Saturday, July 13, 2019

On Mizrahi on Ad Hominem

Moti Mizrahi has an argument on the value of ad hominem up on While interesting, I think it fails to be clear enough about what is going on, and due to that draws an incorrect conclusion, and ultimately one that I think is complete toxic to moral education.

(1) I've noted before that with ad hominem, ad verecundiam, and the like that it is important to distinguish two things, for both historical and practical reasons. First, there is what could be called the tactic or approach to argument. This is the original kind of idea that went with these labels. The original point, which we find most clearly in the Logic of Isaac Watts, is that these are argument-building approaches; they designate a field within which you can draw the middle terms that allow you to draw conclusions. This has to be distinguished from the error, the way in which this approach to argument goes wrong so as to create a fallacy. In general with these "ad" fallacies, the actual error is ignoratio elenchi, or at least something close to it; they are generally recognized as fallacies of irrelevance. The tactic in such cases is not producing something that actually addresses the supposed point of argument.

Mizrahi's argument, to the extent that it is right, can be translated into these terms by saying that not every instance of the tactic involves an error. This is very definitely true, and some of the reasons Mizrahi gives are certainly right for the right reason: you can identify cases that are tactically ad hominem that are not ad hominem fallacies because they are provably relevant. Arguing against appeal to authority is a good example, fairly straightforward.

(2) However, Mizrahi's failure to be entirely clear about the distinction between tactic and error leads him to make a mistake. He says,

When an appeal to authority is made, it’s reasonable to respond by pointing out that the authority appealed to is acting in a manner that is inconsistent with her advice. Such practical inconsistency provides a good reason to think that refusing to follow the authority’s advice wouldn’t be imprudent. It’s important to note that this sort of ad hominem argumentation is legitimate only as a rebuttal to appeals to authority.

This is certainly not true, however, because we can run arguments analogous to those touching on the appeal to authority with other cases. For instance, it is reasonable to argue against someone who denies that we can communicate truths, or know what's right or wrong, or know about the world, by noting ways in which their own life and practice fails to bear out their claim. This is indeed the most respectable form of ad hominem tactic; it is a staple of philosophy literally since ancient days. It is never so useful as it is when it is used against sloppy debunkers or skeptics, people who debunk or object so badly that their debunking or objection would redound on them as well as the object.

His mistake in restricting ad hominem, even of the structure he is considering, to appeal to authority, leads him to characterize ad hominem argument as "defeasible". Ad hominem as a tactic is not a specific argument, so it is not the sort of thing that can itself be defeasible; there is good reason to deny that ad hominem arguments are defeasible generally, if constructed properly -- it's just that, as with other approaches, an error can insinuate itself, and the ad hominem argument can fail to be relevant to the particular point at issue, even despite appearances.

(3) On the basis of his argument, Mizrahi continues:

If I’m right, rebellious children are on firm ground argumentatively when they challenge their parents’ advice on smoking with ‘You use tobacco, so why shouldn’t I?’ By being smokers themselves, and thus failing to set a positive example, the parents have undermined their status as authorities whose advice should be followed.

Mizrahi correctly notes that this is not the end of the story, because there are other reasons not to smoke. However, I think he is simply wrong on this conclusion for two reasons: (1) it does not follow from his actual argument; and (2) it does not follow from the correct analysis of ad hominem.

First, it does not follow from his own account because he has not actually established that the inconsistency is specifically of the kind that undermines the authority of the parent. All that the child has noted is that the parent fails to follow their own advice. But this on its own does not undermine authority. Imagine a stronger case, a parent who is a drug addict, counseling her child to stay far away from the drug to which she is addict. Is her authority in any way undermined by her addiction? Not in the least; indeed, if anything, it's obvious that you should take their advice very seriously. It's not the relevant kind of practical inconsistency. It is not enough to catch people out in failing to follow their own advice -- everyone fails to follow their own advice on all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. What you need for the authority-undermining is exactly that: something that suggests that their status as an authority on the question is not to be taken seriously, either because they are clearly not the authorities they claim to be or because there is reason to think they are being dishonest in their advice or because there is reason to think the kind of principle they are denying is the kind that is necessary for them to have any authority at all. The only one that could be relevant here is if the parent is being dishonest; but this is not something that can be known from the facts that Mizrahi has given, and is not generally true of smoker parents who advise their children not to smoke.

