Saturday, August 17, 2019

Two Poem Drafts


My art conjures you, subtle sprite:

In wooden house no longer dwell
but step from tree to vision's light,
your pith made human heart by spell.
Your cooling leaves that spread a shade,
your limbs that rise, your subtle sway,
are graceful form and humor made
by force of will through words I say,

for I have seen in midnight dreams,
where all is blended as in mist,
your face in images that seem
but hint that they might yet exist,

and I have longed with eye to see
a dryad waking from her tree.

An Ecosystem of Angels

Silent drops of light that trickle,
higher to lower,
reflecting back an image of the whole,
the greater in the lesser,
catch reflections of themselves again,
the lesser in the greater;
in every gem are endless gems,
lower and higher.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Dashed Off XVII

One must treat oneself in such a way as to cultivate habits facilitating the good treatment of others.

Latitude of action is proportional to latitude of cognition.

Bare succession cannot be the imaginative schema for causation, only succession composing a whole.

Human rights are refracted through humanitarian traditions and thereby receive their effective form.

society as a system of sharing-acts

argument as
(1) logical structure
(2) microsystem of plausible associations
(3) dialogical act
(4) symbolic representation of mind
music as
(1) mathematical system
(2) interweaving of sound
(3) social act
(4) symbolic expression of mind

(1) multiplying of possibilities
(2) fitting to purpose
(3) structural consolidation
(4) live commitment

The dignity of each person is reflected in all, and all in each.

Nothing is part of our actual experience except by commonalities and invariances.

The Church has no preferential option for the stupid, and particularly not for the theologically stupid.

patriotism as a school of honor

the intercession of Mary as a secondary exemplar cause of the communion of saints

environmental conditions : material cause :: exemplar cause : formal cause

devout as taking-it-seriously vs. devout as ardent

The experience of one's body and of this being one's body are distinct. (cp. Falque)

plans reasonable in themselves and beneficial to all parties

Evidence of psychic powers on a large scale would be evidence of idealism, because in such a scenario, the world would work very much like the mind.

A possibility to think about: Prediction, properly speaking, is primarily something we do socially.

Supplementation principles are based on the assumption that the only difference between part and whole could be another part, i.e., that wholes do not require anything but their parts.
Think of proposition w/ terms as parts, or arguments with propositions as parts; in both cases, one needs something different from the parts to make the whole. One could imagine thinking, if one held that boundaries were not proper parts, that some wholes were proper parts (maximal proper part) + boundary. And so forth.

contiguity as resemblance of relations

elections as a way of organizing advice

legislation as problem-solving vs legislation as coercion

Much philosophical work consists of building flexible layers of approximation.

Hobbes's account & alliance-building in prison populations

The 'success' of an argument depends on three things: structure, mental habits, external support.

structural forms of theistic arguments
(1) God as First (Most, Best): first four ways, traditionary, kalam, Anselmian, Ideological
(2) God as condition for scope: Divine command, special miracle, Fifth way under some interpretations, design, anti-skepticism
(3) God as Communicator: visual language, revelatory experience

Human rights are operationalized by institutions and practices used to uphold them, which are generated and cultivated by and within humanitarian traditions.

Every scientific theory is a structuring of approximations.

A constitution is a maze built to block worst outcomes.

awkwardness as an aesthetic concept

A science of pure possibilities can only arise by abstraction from a science concerned with actualities.
actual experience -> indefinite possibility -> analysis of variations -> rigorously defined possibility

Never take seriously claims that such-and-such is something that benefits or harms "the economy" -- "the economy" can only mean specific people in such a claim; you need to know which people and how.

Justification of belief depends on objective features of what is believed, and not on what seems to me, which is a feature of me.

Given that 'seemings' can conflict, we often judge on something other than just how things seem to us.

basing something on its seeming to be P vs basing something on P, which seems to be

It is entirely consistent with our experience that whether two things compose a whole is sometimes vague.

What counts as being a part seems to be defined relative to a whole.

A problem with Husserl's Ideas 1.1.12 is that 'meaning in general' as a highest genus (in the realm of meanings) has problems analogous to 'being' as a highest genus (simpliciter).

Guilt, having a life of its own, must be trained.

Most of the time when we receive an apology, we want something other than apology itself.

