Saturday, May 04, 2019

Dashed Off VIII

"'Social contract' theories are views of childless men who must have forgotten their own childhood." Jouvenel

Large-scale mobilizing for political and social causes, as opposed to grassroots organizing or formal advocacy, tends toward the cultivation of purely (and merely) symbolic victories, which are useful for mobilizing. Each form of social action, in fact, tends toward the victories that are useful for itself, and no others.

Every human Self begins as an Other dependent on people with more agency.

"Markets depend on relations of trust which they do not themselves produce." Scruton

"Proper resentment for injustice attempted, or actually committed, is the only motive which, in the eyes of the impartial spectator can justify our hurting or disturbing in any respect the happiness of our neighbour." Smith TMS vi.ii.intr.2
-- note structural similarities and material differences with the harm principle

Duty is a framework or structure for moral life.

"Vice is always capricious: virtue is regular and orderly." Smith

"True peace is only in good men and about good things." Aquinas

charity : internal :: mercy : external

The good of ecclesiastical unity is ordered to the good of divine truth.

To wage war justly requires aiming at peace.

freedom immortality God
Law of Nature nondeterminism afterlife Creator
End in Itself sourcehood ultimate judgment? Governor/Teacher
Kingdom of Ends autonomy messianic community (Cohen) Judge

Only charity is truly autonomous.

pleasure as a sense of perfection/completion (Leibniz)

the bain-marie of purgatory

atheism by root-cutting vs atheism by dumbed-down substitute

faith as a sense of truth, as an attitude of adoration, as a deference to God, as a reason for love.

the Myth of Judgment as deus ex machina (Andrea Nightingale)

the church as image of merciful providence (Gregory of Narek)

(1) Justice requires steps toward the orderly raising of children.
(2) Justice to fathers requires steps to guarantee that they can know their children.
(3) Justice to mothers requires steps to guarantee that they are consistently supported in child-rearing.
(4) Justice to all parties requires that education of children be joint and cooperative.
(5) Benevolence requires steps to mutual benefit.
(6) Prudence requires means to unify these in a sustainable, recognizable way.

Hooker on the Lord's Prayer: "the ordinary use of this very prayer hath with equal continuance accompanied the same as one of the principal and most material duties of honour done to Jesus Christ."

land-use acquisition as a check by the people on government

(1) Proper sensibles affect the senses first and per se because they are alterant qualities.
(2) Common sensibles are traceable to quantity in some way.
(3) Per accidens sensibles do not, as such, act upon the senses, but are perceived by a higher power regarding the disposition of the senses.

early modern empiricism as an attack on per accidens sensibilia

Bare carnal desire treats the other as fungible, but a sexualized affection does not necessarily do so.

Disagreement presupposes agreement.

features of healthy inquiry: freedom in inquiry, devotion to truth, truth-focused autonomy of investigation

The graces of marriage are cumulative.

To treat p as an obligation is to treat p as a fixed element, integral to the solution of the problem of what to decide.

Transportation deaths seem to be among the most common deaths in any society.

Note that Rosmini, Certainty 1063n, explicitly identifies his 'idea of being' with the light of the active intellect.

Something recognized by Aristotelian, Ramist, and Cartesian accounts of knowledge is that knowledge is partly a matter of order of cognition.

"Theoretical views, even when only partly true, or even when false, may serve to exhibit clearly and pointedly relations which would otherwise seem vague and obscure; and, with proper warning, they need not pervert our views of facts." Whewell

Skyscrapers tend to be piled horizontals, although the best known such works (e.g., the Empire State Building), do more to have a unified upward flow.

People participate in an election in more ways than just by voting.

Logical validity is the structure of an act.

aphorisms as explicit nodes in an implicit network of reasoning

"The only liberation that endures is that which breaks the chains on the human heart, the chains of sin and selfishness." Oscar Romero

Labor cannot be 'freed' from the market because markets arise out of interactions of labor. There is a naive -- or else dishonest -- strand of socialist thought that treats markets as expressions of captial; this is obvious, and dangerous nonsense, because capital is not the source of market -- labor is, when it is involved in exchange. Capital, if anything, takes control of a market by its power of *leveraged* exchange. (Similarly with views that treat markets as arising out of government action: governments are modifying labor exchanges, not creating them from scratch.)

