Saturday, July 06, 2019

C. S. Lewis, The Space Trilogy


Opening Passages: From Out of the Silent Planet:

The last drops of the thundershower had hardly ceased falling with the Pedestrian stuffed his map into his pocket, settled his pack more comfortably on his tired shoulders, and stepped out from the shelter of a large chestnut-tree into the middle of the road. A violent yellow sunset was pouring through a rift in the clouds to westward, but straight ahead over the hills the sky was the colour of dark slate. Every tree and blade of grass was dripping, and the road shone like a river.... (p. 7)

From Perelandra:

As I left the railway station at Worchester and set out on the three-mile walk to Ransom's cottage, I reflected that no on eon that platform could possibly guess the truth about the man I was going to visit. The flat heath which spread out before me (for the village lies all behind and to the north of the station) looked an ordinary heath. The gloomy five-o'clock sky was such as you might see on any autumn afternoon. The few houses and the clumps of rd or yellowish trees were in no way remarkable. Who could imagine that a little farther on in that quiet landscape I should meet and shake by the hand a man who had lived and eaten and drunk in a world forty million miles distant from London, who had seen this Earth from where it looks like a mere point of green fire, and who had spoken face to face with a creature whose life began before our own planet was inhabitable? (p. 9)

From That Hideous Strength:

"Matrimony was ordained, thirdly," said Jane Studdock to herself, "for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other." She had not been to church since her schooldays until she went there six months ago to be married, and the words of the service had stuck in her mind. (p. 13)

Summary: Elwin Ransom, a philologist, by chance becomes involved in the schemes of Devine and Weston. Weston has invented a means by which it is possible to travel into space, to other planets; Weston is involved because he wants to expand the human race so that it will not go extinct, and Devine, his financier, because he wants to use this discovery for profit. Ransom is kidnapped and taken to Mars, known as Malacandra to the natives, as a sacrifice in exchange for being allowed to take Malacandran gold. While there he escapes and falls in with one group of natives, the hrossa. When Weston and Devine kill a hross, they are all brought to the ruler of Malacandra, Oyarsa, for their fate to be decided. Weston's making a fool of himself by trying to over-awe the natives never stops being funny, and is one of the best satires of colonialism that has ever been penned.

Some time after Ransom, Weston, and Devine barely manage to return, Lewis is going to visit Ransom; they had begun correspondence over a term in Bernardus Silvestris, Oyarses, and Lewis had eventually learned all of Ransom's adventure. However, Lewis quickly learns that new things are afoot: by violating the boundary of our besieged world, Thulcandra, ruled by an evil intelligence, Weston and Devine had made it possible for the intelligence governing the planets and Deep Heaven to shift their policies with regard to our planet. Ransom is being sent by them on a mission to Perelandra, that is, Venus, to prevent some serious evil from happening. When there he will have to adjust to the new planet, and will meet the Lady, a green-skinned woman who is the Eve of that world. Things will become more complicated when Weston arrives -- and something else with him. Weston is the new paradise's serpent, and Ransom will have to decide what to do in order to save Perelandra from the same fate as our world. One of the major themes of Perelandra is that our distinctions among fact, truth, and myth, are often very artifical, things we've imposed; we want to treat morality, for instance, as a purely spiritual thing of the heart, but while it is indeed spiritual and a matter of heart, it also needs fleshly garb -- to overspiritualize morality is to rob it of force and effectiveness. Some facts have a mythic tinge; some moral truths need a mythic garb; some myths and moral truths are such as to become fact. Ransom actually remarks on a related point to Lewis before he leaves; but it takes a strength of will to act on it when life, death, and the fate of the world are in balance.

