Saturday, September 28, 2019

Kant's Attack on Virtue Ethics

Kant devotes part of The Metaphysics of Morals to attacking traditional accounts of virtue (6:403-409).* Something like this is essential for what Kant is doing, since the traditional concept of virtue is a significant obstacle to the Kantian approach, but it's not discussed all that much because it is definitely not Kant at his best. He garbles the traditional theory of virtue quite a bit, although in ways that are perhaps not surprising given his own view. Kant takes the account to include three major claims:

(1) There is one virtue and one vice.
(2) Virtue lies in the mean between opposing vices.
(3) Virtue requires experience.

(1) seems to be Kant's oddly stated version of the unity of virtues thesis, the idea that to have one virtue, or at least one fundamental virtue, you must in some sense have them all; at the very least he seems to take it to mean that reasons for one virtue can be reasons for another as well. Kant argues in opposition to this that every duty can have one and only one ground of obligation. If you have a duty, there is one specific reason for doing it, and nothing more. Since Kant takes duty to be more fundamental than virtue, this carries over to virtue. The duty to be truthful can have only one proof from one ground; if you say that you should be truthful out of self-respect and also out of the harm that lies cause, you are actually confusing completely different things; truthfulness is simply different from benevolence.

(2), of course, is the most important idea in virtue ethics, the one that has to be considered seriously even by approaches to virtue that reject the golden mean. Unfortunately, Kant completely bungles his account of it. As he interprets it, it means that the virtue is itself a midpoint between two vices. Call them vice L and vice R. He takes it that the claim is that you can move smoothly from vice L, through the virtue, to vice R, and vice versa. Let's suppose vice R is the vice of excess, he takes it that this means that vice R is the virtue taken too far, whereas vice L is not going far enough with the virtue. Excess and defect just mean that virtue and vice differ by degree. Despite the fact that Kant purports to be giving Aristotle's doctrine of the mean, Aristotle's account is, of course, inconsistent with all of these claims. Virtue is not a mean in the sense that it is simply a midpoint between two vices, because merely lacking vices in both directions is not virtue -- virtue is not merely a lack of vice but a positive disposition or habit in its own right, and so must be developed itself. Likewise, the vice of excess is not going too far in the virtue for the simple reason that the virtue includes the mean in its definition -- it is impossible to go too far or not far enough with virtue, because virtue is just right by its very nature. This is not actually very far from Kant's insistence that vice L, vice R, and the virtue are all associated with different maxims that contradict each other, although, of course, maxims go with actions rather than dispositions.

Only (3) is reasonably close to its real historical version, and Kant's reason for rejecting it ties directly into the central features of Kant's approach to ethics: duties must not be based on empirical features of human nature but on a law that commands categorically for all rational beings.

Ultimately, of course, since he takes duty to be more fundamental than virtue, Kant has to have a very different account of virtue than someone like Aristotle. Virtue for Kant is a kind of strength for attaining moral objects; you can consider it an aptitude, but because he rejects the doctrine of the mean, he needs an alternative way to identify which aptitudes in particular are virtues. To be moral, it has to connect to the Kantian conception of freedom, so Kant takes virtue to be an aptitude to determine oneself to act in conformity with law through the thought of the law -- or, in short, an aptitude for freely willing moral maxims.


* It makes sense, of course, for The Metaphysics of Morals to consider the question of what virtue is, but I wonder if there is more to it than that. It is not often enough recognized that MM is a thoroughly anti-Catholic work. In the course of it, Kant argues for the absolute right of the state to seize any and all church property (6:324-325), against the validity of liturgical law and canon law (6:327), against the idea that the church is independent of the state (6:368-369), for the claim kneeling, prostration, and veneration of icons in church is idolatrous (6:437), and against "monkish ascetics" and penance (6:484-485). He insists that we have no natural duties to God (6:443-444, 486-491). He can hardly be unaware that Catholic moral theology tends to proceed on the basis of a broadly Aristotelian account of virtue and an insistence on our natural duties to God, and in a book in which he takes the trouble to insist, explicitly, that a number of Catholic claims are false, it seems plausible that he is deliberately taking aim at Catholic moral theology as one of his major targets. I forget who first said that Kant was preeminently the philosopher of Protestantism, but The Metaphysics of Morals could very well be Exhibit A in the argument for that claim.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Dashed Off XX

The deterioration of marriage has led Christianity in the Western world to being in a wild state, as if we were all in the first or second generation after a large-scale conversion. Things continually have to be reconstituted rather than handed down, Christian ideas are held syncretically and eclectically, theology is filled with a great deal of quackery, and even the devout are more in a state of Christianizing than of being Christian.

The quality of the liturgy depends in part on the general use of devotions.

knowledge that is neither simply a priori nor simply a posteriori (virtually every account requires that there be such, for either glutty or gappy reasons)

candidates for contingent a priori: (1) cogito-like (2) conventional
candidates for necessary a posteriori: (1) unforeseeable identity (2) unforeseeable structural explanation

Our experience in itself suggests necessities.

There is an interactive element to the stage that has generally been missing from the screen, which has to rely on anticipation of reaction instead.

civilization: respect for God, respect for the dead, respect for neighbor, respect for marriage

As there are 'high' and 'low' approaches to Christology, so too to ecclesiology, theology of sacraments, Mariology, and all else in close interdependence with Christology.

Justice and its potential parts have a cumulative effect; they build systems, layer by layer.

etiquette as the intersection of justice and temperance
asceticism as the intersection of fortitude and temperance
duty (officia) as the intersection of justice and fortitude

law, ascetic method, code of etiquette

fortitude-relevant self-knowledge (knowing one's limits and taking them into account)
temperance-relevant self-knowledge (knowing one's temptations and taking them into account)

Philosophical attention is finite, but the philosophical universe is infinite.

the analogy between white space and silence (cp. Don Paterson)

video game combat systems
(1) direct & deterministic
(2) indirect & deterministic
(3) indirect & indeterministic
-- in fantasy games, which often have layered combat systems, one sometimes sees all three; e.g., in Darklands, weaponry is (1), alchemy is (2), and invocation of saints is (3), although the last is partial and not fully integrated with the other two.
-- indeterministic tends by its nature to make combat indirect. ARe there exceptions (however weird) to this? 'Deterministic' here can cover a set range over different conditions, so it is flexible. Perhaps the old Civilization quirk of catapults being able to defeat tanks occasionally?

