Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Disenthralled and Uncorrupted Band

Sonnet: For January
by William Johnston Hutchinson

The disenthralled and uncorrupted band
Sweeps down from chilling realms. Its store expends
In one symphonious whole. The prospect blends:
And lo! the panoply by Grandeur plann'd,
With moor reluctant to the swain's demand,
In purity harmoniously lends
An unmatched, surfaced tablet, that contends
To take the tracings of the Master-hand.
And thus the soul, by nobler, pure desires
Its lavish or its meaner dress conceals
By fairer aspect: and, new born, aspires
To purposes this fresh emotion yields.
And all bewonder'd muses past attires—
And wondering, germs of excellence reveals.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Dashed Off I

"Men *feel* their own happiness so involved with, and dependent on, that of others, that they pursue both together, even without reflecting on the connection." Cockburn

remedies: ameliorative, corrective, restorative, communicative

Maistre: the eighteenth century partly rigged their philosophy of mind by choosing to avoid 'thought' and using 'ideas' instead, thus building in a passivity that allows them to ignore the activity of the mind

Life itself is reward in advance of merit.

Like commands, estimates have in-force conditions (as in 'This is the current estimate') distinct from the question of true or false.

The 'learning styles' approach to education has less to do with needs of learners than with needs of teachers.

The Kantian conception of morality is of that which allows no excuses.

Regulative principles should not be seen as opposed to constitutive principles; taken as rooted in needs of understanding they can be interpreted as filtering objects (to be accepted, objects must be at least of a sort to fulfill these conditions) rather than imposed.

Even if one assumes them to be mere appearance, some phenomena seem not limited in time -- experienced in time, but not wholly mensurable in temporal ways, having something not temporally qualified. In fact, all intelligible phenomena are so to at least some extent.

Consent is at most the material for a moral situation.

bedazzlement, infinite hermeneutic, absolute
overflow, hyperhorizontality, supremacy

The principle of noncontradiction exerts a demand on us in its own order that is not less than that of moral law.

"In perceiving the infinite, we neither count, nor measure, nor compare, nor name. We know not what it is, but we know that it is, and we know it, because we actually feel it and are brought in contact with it." Max Muller

Even in erotic love, the sublimity of the person is able to be experienced; the same is true of all love, some more subtly, but some more richly and fully.

The experience of the reality of the external world is a saturated phenomenon: it is 'invisable' because it goes beyond; it is not 'bearable' because it is of a sort of limit, not admitting of degrees; it is not captured by analogy, and thus is experienced as a kind of horizonless inexhaustibility; and in terms of modality, it comprehends, and is not comprehended by, the I that faces it, and so is 'irregardable', beyond capture by gaze.

the sublime
(1) sensible: suggestive of intelligible sublime
(2) intelligible: sublime proper
-- natural sublime
---- from magnitude
---- from power
-- moral sublime
---- from greatness of goodness
---- from moral authority

the 'I think' as structuring the 'I feel' (making it 'I feel rather than just indefinite feeling)

as when the trellis tangles with the ivy that entwines

Maritain's sense of being as a saturated phenomenon
conscience as saturated phenomonon (perhaps all moral endowments)

free play of imagination as multi-perspectival (putting ourselves imaginatively in an array of different perspectives)

cinematicity as an aesthetic concept
- unified contrast between expansive & intimate, sublime and picturesque (sublime in the picturesque, the expansive in an intimate frame)

living as being a subsistent natural end

The human being has to "consider in every action, besides the law, also an end" (Kant, Rel. 6:7n)

Kant's B-Paralogism argument on immortality as establishing the possibility of immortality (the immortality-ish character of our capacities)

suspense and the sympathetic sense of imminent harm

skill as a symbol of moral virtue

moral arguments for God's existence
(1) heritage (source of endowments)
(2) law
---- positivist (law requires legislator)
---- naturalist (Fourth Way)
(3) dignity (God as exemplar cause)
(4) destination (Kantian)

arguments for immortality
(1) immortalish character
---- (a) substance (the rationalist Achilles)
---- (b) intellectual capacity
-------- (1) speculative (Aquinas)
-------- (2) practical (Kant)
---- (c) volitional capacity
-------- (1) natural desire
-------- (2) human projects
(2) extrinsic
---- (a) experiential
-------- (1) direct (NDE)
-------- (2) indirect (revelation)
---- (b) pragmatic

the philosophy of videturs

Designation is more fundamental than the relation of identity.

