Saturday, January 18, 2020

Subsistence, Intelligibility, and Lovableness

Philosophy is simply a faithful representative and draughtsman, as it were, of being (anything else is sophistry, not philosophy). Being, in turn, is essentially ordered with a beginning, middle and end, that is, subsistence, intelligibility, and lovableness which give rise to virtue and its attendant happiness. So philosophy, after portraying ens as the beginning and middle, inevitably ends and comes to rest in the knowledge of virtue and happiness where ens as in its final perfection, comes to rest and achieves fulfilment.

Antonio Rosmini, About the Author's Studies, Rosmini House (Durham: 2004) p. 153.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dashed Off II

So much of human decay consists in people seeing the value of something but losing the point of it.

A theory of intentional action has to take into account the relation between intention and command. "Do this" is said with regard to the intentions of the commanded.

facta unifying res and verba

Morality takes a different and higher aspect when it is seen not as disparate individuals each playing their lone violin but as a harmonious symphony. then minor moral matters acquire new meaning, major moral matters new depth.

Regularity for a clock is consistency of measurement results for a wide variety of changes.

Good is to be done and sought, but it is to be done and sought in the way appropriate to it. (This follows by a double application of the principle.)

The universal premises Aristotle gives for the practical syllogisms he uses as examples makes more sense if you think of them as universal for a domain set out by to orekton.

People tend to think reform requires major actions, but the most successful reforms are usually base don small actions in the right place.

To seek pleasure rather than pleasant things is a sign of something wrong.

the ressentiment of the pusillanimous boor

photographs as experiments in seeing

People will use the good to try to excuse their evil.

Everyone resists obligations that put them in the power of another.

Because photography involves an inherently replicable medium, it is conducive to abstraction.

Gifts (in the most proper sense) are themselves bestowed without reference to remuneration; but this is a distinct question from whether remuneration, or even in context expectation of remuneration, is incongruent with them.

giver-or-gift as transcendental distinction

(1) Scientific study shows that some regions of the natural world are, despite local variation, consistently orderly.
(2) Consistent order despite local variation cannot be due to chance.
(3) Therefore consistent order despite local variation must be due to some final cause or formal principle.

Clarke vs Butler on whether alethic Box implies temporal-locative Box

presented image as aesthetic personality

wholes as bounded parts; thus boundaries as wholes minus all parts

To be a person is to be such that one necessarily posits infinite value.

CCC #1697: "it is through the manifold exchanges of 'spiritual goods' in the 'communion of saints' that Christian life can grow, develops, and be communicated"

The distinction between 'skilled' and 'unskilled' labor is often in reality about demand rather than skill itself; there is no sense in which clerical work is more skilled than janitorial work except in what skills are taken to be harder to replace.

'simplify, formalize, generalize, abstract, apply, reformulate, articulate, refine, and replace' (Shalizi)

"The assembly of the saints is a symbol of paradise." Ephrem (Hymn 6 on Paradise)

Experimental inquiry cna only see causal actions.

We learn from history by treating it as a system of metaphors.

There must be at least some a priori knowledge of some possibilities so that we can begin to assess what counts as evidence or not.

those intellectually sympathetic to Christianity as the Rich Young Man

All sentences occur within a field of address between at least one speaker (or writer) and at least one addressee (but the latter may be indefinite).

All human beings are different stages of mess.

"All concepts exist to be used." Mary Midgley

"Concepts lead us to make investigations, are the expression of our interest, and direct our interest." Wittgenstein

Since commands can be fulfilled or not fulfilled, and the fulfillment of commands depends on other things, we can certainly characterize commands as fulfillable or not fulfillable, with 'Do X and Do not do X' and necessarily not fulfillable together. Given this, we can treat fulfillability and nonfulfillability as truth values.

Beatific Vision as cure for avidya

"Whatever the Old Testament contains figurally, the New has fulfilled through the very reason of truth." Fortunatianus

Matthew: rule of justice (starts with Abraham): Man
Luke: rule of law (starts with priesthood): Calf
Mark: rule of prophecy (starts with prophecy): Eagle
John: rule of the beginning of the Son of God (starts with Word): Lion
-- NB he takes the order to be significant because justice-law-prophecy-Christ is historical order.

All probabilities are calculated for particular causal frames.

