Saturday, September 14, 2019

Spiritus Destructionis

A propensity to wanton destruction of what is beautiful in inanimate nature (spiritus destructionis) is opposed to a human being's duty to himself; for it weakens or uproots that feeling in him which, though not of itself moral, is still a disposition of sensibility that greatly promotes morality or at least prepares the way for it: the disposition, namely, to love something (e.g., beautiful crystal formations, the indescribable beauty of plants) even apart from any intention to use it.

[Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, Book I, Chapter II, Episodic Section, sect. 17, in Immanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy, Gregor, tr. & ed. Cambridge University Press (New York: 1996) p. 564.]

Friday, September 13, 2019

Dashed Off XIX

This begins a notebook that was begun in July of 2018.

To receive the sacraments is to accept Christ's taking moral and juridical responsible for us, and in doing so to receive a responsibility ourselves.

Every child is born already in relation to parents.

An endless amount of our lives consists in making the best of a bad thing.

The seal of confession is integral to the sacrament's character as the tribunal of mercy.

(1) Christ's occupancy of the sacraments by presence
(2) Christ's designation of the sacraments through his priests as representatives
-- (1) presupposes Christ's jural title by creation; (2) presupposes Christ's institution.

(1) Social relations are mutable and uncertain.
(2) The mutability and uncertainty of them is a significant impediment to the maintenance of society.
(3) Thus we tend naturally to submit to the easiest reasonable remedy available, because we are unwilling to leave everything in suspense.
(4) Thus we rely on biological parenthood as our default for understanding parenthood.

Analogies for sacraments
-- medicine in vial (Hugh of St. Victor)
-- tokens in demonic pact (William of Auvergne)
-- water in aqueduct (Augustine)
-- ring &c. of investiture (Bernard)
-- axe used by artisan (Aquinas)
-- promissory note issued by king (Bonaventure)
-- pencil used by artist (Bañez)
-- paid ransom (Cano)

"By His wine, union; by His oil, sanctification." Ephrem
"Jesus mingled His might in the water."

An instrument that is visible is, by the very fact of being such, a sign of the effect.

A divine pact with the Church gives the framework for the sacraments (the new covenant) but does not explain the actions specifically performed in the context of the pact.

"Non-experience of something can prove that it is absent only when positive experience of it can prove that it exists." Vatsyayana

(1) Suppose moral relativism.
(2) Then there are many moral standards.
(3) Then there are features of these standards that make them identifiable as specifically moral.
(4) Then there are conditions required for anything to count as a moral standard in the first place.
(5) Then there are general constraints on morality that are not relative.
-- Not that a family resemblance response would still fail -- there must be a way to sort family resemblance from its lack.
-- A stronger possible objection: we only call them moral by analogy; we could also regard them as just something different from morality. -- But this would have to be principled. And once one allows analogies, partial overlaps, and approximate convergences, it becomes impossible to take descriptive moral relativism (insofar as it suggests 'Moral disagreement is more pervasive than moral agreement') seriously: partial and loose agreements are pervasive.

Relative to any particular way of measuring, truth values may be glutty or gappy or both.

Morality // Laws of Nature:
emotivism // pure naive empiricism
expressivism // conventionalism
error theory // fictionalism?
nonnaturalism // Necessitarianism/primitivism
nonreductive naturalism // Aristotelianism/powers theory
reductive naturalism // counterfactualism

Because of its complexity and the difficulty of making and confirming estimates, utilitarianism in practice works more like a rhetorical method than an ethical account.

All arguments for separation of Church and State have analogies for separation of Press and State.

Booker T. Washington & the working man's cosmopolitanism

Law tends to accumulate endless idiosyncratic, quaint, and otherwise obsolete usages because precedent, and classes of precedents, are important for its reasoning, particularly since imprecision can hurt you badly. Thus keeping old usages is often the easiest way to avoid going wrong.

logical ampliation as shift of standpoint

the principle for perception that corresponds to the principle of credulity for testimony

The modern world is premised on the inexhaustibility of fertilizer results, accessible petroleum, and antibiotic efficacy.