The mode of purgatory is not to do but to receive.

Doctrine in Scripture
(1) by apparent statement
(2) by logical implication
(3) by prudential implicature
(4) by functional insinuation
(5) by use arising in prayer

(1) The human heart is easily moved from love of the dead to wish them well and pray for them.
(2) We have scriptural example, and word of this as pious, in Judah Maccabee.
(3) It is appropriate to the communion of saints.
(4) It is found, of old and in all, throughout the solemn liturgy of the Church.

By the sacrament of matrimony, the Church constantly evangelizes.

The principle of union with Christ that characterizes the Church Militant is sacramental. That which characterizes the Church Triumphant is Beatific Vision and glorious communion. This raises the question of the principle of union for the Church Patient. It is supersacramental but not yet beatific. (The role of the sacrifice of the altar suggests that there is a sacrificial aspect.)

Good service provided by a reliable business is of more value than good service provided by an unreliable one.

The education of children is doubly considered in natural law, for not only is the education of children part of the common good, but so is the parental interest in education of children.

intrinsic title to educate (parent) and extrinsic title to educate (community)

Rosmini's criticism of Kantianism: "They arbitrarily and hypothetically restrict the power of the mind, and on the basis of these arbitrary assumptions declare the facts connected with the mind to be appearances."

from Christ to us: mysteries
from us to Christ: signs of allegiance
from Christ and us to the world: signs of witness

"But you are the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forsaken, savior of those without hope." Judith 9:11

Acts 20:35 as insinuating unwritten tradition

The historical lines of evidence strongly suggest that the Comma Johanneum had a North African origin (Cyprian, Council of Carthage 484, Fulgentius).
The comma outside the Latin West: Mogila's 1643 Confession of Faith, the Armenian Synod of Sis 1307

over-authority, behalf-authority, self-authority

Even the most elaborate treatise is but a few slices of thought.

"No Education can be liberal which is not also religious." Whewell

"The character of a true philosopher is, not that he never conjectures hazardously, but that his conjectures are clearly conceived, and brought into rigid contact with facts." Whewell

The philosophy of liturgy of most Catholics in the 20th and early 21st centuries falls into one of two categories: romantic aestheticism and hortatory moralism. Neither is wrong as far as it goes, but both are inadequate if taken for the whole.

strictly truth-conducive reasons vs loosely truth-conducive reasons

causation by concentration (Marco Nathan): "a causal relation that is multiply realizable, probabilistic, and 'qualitatively' redundant, since the effect is triggered by changes in the concentration of actual or potential causes"

impeding vs impediment-removing vs condition-supplying causation by concentration

kenning as condensed analogy
whale-road -- road : human : ocean : whale
raven-wine -- wine : human : blood : raven
kenning as category shift
Odin's cuckoos -- ravens

All poetry is partly found poetry.

In polytheistic systems, gods have power by (1) nature/birth (2) office (3) bestowal (4) possession, depending on the situation. Thus Odin is divine by birth (1) and Allfather (2) and wise with Mimir's well (3) and his ravens Thought and Memory (4). Hercules has hsi divine power by apotheosis (3). Aphrodite has power by birth (1) but also has her girdle (4).

point, occasional recurrent, regular recurrent, continual forms of duty or obligation

"...likeness is the only concept by which we understand how things are true and false." Rosmini

The exemplar is articulable as rules, and exemplarity as regulation. But the exemplar arguably exceeds any set of rules, in that no articulation exhausts it.

inquiry as structured by the decomposition of propositions into questions
e.g.: The box is red.
(1) What is the box?
(2) What is it for it to be red?
(3) How does redness pertain to the box?

Monarchical/aristocratic societies seem to develop 'high church' approaches to religion (regardless of whether the government is itself interested or even benevolent to it).

Church Militant : Baptism :: Church Patient : Transfiguration :: Church Triumphant : Ascension

Bayesian accounts of evidence generally assume that evidence is always evidence, but this is not so, as we can see from cases of fraud, as well as cases in which evidence is contaminated in other ways.

You can often tell when social or political movements have become consumed by hubris: their language becomes confused, and they name things in misleading ways on a regular basis.

