Saturday, June 29, 2019

A Brief Look at Emergent Evolutionism

Lewis's Perelandra, although it has some indirect references to World War II, which was going on when it was written and published, is mostly a timeless narrative. But there is one aspect of it that is more timebound, and that is Weston's affirmation of emergent evolutionism. Emergent evolutionism was for a while in the twentieth century a very significant philosophical position. One can argue that it had already become less popular among scientists in the 1930s, and was fading out among philosophers when Perelandra was published in 1944, but it was still at the time found in a number of popular forms, and you can still find bits and pieces of it today. It shows up in science fiction stories, and in theologians who like Teilhard de Chardin, and in occasional New-agey contexts.

Emergent evolutionism, in the strict sense, is a purely naturalistic approach to the world, and particularly (although not exclusively) to the nature of life and mind. It involves a complete repudiation of anything supernatural, although you do get emergent evolutionists who are a bit more ambiguous (a fact that Lewis makes use of in Weston's fictional version of emergent evolutionism). It is, however, an explicitly nonreductive naturalism. It is essential to the theory that there are levels of being -- that life, for instance, does not reduce to particles in motion. Rather than reduction, we get emergence; given particles in motion interacting in certain ways we get a new, emergent quality, which is life, and is not predictable from the bare properties of particles in motion. Emergent evolutionism, however, if it is opposed to the reductionism of mechanistic views of life, is also opposed to views of life that are vitalistic. The emergent evolutionist is trying to carve a third path between mechanism and vitalism. Life is not strictly a distinct entity or force from particles in motion, but a resultant, an unanticipatable consequence of purely physical interactions; this emergent quality then has further effects (it is not a mere epiphenomenon). So if it's not reducible to particles in motion, but is wholly explained in terms of particles in motion, and it is not an epiphenomenon, what is this emergent quality? It is a new kind of relation or order among particles. A common analogy is borrowed from a poem by Robert Browning: "out of three sounds he frames not a fourth sound but a star". The harmonious chord is something new and beyond the individual notes that make it up. Likewise, a dog is just particles in motion, but these particles in motion have a set of relations that can't be broken down into lesser relations, but are new kinds of relations between the purely physical relations of particles in motion. This is not taken to be mere happenstance, though; there is a direction to evolution, a pressure, so to speak, in the direction of higher relations, just as you get mountains forming from continental plates pressing against each other. Life is a new kind of relation that evolves out of purely physical relations; mind is a new kind of relation that evolves out of purely vital relations; and (ultimately) deity is a new kind of relation that evolves out of purely psychological or social relations, or something like that.

When we have identified these features (naturalistic, nonreductive, nonvitalist, emergent, non-epiphenomenal, taking evolution to have a definite universal direction) we have pretty much laid out the unifying notion of emergent evolutionism. In practice, emergent evolutionists were a highly diverse group. They would share these qualities, but exactly what they would emphasize most would vary; obviously, more scientific emergent evolutionists would tend to conceive of the character of universal evolution along the lines of their own scientific specialty; they have have different accounts of how relations emerge; there was some disagreement over whether space itself is emergent and if so, how; and so forth. A number of people who clearly fall into the group also clearly came to the position independently. It was, so to speak, in the air. It's the kind of position you'd get from a group of highly educated people whose philosophical education consisted of a lot more Hegelianism and Spinozism than we get today, but who wanted something more explicitly and obviously scientific than either, in a sense that was determined by the scientific climate of the day. And the scientific climate of the day was in some ways very different from ours. In biology, evolution was definitely in, but Darwinism was in a slump, and widely seen as obviously not adequate to biological facts. Mechanism and vitalism had both been around for a while, and both had had some definite successes, and yet both were a bit of a disappointment; vitalist critiques of mechanism seemed to have a lot of bite, and perhaps to be unanswerable, but vitalism as a positive position seemed all over the place, and unable to present a serious alternative. Physics was in a state of, if not exactly chaos, reorganization, due to Einstein, with a lot of questions unanswered. And, of course, the world kept igniting into flames, and the idea of a valueless science, and a physical universe in which aesthetics and ethics didn't matter, seemed like a truly horrible and monstrous idea. (The kind of nihilism without despair that is fashionable among certain kinds of scientists today is the luxury of people whose bellies are full and don't have to worry at night about being exploded to smithereens and the destruction of everything they care about.) There were environmental causes in spades pushing in this direction, and yet plenty of room for widely different solutions.

Nonetheless, there were two figures who tended to serve as reference points for vocabulary and the like, Samuel Alexander and C. Lloyd Morgan, both of whose versions were particularly influential because they were published as Gifford Lectures.