Second, by not properly distinguishing the tactic and error, Mizrahi has also apparently assumed that, because the error does not always arise in using the tactic against appeals to authority, that it therefore always does not arise in using the tactic against appeals to authority. Mizrahi has not established that ad hominem is good (even if defeasible) in the context of appeals to authority, but only that appeals to authority provide some cases in which the ad hominem tactic can be seen not to involve the error of irrelevance that would make them a fallacy. In reality, the child is apparently guilty of irrelevance here -- the failure of the parents to comply with their own advice is not due to anything inconsistent with their authority in being able to assess whether smoking is a good thing, nor with anything that gives the child a reason to defer to parental authority on this matter.

As I noted, Mizrahi's conclusion would be a disaster for moral education, and this is for the reason that I noted earlier: everyone fails to follow their own advice quite a bit, for all sorts of reasons. The advice, however, should not be regarded as in any way contaminated by these things, unless it can actually be established that the practice is inconsistent specifically for reasons that would call into question the advice itself. And since advice is a major part of the foundation of moral education, not recognizing this is the kind of thing that can poison moral education.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dashed Off XIV

Hume on juries: "an institution, admirable in itself, and the best calculated for the preservation of liberty and the administration of justice, that ever was devised by the wit of man" (History, on Alfred)

Burke on bail: "the most certain fence against the abuses of power"

the Australian 'Dreamtime' in reality means somehting like 'god-seeing' or 'seeing of the timeless'
- a 'dreaming' is an inherited story/symbol system; it is quasi-property, or perhaps more analogous to a title deed to a tribal status. (how far could this be regarded as quasi-heraldic? Much of the property interpretation, while no doubt founded, raises suspicions that it is actually an assimiliation to English-Australian concepts of property)
- songline/dreaming track is a path included in traditional songs and stories about the divine makings; by following the creation story one can navigate the land

The thing that makes Renaissance art better than much else is a sort of transfiguration-quality: their paintings look real, their marble sculptures look alive, their buildings look like something the world itself copies rather than vice versa; and yet everything has the double meaningfulness of *symbolic* realism. Their techniques need not be the only way to achieve something like this; but Renaissance artists achieved it on a scale few others can match.

Intemperate minds cannot be free.

(1) No tax should be laid without notifying the person taxed of the amount. (i.e., no hidden taxes)
(2) No tax should be laid in cases in which it cannot be justified by risk, loss, or service relevant to common good.

Civil rights are specified by institutions used to protect them.

childhood as mimesis of adulthood

"Where there is passion, there is confusion of ideas." Rosmini

Data collection presupposes some abstract notion under which the data is collected. You can't coherently collect data at random.

Baptists come close to having a religion of pure word: church service centered wholly on word; rites as ordinances, i.e., words acted on; grace that works first by imputation, that is, like words; proselytization by word.

Establish churches have a tendency toward religion of pure ceremony.

Research contributes to inquiry in two ways: in incomplete research, suggestion to the imagination; and clarification in complete research.

Rosmini's first principle of human rights: Do harm to no one.
- This, given the way what belongs to a person is united to the person, to take what belongs to them can harm them, so their right to it must be respected.
- It would follow from this that there is a kind of sliding scale.

The right to another's obedience is founded not on force nor on the past but on reason. (cp. Rosmini's right to impose respect for natural law)

"The rational law is divine light indeed, like the form of truth itself, but human beings need something more to conceive an infinite, supreme, real being -- he who sees the light does not always see the sun." Rosmini
"When the human race presumptuously exalted itself, it did two things: it put itself in place of 1. the rational law, and 2. God. Both kinds of self-exaltation resulted in undue, illegitimate subjection."

The preciousness of freedom arises from its link with truth.

the potential, virtual, and actual existence of arguments as parts in reasoning

When you start a study of a new thinker or system, you are merely moving X's and Y's around based on their apparent contextual use -- you have no internal understanding of the terms, so you are guesstimating based on what you've seen, so far, about how this term 'works'. As you progress further, you integrate further evidence and develop an understanding of the function of those terms in the larger context -- why these terms are used here, and not merely that they are, and why ultimately they are *needed* for what is being attempted. And as this functional understanding with functional understandings of other things, you get a sense of how these terms are expressive of the whole system or approach. This, however, is a very difficult point to reach.

Rosmini's peaceful means for the governed to defend their rights
(1) the moral goodness of the governed
(2) formation of uniformity of thought about rights
(3) religious influence where faith is shared
(4) persuasive influence on governing power
(5) passive resistance
(6) speaking the truth
(7) remonstrance and petition
(8) forma pact with the governing power
(9) emigration

sophistry as a usury of authority

Prisons are too often schools of vice.

motives of credibility
that suggest suitability to human belief as human
that suggest authority
that suggest general truth
that suggest specific truth

Rosmini's account of the soul seems to tie it too much to consciousness. (There is a strongly dualist tinge to his entire discussion.)

