Saturday, August 03, 2019

On Anti-Vaccination Conscientious Objection

At The Atlantic, Eula and Mavis Biss have an absurd article on anti-vaccination conscientious objection; the answer to the title question, "Are Anti-vaxxers Conscientious Objectors?" (which I presume was given by the editor) is obviously "Yes", and in fact, the article itself points out that they have always been considered one of the major classes of conscientious objectors for as long as the phrase 'conscientious objector' has been around. But of course, what the argument is trying to do is play games with the name 'conscientious objector', gerrymandering it so that, if you squint at the word 'conscientious' in just the right way, they won't count. Because exactly what we need in these volatile times is to undermine a major safeguard against large-scale medical programs being used as an instrument of government abuse of power.

The word-game proceeds by a set of equivocations. They say:

Today we tend to think of the conscience as an inner voice, or a form of moral intuition. It’s a little cricket whispering in your ear. Your mind talking to itself. The idea that the conscience is an inner source of knowledge has obvious appeal. If your own conscience can tell you what to do in morally significant situations, you don’t need to struggle with others to arrive at justifiable decisions.

They will later have to face the problem that people in these circumstances don't seem to treat conscience as a source of knowledge but as a source of belief; they will get around this by proposing, in a completely ad hoc way, that people are confusing knowledge with firmly held belief. In reality, of course, when we are talking about 'conscientious objection' everyone recognizes that we are talking about belief to begin with -- the whole point of recognizing a category for conscientious objectors is to take into account the fact that people have strongly held religious and moral beliefs. But what they are trying to do with this apparently arbitrary intrusion of 'knowledge' into the mix is found in the last sentence. You see, when you engage in conscientious objection, you aren't asking other people for permission to opt out of them doing things to you.

The particular thing they have in their sights is the so-called 'philosophical exemption'. Now, it doesn't take any elaborate investigation to show that the adjective here is not being used in a technical or formal way but in the colloquial way in which people talk about their philosophy of life and similar such things. The real point of the exemption is to recognize that people could have moral reasons for objecting that are not strictly religious. But Biss and Biss, of course, decide they will take the term in a full formal way:

Philosophy is not a matter of declaring rigidly held beliefs, but of working out what can be held true in conversation with others. In the Western tradition, going all the way back to Plato, philosophy is based on dialogue. But philosophical exemptions to vaccination laws excuse people from explaining themselves.

Even in the sense in which they are using, this is a muddled bit of reasoning. Philosophy may be "working out what can be held true in conversation with others", but it doesn't follow from this that it specifically requires working it out in conversation with this or that group of people (Biss and Biss have certainly done nothing to show that anti-vaxxers aren't conversing about it, for the obvious reason they can't -- the reason it has become a large-scale problem is that anti-vaxxers converse about it at great length with each other, which has led to this being an actual movement and not just a few random people). And unless you hold that philosophy can't actually find the truth it's supposedly working out, nothing prevents your philosophical conversation from leading to what Biss and Biss, at least, would consider "rigidly held beliefs". And even if they did not, it is an entirely different question whether we should have laws requiring people to explain themselves on the matter, one that can only be determined on political and legal grounds, not on the definition of the word 'philosophy'.

They then introduce the Kantian account of conscientiousness, as if anti-vaxxers have any particular reasons to be Kantians. But the real equivocation is here:

Thorough self-examination might not reveal to everyone the true stakes of a decision against vaccination: the risk of exposing infants, cancer patients, and other vulnerable people who cannot be vaccinated to a life-threatening illness. But Kant’s logic still applies: Acting from a belief system that may run contrary “to a human duty which is certain in and of itself” is unconscientious. Conscience demands that the relatively healthy prioritize their duty to protect the vulnerable from disease.

Note what they do not say, even though someone would naturally tend to assume it: they do not say that the last sentence follows from the Kantian account of conscience given. It in fact does not. Any Kantian account of such matters is not going to look primarily at consequences but at maxims -- roughly what in ordinary conversation we call intent. Consequences are largely irrelevant in a Kantian account of anything. And because the Kantian approach is to fit maxims to moral law, to act with intent that is appropriate to being a rational being as such, there is no sense in which we 'prioritize' duties in a Kantian account -- either we have it as a duty or we don't, either this is one of the circumstances in which we must do it as our duty or it isn't. What they are doing is using a Kantian account to argue that we should examine our motivations, and then splicing a different account of conscience onto it to get their preferred conclusion.