Samuel Alexander was born in Sydney, Australia, to a Jewish family, and attended the University of Melbourne; he then headed to England to attend Oxford, where he did extraordinarily well. He joined the faculty of Owens College (now the University of Manchester), and delivered the Gifford Lectures for Glasgow in 1917-1918, which were published in two volumes as Space, Time, and Deity (Vol. I, Vol. II) in 1920. Alexander argues that Space and Time are intimately linked, and that Space in particular should not be seen as a static thing, but as something in some way generated by or through Time. If you try to think of all of Space spread out in one now, you actually dissolve the idea of Space. Relations are spatiotemporal connections of spatiotemporal complexes, and qualities are essentially spatiotemporal processes. Mind is one such process, but it is so specific a process that it takes on a very different character from other such processes. When you get minds you get a bunch of new relations: primary qualities, secondary qualities, and most notably tertiary qualities or values like beauty or truth. And with that one begins to touch on the question of deity, which is the value of being such as to be worshiped. Alexander draws a very strict distinction between God as being and God as quality; the latter is really what he is most interested in. Deity is just the next higher stage after mind; it is what begins to emerge when you have a lot of minds. Alexander dismisses any attempts to say that maybe we should not conceive this religiously, in terms of worshipfulness, by saying that it's just an empirical fact that people treat higher-than-mind in this way; in other words, shying back from calling it God is just quibbling over words. As the world evolves, deity evolves. God, the being coming about, is spiritual (i.e., mental), but deity itself is something different from the barely spiritual/mental, presupposing it but going beyond it as, so to speak, a new way for mind (and life, and material existence) to be. The minds/lives/bodies that are organized in a deity-way Alexander calls God's body, and God is the world to the extent that it is organized in a higher-than-mind way. It's worth noting that on Alexander's view, deity is a set of spatiotemporal processes, and thus spatially located; but because the universe is infinite, the deity that evolves is a kind of spatiotemporally infinite organization of spatiotemporal processes. But this divine infinite is in fact an ideal of a process; when we talk about God as actual, we really mean the universe insofar as it is evolving toward full deity. God the quality, deity, is infinite; but God the actual being is a finite thing beginning to have deity, and is infinite only in that its evolutionary tendency is unlimited. So Alexander.

C. Lloyd Morgan was born in London and studied under T. H. Huxley; he was a scientist who became famous first in the field of animal ethology and then in the field of psychology. He gave the Gifford Lectures for St. Andrews in 1921 and 1922, which were published as Emergent Evolution in 1923. Morgan is somewhat more careful than Alexander to emphasize that emergent qualities are in fact ways things are related to other things; as things evolve, you get new relations that are supervenient on other relations. Some of these supervenient relations are effective: they make a causal difference in how events obtain. Since Morgan doesn't think spatiotemporal relations are effective, he diverges from Alexander in largely not treating them as central to emergent evolution (which is not, of course, to say that they are not relevant to a great many things that are more central). When we use words like 'mind' sometimes we mean the relatedness (mentality, we could perhaps call it) and sometimes what has it; Morgan is careful to insist that emergent evolutionism is specifically the thesis that the former emerges as a new thing. Minds in a substantive sense are not emergent qualities, or in any way emergent, but physical beings that have the emergent quality of mind. Because he doesn't start with spatiotemporal qualities as emergent effective relations, he does not see the evolution toward deity as a purely universal tendency; deity is not that toward which everything is evolving but that toward which mentality is evolving. And because he doesn't think it is universal, that God is the end toward which everything evolves, he thinks that this evolution, while tending toward God, does not do so in a straight march come what may. But the direction is there, and tending toward deity in at least some lines of change. Morgan is more willing than Alexander to take God to be in some sense the effective source of all this, that emergent evolution is dependent on God; his analogy is that the evolution of the universe depends on God as the development of the University of St. Andrew depends on minds. In a way, it's a dependence that can only be seen by stepping back and looking at the whole process, sub specie eternitatis, as Morgan likes to say. Deity itself is a supervenient relation arising among the best minds.

Again, there were many different emergent evolutionisms, some associated with significant names (C. D. Broad, Roy Wood Sellars, William Morton Wheeler, etc.) but Alexander and Morgan ended up being the primary reference points for common vocabulary and discussion topics.

The emergent evolutionism of Weston in Perelandra, as I mentioned above, is fictional. No emergent evolutionist in reality had exactly the Westonian view. But Weston's account is very definitely (as he says) a form of emergent evolutionism (although, as he also notes, he eventually takes a step that puts him at the border of what any emergent evolutionist could say). There are a few quirks to it that distinguish it from other emergent evolutionisms. The first is that Weston likes to borrow vocabulary from George Bernard Shaw. The most obvious case is his use of the term "Life-Force", which most emergent evolutionists would have avoided because it sounds like some kind of vitalism. I take that this quirk arises for characterization reasons. In Out of the Silent Planet, Weston (then very much not an emergent evolutionism) already sounds a lot like Shaw. Weston was partly modeled on J. B. S. Haldane and a few others; Haldane was not a fan of Shaw's ideas, but part of Lewis's deliberate point was that certain things that Haldane (and others with similar views) said did in fact sound very much like a modified version of things Shaw had said. After Weston finds his plans spoiled by a kind of life that he had not ever anticipated, he begins studying biology, a science that he, a physicist, had largely taken for granted before; he becomes impressed by the ideas of the emergent evolutionists who give a picture, like Shaw's Life-Force, that would look very broadly familiar, and that took physics seriously (both Alexander and Morgan try to incorporate the theory of relativity, for instance). It would be natural for him, as a matter of characterization, to carry over a Shavian vocabular in developing his ideas of emergent evolutionism.

The second big quirk in Weston's account is that he talks about the Devil. Perhaps there are emergent evolutionists somewhere who talk about the Devil, but I am very sure that there were no emergent evolutionists so bold as to say that the Devil is the process of evolution itself. This is perhaps also something of a (less direct) Shavian twist, but Weston's argument for it actually makes perfect sense in emergent evolutionist terms. Suppose we are evolving into God, as we have evolved the mentality for truth and goodness and the like. Evolution is not all truth and beauty and goodness, though; it also brings us falsehood and ugliness and evil. Like a good emergent evolutionist, and despite his Shavian expressions that sound vitalistic, Weston rejects anything dualistic (as emergent evolutionists held vitalism to be). So it makes sense that there would be an opposing pole of the one process, and Weston's proposal for how to understand it -- God is the next stage of emergent evolution, drawing us forward, and the Devil is the previous stage without the emergent qualities, insofar as it drove us to a new thing. The idea is that the emergence in emergent evolution is in fact driven by conflict; a more Hegelian idea, I think, than you find in either Alexander or Morgan, but nothing inconsistent with the key principles. It is also consistent development from Weston's view in Out of the Silent Planet.