In That Hideous Strength, we return to our world, the silent planet, at some point after the Second World War, where we meet Jane and Mark Studdock, a recently married couple in their early twenties whose marriage is already not doing very well. Jane has begun having worrying nightmares. Mark, a sociologist, is spending a lot of his time playing academic politics at the college for which he is a Junior Fellow, and doing so brings him into the circle of Lord Feverstone, a flashy, wealthy, and charming politician whose name, we later learn, is Richard Devine. Jane's nightmares will eventually bring her into contact with a group of people at St. Anne's, gathered around a man named Mr. Fisher-King who claims to have been to Mars and Venus, and the discovery that her nightmares are in fact visions of actual events. Mark's association will bring him to the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments, the N.I.C.E., a supposedly scientific organization that, as Bill Hengist, a physical chemist who is murdered after he attempts to leave N.I.C.E., says, is more a political conspiracy than any kind of scientific organization. For the only actual experiments we find the N.I.C.E. doing are vivisection, experimental political projects, and the like. Jane and Mark will find themselves on opposing sides of a struggle, the N.I.C.E., with all of the legal power of Britain behind it, and St. Anne's, with nothing but legend on its side. That Hideous Strength is subtitled, "A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown Ups", and the course of the fairy-tale depends greatly on these two finding a way to come back to each other.

Reading THS this time around, I was very much struck by how accurate the depiction of academic politics is. As a satire on modern intellectual life, it is hard to beat, and the fundamental root of the disease -- a regard for neither nature, nor the value of a human person, nor reason, insofar as these things are tied up with each other -- is, I think, as accurate today as it was then. When nature, people, and reason are merely to be used to persuade, manipulate, or dominate, power over these things, not truth or goodness, becomes the only thing treated as valuable. And the tactics -- trying to defeat people by passive-aggressive, and sometimes aggressive, undercutting rather than honest fight -- are not unknown today, as well. And of course, the inevitable end of it all: from those who despise the Word of God, the word of man will also be taken away. Those who dare use reason as merely a means will eventually find themselves without it; those who dare use people as mere means will eventually find themselves used and thrown away; those who dare use nature as mere means will eventually find nature sweeping them out of existence. It's a point that could be taken to sum up the entire trilogy.

I also read The Tortured Planet, which, as I noted, was an early abridged version of THS for the American market. As an abridgement it was quite good, no doubt because it was abridged by Lewis himself. It's a very quick read, and, indeed, one of the reasons to prefer THS to TTP is that TTP moves far too quickly. THS is much longer than the other two books in the trilogy, but what a reading of TTP really conveys is that the greater length is necessary for pacing the story. In TTP, events crowd in, one after the other, scenery goes by in a blur, and the characterization becomes less distinct because none of it is developed at leisure. When you read writing advice, the impression is often given that conciseness makes things more vivid, that cutting things down makes the images sharper, but this is never actually true unless the things you are cutting out are themselves vague expressions and fluff that conveys no ideas. In all other situations conciseness makes things more vague, less definite, less vivid. In TTP we don't get as many vivid descriptions of scenery, nor do we follow the thought processes of people except when absolutely necessary, which makes both the scene and the secondary characters have less to contribute to the story. And something that I especially noted is that you can distinguish all the major characters easily by their speech patterns in THS; this stops being the case in TTP, even though all Lewis is doing is cutting things out. Most of the characters start sounding the same. Even Wither, whose vague and rambling speech patterns are a key part of his character, sounds only slightly more diffuse and absentminded than anyone else. THS is a good argument that sometimes a more leisurely route gives the more powerful story. THS is a work of very high-quality; TTP is an enjoyable science fantasy thriller that can quickly be read. And the only difference is that the latter cuts about a third of the former.

Here is a sample so that those who have no access to The Tortured Planet can have a sense of the difference:

That Hideous Strength The Tortured Planet

"Bless my soul!" said Wither. "How very right of you! I had almost forgotten, my dear lady, how tired you must be, and how very valuable your time is. We must try to save you for that particular kind of work in which you have shown yourself indispensable. You must not allow us to impose on your good nature. There is a lot of duller and more routine work which it is only reasonable that you should be spared." He got up and held the door open for her.
"Bless my soul!" said Wither. "How very right of you! I had almost forgotten, my dear lady, how tired you must be, and how very valuable your time is." He got up and held the door open for her.