This becomes much more obvious when one recognizes that their repeated insistence throughout on conversation is not particularly consistent with Kantianism. There is indeed a very fundamental sense in which conscience can be considered social in Kant's account, but it is not in the sense of "working out what can be held true in conversation with others" or, as they later put it "work out what counts as fulfilling our duties to others with everyone in our community". (In moral matters that would be what Kant calls heteronomy, and is very much not consistent with what he would regard as conscientiousness.) It is in something like the sense that when you act in moral matters you are effectively doing so as a rational being, and therefore are making moral decisions for everyone, not just yourself, so your moral decisions have to be suitable for everyone. But a Kantian account would also very much have to say that you should sometimes stand your ground on a moral matter, no matter what anyone else might say.

How would anti-vaxxers be assessed in Kantian terms? I don't know. Since it matters a great deal what they are actually intending, and anti-vaxxers probably intend quite a wide range of things, it would depend on the case. Protecting the vulnerable from disease is universalizable, so it would certainly be a duty. But it would also certainly be an imperfect (i.e., incomplete) duty, not on its own telling you exactly what you have to do in order to do it. Vaccinations are not universal rational options that all rational beings have access to; it's in principle possible that there could be medical methods massively more effective than vaccines, so it's an empirical matter whether they are among the most effective ways to protect people from disease; from both of which it will follow that there is no specific duty to vaccinate. It still may be that fulfilling your duty to protect the vulnerable requires vaccination; but this, of course, is precisely what is usually at issue in this case. (Mavis Biss is a quite competent Kant scholar; nothing directly attributed to Kant in the article is wrong. Perhaps Mavis Biss has a much stronger view than usual about what is involved in imperfect duties, or of the way in which community functions in a Kantian context, or something else. That is possible. But the problem is that we seem to move in and out of a Kantian context without warning or indication that it is even being done, which is, again, equivocation.)

Thus Biss and Biss are pretty clearly not appealing to Kant because they are proposing (here, at least) a Kantian view of the anti-vaccination movement, but to show -- well, I don't know what; perhaps that they are more thoughtful than the rubes. It's unclear to me whether they think that Kant is the source of the individualistic view of conscience that they are opposing -- they say a few things that possibly could be interpreted that way, but really Kant is just thrown into the argument, and that whole part of the discussion doesn't seem to contribute anything to the actual argument beyond the self-examination point, which didn't need his authority to be made.

When we step back and look at the argument overall, it becomes clear that they take exemptions for conscientious objectors to be exemptions "from our obligations to others"; this is a very serious misunderstanding of conscientious objection exemptions, which are given so that we can fulfill our obligations to others, and which do not preclude conscientious objectors from fulfilling their obligations to others. This is obvious in every other case of conscientious objection; it's not suddenly untrue here. And all of the word-games in the article mean that Biss and Biss never really argue that the anti-vaxxers are doing anything wrong. They don't argue that our obligations actually must be fulfilled by vaccinations in particular; they don't argue that anyone actually has the account of conscience they are opposing; they don't in fact argue that their account of conscience as having the particular social component that their argument requires is a correct one. Now, I'd have no problem with this, except that they made such an extraordinary fuss about the claim that philosophy was "not a matter of declaring rigidly held beliefs, but of working out what can be held true in conversation with others", and yet here we find them very much not engaging in any kind of dialogue or conversation with anyone, doing nothing but forcefully declaring their beliefs -- whether rigidly held, I cannot say, but there's nothing in the article to make it possible to say that they are not.