Defeat by sin is a worse evil than suffering.

We should treat our imagination sometimes as if it were a sophist inside us. (Cp. Epictetus)

"The Council of Trent was a Council of Recapitulation." Manning

Standard probability theory cannot distinguish happenstance actuality, conditional necessity given causal factors, and simple necessity.

(1) dangerous -- (2) unhealthy -- (3) shameful -- (4) culpable -- (5) wicked
Each category overlaps the one before and the one next.
safe, healthy, honorable, decent, virtuous

Four things need to be explained in talking about the principium individuationis: being one and the same, being in fact undivided, being subject, being such as to be uncommunicated.

families of accounts of sacraments: Dualism, Organicism, Memorialism

sacramentals as linking public and private devotion

entertaining, supposing, suspecting, opining

arguments for realism about grace (donative realism)
(1) from miracles
(2) from religious experience
(3) from human requirement + divine ability
(4) from ordinary language of believers
(5) from sublimity of sainthood

forms of donative anti-realism (liberal theologies of grace)
(1) symbolic natural
(2) ordinative/prescriptive
(3) fictive
Each of these takes one of the genuine elements of the phenomena and treats it as exclusive: symbolism, action-guidance, and narrative.

All forms of moral noncognitivism focus on an associated feature fo moral life: expression (attitudinal, emotive), prescription, symbol-building, etc., There obviously has to be some form of associated feature from which to draw plausibility, and the strength and weakness of the noncognitivism lies entirely here.

forms of lay Catholic contribution
(1) Catholic Action
(2) Catholic Worker Movement
(3) Humanitarian Traditions
(4) Catholic Education

Advaita means 'nonsecondness' or 'no second'. And in much of its position that there is no second to Brahman, it is attractive. Avidya can in that sense be seen as the ignorance that is an idolatry-tendency (seeing the world and its parts as if they were ultimate). Nonsublatability (abbadhyatvam) is like Rosmini's ultimate reason.

Each of Advaita, Vishishtadvaita, and Dvaita Vedanta as a philosophy captures something important: Advaita the nonsecondness, Vishishtadvaita the distinctness of souls with aptness for union, Dvaita the personal real difference. Each arguably focuses too narrowly on something it definitely gets right.

Any possible evidence for an error theory of morality is also interpretable as evidence for a modest success theory of morality.

"Considered in general, competition through honest means is a natural right relative to all kinds of earning." Rosmini
"Titles are those factual conditions in which the application of law takes place."

It is essential to double effect in the case of self-defense that we have an obligation to defend ourselves, broadly speaking.

forms of acts of satisfaction: (1) attestative (2) honorific (3) pecuniary

Hope is what converts opportunity into freedom.

Diversity is primarily a strength within the context of friendship.

The laity have a right to episcopal protection and aid.

We experience ourselves as actualizing potential.

"The cogito in general is explicit intentionality. The concept of intentional experience generally already presupposes the opposition between potentiality and actuality...." Husserl

person-relative modalities: epistemic, doxastic, deontic
as-if modalities: fictional, hypothetical
alethic modalities: alethic proper, provable, temporal, locative, dynamic

The experience of potentiality and actuality is related to the experience of incompleteness and completeness in act.

Love, and everything then belongs to you.

recognition of the vastness of the universe --> sublimity of the mind --> teh sublime as such, which all call God

health (sanitive) nonnaturalism

Everything in later Christian doctrine must find its seminal reason in Apostolic teaching.

Doctrine, that is, teaching, by its very nature unfolds.

NB that Augustine holds that for the baptized concupiscence is not sin if there is no consent (Mar & Con 1.23); i.e., the regenerate have grace such that it does not immediatley produce sin, although it is an effect of sin and through consent can become sin.

The text is the governing guide for interpreting the text.

elements that are in Apostolic teaching 'invisibiliter, potentialiter, causaliter quomodo fiunt futura non facta'

preexistence in Apostolic doctrine
(1) materially
(2) in cause
(3) in active powers (germinally)
(4) by similitude
[Compare Aquinas, ST 1.73.1 ad 3.]