A photograph is like an anecdote, and has analogous limitations.

Are there abstract objects? Yes: Platonism broadly construed. If no, are the descriptions strict or loose? If loose, paraphrastic nominalism. If strict, do they imply existence? If no, are they true or false on other grounds? If true, deflationism. If false, fictionalism. If they do imply existence, is that existence physical or psychological? If physical, physical, physical reductionism; if psychological, psychological reductionism. (Cp. Balaguer)

Are there mental events? If yes, are they themselves physical or psychological? If physical, physical reductionism. If psychological, nonreductionism. If there aren't any, are descriptions of them loosely true? If yes, paraphrastic eliminativism. If no, fictionalism (eliminativism proper).

Kinds of strategies used by Modernists in theology
(1) paraphrastic reduction
(2) quasi-pantheistic translation
(3) emotivist translation
(4) narrative (fictional) reduction

Different views of precedent
Box = binding, True = illustrative, Diamond = opening
(1) Box implies True implies Diamond
(2) Box implies Diamond, Box does not imply True.
(3) Box implies True, True doesn't imply Diamond.
(4) Box doesn't imply True, True doesn't imply Diamond.
(5) Box doesn't imply True, True implies Diamond.

Perception is already the beginning of memory and memory is already the beginning of imagination.
Suppose I imagine a bear. What am I imagining? Something that has reference to memory and perception.

All arguments against abstract objects can be converted, with only minor modification, into arguments against evidence.

Is evidence in the world? If yes, evidentialism. If no, then are descriptions of evidence nonetheless capable of being true? If not, fictionalism about evidence. If they are capable of being true, is this because they imply that something else exists? If no, then constructive particularism. If yes, then is this a physical process or a psychological process? If physical, physical reductionism (evidence is a physical signal); if psychological, subjectivism (evidence is a subjective interpretation).

the body as an efficacious instrument for communicating the real presence of life and mind

the possible and necessary as matters of final cause.

the fluid of philosophical description crystallizing into the structure of philosophical classification

A 'legal system' is a reasoned system of signs concerned with simulation and modeling of authority for practical matters of political life.
A 'logical system' is a reasoned system of signs concerned with simulation and modeling of goodness of reasoning in matters of argument and proof.

divine love : principle of merit :: Incarnation : preeminent example of merit
preeminence as fidelity to principle

icons, relics, and invocations of saints as the three interlocking systems of devotion to the saints

cooperation by operative overlap
cooperation by instrumentality (one operation part of another)
cooperation by union (operations equivalent)
incidental cooperation (operations distinct)

Value: causal classification within valuation proper leads to behavioral guidelines as the valuation itself creates an emotional ambience

human inquiry as primarily structured by pack cooperation and endurance hunting
hetertrophic vs autotrophic inquiry
pursuit inquiry vs ambush inquiry

forms of inculturation
(1) protective mimicry
(2) creative appropriation
(3) baptism & transfiguration

'Sunk cost fallacy' is not any kind of fallacy at all; it is just liable to cost overrun. It in fact derives from a way human beings learn, by trying to find something of value even in mistakes.

Human beings are always tempted by the idea of being right merely because of what they are. This is indeed to set oneself up as a god, for God alone is right simply by virtue of what He is.

St. Paul's insight after so many centuries still remains sure: the nations build altars to the unknown God.

Body is a material cause for locomotion qua body.

Seven names for diabolical evil in Revelation
(1) Wormwood (8:11)
(2) Abaddon (9:11)
(3) Apollyon (9:11)
(4) Dragon (12:3)
(5) Serpent (12:9)
(6) Satan (12:9 et al.)
(7) Devil (12:9 et al.)

the sacraments as supersemiotic

Testimony is both evidence and assurance; it is, in fact, evidence because it is assurance. The assurance is part of the causal structure by which testimony connects us to what it is about.

There are different kinds of testimonial assurance.

We experience Scripture as a whole as assurance in (and generally only in) the context of its proclamation and use in prayer and practice by the Church; this experiences posts the assurer as the Holy Spirit, indeed, as the only possible assurer adequate to the assurance.

the juridical (or at least quasi- or pre-juridical) character of testimony: testimony give sa right to act on the authority of the testifier

There is an aesthetic quality somewhat literary in character, to testimonial evidence that is not found in other evidence (although they may have other aesthetic qualities).

"And how great a fact is that which you Academics repugn and reject, the fact that by means of the senses and intelligence we perceive and realise things external to us." Cicero (DN II.59)

Faith is by nature externalist, or partly externalist (depending on how, precisely, one defines the term), for it involves not just representation of something as true, but the action of divine truth.

The sacrament of Matrimony functions as a sign by convergence on that of which it is a sign. Human marriages are scattered and flawed, even at their best, but as they, through divine grace, begin to reach a higher completion, they become more complete and unified as signs, and more intimately related to that which they signify.

Human covenants must have signs.

"Do not relate your actions to anything other than a goal which may serve the human community." Marcus Aurelius
"For rational animals, action in conformity with nature is at the same time in conformity with reason."
"...rational beings are made for one another. The primary constituent in the makeup of human beings is therefore the tendency to act for the common good."
"People were made for one another, so either instruct them or put up with them."

utilitarianism : Epicureanism :: Kantianism : Stoicism

"Faith, justice, honesty, and virtue must have been as early as the state of nature or they could never have been at all." Shaftesbury

Love of mankind is only not an affectation in the context of friendship.

What counts as evidence depends on the field of possible interpretations, as does the way in which it is evidence.

Every truth is a truthmaker for a string of truths consequent upon it.

