Saturday, October 26, 2019

Rough Jottings on Conscientious Objection

I decided this summer to put a lesson on conscientious objection in my Ethics courses this term, and, having refreshed my acquaintance with a lot of the literature, I am increasingly wishing I hadn't. The whole field is just a completely embarrassing mess, and despite lots of jabbering, very little serious work has been done that's not patchwork and question-begging. Fortunately, it's not like discussion of conflict of interest (which I've noted before is a relatively recent term that, despite its importance, has no adequate philosophical account)-- it's been around long enough that it has accumulated bits and pieces of serious thought, and advocates of this or that form of conscientious objection have often had to be fairly precise and reasoned about their approach -- but looking at the areas in which conscientious objection has come up as a particularly significant issue (military service, vaccination, taxation, abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, gender transition, emergency contraception, etc.), it's quite clear that a lot of the work being done by philosophers consists in making things up to get the answers they want, because the work certainly doesn't suffice for a general account.

Nonetheless, we can say a few general things. Conscientious objection, generally considered, is when a person operating in a matter for which they are responsible refuses to cooperate or comply with an action that they judge to be inconsistent with the ends of that responsibility; in addition, we are not usually considering just any kind of action but one that in some sense is normative (usually due to some law, institutional policy, or proposed professional standard) which gives us the 'objection' part. It is not a necessarily a unique kind of action; an action that is conscientious objection in one situation might not be in another, because in fact it is ordinary conscientious action in a situation that has created a moral dilemma. (This is, unfortunately, often overlooked in discussions of conscientious objection in the literature.) There are several questions this raises -- for instance, how this works out given different kinds of responsibility, or different kinds of normativity (professional standards, for instance, are abstractions from conscientious action of professionals that are then articulated and endorsed by specific professional organizations for a wide range of reasons, and do not at all operate in the way that law does), or interaction with other rights of various kinds. Likewise, the standard ways of accommodating conscientious objectors -- special exemptions or alternative services -- can come in a wide variety of forms.

To object conscientiously doesn't need justification. (This is also often forgotten in discussions.) If you are engaging in conscientious objection, you are refusing to comply or cooperate with something on the grounds that your best judgment indicates that it is a morally bad thing to do. There is no need for any further justification for resisting compliance beyond this. Likewise, you don't need to have reasons to 'permit' or 'allow' somebody to avoid doing something bad, so when people talk about conscientious objection being 'permitted' or 'allowed', they are tendentiously talking about something else entirely, namely, what should be done in the way of coercion and sanction by people who think this best judgment is false in matters that are deemed for some reason to be of major importance to the broader population. (It's not particularly controversial that, at least as a moral matter, people should usually not be forced to do things they consider inconsistent with their moral responsibilities in matters of little or no importance to the broader population.) People in general agree that there have to be some limits, but disagree about exactly what they are, because it matters a great deal how one understands conscientous objection itself, and, as I said, there is no generally accepted account. There are four kinds of arguments that typically come up in the context of trying to pin down limits to what can count as conscientious objection; as far as I can tell, none of them have really been examined and discussed as they should be.

(1) Primacy of Conscience. Usually when you get people who are trying to explain conscientious objection, appeal to conscience comes up. On certain views, conscience is either the primary moral faculty or intimately connected to it; because of it there are things you cannot "in good conscience" do, so there is at least some presumptive moral obligation to act according to your conscience. It's disturbingly common for people, especially bioethicists, to note that there are different accounts of conscience and then move on, as if you could then just ignore the subject of conscience itself. But of course, the point of talking about the primacy or authority of conscience is to talk in a more specific way about the primacy or importance of people. When you force people to do things that they are claiming are against their conscience, this is a paradigmatic instance of attacking a person. It is the sort of thing that in other contexts is associated with police states, oppressive regimes, and certain forms of psychological torture. So if conscience is the foundation for thinking about conscientious objection, it is not a minor issue what conscience is, because it will be intimately connected with what it means to be unjust to, and oppressive toward, a person. Sometimes people will also try to use a particular account of conscience to try to gerrymander a way in which one kind of conscientious objection (say, to participating in military operations in a war) will count but another kind (say, to vaccinating one's children according to a vaccination schedule that is not trusted) won't; but this generally seems not to yield anything useful.