The third quirk, which was not originally part of Weston's orthodox if a bit Shavian emergent evolutionism, but which Weston says he has only recently come to accept, is what begins to look like a transition out of a pure emergent evolutionism because it raises questions about whether he can really retain the naturalistic and nonvitalistic components of emergent evolutionism. Weston thinks he is literally chosen and guided by the Life-Force. He himself recognizes that this is a new thing; and, of course, this begins to stretch the notion of a purely naturalistic redefinition of God and the Devil, as well as raise the specter of vitalism. The naturalism is perhaps is easier to retain, and Weston himself lays out the basic features of how you'd do it: despite words like 'choice' or 'guidance', the Life-Force is not a person, and the choice or guidance is in reality just that Weston happens to be located at a point where the new relations are beginning to emerge, a central current of the evolutionary process. He takes himself to be a contributing factor to the emergence of God. Of course (as he with perfect consistency recognizes), this means that it's a point where the Devil is tending toward God; he is the martyr who will be reviled so that deity will emerge.

It's much harder to see how he can avoid the vitalism, because his way of naturalizing the choice and guidance of the Life-Force makes it sound like the Life-Force is literally a distinct force, which starts to look like vitalism. He never actively commits to a vitalistic account -- although, to be sure, this is in part because it is at this point that he literally becomes possessed by the Devil. And, of course, since it becomes clear at this point that the Devil has in fact been in a process of taking him over for a while now, or at least preparing him for it, it's perhaps only to be expected that his lines become a little blurred -- after all, thoughts are literally being put in his head by an independent force, so he's struggling to characterize in a non-dualistic way what is in fact a dualistic phenomenon.

All of this, incidentally, is Lewis making a point: in orthodox Christian theology, what would you call the attitude of a finite mind that takes itself to be tending naturally toward deity, if not Satanic or diabolical pride?

Spinning Our Own Fates

I saw this at The Maverick Philosopher, and thought it worth noting here. From William James's The Principles of Pscyhology, volume I:

Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than its difficulty, so that, when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time, and possibly may never bring him a return. But, if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his salvation from ruin. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.

We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never-so-little scar. The drunken Rip Van Winkle, in Jefferson's play, excuses himself for every fresh dereliction by saying, "I won't count this time!" Well, he may not count it, and a kind Heaven may not count it; but it is being counted none the less. Down among his nerve-cells and fibres the molecules are counting it, registering and storing it up to be used against him when the next temptation comes.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Dashed Off XIII

possibility as transcendental: being + exclusion of contradiction (//unity as being +exclusion of division)

"The principle of contradiction is simply the *possibility* of thought." Rosmini

problem of external world & problem of substance ('There is at least one substance other than ourselves')

pointillistic vs integrative approaches to alsmgiving

A sensible quality is just an expressiveness to sense.

"Der philosophische Grundbegriff is die Ursache." Godel (Phil XIV)
- he suggests the possibility that other Kantian categories could be defined in terms of causality

Meaningfulness of life is goodness suitable to a being with the capacity of forming and finding meaning, i.e., of a rational being.

causal positing, narrative (integrated ordering of causal events), causal web (integrated system of narratives)

We have three duties to the Church as Mother: gratitude, submission, restitutional support.

the principle of salvage in the Church's relations with secular cultures

"Immorality which does not infringe the title of right, does not destroy right." Rosmini

1 Clement 46:7-9 clearly envisions the possibility of the elect falling away.

the Paternoster & apprenticeship in prayer

forms of consent
(1) bare consent
(2) verbal promise
(3) written (archivable) promise
(4) actual consignment

It's worth considering whether Hume got the idea for his account of causation by considering promises/contracts (rather than by going in the opposite direction).

'Time' is clearly used to indicate a measure, so *if* we apply it to a particular objective something that is not a measure, the two cannot be univocal.

Rosmini's basing right on consciousness (sense) of a loss of good seems to be a flaw in his approach.

contracts acknowledging debts vs contracts establishing debts

effective vs pollicitative promises

The just price is the price that arises by fair and reasoned negotiation with regard to what is good for both the buyer and the seller.

Testaments are of natural right because
(1) they are often needed to complete a duty of the parent
(2) observing them is an expression of respect for persons
(3) they are often needed for the common good of the family itself.

In factional politics, all political discourse converges on the political cartoon.

"Bacon did not invent a method, and only said words." Maistre

Analyzing a mind would require a multiform analysis: AI proponents, thinking of computers, recognize the temporal-procedural analysis of the computer program, and the integration with a more physical-logical or hardware analysis a la robotics, but this is hardly adequate. There is to mind an optative-counterfactual aspect, and a deontic-axiological, or ethical, aspect, and something more elusive, the unification into personal understanding, whose analysis we do not have much of an idea how even to begin.

shift, trend, and cycle in philosophical influence

Coherentism requires a teleology beyond the tendency to coherence -- i.e., it requires coherence for some end(s).

international politics as an interaction among hegemonic powers, preservative powers(usually dwindling major powers trying to keep the hegemon(s) from revising the order of things in a way contrary to their issues), and revisionary powers (usually economically and militarily rising powers trying to revise the order of things so as to favor themselves rather than alliances of hegemon and preservative powers)

before and after with respect to boundaries; before and after with respect to cycles

Teaching progresses not through methods or systems but through trying to prevent misunderstandings previous students have had.