'truthmaker' as a coextensive transcendental

'Overdoing is undoing.'

Intercessory mediation is the heart of the communion of saints.

Patterns of saint dedications arise from (using St. Nicholas as an example):
(1) direct biographical connection: Myra
(2) mission under his patronage: Dominicans
(3) thematic association: harbor towns

dedication of Temple (I Kg 8)
dedication of 2nd Temple (Ezr 6:16)
dedication of Maccabees
dedication of Herod's Temple (Josephus, 15.14)

Hume's essay on miracles should more properly be regarded as a critique of hagiography.

the three lines of hagiography: oral, pictorial, written

Delehaye underestimates the value of the topographical test for hagiography, in part because he neglects its value for undesigned coincidences.

To each theological virtue corresponds a discipline, distinct from but corresponding to the virtue, consisting of elicited and external acts taht ought to be performed in light of, and in expression of, that virtue, as well as ideals for which one should aim.

wholewise and partwise versions of the Five Ways

abstract objects: ontological
external world: cosmological
other minds: teleological
self: things like Maritain's Sixth Way

four versions of each of the Five Ways
I. possibilized objective
II. actualized objective
III. possibilized subjective
IV. actualized subjective.
-- e.g., Aquinas's version is II for each. Stein has IV for First Way, something more like Scotus is I for Second Way; Arguably Aquinas on law gives a IV for Fourth Way.

The UGCC requires that the sacrament of reconciliation be given in front of an icon of Christ, if possible (canon 95).

"No reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good." Pius XI

It is true that thinking of marriage as a form of juridical contract was not adequate to the sacrament; but the same is true of thinking of it as a form of self-gift. This is inevitable given that a sacrament is an inexhaustible fountain.

The uniting friendship of marital love is expressed in procreation and education of children, in mutual help, and in corrective counter to concupiscence, by its very nature. It is not something separable, as if there were a sort of dualism.

The body is both private and public, individual and common, although in different ways.

Marriage creates a bundle of shared juridical rights, which might be summarized as the shared right to be as one.

marriage as
juridical contract
procreative friendship
natural tradition

A Pause to Pick a Flower Beside the Way

A Roadway
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Let those who will stride on their barren roads
And prick themselves to haste with self-made goads,
Unheeding, as they struggle day by day,
If flowers be sweet or skies be blue or gray:
For me, the lone, cool way by purling brooks,
The solemn quiet of the woodland nooks,
A song-bird somewhere trilling sadly gay,
A pause to pick a flower beside the way.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Psychopaths and Divine Command

Erik Wielenberg has an interesting paper developing an objection against divine command theories, Divine command theory and psychopathy. As any longtime readers know, while I am not a divine command theorist, I think that most criticism of divine command theory is of extraordinarily low quality -- a lot of people doing sloppy work that shows little understanding of the family of arguments to which they are objecting. So I always want to look at whether an objection is even minimally reasonable.

There are basically three tests that an objection against divine command theories needs to pass in order to count.

(1) Adequacy: Obviously any objection against an argument that is worth taking seriously has to get the argument right, or at least reasonably close to right, and avoid arguing instead against a simplistic caricature.

(2) Restriction: Divine command theories are a form of moral positivism and, structurally speaking, one of their natural advantages is that by being so they make possible a highly unified theory of obligation. We know that some standards obligate because they are promulgated by sanctioning authorities; traffic laws, for instance. It is possible to hold some form of the view that all laws are like this (or else become laws derivatively on the basis of laws that are like this); this is positivism about laws. If you hold that all obligations are the same, this is positivism about obligation in general, or what we can call moral positivism. Divine command theory has the advantage over other moral positivisms that it posits a truly universal and ultimate sanctioning authority, and therefore is capable of giving a truly general theory of obligation that can handle very robust kinds of moral obligation. So this is a strong point for divine command theories in general; if you have an objection against divine command theories, it had better be able to handle divine command at its strong point. And the test is seeing what happens when you restrict the objection to ordinary human laws. If, so restricted, someone could deny that there are any laws on the basis of your objection, it's a bad objection to divine command theory in particular; you have a problem with obligation, not divine command. If, so restricted, there's an obvious answer to your objection for human-made obligations, then it fails as an objection against divine command theory, because either you can scale that answer up due to divine command theory's general theory of obligation, or, if your objection only survives by positing some principle of difference between the two cases, your principle of difference is both doing all the work and begging the question against divine command theory.

(3) Warburton: It need not strictly be Warburton in particular, but Warburton is the handiest, because William Warburton (1698-1779) developed a well-rounded and intensely defended version of divine command theory. I've found by long experience that people proposing objections that are supposed to apply to divine command theory in general are often outmaneuvered in advance by Warburton; he's anticipated their objection, or something like it, and his version of divine command theory is immune to it. Of course a lot of times objectors are not specifically thinking of Warburton at all; Wielenberg, for instance, is looking only at recent work on divine command theory. But passing the Warburton Test does not require that you directly engage with Warburton; it requires that your argument not be something that Warburton had obviously outthought centuries before you came up with it. If you fail the Warburton Test, it's still conceivable that your argument might work against this or that particular version, but if you claim that you have an objection against divine command theory in general and you can't handle Warburton, your claim is false. And it at least raises the question whether you really understand divine command theories well enough to be proposing general objections to them. So a minimally reasonable objection should at least be something that the basics of Warburton's account don't already rule out as at least a worry.

How does Wielenberg's objection do in passing the tests? Not bad.

Wielenberg's argument passes the Adequacy Test adequately. DCT, he says, holds that

an act is morally obligatory just in case God commands it, morally wrong just in case God forbids it, and (merely) morally permissible just in case God neither commands nor forbids it – and it is God’s commanding, forbidding, or doing neither that in some sense grounds the moral statuses of actions.