"...I think it may be allowed as a maxim, that as is the God, so are his worshippers, if they serve him in earnest." Witherspoon
"Love is the most powerful means of begetting love."
"It is impossible that we can love purity, if we ourselves are impure; nay, it is even impossible that we can understand it."
"Despair of success cuts the sinews of diligence in every enterprize."
"Public instruction is, in a great measure, useless to those who are not prepared for it by more familiar teaching at home."
"Liberty is the nurse of riches, literature, and heroism."
"If there are natural rights of men, there are natural rights of nations."
"He who makes a people *virtuous*, makes them *invincible*."

strange the stars at night
in intermingled light

a traditionary argument from sacrifice; cp. Witherspoon: "Neither is it possible to account for the universal prevalence of sacrifices in any tolerable manner, but by supposing, that they were the remains of what had been taught in the ages immediately after the fall, by divine appointment."

We recognize the way things seem to be only by contrast with the way they seem not to be.

Since we cannot actually imagine a whole world, the subtraction argument ultimately boils down to 'Given an integer number n, one can have n-1, down to zero.' 'Contingent beings' or 'beings' is just posited as the unit, but otherwise does no work. I suppose one could take contingency to justify the assumption of subtractibility, but the contingent beings we know are not subtractible in this way: take one away, you get other beings that were being impeded by it, you lose a number of others, etc. Because contingent beings are by nature related to other things, it's impossible to say what removal would do without know what the being is and how it is related to other things.

LAw does not deal directly with attempt, consent, sound mind, etc., but with signs thereof.

Law by its nature must posit a normal user -- reasonable person, gentleman, common citizen, or what have you.

Morality doesn't eliminate thinking in terms of what is advantageous; it posits a higher advantage.

normative properties usually treated as factual properties: dangerous, safe, healthy, sick, healthy (used for other than an organism), toxic, rational, irrational, viable, nonviable, feasible, nonfeasible, broken, valid, invalid, sound, unsound, cheap, expensive, efficient, inefficient

familiar profile approaches to plausibility vs causal narrative approaches

There are none so censorious as the damned.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

On the Much-Misunderstood Heresy of Americanism

Americanism, like Modernism, is a heresy with a misleading name, since the names have very little to do with the content. As I've noted, the reason for the name 'Modernism' is that one influential group of people who held the heresy called themselves 'Modernists'; the content of the heresy has nothing to do with modernity as such, although there are strands of modern culture with which it fits very well (in particular, any strand where self-identification is treated as equivalent to identity). Americanism is somewhat different; the reason for the name of the heresy is that the heresy was associated with a particular diagnosis for why the Catholic Church in the United States was doing so unusually well in the late nineteenth century compared to the Church in more traditionally Catholic countries. People not surprisingly take the content of the heresy to have something to do with America, and have done so from the beginning, but what has changed recently is that I used to only find this kind of misinterpretation among liberal theologians and readers thereof; now I keep coming across it in much more conservative and traditionalist sources. Since the misunderstanding seems to be spreading, I thought I'd put up a few comments on it, although it's not as complicated a matter as Modernism is. If the Modernist heresy can be put roughly into the slogan form, "In religion, the absolute priority of the internal over the external", the Americanist heresy could likewise be put somewhat more roughly into the slogan form, "For evangelization, the universal superiority of the pragmatic over the prayerful."

As noted, in the late nineteenth century, the Catholic Church in the United States was doing quite well, despite existing in a mostly Protestant country in which Protestants were largely suspicious of Catholics. It was expanding, it was doing exciting new things, it seemed remarkably unified, and both laity and clergy were very active in works of charity. This contrasted with the way things were at the time in many European countries, where the Catholic Church, despite being more entrenched, was often struggling, and perhaps most of all in France. So what made the difference?

One possible interpretation you could have, which has some initial plausibility, is this: the big difference between the two cases is that in Europe, the Church was integrated into the government, while in America there was separation of Church and state, so that much of what the American Church could accomplish was entirely by popular support, and the laity had considerably more influence on the course of things in the United States than they had elsewhere. In addition, the separation guaranteed that the Church never became identified with one particular regime, the way that the Church in France had become associated with the monarchists and therefore ran into problems when France -- yet again -- became a republic. In 1892, Pope Leo XIII encouraged Catholics to participate in the life of the French republic, and it became inevitable that French Catholic intellectuals would look to the American example for ideas about how to do this.

One of the more successful examples of the generally successful American Church was the Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle, usually know as the Paulist Fathers. The Paulists had been founded by Isaac Thomas Hecker and a few others with the purpose of engaging in Catholic evangelizing in the United States, and they had experimented, often successfully, with all sorts of ways for reaching their fellow Americans. This is not particularly surprising, and probably has more to do with American culture than separation of church and state, because Americans at the time were experimenting with all sorts of different things -- new ways to use print media, new kinds of communities, new kinds of voluntary associations, new fads pertaining to health, society, religion, you name it. Very likely none of it could be replicated with the same success elsewhere, regardless of the hopes of certain European progressive Catholics. But there was no doubt that the Paulists were very successful in the American context.

