make a request is a matter of courtesy, and entirely your decision. Courtesies are yours to give or not, but it is in fact a requirement of civilized life that you make a reasonable effort to be courteous somehow. Requirements of civilized life are usually general and need specification by some recognizable custom. And so forth.

When we look at the matter this way, we see that actually addressing people with a title of address is a matter of courtesy, not requirement. You can have a perfectly functional civilized society in which everybody just calls each other by unadorned name. American society is actually pretty close to this; while it used to be stricter, it slid into the more informal approach to addressing people on the (generally although not universally excellent) principle that friendlier is politer. There has never been, of course, a general principle that you should use whatever title of address someone prefers; what titles of address have been acceptable has historically been a matter of default custom. In our society there are a bunch of default titles of address that are usually safe to use in their appropriate sphere -- Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms., Dr., Professor, and so forth -- but whether or not one uses them is a matter of courtesy. And the specifics of courtesy, again, are not matters of obligation: acts of courtesy are voluntary movements in a process of social negotiation.

Titles of address in particular are given for a very limited set of reasons. These used, I think, to be widely known, but as with all things that run on automatic, eventually people forget the point of them. When you address someone with a title of address, you do so either (1) in recognition or presumption of their having already given you benefit, either by having directly benefited you or by their contributions to the good of society in general or (2) on the presumption that they can do so, and in the hope that they will do so. That is pretty much it; there aren't really any other possible justifications that can explain why we take them so seriously, or why we use them in the particular ways we do. Courtesies in general exist to make social interaction mutually beneficial; any attempt to extend them beyond that is self-defeating.

If you have a doctorate, this does not give you the power to obligate people to call you 'Doctor'. It gives you the right to call yourself 'Doctor', in the sense that you can now do so without misleading people. If you are a professor, this does not mean people are obligated to call you 'Professor'; it means you can honestly call yourself 'Professor'. When other people call you by these titles, they are being courteous, in recognition of your presumed accomplishments past and future, or because they are interacting with you in a context in which they are hoping you will do something beneficial qua Doctor or Professor, and this is a fairly simple way to put the interaction on that level without a lot of explanation. You can't in general require people to call you by these titles, and you really don't have any right to expect that they will see themselves as required to do so. And failure to recognize that their calling you by title is itself a free courtesy on their part is a very serious failure, as far as etiquette goes. Treating it as a requirement is inconsistent with the purpose of making social interaction beneficial for all of those involved; you are treating yourself as having a right to exact a benefit from them regardless of whether they see themselves as receiving any benefit or potential benefit from you. That is usually arrogance.

What is true of academic titles is true of titles in general. There is no real obligation with respect to them; the only question is whether their use seems to make social interaction better for everybody. There are obligations that do occasionally come into play, indirectly, with courtesies; for instance, one that often comes into play in matters of etiquette is our moral obligation to live as peaceably as reasonably possible with those with whom we have to live, while another is basic reciprocity. But these are applicable to everyone; they don't play favorites, and it's immoral to expect other people to do all the moral work. If they ever for any particular kind of situation required people to use titles of address, they would likewise require you to be patient with people not using them. And they would never require it as a general matter, but only insofar as it intersected with other, more serious concerns.

Various Links of Interest

* It has nothing to do with any of the above, but I can hardly bear to talk about etiquette without linking to Dorothy Parker's review of Emily Post's Etiquette, which pokes fun at it, but manages to be as funny as it is because Post's book is in fact quite good.

* Roxanne Marcotte, Suhrawardi, at the SEP

* Victor Mair, Eristic Argument, at "Language Log"

* Martin van Creveld, The Strange Case of Versailles

* Catherine Hajdenko-Marshall, Believing After Darwin: the Debates of the Metaphysical Society (1869–1880)

* Jennifer Frey on Elizabeth Anscombe at 100

* Jane Alison, Beyond the Narrative Arc. I went in expecting to disagree with the argument, but actually I agree with almost all of it.