This is good -- it avoids many of the obvious failures you find, like not recognizing that DCT is a theory of obligation, not a general theory of goodness. I could quibble with the last clause; it's not uncommon for God's sanctioning, rather than commanding as such, to be what makes things obligatory, but given that sanctioning is in these cases is tied to commanding, I think the "in some sense" is a qualification that works just fine. Wielenberg goes on to add that obligations have to be communicated; he calls this a "distinctive feature" of DCT, which I don't quite understand, since it's not something that distinguishes DCT from other theories of obligation, but a principle of obligation that is extremely widely held, nor does it seem to be held by divine command theorists in any especially distinctive way. But it is widely held, it's very difficult to build a coherent theory of obligation that holds we can be obligated by standards that are in no way communicated to us at all, and even if it is possible to build a divine command theory that denied it -- I think it probably is possible -- I don't know any actual divine command theorist who definitely denies it. So far, so good. On both of the key points on which Wielenberg focuses, he avoids constructing a straw man; it's still perhaps possible to have theory that is obviously DCT that doesn't quite fit these assumptions as given, but Wielenberg seems to capture most of the field so far. But simply this is not enough; given the defining feature noted above, he needs to have a reasonably acceptable understanding of command and the conditions of its communication. He chooses the following:

(R) God commands person S to do act A only if S is capable of recognizing the requirement to do A as being extremely authoritative and as having imperative force.

It's a bit tougher to assess how general this would be for an assumption in DCT. Obviously the "extremely" is a potential issue. Wielenberg is getting this from Adams, but I'm not sure we should be taking Adams on this point as expressing something DCT in general has to hold. This ties up with worries raised by the Restriction Test: it's implausible that commands in general have to be recognizable by the commanded as "extremely" authoritative, and so, while God's commands can be assumed to be extremely authoritative, it's not clear that we can't be commanded by God even if under the circumstances we can only recognize that the requirement is authoritative in some way. At my college, which has multiple campuses, Campus Managers have the authority to impose rules on the campus; they do this generally by posting signs. I don't even know what it would mean to recognize campus rules as "extremely" authoritative. But when the sign is posted, I am capable of recognizing that it has some kind of authority, and therefore it could be said to be commanded. I have been told, in an imperative form, by some kind of relevant authority, and I am in principle capable of recognizing it. And if the campus manager doesn't need more than that to obligate me, it's not clear why God would need more.

However, as far as I can see, Wielenberg makes no real use of the 'extremely'. It's completely otiose; when he describes (R) more informally, he never uses the 'extremely', just the idea that you can recognize it as authoritative. So despite the potential worry if someone were to use Wielenberg's description as a general characterization, I think Wielenberg passes the Adequacy Test in practice.

But the Restriction Test is a tougher test. From the abstract, I was worried that Wielenberg would not even address the issues required for it, but I was happily relieved; he uses examples based on signs posted by relevant authorities, so he's at least sometimes bringing the discussion back to the kinds of things you need to consider in order to pass the Restriction Test. But really to see how well it fares, we need to look at the actual steps of the argument, which are (in my paraphrase):

(1) There are psychopaths who cannot grasp the authority and force of moral commands.
(2) Therefore there are psychopaths whom God has not commanded. (from 1 and R)
(3) Therefore, if DCT is true, they do not have moral obligations (from 2 and the defining idea of DCT)
(4) But psychopaths do have moral obligations.
(5) Therefore DCT is false.

I do not think that (1) is as straightforwardly true as Wielenberg wants it to be; to get (2), it needs to use terms in the same sense in which they are used in (R), but (R) just requires that people be able to recognize authority and imperative force, and there are no restrictions on what counts as long as it's a recognition. But Wielenberg's authorities explicitly say that psychopaths can know what the rules are, so they can recognize that something has imperative force, and their capacity to manipulate suggests that they can identify what is supposed to be authoritative. What they don't do is feel it or apply it to themselves, but neither of these is explicitly required by (R), and there's a serious danger of equivocating between 'recognizes authority and imperative force' in a sense actually required by DCT and 'recognizes authority and imperative force' in any number of stricter senses. However, right now we're look at how the argument succeeds in terms of the tests, and not at the truth of the premises. The real problem at hand is this: under the Restriction Test, bringing the argument down to the domain of human-commanded obligations, many of which we know to get their force from command (and we certainly cannot merely assume otherwise when arguing against DCT in general), (3) implies that psychopaths cannot be obligated by human-made laws and rules. To pass the Restriction Test we don't have to prove that this is true. But it has to be reasonably defensible.

We clearly can make rules that we expect psychopaths to follow. We can make it known to psychopaths that they must follow them. We can punish them when they don't. That suffices to obligate a dog. Why does that not suffice to obligate a psychopath?

Wielenberg does not in any way directly address this. But because he brings it back to the posted sign examples, he does address something in the vicinity. And I think it commits him to saying that the bare fact that they are psychopaths means that they are not obligated to follow laws or rules that are based on commands, including our own. Suppose, he says, a city government makes a bunch of laws requiring stops at intersections, but they fail to do what they should do to promulgate this properly; instead of posting the correct STOP signs, they just put up construction paper signs with STOP written on them in crayon. This is obviously a problem if they didn't tell anyone about this. But suppose they did tell everyone about this except that somehow they missed you. Then, Wielenberg says, he doesn't think that this is enough to generate an obligation for you in particular; people who were told are obligated. You are not. If this is right, Wielenberg is perhaps committed to biting the bullet: people need to be able to feel the authority and imperative force of our requirements for there to be any obligation, so it's impossible for us to command a psychopath.

This, I think, is enough for passing the Restriction Test, although I am baffled by this answer. The City of Austin almost never directly informs me of anything; and as the City Council in Austin is famous for its incompetence, I really wouldn't put it past them to do something like put up confusing or misleading signage, and, while greatly to be pitied, I'm not sure why I wouldn't still count as being obligated. Laws require promulagation; they don't generally require promulgation directly to me for me to bound by them. If it were literally impossible for me to know it, that would be one thing, but if other people can tell me that it's a law, the fact that I couldn't determine it directly myself would not be counted as an excuse. But Wielenberg's comment is enough to think that we could restrict to a lesser domain and still make sense of things.