Inconsistency between imperatives cannot be reduced to impossibility of obedience because the latter may be purely accidental.

Do not do both A and B; Do A; therefore Do not do B
// A and B are not both true; A is true; therefore B is not true

Since we can identify inconsistent imperatives we can identify necessary ones (Do not do both P and not-P). But natural language has no natural way of marking these off from non-necessary ones, the way it does for indicatives.

Things may be all in our power to prevent, and not equally feasible or our responsibility to prevent. For instance, some things may be primarily another's responsibility, requiring us to defer to them first, and others may be in our power but only just barely.

"Timelines seem able to make higher-level abstractions (like figuring out what unites zoology and botany) accessible to lower-level channels (like seeing that this is to the left of that." Marc Champagne

the overflow of the mood of heaven

faith, hope, and charity as moral endowments of grace
faith : moral sentiment :: hope : conscience :: charity : love of humanity & respect for oneself

historical scholarship & the dangerous temptation to colonize the past

A hypothesis (contra Davidson): No matter how many sentences a would-be speaker learns to produce and understand, there will remain others whose meanings are not given by the rules already mastered.
-- reasons to think this possible: tone, figurative speech, poetic invention, implicature, allusion

Note that Trent only condemns those who reject books of the canon or unwritten traditions "in conscious judgment".

Caramuel on law
(1) voluntary (purely human)
(2) necessary
---- (a) purely divine, immutable (1st Table)
---- (b) divine-human, inviolable (2nd Table)
---- (c) human-divine, stable (e.g., monastic rule
Caramuel takes the necessary laws to vary by dispensation: purely divine laws cannot be dispensed, divine-human only by God, human-divine by vicarii for God.

Caramuel's six transcendentals: verum, bonum, unum, ens rationis, ens reale, ens artificiale

aperantologia (de ente creato infinito)

current-moment extrapolation vs. future-expectation extrapolation

Act so that the incentive of your action is consistent with the motive to conform to moral law (respect for moral law).

reductions of nomological Box to:
(1) deontic (Malebranche)
(2) logical (necessitarianism)
(3) temporal-locative (regularity)
(4) doxastic (Hume)
(5) epistemic (Descartes?)

omniscience as a postulate/posit of theoretical reason
-- summum verum
-- Note that Descartes's Med IV does for theoretical inquiry what Kant's free will postulate does for practical action.

reasonable wariness with regard to opinions about whose rational foundations you know little:
(1) be wary of the more extreme (relative to the common);
(2) be wary of the easy to accept;
(3) be wary of the self-flattering.

intention as like a truth value
- to say an action is intentional puts it in play on the inferential board in something like the way 'true' puts a proposition in play; it's just a different board.

Structures in model theory are ways of describing. Isomorphic structures are ways of describing to the same effect.

A wedding exists to form evidence.

evidence-forming practices
(much of law is devoted to this)

It is quite clear that suspense does not require certainty because it is often built by letting us know what will happen while dragging out the preparation to its happening, in order to create the looming feeling.

(1) Whatever is mutable does not have form of itself.
(2) Whatever does not have form of itself must receive form.
(3) Nothing can give itself what it does not have.
(4) Therefore whatever is mutable must receive form from another.

early church practices as indicating the resurrection
(1) meeting on Sunday (Mt 28:1; Mk 16:2,9; Jn 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; I Cor 16:2; Rv 1:10)
(2) baptism (Rm 6:1-6; Col 2:12)

a priori and a posteriori Box
-- deontic is particularly interesting, given Kantianism
-- also interesting is epistemic, given skepticism
-- are there interesting implications for others
-- are there particular conditions for making analogy to alethic?

Note that Anscombe's knowledge without observation is not subject to the KK principle, or similar principles.

role-model standards and a posteriori obligations (WWJD, ahadith, etc.)
- positive laws are obviously such as well

imperfectly rigid (sticky) designators

Intuitions become important and very relevant when we are concerned not so much with proof and refutation as with plausibility and perplexity.

Fitch's argument against Kripke on necessary a posteriori truths assumes an absurdly strict substitution principle (one that itself assumes that we cannot double-label anything without 'descriptive content').

ritual as a symbol of moral standard

skill-relative excellences

the pleasant as a symbol of eudaimonia

Γρηγόριος Νύσσης

Today is the feast of St. Gregory of Nyssa. He's the only major Cappadocian father who has not been liturgically named Doctor of the Church, probably because he was mostly unknown in the West until the nineteenth century. He is the grandson of St. Macrina the Elder, the son of St. Basil the Elder and St. Emmilia, the younger brother of St. Basil the Great, St. Macrina the Younger, and St. Naucratius, and the older brother of St. Peter of Sebaste. It was an impressive family, to say the least. He originally did not intend to have a career as a priest; he studied to become an orator and married. We don't know much about his marriage. He was, however, eventually elected to the see of Nyssa, probably through the maneuvering of his brother St. Basil, who was definitely a maneuverer and was building a network of orthodox alliances to resist the tide of Arianism even if it meant sticking his family and friends in minor back-country sees like Nyssa and Nazianzus. Gregory was not popular and was deposed on trumped-up charges of embezzlement, although he was eventually cleared and restored. He was eventually elected bishop of Sebaste in Armenia, but being a lover of Greek culture hated the relatively foreign culture of Armenia and eventually arranged to step down and return to Nyssa. His attempts as bishop to deal with the Arian heresy were in general not very successful, in part because his irenic disposition did not fit the times, but his writings against Arianism became major theological influences in the East.

From his book against Eunomius (XII.3):

For if he that honoureth the Son honoureth the Father, according to the Divine declaration, it is plain on the other side that an assault upon the Son strikes at the Father. But I say that to those who with simplicity of heart receive the preaching of the Cross and the resurrection, the same grace should be a cause of equal thankfulness to the Son and to the Father, and now that the Son has accomplished the Father’s will (and this, in the language of the Apostle, is "that all men should be saved"), they ought for this boon to honour the Father and the Son alike, inasmuch as our salvation would not have been wrought, had not the good will of the Father proceeded to actual operation for us through His own power. And we have learnt from the Scripture that the Son is the power of the Father.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Metaphors and Similes

I've recently come across people mis-analyzing figurative language, or providing resources to students on the subject that mischaracterize completely how one should analyze such things, so it's inevitable that I would put up something on the subject. In particular, one of the resources in question claimed that similes are intended to be "literally true", which is supposed to contrast with metaphors, which are intended to be "literally false". There are several important things here.

(1) Similes are figures of speech. Not only are they figures of speech, they are nonliteral figures of speech. (As I've noted before, there are figures of speech that are not strictly figurative, but similes are not one of them.) Thus similes are not intended to be "literally true". "The clouds are like cotton candy" is not true if taken literally. Similes are very different from literal comparisons, e.g., "The clouds are like clouds of steam". Take a more obvious example: "John is like a cat" is a simile, and a figure of speech. "John is like his twin brother Richard" is a literal comparison, and not a figure of speech.

(2) Similes are metaphors. I know this is probably not what your elementary school English teacher said, but there is no real difference between the behavior of a simile and that of a metaphor. The only difference between "The clouds are cotton candy" and "The clouds are like cotton candy" is that the latter is qualified; but the qualification is of the metaphor. Take a metaphor, qualify it according to resemblance, and you get a simile, which is just an attenuated version of the metaphor; take a literal statement, qualify it according to resemblance, and you do not get a simile, but a straightforward, literal comparison.

If John does very well at handling unexpected situations, and I say, "John is so good at landing on his feet; he is like a cat", it's obvious that the simile in the second clause is just extending the metaphor and is not to be understood literally.

There is a very old and widespread view that similes are somehow more basic than metaphors, that, in fact, metaphors are just collapsed similes, but this view always had the problem that it failed to distinguish between similes and literal comparisons (the latter of which were usually assumed to be more basic, which is itself a dubious assumption). Metaphors are in fact more basic; similes are attenuated metaphors. The attenuation can make the metaphor more vague -- instead of the metaphor being X, it is now things-in-the-vicinity-of-X -- but it can also let you more conveniently specify the particular aspect of the metaphor that you regard as relevant, e.g., "Dave is swift like a deer".

(3) There is no such thing as "literally true" and "literally false", unless you just mean "true, if taken literally" and "false, if taken literally". Recognizing this, we see that whether a metaphorical expression is true or false when taken literally is irrelevant. "Don's pet fox is a fox" could in context be metaphorical, an expression of how clever the fox is, but if taken literally it would obviously be true. The same is true of similes.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Conformity and Adversarial Culture

Martin Lenz at

However, there are good grounds for the assumption that people align to a perceived status quo even in the face of counter-evidence. In the 1950s, the social psychologist Solomon Asch conducted his famous conformity experiments. Subjects had to solve fairly obvious perceptual tasks, but many gave wrong answers in order to align with the group: they disregarded the evidence right in front of them in order not to stray from the status quo. Since then, the experiments were repeated under various conditions, showing the detrimental effects of social pressure.

This is a common misunderstanding, but this is not, I think, what the Asch conformity experiments showed. A few salient points:

(1) Very few people conformed all the time -- almost everybody resisted conforming sometimes. About a quarter of the people consistently refused to conform.

(2) Looking at responses rather than people, the conformity led to only a little more than a third of the responses being wrong.

(3) Asch also looked at what people said about their own behavior, and while some people did in fact conform in order to conform, one of the most common responses was, at least in a broad sense, self-critique: a significant portion of the participants assumed that they had misunderstood the instructions. Later examination and experimental variations have also made clear that answers experimenters thought obvious were not always thought obvious by the participants; a number of participants were just honestly uncertain -- they usually could tell the right answer, but they weren't confident about it, and therefore were in fact checking their results against what other people were getting.

(Likewise, there may also be some reason to think, although it seems to be a less-studied phenomenon, that when people defer to the confident or apparently authoritative it is often because they are not considering being right but being responsible -- confidence or authority is often seen as a form of assuming the responsibility for the answer, and when people don't see themselves as having a specific reason to assume responsibility, they are willing to let someone who apparently wants to assume responsibility do it instead. One sees something like this kind of dynamic in group projects and discussions all the time.)

(4) And that relates to the most important point, which is that the Asch conformity experiments tell us nothing about detrimental effects of social pressure; there were no detrimental effects examined in the experiment, and 'being willing to recognize that you might have misunderstood' and 'being willing to check your answers when uncertain' do not necessarily have any detrimental effects, despite the fact that circumstances were deliberately rigged in this particular case to push toward a wrong answer. Thus the conformity experiments show us a more balanced picture than they are often said to show: people have a considerable resistance to social pressure, but are willing to give some benefit of any doubt to other people.

If any of this is right, it causes a problem for Lenz's larger argument; he wants to argue that this suggests that relentless criticism in philosophy leads to conformity, but in reality one would expect that (1) a lot of people will not in fact conform; (2) a lot of answers will not in fact be affected; (3) a lot of times people will not be actively conforming but just seeing where an apparently active line of thought goes; and (4) whether there is anything unfortunate in it all will depend on what other habits, dispositions, and the like are cultivated. He also has to assume, I think, that relentless criticism all pushes in one direction, which I think most people would find a counterintuitive assumption to make, at least in most cases, about adversarial culture in philosophy.

Lenz does give, though, what I think is the real problem with adversarial culture -- it may be very good at identifying problems, but it is very poor at constructing solutions. I've noted before that people regularly fail to make a proper distinction between research problems and fatal problems, and of course full philosophical bloodsport is no good for anyone. But I also think that some of the things that Lenz diagnoses as due to adversarial culture I would instead diagnose as due to treating persuasion as a major goal of philosophical argument, which often seems responsible for the pressure to conform to begin with.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Majestic Statue

Canova and anyone who delighted in scratching and drilling holes in his most accomplished statues would not both be called sculptors; Raphael and a desecrator of his painting would not both be called artists. It would never occur to anyone that such a contorted use of words could be justified by claiming that both Canova and the person who destroyed his statues, or Raphael and his assailant used the same implements.

What is the system of truth but a kind of majestic statue or noble image of God himself, of much greater worth than anything produced by human hands. It is, after all, impressed upon immortal souls by the living image of eternal wisdom. The person who devotes himself to such a great work is called a philosopher and the subject he pursues is called philosophy. How, then, can such a name be profaned and abused by applying it to those who, although, they too use their intellects, do so in such a shoddy way that their sole achievement is the demolition and disfigurement of the philosopher's work? Their sophistry obscures the light of truth revealed by true philosophy and daubs with falsehood the respectable limbs of the body of wisdom which the philosopher depicts in his writings.

Antonio Rosmini, About the Author's Studies, Murphy, tr., Rosmini House (Durham: 2004) p. 94.

Monday, January 06, 2020


From one of St. Leo's Epiphany sermons:

The Wise men, therefore, fulfil their desire, and come to the child, the Lord Jesus Christ, the same star going before them. They adore the Word in flesh, the Wisdom in infancy, the Power in weakness, the Lord of majesty in the reality of man: and by their gifts make open acknowledgment of what they believe in their hearts, that they may show forth the mystery of their faith and understanding. The incense they offer to God, the myrrh to Man, the gold to the King, consciously paying honour to the Divine and human Nature in union: because while each substance had its own properties, there was no difference in the power of either.


I heard the preacher speaking,
and of miracles I heard,
the wine of revelation
from the water of our words.
I heard of men and women
in humility of ways
transfigured to the glory
of the Ancient One of Days
(first river-bathed and lustral
in the waters of the earth,
then drunken, full of Spirit,
with the Wine of heaven's birth),
of wisdom-seeking sages
who had sought the Good by star
and found it with its Mother
where the Jewish peoples are,
the True in swaddled clothing --
thus their wise philosophy
was turned, like wedding-water,
to that wine, epiphany.

Hagim Long, Siu Y Kao, & Hanh Truong, "Ba vua hành khúc", a quite popular Vietnamese Epiphany song; the title means "March of the Three Kings".

Sunday, January 05, 2020

The Rise of Skywalker

So some general thoughts on the last entry in the rocky journey of the sequels. One thing I've found with reviews and the like for the movie is that you really have to divide off considerations of integral storytelling from fan-fiction preferences; it is one of the serious failures of our modern storytelling culture that people have difficulty distinguishing the two, with the result that they spin off into the narrative equivalent of sports-teams rather than looking at the movies themselves.

(1) The movie is quite watchable. It is in some ways more cinematic than The Last Jedi, the musical score is truly impressive, and the character interactions are often quite good.

(2) It is not entirely coherent as a story, but much more than one has come to expect from J. J. Abrams.

(3) Let's talk about the big issue in the room, namely, J. J. Abrams's handling of Rian Johnson's completely unprofessional scuttling of every major plot point that Abrams had built up in The Force Awakens. Essentially, Abrams attempts clumsily to revert things, but I think it's fair to say that (for the most part) he is far and away more faithful to The Last Jedi than Johnson was to The Force Awakens. TFA laid out a mystery to be unraveled about Rey's family, and one that is all the more significant given her extraordinary facility with the Force; TLJ said there was no mystery, they were just unknown strangers. TFA built up Snoke as the threat behind the scenes; TLJ killed him with no obvious villain in the wings. TFA made the finding of Luke Skywalker a central point; TLJ fortunately did not make this completely pointless, but it did sideline it, and instead of building smoothly on it, we got Luke curmudgeoning for most of the movie until he sails in as the deus ex machina and dies. (Skywalker men whining about things is, alas, one of the ways TLJ was most faithful to everything that went before; it was one of the great disappointments that TLJ shows Luke not merely having made a grievous mistake but having done so without any of the wisdom and maturity that he had shown he had developed in the original trilogy.) TROS does not do quite so badly with TLJ, although the seams are occasionally more than a bit clumsy. Kylo obiwan-kenobis the claim about Rey's family; this is handled crudely, but was workable in itself because the audience had no particular reason to think that Kylo was being honest to begin with. TROS tries to introduce an appropriate villain while nonetheless explaining Snoke; it's done in an immensely clumsy way, and we don't get much more explanation of Palpatine's return than that he's Palpatine, but it was at least done, and there wasn't much else to work with. Some people have noted that Johnson wrote Abrams into a corner, and this is one of the things they meant: a third movie in a trilogy with a hero-villain structure needs the villain of the third movie to be an impressive villain we have built up to in some way. TLJ left us with apparently no options except Kylo, who narratively is a better choice for a redemption-path than for the big bad to which the story had been building. Abrams also attempts to do something with the deaths of Han and Luke, and ends up not doing too badly, I think; when people say that Johnson wrote Abrams into a corner, this is another of the things they often mean, and it is true that Abrams had few options here -- something has to be made of them, and it becomes all the more serious given that Carrie Fisher's death limited what could be done with Leia.