"You don't think," said she, " that I ought to let the boys have just a little go at Studdock? I mean it seems so absurd to have all this trouble about getting an address."

"You don't think," said she," that I ought to let the boys have just a little go at Studdock?"

And suddenly, as Wither stood with his hand on the door-handle, courtly, patient, and smiling, the whole expression faded out of his face. The pale lips, open wide enough to show his gums, the white curly head, the pouchy eyes, ceased to make up any single expression. Miss Hardcastle had the feeling that a mere mask of skin and flesh was staring at her. A moment later and she was gone. (pp. 238-239)

And suddenly, as Wither stood with his hand on the door-handle, the whole expression faded out of his face. Miss Hardcastle had the feeling that a mere mask of skin and flesh was staring at her. A moment later she was gone. (p. 145)

Favorite Passages: From Out of the Silent Planet:

They were even more interested in what he had to tell them of the aquatic animal with snapping jaws which he had fled from in their own world and even in their own handramit. It was a hnakra, they all agreed. They were intensely excited. There had not been a hnakra in the valley for many years. The youth of the hrossa got out their weapons--primitive harpoons with points of bone--and the very cubs began playing at hnakra-hunting in the shallows.... (p. 170)

From Perelandra:

...The Muse is a real thing. A faint breath, as Virgil says, reaches even the late generations. Our mythology is based on a solider reality than we dream: but it is also at an almost infinite distance from that base. And when they told him this, Ransom at last understood why mythology was what it was--gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.... (p. 201)

From That Hideous Strength:

... Ransom gripped the side of his sofa; Merlin grasped his own knees and set his teeth. A rod of coloured light, whose clour no man can name or picture, darted between them: no more to see than that, but seeing was the least part of their experience. Quick agitation seized them: a kind of boiling and bubbling in mind and heart which shook their bodies also. It went to a rhythm of such fierce speed that they feared their sanity must be shaken into a thousand fragments. And then it seemed that this actually happened. But it did not matter: for all the fragments--needle-pointed desires, brisk merriments, lynx-eyed thoughts--went rolling to and fro like glittering drops and reunited themselves. It was well that both men had some knowledge of poetry. The doubling, splitting, and recombining of thoughts which now went on in them would have been unendurable for one whom that art had not already instructed in the counterpoint of the mind, the mastery of doubled and trebled vision. For Ransom, whose study had been for many words in the realm of words, it was heavenly pleasure. He found himself sitting within the very heart of language, in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. All fact was broken, splashed into cataracts, caught, turned inside out, kneaded, slain, and reborn as meaning. For the lord of Meaning himself, the herald, the messenger, the slayer of Argus, was with them: the angel that spins nearest the sun, Viritrilbia, whom men call Mercury and Thoth. (pp. 321-322)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended. Each book is very different in character, but each is an excellent work of its kind. If there's only one that you read, in general, it should be Perelandra, but both of the others are well worth reading as well.


C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, Collier (New York: 1965).
C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, Collier (New York: 1965).
C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Collier (New York: 1965).
C. S. Lewis, The Tortured Planet, Avon (New York: 1946).

Friday, July 05, 2019

But I Can Feel and I Can Write the Word

by Claude McKay

Now the dead past seems vividly alive,
And in this shining moment I can trace,
Down through the vista of the vanished years,
Your faun-like form, your fond elusive face.

And suddenly some secret spring's released,
And unawares a riddle is revealed,
And I can read like large, black-lettered print,
What seemed before a thing forever sealed.

I know the magic word, the graceful thought,
The song that fills me in my lucid hours,
The spirit's wine that thrills my body through,
And makes me music-drunk, are yours, all yours.

I cannot praise, for you have passed from praise,
I have no tinted thoughts to paint you true;
But I can feel and I can write the word;
The best of me is but the least of you.