(2) Necessity of Conscientiousness. In actual fact, however, I suspect the more common practical foundation for conscientious objection is not the primary concept of conscience but the secondary concept of conscientiousness, which is surprisingly little discussed. This is not a minor failure, either, because if we look at the kinds of situation in which conscientious objection can become important -- citizenship, civil service, professions, and the like -- they are all cases in which it is generally important to be conscientious. Opponents of a particular conscientious objection in a professional field, for instance, often draw on the primacy-of-conscience approach in a way that lets them treat the matter as an opposition between 'personal' standards and 'professional' standards. But this is quite clearly illegitimate if we focus on conscientiousness; having professional standards (for instance) presupposes conscientiousness, so the possibility that a proposed professional standard is creating a common occasion for conscientious objection is in itself a reason for thinking it is a badly formulated professional standard. Of course, someone could have an idiosyncratic and dubious sense of what conscientious practice is, but the divide between personal standards and professional standards is an artificial one when we are talking about conscientiousness.

(3) Presumption of Liberty. Because we can all recognize that we are all better off not being constantly forced to do things we think are bad, it seems reasonable to say that we shouldn't introduce coercion and sanction into a matter unless we have to do so; but, of course, the question of note is what makes for a situation in which we 'have to do so'.

(4) Additional Value of Accommodation. Accommodation of conscientious objection can have benefits in and of itself. For instance, it can serve as a wall against any tendency toward totalitarianism. These kinds of benefits often get mentioned, but are often not developed at great length.

A great many questions are just never answered properly. In teaching, there's not generally a problem with cleaning up a field that's become a bit messy, but when it's in such a complete disarray as philosophical discussion of conscientious objection, it's hard to know where to begin.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Dashed Off XXII

If reason has a reason to think grace actual or even possible, it must, to be rational, incorporate this into its thought and action.

Kant's argument that effects of grace are not theoretically cognizable depends on his false view of causation. (His argument against practical employment is much better, but assumes that grace's being another's action means that our contribution is nothing.)

As the service of the heart expresses itself in external service, the true service of God must be both internal and external.

rites as schemata for duties (Kant)

Marion's argument for saturated phenomena would, if sound, refute Kant's account of faith in mysteries as delusory faith. This raises the question of whether ether are analogues of Marion's argument for faith in miracles (cognition of the anomalous) or faith in means of grace (effect beyond our capacity), just as with faith in mysteries (aspect of moral life beyond concept).
-- Aquinas's instrumental account of sacraments gives an answer to the effect-beyond-capacity problem, and we also find the category of inspiration as being like that of revelation for Marion (This would include poetic inspiration, etc.).
-- The miracles point is complicated by Kant's defective account of miracle.

"The experience of many centuries also teaches that this divine law book has become, for a large part of the human race, a source of insight from which it draws new ideas, or according to which it corrects old ones. The more you search in it, the more you will be astounded at the depths of insight which lie concealed in it." Mendelssohn

The turning of water into wine involves the potential of water to become wine, i.e., there being a causal course of possibility from water to wine. This connects to MacDonald and Lewis on miracles. Such miracles thus affirm a background nomology: the lawlikeness of the world is a potentiality for miracle.

Each sacrament is sign, instrument, and remedy.

notion of tribunal : penance :: notion of sacrifice : eucharist :: notion of domestic church : matrimony

moral luck // technical luck

the hortatory functions of human proper names (we find it also with dwellings and towns and nations)

Schleiermacher's principle: That in which two diverse but opposed concepts are one is the higher concept to which the other two are subordinated.

perseverance in the race (Hb 12:1; Phil 2:16; Gal 2:2, 5:7; 2 Tim 4:7)
boxing, etc. (1 Cor 9:24-26; 2 Tim 2:5)
soldiery (Phil 2:@5; Philem 1:2; 2 Tim 2:3-4; 1 Cor 9:7; Eph 6:10-18)

Human beings deliberately use randomizing (coin flip, dice roll, etc.) for decision-forcing, so it's problematic simply to assume (as most do) that there can be no such thing built into human action. Certainly it would make sense to have a natural decision-forcing, and the only question would be whether it is deterministic or not.

the congealing of trial & error into method

Medical causality is very naturally seen as dispositive or sine qua non.

Analogical inferences can hold to different degrees of approximation.

skepticism as philosophical throttle (cp. Augustine)

Lovers hope for gifts, and give gifts in order to get gifts.

Schleiermacher does not adequately distinguish the immanent common good of the cosmos from the transcendent originary common good that is the Creator.

The aptitude of a field to inspire religious or 'spiritual' feelings is linked to the ways it suggests infinity.