Experimental replication has a fiduciary aspect -- it can matter if you trust the replicatees enough to take seriously that replication failure may be due to a failure of communication -- something subtle but important being left out. This can be crucial in any cases, but is especially so when the experiment is good but there is some kind of uncaught error in the communication of the methods and results. One has to be able to trust that people are not being dishonest or stupid, at least enough to make it worthwhile to ask, 'Why did they get the wrong result, given that they apparently did the right things?'

Many of the more obvious candidates for success in Bayesian models of reasoning have more to do with similarity than with probability.

ontological argument moved in an objective direction: exemplar-causal argument
ontological argument moved in a rigorous (necessity) subjective direction: regulative argument
ontological argument moved in a looser (possibility) subjective direction: heuristic argument

Every alethic argument can be subjectivized into a regulative or heuristic argument.

abstract HoP & possibilities given directional modifications

Every usually-useful heuristic claim serves as 'loose evidence' for the objectivized counterpart, i.e., is evidence for the truth at least falling within a logical family of positions, of which the objectivized claim is the defining member, is evidence for the-objectivized-claim-or-something-functionally-equivalent.

Every regulative argument can be weakened into a heuristic argument.

abstract HoP = structural-functional analogies + positional combinatorics + directional modification analysis

Tendency in arguments over time seems to be from arguments with more committal to arguments with less committal, where there is no countervailing cause.

the optative disposition of an argument

biography as an interpretive aid for arguments

the influence of available language on the development of argument

necrophilia, pedophilia, incest, bestiality as desecrations

marks of humanitarian traditions
(1) traditional, with notes of tradition (symbolisms passed down, apprenticeship elements, teaching by exemplar and precedent)
(2) internal morality concerning the practice and participation itself; in professions often articulated by codes of ethics
(3) deferential responsibilities to a class of people benefited (sometimes expressed in expectations of pro bono work or charitable elements in the work itself)
(4) benefits concern human dignity or worth, explicitly and inherently

"Princes and republics who wish to maintain themselves free from corruption must above all things preserve the purity of all religious observances, and treat them with proper reverence; for there is no greater indication of the ruin of a country than to see religion contemned." Machiavelli

" man cannot live long enough to have time to bring a people back to good habits which for any length of time has indulged in evil ones." Machiavelli

that right than which no greater right can be conceived

The modal ontological argument seems a stronger argument against polytheism than against atheism.

intrinsic vs extrinsic title to war

"...the concept of freedom does not exist if completely deprived of all ownership." Rosmini

Not to attempt at least a token satisfaction when forgiven a real offense is a further offense.

"Titles are those factual conditions in which the application of law takes place." Rosmini

monumental commemoration and the principle of honours of war (valor and nobility in opponents must be recognized lest the failure to do so cheapen one's commemoration of one's own)
- refusal to render commemorative honours of war is often a mark of deliberately manipulative propaganda

the laborer's right: none may deprive him of that which he needs for basic livelihood

"Everyone must use his rights in the least burdensome way possible towards his fellows." Rosmini

sympathy for humanity as society as a 'vestige and outline of theocratic society'

Rights are inalienable insofar as, and in the way, they are closely connected to personhood, which is subsistent right.

Parenthood in every society is a partly jural notion.

The sacramental hierarchy provides a resistance against political manipulation.

Much of the attack on natural ends in moral reasoning is indistinguishable from attack on embodiment; it treats the practical reasoning of morality as abstracted from our nature as corporeal reasoners.

In the end one wants not a liberal society but a free and honest people, and a liberal society gets its value only to the extent it contributes to the latter. But it is a common sin among liberalisms to conflate them, which is a conflation of means and end.

"Sovereignty is a school of wisdom and virtue." Rosmini

inherited human dignity (the dignity of prior relations, to God, to other human beings, by receiving human nature) vs vested human dignity (the dignity of actions and character consequent to this)

Paul's allusion to Epimenides in the Areopagus speech strongly suggests a recognition of genuine divine miracles among the pagan Greeks.

the connatural rights of the Church: existence, recognition, freedom, propagation, ownership

The child's right to parental protection can extend even beyond death; for the child has a right to someone acting qua parent in the appropriate disposition of physical remains.

There are forms of physical distress that are not painful, and it seems clear that some of these are more serious than most pains.

The essential parts of the Anglican patrimony are:
(1) linguistic, in the form of a sacral language in interaction with the Book of Common Prayer;
(2) scholarly, particularly in the form of an extensive heritage of patristics work;
(3) the clerisy tradition
(4) fragments of pre-Henricean traditions and practices.

the importance of hardening oneself to tedium


Today is the feast of St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130 - c. 200). He is remembered as a martyr, but we have no significant traditions about his death. From Adversus Haereses, Book V, Chapter 20:

Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy presbyters, not taking into consideration of how much greater consequence is a religious man, even in a private station, than a blasphemous and impudent sophist. Now, such are all the heretics, and those who imagine that they have hit upon something more beyond the truth, so that by following those things already mentioned, proceeding on their way variously, inharmoniously, and foolishly, not keeping always to the same opinions with regard to the same things, as blind men are led by the blind, they shall deservedly fall into the ditch of ignorance lying in their path, ever seeking and never finding out the truth. It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord's Scriptures. For the Church has been planted as a garden (paradisus) in this world; therefore says the Spirit of God, "You may freely eat from every tree of the garden," that is, Eat from every Scripture of the Lord; but you shall not eat with an uplifted mind, nor touch any heretical discord. For these men do profess that they have themselves the knowledge of good and evil; and they set their own impious minds above the God who made them. They therefore form opinions on what is beyond the limits of the understanding. For this cause also the apostle says, "Be not wise beyond what it is fitting to be wise, but be wise prudently," that we be not cast forth by eating of the "knowledge" of these men (that knowledge which knows more than it should do) from the paradise of life. Into this paradise the Lord has introduced those who obey His call, "summing up in Himself all things which are in heaven, and which are on earth;" but the things in heaven are spiritual, while those on earth constitute the dispensation in human nature (secundum hominem est dispositio).