And that leaves the Warburton Test. On Warburton's view, obligation depends on command; he thinks people who recognize obligations but not obligator are incoherent. But I think he does hold that they can be right about their obligations; this is possible because they live in a society with people who do think rightly about obligations, at least in a general way, and God has given us two things (moral feeling and the ability to recognize relations of perfection) that, while not enough to give us obligations, under normal circumstances act as guardrails to keep us from wandering too far from what God has actually obligated. So can we still formulate something like Wielenberg's argument in something like a Warburtonian context. (We don't need to prove that Wielenberg's psychopath argument works against Warburton for it to pass the test; we just need to have reason to think that (1) it or something reasonably similar can still make sense as a worry in that context and (2) Warburton has no immediate and obvious answer to it, in the sense that the structure of the theory itself automatically provides an answer.) Psychopaths are interesting in this context because they seem by definition to be defective in moral sentiment, so they are lacking one moral safety mechanism that prevents most people most of the time from doing horrible things. But Warburton doesn't think that our obligations depend on moral sentiment; it just helps keep us from deviating too far. And there's no obvious reason why psychopaths couldn't recognize relations of perfection, which is a purely rational matter. So is being in a society that has received communication from the obligator sufficient?

And Wielenberg, of course, has a response to this -- it is what he was directly addressing in the STOP sign example, in a slightly different form, but the difference doesn't really matter. And while Warburton would obviously not agree with Wielenberg's assessment, assuming Warburton's theory doesn't make it a nonsensical worry.

So Wielenberg's argument seems to pass all three tests. There are quibbles that can be made, and passing the tests just means that it's at least a minimally acceptable objection to divine command theory. But it has been a long time since I've come across an objection that was set up in such a way that, despite not being deliberately made to pass all three tests, actually had more or less everything it needed to do so. That's nicely done. I think the premises need a lot more support than Wielenberg had the chance to provide in a single paper, and I am skeptical of most of them. But it's an argument worth considering.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Jules Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires

I've managed to cover most of the Voyages Extraordinaires as fortnightly books (F) or as brief notes (N), fifty-two of the fifty-four published in his lifetime:

1. Cinq semaines en ballon (Five Weeks in a Balloon, 1863): N
2. Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras (The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, 1866): F
3. Voyage au centre de la Terre (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864, revised 1867): F
4. De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the Moon, 1865): F
5. Les Enfants du capitaine Grant (In Search of the Castaways, 1867–8): N
6. Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, 1869–70): F
7. Autour de la lune (Around The Moon, 1870): F
8. Une ville flottante (A Floating City, 1871): N
9. Aventures de trois Russes et de trois Anglais (The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in South Africa, 1872): N
10. Le Pays des fourrures (The Fur Country, 1873): N
11. Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days, 1873): F
12. L'Île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island, 1874–5): F
13. Le Chancellor (The Survivors of the Chancellor, 1875): N
14. Michel Strogoff (Michael Strogoff, 1876): N
15. Hector Servadac (Off on a Comet, 1877): N
16. Les Indes noires (The Child of the Cavern, 1877): N
17. Un capitaine de quinze ans (Dick Sand, A Captain at Fifteen, 1878): N
18. Les Cinq Cents Millions de la Bégum (The Begum's Millions, 1879): F
19. Les Tribulations d'un chinois en Chine (Tribulations of a Chinaman in China, 1879): N
20. La Maison à vapeur (The Steam House, 1880): F
21. La Jangada (Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon, 1881): N
22. L'École des Robinsons (Godfrey Morgan, 1882): N
23. Le Rayon vert (The Green Ray, 1882): N
24. Kéraban-le-têtu (Kéraban the Inflexible, 1883): F
25. L'Étoile du sud (The Vanished Diamond, 1884): N
26. L'Archipel en feu (The Archipelago on Fire, 1884): N
27. Mathias Sandorf (Mathias Sandorf, 1885): N
28. Un billet de loterie (The Lottery Ticket, 1886): N
29. Robur-le-Conquérant (Robur the Conqueror, 1886): F
30. Nord contre Sud (North Against South, 1887): N
31. Le Chemin de France (The Flight to France, 1887): N
32. Deux Ans de vacances (Two Years' Vacation, 1888): N
33. Famille-sans-nom (Family Without a Name, 1889): F
34. Sans dessus dessous (The Purchase of the North Pole, 1889): N
35. César Cascabel (César Cascabel, 1890): N
36. Mistress Branican (Mistress Branican, 1891): N
37. Le Château des Carpathes (Carpathian Castle, 1892): F
38. Claudius Bombarnac (Claudius Bombarnac, 1892): N
39. P’tit-Bonhomme (Foundling Mick, 1893): N
40. Mirifiques Aventures de Maître Antifer (Captain Antifer, 1894): N
41. L'Île à hélice (Propeller Island, 1895): F
42. Face au drapeau (Facing the Flag, 1896): N
43. Clovis Dardentor (Clovis Dardentor, 1896): N
44. Le Sphinx des glaces (An Antarctic Mystery, 1897): N
45. Le Superbe Orénoque (The Mighty Orinoco, 1898): F
46. Le Testament d'un excentrique (The Will of an Eccentric, 1899): N
47. Seconde Patrie (The Castaways of the Flag, 1900): N
48. Le Village aérien (The Village in the Treetops, 1901): N
49. Les Histoires de Jean-Marie Cabidoulin (The Sea Serpent, 1901)
50. Les Frères Kip (The Kip Brothers, 1902): F
51. Bourses de voyage (Traveling Scholarships, 1903): F
52. Un drame en Livonie (A Drama in Livonia, 1904)
53. Maître du monde (Master of the World, 1904): F
54. L'Invasion de la mer (Invasion of the Sea, 1905): F

Outside the Main Series
Paris in the Twentieth Century & The Lighthouse at the End of the World