Many forms of liberal society depend on healthy traditions, the health of which they cannot guarantee.

pilgrimage vs Christian tourism

A good formal argument is one that, structurally, can easily be tollensed -- that is, the reasons for accepting it over its rivals should be evidential, not structural. It should, in effect, give one a formal choice among alternatives, which can then be assessed by evidence.

First principles are common notions in the sense that they are shared in common: common notions // common good.

the epistemological analogues of positivism (see, e.g., Rosmini's criticisms of Reid and Lamennais in Certainty)

Children's Stories that Stick

Not long ago, I picked up a copy of William Sleator's Interstellar Pig at Half Price Books. I read it ages and ages ago -- it must have been fifth grade or so -- but parts of the story were really vivid in my memory -- some very memorable scenes, like the first practice game of Interstellar Pig, or The Piggy, or, most of all, the Carnivorous Lichen. I loved the book back then, and much of it holds up fairly well; some things that seemed subtle in fifth grade seemed really, really obvious, especially with the characterization and plotting. But many of the scenes were exactly as good as I remembered. So I started thinking about other books that I read when I was young that 'stuck with me', in the sense that I've always retained a vivid memory of parts of them.

William Sleator contributed at least two others to the list: The Boy Who Reversed Himself and Singularity. I remember much less about the actual stories, but I remember Omar from the first fairly well, and I remember Harry in the playhouse watching the clock outside.

Daniel Manus Pinkwater's Lizard Music is another one; the Chicken Man is hard to forget, as is the surrealism of the lizard island.

Louis Sachar's Wayside School stories are another source; he's more famous for Holes these days, but Sideways Stories from Wayside School, especially, is the work I knew him for. The missing thirteenth floor is memorable, as is the boy, whose name I forget, who went down into the basement and signed a contract that made him free (of course, now it's obvious, as it wasn't at the time, that he sold his soul to the devil).

Animal stories seem to be a good cache of such books -- I remember snippets of scenes from Albert Payson Tayhune's Lad books, which I read in second grade, and of course, a little later there was Fred Gipson's Old Yeller and Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's The Yearling, and, most powerful and vivid of all, Wilson Rawl's Where the Red Fern Grows, the greatest of all dog stories that have ever been and perhaps ever will be. The scene in Elizabeth Coatsworth's The Cat Who Went to Heaven when the painting shows the Buddha blessing the cat, has always stayed with me. The fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince is another.

The earliest of them all was Caroline Rush's Tales of Mr. Pengachoosa; I read it really quickly one day at a cousin's house, in first or second grade at most, but the story of the four seasons, with Mr. Pengachoosa offering to give Winter a ride on his bicycle and realizing that something is wrong as it gets harder and harder to peddle, is one of my most vivid literary memories.

Of course, there are some obvious ones -- Lewis's Narnia books and Tolkien's The Hobbit, which I read many, many times, and some of the works of L'Engle and Cooper. There's Ellen Raskin's Westing Game -- Judge Ford, in particular stands out in my memory, especially when she, smart as whip, realizes part of the answer and starts calling herself stupid (I have been there, Josey-Jo), but there are many vivid scenes.

There are others, although hazier; I remember Mary Poppins returning the tin-foil stars tot he sky, although almost nothing else from the Mary Poppins books, and so forth. But I'm sure lots of people have different ones. What are some of the stories you read as a child that have had snippets or scenes that stuck with you through the years?

Friday, May 03, 2019

Voyages Extraordinaires #26: L'Archipel en feu

On October 18, 1827, at about five in the evening, a little ship from the Levant grasped at the wind, trying to reach the port of Vitylo, at the entrance of the gulf of Coron, by nightfall.

This port, the ancient Oetylos of Homer, is situated in one of the three deep indentations that cut out of the Ionian and Aegean sea that plane-tree leaf to which southern Greece has very aptly been compared. Upon this leaf is found the ancient Peloponnesus, the Morea of modern geography. The first of these serrations, in the west, is the gulf of Coron, opening between Messenia and Magne; the second is the gulf of Marathon, which largely sweeps the coast of severe Laconia; the third is the gulf of Nafplion, whose waters separate Laconia from Argolis.