Vaccination is one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time, and the value of what it has contributed to the health of the human race is perhaps rivaled only by improved sanitary conditions for the sick and antibiotics. But vaccination in general is also quite intrusive and, what is worse, somewhat indefinite in the extent of its intrusiveness. Talking about conscientious objection to vaccination is often made to sound like it's protesting over getting a small handful of doses, but the CDC's recommended vaccination schedule involves various vaccines adding up to over a hundred doses over a lifetime. (Most people who would characterize themselves as having had all their vaccinations really mean that their parents made sure that they had all the vaccines legally required at the time for schoolchildren, and perhaps a few others afterward. More zealous people do regular flu shots, and probably a few others as they happen to come up for traveling or in medical consultations or what have you. No doubt a few people are as entirely thorough as they can honestly be. But we could add any number of other vaccinations to the list, depending on any number of medical discoveries or newly recognized threats. There is no particular number that is the number of vaccines we should have.)

Vaccination also requires a fairly significant amount of trust in doctors, and in vaccine supply lines, and in medical researchers. Critics of the anti-vaccination movement tend to be good at arguing for the value of vaccines in the abstract; but the movement has largely built on a loss of trust by certain populations in significant portions of the actual medical establishment.

And even if none of this were true, large-scale medical programs by their nature generally need voluntary participation anyway; depending on the kind of program, it's sometimes just voluntary participation of the community generally, but vaccination doesn't work that way. It's the sort of thing you might want to be required; but actively imposing it on people against their will is not actually going to help things in the long run. The standard way of getting around this problem is exactly the one we use: make it legally required, but allow fairly generous exemptions. That way most people will do it both freely and as a duty. One can improve it even more by making it even easier to keep up with vaccinations; that's basically what we do with flu shots. Misinformation, of which there is certainly a lot, can be fought by better information campaigns. It's entirely possible to be insistent on the importance of vaccinations while also recognizing that honest and decent people can have worries that need to be addressed; and respect for conscientious objection is a recognition of the importance of consent and patient autonomy, which are pillars of modern medical ethics. Conscientious objection is entirely the wrong point about which to worry.

(I should perhaps note that Biss and Biss never actually give any legal recommendation. There's a sort of implication, at least an apparent one, that they think philosophical exemptions, or most philosophical exemptions, are illegitimate, and one could read the article as suggesting that they should be eliminated. But the authors never actually say this, and an alternative reading would be just that they are arguing for a regime of persuasion rather than legal coercion. If that's the case, it's not obvious what most of their argument does toward that end, and the argument they give seems actually more subversive of the notion of medical conscientious objection than that would suggest. But the argument given is at its strongest in the insistence that conscience is not purely individualistic but communal, and if you emphasized that aspect of it, you could very well argue that the argument's practical import is really that these things need to be 'discussed' (in some way).)

ADDED LATER: Related to this is this recent article on how much easier it is to get parents to agree to vaccinations if you just bother to answer their questions patiently and start giving them information early and well before the vaccination times come up.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Dashed Off XVI

(Due to grading and a number of other things, the fortnightly book will be delayed another week instead of coming out tomorrow.)

We do not have introspective acquaintance with credences, nor are any behaviors so closely linked with beliefs as to give us credences indirectly; thus the only reason for accepting the existence of credences is the reason for using probability theory to describe belief.

A schedule should exist for a productive end, not for the sake of having a schedule.

We tend to divide curricula materially (deals with plants, deals with stars), but there are many situations in which it would make more sense to divide formally (applied linear algebra, applied probability theory, etc.).

free will as a transcendental condition of thinking in terms of possibilities (universals as another)

conservation laws as local principles for explicability arguments

felt contingency & the perceived almostness of some failures and successes

Befindlichkeit, Stimmung, and Geworfenheit as features of inquiry

Our entire conception of nature is of nature as being-able.

Inquiries are generally parts of larger inquiries, but there is no infinite regress in inquiries being proper parts of inquiries.

God is both theophany and prior to theophany.

Every mathematician converts to the phantasms in different ways.

Savage limits subjective Bayesianism to 'small worlds' in which all possibilities are known and well defined.

The grue problem is an issue of classification, not induction.

fashion as a cross between sculpture and theater

People are always confusing sincere tribal participation and sincere belief.

Norse mythology shows a recurring interest in the power of leftover things.

architecture : nonliving :: landscape gardening : vegetable nature (Schopenhauer)

"The present *interprets* the past to the future." Royce

Explanatory power is relative to sufficiency of reason.

lying as a failure to express mutual dignity

accounts of 'Nazi at the door' // accounts of how to respond to other evil situations (dealing with evil generally)

autonomy as instrument good (Tollefsen)

One creates a market tending to just price by establishing protections against fraud, duress, and emergency, and by making accurate information easily available.