The result of this was that a biography of Hecker was translated into French within a few years, and read avidly by French progressives interested in the question of being Catholic in a republic; Europeans more generally were eager to hear about Paulist ideas and projects and constantly put forward their own projects for change as inspired by the American model; and more conservative Catholics began to be very wary of this reformist project that seemed to be spouting new and untried ideas on a regular basis and advocated a major overhaul of how the Church related to the society around it. It was inevitable that people would start complaining to Pope Leo XIII, and they did.

Leo XIII was one of those people who have conservative principles but progressive sympathies. He had engaged in a number of reform projects himself, and had actually been quite impressed with many of the things being accomplished by the Church in America. But he was also convinced that there was a genuine problem here; what was being called the American approach to things was in some places radically upending entirely healthy Catholic culture, and the principles did seem to be found in the French translation of that biography of Hecker. So out of this came Testem benevolentiae nostrae, the condemnation of Americanism.

Written to James Cardinal Gibbons, who was bishop of Baltimore, the chief American see, and notably walks a very careful line to avoid accusing anyone in particular (including Fr. Hecker himself) of actually affirming the heresy. The essential idea underlying the heresy, Leo XIII wrote, "is that, in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age", and the spirit of the age was interpreted as especially exemplified in a focus on action and practice over doctrine and prayer. To tone down or omit parts of Catholic doctrine simply in order to make the whole seem more palatable to non-Catholics was absolutely unacceptable. Likewise, the approach led to downplaying the value of spiritual direction and of consecrated life in a misguided belief that this empowers individuals. For the same reason it would often deprecate virtues and practices associated specifically with prayer in comparison with civic and social virtues.

Given the history, it's sometimes said that Americanism was, despite the name, more a European heresy than an American one -- that is essentially how the American bishops responded to the Pope's letter. And there's certainly something to that. There probably was, however, an Americanist strain in some corners of the Catholic Church in America; the Europeans weren't manufacturing it out of thin air, although they attributed many things to the American approach that were probably more wishful thinking than genuinely American. But Leo is very careful in the letter to forestall any temptation to suggest that being American was in any way the problem, so the heresy needs to be distinguished from other things that you might call 'Americanism':

From the foregoing it is manifest, beloved son, that we are not able to give approval to those views which, in their collective sense, are called by some “Americanism.” But if by this name are to be understood certain endowments of mind which belong to the American people, just as other characteristics belong to various other nations, and if, moreover, by it is designated your political condition and the laws and customs by which you are governed, there is no reason to take exception to the name. But if this is to be so understood that the doctrines which have been adverted to above are not only indicated, but exalted, there can be no manner of doubt that our venerable brethren, the bishops of America, would be the first to repudiate and condemn it as being most injurious to themselves and to their country.

One of the things I have long noted is a tendency to try to use the name to stuff anything one doesn't like about American life under the label of the heresy; but this must be fully avoided.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Music on My Mind

Peter Hollens (with the Oregon State Chamber Choir), "Sogno di Volare (Theme from Civilization VI)".


Aikin and Talisse have an interesting discussion of politicization of tragedies at "3 Quarks Daily". Unfortunately, it has some of the serious flaws of Couto and Kahane's "Disaster and Debate": a strange flattening of all discussion into the same category, an odd failure to consider worries that are often explicitly raised in the same contexts as the one they are considering, that weird selectivity that sometimes suggests very strongly that they are in fact trying to gerrymander boundaries so that their preferred political responses get an advantage over others. A few points on their particular version of the argument.

(1) Aikin and Talisse suggest that the three reasons why you might think politicization of a tragedy is wrong are reasons concerned with etiquette, deliberation, and personality. I take it that this is a typology rather than an essential classification, which has an advantage of flexibility over Couto and Kahane, but which also makes it more difficult to see what they are talking about. For instance, their brief comment on etiquette-based reasons for thinking politicization of tragedy wrong is that they amount "to the claim that one has shown insufficient regard for others’ feelings." The idea is that you should avoid exacerbating grief and anger when people are vulnerable. Their example of this, however, which is the argument that after a tragedy is a time for unity rather than debate, has no obvious connection with feelings at all (it is a claim that could be made even setting aside all consideration of grief and anger), nor does the label 'etiquette' help much here, since most of etiquette in the proper sense has nothing directly to do with "regard for others' feelings". Some forms of etiquette are quite clearly a form of self-protection, for instance, others are designed to make social interactions easier for most people, others are designed to attenuate argument into potentially more constructive channels for social interactions, others are designed to make it clear that the people involved are involved in a shared project, and so forth. 'Etiquette' may just be a loose label, although it would fit their example; they seem to have the idea that the basic reason here is that making the tragedy political could take an already hot pot and make it boil over. But if that were the case, their response to it would be inadequate, because we do not in fact allow just any and every kind of expression of grief and anger, regardless of tragedy. It would generally be regarded as unacceptable for people to work out their grief and anger by shooting up a market, or by assaulting people physically in the streets, or by at least some verbal harassment behaviors. The only question is to what else this should extend. So it's not really a response to the hot-pot kind of worry "that it dictates how those criticized should grieve." Well, yes, that's one way you could put it; all that says is that the reason, whatever precisely it is, says that people should not act a certain way when grieving, which is just the topic of discussion itself.