Paths to God (causation, remotion, eminence)
cre - rce - erc - ecr - cer - rec
First cause arguments are cre/cer; Anselm is erc; infinite intelligible arguments seem to be erc/rec; God-shaped hole arguments seem to be rec/rec. Think about this a bit more.

the virtue structure, honor structure, and interest structure of intellectual inquiry

"Ideas arose in crowds; I felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak, making stable combination." Poincare

logical instants or moments // possible worlds // signa rationis
next // nearest accessible world

Philosophical skepticism often arises from the error of treating a posture of inquiry as if it were the same kind of thing as a position.

suspense and the collapse of possible to likely to known

A poem cannot catch your eyes
and turn them into words;
on wings of light evading grasp
they fly away like birds.

The world always attempts to make two things tame: guilt and God. In this pursuit it has invented pseudosciences, made up fantasies and at times murdered, so to prevent guilt from showing forth or God getting His due.

"Where people are not longer sustained by a majesty which transcends them, they are in danger of delivering themselves into the hands of limitless power and false ideals, which will destroy them." John Paul II

When assessing historical/philosophical influence, we start with temporal and spatial contiquities and with resemblances. So far Hume works. But we can only use these to assess possibilities, so we cannot reduce causal influence to these. We need, for instance, to rule out other possibilities (common source, for instance, or convergence due to shared environment). And throughout we are assuming action. So here is a kind of causation that cannot adequately be captured in a Humean way.

unus - primus - semel - simplex - singuli
good - best - well - goodful (as good) - as a good
true - truest - truly - truthful - as a truth

While possible worlds discussions tend to assume bivalence for propositions, nothing about the structure nor about most of its uses requires this.

Morality is both a standard for behavior and a symbol-system for communication. It is essential to its nature to be both. However, as they are distinct functions, the temptation is to aim for having one without the inconveniences of the other. Thus we get purely abstract schemes without community-building on the one hand, and the hypocrisy of manipulation by symbolic gesture on the other.

A politics of symbolic gestures, even if harmless, quickly tends toward a politics of quick fixes, which can be very harmful.

Eco's distinction between maxims an daphorisms is backward; 'maxim' is not a genus, but 'aphorism' is. This inversion leads him to misunderstand Wilde entirely. The failure to grasp that many of Wilde's aphorisms are reversible because they are deliberate reversals is especially embarrassing. Much damage can be done to literature by an intelligent man with a bad theory.

God's gift (causation) leads to devotion (eminence) and reverential asceticism (remotion).

The ability to slough off the negative is a major component of masculinity, and sill at it is one of the primary ways that dangerous animal, the human male, is brought to valuable maturity.

a gaudifluent feeling like a liquid flowing down

the violet fields of heaven with their vivid, vital light
are limpid like to lakes enlaid in mountains' lonely arms

Indiscernibility should be seen as converging on identity at the limit. (We can recognize grades of increasing strictness in indiscernibility.)

there are at least as many A's as B's
there are perhaps as many A's as B's
there are at least nearly as many A's as B's
A's are as possible as B's
A's are at least as possible as B's
A's are at least nearly as possible as B's
A's are at least as much parts as B's

compossible : overlap :: as-possible : underlap

betrothal // funeral

The most manifest aspect of the sacraments is the material of the change, which is why, for instance, the sacraments and sacramentals of oil are jumbled together in the minds of men, and why sacraments of subtler matter (like reconciliation or ordination or marriage) are originally grasped in a muddle (although still complete) way.

The natural human response to the symbolic is commentary.

We have no criterion for what would count as a list or set of all possible propositions about something.

If the propositions associated with possible worlds must be all propositions that can be evaluated, the notion of possible worlds depends on the prior opossibility of value propositions.

The history of the principle of sufficient reason is complicated by the conflation of intelligibility with necessity.