You are usually not worthy to fight for a moral cause unless you are willing to do so even under the assumptions that your being on the right side is merely a matter of your good fortune, that your opponents outnumber and overpower you, and that you are less intelligent than at least some of your opponents.

An explanation of the predictable is at the same time an explanation of why a prediction can be accurate.

angelology as a theory of teaching

the Church as Christ's project -&;gt; Marian subprojects in the Church
Christ as Sovereign of all ends -> Mary as Mother of many ends

Unintended consequences are the Achilles' heel of most progressive politics.

modeling : conversion to phantasms :: experiment : sensory experience

hagiography as first-approximation hagiology

Constitutional puzzles are often constituted by the difference in answers that one gets extrapolating from similar cases versus deducing from principles.

the sacrament of matrimony as involving intrinsically efficacious signification (ex opere operato signifying) -- we are taught according to the sign even if we do not recognize the sign

ontological argument : contemplative life :: cosmological argument : active life

Sacramental grace is inherently prevenient, although it is not what people usually think of when talking about prevenient grace.

God has dignified human nature in the very creating of it.

"It is hard for us to realize that 'I am' is an active verb." Gilson

the habitude for logic (the 'reserve' or what is available to be actualized by definite logical operations, judgments, and the like)

estimative intentions as significations

Philosophers can reason their way to human rights individually, but widespread acceptance of and respect for human rights requires a religion affirming them.

"Absolutism mainly consists in commanding the purse of others." Rosmini

the 'ownership' most relevant to most rights is that of providential responsibility

"Experience is inherent in the very nature of the mind; experience is possible only in relation to a finality which gives it an orientation." Marcel

Where philosophers of mind say 'consciousness', substitute 'experience' and see the result.

Toolmaking beyond a certain level of sophistication is partly a linguistic skill - a reclassification of an item that can be articulated into requirements and implications.

Christian obsequies : resurrection :: formal betrothal : matrimony

temperance as the virtue of ambience-for-virtue

"Do we ask what cause is? To be sure, it is reason in action, i.e., a god." Seneca Ep 65

The anthropological notion of fetishism was an attempt to conflate Catholic and tribal religion under a diagnosis of primitive 'wishful thinking' or desire-worship (cf. de Brosses, Bosman, etc.).

market value, novelty value, nostalgia value, social value

usury as treating money as 'self-valorizing value' (Marx)

Every contract presupposes obligations that make it possible. These obligations might be derived from other contracts. But it is not possible to have an infinite regress in contracts; thus there must be obligations prior to any contract.

Simultaneity is a form of overlap. Overlap is not transitive.

temporal underlap

The test of civility is what would happen to society under general reciprocation.

For there to be a 'beyond the pale' there must be a definite fence.

Every age produces a form of false sanctity.

Where there is no honesty, there is no republic.

Things endure longer in folk physics, folk logic, folk epistemology, folk psychology, etc., if they give the appearance of practicality -- even if this appearance is in fact illusory.

scaling problems in welfare provision

hypocrisy as a folk-politics explanation

Historical comparison is often a normative judgment by its nature.

responsibility qua owner vs. responsibility qua principal agent

Often we classify things as 'prediction' when they are really just investigation of abstractions that could be used to predict.

no hidden taxes // no secret laws

Sometimes in talking about the passions we are talking about the feeling (what is sensed) and sometimes about the valuation (abstracted from the feeling).

St. Joseph is dikaios, righteous or just, because he is willing to do good to another even in response to being apparently wronged.

To marry is to take on a communal responsibility.

the analogy of the Nativity and the Dormition in the legends of the latter

Evangelism on the level of the whole Church is like forest-cultivation: many upfront cost and difficulties for rewards that are usually relatively very far in the future, although those rewards are very great.

diversification & long horizon as risk management approaches in inquiry

"A has a privilege to phi iff A has no duty to phi" can be right only if we have a duty not to do impossible things (i.e., impossibility, physical or otherwise, implies obligation not). 'A has a claim that B phi iff B has a duty to A to phi' is true only if ;claim' has nothing to do with recourse or appeal -- i.e., if you can have a claim even without means to claim it.

freedom from being obligated, being object of obligation, power to obligate (being subject of obligation), immunity from being obligated

A privilege to use a hammer is a claim for others not to use it in a way excluding your use.