What is written in water requires no erasure.

positive interpersonal contact encouragement as a key element in the development of a coherent and just society (in particular, one needs self-sustaining institutions regularly serving this function)

the people as militia and independence of survival, defense, and emergency response

"The human mind, impatient and desirous of reaching immediate conclusions, always prefers to guess about nature rather than observe it." Rosmini

A great deal of guessing is jumping to the general principle most similar to that to which one attends. Good guessing involves attending well and using the most appropriate similarity.

self-preservation instincts -> habit of living -> vested interest in living
(suicidal tendency involves the breakdown of this process: loss of vested interest makes erosion of habit of living possible, the difficulty of living arising therefrom in spurts can sometimes overpower tendency to self-preservation)

The Stone of Destiny was originally not just a focus of coronation but of affirmation of the rights of the Church.

Extension is a measure of activity.

Rosmini on visual language (OT 918-920)

OS Curry's seven universal moral rules: love your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to authority, be fair, respect the property of others

It is hard to read Condorcet's Sketch, written while in hiding and with a warrount out for his arrest as a traitor, and not see it as wishful thinking.

Factional politics is an endless tale of people missing the big picture.

"In the order of discoveries, man can look for only three things: a fact, a cause, or an essence. Are the waters of all seas salty? This is a fact. Why is sea water salty? This is a cause. What is salt? This is an essence." Maistre

"the syllogism is the man" Maistre

Human beings only achieve fullness of self in the context of the divine, both as such (God) and as veiled (truth, goodness, beauty).

the dangers of the pedagogical state

nominal Catholics as a kind of integument or membrane for the Church -- Despite their nominality, there is something to be said for their serving a real role in the Church, as a buffer zone between the Church and the world. This is not to say that they do this with the highest efficiency, or that they are the only possible buffers, but the Catholic-but-only-in-name nonetheless does play a role as buffer matter for the Body. (And, of course, they are not merely a protective layer but a sort of field of evangelization which can often be more easily drawn in than anything beyond it.)

the life of the Church as unceasing production of spiritual acts originating from within

In preaching as in nutrition or medicine, the immediate effect is not that at which one primarily aims.

hypercompetent (technical) genius vs eustochic (inspired) genius

methods of genius imitation
(1) hypercombinatorial with filter
(2) hyperanalogical with filter
(3) hyperdialogical
- really the difference is in where the teleology is found. (1) and (2) give explosion of possibilities, then narrow accord to ends; (3) gives the possibilities according to ends and narrows according to fit-to-end.

"The body expresses existence at every moment." Merleau Ponty

"One of the neglected laws of sound, philosophical method states: 'Take care not to deny to your opponent what you yourself need in order to prove your supposition." Rosmini

affective, appreciative, and evaluative regard

All of Anselm's theology is rooted in Benedictine vocabulary and reflection.

institutions for creating interest alignments

Human rights do not ordinarily impose onerous or elaborate obligations, but easy and simple ones. Only in extraordinary circumstances do the obligations become onerous or elaborate; they get the burden or the complexity from the circumstances, not the rights themselves.

For a social and rational animal, the end of reproduction can never be bare procreation.

One of the major intellectual difficulties in religion is taking a universal point of view without losing everything in a pile of abstractions.

distinction between just & unjust punishment requires natural merit or demerit, which requires natural law

the Church as permeant

We often seek not only the pleasant but the easy even distinct from its pleasantness.

religious material culture as quasi-sensorium for the Church

A great many things called 'rights' in the modern world should in fact be called 'claims' in something like the sense that people claim a throne, because they are claims of a position of authority.

conceptual anti-skepticism arguments
(1) You have the concept X.
(2) No thinker in this skeptical scenario could have the concept X.
(3) Therefore you are not a thinker in this skeptical scenario.
- for (2), causal-constraint defenses vs thinker-inadequacy defenses

arguments that a skeptical argument is linguistically self-defeating: if the conclusion were true, the argument could not be formulated/communicated/expressed.

a possibility: ontological arguments should be seen as different kinds of blockers for different kinds of skeptical arguments in theistic contexts

- note Rosmini on the phrase 'external world' AAMS 497

noncommensurability of values -> freedom of choice

Freedom of indifference primarily concerns possible goods; choice between good and evil requires something added to freedom of indifference, namely, temptation.

By concupiscence we carry temptation around with us.

abstract ideas in intellect // habits in will (Rosmini)

honesty as mind's chastity (Augustine)

to treat gift as gift: gratitude
to treat communicative reason as communicative reason: truthfulness
to treat divine gift as divine gift: religion

creation as that title than which no greater title can be thought
-other titles reflect it either directly or (where the title is remedial) in result. Accession, long possession, etc. are each in their own way like creation.

genius & Peirce's Musement

humility as chastity of will

the poison metaphor for lying (lying poisons speech/communication/social relations)

honesty as a precondition for peace

All evidence, even statistical, is anecdotal until it reaches a certain level of abstraction.

anecdotal reasoning // precedential reasoning

Half of security is discretion.