"What actually appeals to the religious sense in the external world is not its masses but its laws." Schleiermacher

virginity and the enduring or eternal as associated across many cultures

Is there knowledge in the sense of something stronger than belief?
Yes: Platonism, Aristotelianism, Cartesianism, etc.
No: Is 'knowledge' (1) a strict description or (2) a loose or indirect one? If (2), then 'knowledge' is a shorthand for belief + lots of other things (e.g., practical commitments, feelings, etc.).
If (1), then either (1a) it is just true belief (= alethic reduction = TB) or (1b) it is not.
If (1b), then either it is true belief with evidence (standard JTB) or it is not (JTB with Warrant).

New Natural Law does not make an adequate distinction between highly reasonable and required.

vestments of human dignity: honor and reputation, labor, leisure and free time

"It's the half-educated, as usual, who's the enemy. He always is. The Wise Men and the shepherds both knelt in Bethlehem." Robert Hugh Benson

undesigned coincidences as nonartificial confirmations

"Instead of saying, 'the intention is in me,' I could more aptly say, 'I am in the intention.' Being directed to something in this way or that way is indeed my spiritual living; and 'this way or that' are features that I can discern in my various 'acts'." Edith Stein

authority as deontic power/ability
backward authorization
preemptive authorization
prescriptive vs permissive authorization
overdetermination of authorization

Are there causal powers?
Either Yes (causal powers theories) or No.
If No, either (1) causal descriptions involve necessities or (2) they do not (= regularity theories).
If (1), either (1a) they do so directly (=counterfactual/conditional theories) or (1b) they do so indirectly (=manipulability theories)

elements of tradition: lore, customary practices, documenta, signs under which the tradition operates, ground of reception, means of giving

See draws near to see in a kind of gravitational attraction.

exemplar causes as end-providing

the ethnic, diasporic, and global aspects of the particularity of the sui juris churches

classical culture as part of the ethnic and diasporic aspect of the Latin Church

brown qua nonspectral color as a test case for theories of color

the danger of a police force becoming a subsidized security system for the well-to-do

"Each organism appears as a self-enclosed whole which is formed over time from its own interior in a process we call 'life', or which opens its interior to outward visibility." Edith Stein
"The self-constructing organism constantly reaches beyond itself, absorbs materials, and 'organizes' them."

consciousness of the body
(1) thisness
(2) being
(3) mineness
(4) physicality

Christ is index (being from the Father), icon (Being consubstantial with the Father as His Image), and symbol (being designated as Son of God and exalted by the Father) of God.

It is quite clear that truths of judgment, whether about the past or the future, are usually indeterminate or unknowable, regardless of the truth of things, and thus that bivalence is not a principle governing how judgments and their 'truth values' work in actual reasoning, except where there is some additional reason to take it be applicable.

A theory of truth values is not a theory of truth but a theory of what can be marked as true or true-like.

piacular responsibility as related to responsibility for common good

Hb 10:11-14: The session of Christ as marking the perfection of Christ's priesthood.

"We do the thing before we understand why we do it: speech precedes grammar, reason precedes logic, and so a division of animals into groups, upon an instinctive perception of their differences, has preceded all our scientific creeds and doctrines." Agassiz

Operations are what we use to identify wholes.

The Church Triumphant is united to God by His indwelling it, for it is His most perfect Temple; and by unity of intention, for it is purified; and by operation, for it is moved by grace; and by sharing in His honor, for it is the Bride of the Lamb.

Christ as having divine jural freedom and both divine and human right of ownership

Quanto bonum est communius, tanto est divinius. (Aquinas In Sent

"Our hierarchy is distinguished from the angelic by the fact that ours is perfected by the divine light as veiled through sensible likenesses both in the sacraments and in the metaphors of Scripture." Aquinas (In Sent

priesthood of reception: Baptism
priesthood of proclamation: Confirmation
priesthood of consecration: Orders

purgation, illumination, and union in marriage

In the Incarnation, the Word Himself is given as grace, grace qua person to human nature and thereby to humankind.

The Word Incarnate communicates personal dignity to the Church itself insofar as the Church is united to Him.

the spread of symbolism from Christian teaching as part of the Holy Spirit's work through the Church

Every healthy state is filled with symbols recognizing a higher, moral order to which it is beholden.

The Church is like all human associations by virtue of human nature, but has the dignity of consciousness of God, like many mirrors together reflecting one scene or a painting of one thing across many canvases or the cumulative character of a hologram.

instruments by which other things are used as instruments (this is quite common -- quills are that by which ink is used to write, knobs are that by which doors are used; steering wheels, keys, shoelaces, handles, levers, buttons, switches, etc. etc.)

Originality is a byproduct of classification.

The body's usefulness depends on its limited resistance to change, its inertia and friction.

the face as that which intends us

the chora of sensory experience

Sensory perception is organized; it requires something that organizes. There is in the chaos of sensation something apt to be organized.

We experience our animality as a drive to be animal, to be animally.

the hedonic vs the ascetic experience of body
-- note that these overlap: the exhilaration of exercise is one of the common examples
-- athletic-ascetic vs moral-ascetic
-- tranquil-hedonic vs ecstatic-hedonic
-- these categories can cover widely different things -- .e.g, being tickled and orgasm are both ecstatic-hedonic, as are kissing and sinking into a hot bath after a long hard day and urinating after holding it in for a long time.
-- hedonic rest and hedonic release
-- ascetic restraint and ascetic work

how to do things with bodies

the common experience of sexuality as being-for-another

"Whoever follows Christ the perfect man becomes himself more a man." Gaudium et spes

natural law in Gaudium et spes: 74,79,89

A nation governed by vanity is a slave to the person who can offer a never-ending stream of purely symbolic equalities.

the Holy Virgin in assumption // the ark over the Jordan (Damascene)

The Word within a woman's womb
was given flesh from woman's flesh;
so hardly then shall gaping tomb
conquer one within whose mesh
the Word itself was human made;
she is assumed, the sleeping maid.

Life of ChristLife of Mary
AnnunciationImmaculate Conception

1 Cor 9:9-10 -- oxen do not read what is written; what is written cannot be for their sake, and thus God does not have it written for them

Human conversion must be conversion with the senses as well as with the mind.

Not all human beings see, and not all hear, so the pinnacle of the sacraments does not lie chiefly in what is seen or heard; but all living human beings eat and drink in some way, so the chief sacrament is eaten and drunk, that all may participate in it. But it also may be seen, in ocular communion, and may be heard ("This is my body"), for those who cannot eat and drink it for incidental reasons.

Schopenhauer: "With the exception of man, no being wonders at its existence. ...With this reflection and this wonder there arises for man alone the need for a metaphysics."

We try to understand animals by
(1) observation of patterns
(2) projection of ourselves onto them
(3) privation of what is distinctively human

"To live the eucharist means imperceptibly to leave the narrowness of one's own life to be born to the immensity of the love of Christ." Edith Stein

what is, what is thought about, what is talked about
causal analysis, phenomenological analysis, linguistic analysis

"When motion is removed from action and passion, only relation remains." Aquinas (ST 1.45.3)

a contractualist account of etiquette

Standard logic without plural quantification really needs classifiers for nondistributive predicates. 'They are shipmates' -> 'They are (members of a group of) shipmates'.

communion of anticipation, communion of salutation, and communion of participation in the Mass

We do not merely have cognitive objects; we are bound to them, linked with them.

Since a palindrome is something that can be read the same both forward and backward, nothing is a palindrome except under an interpretation relevant to reading that establishes, among other things, how it is to be read. But it can still be objectively assessed whether something is a palindrome under this or that interpretation.

The life of Jesus is a life in contemplation of God, but not merely such.

vestment as the most closely joined separate instrument (more closely united and you get a conjoined instrument)

The experience of pain is a good; that which pains is recognized (in the experience) as relatively bad in some way.

(1) All Christ's acts of human intellect and will are such that His acts of divine intellect and will are present with them. (compresence)
(2) All human acts of Christ are instrumental to His own divine acts. (instrumentality)
(3) Some human acts of Christ are occasions for special divine acts. (intercession)
(4) Some human acts of Christ are symbolic representations of divine acts. (symbolism)

Thursday, October 24, 2019

With Lidless Eyes Like Moons of Adamant

The Chimera
by Clark Ashton Smith

O, who will slay the last chimera, Time?
Though Love and Death have many a cunning dart—
In spite of these, and close-wrought webs of Art,
And Slumber, with a slow, Lethean lime—

Still, still he lives; and though thy feet attain
The lunar peaks of ice and crystal, he,
Some night of agonized eternity
With brazen teeth shall gnaw thy fettered brain.

Gorged with the dust of thrones and fanes destroyed—
With lidless eyes like moons of adamant,
And vaulted mouth emportalling the void,

He crouches like a passive sphinx before
Some temple-gate, or grinning, moves to grant
Thine entrance at the monarch's golden door.

A New Poem Draft

Morning Walk

As dawn approaches, sky transforms its purple into blue
though moon still rides on summit high, a sliver yet to view;
under clouds is tinged with gold the edge of heaven's hem
and soon the sun will process in with glory's diadem.
A little coolness intertwines my limbs with gentle sighs
and moves the clouds in flock and herd across the clearing skies.
Your face is to my inward eye brought slowly into sight,
recalling how you once did smile with sudden, dawning light.
I walk alone. In memories I may still walk with you,
but memory is but a form of being lonely, too.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Superata Tellus, Sidera Donat

In the Roman Martyrology, today is the feast of a saint of some philosophical note, Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius. From his Consolation of Philosophy:

There are certain people who think, when they hear that it was Plato's opinion that the world neither had a beginning in time nor would it ever disappear, that in this way the created world is coeternal with its creator. But from these considerations, they do not think correctly. For it is one thing to be drawn out through a life that has no end (this is what Plato assigned to the world), and quite another to have embraced the entire presentness of a life which has no end at one and the same time (this is what perfectly clearly is appropriate to the divine mind). Further, God ought not to be seen as more ancient and glorious than created things by measurement of time, but rather by the distinctive character of his own simple nature.

[Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Relihan, tr., Hackett (Indianapolis: 2001) p. 145 (Book V, Prose 6).]

The figure of Philosophy appearing to Boethius. Chromolithog Wellcome V0007541

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

No Confusion, No Change, No Division, No Separation

Today is the 1568th anniversary of the Holy Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon promulgating the Chacledonian Definition. From the Definition:

So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Casting Statues into the Water

There has been some drama around the rather poorly organized and all-too-secretive Amazonian Synod currently taking place in Rome. On Friday, October 4, there was a tree-planting ceremony in Vatican City that involved bowing before statues of a naked pregnant woman. There was very little explanation of this available anywhere. Some speculated that it was a cultural representation of the Virgin Mary; some that it was an idol of the indigenous goddess Pachamama. When asked for clarification, the Vatican Press Office denied that it was the Virgin Mary and more vaguely said that it was a feminine figure (which I think was generally recognized) that was neither pagan nor sacred, and in some way or other "represented life" -- but they also seem clearly not to have had a definite idea of what it was, and the Vatican Press Office is notorious for guessing what things probably meant before actually finding out, so who knows. Very recently, two men broke into the church in which the images were being housed and dumped them in the Tiber. The act seems to have had the entirely unsurprising effect of confirming everyone in the opinions they made based on their immediate gut reactions.

I am reminded in all of this of St. Vigilius. St. Vigilius was a bishop of Trent in the fourth century. He seems to have been quite well educated; there are stories of him being educated in Athens and of being an acquaintance of St. John Chrysostom. St. Vigilius was orthodox in a time when bishops could not be guaranteed to be orthodox; he was a vehement anti-Arian. St. Vigilius was also the sort of person who has difficulty with rules and boundaries. He didn't just preach against Arianism in his own diocese; deciding that the local bishops were not doing enough, he preached against Arianism in their dioceses, too, without permission. He did a number of things of the same rule-breaking sort. He finally came to his untimely but unsurprising end when he went with his brothers, St. Claudian and St. Magorian, to preach to a valley of pagans. He was apparently a charismatic preacher and was doing fine, until in the heat of the moment during preaching, he grabbed the nearest idol, ran down to the river, and threw it in, at which point the pagan population reacted, perhaps not entirely unreasonably, by stoning the three brothers to death on the spot. They were canonized, and St. Vigilius became a fairly important local saint, the patron saint of Trento, in fact, with the gorgeous Romanesque cathedral of the Archdiocese of Trento dedicated to him. Here you can see it with its most famous, and most ironic feature, the beautiful Fountain of Neptune:

Trento Duomo

Yes, the saint whose martyrdom was precipitated by throwing a statue of a god into the water is introduced to the world by a fountain with a statue of the god of waters, which, no doubt, the boundary-breaking St. Vigilius would have torn down and thrown into the nearest river if given the chance. God perhaps has a sense of humor, and Catholic architects and artists certainly do, or at least once did.

There is an important principle of Catholic moral theology that we would do well to remember, particularly in this viciously censorious age: tutiorism, also known as rigorism, is wrong. Tutiorism is the position that only the morally safest path of action is morally permissible. ('Tutior' means 'safer'.) Tutiorism makes the modern mistake of trying to do things entirely by rule and method, leaving nothing for the virtue of prudence. But prudence is (literally) the decisive virtue, and a prudent person may well have good reason in this or that situation to make the less safe choice, the one that not everyone would support, the one that deviates a little farther from the safe rule than some people will find comfortable. Some things are wrong in themselves; others for other reasons. When dealing with the latter, there are often legitimately diverging views. By definition there is never anything really wrong with choosing the morally safe path, the path that sticks most closely to the usual moral guidelines, that most people would agree with most of the time. There are times when it may show a lack of insight into the situation, but lack of insight is not, in itself, a moral failing. It may or may not be wrong to take the morally less safe path; but there is room in that 'may' that needs to be respected.

The reactions of people to the casting of the statues into the water divide into two groups. The first group thinks it a bad thing. It is generally wrong to break into churches and take what is not yours, they say. This is very true. It is morally important not to jump to the least charitable interpretation in matters of cultural differences, they say. This is very true. The person who is really responsible in this matter is the Bishop of Rome, and it is not the place of laypersons to do his job for him, they say. This is true. The most appropriate response of laity to the problems besetting the Church is to pray. This is very, very true. All of this is excellent advice. It is likely the morally safe course; you won't go wrong in honestly and sincerely following it.

The second group thinks it a defensible action. The bishops have no right to play fast and loose with these things, it hasn't been a secret that a great many laity have been scandalized by this, and the responsible parties have not taken appropriate steps to address the matter; so they say. This is definitely true. They say that all Catholics without question are called to uphold the faith, and the laity must not sit back passively and expect the bishops to do everything. This is true. Laypersons stepping back and waiting for bishops to do the right thing has been a contributing factor to a great many scandals recently, they say. This is true. It is intolerable for Catholics even to be ambiguous about actual idol worship, they say. This is very true. This is good advice, as well. You could certainly go wrong if it led you to go around breaking into churches and destroying things as a general rule; but it is entirely possible that one day, on some rare occasion, you might be faced with an idol in the church, a day on which your appeal to the morally safe path might be dangerously like a hypocritical cover for laziness in upholding the faith.

And there is another side of it, too, for there is more than one thing happening here. It is less morally safe to tolerate what might possibly be idolatrous than it is to take an unequivocal stand against it.

And the thing of it is, there is no rule or method that can guarantee that you will get it right. The best thing you can do is cultivate the virtue of prudence as best you can and make your best rational judgment about whether to cast the statues into the waters. But it is possible for it to be a good judgment, either way, depending on the exact details of the situation. And even if your judgment is not the best possible judgment in the situation, it may be good enough; and even if it is not, there is a very vast difference between arguing that it was misguided and condemning the intention with which it is done. Sometimes people err honestly. And I don't think it can be denied in this particular case that the hierarchy has been less than appropriately clear about what was involved here. I personally would say that they have no one to blame but themselves. And here, as with the choice itself, the first step to take is to consider oneself: Are you supporting the safe path honestly or because it provides cover for your laziness and lack of zeal? Are you supporting the bold path cautiously or foolishly? And are you recognizing that in matters of ambiguity there can be honest differences in judgment?

In any case, two rather different approaches to the question, by Simcha Fisher and Jennifer Fitz, both entirely reasonable.


I am teaching capital vices currently in my Ethics class and have been thinking about different aspects of them. A few years ago, Timothy Perrine had an article on envy, Envy and Self-Worth. The essential argument of the paper falls into two parts: (1) that Aquinas has two distinct definitions of envy, neither of them completely adequate; and (2) that this can be remedied by adding in the concept of 'perception of inferiority'. The genus of envy is 'sorrow over another's good'; Perrine argued that Aquinas did not give a consistent characterization of the specific difference, but had two different ones. The first he derives from ST 2-2.36.1:

...another's good may be reckoned as being one's own evil, in so far as it conduces to the lessening of one's own good name or excellence. It is in this way that envy grieves for another's good: and consequently men are envious of those goods in which a good name consists, and about which men like to be honored and esteemed, as the Philosopher remarks (Rhet. ii, 10).

The second he derives from ST 2-2.36.2:

...we grieve over a man's good, in so far as his good surpasses ours; this is envy properly speaking, and is always sinful, as also the Philosopher states (Rhet. ii, 10), because to do so is to grieve over what should make us rejoice, viz. over our neighbor's good.

On the basis of these passages, he argues that Aquinas has two definitions of envy, each of which only covers part of the ground: sorrow over another's good insofar as that good diminishes one's good name, and sorrow over another's good insofar as that good surpasses one's own. You could apply one without the other applying. I am utterly unconvinced by his argument. As Perrine himself notes, Aquinas himself does not present these as two definitions. It also requires reading 'good name or excellence' in the first passage strictly as reputational, and 'good that surpasses' in the second passage as not including reputation, neither of which, I think, is plausible. Perrine seems to get his result by taking the first passage to link envy to vainglory and the second to pride, but all of the capital vices, by virtue of being capital vices, are linked to pride in one way or another, and while envy is like vainglory in being a spiritual vice concerned with excellence, and typically derives from it, they represent two distinct areas of moral temptation (vainglory one's own perceived excellence and envy another's). The link is there, but it simply doesn't seem to have the implications Perrine assumes.