"In order to be successful in any kind of undertaking, I think the main thing is for one to grow to the point where he completely forgets himself, that is, to lose himself in a great cause." Booker T. Washington
"Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work."

three kinds of aporia
(1) variation according to perspective
(2) disagreement
(3) apparent infinite regress

"Once there is a religion, it must necessarily also be social." Schleiermacher

Once there is a religion, it must necessarily also be semiotic.

sign as an intentional instrument of cognition
sign as mediating instrument for cognition

example-diagrams vs analogy-diagrams

the Church as standing memorial of duty to God (Butler)

Philosophical accounts of artifacts too often drop the recognition that 'artifact' is a denomination relative to art (techne, skill).

The analogy between motion of particles and motion of cracks suggests a higher-order generalization of which both are merely specifications.

creation as giving readiness to appear (communication of readiness to appear)

sacraments as artifacts of divine art

artifacts as quasi-deontic objects

the sacramental economy as the material culture of salvation and deification

Never enter an argument without having some grasp on the larger context.

If the First Way yields sacraments as instruments (moved movers) and the Fifth Way as expressions of providential plan, what do the Second, Third, and Fourth Way yield?

God is the subsisting and exemplar principle of noncontradiction, the 'turhtmaker' and 'truthbearer' for all necessary truths, all of which 'unfold' from Him.

While we speak of contingent truths as a lot, not all contingent truths are contingent in exactly the same way.

sanctity as a sign of the Holy Spirit, as signifying the Holy Spirit

the Ascension as the initiation of the full sacramental economy (Cp Leo Serm 74.2)

sacraments as: artifacts, signs, instruments, gifts, mediations, memorials, occasions of presence, synergies/cooperations, pledges

Matrimony effects what it signifies by forming the domestic church.

Purgatory is like mystagogy, but away from the sacraments rather than to them.

the ivy of analogy threaded through the trellis of demonstration

kinship, friendship, patriotism, and worship

marriage as partial asceticism

Out of much foolishness an occasional brilliance can be born.

opening (Diamond), illustrative (True), and binding (Box) precedent

angelology : learning :: demonology : temptation

synousia with the saints through relics, icons, and hagiography

"No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial." Tolkien

partwise cooperation vs wholewise cooperation

the gifts of the Holy Spirit as forms of freedom

Golden Mouth

Today is the feast of St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church. From his Homily XXII on Hebrews:

"The lifting up of my hands" (it is said) "is an evening sacrifice." With our hands let us also lift up our mind: ye who have been initiated know what I mean, perhaps too ye recognize the expression, and see at a glance what I have hinted at. Let us raise up our thoughts on high.

I myself know many men almost suspended apart from the earth, and beyond measure stretching up their hands, and out of heart because it is not possible to be lifted into the air, and thus praying with earnestness. Thus I would have you always, and if not always, at least very often; and if not very often, at least now and then, at least in the morning, at least in the evening prayers. For, tell me, canst thou not stretch forth the hands? Stretch forth the will, stretch forth as far as thou wilt, yea even to heaven itself. Even shouldst thou wish to touch the very summit, even if thou wouldst ascend higher and walk thereon, it is open to thee. For our mind is lighter, and higher than any winged creature. And when it receives grace from the Spirit, O! how swift is it! How quick is it! How does it compass all things! How does it never sink down or fall to the ground! These wings let us provide for ourselves: by means of them shall we be able to fly even across the tempestuous sea of this present life. The swiftest birds fly unhurt over mountains, and woods, and seas, and rocks, in a brief moment of time. Such also is the mind; when it is winged, when it is separated from the things of this life, nothing can lay hold of it, it is higher than all things, even than the fiery darts of the devil.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

John Duns Scotus Month at OUP

The September Philosopher of the Month for Oxford University Press is Bl. John Duns Scotus. They are making available a number of Scotus-related resources for free, especially if you have a library with a subscription.