(2) This objection to the etiquette group of reasons, whatever precisely they may be, does bear further examination. Aikin and Talisse say:

In point of fact, outrage and grief may be best expressed and worked through by having discussions about how future instances may be averted. If the tragedy in question has political causes, then politics is a perfectly appropriate component of grieving.

The key is that the charge of politicizing that tragedy, then, has its purchase only if one thinks that the political considerations brought out in the grief are misguided or irrelevant.

This is much, much too fast. Note how quickly things are collapsed into each other: outrage and grief may be "best expressed" (where did the 'best' come from -- it's obvious it's a way they may be expressed, because that's the general topic of discussion, but doesn't jsut throwing in the 'best' here look like Aikin and Talisse rigging the description to make their conclusion easier?) by "having discussions about how future instances may be averted". OK, so this takes the politicization charge to be equivalent to a denial that we should ever respond to tragedies by having discussions about how to avoid them. Is this really what people generally mean by 'politicization'? They give an example from Sanders, who perhaps is where they get the word 'discussions' from, but Sanders explicitly is talking about policy discussions that go after individuals and organizations. (Where Aikin and Talisse get the claim that she is saying that "the blame is only on the shooter in that instance", I don't know, since she explicitly leaves open the possibility of further discussions later; what she says is that only the shooter has "blood on their hands". It's particularly odd since the briefing they quote is literally the day after the Las Vegas shooting, a shooting about which we still know very little, and about which we knew nothing for sure at that time, and the part they quote is linked to a very specific kind of question about what policies should be taken in response, to which her primary response is that before you can talk about policies prevention you need to know the facts about what happened.) So the sense of 'discussions' here is hazy; their example is talking about a very specific kind of discussion, but the claim made by Aikin and Talisse is most plausible (and only non-question-begging) if we are talking about a very extensive variety of discussions. But consider two possible responses to a shooting tragedy:

"I wonder if this could have been prevented by making silencers illegal. What do you think? Do you think we should do that?"


"You see, this is why we need to make silencers illegal; people who sell silencers have blood on their hands."

Both of these are moves you could make in "discussions about how future instances may be averted". They both raise exactly the same question: Should silencers be illegal? But are they equally examples of politicizing a situation? If you asked most people, I am fairly sure that most people would not consider the first to be politicizing the situation at all. The second is very definitely an example of what most people mean by politicizing it.

There is a fundamental equivocation running throughout the discussion. The topic at hand is politicized discussion. But what Aikin and Talisse defend is discussion on topics that could be considered political. This makes their job easy since most public discussions on serious matters deal with matters that could be considered political in one way or another, so they can treat the 'politicization' claim as equivalent to trying to shut down all discussion. But this is not the way people generally talk about politicization, and it does not seem that their modification improves the argument, because it seems it prevents them from actually addressing the kinds of worries people might really have.

(3) One of the weird features of the argument by Aikin and Talisse is the lack of recognition that one of the things people explicitly are worrying about in the context of raising worries about politicization is the use of an event to smear one's political opponents with a broad and very negative brush. This is a very weird gap, since it's not as if smearing people is an unheard-of practice in partisan politics, and it is not as if it cannot have very bad effects if it interacts with a lot of anger and grief. After the 2017 Congressional baseball shootings, a number of Democrats raised the worry about politicization, and for a very obvious reason: the shooter was attempting to assassinate Republican legislators, was a Bernie Sanders supporter, and was concluded after investigation to be engaged in a deliberate act of anti-Republican terrorism. What was being attempted by Democrats who insisted that we not politicize the situation was to head off any attempt to have all Democrats tarred with that brush. One of the "discussions about how future instances may be averted" that we could very well have had after that shooting was what to do about Democrats. (Because, of course, Aikin and Talisse would have to say, political causes require discussions about politics and "in point of fact" discussions about how to prevent the assassination of Republicans by Democrats may be the "best" way for Republicans to work through anger and grief.) Those kinds of discussions come up. They are not discussions any reasonable person with a concern for civil society ever wants to become widespread, because they always end very, very badly for everyone. People have good reasons not to want tragedies to be used as the foundations of smear campaigns, prior even to entering discussion. And it is generally considered reasonable to arrange one's etiquette of discussion so that this is not a danger.