Waddington, Science, and Ethics

In Chapter 14 of That Hideous Strength, Lewis has Frost refer to a philosophical discussion that broke out in the pages of Nature in 1941 and gathered together in book form the next year as Science and Ethics.

C. H. Waddington was one of the foremost biologists of his day; he gives us the term epigenetics, and developed a number of important ideas, like genetic assimilation, that are still around. He wrote an article, "The Relations Between Science and Ethics", which he submitted to Nature; the editor asked a number of other people who were notable at the time for their work on topics discussed in the article to comment on it. In it, Waddington considers a problem, that along at least four lines of inquiry, a scientific approach seemed to rule out the possibility of moral realism, i.e., ethics being grounded in the nature of the world: psychoanalysis, comparative anthropology, Marxist sociology, and logical positivism.* These four lines of thought could lead one to conclude that ethics and science have nothing to do with each other, but Waddington rejects this view:

I shall deny Carnap's argument that the typical ethical statement 'killing is evil' is merely a paraphrase of the command 'do not kill', and "does not assert anything, and cannot be proved or disproved". I shall argue that an ethical judgment is better typified by a statement such as "You are an animal of such a kind that you must consume 7 mgm. of vitamin C per diem, and should consume 100 mgm.", that is to say, by a statement which has scientific significance. (p. 10)

Later in the discussion he gives an analogy between moral behavior and feeding behavior. If you were to study feeding behavior the way many people study moral behavior (e.g., utilitarians), you might start by recognizing that people treat all sorts of things as food, and, in the attempt to give a more precise definition, might conclude that food is what satisfies hunger, just as classical utilitarians conclude that good is what gives pleasure. But this is not, in fact, how scientists study feeding behavior; they begin by tracing out the function that food performs, the role it fills, within the process of growth and development. This is complicated, but it is an objective matter capable of scientific study, and it gives you principles that account for feeding behavior regardless of the cultural differences in what and how people eat. We should, Waddington argues, look at good in a purely objective way in the context of the process of "progressive evolution" (p. 41)

It's somewhat interesting that of the four lines, only the conclusions Waddington discusses under anthropology have actually survived as in some way scientific, which I don't think anyone could possibly have expected at the time; psychoanalysis and Marxist sociology are no longer regarded as especially scientific, and logical positivism was already running into the problems that would eventually sink it as a general account of scientific methodology -- indeed, the version Waddington presents in his article was already beginning to be out of date, as it is based mostly on Carnap's Philosophy and Logical Syntax (published in English in 1936), and so does not take into account Carnap's more recent work.

(Logical positivists and and the broader family of logical empiricists have been making a comeback recently, but this is not, as it is sometimes presented, a serious revival of the -ism; in part because, contrary to the way the history is presented, and despite the importance of Popper and Quine, the primary work that showed the nonviability of logical positivism/empiricism was done by its partisans, particularly Carnap, who often anticipated the more powerful objections of the critics in his search for precision and accuracy.)

Perhaps also of note is that Waddington's notion of progressive evolution is no longer widely accepted, either. But his account very definitely requires that evolution have a discernible direction to which moral behavior can functionally contribute.

In That Hideous Strength, Mark asks Frost how, given Frost's particular insistence on objectivity, one can justify or condemn any actions at all, and Frost refers him to Waddington, even quoting Waddington's article in arguing that it makes no sense to say that the direction of evolution is bad. One can read the entire Space Trilogy, I think, as arguing that attempts to draw ethics from any kind of direction of evolution fail, since each of the three books shows a villain justifying abhorrent actions by a different form of this maneuver.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Independence Day

Who shall write the History of the American Revolution? Who can write it? Who will ever be able to write it?

The most essential Documents, the debates & deliberations in Congress from 1774 to 1783 were all in secret, and are now lost forever. Mr Dickinson printed a speech which he said he made in Congress against the declaration of Independence; but it appeared to me very different from that which you and I heard. Dr Witherspoon has published speeches, which he wrote before hand and delivered Memoriter, as he did his Sermons. But these I believe are the only speeches ever committed to writing. The orators, while I was in Congress from 1774 to 1778 appeared to me very universally extemporaneous, & I have never heard of any committed to writing, before or after delivery.