L'Archipel en feu, my (rough) translation. Greece is under the Ottomon Empire and is in revolt, the whole territory of Greece burning with the flames of revolution. At the point the story opens, it has been in a state of war for about six years. The isles of Greece are in chaos as the waters are filled with enemy vessels and with opportunistic pirates. One of these pirates, Nicholas Starkos, has been actively working with the Turks; his own mother has disowned him. Looking to further his position, Starkos sets his eyes on the daughter of a wealthy banker, Hadjine Elizundo, who is engaged to the French naval officer, Henry d'Albaret, who has joined the Greek fight. Starkos attempts to blackmail Hadjine's father into agreeing: Hadjine's father has a very terrible secret in his past. While Starkos's plan fails, Hadjine's discovery of the secret leads her to conclude that she is unworthy of such a man as Henry. Though upset at this turn of events, Henry has to head out on a naval expedition to hunt down the alleged leader of the pirates, Sacratif; his mission will lead him to a showdown with pirates and, of course, the solution that will make possible his marriage with Hadjine.

Verne does a very good job in the first half of the book at conveying the chaos and complexity of the revolution and the piracy problem throughout the Greek islands. Ironically, that makes it somewhat difficult to get through; reading it in the original French rather than in English, it took me forever to navigate even the basic outlines. But things pick up once we start getting more of Henry, and Nicholas Starkos is a very well-drawn villain. Most of Verne's villains have a comic edge to them, a bit of caricature or buffoonery or haplessnes, but Starkos is very realistic and very unlikable, one of Verne's best villains, I think.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Evening Note for Thursday, May 2

Thought for the Evening: The Structure of Wondering

Philosophy begins in wonder, so the structure of wondering would seem to be relevant to understanding philosophy. What is the structure of wondering? It's an action, so it has a subject, a constitutive object, and something to which it tends as something like an end, so one can look at each of these three; and one can consider each either immediately and proximately or as a limit case, that is remotely. Then one possibility would be to lay it out like this:

      proximate: the intellect in its aspect of being a sense of wonder
      remote: I who wonder

Our ability to wonder about things is an intellectual ability, so the intellect itself is the immediate root, the thing that flowers into wondering. The sense of wonder, understood as that whereby we wonder about things, or the sense of curiosity, as we might also call it, is an expression of our natural inclination to try to know. All men by nature desire to know, as Aristotle said; therefore we wonder about things.

Wondering, however, is not a passive thing that happens to us but something we actively do. Thus wondering is always someone's wondering. There is always an 'I' in 'I wonder'.

      proximate: the puzzle or aporia
      remote: the causes relevant to the puzzle

As Aristotle makes very clear, the aporia is what we wonder about; all sciences, all knowledge, begins with our being puzzled. 'Puzzle' is probably the closest English word, but the root idea of the Greek word aporia is pathlessness. Things are not already laid out for us. We have to make our own way.

And the way we make our way is by considering what contributes to the puzzle - the causes in Aristotle's broad sense of the term. All wondering is a wondering about reasons or causes, whether those reasons or causes be extrinsic or intrinsic to the puzzling thing itself.

      proximate: the coherence and intelligibility of the world
      remote: God as the principle of coherence and intelligibility

Wondering about things makes no sense unless there is an underlying coherence and intelligibility; to wonder is already to suggest that what seems puzzling is coherent. So wondering in general tends at the limit to the whole world being coherent. This has not gone unnoticed; Kant, for instance, has something very like this view, as one can see in looking at (for instance) his discussions of disjunctive judgment. The consistent system of all possibilities is, as Kant says, implicit in reason as a sort of 'task of reason'; it is not already given, but is that toward which reason naturally tends, something that reason's own nature naturally suggests. And this is certainly very true if we are talking about wondering, which is very much concerned with coherence.

As Kant notes, though, this 'idea' of the coherent totality of possibilities easily links up with the 'ideal' of the ens realissimum. Kant gets a little complicated in his maneuvers here because he has a somewhat weird mix of empiricist and rationalist assumptions that have to be coordinated by a considerable amount of ingenuity. We would ordinarily say, although Kant would not, that, assuming the coherence and intelligibility of the world, and given that wondering concerns causes, the natural limit of wondering is the cause of the coherence and intelligibility of the world. And this, as they say, all men call God. This is in fact related to what I have called infinite intelligible arguments for the existence of God.