It is obviously not true that to *say* 'P is true' is the same as to *say* 'P'; thus the deflationary approach has to be about what is asserted regardless of the words used, and to make assertion always and intrinsically concerned with truth, in the sense that what you have in asserting P is already to assert P to be true. This requires privileging 'true' over other modalities (e.g., asserting things to be possible or impossible). Thus the deflationist about truth must be a nondeflationist about assertion.

The equivalence scheme in deflationism presupposes that we already know how to assign truth values.

NB that Dooyeweerd does not assume that his fifteen modal aspects are exhaustive.

Orthodoxy is not merely an absence of heresy but immunity from it, an active resistance to it.

Dooyeweerdian aspects are related by
(1) dependence
----(a) functional: A requires B for its own full function
----(b) anticipatory: B gets its full meaning in facilitating C
(2) analogy
Spatial requires quantitative (spatial hasfunctional dependence); quantative requires spatial for full understanding of irrational numbers (quantitative has anticipatory dependence).

Petitionary prayer requires us to reflect on our lack.

the Aristotelian argument for action-by-contact for locomotion:
(1) All locomotion is by pushing, pulling, twirling, or carrying.
(2) Twirling and carrying are reducible to particular combinations of pulling and pushing.
(3) Both pulling and pushing require contact.

'Property dualism' is not a well-defined position, in part because there is no generally accepted account of properties.

Besides form and experimental matter, scientific theories may be distinguished by their manners of getting conclusions.

The notion of a field gives us reason to think activity is more fundamental than contact in the explanation of change.

Thought experiments in physics seem primarily to be a consistency guide.

"fashionable climates of thought are apt to be rationalised in metaphysical systems" Hesse

Determinism always requires an error theory.

the concept of wasting oneself in doing X (e.g., wasting oneself in pursuit of frivolous pleasure)

natural ends and the distinction between frivolous and nonfrivolous pleasure

the importance of distinguishing odd moral reasoning from bad moral reasoning
- some moral reasoning is right but pathway-odd; that is, it treats as central what is low priority
- some moral reasoning is odd because it is almost right but drops something important or relevant
- some moral reasoning is only odd because it is very unfamiliar and/or contrary to expectation

fictional entities with foundation in real things

Prediction is a very specialized form of gap-filling.

Civility arises out of authority.

experiments that confirm to be possible vs. experiments that confirm to be actual (these often seem conflated in psychology)

standard post-war reconciliation: Victors were right, defeated were admirable.

soul ) body ) honor ) property ) access rights

(1) A probability presupposes a division of possibilities.
(2) A division of possibilities requires a justifying ground.
(3) The justifying gorund can be a priori (rational) or a posteriori (empirical).

Punishment naturally raises questions of intercession.

technological artifact as extending mimesis of organs (Kapp)

"The principle of the factory system then is, to substitute mechanical science for hand skill, and the partition of a process into its essential constituents, for the division or graduation of labour among artisans." Andrew Ure

Machinery does not replace unskilled workers; it replaces workers because of their skills.

resemblance, contiguity, and causation as legal relations governing precedential reasoning

Three Orders of Good Taste

Taste seems to comprize three orders or degrees in its universal comprehension.

The first is composed of those objects which immediately relate to the divinity, among which man claims the preeminence, when viewed in his highest character: witness the inexpressible charm which the natural virtuous affections of the soul inspire, when moved by some strong impulse, such as parental tenderness, filial piety, friendship, &c. &c. Do they not unite the moral sentiment to the divine?

The second is the immediate external effects of true taste, or moral virtue, in the social sphere; the order, beauty, and honour, which every object derives from its influence; and, of course, its sentiment must be intimately related to moral excellence.

The third and last degree is general ornament and honour, appearing in fashions, arts of decoration, &c. &c. objects which seeming not immediately to effect the interests of humanity, the taste they exhibit in this sphere appears as an uncertain light, sometimes bright and sometimes obscured ; or rather as refracted rays of taste, broken by the general love of novelty and superfluity; two principles which, though they are, to a certain degree, essential to exterior ornament, and the sentiment of true taste, are those in which taste always begins to corrupt....