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 30 July 1815

On the subject of the history of the American revolution, you ask Who shall write it? who can write it? and who ever will be able to write it? nobody; except merely it’s external facts. all it’s councils, designs and discussions, having been conducted by Congress with closed doors, and no member, as far as I know, having even made notes of them. these, which are the life and soul of history must for ever be unknown.

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 10 August 1815

As to the history of the Revolution, my Ideas may be peculiar, perhaps Singular. What do We mean by the Revolution? The War? That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an Effect and Consequence of it. The Revolution was in the Minds of the People, and this was effected, from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington. The Records of thirteen Legislatures, the Pamplets, Newspapers in all the Colonies ought be consulted, during that Period, to ascertain the Steps by which the public opinion was enlightened and informed concerning the Authority of Parliament over the Colonies.

John Adam to Thomas Jefferson, 24 August 1815

* “From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 30 July 1815,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019,
* “To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 10 August 1815,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019,
* “From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 24 August 1815,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019,

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Moral Permissibility and Legality

There is a saying that subtitles are more honest than titles, and that seems very much to be true of the recent 'open educational resource', Thinking Critically About Abortion: Why Most Abortions Aren't Wrong and Why All Abortion Should Be Legal. The 'thinking critically' part is mixed at best; it's a better argumentative presentation than most pro-abortion arguments, but some of the argument is thumb-on-the scale -- arguments against abortion are held to high standards, arguments for it only inconsistently so. A really obvious case is Thomson's violinist, which is just handled with a 'Most people would say you don't violate the violinist's right to life if you remove the violinist' answer in a few sentences, despite the fact that the case is widely known and that there is already a decades-long history of pro-life arguments that this claim is wrong. Perhaps that is only to be expected; it's difficult to hold arguments to a strict standard when you already find them intuitive, and easy to do it when you already find them unintuitive, even when you know that for other people what counts as intuitive might be reversed. But the authors also clearly don't understand some of the arguments they are discussing; for instance, they count as 'question-begging' arguments both for and against (women have a right to do what they want with their bodies, fetuses are babies, etc.) that are clearly not question-begging but are simply inconsistent with their own preferred starting-points. And they also do the thing, which always drives me crazy, of dividing arguments into 'everyday arguments' and 'philosopher's arguments' and treating the latter as better without any recognition of the fact that the arguments they put into these groups have distinct ends -- that, for instance, the former are often practical first-approximation arguments or personal reasons, and are usually part of a cumulative case, and that the latter are often theoretical arguments that are generally trying to avoid purely technical problems that arise in hypothetical situations or when you take a principle in a very strict form, and are usually stand-alone. You cannot assess an argument critically without regard to what its actual point is.

But what really strikes me about the argument is that which concerns the second part of the subtitle. The part of their argument that concerns the first part of the subtitle is standard material, nicely organized, but nothing that anyone familiar with the topic has not heard before. But the part of their argument that concerns the second part of the subtitle is quite astounding. I actually wasn't intending to read the work except that the summary of this part of the argument took me utterly by surprise:

Furthermore, since the right to life is not the right to someone else’s body, fetuses might not have the right to the pregnant woman’s body—which she has the right to—and so she has the right to not allow the fetus use of her body. This further justifies abortion, at least until technology allows for the removal of fetuses to other wombs. Since morally permissible actions should be legal, abortions should be legal: it is an injustice to criminalize actions that are not wrong.

'Since morally permissible actions should be legal, X should be legal' is a baffling thing to say, since it is not generally true that morally permissible actions should be legal; all that is true is that if an action is morally permissible, some other reason beside the morality of the action itself is needed for making it illegal.