(4) The second family of reasons that they consider is based on deliberation. "In these instances," they say, "the charge of politicizing a tragedy amounts to the claim that the politicizer is taking advantage of the outrage and other strong emotions prompted by a tragedy to subvert the slower but more reliable deliberative processes of critical discussion." Their discussion shares all the problems found in Couto and Kahane, and another one as well. They say, commenting on an example from McConnell:

And, as we saw with the etiquette version of the politicization charge, the deliberative version also has its critical edge only against the backdrop of some particular assessment of the facts and values about the event in question. That is, McConnell’s charge of politicizing the tragedy sticks only if one agrees that the existing policies are the products of reasonable deliberative processes, and that proposed deviations are likely to be ill-considered. But, of course, the reasonableness of existing policies is precisely what’s at issue.

But this quite clearly elides two different things. Suppose our current laws are very unreasonable and not at all the products of reasonable deliberative processes. What would this change about the argument being used? Nothing at all. If you are going to change them, the argument is still going to be that it needs to be done with respect for reasonable deliberative processes. After all, you wouldn't be making things more rational and deliberative if you didn't; you'd just be exchanging one unreasonably chosen policy for another. The reasonableness of existing policies is not precisely what's at issue; what's at issue is the reasonable way of changing them. These are two completely distinct evaluations. And while maybe, maybe, you could argue that unreasonable laws are more acceptable to change without regard for reasonable deliberative process, the very existence of deliberation-based politicization charges, and the common existence at that, indicates that this is not widely held and needs to be argued. Really, what seems to have happened is that Aikin and Talisse have gotten their wires crossed: they are supposed to be arguing (I imagine) that reasonable deliberative processes don't exclude strong emotions in cases where the existing policies are unreasonable, but instead they end up arguing that reasonable deliberative processes are not something to which one can appeal if existing policies are unreasonable.

(5) The third family discussed by Aikin and Talisse "focuses on the motive of the target of the charge". This corresponds more or less to the 'cynical reading' of Couto and Kahane. As with Couto and Kahane, they completely fail to do justice to worries about bad faith and manipulation, and, contrary to their clearly stated assumption, these worries don't magically vanish depending on your political views, although it is no doubt true that you are more likely to give the benefit of the doubt with regard to good faith to people whose political views you already consider reasonable.

(6) Their overall diagnosis is very, very odd, although it explains many of the more bizarre moves they make:

We have seen that the charge of politicization is a political version of the allegation that one is taking advantage of the emotions of a vulnerable audience to press for a favored conclusion whose support does not depend on emotions. It is hence the allegation that one is reasoning from irrelevant premises. The problem, as we’ve argued, is that despite our agreement that we should not argue from irrelevant considerations, in the cases where the charge of politicization are most prevalent, we disagree about what the relevant considerations are.

This diagnosis is, of course, what is tripping them up and why, for instance, they don't notice the illicit shift in their argument that's discussed under (4), which in light of this diagnosis can be seen as reinterpreting a point about process as if it were a point about premises. They think that claiming that someone is politicizing something is a charge that they are operating from irrelevant premises. And, having read their essay several times, I have no idea why they think this is true; it seems to me so very strange to regard 'politicization' as a label for a particular kind of fallacy of irrelevance. Claiming that someone is politicizing something is quite obviously an ethical criticism rather than a logical one. If you really insisted on considering it in terms of informal logic, it would be less like ignoratio elenchi and more like poisoning the well, which is an ethical criticism that your ends in arguing are malicious. The really weird thing is that they at one point come close to recognizing something like such a view: "although the concept of 'politicization' looks like a norm of discussion that we should abide for the sake of conducting proper argument about, say, gun regulation, the concept functions differently in the vernacular". Norms of discussion for the sake of conducting proper argument are why, for instance, poisoning the well is something to avoid. But they have never at any point shown that it functions differently in the vernacular; they don't consider worries about smearing at all, and they dismiss worries about bad faith without argument, although both of these are clearly connected to norms of discussion, and they both explicitly come up "in the vernacular" in these contexts. Literally all three of the kinds of examples that they give of the charge "in the vernacular", etiquette, deliberation, and personality, are most naturally treated as having a connection with norms of discussion, even on their own characterizations -- norms about regard for the feelings of others, norms about giving priority to reasonable deliberative processes, norms about not letting the loudest voices be determinative. The standard form of argument that they use -- arguing that where you draw the line depends on your politics, which is, if their argument works, going to be true for absolutely everyone -- doesn't in fact address the reason for drawing the line at all, which even "in the vernacular" seems to be associated in people's mind with the suggestion that other people are arguing unreasonably; thus it doesn't seem that it's even the right kind of argument for what they are trying to argue.