Frances Reynolds, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Taste, and of the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty, &c., p. 39. Reynolds, whom I have briefly discussed before, takes beauty to be very closely related to moral good -- in fact, to be some appearance or suggestion of moral good perceived in a sensible object. An artist, of course, could make a beautiful object without being moral himself, but this would be because he was doing it by rules and guidelines gathered from other cases, and nobody can recognize it as beautiful if they cannot see any suggestion of the moral qualities of a mind in it. Good taste is a particular form of the love of virtue. This is a very strong view, of course; that aesthetics is related to ethics is certain enough, but Reynolds goes the next step and argues that the former is a particular expression of the latter.

Thursday, August 01, 2019


Today is the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church. A child prodigy, he got his degree in law four years earlier than was normal (he had to get a special dispensation because he was under the legal minimum for it); it's said that he looked a little kid in his doctor's gown when receiving it, so that everyone laughed at him. He practiced law for about ten years. Then one day he was in the courtroom, counsel for one side of a lawsuit; he opened brilliantly, with a very clever argument, and sat down, certain that he was going to win the case. But instead of any sign of admiration from the rest of the courtroom, there was a pause of baffled silence -- crickets, as we say. Then the opposing counsel said, "All of what you've said is wasted breath; your argument is inconsistent with one of the documents in evidence." Alphonsus demanded to know which document, and it was handed to him. He knew the document. He had read it many times. And every single time until that moment he had read it incorrectly. Seeing it now, he was crushed, absolutely mortified. It was such an absurd mistake that he didn't see how anyone else could attribute it to anything except dishonesty or incompetence. Everyone -- including, it is said, the opposing counsel and the judge -- tried to console the young man, but it was no good. When he left the courtroom that day, he never returned to law. In fact, he became so depressed he stopped eating for several days. But eventually he came to see what had happened as God showing him his lack of humility, and as a result he became an Oratorian. He would go on to found the society that would eventually become known as the Redemptorists and become one of the greatest experts on canon law and moral theology in the history of the Church. It happened almost incidentally; his writings are vast, but very few of them were written before the age of fifty. It was also a very rocky road. Due to the politics of the day, St. Alphonsus died betrayed by almost every supporter he had, cut off by the Pope from his own order, deaf and nearly blind. He was ninety-one.

Jottings on Aristotelianism and the Labor Theory of Value

There is no single 'labor theory of value'; labor theories of value can be quite different depending on what aspect of labor they consider relevant. But labor theories in general will hold that in some sense the price of something is equivalent (by some measure) to the work required to have it (by some measure). More precise versions distinguish value in use and value in exchange; in Adam Smith's famous example, few things have greater value in use than water, which is one of the most useful and one of the most necessary things we know, but water has in most situations almost no value in exchange; it's not particularly useful for buying and selling. The conclusion can then be drawn that the correct measurement for value in exchange is quantity of labor (whatever the measure of quantity might be). It is a common view that the labor theory of value goes back to Aristotle, and that it is a standard position in Aristotelianism, but this is not, in fact, true. A few gestures toward the reason why.

(1) Aristotle does not have a labor theory of value because he has no specific theory of value of the relevant sort. He does have a sketched-out theory of commercial exchange; this theory recognizes that exchanges originally are based on mutually recognized value in use. Because direct exchange is often not practical (due to things like transportation, storage, timing), we move from direct exchange of particular useful thing for particular useful thing to indirect exchange, where we exchange indirectly using something that has general usefulness. Metals are durable and relatively easy to transport and exhange, and even if you yourself have no particular use for it, lots of other people do, so you can use it in further exchanges. This indirect exchange requires all sorts of measurements, protections, and guarantees, and out of this comes our system of using money. With the advent of coinage as a standardized form of something generally useful that is specifically devoted to serving as something generally useful in exchange, we begin to get the notion of money-accumulation. In this context we have household management (Aristotle's word will later give us the word 'economics', which literally means household management; Aristotle himself would regard what we call 'economics' as politics), if we keep money-making tied to real usefulness, and money-exchange, if we treat the two as separate.