(4) Unfortunately, the result is that TROS seems a bit rushed and overcrowded in its structure, with the result that neither of two strengths of the prior movies (the Finn-Rey friendship in TFA and the Rey-Kylo relationship in TLJ) gets a fully appropriate consummation; they aren't completely shortchanged, but ideally they would have been developed more. There were other things that were good about TROS itself that weren't fully developed because the movie was overcrammed with things: Rose Tico here was an interesting character that it would have been good to see more of; Poe stepping into responsibility; Finn finding a fellow traveler; Rey's struggle over Palpatine-ness.

(5) Some things that were a bit stupid: physical transference across force visions, parts of the quest to get the Sith dagger translated (but at least this gave C-3PO a significant role to play), an obvious insufficiency of R2-D2 in the context of Abrams's appeal-to-nostalgia homages (R2 is the single most consistent hero in the entire series; sidelining him here didn't make much sense given everything else that was done). And what is it with Palpatine's obsession with planet-killers? But there was nothing in this movie that was narratively stupid on the scale of Rose freeing the animals but leaving the children in slavery, or Holdo refusing to inform her people of a plan that absolutely required swift, effective, and flawless preparation even when it was obvious that they were cracking from confusion about what they were supposed to be doing.

(6) Everybody staring at C-3PO's excited and irrelevant cultural commentary on the festival was the single best C-3PO moment we've had since the original trilogy. I found it the most genuinely comic moment in the movie.

Eating and Idealism

James Chastek recently had a comment about eating and idealism that I thought interesting:

Eating and the idealist self. In both cases something is taken as cut off, appropriated to the self, and purely subjective. Would it be a parsimonious view of eating to imagine the food was simply part of us?

It reminded me (in broad way, in the linking of the topics) of Xiong Shili's discussion of eating in the Xin weishi lun, usually translated as New Treatise on the Uniqueness of Consciousness, although Xiong is going in the opposite direction. Xiong Shili (1885-1968) was one of the most influential Chinese philosophers of the twentieth century; he is generally considered one of the founding members of the New Confucian schools, but his work can perhaps best be seen as arising out of a mutually critical dialogue between Buddhism and Confucianism. In any case, he is an idealist in a broadly Buddhist sense. As he puts it, "To insist that cognitive objects are separate from consciousness and exist externally amounts to dividing one's own life and the cosmos into two slices -- is this rational?" (p. 58). That is, he rejects the idea that we are reasonable in drawing a line between 'internal' and 'external'; neither an external world nor an internal mind exist, if understood as in opposition to each other. But this raises the question of why people do in fact insist on these things. To this he responds, based on the idea that cognitive errors arising from craving for or attachment to things:

Human life cannot abandon actual living. All people rely on the myriad things in order to pursue growth in their life....Because human beings rely on things for their nourishment, they become habituated to drawing on things...and so erroneously presume that things are cognitive objects external to the mind and in all sincerity run about in pursuit of them. After a long period of habituation, they regard these habits as their own mind and relentlessly pursue things without growing sated. (p. 58)

Thus the diagnosis is that human beings take there to be an external world separate from themselves (or alternately, take themselves to be selves separate from the world) because they take their regular nourishment-taking to be their self and therefore take the nourishment to be nonself. (As Xiong later (pp. 287-288) notes, the point is not that eating is a problem -- properly understood, it is just a thing that goes on -- but that craving is a problem; it is not the eating but the craving for nourishment that we develop in response to this that leads us to divide mind and world.)

Of course, one could tollens Xiong's ponens and go in the opposite direction, taking eating as an evidence of a world distinct from the self; it is on its own a diagnosis rather than a demonstration.


Xiong Shili, New Treatise on the Uniqueness of Consciousness, Makeham, tr., Yale University Press (New Haven: 2015).