This is a really nice representation of discoveries of the exoplanets, which maps them on the sky and assigns each a note. It celebrates the fact that this June the tally passed 4000. Each note and color represents some fact about the exoplanet represented; Phil Plait explains them at "Bad Astronomy". (He also explains why such a large number are clustered in one area of the sky.)

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Terror of Dereva

Today is the memorial of St. Olga of Kiev, particularly celebrated in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Olga was a Varangian, which means she was of Scandinavian descent (she is known in Scandinavian countries as St. Helga), and she married Prince Igor of Kiev. Kievan Rus was a pretty wild place at the time, and there were a number of loosely allied tribes around it who paid some kind of tribute or other for one reason or another. The Drevlians, called so because they dwelt in the land of Dereva, were one of these. They stopped paying it, and Igor went to make them continue the payment; he got the payment, but then decided that perhaps they should be paying more. In response, they killed him. The son of Olga and Igor, Svyatoslav, was only three years old, so Olga took the throne as queen regent. And the Drevlians had the chutzpah to send a delegation to inform her that they had killed her husband and to propose that she should marry their prince, Prince Mal. Olga convinced them that it would be necessary to do things with more ceremony, so she told them to return to their boat, and the next day, they would be sent for; they should refuse to come by horse or by foot, and she would have the people carry their entire boat to her as an honor. This they did, and Olga had the people carry the boat to a trench she had ordered dug overnight; they dropped the boat in, and buried the Drevlians alive. Remember, she was of Viking stock, it was a Viking custom for people to be honored by burial in a boat.

She sent messengers the Drevlians, agreeing to their proposal, but said that she would only come if they sent their noblemen to escort her. This they did. After their long journey, she had them taken to a bathhouse, with instructions for them to appear before her when she was done. While they were bathing, she had the bathhouse set on fire, starting with the doors so that they could not escape.

She then set out, but sent messengers beforehand saying that before she could marry Prince Mal, she needed to grieve at the grave of her husband, who had been buried in the city where he had been killed, Iskorosten. She asked them to gather all the mead they could for the funeral feast. This was done, and the funeral feast held. When the Drevlians were drunk from the mead, she had them slaughtered. Then she went home. But she was not done.

The preliminaries having been accomplished, having paid her respects to her husband in that inimitable, old-fashioned, high Varangian style, events had now passed to the inevitable next phase: the actual vengeance. You didn't think that she had even started on her revenge yet? Everything up to this point was just part of the funeral honors for her husband. Now she could begin the revenge war. The Kievans, of course, were much better organized and trained as an army, and also had greater numbers, so the revenge war went quite well for them. The Drevlians were driven back.

And again Olga returned to Iskorosten, and laid siege to the city. It was difficult to get a tight seal on the city, though, and the siege lasted a whole year without success. So Olga tried a different tack. She sent a message to the people of Iskorosten, pointing out that other Drevlian cities had submitted and, when they had paid tribute, she had left them alone. They responded that they were willing to pay the tribute, but, given the involvement of their city with the killing of her husband, did not trust her to leave them alone afterward. She replied that enough people had died for her husband's death, but acknowledged that their fear was a reasonable and legitimate one, so she proposed that instead of ordinary tribute, they should just send her three pigeons and three sparrows for each house in the city. This they did, a very large number of pigeons and sparrows. Then Olga had her soldiers tie oily strips of cloth to the legs of the birds, light the ends of the strips on fire, and release the birds. The birds, of course, returned to their nests in the city. The city became a blazing inferno. Many were burned alive. The citizens who could, fled, but as they did so, Olga had them caught and divided into three groups: one group was killed, the second enslaved, and the third -- she left behind to pay tribute.

So the story goes.

Olga, it turned out, had an extraordinary mind for organizing and planning, whether it was organizing and planning a war of vengeance or organizing and planning a kingdom. She established laws, built trading posts and towns, and reorganized the government, making Kievan Rus one of the best-run kingdoms of the day. Having received a barbarian kingdom with warlord status among a number of other tribes, she turned over to her son an incipient empire.