(2) It follows from this that the labor theory of value does not actually make much sense in an Aristotelian context; value is established by ends, and so will vary as ends vary. Aristotle's criticism of money-exchange has no direct relation to questions of labor; rather, the criticism is that good money-making makes money for definite ends, but money-exchange does not. Money-exchange treats money as an end in itself, and thus is unnatural. The only real connection to labor to which Aristotle appeals is that good money-making is something that he sees arising not out of labor as such but out of skill. I suppose you could argue on this basis that Aristotle has a skill theory of value, but even this would not really be accurate -- skill comes up simply because skills are a central part of human life that by their very nature involve ends.

(3) Marx often comes up in attributing the labor theory of value to Aristotle, because Marx builds his own labor theory of value on Aristotle. But I think close attention to the relevant texts shows that Marx himself did not think Aristotle had a labor theory of value; he thinks Aristotle laid some of the groundwork for it, but that he failed to solve a particular problem, how to have equal exchange of unlike things, and Marx proposes the labor theory of value as a solution to this problem that Aristotle did not solve -- in effect, we are actually exchanging A and B in terms of their labor, so the exchange is made in terms of something that can be directly compared on each side. If I read Marx correctly, I think he takes it to be the case that Aristotle couldn't have had a labor theory of value because the existence of slavery in Greek society would have made arguing for it at best very complicated and perhaps impossible. And if this is so, I think he is right here -- Aristotle can't really say that labor admits of equal comparison by quantity because he thinks some labor is better than other labor by its very nature. Some labor is slavish, some labor is noble; some labor is suitable for a free person, some labor is not. In Marx's history of economics, the labor theory of value is the child of capitalism.

(4) If you wanted to find an Aristotelian labor theory of value, St. Thomas would probably be a better candidate than Aristotle himself. St. Thomas does explicitly at times link the value of something in exchange to labor. He also in a number of places uses examples explicitly based on labor -- for instance, he explains the proportional equality of justice in wages in terms of paying twice as much for twice as much time spent in labor. But St. Thomas is not a labor theorist, either, because he also thinks that share in the distribution of benefits is a matter of justice in exchange, and explicitly thinks that workmen should receive according to the quantity and quality of what they produce (which is not the same as the quantity of labor itself). And his account of why labor is relevant is that we price things according to the need we have to use them -- the farmer wouldn't trade a bushel of wheat for a sandal in general because the amount of labor that goes into a bushel of wheat is immense in comparison to that which goes into a pair of shoes, and if he were always laboring greatly to exchange very important things (like food, which is needed to live) for things that can be produced comparatively easily and are less important, he would not be meeting his needs in a reasonable way.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Poem Draft and Two Poem Re-Drafts

Holy Simurgh

Holy Simurgh, rainbow-splendid,
on the Tree of Life you dwell,
never-ending, God-defended
from assault of death and hell.
All the birds of all the nations
make your feathers bright with song,
larks in splendid exaltations,
nightingales in choral throng,
mockingbirds all notes returning,
swallow, sparrow, scornful jay;
phoenix cries in passion burning,
thunderbirds with lightning pray.
Hear the parrot, discourse speaking,
crows and ravens caw in time,
harmony that each was seeking
melding now in tune sublime.
Thirtyfold your feathered wonder,
more than peacock, more than hawk,
beating wings resound like thunder,
vast in wingspan like the roc.
Everywhere is your dominion,
souls you rescue from the grave;
by the gift of magic pinion
lives from devil-lands you save.

Ayesha in the Fire

Life beyond life no life can now bear,
nor fair beyond fair and yet still more fair,
for fire and light beyond all desire
will quicken the heart to nothing but fire.
We are not gods, nor burning with grace,
we apes of the gods, the whole mortal race,
and though we ascend, as we think, to high throne,
yet still in the darkness we end all alone.

Though shade be deferred by an imminent light,
yet stunted are those who flee from the night;
though long eons stretch, we snap and we die,
and dimness will fall on the brightest of eye,
as darkness will drag us to ash and to dust:
this fate, and none other, can mortal men trust.
In ash you will end, with nothing but name,
both quickened and slain by one glorious flame.