Mill on Love of Virtue

The love of virtue, and every other noble feeling, is not communicated by reasoning, but caught by inspiration or sympathy from those who already have it; and its nurse and foster-mother is Admiration. We acquire it from those whom we love and reverence, especially from those whom we earliest love and reverence; from our ideal of those, whether in past or in present times, whose lives and characters have been the mirror of all noble qualities; and lastly, from those who, as poets or artists, can clothe those feelings in the most beautiful forms, and breathe them into us through our imagination and our sensations.

[John Stuart Mill, Notes on Plato's Gorgias]

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Chance and the Perfection of Things would be contrary to the very meaning of providence if things subject to providence did not act for an end, since it is the function of providence to order all things to their end. Moreover, it would be against the perfection of the universe if no corruptible thing existed, and no power could fail, as is evident from what was said above. Now, due to the fact that an agent fails in regard to an end that is intended, it follows that some things occur by chance. So, it would be contrary to the meaning of providence, and to the perfection of things, if there were no chance events.

[Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles 3.74.] The point, of course, is that there are kinds of good that are subject to chance just by being what they are, so complete good requires chance.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Ethics in the Background

John Houston has a brief discussion of what he calls "morally horrific religious beliefs"; it's somewhat interesting, although not very informative. But I think it is a good minor example of a problem that often takes much more egregious forms in contemporary philosophy of religion, to the extent that in other cases it is often indistinguishable from sloppiness or laziness: the tendency to rely on a background ethics without proper critical examination of it.

It's actually an interesting exercise. Ethics comes up constantly in contemporary phil-rel, and whenever it does it's worth asking what kind of ethics has to be true for the arguments to work. It's often obvious that the ethics being assumed is not consistent with any of the most commonly accepted forms of ethics, some obscure variant that may, for all one knows, be perfectly justifiable, but whose use is never justified despite not even having the excuse of being common. In other cases, it's not clear what ethics you could have that would make the argument work. I've come across cases, usually in the wilds of the internet, but real cases by actual philosophers nonetheless, in which it seems very much as if the ethics has to be changing in the middle of the argument -- a strict consequentialism to get this step, a strict deontology to get that one. In other cases, the problem doesn't seem to be incoherence so much as obscurity -- it's just not clear what ethics is operative in all these ethical judgments, at all.

In this case, for instance, Houston rejects the notion that God could require morally horrific actions (it is never explained what exactly is being taken to constitute an action as horrific, although murdering is given as an example and it is supposed to have something to do with "beliefs that are most central to the core of one’s moral convictions", although it is never said whose beliefs are being counted) by appeal to Kant:

For Kant, it seems that such commands carry with them the inherent transparency of their not being from God, and therefore they must be regarded as illusory. Thus, in The Conflict of the Faculties, Kant says of the man who hears a voice commanding him to violate the moral law, that he must doubt that advice: “for if the voice commands him to do something contrary to the moral law, then no matter how majestic the apparition may be, and no matter how it may seem to surpass the whole of nature, he must consider it an illusion.”

All well and good; it is pretty clear that Houston's argument would require the rejection of consequentialisms of all sorts (although at one point he does frame it in terms of consequences), and his argument also won't work on any kind of positivist deontology, like divine command theory. So it would make sense that he is assuming a Kantian view of morality, and thus we get Kant.