Part of the problem, which you find in many discussions of ethics, is not grasping just how weak 'X is a morally permissible action' is, and with equivocating between 'X is morally permissible in every possible case' and 'X is a kind of action that is morally permissible'. Kissing strangers is a morally permissible kind of action; a society could very well exist where you kiss people you don't know in order to greet them, and there would be nothing wrong with that. But kissing strangers is not morally permissible in every possible case; you might live in a society in which it would be invasive. And moral permissibility is weak, in any case; most things we do are morally permissible, many of those are not very good or are in some way morally unsafe (tending to, although not strictly requiring, something bad).

And even when morally permissible particular actions are not of the barely-acceptable kind, there can be reasons extrinsic to the actions as to why they should not be done. Consider, for instance, the tragedy of the commons. We have a common resource, which benefits people by being common; everybody has a right to it; no individual use is detrimental in itself, but some overall combinations of individual uses are detrimental. Everything is morally permissible in itself, but, depending on what other morally permissible things people are doing, some things should not be done. Even purely practical reasons can be a foundation for law. I suspect most people would say that we could sometimes make a morally permissible action illegal if it could be a contributing cause to something we all want or need to avoid; at least, most people seem committed to such a claim given the laws they support.

I've looked and looked in the book for any developed account of why anyone should accept their principle that morally permissible actions should be legal, and I have come up with a blank. Indeed, the entire part of the argument that concerns the legality question is very weakly and minimally argued; it seems to consist entirely of two parts, 'most abortion is morally permissible' and 'if we made illegal the sort of abortion that is not morally permissible, this would have (very vaguely described) bad effects'. The legality principle seems never to be defended at all.

A side note. It's always worth asking in these cases what ethical approach is in play; one regularly finds in particular discussions of controversial topics that people are gerrymandering an approach to get the conclusion that is wanted -- that is, that people are not, in fact, being consistent in their ethics. I am baffled at what ethical view is supposed to be presupposed by their argument. They are presupposing some kind of cognitivist view (they rule out basing conclusions on feelings, attitudes, and preferences), but it doesn't seem to be any standard cognitivism. The strict way they take the legality principle seems clearly inconsistent with any kind of utilitarianism, and also with any kind of positivist theory of obligation; the way they handle questions of rights and personhood is inconsistent with Kantianism and natural law theories of obligation; virtue-ethical considerations never seem to arise. Perhaps the authors have some unified view, but it is not at all obvious from the whole collection of arguments that they give, nor is it even obvious that they are in fact sticking to a single ethical approach.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Embeddable Answered Questions

Luca Incurvati and Julian J. Schlöder have a really nice paper on what they call inferential expressivism; expressivism as an account of any kind of meaning is known to face basic logical problems, and they look at how you could build an expressivism that deals with one of these, what is usually called the Negation Frege-Geach Problem (or similar names). As I say, an interesting paper. But my attention was caught by a very minor side issue in their argument, and that is what this post is about.

They note a point, deriving from work by Timothy Smiley, about explaining negation in basic logical forms like modus tollens in terms of rejection. Instead of standard modus tollens,

if p, q
not q
therefore not p

you could use questions and answers:

a. Is it the case that if p, q? Yes!
b. Is it the case that q? No!
c. Therefore is it the case that p? No!

Or to take another case,

a. Is it the case that if not p, not q? Yes!
b. Is it the case that p? No!
c. Therefore is it the case that q? No!

Both of these are clearly valid, and work because the Yes's and No's indicate assertions and rejections or denials.

They then say ((6) and (7) are the above arguments):

But now we have a puzzle. The speech act indicators (5) that Smiley postulates are nonembeddable—if is it the case that p? No!, then... borders on incomprehensible—but as shown by (6) and (7) they can nonetheless feature in inferences. To simply reduce not p to Is it p? No! seems unsatisfactory due to the divergent embedding behaviour of these phrases (Rumfitt, 2000). But if (7b) is not reducible to the antecedent of (7a), then—following the structure of the Frege–Geach argument—how can (7) be valid?