The breezes breathe upon my cheek,
the sylphan zephyrs sigh;
the heat of day now falls away
beneath the black of sky.
The flame of sun is beaten back,
the heart in uplift sings;
the track I travel through the night
beneath my footstep rings,
and soon the moon will rise and gleam
with light no shadow mars
amid a field a-bloom with dreams,
the sky semé with stars.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Golden of Word

Today is the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, Doctor of the Church; he is sometimes known as the 'Doctor of Homilies'. He was bishop of Ravenna at the time when Ravenna was effectively the Imperial city; he is said to have received the epithet Chrysologos from the Empress Galla Placidia, who was ruling the western Roman empire as regent at the time he was appointed.

Whoever is free from captivity to this mammon, and is no longer weighed down under the cruel burden of money, stands securely with his vantage point in heaven, and from there looks down over the mammon which is holding sway over the world and the worldly with a tyrant's fury.

It holds sway over nations, it gives orders to kingdoms, it wages wars, it equips warriors, it traffics in blood, it transacts death, it threatens homelands, it destroys cities, it conquers peoples, it attacks fortresses, it puts citizens in an uproar, it presides over the marketplace, it wipes out justice, it confuses right and wrong, and by aiming directly at morality it assails one's integrity, it violates truth, it eviscerates one's reputation, it wreaks havoc on one's honor, it dissolves affections, it removes innocence, it keeps compassion buried, it severs relationships, it does not permit friendship. And why should I say more? This is mammon: the master of injustice, since it is unjust in the power it wields over human bodies and minds.

[Sermon 126, section 5, from St. Peter Chrysologus, Selected Sermons, Volume 2, William Palardy, tr. Catholic University of America (Washington, DC: 2004).]

Monday, July 29, 2019


In my Ethics class today, I will be talking, among other things, of magnanimity and pusillanimity, so I was looking around for examples I might used, and (somewhat to my surprise, I must confess) came across a brief discussion of it by Pope Francis in a general audience from last June. (And one, moreover, that I actually largely agree with, which I confess surprised me almost as much.) The English translation of the original text, however, is not very good. It has Pope Francis saying,

Some think that it would be better to extinguish this impulse — the impulse to live — because it is dangerous. I would like to say, especially to young people: our worst enemy is not practical problems, no matter how serious and dramatic: life’s greatest danger is a poor spirit of adaptation which is neither meekness nor humility, but mediocrity, cowardice. Is a mediocre young person a youth with a future or not? No! He or she remains there, will not grow, will not have success. Mediocrity or cowardice. Those young people who are afraid of everything: ‘No, this is how I am...’. These young people will not move forward. Meekness, strength, and not cowardice, not mediocrity.

And the English for the explanatory footnote says:

The Fathers speak of cowardice (oligopsychìa). Saint John Damascene defines it as “the fear of completing an action” (Exact exposition of the Orthodox faith, ii, 15) and Saint John Climacus adds that “cowardice is a childish disposition, in an old, vainglorious soul” (Ladder of Divine Ascent, xxi, 2).

The Italian that keeps being translated as 'cowardice' is, of course, pusillanimità, pusillanimity, small-souledness. And that is what one would expect from the parenthetical oligopsychia, which means not 'cowardice' but smallness of soul and whose exact Latin counterpart is pusillanimitas.

Opus Dei has an infinitely superior translation.

(As a side note, it's somewhat interesting that, despite the existence of relevant Western discussions, almost all of the theologians referred to in the footnotes are Eastern, with St. Ignatius being the one exception.)

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Rose and Purple Evening Dreams Away

A Summer Evening
by Archibald Lampman

The clouds grow clear, the pine-wood glooms and stills
With brown reflections in the silent bay,
And far beyond the pale blue-misted hills
The rose and purple evening dreams away.
The thrush, the veery, from mysterious dales
Rings his last round; and outward like a sea
The shining, shadowy heart of heaven unveils—
The starry legend of eternity.
The day's long troubles lose their sting and pass.
Peaceful the world, and peaceful grows my heart.
The gossip cricket from the friendly grass
Talks of old joys and takes the dreamer's part.
Then night, the healer, with unnoticed breath,
And sleep, dark sleep, so near, so like to death.