As I've noted before, most of the works in the series are stand-alone, but some of the works are explicitly set up as sequels. By 'explicitly' I mean that there is direct reference in the course of a story to another story as giving events leading up to that story. There are a number of other works that could possibly take place in 'the same universe', as we say; for instance, there are three works that explicitly mention the same real-world ship, the Pereire of the French Transatlantic Company, as playing some kind of important minor role: Vingt mille lieues sous les mers, Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, Le Superbe Orénoque. Perhaps you could take that as a reason to group them together. And there is one case (Claudius Bombarnac) that both refers to something written by Verne as a literary work and alludes to a number of other works by Verne without actually treating those works as prequels (usually just by presenting characters that are similar to those in other works). But in some cases, there is an explicit connection to another of the Voyages, and, in two cases, to works by other authors that were a major influence on Verne's own themes. I do not claim to have done any exhaustive search, but these are the cases that I found in the course of this project:

Voyage is explicitly a sequel to
7. Autour de la lune 4. De la terre à la lune
10. Le Pays des fourrures 2. Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras
12. L'Île mystérieuse 5. Les Enfants du capitaine Grant,
6. Vingt mille lieues sous les mers
15. Hector Servadac 7. Autour de la lune
29. Robur-le-Conquérant 18. Les Cinq Cents Millions de la Bégum
34. Sans dessus dessous 4. De la terre à la lune,
7. Autour de la lune,
15. Hector Servadac,
22. L'École des Robinsons
44. Le Sphinx des glaces Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
47. Seconde Patrie Johann David Wyss's The Swiss Family Robinson
49. Les Histoires de Jean-Marie Cabidoulin 2. Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras
53. Maître du monde 29. Robur-le-Conquérant

While the most famous ones are quite deserving of their fame, some of the lesser known works are nice in their own right -- probably not what most readers expect from a Verne book, although fun if given a chance to be their own story rather than having to meet prior expectations. I'd mentioned that Un billet de lotterie was already one of my favorites. Other lesser-known works that I found fun were Les Tribulations d'un chinois en Chine, Les Indes noires, and Le Rayon vert. But all of the works were at least interesting in one way or another. The ones that I've added since last year continued to be interesting, although not generally spectacular; but I was charmed as an American by Le Testament d'un excentrique, his most American work.

The two books left, Les Histoires de Jean-Marie Cabidoulin and Un drame en Livonie, are tough to find, whether in readable English translation or in French. At the end of last year, though, I had twelve to go, and said I would try to finish them over the next two years; so I still have fifteen months to hunt down and finish #49 and #52.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Voyages Extraordinaires #47: Seconde Patrie

The dry season came in the second week of October. That month is the first of Spring in the Southern zone.

The winter was not very rigorous in this nineteenth degree latitude between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. The guests of New Switzerland would soon be able to resume their usual labors.

After eleven years spent upon this land it was none too soon to try to ascertain whether it was a part of one of the continents laved by the Indian Ocean or whether the geographers must include it among the islands of those seas.

Seconde Patrie, sometimes known in English as The Castaways of the Flag and sometimes split into two books, Their Island Home and The Castaways of the Flag, is Verne's sequel to The Swiss Family Robinson. The stranded family having been discovered by the British at the end of Wyss's original book, Verne completes the exploration of the island, follows the adventures of the children (now young adults) who had left for Europe, and adds an invasion of the island. He even names the nameless father of the original: Jean Zermatt.

The book is oddly structured, and I suppose the reason for that is that Verne wished to introduce various robinsonade tropes that do not play a significant role in the original. Robinsonades admit of considerable variation in how generous they are with their stranded people, both in terms of what they are allowed to bring in from the outside and what is provided by their island. Robinson Crusoe is middle of the road; Verne's The Mysterious Island and Andy Weir's The Martian are fairly restricted, in very different ways; but The Swiss Family Robinson is immensely generous. The family is stranded with a ship fully stocked for supplying a new colony, and the island itself, despite some challenges, has a superabundance that is almost surreal. It's part of the charm of the work, in fact, letting it do imagination-capturing things that a stricter robinsonade could not possibly manage. Through his extension, Verne can reflect on what they might have done if they had experienced harsher conditions, or met dangers that they feared but never had to face. It also perhaps helps Verne navigate the style difference, as was the case with his Poe sequel, Le Sphinx des glaces; both Wyss and Poe allow themselves considerably more of the genuinely fantastic than Verne usually does (Verne tries to stick with what is technically possible except when he's doing satire), so he has to arrange things so that he can tie up their loose ends in his own preferred way.

Of all that Verne introduces, the exploration of the island is a nice sequel, and the stranding of the children (now young adults) done reasonably well, but the entire arc of the savage invasion is badly, badly handled, and having checked some aspects of the translation against the French, it's clear that much of the fault lies with Verne. It's done in a very simplistic and unexciting way, with most of the interest lying in nothing more than the reunion of those who left and those who stayed. As sequels go, a mixed bag, and despite the fact that it is designed so that it can be read on its own, its interest really depends on enthusiasm for the original work.

Music on My Mind

Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra, "Wayfaring Stranger".

Monday, September 23, 2019

Evening Note for Monday, September 23

Thought for the Evening: Providential Men

In discussing the steps of his conversion from Transcendentalism to Catholicism, Orestes Brownson highlights a number of notable arguments, but one that seems to have had a particularly significant (although not immediate) influence came from reflecting on the concept of providential men, which he derived from Pierre Leroux. Leroux had been a socialist, a Saint-Simonian, very active in the movement, although his tendency toward high-flown rhetoric and reconceptualization of political and economic principles in metaphysical terms seems to have baffled many of his fellow Saint-Simonians. A significant aspect of Leroux’s work was the attempt to rethink a large-scale view of the world in a way that could seriously replace that of Catholics, but his doing this had the byproduct of teaching Brownson a great many more Catholic ideas than he had ever learned before picking up Leroux. In the version of the idea of ‘providential men’ that Brownson derived from Leroux, human beings are perfectible not as individuals but only with other human beings. Human understanding is always understanding of something other than itself, including other human beings, so human progress is always really the united progress of the whole human community. An important part of this solidary progress is that, from time to time, there arise outstanding individuals who stand out from the rest through their talents, and who by their talents have an unusual ability to organize and articulate what others have done, and inspire others to do better than they have done before. These are the providential men. An example is that of a talented artist (from "Church of the Future" [1842]):

Every genuine artist is a being in whom love predominates; love carries him up to the very principle of things, and makes all things beautiful and lovely to his rapt soul; and speaking from the deep love up-welling from the bottom of his own heart, he can quicken love in the race and inspire humanity to a more zealous and acceptable worship.