Various Links of Interest

* Anita Avramides, Other Minds, at the SEP

* This suggested four-day study unit on Mary Wollstonecraft, by Liz Goodnick, looks like it's fairly good.

* Alex Andriesse, Progress in Play: Board Games and the Meaning of History

* Airglow.

* Monica Azzolini, Leonardo inside out. (hat-tip)

* Vincent Price's Supper Casserole.

* Gene Sperling, Economic Dignity.

* Douglas Murray looks at the recent hatchet job on Roger Scruton, in which an interview was falsified by a corrupt journalist, leading to his being fired from a position as an architectural advisor.

Currently Reading

H. G. Wells, The Time Machine
Edward Feser, Aristotle's Revenge
Hugh of St. Victor, On the Sacraments
Plotinus, The Enneads
Jules Verne, L'Archipel en feu

Pillar of the Church

Today is the feast of St. Athanasius the Great of Alexandria, Doctor of the Church. From his Against the Heathen, Part III (section 47):

Who then, who can declare the Father by number, so as to discover the powers of His Word? For like as He is the Father's Word and Wisdom, so too condescending to created things, He becomes, to impart the knowledge and apprehension of Him that begot Him, His very Brightness and very Life, and the Door, and the Shepherd, and the Way, and King and Governor, and Saviour over all, and Light, and Giver of Life, and Providence over all. Having then such a Son begotten of Himself, good, and Creator, the Father did not hide Him out of the sight of His creatures, but even day by day reveals Him to all by means of the organisation and life of all things, which is His work. But in and through Him He reveals Himself also, as the Saviour says: "I in the Father and the Father in Me:" so that it follows that the Word is in Him that begot Him, and that He that is begotten lives eternally with the Father. But this being so, and nothing being outside Him, but both heaven and earth and all that in them is being dependent on Him, yet men in their folly have set aside the knowledge and service of Him, and honoured things that are not instead of things that are: and instead of the real and true God deified things that were not, "serving the creature rather than the Creator," thus involving themselves in foolishness and impiety. For it is just as if one were to admire the works more than the workman, and being awestruck at the public works in the city, were to make light of their builder, or as if one were to praise a musical instrument but to despise the man who made and tuned it.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Image and Likeness

Man was made to the image and likeness of God, because in the soul, which is the better part of man, or rather was man himself, was the image and likeness of God: image according to reason, likeness according to love; image according to understanding of truth, likeness according to love of virtue; or image according to knowledge, likeness according to substance; image, because all things in it are according to wisdom; likeness, because it is itself one and simple according to essence; image because rational, likeness because spiritual; image pertains to figure, likeness to nature.

[Hugh of St. Victor, On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith (De Sacramentis), Deferrari, tr., Ex Fontibus (2016) p. 95.]

On Kymlicka on Human Supremacism

Will Kymlicka discusses Human Supremacism in the New Statesman Agora series:

But perhaps the most important reason for building bridges is that human supremacism may not be an effective strategy for fighting dehumanisation after all. There is growing evidence that shows that a belief in human supremacy and species hierarchy aggravates, rather than alleviates, the problem of dehumanisation. The more people believe that humans are superior to animals, the more likely they are to dehumanise immigrants, women, and racial minorities.

Interestingly, the link between species hierarchy and dehumanisation is causal, not just correlational. For instance, when participants in studies are given a newspaper story reporting on evidence for human superiority over animals, the outcome is the expression of greater prejudice against human outgroups. By contrast, those who are given a newspaper story reporting on evidence that animals are continuous with humans in the possession of valued traits and emotions become more likely to accord equality to human outgroups. In short, reducing the status divide between humans and animals helps to reduce prejudice and helps to strengthen belief in equality amongst human groups.

On this basis he concludes that, "human supremacism is not only unnecessary to counteract dehumanisation, but is in fact counterproductive."