On the other hand, he goes on immediately to argue "God can and does owe things to the men and women he creates." As I've noted before, there is no widely accepted theory of obligations on which it makes sense to think of God as the kind of moral agent who would have obligations -- on most theories of how obligations work, it would be a category mistake to say that God owes anything at all, unless we are using the term in a way much looser than Houston's argument would require. But the most relevant thing here is that Kant's theory of obligations is very definitely one of the theory of obligations in which God has no obligations and therefore owes us nothing. We have obligations because there is a possible disparity between our wills and moral law; but this disparity does not exist in the case of God, who has a holy will. God's will is just an expression of moral law itself. And this is directly relevant to the argument that Kant just gave. We know that it's impossible for God to command something like sacrificing your son, Kant thinks, because God's will, being holy, directly expresses moral law without the kind of gap our will has to overcome; the moral law, being the categorical imperative, is something we directly know; and we know that the moral law imposes no such requirement. Thus God's will can impose no such requirement. Thus it makes perfect sense for Kant to give the argument that Houston quotes; but the whole argument in Kant depends crucially on the fact that God's will is not even the kind of will that could have an obligation. So in a very brief space Houston has used an argument from Kant to draw a conclusion and then denied one of the assumptions that Kant is making in the argument to begin with.

Now, of course, it's entirely possible that there is some other foundation by which you could have the Kantian argument without the Kantian assumption. But the point is in a different question: How could we know it? The ethics being assumed as absolutely obvious and definitive appears to be a definitely nonstandard deontology that's inconsistent with the most common major forms of deontology, and we don't know enough about its details to say whether it is better justified than the more common forms. We don't really know what it is at all, or how it works, or why it is giving us this particular set of arguments. This is a minor example, but as I've said appeals to ethical considerations in philosophy of religion are sometimes considerably more egregious in their failure to explain what the ethics actually is. (Houston at least gives us a few definite pointers, so we can guess that it's probably a deontology somewhere in the vicinity of Kant although not strictly Kantian, and it requires assuming that people generally share a "fundamental moral intuition" about murder; that's more definite than you sometimes get.) Whenever we look at arguments in philosophy of religion that appeal to ethical considerations, we always need to stop and look closely at the ethics in the background.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Forgiveness and Amends

Alexandra Couto has a well-known paper, "Reactive Attitudes, Forgiveness, and the Second-Personal Standpoint", in which she gives an argument that elective forgiveness is only warranted and virtuous in cases where the wrongdoer has repented and made amends:

(1) Forgiveness involves overcoming the reactive attitudes stemming from a wrongdoing.
(2) The reactive attitudes issue an implicit second-personal demand.
(3) To know when forgiveness is warranted, we need to know what that demand is and how it may be answered.
(4) Wrongdoing entails a violation of the recognition respect owed to the victim.
(5) The demand implicit in the reactive attitudes experienced by the victim is a demand for the re-establishment of recognition respect.
(6) The demand for the re-establishment of recognition respect is a fundamental demand.
(7) Not insisting on the demand to re-establish recognition respect would be tantamount to showing lack of self-respect.
(8) It isn't virtuous to forgive when the demand for the re-establishment of recognition respect hasn't been answered.
(9) The view that unconditional forgiveness is virtuous (ceteris paribus) is not justified.

We have to be careful to some extent since 'virtuous' may mean either 'appropriate to virtue' (something a virtuous person could and perhaps would generally do) or 'required by virtue' (something a person would have to do to be acting as a virtuous person would). The background account here is a sentiment-based theory of obligation, deriving from Darwall: a moral obligation is such that its violation would warrant a 'reactive attitude' like blame or resentment. All reactive attitudes in some way call for action, a sort of expectation that what the reactive attitude concerns will be appropriately addressed. This is what gives premises (2) and (3). 'Recognition respect' is respect in the sense that you treat someone or something as worth taking into account appropriately in your deliberations. The claim in (4) requires a particular restriction; Moriarty and Holmes both render each other recognition respect (among other kinds of respect) in the basic sense that they treat the other seriously worth considering in deliberation and action, but I take it that the assumption is that we aren't dealing with recognition respect in quite this sense. There is a narrower sense of recognition respect in which we are talking about specifically moral cases, in which failure to treat someone as worth taking into account appropriately in your deliberations would be regarded as a moral wrong. (4) clearly assumes something like this. It's unclear to me why one would think that wrongdoing entails a violation of such respect; I suspect that Couto is taking the 'appropriately' very seriously here. (5) would more or less follow from the rest, although one could argue that the demand is for re-establishing recognition respect or something that can be treated as equivalent or better (more on this in a moment). (6) sets up for (7) and (7) for (8). As to (1) itself, I am not at all convinced of reactive attitude accounts of most major moral concepts (they typically confused indicators of things with the things themselves), but the Darwallian emphasis on what is warranted makes this less serious for this particular case than it might otherwise be, so let's assume the account correct for the moment. I take it that the "ceteris paribus" in the conclusion is to take into account cases where the action might be virtuous for completely independent reasons.