In 950 or so, however, she went on a visit to Constantinople and was baptized into the Church. We don't know why she went, and we don't know what led her to become Christian. There has long been a story that the Emperor Constantine VII was pestering her to marry him, and she took baptism, designating him to be her sponsor, because she realized that it would then make the marriage impossible. Since the Emperor would have already been married, it's probably not true. It is even possible that she may have converted to Christianity in Kiev and thus journeyed to Constantinople as a pilgrimage. She returned to Kiev, and tried to convince her son to convert, as well, but he refused, saying that his men would no longer respect him, a common problem of Christian nobles throughout the realms dominated by the Scandinavians. But because his mother was now a Christian, Svyatoslav became a protector of Christians, and Olga built a number of churches throughout the land. The old-style Varangians grumbled -- but grumble is all they did.

When she died, her pagan son made sure she had a Christian funeral. And Olga's foundation would be the basis by means of which her grandson, St. Vladimir, would Christianize Kievan Rus.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

One World Was Not Enough for Two

Her Voice
by Oscar Wilde

The wild bee reels from bough to bough
With his furry coat and his gauzy wing.
Now in a lily-cup, and now
Setting a jacinth bell a-swing,
In his wandering;
Sit closer love: it was here I trow
I made that vow,

Swore that two lives should be like one
As long as the sea-gull loved the sea,
As long as the sunflower sought the sun,--
It shall be, I said, for eternity
'Twixt you and me!
Dear friend, those times are over and done,
Love's web is spun.

Look upward where the poplar trees
Sway and sway in the summer air,
Here in the valley never a breeze
Scatters the thistledown, but there
Great winds blow fair
From the mighty murmuring mystical seas,
And the wave-lashed leas.

Look upward where the white gull screams,
What does it see that we do not see?
Is that a star? or the lamp that gleams
On some outward voyaging argosy,--
Ah! can it be
We have lived our lives in a land of dreams!
How sad it seems.

Sweet, there is nothing left to say
But this, that love is never lost,
Keen winter stabs the breasts of May
Whose crimson roses burst his frost,
Ships tempest-tossed
Will find a harbour in some bay,
And so we may.

And there is nothing left to do
But to kiss once again, and part,
Nay, there is nothing we should rue,
I have my beauty,--you your Art,
Nay, do not start,
One world was not enough for two
Like me and you.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

On Academic Titles Again

There has been yet another flare-up in various social media quarters about academic titles. There's not really any point in summarizing the details, because it's always the same moronic issue. But I will simply restate what should be obvious to any decent human being, but apparently has not registered with some of the prima donnas who have come out of graduate school:

Having earned an academic title does not give you the right to demand that other people refer to you by that title; it gives you the right to refer to yourself by that title.

For everyone else, referring to you by any title at all is entirely a matter of their choosing to extend the courtesy to you, on the basis that you have done, or could be expected to do, good to them. If it really matters to you -- and it sometimes can, for legitimate reasons, such as if you worked your way up from a one-room shack -- just ask them and tell them why it matters to you, and people usually will. Anything else is (1) rude and self-important jackassery and (2) self-sabotaging, because it makes you look desperate for recognition.

I have previously talked about academic titles in:

Evening Note for Saturday, April 6 (on norms of etiquette), which focuses on the courtesy aspect;

The Authority of a Title, which focuses on the self-sabotaging aspect.

Not Profit, No: Nor Pleasure

To R. R.
On Rereading the "De Profundis" of Oscar Wilde
by Florence Earle Coates

He stood alone, despairing and forsaken:
⁠Alone he stood, in desolation bare;
From him avenging powers e'en hope had taken:
⁠He looked,—and thou wast there!

Why hadst thou come? Not profit, no: nor pleasure,
⁠Nor any faint desire of selfish gain,
Had moved thee, giving of thy heart's pure treasure,
To share a culprit's pain.

In that drear place, as thou hadst lonely waited
⁠To greet with noble friendship one who came
Handcuffed from prison, pointed at, and hated,
⁠Bowed low in mortal shame,

No thought hadst thou of any special merit,
⁠So simple, natural, seemed that action fine
Which kept alive, in a despairing spirit,
⁠The spark of the divine,

And taught a dying soul that love is deathless,
⁠Even as when its holiest accents fell
Upon a woman's heart who listened, breathless,
⁠By a Samarian well.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Turn Poison into Medicine

There's a line of thought that's often called 'aesthetic theodicy'; it's usually associated with St. Augustine, although he is far from the only person to use the idea, and although he doesn't actually treat it as anything stand-alone. But we get something of the idea from the Confessions (Book VII, Chapter XIII), but perhaps most clearly in The City of God (Book XI, Chapter XVIII):

For God would never have created any, I do not say angel, but even man, whose future wickedness He foreknew, unless He had equally known to what uses in behalf of the good He could turn him, thus embellishing, the course of the ages, as it were an exquisite poem set off with antitheses. For what are called antitheses are among the most elegant of the ornaments of speech. They might be called in Latin "oppositions," or, to speak more accurately, "contrapositions;" but this word is not in common use among us, though the Latin, and indeed the languages of all nations, avail themselves of the same ornaments of style.... As, then, these oppositions of contraries lend beauty to the language, so the beauty of the course of this world is achieved by the opposition of contraries, arranged, as it were, by an eloquence not of words, but of things. This is quite plainly stated in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, in this way: "Good is set against evil, and life against death: so is the sinner against the godly. So look upon all the works of the Most High, and these are two and two, one against another."