Unfortunately, as a basis for this specific conclusion, this is much more speculative than Kymlicka really recognizes. (That he is being more careful than most can be seen by his references to empirical research like that of Costello and Hodson, however; most discussions of dehumanization are based on models and schemes that are themselves highly speculative.) The research on which Kymlicka is basing his conclusions is mostly WEIRD; that is, it draws heavily on Canadian and American undergraduates, mostly white. There seems to have been very little research done on cultural variation on this point, and there's practically nothing on whether there are any differences if the notion of human superiority over animals is combined with other ideas. As a little thought on Kymlicka's example of the newspaper story shows, the kind of causal link the evidence he refers to shows is not the kind that we can assume has large-scale, stable effects; it is small-scale, possibly transient effects, that register in voluntary studies of this sort. Indeed, one of the problems with this kind of study is that it's not clear that the result has much to do with human-animal comparison itself, as opposed to just talking from the beginning about superiority and inferiority -- to consider just one possibility, it may well be that people are more likely to classify other human beings as inferior if they happen to have inferiority in general on the mind at a given moment; but for all that on its own tells us, this could be a momentary effect that can also be had if we talk about how one brand of toothpaste is superior to another. I have no idea if that's actually the case; but it's an obvious kind of thing that would need to be studied before we could get from the evidence that serves as the basis to the conclusions Kymlicka wants to draw. Maybe Kymlicka is right; but it's a lot of conclusion to base on small patches of evidence.

What is more, Kymlicka's argument fails completely to consider the complexity of human judgments on these matters. If you ask whether a bloodhound is superior to human beings in smelling, almost everyone will agree to this; indeed, if anything, they may well exaggerate the superiority of bloodhounds. (Human beings are unusually good at distinguishing things by smell; indeed, it is something of a mystery how we can be so good at it given that our physiological apparatus for it appears to have no obvious superiorities, and it is usually thought to be related to our linguistic ability to classify things. In scent discrimination tests, human beings can outperform almost all animals for almost all scents that we can actually smell. But there is a straightforward way in which bloodhounds are superior to us in smelling: they are very good at a range of scents we cannot easily smell.) Likewise, if you ask if a human being is superior to a cheetah in speed, people will say no. On the other side, almost everyone will say that human beings are superior to dogs in studying philosophy, writing poetry, doing mathematics, and thinking of the big picture. So is it specifically moral superiority that matters? Is it specifically being superior in the sense of being more morally salient, involving more duties and obligations? (Related to this, Kymlicka also doesn't consider issues that have arisen in terms of dehumanization, namely, that there is research that at least suggests that there are very different kinds of dehumanization that appear differently in different situations -- e.g., there are studies that suggest that people are much more likely to dehumanize for instrumental benefit than when specifically moral questions about desert are considered.) Are there combinations that matter, or is it just one or two particular types, or is it just the superiority and inferiority we happen to be thinking about at the moment?

There's another interesting feature of the research in question that I don't think Kymlicka has actually considered at all, even though he would need to consider it. In much of the work that has been done, there is an important asymmetry that is directly relevant to all of the conclusions -- thinking of animals as like humans seems to get you less dehumanizing results, thinking of humans as like animals gets you more dehumanizing results. This raises the worry that the asymmetry also affects the broader conclusion here: Kymlicka's own argument makes clear humans-as-like-animals moves. For instance, he says:

One reason is that supremacism is difficult to defend in our post-Darwin world. Darwin’s theory of evolution showed that humans and other animals are continuous with respect to our interests and capacities. If humans share ancestry with other primates, and if we share 98.8 per cent of our DNA with chimpanzees, then whatever makes human lives valuable or worthy of respect almost certainly has analogues in the lives of other animals.

This is framed directly in terms of human beings being like animals, which is the direction that tends, in the very studies Kymlicka is considering, to yield the worrying result. And it raises a question that Kymlicka seems to assume does not arise: How do you oppose human supremacy in the right way? He has not established, contrary to what he seems to have assumed, that his own framing of the issue is the correct way to do it. Kymlicka's humans-are-like-animals approach is itself at least suspect, on the very grounds to which he appeals; and it may well be that the solution is not anything like Kymlicka's argument but simply more empathetic learning about animals and the impressive things they can do.