Saint-Simon himself was characterized as being this sort of person (cf. "Leroux on Humanity" [1842]). Progress thus is achieved cooperatively but is driven by inspirers and founders and innovators, people who serve to catch some greater truth, some greater goodness, some greater beauty than has previously been achieved, and so make it possible for others to achieve the same. Nor is it simply a matter of talent; in them love of some truth or goodness or beauty reaches a new peak of intensity, and this love spreads light on those who can recognize it.

I’ve noticed in looking at discussions by historians on this point that historians often conflate ‘providential men’ with the ‘Great Men’ approach to history. But they are, in the form we find in Leroux and Brownson, completely opposed. Precisely their point is that history does not progress by ‘Great Men’ but by the inspired mass of humanity; providential men are the points at which this inspiration, general among the human race, happens to reach a more intensive pitch than it usually does, and they achieve their result because this inspiration spreads out from them in a sort of uplifting contagion. Such messengers were many and varied, but were so integral to the unified progress of the human race that one could hardly think of the latter without also thinking of them: he gives as examples in various places Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jesus, John, Paul, Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Pindar, Virgil, Zoroaster, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Confucius, Augustine, Bernard, Descartes, Bacon, Locke, Leibniz, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Schiller, Saint-Simon, Alexander, Caesar, Alfred, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Washington, and George Fox.

It is precisely that led Brownson to go beyond what he came to see as the limitations of New England Transcendentalism. The Transcendentalists, he reflected, were right in their view that everyone has some sort of access to divine inspiration, and their critics wrong whenever they rejected this; but in fact the critics of the Transcendentalists, worried about the individualist and leveling tendency of Transcendentalism, often stumbled on an even more important truth: "the special inspiration of individual messengers, as the providential agents of the progress of the race" ("Reform and Conservatism" [1842]). Nor were the Transcendentalists the only ones to err in this way; the besetting sin of modern philosophy, due in part to the influence of Bacon and Descartes, was in its pretense that single individuals could, by themselves, have access to all that was necessary for understanding the highest things or developing a complete view of the world (cf. "The Philosophy of History" [1843]). In reality, human progress is cooperative, involving a division of labor, and it depends crucially on the fact that in that division of labor we occasionally find people who in their own distinctive way or along a particular line suddenly shine more brightly in whatever contribution to the whole they might be making and thereby give the rest of us a little extra light to see. "The mass is not carried forward without individuals, who rise above the general average" ("Oration on the Scholar’s Mission" [1843]).

Further, we all recognize this, at least from time to time. It is a nearly universal view that there are specially inspiring individuals, heroes, sages, saints, prophets, founders of civilizations, to whom we are indebted. We are inspired by them and we celebrate them; at times we may even struggle with their legacy, but in such a way that we are greater, and not less, for having done so. The consensus gentium recognizes the existence of providential men, of some kind, as integral to human progress. And even if you were skeptical, the notion seems to indicate something that is possible. All it requires is that there be people who are anomalously great, who can from this anomalous greatness inspire others to greater things than they could have achieved by themselves.

Brownson doesn’t think you can get a direct inference from providential men to a divine Providence that raises them up, or, at least not a certain one. But he did come to think that the possibility and (according to common consent) actuality of providential men made very improbable two particular approaches to human progress, and made another very probable. Human progress as it had generally been characterized, Brownson thought, had often been accounted for through a theory of natural and orderly developments (sometimes as a necessary and natural unfolding of divine providence), but the existence of providential men means that it really happens by swift and often unpredictable little splashes-and-ripples that individually may or may not look like much but cumulatively constitute what we think of as progress. On the other hand, the view of progress that had usually been opposed to the natural development view was of God as an external agent engaging in various external interventions. In contrast, the theory of providential men suggested something like a divine providence that worked as an internal agent rather than an external one, and that was both an integral part of the progress but nonetheless free rather than as deterministic. The theory of providential men thus served for Brownson not as a direct route to a more orthodox Christianity but as an impediment-removal: it did not run into the problems that Brownson had often associated with Christian views of providence as making the divine contribution either deterministic or arbitrary, and thus removed what had to that point been the major obstacles to his acceptance of it, especially as Brownson reflected more on the particular significance of Jesus as a providential man.

We find some anticipation of this line of thought in certain Stoic thinkers; it's not very far from how Stoics thought of Socrates and the like. A good example of this is from Cicero's De natura deorum; in Book II, he has the character Balbus, a Stoic, lay out an argument for the claim that the gods exercise providential care that appeals to something like the concept of providential men. Wisdom, Balbus says (2:79), passes from the gods to men; we recognize wisdom, virtue, and the like as divine, which is why their Roman ancestors built temples to Virtue and the like, but then it makes sense to say that we get these things from the gods, and this is part of the providence of the gods by which they rule the universe. Later in his discourse, he argues that this does not merely mean that the gods look out for human beings in general; you can narrow it down all the way to individuals, as we see in the great founders of cities and heroes of Greece and Rome. "We must surely believe that none of them became such heroes without divine aid....Our conclusion is that no great man ever existed without a measure of divine inspiration." (p. 107)

Here we have a number of features closely connecting to the idea of providential men; what is not clearly here is the solidary notion of progress that we find in Leroux and Brownson. But such a notion of progress would be at least consistent with standard Stoic views.