We find a similar idea in Berkeley's Principles (sect. 152), using painting rather than poetry as the analogue. Today music is probably the most common analogue used. For most of the past sixty years, if you would find a book or article that would discuss it, you would usually find it disparaged, due in part to John Hick's discussion in Evil and the God of Love. (Philip Tallon's The Poetics of Evil seems to be the primary exception.) But rejecting it outright requires drawing a much sharper line between the aesthetic and the ethical than can usually be maintained, and the actual concepts involved, like overall harmony (pankalia), are definitely not solely aesthetic, anyway. Further, we ourselves regularly use broadly the same sort of 'aesthetic criteria' in order to decide how we will handle bad things, what we will tolerate, what we will support, what we will actively punish, and what we will merely discourage. In addition, while it's generally not restricted to such, it's almost always primarily deployed in discussing what has usually been called 'natural evil'; other concerns always take the forefront when talking about moral evil in particular.

In any case, this post is not so much about that; I was just reminded of it by the following fascinating clip from an interview with Herbie Hancock, discussing a time when he hit the wrong notes while playing with Miles Davis:

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Real and Unreal

There is a recurring pattern of possible positions considered with the range of possible accounts you could give of something's apparent existence. You could, first of all, take it to exist really, or not to exist really. If you take it to exist really, positions seem naturally to break into two groups: it really exists as a natural thing or as an artificial thing. Positions on natural real existence tend to break into two groups: either it really exists in its own right (like a body), or it really exists because it shares existence with something else (like the color of a body). If it's artificial, it could exist due to individual artifice (like a chair) or due to social convention (like a language). On the other side, if it does not have real existence, its apparent existence could be either by fiction or by illusion. If it is fictional, it is put forward as if real, despite not being so; it could either be a theoretical posit that sums up or approximates things that really exist (like a center of gravity), or it could be something put forward for some other purpose as if it were real (like a character in a story). If it is illusion, the illusion could either be defeasible (like a stump mistaken for a dog) or indefeasible (like a hallucination or an optical illusion); 'defeasible' and 'indefeasible' here mean the illusion itself. A hallucination is an indefeasible illusion in this sense, but of course one can know that it is an illusion; indeed, that's a sign that it might be indefeasible, it's consistently still as if there even if you have good reason to think it's not really so. We can roughly see these as going from 'most real' to 'least real', with the border between reality and unreality fuzzily lying somewhere between artificial and fictional:

      in itself (strong)
      in another (weak)
      due to artifice
      due to convention
      loosely connected to what is real
      purely a matter of story or imagination

For anything that seems to exist, you can divide up possible positions to the an sit roughly according to this taxonomy, although, of course, depending on the evidence and the like available, some will be more or less plausible. We can call the first 'naturalism', the second 'constructionism', the third 'fictionalism', and the fourth 'illusionism'. So a few examples, gone through roughly and loosely just to make the point and sketch out better what these options mean in practice. Let's start with an obvious one.

A. Santa Claus. Little kids are strong naturalists about Santa Claus; Santa Claus exists like you or me, in his own right. A 'Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus' position is an alliance-building position -- it is deliberately ambiguous between weak naturalism and constructionism: Santa Claus exists, but not in his own right; he exists in our hearts or as part of our social good-will. The ambiguity makes it possible for weak naturalists and constructionists to conspire to keep the little kids strong naturalists. Fictionalists treat Santa as a fictional character, useful for a certain purpose, but that is all -- it's only sometimes as if there were a Santa; illusionists are the obnoxious kid insisting that Santa is not real, he's just a made-up deception by your parents.

B. The Self. Most people in the West are strong naturalists, taking their selves to exist in their own right as subsisting substances. If you hold that your self exists, but is only part of a greater thing, like a world-soul or God, you are a weak naturalist about the self. Constructionists take the self to be something we make as we go along; it is not a substance but something made by bundling things together (which can be done either on the fly, a la Hume, or by society). Fictionalists hold that there is no self, either natural or artificial, but it's handy to act as if there were one for certain practical purposes, just like it's handy to treat a center of gravity as if it were a real thing. Illusionists hold there is no self, of course, it's a provably bad or incoherent idea; they either think we can overcome this (eliminativists) or that we're stuck with this appearance of having a self we know we can't have (error theorists).