The bigger issue, though, is it's unclear what normative conclusion can be drawn from any of it. Let us suppose that the phenomenon is completely established and widespread across different cultures, that it is not affected by other beliefs (e.g., by the belief that animals should be treated well). It is still a leap from this to the strong conclusions that Kymlicka wants to draw. For instance, it's probably true that the belief that human beings have significant differences from each other is part of the causal chain leading to treating some human beings as subhuman; at least, it's difficult to see how you could do it without assuming that human beings have significant differences. But it's a stretch to say that this gives us any reason to avoid thinking of human beings as having significant differences from each other; it's just obviously true that human beings have significant differences from each other, and, what is more, living a moral life actually sometimes requires taking such significant differences into account -- in accommodating disabilities, for instance. The fact, if it is one, may give you reason to be more cautious about it, and it may give you good reason to look into the possibility of compensating for this tendency, but on its own it doesn't actually give us any insight into what to do about it. So here. Besides eliminating a belief, there are many other things that you can do that can change behavior: attenuate it, add beliefs that compensate for it in some way, simply be more cautious about acting on it. In various circumstances, any of these may in fact be the better way to go. Nothing in Kymlicka's argument actually rules out any of these other options.

The Civil Rights Movement, as Kymlicka notes, deliberately went the route of making the species line significant; it did so not arbitrarily or by happenstance, but because the species line was already significant -- our very notion of 'subhuman' comes in part from eugenic discussions of races as intermediate between animals and humans proper. Kymlicka does nothing to consider this problem -- a problem that still exists -- or how his proposal would affect it. He merely appeals to vague considerations and speculations -- admittedly based on evidence, but it's not evidence that clearly removes the conclusions from the realm of speculation. He does nothing to consider the question of whether the Civil Rights Movement's experience that this was an effective line of appeal should also be counted as evidence on the opposing side.

We are not, after all, talking about general strategies for opposing dehumanization, which may go in any direction; Kymlicka's argument comes to the specific conclusion that "human supremacism is not only unnecessary to counteract dehumanisation, but is in fact counterproductive" despite his recognizing that our understanding of rights of human beings heavily depends on it. This is the conclusion that Kymlicka does not establish at all. He has not shown that it is all-things-considered counterproductive; he has not shown that it is genuinely unnecessary in practice; the evidence he appeals to shows, at best, that we should add a note of caution. No doubt there is more to be said; but we are a long way from any substantive and adequate argument.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Fictionalisms and Fictions

A while back The Onion had an amusing article, New ‘Avengers’ Fan Theory Suggests Key To Beating Thanos Could Be Nothing Because He Not Real And None Of This Exists:

...“They left plenty of Easter eggs hinting at it in the first three Avengers movies, so it’s pretty obvious—the way to counter Thanos’ power now that he has all the infinity stones must be to simply realize he’s CGI and that it’s just a movie,” Avengers fan Raoul Bengston wrote in an online forum, detailing the potential implications of the villain being completely imaginary, including the possibility that the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe could itself be a wholly fabricated world devised decades ago by comic book writers....

Fictionalism is a general label for a kind of strategy in interpreting a kind of language or discourse; if you are fictionalist about something, you hold that, while purporting to refer to something, you are not actually referring to anything real. A common example is when we say, "The average family has 2.5 children," the phrase "the average family" looks like it is referring to something, but it's just a useful fiction. It's remarkably difficult to find a useful characterization of fictionalism that goes beyond this; practically any direction you step gets into controversial claims about some region of language. Even the average family example is not universally thought to get us into the realm of the fictional.

The Onion example gives a reason why this can be tricky to parse. Thanos is a fictional character. But it is not a fiction that Thanos is a fictional character with certain characteristics. One has to be a fictionalist about Thanos; but being a fictionalist about apparent facts about Thanos is not the same thing, and it's not as certain that this is desirable or even possible. You have to be very careful about what discourse it is to which you are applying the strategy.