(7) The most obvious argument against Aikin and Talisse on this point is that their line of reasoning leads directly to absurd results. Consider this situation, a real-life situation, although I've stripped out specific details because I'm only interested in the general kind of case. A man murders a child; this man had entered the country illegally and was still undocumented. The case gets taken up by groups who want a large-scale crackdown on illegal immigration, expressed in very harsh terms due to the anger and grief over the murder of the innocent child, and proposing very strict policies in handling all such cases. According to Aikin and Talisse, they can't at all be accused of politicizing a tragedy because this would be "nothing more than a tactic for dismissing their position" on illegal immigration; outrage and grief over the death of a child can perfectly well be worked out by vehement argument for harsh policies and you can't argue that it fails to show appropriate respect for the death of the child without begging the question; there is no way actually to argue with them that we should wait to consider these policies more coolly because according to Aikin and Talisse any attempt to do so assumes beforehand that they are wrong; you can't raise the worry that the loudest voices are just using the case to stampede people in the way they want them to go; there is no concern in Aikin and Talisse for the possibility that the outrage could overflow so that legal immigrants could be smeared as well; Aikin and Talisse have in fact hermetically sealed them from all criticism, treating all criticism of their behavior as if it begs the question against them by assuming that not just their premises but their behavior is wrong. So much protection for people deliberately using emotional events to ramp up the rhetoric only gives political incentive to intensify the rhetoric whenever you think you can get something out of it.

Aikin and Talisse would disagree (I hope) with any policy to investigate the Democratic party as an organization potentially serving as a ground for terrorism; but if, after the Hodgkinson attempt to assassinate a significant number of Republican legislators, Republicans had started advocating policies to engage in a large-scale anti-terrorist investigation against Democrats, what would Aikin and Talisse be able to say? It's a case with political causes that are directly connected with Democratic views; investigating certain kinds of organizations as a potential breeding-ground for terrorism is something we already do in cases with political causes; terrorism is rare enough that, except for a few cases, these investigations are often done on the basis of a single instance. It's something people could demand. (And I know people personally who have tried to insist that the NRA should be treated in such a way after a mass shooting, without there being even the justification of any personal link between the shooter and the organization, so there are people who will certainly try to push this line as far as they can.) Any such proposal would obviously (and almost certainly rightly) be seen by Democrats as an attempt to use the tragedy to stampede people in a particular direction in order to break Democratic political power; Aikin and Talisse have ruled such worries just dependent on personal political views. Democrats would certainly disagree with such a policy, but Aikin and Talisse have shut down all attempt to protest it as maliciously motivated, as an attempt to short-circuit deliberative discussion, or as a violation of respect in the face of tragedy. In reality, Democrats are politically powerful enough to be able to block anything that the Republicans might do in this direction, thus giving the Republicans an incentive to accept that the situation should not be politicized in this way (Republicans would likely not gain anything from it, and could lose a great deal), but what could Aikin and Talisse protest if they decided to charge ahead anyway? They've turned it into a disagreement with no process of adjudication. And what of groups that don't have the clout of the Democratic party and thus can't force their opponents to recognize that their attempt to use a situation for partisan ends won't get anywhere? There seems no way to maintain the stability of civil discussion given the arguments Aikin and Talissue have proposed: it seems one should draw the conclusion from their arguments that you can argue against premises, but not against ways of arguing. But some ways of arguing are quite corrosive, and bad news for everybody. And to be sure, charges of politicization, whatever else they may be, are a tactic; there are at least some cases where they are very plausibly a self-protective tactic against precisely such corrosiveness. It seems ill-advised to remove such a protection without something to put in its place. And I see no indication of any such thing anywhere in the discussion.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Philosophers and Petitions

Agnes Callard has a good comment at "The Stone" on the problems with philosophers signing petitions:

I am not saying that philosophers should refrain from engaging in political activity; my target is instead the politicization of philosophy itself. I think that the conduct of the profession should be as bottomless as its subject matter: If we are going to have professional, intramural discussions about the ethics of the profession, we should do so philosophically and not by petitioning one another. We should allow ourselves the license to be philosophical all the way down.