Two New Poem Drafts

The World is Vast

The world is vast, the sky is wide,
and I am vaster still inside,
but not from pride -- from love of you,
which lifts my heart with sunrise new,
a light most true and angel-kissed.

Beneath the sky, the world by mile
with gaps that yawn and hills that pile
goes on a while until the sea,
which is less vast than inside me;
the breezes free flow out to sky.

         When you are gone, you shall be missed;
         my heart will hunker down to cry.
         My soul will shrink and then consist
         of scarcely space enough to sigh.


The pagans wag their fingers at me now:
"Pay service to great Moloch, praise his name,
give Baal your pence that you may buy and sell."
I know the workings of their little game,
the collars that they weld, the jails they build.
The words have changed through time, but not the thought.
Apollo's boys go dancing through the streets,
the temple whores in every square are sought,
the harlot scarlet-dressed on seven hills
trades souls to gain the world; her wine is blood,
intoxicating kingdoms with its taste.
And we in tattered rags and filthy mud
at their sufferance live; the sweet thrill of rule
depends on wills unbent; to make us bow
is all of power's joy, to make us say
that they are right, that the sky is red now,
that one and one make three and always have,
that Astoreth alone is holy queen,
that words that have been used as words are used
no longer mean the things they always mean.
But all of this will pass, as it once passed.
Lie cannot endure; truth alone can last.
The names will right themselves, and bosh will fade,
their game a brief distortion of the truth.
Again like steel the bond of man and maid
will here and there be forged and will not break.
Their children will unlearn the lies now told.
The gods will flee in fear from Moses' staff
and fire devastate the harlot bold.
But steady -- words may change, but thought returns,
and liars one day lies again will tell;
there is no path that leads away from this
as long as we still loiter here near hell.
This only must one do: hold to the way,
hold to the truth, no matter what they say.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

But Only Sit and Dream and Drowse

A Drowsy Day
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The air is dark, the sky is gray,
The misty shadows come and go,
And here within my dusky room
Each chair looks ghostly in the gloom.
Outside the rain falls cold and slow—
Half-stinging drops, half-blinding spray.

Each slightest sound is magnified.
For drowsy quiet holds her reign;
The burnt stick in the fireplace breaks,
The nodding cat with start awakes,
And then to sleep drops off again,
Unheeding Towser at her side.

I look far out across the lawn,
Where huddled stand the silly sheep;
My work lies idle at my hands,
My thoughts fly out like scattered strands
Of thread, and on the verge of sleep—
Still half awake—I dream and yawn.

What spirits rise before my eyes!
How various of kind and form!
Sweet memories of days long past,
The dreams of youth that could not last,
Each smiling calm, each raging storm,
That swept across my early skies.

Half seen, the bare, gaunt-fingered boughs
Before my window sweep and sway,
And chafe in tortures of unrest.
My chin sinks down upon my breast;
I cannot work on such a day,
But only sit and dream and drowse.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born on this day in 1872 in Dayton, Ohio. His parents had been born into slavery. He showed an early aptitude for language, and his mother had worked very hard to make sure his reading skills were excellent, although she had to teach herself to read in order to do it. He was the only black student in his high school; because of his natural charm, he was quite popular. Out of school he found his options considerably limited due to both his race and his relative poverty; he worked at a number of odd jobs. He paid to have his first book of poetry, Oak and Ivy, published in 1893, which turned out to be a very good investment, in part because he actively set out to sell it himself rather than waiting for anyone else to do it, using his job as an elevator operator, in which he had to interact and converse with a wide variety of people, to find new customers. He made back all his money in two weeks, and turned a little bit of a profit. In the meantime, enough people read his book, out of curiosity if nothing else, and a few of those here and there found book readings for him. His second book, Majors and Minors (from which the above is taken), was published in 1896, and when it was reviewed favorably in Harper's Weekly, Dunbar became a national name. He branched out into short stories (which were well liked) and novels (which were not), and wrote the lyrics for the musical In Dahomey: A Negro Musical Comedy. Despite publishing often, he was often struggling; he probably could have been wealthy, since he had considerable talent and personableness, which together led to some significant connections, but he seems to have had no sense of money. He died of tuberculosis in 1906, at the age of 33. I think he is easily a candidate for the top tier of American poets, probably a better candidate than a few names who are more widely known.

Seal of All the Fathers

Today is the feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Doctor of the Church.From his commentary on the Gospel of John (6:69):

The Word of God the Father, after all, did not come down into a man as the grace of the Spirit comes down on one of the holy prophets, but he himself truly became flesh, as it is written, that is, he became man. He is indivisible, then, after the union, and he is not divided into two persons, even though we recognize that the Word of God is one thing and the flesh in which he has come to dwell is another. Since the whole chorus of holy apostles confirms for us the faith concerning these matters, in that they say that they have "come to know" that he is "the Christ, the Son of God" in the singular, we will not accept, if we think rightly, those who ignorantly dare to institute something new beyond this.

[Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, Volume I, Maxwell, tr., Elowsky, ed., IVP Academic (Downers Grove, IL: 2013) p. 258.]

From his Commentary on Luke:

Our Lord Jesus Christ requires those who love Him to be accurate investigators of whatsoever is written concerning Him: for He has said, "that the kingdom of heaven is like to a treasure hid in a field." For the mystery of Christ is deposited, so to speak, at a great depth, nor is it plain to the many: but he who uncovers it by means of an accurate knowledge, finds the riches which are therein, and resembles that wise woman, even Mary, of whom Christ said, that "she had chosen the good part, that should not be taken away from her." For these earthly and temporal things fade away with the flesh: but those which are divine and intellectual, and that benefit the life of the soul, are firmly established, and their possession cannot be shaken.

From the Second Letter to Nestorius:

For we do not say that the nature of the Word was changed and became flesh, nor that he was turned into a whole man made of body and soul. Rather do we claim that the Word in an unspeakable, inconceivable manner united to himself hypostatically flesh enlivened by a rational soul, and so became man and was called son of man, not by God’s will alone or good pleasure, nor by the assumption of a person alone. Rather did two different natures come together to form a unity, and from both arose one Christ, one Son. It was not as though the distinctness of the natures was destroyed by the union, but divinity and humanity together made perfect for us one Lord and one Christ, together marvellously and mysteriously combining to form a unity. So he who existed and was begotten of the Father before all ages is also said to have been begotten according to the flesh of a woman, without the divine nature either beginning to exist in the holy virgin, or needing of itself a second begetting after that from his Father. (For it is absurd and stupid to speak of the one who existed before every age and is coeternal with the Father, needing a second beginning so as to exist.) The Word is said to have been begotten according to the flesh, because for us and for our salvation he united what was human to himself hypostatically and came forth from a woman. For he was not first begotten of the holy virgin, a man like us, and then the Word descended upon him; but from the very womb of his mother he was so united and then underwent begetting according to the flesh, making his own the begetting of his own flesh.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

On Conscientious Objection in Medicine

Nir Ben-Moshe has a summary of his paper, "The Truth Behind Conscientious Objection in Medicine" at the blog for the Journal of Medical Ethics. It's an interesting and worthwhile paper, but in both the summary and the paper itself, Ben-Moshe makes an all-too-common error in formulating the problem. As he puts it in the summary:

Conscientious objection in medicine has become a topic of heated debate in recent years, but answers to the question of what justifies such objections in medicine have proven to be elusive. According to the two primary justifications found in the literature, conscientious objection in medicine is justified either out of respect for the moral integrity of the objector or because we should tolerate different moral points of view.

These are indeed common reasons given for why one should respect conscientious objection, but there is a more fundamental question in the wings, which is why it requires any justification at all beyond the reasons for the objection itself.

Consider it at the abstract level. Someone refuses to do X because they believe X is in some way evil, either directly or indirectly, either in itself or by what goes with it. This is an entirely adequate reason for them to conscientiously object. So they don't need a further justification. But usually when people talk about conscientious objection in medicine they are talking about justifying the allowance of it. So the real question is what anyone would need beyond this to justify allowing someone not to do something they regard as evil. And the obvious answer is, nothing. Nothing more is required to justify allowing someone not to do what they think is evil, beyond the fact that they think it is evil. Put it another way, from the other side. Someone comes along and asks you, "What is the justification for you not forcing people to do what they regard as evil?" Such a person doesn't understand how ethical justification works; not forcing people to do things they think are evil is not something you have to justify to begin with. If you have to justify anything, it's forcing people to do things that they think are evil.

There is a great deal of food for thought here, particularly when we ask why the major discussions of medical ethics so often fail to recognize this when we get to conscientious objection. Part of the reason, I think, is the growing, and very disturbing, tendency to treat medical personnel as nothing but tools for getting results in 'health care' -- as mere means rather than as ends in themselves. If you have a tool that is not doing something you want done, it's perfectly legitimate to ask, why should I have tools that don't do what I want? And if I assume that the tool is for a certain purpose and it does not fulfill that purpose, then that's a reason I would have for taking the tool to be a failure. If I want to keep the tool that fails me, it makes sense to ask what justifies that. But doctors, nurses, pharmacists, medical technicians, are not tools, not slaves; they are persons, moral agents in their own right. Medicine is not a matter of picking up a doctor and using him, or plugging yourself into a vending machine constructed of medical personnel to get the service you desire; it is a matter of you and the medical personnel cooperating in a joint venture for your health and well-being. And while medical personnel have deferential responsibilities to patients, as part of that joint venture, it is nonetheless a cooperative enterprise and one in which they have not, and could not have, abdicated their position as moral agents. We tend to focus on patient autonomy, for obvious reasons, but medical personnel have to be regarded as having some autonomy as well.

Another part, I think, is a general failing to regard them as significant members of society in their own right, and their medical activity as part of their own personal contribution to society. I've noted before the bizarre fact that discussions of conscientious objection in cases of military draft attribute far more freedom to objectors than discussions of conscientious objection in medical matters, despite the fact that the latter are not generally drafted for national purposes but are simply people who have signed up to try to help people. It makes no sense for draftees in a war to have more freedom of objection than your average doctor or nurse. But the reason is that the former usually begins with a presumption that the former are objecting as members of society; so if we say, "Society says that you must shoot someone," it's legitimate to respond, "This part doesn't, and thinks the rest of society is making a mistake." Their contribution as members of society is considered relevant to their duties to society, even if people come to the conclusion that the latter somehow override the former. But this is regularly passed over in the case of medical personnel; people talk about the ethics of medicine as if it were detached from the ethics of medical professionals, something to which they had but to comply.

So the notion that we need to justify allowing people to avoid evil, to their best judgment, is absurd, and seems to be based on unsustainable assumptions. What you would need to justify is forcing them to do what they think is evil. And thus the real question comes down to this: What is it in this specific activity that makes it so necessary to common good that the common good authorizes forcing their compliance? It's a question that is rarely asked, but it is the only question that is relevant. (One suspects that the reason it is rarely asked is that if you ask it, it immediately becomes obvious that most discussions of conscientious objection in medical ethics consist of people trying to rig the discussion so that it reaches a pre-set conclusion.) Conscientious objection is not an intrusion on medicine from the outside, but an integral part of medical practice, essential to it as a conscientious activity and as a humanitarian tradition. Nothing can really justify trying to prohibit or overrule it except what's necessary for everyone's good.

Ben-Moshe's discussion, however, is actually quite valuable because the essential idea of the argument survives the re-framing, from the bad framing of assuming that you need a justification for not demanding that people do what they think is evil to the correct framing of looking at the justification for such a demand. A Smith-style postulation of an impartial spectator is one way you could go about looking at the question of whether specific activities are (at least apparently) inconsistent with the genuinely common good.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

With Lamps to Light Their Wayward Footsteps Home

A Summer's Night
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The night is dewy as a maiden's mouth,
The skies are bright as are a maiden's eyes,
Soft as a maiden's breath, the wind that flies
Up from the perfumed bosom of the South.

Like sentinels, the pines stand in the park;
And hither hastening like rakes that roam,
With lamps to light their wayward footsteps home,
The fire-flies come stagg'ring down the dark.

Monday, June 24, 2019

A Point about Moral Deference Pessimism

Moral deference pessimism is the view that holds the following, usually referred to (somewhat tendentiously) as DATUM:

There is some significant problem with moral deference itself that has no analogue in ordinary cases of deference.

I've talked about how there are obvious problems with arguing this -- in order to prove it, you need, for instance, to keep the levels of generality the same, which arguments for moral deference pessimism never do. But let's set all of this aside, and let us ask a question. How could anybody know that DATUM is true?

Usually moral deference pessimists will say it is 'intuitively true', taking cover behind the vagueness of 'intuition' in analytic philosophy. But we can ask, what kind of intuition? Is it a sensory perception? That can't be right. Is it a self-evident principle, known by intellectual insight? It doesn't seem to be. It's not anything like a recognition of causality, and if it were a memory, a result of analogical reasoning, or a result of reasoning about coherence, this would just push the matter back to ask what the starting point was. It's not something children seem to know, and if that's the case it seems it would have to be learned. And what it seems to be is something known by testimony.

Put it a different way. Suppose that by 'intuitively' I meant just 'as it appears to me'. That's not strong enough as a foundation to establish that there really is something amiss with moral deference that is not present in ordinary cases of deference; someone could very well reply that this is because I am looking at it the wrong way, or because I am gullible, or because I am just weird in some way. To get moral deference pessimism you need to take the problem to be something that can be seen when you take moral deference generally. But the only way in which we can have a sense of moral deference generally is by drawing on the testimony of others.

Now, if DATUM were simply about something like the existence of moral deference, it would be a purely factual question, and there would be no problem. But DATUM is not a purely factual claim but a normative one, about morality. Thus the only way DATUM could be known to be true as a moral matter, it seems, is by testimony; this is, in fact, moral deference. Thus moral deference pessimism seems to be something that can only be established by moral deference.

Of course, moral deference pessimists would not give up the fight on the basis of this argument. But no moral deference pessimism can get off the ground without establishing an alternate route to DATUM.

It's worth considering in any case, if we take the moral deference problem and turn it on its head. In every other major matter of human interest, in every other field of great endeavor and high achievement, we take deference, on at least some things, to be a standard component. How does the human race get great achievements, make great discoveries, conceive great ideas, in general? By cooperating. So why would anybody think that everyone can get a robust version of something as valuable as morality simply by relying on what goes on inside their own heads?

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Fortnightly Book, February 23

A Good Story Is Hard to Find recently did some episodes on C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy (also called the Cosmic Trilogy):

Good Story 202: Out of the Silent Planet

Good Story 204: Perelandra

Good Story 206: That Hideous Strength

This made me want to re-read the whole trilogy, so they will be the next fortnightly books. each of the three is radically different.

Out of the Silent Planet was published in 1938; it is heavily influenced by Olaf Stapledon (e.g., Last and First Men) and H. G. Wells (e.g., First Men in the Moon), and is perhaps the most successful example of science fiction written and published at the end of the pulp period before what usually gets called the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Perelandra, published in 1943, is heavily influenced by Milton's Paradise Lost (Lewis had given his Ballard Matthews lectures, published as A Preface to Paradise Lost, in 1941); according to a later interview Lewis had with Kingsley Amis, it started (as many Lewis stories did) with a mental picture: floating islands. Lewis was also influenced in his writing by the structure of operas; as it happens, Donald Swann (of Flanders and Swann fame) made an opera of it in the 1960s, which was highly acclaimed at the time, but has tended not to be performed because of legal issues -- a pity because Swann himself thought it one of his best works, based on a work Lewis himself thought one of his best, in such a way that Lewis himself liked it. You can hear clips from a 2009 performance here.

That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups draws heavily on the stories of the Tower of Babel (the subject of the couplet that gives the book its title) and of King Arthur (the latter likely, as Tolkien thought, under the heavy influence of Charles Williams, and blends the science fiction of the first book with the operatic of the second. It is a near-future science fantasy, published in 1945 but set in a post-war England (usually thought to be about 1948). George Orwell wrote a review of it, and, while not liking the fantastic elements of the book at all, he nonetheless thought the social commentary aspect of it well done.

For the American market, Lewis made an abridged version of the long third book, which was published under the title, The Tortured Planet. I have it, so I will try to read it as well, and comment on some of the differences.

Dora Landey & Elinor Klein, Triptych


Opening Passage:

In her palace on Nevsky Prospect, Princess Mariyenka Nocolaevna Poliakov had been in labor since dawn. At the first pains, she had woken her sister, Adele, who had come from Moscow for her confinement, and had Adele send for Vera Petrovna, the midwife. Now, four hours later, she was sitting at her table de toilette, staring at her reflection in the glass. She pushed back a loose strand of her chestnut hair, ran her finger across her arched brows, adjusted the bodice of her pink silk gown so that her breasts, which almost burst through her pale skin, were perfectly symmetrical, and smiled at herself. (p.1)

Summary: On the very day that Sonya is born to the Princess, Alexander II of Russia is assassinated, and Sonya will from an early age have a fascination with the revolutionary, particularly when her beloved brother Bruno runs off at the age of 17 to become a revolutionary himself. She will soon be involved in the attempt to overthrow the Czar, but will discover that it is not quite like she had romanticized it to be. She marries Count Gregory Tolchin, ostensibly in order to spy on him, but as it happens, Tolchin is also a revolutionary, and her real task for the Cause is to seduce men to gain information for him and his co-conspirators. Tolchin eventually has to fake his death, leaving Sonya alone, and, her romantic notions of revolution re-asserting themselves, she will end up assassinating someone she was supposed to spying on, with the result that she too has to flee. On the ship to America, she takes charge of an orphaned Jewish girl, whom she names Delphi, and uses her to get through American immigration. Sonya meets Gregory again, and they become key members of the pro-revolution circles in New York City. It is in this context that Delphi, who in a sense is the real main character of the work grows up.

Unfortunately for Sonya, who never entirely shakes her romanticized notion of revolution, growing up in a house of revolutionaries is a very effective antidote to any revolutionary impulses. Delphi has seen Sonya turning up the melodrama and acting for revolutionary fundraising so much that she largely sees everything Sonya does as being similar; the revolution is for her only a kind of fakery, an impression that is confirmed by seeing the inconsistencies of revolutionaries up close. What interests Delphi is art, a pursuit of which Sonya thoroughly disapproves, and when Sonya vandalizes one of Delphi's paintings, she runs away to Italy. After a while, she eventually makes it to the school of Luis Marra, one of Europe's most accomplished forgers, who also runs a select art academy. She becomes his lover, and she is happy with the situation until she becomes pregnant. She wants to keep the child; Marra, convinced that raising a child will ruin her artistic potential, wants her to abort it. When she refuses, he breaks with her, to her devastation. The child, unfortunately, dies not long afterward, devastating her again. She eventually (with Sonya's help) pulls herself back together enough to get back into art, making a few mistakes along the way. She marries a German doctor, and they go to live in Germany in 1936, which ends entirely as well as you would imagine it would, with the result that she has to be rescued by Gregory. She will give birth to a girl from that marriage, Anna.

The book has many interesting sections, and while the characters start out very annoying, their complexity is unfolded quite well over the course of the narrator. It's mostly an episodic book, without a definite plot; the characters just go through a whole range of dramatic events from the late nineteenth century to 1945. I suppose you could think of it as a story-painting of life in the first half of the twentieth century. The authors do a good job of depicting just how dehumanizing life as a revolutionary inevitably is -- a life in which human beings are only regarded as means -- and of capturing some of the excitement and despair of being an artist. It's enjoyable, if a bit melodramatic, but doesn't really move anywhere, despite all of the main characters having a definite character arc.

Favorite Passage: The start of Delphi's passion for art:

...Delphi lifted up her satchel and walked up the stairs to her room. She unpacked her belongings, lifting up her sweater to her nose to see if she could smell the pine. On the bottom of the satchel was Carl Borach's sketch of the deer. She picked it up and looked at it. Only a few lines, a few smudges, and it was a deer there on paper. It was magical....

Delphi clsoed the door and slipped off her clothes, changing into her nightdress. She went to the table next to the bed and pulled up the rocking chair. She found a blunted pencil and few pieces of writing paper and carefully put the sketch of the deer in front of her, up above the blank paper. She tried to copy it, a line here and there, a cross, a curve. No. Another piece of paper and then the last piece of paper. It was not so easy. She turned the paper over and began again, and finally, finally there was something. She looked at the lamp on the table. At least that was in the room with her. She would draw that. She saw things about the lamp she had never seen before, dents in the tin, lines actually carved into the tin for decoration. The lamp was not round at all; it was smaller at the bottom, growing fatter and fatter, spinning where it sat. She made it too large; the paper could not contain it. She made it too small and wrong, wrong. She erased and began again. Soon all the papers were erased and torn. She went to the bureau and got more paper. The tip of the pencil was worn down, so she pulled off pieces of its wood with er teeth to make more lead appear. Finally the lamp was there on her paper. She felt so elated, so triumphant.... (p. 251)

Recommendation: While it's readable and the characters grow on you, the story really doesn't go anywhere. It's a decent light read if it happens to be at hand, but you probably don't need to go looking for it.


Dora Landey & Elinor Klein, Triptych, Houghton Mifflin (Boston: 1983).