"...a lover's first gift is his own heart, an dwhen this gift is received and deeply appreciated by his beloved, it joins the two by an intense inner bond.' John of St. Thomas

the gifts of the Spirit as subsisting inspiration

the harmony consonant with sublimity

convention, environment, and ambience as miscellaneous categories

democratic vs oligarchic news reporting

In any political movement, some are only there for the aesthetics, and some are only there for the dating.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Christopher Tolkien died today; he was 95. J. R. R. Tolkien's third child, he inherited 70 boxes of his father's paper, and resigned his university position to curate and edit it. His most important contribution is like the publication of The Silmarillion, which required some creative editing and occasional rewriting, since the different parts of the work were at very different stages of revision. In an interview once he said that after The Silmarillion was published, he had a dream in which he was in his father's office when his father came in, looking for something, and when Christopher realized that he was looking for The Silmarillion, he panicked at what his father might say at his having tampered with it. He then set out to handle the material in a different way by working through the history of its writing, and thus came about the multivolume History of Middle Earth.

And Pleas'd I Pin Thee to My Breast

My Love, Thou Art a Nosegay Sweet
by John Clare

My love, thou art a nosegay sweet,
My sweetest flower I prove thee;
And pleas'd I pin thee to my breast,
And dearly do I love thee.

And when, my nosegay, thou shalt fade,
As sweet a flower thou'lt prove thee;
And as thou witherest on my breast,
For beauty past I'll love thee.

And when, my nosegay, thou shalt die,
And heaven's flower shalt prove thee;
My hopes shall follow to the sky,
And everlasting love thee.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Evening Note for Wednesday, January 15

Thought for the Evening: Dreaming of Another Age

In Travels in Hyperreality, Umberto Eco has an essay, "Dreaming of the Middle Ages", in which, reflecting on increasing interest in the Middle Ages, he notes that this is expressed by various kinds of reconstruction, and reconstructions vary. In particular, he suggests there are at least ten portrayals of the Middle Ages that come up:

(1) The Middle Ages as pretext. This is just a stylistic backdrop, such as you get in opera, or in Tasso, or in the kind of movie about the Middle Ages where 'the Middle Ages' pretty much just consists of props for visual interest.

(2) "The Middle Ages as the site of an ironical revisitation" (p. 69). In this we are exploring a kind of infancy of the age; Ariosto and Cervantes are doing more than just using the Middle Ages as a prop, they are looking back, but in a very specific and stylized way. Eco compares this to the way Americans might see the nineteenth century through the 'spaghetti Western'.

(3) The Middle Ages as a period of barbarism.

(4) The Middle Ages as a Romantic period, most notably in Gothic trope, but one sometimes finds this as well in medievalisms found in science fiction.

(5) The Middle Ages of the philosophia perennis, most obviously seen through the Thomistic Revival, but also something that you can find simply by tracing back the roots of much of modern philosophy.

(6) The nationalistic Middle Ages, the sort of thing you get in the nineteenth century by rediscovery of medieval literature as a source of national epics.

(7) The Middle Ages of Decadentism, in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and other similar adaptations in art.

(8) The philologically reconstructed Middle Ages, the distilled historical version.

(9) The Middle Ages of occult philosophy, with the Templars and alchemists and the esoteric secrets of the Grail.

(10) The expectation of the millenium, the breakaway religious groups and Spirituals preparing for the end of days and the coming of the Antichrist.

All of these are indeed pictures that one finds; it's perhaps notable that Eco at least toys with all of them in The Name of the Rose.

We do this with other ages too. If we were to pick out the portrayals we get of the early modern period, for instance, we might find something like the following pictures, which are of the whole period but which look at the whole period in light of a particular aspect of one of its subperiods:

(1) The early modernity of the Renaissance, a time of artistic and mercantile expansion.
(2) The early modernity of the Reformation, a time of religious tumult, Catholic vs. Protestant.
(3) The early modernity of the rationalistic Enlightenment, contrasting with the barbarism of what went before, of reason triumphing over faith. In practice this is often conflated in complicated ways with earlier scientific discovery and also with Romantic counter-reaction, focusing on great freedom, on genius, on solving problems through education, of will and passion triumphing over reason.
(4) The early modernity of the American Revolution, a time of political tumult, and of republicanism vs. monarchism.
(5) The early modernity of the Regency, stylistic and mannered. All of these pictures tend to be chronologically jumbled in their popular forms, but this particularly tends to be jumbled; Austen adaptations, for instance, tend to toss in bits and pieces from fifty years on both sides of the Regency.