“But I need to get people to see that excluding certain voices is not the way to create an inclusive intellectual environment.” Then argue for it! If you strip the list of signatures off your petition, you’ll find that you have an argument on your hands. The argument was there all along, but only when shorn of the appeal to authority does it invite counterargument — as opposed to counterpetitioning. Philosophers value having opponents worth listening to; we shouldn’t be trying to sort people into teams of the like-minded.

There are reasons why someone might sign a petition -- to get something on a ballot, to register an administrative complaint, and the like. You can tell a lot about a petition simply by asking what practical problem it addresses and how it is proposing to solve it -- indeed this is the only serious standard of evaluation for a petition, by its nature, since all petition is for the purpose of petitioning. (One of the most amusing kind of protests I have seen from the petitioning crowd is that people don't petition to persuade; but the notion of petitioning depends for its coherence on petitio, requesting or applying for a particular kind of behavior. There is no sense in which you are genuinely showing 'support' for anything by signing a petition unless you are signing it in order either to change things or to prevent some change.) But certainly it is true that most academic petitions are not of this sort, and their value thereby reduces entirely to whatever argument they offer with the signatures stripped out. I would actually go beyond Callard and argue that the argument represented in a petition is almost always extremely poor; the arguments that are put on petitions are often quite generic and based on widespread prejudices more than serious study, because they are formulated with the end of getting signatures rather than with the end of giving a rational account of things. You get better ideas and arguments by avoiding petitions.

Poor Middle-Aged Summer!

by Helen Jackson

Silence again. The glorious symphony
Hath need of pause and interval of peace.
Some subtle signal bids all sweet sounds cease,
Save hum of insects' aimless industry.
Pathetic summer seeks by blazonry
Of color to conceal her swift decrease.
Weak subterfuge! Each mocking day doth fleece
A blossom, and lay bare her poverty.
Poor middle-aged summer! Vain this show!
Whole fields of golden-rod cannot offset
One meadow with a single violet;
And well the singing thrush and lily know,
Spite of all artifice which her regret
Can deck in splendid guise, their time to go!

Jackson is most famous for Ramona, a bestselling novel that attempted to draw attention to the mistreatment of Native Americans in the American Southwest in the late nineteenth-century.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Fortnightly Book, August 11

These are the blazing days of summer, sunfire burning away all taste for work until there is nothing left but the ash of lassitude, and while I probably have some extra time in the next two weeks, I don't want to commit myself to any sort of highly involved work for the fortnightly book. So I've been giving some thought about what to do.

A few years back, MrsD had a readalong Louis Hémon's classic about French Canada, Maria Chapdelaine, in the original French (her reflection post here). I read along at the time, although I lagged behind enough not to be able to do any serious participation. But not too long after that I happened to pick up the best-known English translation, by William H. Blake, and it has been sitting in one of my bookpiles ever since. So Maria Chapdelaine in Blake's English translation will be the next book.

Louis Hémon did not have a spectacular life, nor did he have an extensive acquaintance with Canada. He was a French journalist; he had wanted to go into diplomatic service in the Far East, and had trained for that, but the French diplomatic service wanted to send him to Algeria, and that's the only reason he went into journalism. In that career he spent some time in London, and did reasonably well for some years, but eventually became bored and restless, and went to Québec because he had heard that employment was good there. His entire time in Canada would be less than two years. During the time he was working out the ideas for Maria Chapdelaine he was doing odd jobs on farms and, for a while, helped with laying track for the railroad. He sent the manuscript off to his sister in France to see if she could get it serialized. She did in fact -- it was published in 1914. But Hémon never knew that because he was run over by a train in July of 1913 at the age of thirty-two. (Nobody knew who he was, and they were only able to identify his body because he happened to be carrying a postal receipt at the time.) Maria Chapdelaine became quite popular, but most editions have been based on the published version, not the manuscript, and the published versions had been helpfully edited by the French editors to make the French more French (a true reporter, Hémon had filled much of his text with Quebecoisisms, or whatever the appropriate word for specifically the phrases and expressions of the Québécois). This includes Blake's 1921 translation. Such is the long reach of the editorial hand.

But it's the story itself that seems to have caught the interest of so many over so many years, about the young woman, Maria Chapdelaine, living on the frontier and faced with a choice among three suitors who represent three very different directions for French Canada, and thus three very different futures.

Maria Edgeworth, Belinda


Opening Passage:
Mrs. Stanhope, a well-bred woman, accomplished in that branch of knowledge which is called the art of rising in the world, had, with but a small fortune, contrived to live in the highest company. She prided herself upon having established half a dozen nieces most happily, that is to say, upon having married them to men of fortunes far superior to their own. One niece still remained unmarried—Belinda Portman, of whom she was determined to get rid with all convenient expedition. Belinda was handsome, graceful, sprightly, and highly accomplished; her aunt had endeavoured to teach her that a young lady’s chief business is to please in society, that all her charms and accomplishments should be invariably subservient to one grand object—the establishing herself in the world:

“For this, hands, lips, and eyes were put to school,
And each instructed feature had its rule.”

Mrs. Stanhope did not find Belinda such a docile pupil as her other nieces, for she had been educated chiefly in the country; she had early been inspired with a taste for domestic pleasures; she was fond of reading, and disposed to conduct herself with prudence and integrity. Her character, however, was yet to be developed by circumstances.

Summary: Belinda is a young woman who lives with her aunt, Mrs. Stanhope, who as a woman of the world prides herself on being a 'catch-matchmaker', having set up all her other nieces with very nicely lucrative marriages. She sends Belinda to the lively and witty Lady Delacour so that she can get a better sense of the world. The association with Mrs. Stanhope, however, will cause her some problems; everyone assumes that Belinda is herself a worldly girl out to seize some money-laden bachelor with money, including the handsome and somewhat frivolous Clarence Hervey, who otherwise gets along well with her. She discovers very quickly that Lady Delacour's marriage is less than ideal, with both Lady Delacour and Lord Delacour constantly engaged in a kind of petty warfare with each other, and that Lady Delacour herself, despite being friendly and charming, often stretches the bounds of propriety with her friend Mrs. Freke (who likes dressing up as a man and doing shocking things for no other reason than that it is a "frolic" and bit of fun). It takes a bit longer for Belinda to discover a more serious secret: Lady Delacour is so frivolous and even superficial in her ways because she is hiding the fact that she is dying from cancer, and she would rather go out mocking the world than being pitied by it. Due to gossip, both malicious and unthinking, Belinda is several times suspected of rather seriously bad things by Hervey, by Lady Delacour, and by others, and will have to protect her reputation, and perhaps win through to a marriage that whether or not it is a good marriage in Stanhope terms, will be one that is genuinely good.

Just summarizing the plot makes it sound like the heart of the story is the potential romance between Belinda and Hervey, but in fact the novel is a story about the friendship between Belinda and Lady Delacour, two very different people who like each other and -- slowly, and occasionally with difficulty -- learn how to do each other the best good. While Hervey and other episodes take up quite a bit of the book, they are all occasions for the development of their friendship. A great deal of the work can be read as revolving around the theme of how our relationships with others are a considerable part of how good we are and how good are lives can be. Belinda and Lady Delacour both grow through their friendship, of course. In some ways the marriage between Lord and Lady Delacour is an even better example. They don't hate each other; they've just both, through foolishness and pride, descended into a cycle of pettiness. When, through Belinda's help, they reconcile, things change considerably. The exact same people, with the same strengths and weaknesses, the same decencies and flaws, are infinitely better in a healthy marriage, which amplifies their strengths, than they were in a degenerating one, which amplified their flaws. And I think that's very much it: our friendships, our marriages, even at times our relationships of mere acquaintance, take what we are and amplify either the good or the bad in us, sometimes subtly and sometimes in ways that make a vast difference.

Favorite Passage: Mrs. Freke conversing with Belinda:

“You read, I see!—I did not know you were a reading girl. So was I once; but I never read now. Books only spoil the originality of genius: very well for those who can’t think for themselves—but when one has made up one’s opinion, there is no use in reading.”

“But to make them up,” replied Belinda, “may it not be useful?”

“Of no use upon earth to minds of a certain class. You, who can think for yourself, should never read.”

“But I read that I may think for myself.”

“Only ruin your understanding, trust me. Books are full of trash—nonsense, conversation is worth all the books in the world.”

“And is there never any nonsense in conversation?”

“What have you here?” continued Mrs. Freke, who did not choose to attend to this question; exclaiming, as she reviewed each of the books on the table in their turns, in the summary language of presumptuous ignorance, “Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments—milk and water! Moore’s Travels—hasty pudding! La Bruyère—nettle porridge! This is what you were at when I came in, was it not?” said she, taking up a book in which she saw Belinda’s mark: “Against Inconsistency in our Expectations. Poor thing! who bored you with this task?”

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.