C. The External World. Most people take the external world, as we experience it, to exist naturally in its own right; idealists are weak naturalists, holding that it really exists in nature, but only in minds and perhaps ultimately the mind of God. Some people, like logical empiricists, have argued that it is constructed by the mind out of sensations. That's only a step or two away from fictionalism, which holds that there is no external world, we're making it up, but not arbitrarily. And illusionists, of course, hold that there is no external world at all, it's just an illusion, not even a useful fiction; as it would be difficult to hold such a position without being a solipsist, it is not a popular view.

D. Other Minds. Other minds is a sort of complement to positions about the self; most of us are strong naturalists about other minds, but you can find people here and there who think that other minds only exist in something else, as parts of a world-soul or something. Anything weaker than that starts looking like a kind of solipsism, although you might not even be a solipsist if you think all minds are illusions -- it's hard to make sense of the notion of an illusion when there are no minds for whom there can be illusory appearances, so it's not a common view.

E. Abstract Objects. Strong naturalism about abstract objects is usually called platonism, and sometimes, more tendentiously, exaggerated realism; weak naturalism about abstract objects is usually called aristotelianism or moderate realism. Conceptualists about abstract objects are constructionists. Illusionists about abstract objects are sometimes called concretists or particularists; they hold that only concrete, non-abstract things exist.

F. Funniness. There are lots of moral and aesthetic notions that will tend to conform fairly closely to the patterns for abstract objects. I know of no strong naturalists for funniness -- nobody who believes that there is a real thing, the Funny, that exists in its own right -- but a surprising number of people are 'comic realists' and think that real natural things can be really and naturally funny in themselves. Most people, however, are probably social constructionists about funniness; things are really funny, but only insofar as they are made so within a social framework. Denying that anything is really funny at all is a hard sell. I know of no fictionalists about funniness, who hold that nothing is funny but it's convenient to act as if some things were, nor of any illusionists about funniness, who hold that, despite appearances, nothing is funny, period, but in this world I would not rule out people that humorless.

G. The State. Strong naturalism about the state is not popular position, but Hegel, for instance, sometimes talks as if it's true. If you hold that the state is a sort of natural outgrowth of people getting together in certain ways, you are a weak naturalist about the state. Social contract theorists are the preeminent examples of social constructionists about the state. I don't know of anyone who is an illusionist about the state, but perhaps there are anarchists somewhere who have such a view.

H. The Resurrection of Christ. By its nature it would have to be 'in' Christ, i.e., something He does or endures, so there isn't much room for a strong naturalism. Christian orthodoxy is weak naturalist about Christ's Resurrection: Christ's Resurrection is something that really happened to Christ. Modernism about the Resurrection is the heresy that is either constructionist or fictionalist about it: the constructionist holds that Christ really rose, but in the Church community, and the ficitonalist holds that Christ did not really rise, but it is a powerful and valuable story we tell. Illusionists, of course, deny it altogether.

I. God. People we call 'theists' are generally strong naturalists, and this is the most common position on the subject. People who try to treat God as a sort of aspect of the universe or ourselves are weak naturalists. Everyone else usually gets called an atheist. Although we usually are thinking of illusionists when we talk about atheism, I find in practice that there are a surprising number of both constructionists and fictionalists about God. They tend to be hard to pick out; they will often say exactly the same things about God, but just mean it figuratively, and I suspect you can find at least one or two of each in almost every church in the world, and I would guess that there are probably more of both than there are of illusionists. Most people that we think of as atheists obviously take God to be a defeasible illusion -- you may think that it looks like there's a God, but that's because you aren't looking at it the right way. The other kind of illusionism, the position that all indications of God are illusory but are an inevitable illusion was once not common at all; but it seems to be getting more traction -- the usual view is that God definitely does not exist, but we are hardwired to think socially, so our interaction with the world is social, and thus even the most rigorous atheist will naturally sometimes respond to the world as if it were a Person or had a Person behind it.

J. Atheism. Since atheism, as a position, is something attributed to persons, there is no strong naturalism associated with it (the idea that Atheism is a really existing being would be a weird position); some (we have to say 'purported') atheists try to argue that we should be weak naturalists about atheism, that atheism is a real natural position, but most people in fact are constructionists about atheism, for the same reasons that they are constructionists about most philosophical positions on most things: you can really be an atheist, but you make yourself one -- or are made one by society. A remarkable number of theists, however, are fictionalists about atheism -- they deny that anyone is really an atheist, it's just sometimes convenient to treat them as if they were. Illusionists about atheism are rare, but you do find here and there someone who speaks as if they were one: there is no atheism at all in the world, and (perhaps) we should stop coddling 'atheists' who are treating themselves as atheists, in the same way we tend not to coddle people who think they are Napoleon.