And I wonder if the strategy even gets anyone anywhere. We have no generally accepted theory of fictions. And when we look at robust kinds of fictions, like legal fictions, the only actual difference between them and non-fictions seems to be that the fictions are constructed. So fictionalism, if it's really dealing with fiction, seems to reduce to the idea that something is constructed, and doesn't actually tell us anything about its status beyond that. Fictionalism about Thanos doesn't really seem to be anything more than the claim that Thanos, as Thanos, is artificial in some way. It doesn't even give us a particular way he is fictional, since it seems that there are lots of ways a thing can be fictional, depending on what we put into constructing it (description, role-playing, brand-making, or whatever).

And as I have noted previously, there seems to be no good argument for saying that fictions don't exist, or that you can't refer to them, or that they cannot be subjects of assertions, or anything of the kind. The only problem is equivocation if you (like 'Raoul Bengston') mix and match; breaking the fourth wall is something you only do as a joke or as a twist, not as a solution to a problem within the fictional narrative.

The best part of the joke is that 'Raoul Bengston' is almost certainly a fictional character; so if Bengston were right, the best way to respond to to him is to recognize that he's made-up and so not actually asserting anything. Fortunately for him and for all fictional characters and scenarios, he is wrong. And that's quite important more generally, because all hypothetical scenarios and all counterfactual reasoning involve some kind of fictional construction. Outside very limited contexts, we largely think in fictions of some kind.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Catherine Benincasa

Today is the feast of Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa (1347-1380), better known as St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church. From a letter to Queen Giavanna of Naples:

The soul treats itself with great cruelty when of its own accord it puts the knife with which it can be killed in the hands of its foe. For our foes have no weapons with which they can hurt us. They would be very glad to, but they cannot, because will alone can hurt us; and as for the will, neither demon nor creature can move it, nor force it to one least fault more than it chooses. So the perverse will which consents to the malice of our foes is a knife which kills the soul that gives it into the hand of these foes with its own free choice. Which shall we call the more cruel—the foes or the very person who receives the blow? It is we who are more cruel, for we consent to our own death.

We have three chief foes. First, the devil, who is weak if I do not make him strong by consenting to his malice. He loses his strength in the power of the Blood of the humble and spotless Lamb. The world with all its honours and delights, which is our foe, is also weak, save in so far as we strengthen it to hurt us by possessing these things with intemperate love. In the gentleness, humility, poverty, in the shame and disgrace of Christ crucified, this tyrant the world is destroyed. Our third foe, our own frailty, was made weak; but reason strengthens it by the union which God has made with our humanity, arraying the Word with our humanity, and by the death of that sweet and loving Word, Christ crucified. So we are strong, and our foes are weak.

It is very true, then, that we are more cruel to ourselves than our foes are. For without our help they cannot kill nor hurt us, since God has not given them to us that we might be vanquished, but that we might vanquish them. Then our fortitude and constancy are proved. But I do not see that we can avoid such cruelty and become merciful without the light of most holy faith, opening the eye of the mind to behold how displeasing it is to God and harmful to soul and body, and how pleasing to God and useful to our salvation is mercy.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Rabbi Goldstein on the Poway Synagogue Shooting

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein on the shooting at his Chabad synagogue in Poway Saturday:

The suspect for the shooting is thought also be linked to a recent mosque fire and to have been copycatting recent synagogue shootings elsewhere.

Fortnightly Book, April 28

The next fortnightly book is actually a double feature, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells. The Time Machine was published as a serial in 1895 and then a bit later as a novel, when Wells was twenty-nine and trying to write a book in the style of Nathaniel Hawthorne; it was so successful, that it led Wells to write more fiction, and The War of the Worlds also soon published, in 1897 as a serial and in 1898 as a novel.

I'll be reading them in a Heritage Press (New York) edition, with ochre-yellow and Oxford Gray cover; from my grandfather's library. The Sandglass says it is a dos-à-dos, which is loosely right, but strictly speaking it is instead a tête-bêche: that is, it has no back cover, only two front covers. You read it front-to-back in one direction (for, say, The Time Machine), and then you flip it over and read it front-to-back in the other direction (for The War of the Worlds). It has a variety of illustrations (lithographs and drawings) from Joseph Mugnaini, most famous for his work with Ray Bradbury. It uses a Bell typeface.

The radio show Escape did an episode of The Time Machine, which I will certainly listen to. And, of course, Orson Welles used The War of the Worlds to give us the most famous radio episode in history, which I will re-listen to if I have the time.