* Edward Mendelson discusses Auden's argument for publishing Pound's poetry, despite Pound's rather atrocious views.

* Peter Adamson on Avicenna

* Michael Pakaluk, Thrift as a Christian Virtue

* Steven Nicoletti, Infant Baptism in the First-Century Presupposition Pool

Currently Reading

John Milton, Paradise Lost
Plotinus, The Enneads
Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor
Jules Verne, L'Archipel en feu


Penitence (poenitentia) is named as if it were punishment (punitentia), because by repenting a man punishes the wrong he does. Indeed, those who truly repent do nothing other than make it so that their evil does not go unpunished. In so far as they do not spare themselves, they are spared by He whose high and just judgment no contemptuous person evades. And the complete penitence is to weep (deflere) for those in the past and not allow them to be in the future. It accordingly is like a fountain (in similitude fontis), such that if some sin by the attack of the devil sneaks in (inrepserit), by satisfaction it is cleansed (purgetur). And satisfaction is to exclude the things that cause and suggest sin and beyond that not to repeat the sin. But reconciliation is what is brought about after the fulfillment of penitence. For as we are endeared (conciliamur) to God when we are first converted from heathenry (a gentilitate), so we are reconciled when after sinning we, by repenting, return.

[St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologies VI.19.71-74, my translation. 'Poenitentia' can be translated 'penance', 'penitence', or 'repentance', as you please. 'Deflere' is a very strong word, and could be rendered as 'bewail' rather than 'weep'.]

While St. Isidore doesn't here explicitly say it, he seems clearly to be establishing a parallel between baptism and the sacrament of repentance -- as baptism has the baptismal font, so penance has its font, the tears of repentance; as we are commended or endeared to God by baptism, we are re-commended or re-endeared to God by penance.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Dashed Off VI

Our discourse on rights would be far superior if we stopped talking about each particular in the most vague terms. What we need to know: (a) what is owed; (b) to whom; (3) by whom; and (d) for what reason deriving from common good. Instead we usually talk vaguely about loosely defined rights-bundles that are never given their complete context.

Infused virtues enrich acquired virtues by making them signs of higher things.

1700-1740 Rising Scottish Enlightenment
1740-1780 High Scottish Enlightenment
1780-1820 Consolidating Scottish Enlightenment

cheerworthiness/clapworthiness as aesthetic concepts

ordo partum ad partes: iustitia commutativa
ordo totius ad partes: iustitia distributiva
ordo partium ad totum: iustitia legalis/generalis

commutative : formal structure :: distributive : end :: legal : formal structure applied as means to end

The office of a judge is to uphold common good in disputes.

"Holy Scripture must be understood in light of what Christ and the saints have actually practiced." Aquinas (In Jn. 18, lect 4)

To praise or blame omission makes no sense without alternative possibilities, for only thereby can we distinguish omission from inability.

On Kant's account, the obligatoriness of moral law is intrinsic to itself, but moral law lays on us to seek the highest good, which could be possible in harmony with a cause that makes the world an ultimately morality-friendly world, on which ground God's existence may be postulated; postulating this in this context is to postulate that the moral law is not merely obligatory but a divine command for the formation of the ethical community suitable to achieving the highest good in a morality-friendly world; without this postulate and the consequent considering of moral law as commanded (i.e., ultimately sanctioned so as to work in a society) we cannot conceive of a genuine ethical commonwealth, at least as something of which we can be part.

loe loet (tacky) as aesthetic concept

Most of the work of justice consists of doing things that you can't point to as showing that you are just. They are not flashy, or showy, or even impressive. They don't make you just -- they merely need to be done, so a just person will do them.

Logstrup: The ethical demand is unfulfillable in that when it becomes demand, it has already not been fulfilled.
-- This can't be universal though, although he sometimes seems to treat it as such, because some things in morality are such that they should not be, or are best not, done spontaneously.
-- the ethical demand in prior authority vs in struggle of temptation

To understand hell requires a sense of the apocalyptic.

"Superior wisdom or penetration of understanding, were all convinced of it, cannot give a right to rule, since it may be employed by a selfish corrupt temper to the worst purposes, even the general misery of the community." Hutcheson

Note Hutcheson's argument that while meat-eating is justifiable, it does not sit easily with the human tendency to compassion (System 2.6.iv).

Promises are protected by (a) veracity; (b) reciprocity; and (c) sanction.

In order to explain why it proved advantageous to form judgments about the presence of the dangerous, the unhealthy, or the disruptive, it is necessary to posit in one's best explanation that there were indeed such things, which it was useful to be aware of, lest they destroy one or one's social group.

The refusal to give people some room to joke even about serious matters almost inevitably poisons serious thought about such matters.

Individuals can be governed by appeal to nobility; masses need constraints with sanctions.

the three requirements of political legitimacy: natural law, mos maiorum, popular support

Eucharist and unction are both pledges of future glory, but in different ways.

eucharist : full sacrifice :: penance : internal sacrifice (contrite heart Ps 51:17)

Reconciliation externalizes the being-for-God of contrition, and thus extends sacramentally the between-God-and-self of the latter, in the form of the seal of the confessional.

indulgences as meriting-together-with-Christ

Petrine Primacy
The passage about the Rock concerns either (1) Christ alone or (2) Christ giving something to Peter distinctively.
If (2), this could only be either (2a) merely personal primacy or (2b) heritable primacy.
If (2b), either this ultimately passes down (2b1) to Rome alone or (2b2) Patriarchates participating Roman primacy.

Kinds of name imposed in Scripture (Passaglia & Tiele)
(1) commemorative -- record for posterity (e.g., of most of the patriarchs)
(2) significative -- special distinction (e.g., Jacob, Edom, Boanerges)
(3) prophetic
-- (3a) of events (Shear-jashub, Lu-ruhamah, Mahershalalhashbaz)
-- (3b) of office (Abraham, Israel, Jesus)

the Call of Abraham // the Call of Peter

"Architecture glorifies something (because it endures). It glorifies its purpose." Wittgenstein

Jn 5:5-9 // Acts 3:2-8

Do causes regress infinitely?
(1) No -- Then there is a First Cause (prima causa).*
(2) Yes. Then are they self-causing?
-- (2a) No. Then are they sustained by another cause?
-- -- (2a1) No. There there is somehow a mere series with no explanation.
-- -- (2a2) Yes. Then there is a Higher Sustaining Cause.*
-- (2b) Yes. Then there is a Self-Cause (causa sui).*
* = the sort of thing people call 'God'.

Spinoza's argument against finite substances is an argument from evil applied to 'metaphysical evil'. (Short Treatise 1.2)

Pornography leads men to misanticipate what women want, and women to miscommunicate what they want.

Omniscience and omnipresence are Box attributes, but omnipotence is a Diamond attribute, being based on possibility. (But sovereignty over all is a Box attribute.)

ways of handling vice in literature
(1) negative/critical
(2) positive but palinodic
(3) antiheroic
(4) realistic/'neutral'
(5) ironic
(6) bombastic/comic

Truth like a berry
sweet on the tongue
was tasted by Mary
as ages have sung.
Alone in a stable
near ox and near ass,
alone was thus able
to bear God, the lass.
They say in the story
a new star was born
splendid in glory
like dawning of morn.

Existence itself being good, there can be no on-balance-bad world.

It is remarkable how routinely philosophers discussing the problem of evil underestimate the ingenuity of omniscience.

If 'gratuitous evil' is defined as 'evil that God could not allow', this is equivalent to defining it as being a form of 'evil not consistent with what is required for being possible' and thus as a kind of 'evil that is impossible'. The argument requires an independent account and yet somehow a non-question-begging way to make it exclusive of what God could allow.

'Impossible worlds' have a use in analysis because what counts as possibility is not one thing; possibility is said in many ways. And one of the ways to distinguish these different possibilities is to look at what they exclude.

Intentional acts of mind may instrumentally involve linguistic, pictorial, or other sensible materials as representations.

'Ora et labora' is the nature of progress in everything that matters.

Kant: Virtue is "the moral strength of a human being's will in fulfilling his duty" (MM 6:405).
-- Note that this is virtue generally (good character); virtues would be steadfast adherences to particular moral requirements.

probabilities as intensities; intension and remission of probability
probability as density of (overall) possibilities

the close-packedness of possiblities given particular actualities
- people tend to assume that the possibility-scape is 'smooth' and even, but even if this is true, actual happenings 'pinch' it at various locations, constraining what possibilities can occur with respect to them
- causes do not result in evenness of possibilities

self-locating uncertainty with respect to mere possiblities

Only what is actual tests.

Local situations can only be on-balance-bad for something or someone.

I read about a ritual and then participate in it. What is the increase in my knowledge from the one to the other?
(1) the distinctive participation-character
(2) something of the know-how (the description alone will inevitably not include everything relevant to the skill required to participate well)
(3) certain ways of thinking about the ritual
(4) indexical position
(5) self-knowledge relative to the ritual
There are two other things relevant here: authority to speak (or judge) and radication of knowledge.

Our prayers are as it were parts of the prayers of Mary as Mother of the Church.

Sacrifice legitimates, consecrates, and symbolizes.

the intertwining of sensory impression with sensory impression

the exessive, essive, translative, and prolative aspects of memory

Disjunction Addition gets its plausibility from the more basic inference, "p, therefore at least p".

the problem in action movies of merely borrowed daring

action movies vs action-spectacle movies

What is right about Hegel's dialectic, with respect to the history of philosophy, is
(1) positions at least suggest opposing positions
(2) opposition of positions leads to the development of new positions

Suppose the world has always existed. This is so by the nature of the world, or else not. If not, this requires a cause. Such a cause, all men call God. If by nature, such a nature is either caused or not. If caused, such a a cause all men call God. If not, the world is a necessary being not deriving its necessity from another. This results in pantheism.
Suppose the world began to exist. Either this is due to a prior cause or not. If due to a prior cause, there is an infinite regress, or else there is not. If not, there is a first uncaused cause; such a cause all men call God. If an infinite regress, this infinite regress is itself either sustained by a cause or it is not. If a cause, such a cause all men call God. If not, it involves either a regress that includes self-causes or it does not. If self-causing, such a self-causing cause all men would call God. If not, the infinite regress is of greater and greater causes or not. If of greater and greater causes, the causes at some point seem to be such that men call them gods, and this yields a kind of polytheism. If not, the infinite regress seems unprovable by its nature. If the world's beginning to exist is not due to a prior cause at all, it seems to be inexplicable, and inappropriately called a 'beginning to exist' rather than a necessary existence.

Progress in knowledge is not additive.

The criterion of 'embarrassment' applied to Socrates in Plato and Xenophon seems to have some value because both Plato and Xenophon are partly writing defenses.

Note that Lateran IV explicitly links transubstantiation to the mystery of unity: that we may receive of Him what He has received of us.

Liberalism, as a political ideology, is terrified of zeal.

Mathematical inference requires not just assertions (p is true) but also imperatives (let p be true) and questions (is p true?) and diagrams.

dark humor as tragedy-distancing

People can vary on a position simply from chance difference in how they approach it.

Human acts are doubly measured, with respect to reason and with respect to God, who is Good Itself.

Hope gives to all other virtues a wayfaring character.

Common good is a more noble and sublime good than merely individual good; it has a sort of aesthetic superiority (among other things).

New Book on Austen and Philosophy

This looks interesting, and I hadn't heard of it before.

E.M. Dadlez (ed.), Jane Austen's Emma: Philosophical Perspectives, Oxford University Press, 2018, 246pp., $29.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780190689421.

E. M. Dadlez writes in the introduction to this collection of eight commissioned essays that their authors' engagement with Jane Austen's Emma is "philosophical in a variety of ways" (p. 7). These writers certainly relate Austen's novel to philosophical theories or concepts for a variety of reasons. Peter Knox-Shaw argues that Austen participates in debates to which David Hume and Francis Hutcheson made significant contributions. Hume reappears when Peter Kivy discusses the issue of potential reader responses, and invokes the idea of "reader resistance." Christine Korsgaard's notion of what it means to be an autonomous person provides Eileen John with her point of departure. Most contributors suggest that certain philosophical concepts seem to resonate with themes in the novel. Heidi Silcox and Mark Silcox explore the functions of "gossip," proposing connections with the thought of Heidegger; while Richard Eldridge finds the ideas of Gilbert Ryle and Richard Wollheim useful in highlighting the problematic nature of self-understanding. In the essays of Neera K. Badhwar and Dadlez, and of Cynthia Freeland aspects of Aristotle's thought function as a framing device for discussions of the heroine's character -- a subject of extensive debate amongst literary critics to which Freeland pays scarce or no attention....

The reviewer is very unimpressed, but given her characterization of what she would have liked in the volume, I'm not really sure I trust her evaluation of it, particularly since Wainwright's own work, while moderately interesting, is, in my view, largely wrong (although for reasons having more to do with her conception of the lay of the land in moral psychology rather than Austen exegesis).

In any case, the work, like many collections of this sort, looks like a bit of exploratory miscellanea. I think the field of Austen & Philosophy is very much endangered by the talk-about-literary-critics-debating-Austen approach Wainwright prefers, and desperately in need of the starting-fresh approach she attacks the contributors for using and so really needs more exploratory work right now, so I've put it on my list to buy at some point.


Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? If we look to the usual course, a woman ordinarily conceives after connection with a man. And this body which we make is that which was born of the Virgin. Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.

The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: "This is My Body." Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name, after it is called Blood. And you say, Amen, that is, It is true. Let the heart within confess what the mouth utters, let the soul feel what the voice speaks.

[St. Ambrose of Milan, On the Mysteries, Chapter 9.]

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Last Scholar of the Ancient World

Today is the feast of St. Isidore of Seville, Doctor of the Church. From his Etymologies, Book VII, 38-39:

So one speaks of the vestiges of God, because now God is known by way of mirror, but in the completion is recognized as omnipotent when in the future he is presented face to face for all the chosen, so that they contemplate his beauty, whose vestiges they now strive to comprehend, that is, whom they are said to see by way of mirror. For position and vestment and place and time are not said properly of God, but are said metaphorically by way of similitude; thus 'sitting on the Cherubim' is said with relation to position, and 'abyss like a garment his clothing' is said with relation to vestment, and 'your years are not lacking' is said with relation to time, and 'if I ascend to heaven, you are there' is said with relation to place.

The Etymologies are the reason why St. Isidore is popularly considered patron saint of the Internet, being a grab-bag encyclopedia of ideas. There seems to be a very widespread view that this was given some sort of official status by John Paul II in 1997, but this is certainly not true. It is nonetheless poetically fitting, as popular attributions often are.


Baptism is the sacrament of Christ's death and Passion, according as a man is born anew in Christ in virtue of His Passion; but the Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ's Passion according as a man is made perfect in union with Christ Who suffered. Hence, as Baptism is called the sacrament of Faith, which is the foundation of the spiritual life, so the Eucharist is termed the sacrament of Charity, which is "the bond of perfection" (Colossians 3:14).

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 3.73.3 ad 3.]

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

A Shadow of Contemplation

An interesting passage from Plotinus:

Human beings, too, when they are weak in contemplation, produce action as a shadow of contemplation and reason. For their faculty of contemplation is not adequate for them due to weakness of soul, and being unable to grasp adequately the object of the ir vision and because of this not being filled [by it], yet still desirous of seeing it, they are carried towards action so that they can see [with their eyes] what they cannot see with their intellect....

Indeed, everywhere we will find that production and action are a weakened form of contemplation or a consequence of contemplation....

[Plotinus, The Enneads, Gerson, ed., Boys-Stones et al., trs. Cambridge University Press (New York: 2018) p. 359. This is from 3.8.4.]

Lent XXV

The body which is born of the holy Virgin is in truth body united with divinity, not that the body which was received up into the heavens descends, but that the bread itself and the wine are changed into God's body and blood. But if you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it was through the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord took on Himself flesh that subsisted in Him and was born of the holy Mother of God through the Spirit. And we know nothing further save that the Word of God is true and energises and is omnipotent, but the manner of this cannot be searched out. But one can put it well thus, that just as in nature the bread by the eating and the wine and the water by the drinking are changed into the body and blood of the eater and drinker, and do not become a different body from the former one, so the bread of the table and the wine and water are supernaturally changed by the invocation and presence of the Holy Spirit into the body and blood of Christ, and are not two but one and the same.

[St. John Damascene, An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Chapter 13.]

Tuesday, April 02, 2019


Armand D'Angour in Aeon on the Myrto legend:

Yet this clearly idealised picture of Socrates is not the whole story, and it gives us no indication of the genesis of his ideas. Plato’s pupil Aristotle and other Ancient writers provide us with correctives to the Platonic Socrates. For instance, Aristotle’s followers Aristoxenus and Clearchus of Soli preserve biographical snippets that they might have known from their teacher. From them we learn that Socrates in his teens was intimate with a distinguished older philosopher, Archelaus; that he married more than once, the first time to an aristocratic woman called Myrto, with whom he had two sons; and that he had an affair with Aspasia of Miletus, the clever and influential woman who was later to become the partner of Pericles, a leading citizen of Athens.

The legend of Myrto is quite interesting. (The legend gets a nice mention in the dialogue Halcyon, which I've discussed, although it doesn't provide much more than a mention.) I find D'Angour's claim about Myrto as first wife quite odd; for one thing, my understanding is that the Myrto legend usually takes Myrto to be Socrates's second wife, not his first, although Diogenes Laertius does say there was some diversity of opinion on this. Here is Diogenes' passage:

Aristotle says that he married two wives: his first wife was Xanthippe, by whom he had a son, Lamprocles; his second wife was Myrto, the daughter of Aristides the Just, whom he took without a dowry. By her he had Sophroniscus and Menexenus. Others make Myrto his first wife; while some writers, including Satyrus and Hieronymus of Rhodes, affirm that they were both his wives at the same time. For they say that the Athenians were short of men and, wishing to increase the population, passed a decree permitting a citizen to marry one Athenian woman and have children by another; and that Socrates accordingly did so.

Plutarch has the same, and notes the dubiousness of the legend:

But Demetrius the Phalerian, Hieronymus the Rhodian, Aristoxenus the musician, and Aristotle (if the Treatise of Nobility is to be reckoned among the genuine pieces of Aristotle) say that Myrto, Aristides's granddaughter, lived with Socrates the philosopher, who indeed had another wife, but took her into his house, being a widow, by reason of her indigence and want of the necessaries of life. But Panaetius sufficiently confutes this in his book concerning Socrates.

We don't have Aristotle's On Good Birth, and Plutarch may be right to doubt that it is his; Demetrius Phalerus seems to have a reputation for a being a very uncritical source of information. Aristoxenus's Life of Socrates, which we only have in quotations and in quotations of quotations, has historically been regarded as a doubtful source; he's generally been thought to be actively hostile to Socrates. There have been attempts recently to argue that he might well be a better source than he has usually been regarded.* At the very least, given what we know of Aristoxenus's philosophical positions (he held that the soul was a kind of vibration of the body), he seems to have an interest in trying to characterize or explain Socrates's life in terms of his temperament and physical characteristics, and to select those stories and rumors available to him that would be conducive to this. We don't know whether he had any more rigorous connection to the stories he relates, or was taking any special care to make sure his sources were at least plausible. Plutarch certainly has a low opinion of him. But Hieronymus is also a Peripatetic, so it seems like the legend is an idea that grew up within the Lyceum. This contrasts with (say) Panaetius, who was a Stoic, opposing the whole idea. It's unsurprising, though, given the the Stoic conception of Socrates and the fact that Aristoxenus repeatedly emphasizes that Socrates had vehement passions, including sexual ones, that a Stoic would do so. One wonders, actually, if (however the legend started) many of the mentions of the legend that we have might be due to some argument between Peripatetics and Stoics about which we don't have full information.

Bigamy would have been unusual, but there are sources that suggest that at the time, due to the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians were worried about their dwindling male population and passed a decree that if a man who was already legally married to one woman took a concubine, the children would be regarded by law as legitimate. We are not very sure if this was really passed, or if we have only garbled information. Debra Nails suggests (People of Plato, p. 210) that it's probably more plausible that Socrates became Myrto's guardian -- Athenian women were perpetual minors and so could not reside in the city without a legal guardian, which became something of an issue given the many deaths of men in the war.

[It's perhaps worth noting with regard to D'Angour's broader argument, with which I am not otherwise concerned here, that most of the sources he mentions were either writing actively hostile criticism of Socrates -- e.g., to denigrate the ethics of philosophers -- or have often been read as doing so for one reason or another. I know next to nothing about Clearchus of Soli, beyond the mention of him by Josephus, so perhaps he's an exception.]


* Alessandro Stavru gives what I think is probably the most sympathetic interpretation that can still be regarded as having a reasonable basis: Aristoxenus on Socrates.

The Square Root of Negation

In a largely exploratory paper from 1987, "Self-reference and recursive forms" (J Social Biol. Struct. 1987, no. 10, 53-72), Louis H. Kauffman considers a number of different formal and semi-formal models for self-reference, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of the paper are the models in which he considers what would happen if you thought of truth values as working like complex numbers. In one of these (brief) discussions he uses the phrase in the title: "the square root of negation".

One of the models suggests that we could see the horizontal axis as representing 'simply true' (T, T) on the right and simply false (F, F) on the left. That is, we are considering two truth values -- for instance, perhaps our truth values represent the result we get on a test for whether something exists, and for checking purposes we do our test twice: (T, T) means that it passed on initial assessment and passed on check, (F, F) means that it failed on both. Then our vertical axis would be ambiguous cases: (T, F) if it passed on initial assessment and failed the check, which would be down, and (F, T) if it initially failed but passed the check, which would be up. As Kauffman suggests, you can see the imaginary axis as representing oscillating truth values, and the horizontal axis as consistent truth values. In this context, you need something like negation that tells you that we are not 'simply true' (T, T) but that does not carry you all the way across to 'simply false' (F, F), and yet that if you use it twice does do so. That is, you need something to serve the place of i, taking you a quarter turn rather than a half turn. We can, for instance, have an operation $ such that

$(A, B) = (-B, A)


$(T, T) = (F, T)
$(F, T) = (F, F)
$(F, F) = (T, F)
$(T, F) = (T, T)

In the Addendum to the paper he suggests that you could interpret (F, T) as a 'Possibly True' and (T, F) as 'Possibly False'. This wouldn't at all work, as is, on most uses of 'possibly', but Kauffman says, "As anyone intent upon the solution of a difficulty is actually aware, there is an enormous difference between attitudes of possible truth and possible falsehood" (p. 72). I'm not sure if that works, either, but I suspect Kauffman is thinking (as he does earlier) in terms of the coordination of multiple perspectives so really between (F, T) and (T, F) we are not keeping the same perspective but changing our perspective so it is looking at an ambiguous situation the other way around, i.e., from the other side of whatever ambiguity there might be. So instead of possibly we should perhaps say, "Ambiguously True" and "Ambiguously False". The primary issue with that is whether you want ambiguity to be symmetrical (that is, there is no real difference whichever way you look at it); perhaps something like Kauffman's argument seems relevant here: faced with an ambiguity, we can and do look at it from different directions, and it can matter. But perhaps there are reasons also to take the ambiguously false and the ambiguously true to be equivalent in general.