In any case, Perrine goes on to argue that to define envy, we need to consider comparative self-worth -- the evaluation of one's own worth relative to another's. When this comparative evaluation concludes that another's worth exceeds one's own, and thus that one's own worth is inferior, then, if a person sorrows at (is pained at, we might say) this, then we have the act typical of the vice of envy.

I think there are two problems with this:

(1) What Perrine is actually describing is jealousy or zeal (they are the same word in Latin), in which you sorrow not over the fact that someone has a good but over the fact that they have it and you do not. Envy is, as Aquinas and the tradition set it up, a kind of sorrowing over another's good in the sense of sorrowing over their having of it, in particular insofar as this can be taken to diminish your own glory or excellence. That is, jealousy is concerned with your lack, envy with their surplus. Perrine denies that zeal involves perception of inferiority, but a perception of inferiority is just a perception of lacking worth in comparison to something else. But envy is specifically concerned with treating the other person's good as a bad thing because it surpasses one's own; this is explicitly stated by Aquinas, and is essential to his account of why it is a capital vice. If anything, it would not be perception of one's own inferiority but perception of another's superiority that would be relevant here, and the two while linked are not the same when it comes to their role in our choices. It's true that zeal doesn't necessarily involve perception of inferiority in self-worth, but sorrowing at another's good because one lacks that superiority is certainly zeal.

(2) It seems false as a matter of moral psychology to say that envy is always based on perception of inferiority of self-worth, because it seems quite clear that one's perceptions of being inferior in self-worth are often caused by envy, not vice versa. There seems no reason to think that envy deals only with self-worth; it deals with any of your neighbor's goods that can be seen as excelling your own in some way, and sees their excelling yours as itself something bad. On the basis of this, one may well count oneself inferior in self-worth. But someone without envy would not necessarily make the move from 'this person has something better' to 'therefore I myself am inferior to them'. The former is about a particular good; the latter is about one's entire self-worth. These are not the same. But in eyes that envy that particular good it can sometimes seem so: their excellence in this is seen as bad for you, period, and focusing as envy does on this particular comparison, it's easy to conclude that their excelling is making you less. This kind of inference is not usually an inference a reasonable person would make; it's an inference that is only plausible to someone whose reasoning is distorted by something like envy. A reasonable person would recognize that their self-worth (the value of oneself) is not less because another excels them in this or that particular valuable feature. That envy does distort our reasoning on such matters, seems quite clear, so Perrine's suggestion seems to put in the formal cause of envy something that is at least often merely the effect.

Of All the Quenchless Galaxies

Town Lights
by Clark Ashton Smith

For him who wanders up and down
Its long-familiar streets in autumn nights,
With melancholy meaning shine the lights
Of the small, scattered town.

Often, where lamp-bright windows cast
Their homely splendor forth on tree and lawn,
Strange moths of dream and memory are drawn,
Flown from the ghostly past.

And kisses faint as falling mist
Await the wanderer at some old door,
And sorrowful voices crying Nevermore
From bygone lips he left unkissed.

What panes illumed by love's own lamp
Are darkened now, or lit by alien hands;
Where friendship sat before the rose-red brands
Comes in the invasive cold and damp,

Or strangers make oblivious cheer:
Till he that watches dimly from without
Peels as a leaf blown in the autumn's rout
From desolate trees foredoomed and sere.

But still he turns, and marks again
Some aureate lamp that friends have lit afar;
Some radiance, with love for inner star,
That burns behind a trellised pane;

Knowing if it were not for these,
His vagrant soul would haunt a vaster night
Lit only by the inalienable light
Of all the quenchless galaxies.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

October Night

I stood at dusk and looked around the garden small and dim;
the fountain dry was cracked, with dust and vines around the rim.
The roses dead were long and spare, the weeds were rising high;
then ghosts from ancient worlds arose and said that I would die.
In long and spectral robes they swept along the garden ways
and sang the songs no longer sung, the songs of distant days.
A Templar march I thought I heard, a troubadour's sad plea,
a hymn of love to loves long gone, a shanty rasped at sea.
Like breezes drifting, softly sped those tunes, like secret sigh.
And 'midst it all a whisper sang; it sang that I would die.
The darkness fell, it drifted down, a-float like falling shawl;
it settled over roses dead and draped across the wall.
I strained my ears to hear again that gently whispered word,
but silence through the darkness fell, so nothing then was heard,
and nothing felt by rising hairs, and nothing met my eye,
until at midnight down the way I heard that I would die.
A maiden walked like water's wave along the crumbling wall
and here and there an elegy from out her lips would fall.
A hint, a clue, a fragile thread, the song would drift my way
with meaning barely out of reach and sense just out of play,
but here and there it rose to reach the keen of sobbing cry,
and then no doubt remained at all: it said that I would die.

The moon was silver on the road, but stars were hid by clouds
that, dark and thunder-mutter-thick, were gathered up in crowds
like ghosts in endless number in some graveyard in the sky,
and somehow in the thunder's tones I heard that I would die.
On far and distant hills the wolves began to raise a howl
and down the moonlit road I saw a figure in a cowl
as black as night in color so that scarce could seeing see
where ended figure and the night; it clearly came for me,
and in its hand a scythe was held, that swept through air with ease,
and at its heels a hound did walk, as pale as death's disease.
The crows in murder raised their wings, all croaking out a cry,
and clear I heard it in their noise: they said that I would die.
The wind was blowing in the leaves and rustled roses dead
and mingled with the panic that was buzzing in my head,
till time itself with nausea was turned upon its ear
and death itself was manifest to brain enmeshed in fear.
I sought to turn, like trembling bird in pit I sought to fly,
but dizzy chills sped up my spine that said that I would die.
A hand was clamped upon my mouth; I could not scream or cry;
a voice was snarling in my ear and told me I would die.

Fortnightly Book, October 20

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.

Some years ago, I got from the clearance shelf at Half Price Books the Collected Stories, Volume One, of H. P. Lovecraft, entitled The Whisperer in the Darkness, a title that it takes from one of the stories in the collection. Ever since, I've intended to do it as an October fortnightly book -- something Halloweenish -- but I've never gotten around to it. So let's remedy that, and do a bit of Lovecraft for the next fortnightly book.

The collection includes nine stories all in some way associated with the Cthulhu Mythos-- human beings coming into some tangential relation with the eldritch horror of the Great Old Ones who now sleep in their interregnum between ruling the universe, and finding it less than congenial to their sanity of mind. The Mythos is often said to have begun in 1919, with the publication of "Dagon", although this is to some extent backdating, based on the fact that Dagon gets mentioned in a later tale, "The Shadow over Innsmouth"; some people prefer to date the beginning of the Mythos to "The Nameless City" (from which the couplet above comes), published in 1921. In any case, the collection at hand starts out with "Dagon" and then "The Nameless City". The next story in the collection, "The Hound", published in 1924, explicitly introduces the Necronomicon; Lovecraft eventually came not to like it, but the Necronomicon he kept, and it is, after Cthulhu, his most enduring creation. Next is "The Festival", published in 1925. Then we have "The Call of Cthulhu", published in 1926, and the saying, "In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming." This is followed by "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", which was written soon after but only published posthumously, which introduces Yog-Sothoth. "The Dunwich Horror" was published in 1929, and is often considered his best; even Lovecraft, who was often very harsh in his judgments of his own work, seems to have thought it one of his better ones. Then we get the titular novella, The Whisperer in the Darkness, published in 1931, which is an attempt to write something more science-fictiony, but still drawing on some of the same elements. And finally we get another novella, At the Mountains of Madness, published in 1936, which is another central pillar of the Mythos.

It's a mixed group. I don't know exactly why M. J. Elliott chose these nine in particular; the idea seems to have been to pick early stories that introduce some notable element of the Mythos, regardless of any notion of centrality or importance. But it's the book I have, so they're the stories I'll read; I'm pretty sure I've read them all, but some of them not since high school, which is an increasingly distant age ago. I think "The Dunwich Horror" inspired a Suspense radio episode, so I might do that, as well. Someone has put up a "Nearly Complete Lovecraft Collection" at Internet Archive of audio versions, although some of them look like they are audiobook versions rather than dramatizations; it has The Whisperer in the Darkness, "The Call of Cthulhu", "The Festival", and "The Hound", so I might dip into them at some point to see if they would be worth adding as well. In any case, I'll definitely be reading some purple prose in the darkness of an uncaring and hostile universe.

Cthulhu sketch by Lovecraft
(A sketch of Cthulhu by Lovecraft)