In Book III, Cicero has Cotta, the Academic skeptic, argue against Balbus's arguments, and this includes the parts with which we are concerned. Cotta essentially runs an argument from evil against the notion that these great exemplars of wisdom, virtue, and the like should be seen as evidence for providence. In particular, he has to employ it against two of the assumptions on which Balbus's argument depends:

(1) That reason itself. as a general matter, is good;
(2) That our raising temples to Wisdom, Virtue, and the like means that we regard them as divine.

Reason itself can't be good because if it were good, no evil would follow from it; but we see in cases like Medea that people use reason to do evil things. And by the same token, from this it follows that if the gods were providentially caring for the world, they would not have given us reason, so that we would not do wicked things with it. Only right reason is good, and if we assume it comes from the gods, the gods have only bestowed it on a few people, not on everyone, as providential gods would have. His argument against (2) is a bit more perplexing, since he argues that nobody regards wisdom, virtue, or the like as divine or from the gods, because we regard these as entirely ours, which is why we expect to be praised for them. Nobody ever thanks the gods for the fact that they are a good person. OK, but what about the temples? Cotta says we make the temples, but are making them to things we see in ourselves. I'm not sure what his answer would be to the question of why our ancestors would deliberately make religious shrines to nondivine features of themselves.

Cotta's argument is interesting, though, because I think it does identify assumptions behind a 'providential men' theory of human progress, as well as its Stoic cousin. That theory also requires that we recognize reason itself (taking 'reason' in a broad sense as the faculties of a rational being as such) as good. What Balbus's response to the argument that the gods only bestow right reason to benefit a few would be is unknown, although it would make sense, again on general Stoic principles, to deny that this is in fact true, but Brownson would certainly deny this. The solidary nature of human progress means that we all benefit from the wisdom, virtue, etc. of others. Brownson doesn't strictly require (2) in the form Balbus is using, although he would certainly also reject the spirit of Cotta's argument against it, and he does argue that these thinks make the most sense when seen as gifts of God, both in general (The Convert, or Leaves from My Experience [1857], Chapter XV):

Now, as I held that the divine, though distinguishable in reality from the human, could flow into us only through the human, I saw that, by a providential elevation of individuals by the Creator to an extraordinary or supernatural communion with himself, they would live a divine life, and we by communion with them would also be elevated, and live a higher and more advanced life. Thus the elevation and progress of the race would be provided for in accordance with the law of life, by the aid of these individuals providentially elevated, and called by Leroux, "Providential Men."

And also as part of their practical influence on human progress ("Reform and Conservatism"):

It is because there is a God, a great and good God, who never deserts his child, humanity, but is always near and able to succor, that we look forward to a higher moral and social state; and have the courage and the strength, though single-handed and alone, to demand progress, and to labor for it.

And, of course, whatever may have been the practice among the Romans, people since have very often identified God as the source of wisdom and virtue.


Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, Walsh, tr., Oxford UP (New York: 2008).

Various Links of Interest

* I'm pretty sure I've linked to this before, but ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World is very interesting: if you want to know roughly how long it would take to get from one part of the Roman Empire to another, it's the go-to source.

* Thony Christie on the role of celestial influence in the complex structure of medieval knowledge.

* Harvey, Smithson, et al., A thirteenth-century theory of speech, looks at the theory of Robert Grosseteste

* Chad Orzel discusses the Many Worlds Interpretation.

* Quote Investigator on the saying, "Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence"

* James Chastek on the Euthyphro Dilemma

* Ed Feser, Three Questions for Catholic Opponents of Capital Punishment

* Martin Wolf, Why rigged capitalism is damaging liberal democracy

* Brooke Jarvis, Who Speaks for Crazy Horse?, discusses the Crazy Horse Monument. I went to part of high school in nearby Custer, South Dakota. It's a truly impressive thing, although it's always been controversial for any number of reasons. It is not a national monument of any sort -- Ziolkowski was adamant against being beholden to the government about it -- nor is it affiliated with or sponsored by any Indian tribe. It's a private monument on private land, just remarkable for the ambition and the skill that has gone into it.

* TrueSciPhi Radio streams nonstop philosophy podcasts.

Currently Reading

Bram Stoker, The Jewel of Seven Stars
Frank Turner, John Henry Newman
Jules Verne, The Castaways of the Flag
Gertrud Lenzer, ed. Auguste Comte and Positivism: Essential Writings

At Once the Wheel Was Still

The Saw
by Justinus Kerner
tr. by William Cullen Bryant

In yonder mill I rested,
And sat me down to look
Upon the wheel's quick glimmer.
And on the flowing brook.

As in a dream, before me,
The saw, with restless play,
Was cleaving through a fir-tree
Its long and steady way.

The tree through all its fibres
With living motion stirred,
And, in a dirge-like murmur,
These solemn words I heard—

Oh, thou, who wanderest hither,
A timely guest thou art!
For thee this cruel engine
Is passing through my heart.

When soon, in earth's still bosom,
Thy hours of rest begin,
This wood shall form the chamber
Whose walls shall close thee in.

Four planks—I saw and shuddered—
Dropped in that busy mill;
Then, as I tried to answer,
At once the wheel was still.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Fortnightly Book, September 22

While Bram Stoker is most famous for Dracula, he wrote a number of other works in the horror genre, of which the next fortnightly book, The Jewel of Seven Stars, is one. An archeologist has become obsessed with the idea of returning an Egyptian mummy, Queen Tera, to life, and things become very dangerous when it turns out that the mummy-queen is herself manipulating events. The book did not have a very friendly critical reception in its own day, but Stoker was himself an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, and the book is usually thought to be one of the better mummy-monster novels at evoking a truly Egyptian atmosphere.

There are two different versions of the book. The original, published in 1903, has a dark ending; the revised version, published in 1912, takes out a chapter ("Powers Old & New") and modifies the ending to be somewhat happier. It's unclear why Stoker made the changes. The version I have is very definitely the 1912 version, but the original is available online, so I will perhaps have to read it as well.