The argument, in other words, is that "not p" cannot be reduced to "Is it p? No!" because these two have different logical behaviors: I can say, "If not p" but I cannot say, "If is it p? No!"

I find this argument extremely unconvincing. People do not in fact go around saying "If not p" unless they have been trained to do so by logicians; it's not a common way of speaking English, but an arbitrary convention invented by logicians for convenience. (While English does sometimes allow similar constructions, e.g., "Not all that glitters is gold" or "Not all who wander are lost", these are rare, and the construction would merely confuse people for most propositions, e.g., "Not some people are going to the movies today" or "Not if this is true, that is true". (Although, of course, we could say in colloquial English, "Some people are going to the movies today -- Not!") And if we are going to allow logicians to get away with bizarre barbarisms like that in the one case, it's unclear why they can't get away with it in the question case.

Moreover, English does actually have a way to handle this kind of situation. Sometimes in English, you are arguing in questions. It would be odd syntactically to put your question in the antecedent of a conditional, but it can be understood to be there. We do this all the time. Suppose I say:

Is it the case that Daniel bought milk? If no, then I want to stop by the store.

(We would often say 'not', but 'no' would not be very unusual.) What is the logical antecedent of the conditional statement? It's not merely 'no'; the consequent does not follow from negation in general. It's 'no' as an answer to the question. It's just that English takes the question to be understood. We could very well represent it as,

If [Is it the case that Daniel bought milk?] No, then I want to stop by the store.

You wouldn't say that explicitly in colloquial English as a matter of custom; but it has to be understood or it doesn't mean anything. The same can be said for when the consequent is just 'yes' or 'no', as well. We wouldn't usually do it for both the antecedent and the consequent simultaneously, but that seems obviously because, since the questions are merely understood, it quickly becomes confusing which answer goes with which question. But nothing about it is impossible, given the right set up.

So, in short, there seems no real puzzle here. If we are embedding as logicians embed, it's not more of a solecism than 'not p' is. If we are embedding as English speakers embed, once one recognizes that 'yes' and 'no' often have understood questions it becomes clear that English can in fact embed simple versions of this. If "Is it the case that p? No!" differs from "Not p", it's not due to any purely logical embedding behavior; they just seem to differ practically.

In yes-or-no questions, in fact, 'yes' and 'no' don't seem to be any different than assigning truth values to propositions. The real parallel is to

It is true that if p, q
It is false that q
Therefore it is false that p.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Music on My Mind

Hidden Citizens, "Paint It Black". This is one of those songs that has become popular for covers recently. I actually still like the original Stones version best; the contrast of the upbeat sound with the melancholy lyrics gives it just the right desperately manic smiling-while-falling-to-pieces mood to convey the point of the song, which is a sort of rebellion against the fact that the world goes on even in the face of death. But this makes a good in-the-background version.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Thousands--Ten Thousands More

Martyrs and Confessors
by John Holland

"Your princes distinguished themselves by the greatness and the success of their exploits: they conquered empires, overwhelmed nations, and subdued the ferocity of the wildest barbarians; but they had no success in their endeavours against our poor fishermen and labourers, simple and illiterate people, women and children. Their war against our religion nourished the immortal plant—from every branch they lopped off, a thousand sprouts arose."—Theoderet to the Persecutors of the Christians.

The powers of Hell are loosed: the Church must pass
Through Persecution's tenfold heated fires;
Consumed, devour'd, or trodden down like grass,
With hero-nerve, each martyr'd saint expires.
Thousands—ten thousands—seal'd their faith with blood;
A noble army—crown'd with glory now:
Thousands—ten thousands more—unflinching stood,
Till wearied the red hands that dealt the blow:
Thousands—ten thousands—fled the scenes of woe,
And bore the name of Christ to farthest lands,
Where Kings were seen in that great name to bow,
While shaking from their souls barbarian bands;
While Christian temples rose on hallow'd sites,
Where idol-altars once were serv'd with horrid rites.