In any case, it's interesting to think of possible ways to make sense of the 'square root of negation'.


He once in Cana of Galilee, turned the water into wine, akin to blood , and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood? When called to a bodily marriage, He miraculously wrought that wonderful work; and on the children of the bride-chamber, shall He not much rather be acknowledged to have bestowed the fruition of His Body and Blood?

Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to you His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that you by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, may be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature.

[St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogical Lecture 4, also sometimes called Catechical Lecture 22.]

Monday, April 01, 2019


S. Why is it necessary for it to impress another sign on the soul, doesn't the Character of Baptism suffice?

T. It is not without reason that a second sign is impressed on the soul, because through the first, a man is only known for a Christian and from the household of Christ, but on the other hand, by this second he is known as a soldier of Christ and therefore the mark of the General is placed on his soul, or rather, like the soldiers of this world that carry the banner of the Captain on their garments, or wear the insignia of their sergeants. But those who go to hell after they have received this Sacrament are especially ruined, to the extent that it seemed that they had taken up arms as soldiers of Christ by their own profession and by the Sacrament, but later rebelled hideously as traitors do.

[St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctrina Christiana: The Timeless Catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine, Grant, tr., Mediatrix Press (2016), pp. 162-163.]

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Fortnightly Book, March 31

By the general consent of critics the first praise of genius is due to the writer of an epic poem, as it requires an assemblage of all the powers which are singly sufficient for other compositions. Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason. Epic poetry undertakes to teach the most important truths by the most pleasing precepts, and therefore relates some great event in the most affecting manner.
[Samuel Johnson, Life of Milton.]

The Fortnightly Books are Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, by John Milton. Paradise Lost was originally published in 1667, although the revised form was published in 1674. Paradise Regained, Milton's 'small epic', was published in the middle in 1671. Milton was almost sixty when the first edition of Paradise Lost came out, having been blind for fifteen years, and the poems had to be done by dictation to anyone who was available and could write it down.

Of Paradise Lost, perhaps no introduction is particularly needed; in it Milton set out to create an epic poem in blank verse. His original idea seems to have been to build an Arthurian epic, but this seems to have been quickly replaced by the idea of an allegorical work on the topic of the Fall, perhaps inspired by mystery plays, which was reworked until it became the poem we have.

According to a famous anecdote by the Quaker Thomas Ellwood, Ellwood remarked to Milton, "Thou hast said much here of Paradise lost, but what hast thou to say of Paradise found?" Milton changed the subject, but later shared the manuscript of Paradise Regained with him. There's evidence, though, that Milton had already been working on the poem. It considers the reversal of the events of Paradise Lost, of course, but unexpectedly takes the Temptation in the Wilderness rather than the Passion as its subject matter.

Somewhere around here I have C. S. Lewis's A Preface to Paradise Lost, and will have to re-read that, as well. Penderecki has a famous opera based on Paradise Lost that I might look into if I have the time.

Does that Lamp Still Burn

A Prodigal Son
by Christina Rossetti

Does that lamp still burn in my Father's house,
Which he kindled the night I went away?
I turned once beneath the cedar boughs,
And marked it gleam with a golden ray;
Did he think to light me home some day?

Hungry here with the crunching swine,
Hungry harvest have I to reap;
In a dream I count my Father's kine,
I hear the tinkling bells of his sheep,
I watch his lambs that browse and leap.

There is plenty of bread at home,
His servants have bread enough and to spare;
The purple wine-fat froths with foam,
Oil and spices make sweet the air,
While I perish hungry and bare.

Rich and blessed those servants, rather
Than I who see not my Father's face!
I will arise and go to my Father:--
"Fallen from sonship, beggared of grace,
Grant me, Father, a servant's place."