All of these, of course, are only examples, roughly and not precisely sketched, and a few of them, of course, are simply to make the point that you can apply the template quite widely. There are a great many things that tend to have a default position associated with them, a 'common sense view' as we would usually say. Almost everyone is fictionalist about Superman; almost everyone is constructionist about DC Comics; almost everyone is naturalist about comic books. People are overwhelmingly naturalists about landmasses, constructionists about national borders, and fictionalists about the equator. You do get cultural differences; people in Iceland are much more likely to be naturalists about elves than people outside Iceland, and people outside Iceland are much more likely to be illusionists about elves than people inside Iceland. 'Common sense view' should not be confused with 'respectable view'; sometimes it's treated as the vulgar or uneducated view, and even when it's not, there might be perfectly respectable views other than the common sense one (as you find if you are ever in a crowd of philosophers, for whom there is a always a wider range of respectable views than just the common sense view). There are probably also things about which there is no 'common sense view'; people just can't agree about what they are.

And you do get ambiguities; I think most people in practice waver a lot on things like ghosts or clairvoyant dreams, for instance, and it's only very die-hard folks who stay within the lines. The line between constructionism (X is a really existing, but artificial, thing) and fictionalism (X does not really exist, but is artificially treated as if it did) is sometimes subtle, and I think people are often not precise about which of the two they actually hold. Even philosophers get confused on that line; 'legal fiction' was a phrase coined to indicate things that were real but constructed by law ('fiction' originally indicating 'made' rather than 'false'), but most philosophers of law have tended to be fictionalists about legal fictions because of the name, leading to some really complicated theories due to the fact that in law some of them are, in fact, usually treated as if they were real artificial things and not as if they were unreal fictional things, and yet some things that are clearly fictional (like the posit of the 'reasonable person', which is just a fictional summary of reasonable people in general) have also come to be counted as legal fictions.

Fortnightly Book, July 7

In his early twenties, it looked very much like Oscar Wilde would become known for being a competent, albeit not stunning, poet. At twenty-five, he wrote a play, Vera, or The Nihilists, and as he knew almost nothing about the theater, it is not surprising that it never managed to do well. The Duchess of Padua, his next, didn't do much better, and he had difficulty finding anyone to stage Salome. At this point, he reassessed what he was doing and made a change that would change everything: having struggled at tragedy, he decided to write comedy. Lady Windermere's Fan was a great success -- although the audience didn't like Wilde smoking a cigarette when he came out to address them. A Woman of No Importance, which soon followed in 1893, was also successful -- although Wilde himself was booed when he addressed the audience on opening night due to a tasteless comment about the English (he himself was Irish, of course). An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest were staged in early 1895, a significant year for Wilde.

In the meantime, Wilde was carrying on an affair with Alfred Douglas, one of which Douglas's father, the Marquis of Queensberry, very much did not approve. The latter publicly insulted Wilde as a "somdomite", and Wilde, despite his cleverness never a good judge of how other people would see things, had Queensberry arrested and prosecuted for criminal libel. Since Queensberry could only defend himself in court by arguing that what he said was something a reasonable person could take to be true on the evidence, this meant that Wilde's entire life was put on display in the courtroom. It became clear that Wilde was not going to win, and he dropped the case (which made him bankrupt because he had to pay Queensberry's legal costs). But all the evidence was now public, so he was arrested for sodomy and gross indecency, and now he had to defend himself. This was easier to do though; the result was hung jury, but new evidence resulted in the prosecutor retrying the case, and Wilde lost. He was sent to two years of hard labor. In 1897, still in prison, he wrote a book-length letter to Douglas, later published as De Profundis. After he was released, he left England, never to return. In 1900 he caught a severe illness and, having spent all of his life straddling the border of Catholicism, was conditionally baptized and received extreme unction. (He may very well have been baptized as a Catholic as a child, and claimed to have a vague memory of it, but didn't know for sure, and he had once arranged a date for baptism and at the last minute sent the priest a bouquet of lilies as an apology for not showing up.)

I happened to pick up a copy of The Plays of Oscar Wilde recently at Half Price Books, and so, as you might expect, the books for this fortnight will be The Plays of Oscar Wilde and De Profundis. My condensed-term summer course starts this week, and reading plays I always find slower than reading novels, so we will see if I actually get through it in a fortnight -- I don't foresee any problems, but I'm also not going to be bothered if it goes over.