The tumultuous pictures, (2)-(4), have tended to be presented in a one-sided way, and a moral drawn by means of an implicit philosophy of history: Protestants beat Catholics, reason beats faith, republicans beat monarchists, with the obvious counterexamples studiously skipped. (1) and (5), the more purely artistic renditions (which we still, as it were, have with us as Florence and costume drama), have a kind of timelessness that gives a very different view from the progressive inevitabilities of the others. And this, I suspect is the big divide in portrayals of the early modern period: the timeless and the progressive, in state and in motion. As Eco notes, even when the portrayal is as accurate as possible, the portrayal itself is in some sense an expression of who we are in dreamng of the age.


Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality, William Weaver, tr., Harcourt Brace & Co. (New York: 1986).

Various Links of Interest

* John Schwenkler, What Makes Manners Matter?

* Edith Hall, Why Read Aristotle Today?

* Hans Boersma, Fishy Architecture, at First Things
Francis Young, The Myth of Medieval Paganism, at First Things

* Darwin, Marmee and Marriage in Little Women

* Roberto Lambertini, Giles of Rome, at the SEP
Alexander Miller, Realism, at the SEP

* Candice Delmas, Uncivil Disobedience in Hong Kong

* Corinne Gressang, Useful Nuns and Revolutionary Possibility

* Elizabeth Klein, Rehabilitating St. Simeon the Stylite, at Church Life Journal
Emmanuel Falque, The Phenomenology of Christ in Flesh and Bone, at Church Life Journal

* Crispin Sartwell, Politics and Rationality: On the Uses and Limits of Science

* Nikos Salingaros reviews James Stevens Curl's Making Dystopia

* Last Year, the military historian Bret Devereaux had a series of posts analyzing The Siege of Gondor as depicted in Peter Jackson's The Return of the King. (His conclusions in a very brief nutshell: it's actually, all things considered, a remarkably accurate presentation of pre-modern warfare, partly because of what it borrows from the even more accurate book, and partly because of a good sense of how to present it visually; some of Tolkien's very careful structuring gets garbled in cinematic adaptation, and badly in one or two places, but a surprising amount carries over fairly well.)

* Also from Bret Devereaux: A Trip Through Cicero on Natural Law.

* An interesting Norwegian experiment in medication-free medical treatment.

* Richard Marshall interviews Thomas Pink.

* Benjamin Studebaker, A Platonist Critique of Rawls

Currently Reading

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Return of the Shadow
Julian of Norwich, The Showings of Julian of Norwich
Jason T. Eberl, Thomistic Principles and Bioethics
Antonio Rosmini, About the Author's Studies
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Music on My Mind

Trio Medieval and The Norwegian Girls' Choir, "A Elbereth Gilthoniel".

Monday, January 13, 2020

Athanasius of the West

Today is the feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church, often known as the Hammer of the Arians, the Athanasius of the West, and the most Greek of the Latin Doctors. Relatively little is known about his life, but he was a Neoplatonist who converted to Christianity. He was popular (apparently as a teacher) in Poitiers, so when they needed another bishop, the people insisted that he be made bishop, despite the fact that he was married, which was highly irregular. (In those days, married priests were still occasionally found in the West, but even then it was expected that bishops not be married.) The election plunged him almost immediately into the Arian controversy, which would lead several times to his exile.

From De Trinitate, Book I, where he gives the account of how the combination of his Neoplatonic reflections and the reading of Scripture led him to Christianity:

Therefore, although my soul drew joy from the apprehension of this august and unfathomable Mind, because it could worship as its own Father and Creator so limitless an Infinity, yet with a still more eager desire it sought to know the true aspect of its infinite and eternal Lord, that it might be able to believe that that immeasurable Deity was apparelled in splendour befitting the beauty of His wisdom. Then, while the devout soul was baffled and astray through its own feebleness, it caught from the prophet's voice this scale of comparison for God, admirably expressed, By the greatness of His works and the beauty of the things that He has made the Creator of worlds is rightly discerned. The Creator of great things is supreme in greatness, of beautiful things in beauty. Since the work transcends our thoughts, all thought must be transcended by the Maker. Thus heaven and air and earth and seas are fair: fair also the whole universe, as the Greeks agree, who from its beautiful ordering call it κόσμος, that is, order. But if our thought can estimate this beauty of the universe by a natural instinct — an instinct such as we see in certain birds and beasts whose voice, though it fall below the level of our understanding, yet has a sense clear to them though they cannot utter it, and in which, since all speech is the expression of some thought, there lies a meaning patent to themselves — must not the Lord of this universal beauty be recognised as Himself most beautiful amid all the beauty that surrounds Him? For though the splendour of His eternal glory overtax our mind's best powers, it cannot fail to see that He is beautiful. We must in truth confess that God is most beautiful, and that with a beauty which, though it transcend our comprehension, forces itself upon our perception.