Getting (6) is tricky. What Couto wants to argue is that the demand for re-establishment of recognition respect that warranted resentment against wrongdoing establishes is fundamental in the sense that it is not superable or defeasible. The point I previously noted, that you could argue for a more flexible claim than (5), is directly relevant here: if there are other things one can do, even if only occasionally, it would massively complicate the argument. Couto's attempt to argue that the demand for re-establishment of recognition respect really is fundamental is somewhat complicated, and I am not sure I fully understand it. If we take the point to be "a relationship of equal accountability", and consider what would be experienced by hypothetical members of an ideal moral community, and as a violation of recognition respect is such as would warrant blame or resentment, this is how members of an ideal moral community would react. As I said, I'm not sure I fully understand this line of thought, but I think the point is that, since we are, Darwall-like, tying moral obligation to what is warranted, it follows that if the blame or resentment is warranted, it is obligated, so an ideal moral community would act accordingly. (Usually we would say that 'X is warranted' does not imply 'X is required', but this cannot be the sense relevant here.) What's unclear to me is why this would be taken as suggesting that the ideal moral community's blame/resentment must be narrow (specifically, one must re-establish recognition respect specifically) rather than broad, beyond the fact that Couto seems to assume there is no substitute for re-establishing recognition respect in particular.

Setting aside for a moment cases in which forgiveness is given knowing that the forgiven will never repent, the big kind of case that needs to be considered is forgiveness in advance of repentance and/or amends. There are a number of different kinds of this forgiveness-in-advance, but two obvious cases could be called anticipatory (you forgive expecting that repentance and amends will probably be made) and optative (you forgive hoping that your forgiveness will spur the forgiven to repent and make amends). Couto would rule out both cases on grounds of self-respect. Self-respect requires the belief that one is owed respect; such a belief requires that one thereby have 'appropriate attitudes'. This argument is utterly baffling to me. Self-respect is naturally read as requiring the belief that one should treat oneself as worthy of respect; 'worthy' is a weaker term than 'owed', and 'oneself' is a narrower extent than one that would include anyone who might have wronged one. And how one conceives respect to work is clearly relevant. Consider a Stoic conception of self-respect, in which you treat yourself as worthy of respect (because of your participation in Reason), and that primarily consists in holding yourself to moral action and not caring all that much about how other people treat you. The proper response to wrongdoing would be to do well oneself, not go about demanding that other people make it up to you. The Stoics are interesting, because I think Stoics would usually agree with Couto that you should only forgive those who have shown a willingness to correct the matter (following a strict interpretation of some Socratic comments), but this does not follow from the Stoic conception of self-respect. And one has to consider too that one common reason people give for anticipatory and optative forgiveness is that they came to recognize that by carrying their resentment or blame they weren't respecting themselves, but rather holding themselves back, letting the wrongdoing imprison them. People not uncommonly justify their anticipatory or optative forgiveness as a way of rising to what they should be; and this, if true, cannot be inconsistent with self-respect. But whether self-respect can include such a thing seems already to depend on whether you think it is the sort of thing that could be regarded as appropriate to someone worthy of respect; and thus Couto's self-respect argument seems to beg the question.

Couto has another argument, based on the notion, previously mentioned, that the point of it all is "a relationship of equal accountability". On a Darwallian account, holding people accountable requires that we do so entirely on factors internal to the practice of holding people accountable; this excludes acting simply on what would be desirable. So Couto suggests that forgiveness for a reason other than repentance and amends would be the "wrong kind of reason". Now, I think the Darwallian account of accountability is gravely wrong -- I think most accountability is based on goods in the appropriate larger context of the practice rather than goods internal to the practice -- but let's assume that it is right. Optative forgiveness would work as a target of the "wrong kind of reasons" argument, because it is in some sense based on desirability. But anticipatory forgiveness is not so clear a matter. How does this really affect the anticipatory case, where there is an expectation that probably repentance and amends will be made? In particular, how is anticipatory forgiveness different from ordinary forgiveness on probable grounds, in which you don't know with absolute certainty that repentance and amends were made, but you have good reason to think that they probably did happen? They both regard the same reason, and the only difference is in the note of time. Thus either anticipatory forgiveness is fine for the same reason ordinary probability-based forgiveness is, or we have to deny that forgiving on only probable grounds is acceptable (which drastically reduces the allowable cases of forgiveness, since most forgiveness is based not on certainty, even moral certainty, but on signs of repentance and amends-making), or we have to hold that holding-accountable is an intrinsically backwards-looking practice (which is implausible and seems arbitrary).

There are a number of cases of forgiveness that Couto's strictures rule out as capable of being virtuous. It is worth going through them a moment, and seeing how they work. I take it that there are three major families of cases, at least.

(1) We have already raised the first family, forgiveness in advance of repentance and/or amends, and the two main kinds, anticipatory forgiveness and optative forgiveness. These are often done, contrary to what Couto's argument suggests, out of a concern for self-respect, and in particular out of a sense people have that they need to be the better person, or that they need to hold themselves to a higher standard than others do, or that they need to avoid being passive about moving on.

(2) The second major family of cases is forgiveness in circumstances of impossible repentance and/or amends. The obvious impossibility here is simple impossibility (the most common case is forgiving people who have already died); perhaps there are cases of relative impossibility, impossibility for incidental reasons, but let's focus on a recurring case where amends are simply impossible: forgiving the dead. Why do people sometimes come to the decision that they have to forgive people who are already dead and can't make amends? A common reason is that they have to do it to move on with their life. They aren't getting amends, period. So what do you do? Do you just dwell on the wrong done to you, which will never be righted, never even given symbolic recognition by the wrongdoer? Human beings can't live like this. This is perhaps a problem with the Darwallian tendency to see everything as a matter of accountability. Is accountability really the primary thing demanded by blame and resentment? Could not one argue that healing in some sense is what is demanded instead? Then one could say that accountability is sometimes the best way for healing to proceed, but perhaps not always. Another reason people give is self-respect, as with the case of forgiveness in advance of amends. A third reason, perhaps, that people do it is that once death has come, it's absurd to demand anything more. Neither Darwall nor Couto really consider whether human accountability has limits that are sometimes in fact reached -- limits like death itself -- so that once they are reached, there is nothing to do but count it a loss and move on, or else find a way to move on constructively.

(3) The third major family is a particularly interesting one, which I call cases of forgiveness by deemed amends. What counts as amends? The category has to be able to include things that are symbolic, as well as things that are purely conventional. So if that's the case, why cannot some things merely be deemed as amends? OK, so let's assume you can't virtuously forgive without there being amends, but what if you often have the power simply to count something as amends? There are three cases that would sharply cut into the thrust of Couto's. Sometimes we treat the bare fact of repentance as amends enough, even though it could only possibly be so symbolically and because we treat it as being amends enough. Sometimes we don't even require definite repentance; just something repentance-ish, repentance-like, gets treated as amends enough. And sometimes, even where there has been no repentance, we count other actions as taking the place of amends -- for instance, we might take someone's good deed to someone we love to work as well as if they had repented and made amends to us, even if that wasn't the intent. Of these, the first could technically be given a place within the letter of Couto's account, but perhaps not the spirit; the second, if allowed, would make it impossible to eliminate most cases of anticipatory forgiveness; and the third seems entirely inconsistent with it. But all three of them are plausible given a very common assumption about forgiveness: forgiveness is not a passive response but an exercise of power on the part of those who have been wronged. Minimally, you have the power to accept repentance and amends. But it also seems that you have at least some power to decide what you will count as amends. (Who else would draw the line for you?) So how far does this go? Is it very restricted, or (as actual practices of forgiveness suggest) does it extend quite far?

There is an oddity in all of this kind of discussion. Forgiveness has been a topic that has picked up interest recently, so more people are discussing it; it's not surprising that they discuss things from their own ethical perspectives; given the make-up of the academy, and its conventions, it's not surprising that these perspectives are often not particularly religious. But on a matter like forgiveness, it is very strange how little anyone considers the religious aspect to it. If we are talking about unconditional forgiveness in general, why do most people who consider it a good option do so? Because they think it fits closely with Christian requirements about forgiveness. Even that aside, people regularly forgive under conditions that do not fit Couto's account and do so for religious reasons, direct or indirect, whether the religion be Christian or another. Part of the argument was about hypothetical people belonging to an ideal moral community. But what about actual people who converge on our moral ideals in many ways? What have they done? Even if you regarded all these as non-definitive, surely they are relevant to understanding the topic? But there is a curious disconnect in certain parts of ethics, as if ethics were a thing entirely done in the head of the ethicist, rather than something done in the real world by real people, some of whose advice is worth hearing and some of whose practices are worth taking seriously. And while I think you can find sages who would agree with something like Couto's basic idea that amends is necessary, I think even in those cases you would often find that they work with a very different conception of amends; and in other cases, I think you would find that the advice and examples we see in our best suggest that forgiveness is possible in many cases where there are no amends in at least an ordinary sense of the term.

Three New Poem Drafts

On a Passage in the Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth

Down the green-clad hillside slope
the water flows in streams,
mining through the young wheat fields
with silver-streaking seams
beside the sheep that graze the hill
like clouds in dozing dreams.
The sunshine through the rain-glossed day
sparks life to sudden crowds:
the flowers leaping like the spring,
hepatica, violet, proud,
the snow-drops raising snowy heads
in sunsong sweet and loud.
The woods of brown exhibit light
through netting made of bough
and planted oaks, like columns old,
are crowning hillside-brow.
And so it is, and so you are,
in pure and standing now.

Light in Mist

Mind is a landscape covered with mist;
shapes there go walking, hinting of more;
everything dances with curl and twist
like breeze-playing spray from wave and shore.

The moonlight at times silvers the air,
dim sunlight through clouds may color all,
but neither is light like that you share
when something of you does on me fall.

That of which we think may become clear;
thinking itself is vaporous sea.
And light is a music subtle and clear,
rainbowing reason: thus you to me.


the wholeness of good possessed as a whole
the completion of the power inherent in you
at splendid things true joy of the soul
when you triumph at being your self pure and true
to reason well in choosing the natural thing
to contemplate order of all things in all
to be like a circle and unending ring
in all choice and thought to hear virtue's call
achievement of life that is smooth in its flow
that which makes nature finished in kind
the good to will and the true to know
being the divine that in us we find

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Fortnightly Book, September 8

William Robertson Davies had a lot of careers in his lifetime. He was an actor for a while in London (which is how he met his wife). He was an editor for a number of publications. He became part owner of a number of small media outlets. He helped found the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada, and served on its board of governors. He wrote plays, essays, and novels. He taught literature at Trinity College at the University of Toronto. He was the first Master of Massey College. Of all the Canadians of his day, he was perhaps the one who most completely summed up the literary world.

The Darwins gave me an omnibus edition of Robertson Davies's humorous Salterton Trilogy: Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, and A Mixture of Frailties, so this will be the next fortnightly book, although it's possible that the set will make for a three-week fortnight. All three novels take place in the fictional Canadian town of Salterton. Tempest-Tost is about the local theater group putting on a play, or trying to, in any case, as much as possible given their quirks. Leaven of Malice is a sort of mock-mystery involving a false engagement notice. And A Mixture of Frailties is about a will and testament of fiendish design.