Thus my mind, full of these results which by its own reflection and the teaching of Scripture it had attained, rested with assurance, as on some peaceful watchtower, upon that glorious conclusion, recognising that its true nature made it capable of one homage to its Creator, and of none other, whether greater or less; the homage namely of conviction that His is a greatness too vast for our comprehension but not for our faith. For a reasonable faith is akin to reason and accepts its aid, even though that same reason cannot cope with the vastness of eternal Omnipotence.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Roger Scruton (1944-2020)

Roger Scruton died earlier today at the age of 75. He had been undergoing treatment for cancer. He was, I think, one of the greatest philosophers working in aesthetics in the twentieth century; his works in philosophy of architecture (e.g., The Aesthetics of Architecture) and philosophy of music (e.g., The Aesthetics of Music) are exemplary. He became politically conservative when he was in Paris during the student protests of May 1968; from that point on, his career was a career of controversy. During the 1980s, which were in many ways his most fruitful period, he actively worked with dissidents in Czechoslovakia, smuggling books and giving lectures; he was detained and expelled from the country in 1985 as well as placed on the Index of Undesirable Persons. The Czech Republic would later give him several honors for his work.

From his Gifford Lectures, The Face of God [Bloomsbury (New York: 2012)]:

We shape our surroundings as a home by farming, by building, by arranging the world. Aesthetic values govern every form of settlement, and it is the nomads, those 'passing through', who acknowledge no responsibility for the way things appear around them. The face of nature, as we see it in the great landscape paintings of Constable and Crome, of Courbet and Corot, is a face turned towards us, giving and receiving both frowns and smiles. And later artists showed another kind of expression, called forth onto the face of nature by the urgent desire to find what is really there, regardless of all the myths and stories. In the paintings of Van Gogh trees, flowers, orchards, fields and buildings break open to the artist's brush, in something like the way that a human face can break open in response to a smile, to reveal an intense inner life and an affirmation of being. Throughout the nineteenth century artists, poets and composers were in this way exploring and imploring the face of nature, eager for a direct and I-to-I encounter. The desire to perpetuate this face and to save it from unnecessary blemishes motivated the environmental movement, which was (in its origins, at least) the political expression of a profoundly Romantic sensibility. (p. 137)

Fortnightly Book, January 12

For a number of reasons, my appetite has been whetted for some Tolkien, so the next fortnightly book is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.Tolkien began writing it at the age of 45 as a sequel to The Hobbit (which I've already done); it wasn't fully published until he was 63. He had considerable difficulty with the publication, despite the fact that there was interest in it; Tolkien wanted it to be the first volume of a two-volume work (with The Silmarillion as the other), but publishers kept balking, as they sometimes did at the size of The Lord of the Rings itself. He finally just gave in and let George Allen & Unwin publish it in whatever way they wanted. GA&U, although very favorable to Tolkien, expected it to be an expensive work with modest sales, so it was because of them that the book was divided into three volumes made out of two of the six parts. Tolkien did not want each of the volumes to have its own title; he thought instead that it should just be Volume 1, etc., with the parts given titles:

Volume 1
-- Book 1: The Ring Sets Out
-- Book 2: The Ring Goes South
Volume 2
-- Book 3: The Treason of Isengard
-- Book 4: The Ring Goes East
Volume 3
-- Book 5: The War of the Ring
-- Book 6: The End of the Third Age

He had to give in on this, as well, however. He then proposed volume titles:

Volume 1: The Shadow Grows
Volume 2: The Ring in the Shadow
Volume 3: The War of the Ring

Of course, the volumes eventually came to be titled The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King; Tolkien was never entirely happy with the third title, which he thought gave away too much of the story.

Richard G. Leonberger singing the Donald Swann version of "Namárië", sung by Galadriel, closely based on Tolkien's own idea of how it would sound:

Tolkien's spoken recitation of the song:

And, much harder to find, Tolkien singing it: