Saturday, February 01, 2020

Impeachment III

I have not said much about the impeachment trial for the same reason I didn't say much about the impeachment itself, beyond some basics (I, II): there is, despite the volume of words said about it, not much to be said. It seems to me, however, that some people have repeatedly set themselves up for disappointment through not recognizing that trying an impeachment is very different from what we generally call a trial. The basic distinction between an impeachment trial and an ordinary trial is written into the Constitution, such that if someone is impeached and convicted for X, this does not constitute the trial for X under law. (This was a modification of the British process that was specifically introduced into the American process.) While impeachment is like indictment, it is not strictly an indictment, but what is substituted in its place, and there are a number of differences between the two from the very beginning.

But there are other changes that follow from the structure of such a trial. The Senate has to be under Oath for it (the usual reason given for this historically is to create an incentive for Senators not to act vindictively); when the President is tried, the Chief Justice is required to preside (to prevent the trial from being presided over by the Vice President); no one may be convicted without 2/3 of the members present (another obvious deviation from the British process that was usually thought to have been introduced to reduce the chances of conviction on purely partisan grounds). Other than that, it is an act of the Senate and thus all rules governing it are determined by the Senate. There are no procedural rules, except what the Senate determines. There are no rules of evidence, except what the Senate determines. There are no burdens or standards of proof, except what Senators in voting decide to use. This is because, not being a trial in the normal sense, impeachment is not only concerned with the office-holder only as an office-holder, it is not concerned with legal punishment but with political punishment. The primary question before the Senate in an impeachment trial is, "Given the charges, should someone be removed from office who is in that office due to a legitimate, constitutional, and thus authoritative exercise of power?" In the case of the President, of course, that means removal of someone serving a fixed term for which he was elected. Being guilty in this context is to have done something to convince the legislature that authority given by the electorate through a constitutional process must be taken away. And everything revolves around that.

Even when the President is of an opposing party, this is a hard sell, in part because Senators have to face the electorate that put the President in power and thus have to be sure that they are not going to be removed at the end of their own term for not instead leaving the whole matter to voters themselves. It has never been a likely scenario that Senators of the same party as the President would in any significant number vote to remove the President, short of charges capable of turning a significant number of presidential supporters against him; since Trump's polling numbers are notoriously stable, the charges quite clearly do not do that, particularly since Republicans are quite clearly worried about Democrats trying to use this as a platform for attacking Republicans across the board -- I mean, it's inevitable in an election year that they will do this, but Republicans are worried about having to deal with it under conditions in which they would also be handing Democrats advantages in doing so. Senators are not always perfectly predictable, so we will see later this week what the actual results are, but the two-thirds is not in the cards.

Given all this, nothing has passed with respect to the trial itself that should have been unexpected, particularly given the Senate Majority Leader's unusually acute talent for always finding the way of proceeding that is least convenient for the political goals of the Democrats in Congress, nor can the trial ever have been considered much more than a political version of a Hail Mary pass, in the hope of something, anything, creating a hard shift in the political situation. Again, while we will see the precise result later this week, it seems clear enough that absolutely nothing has.

To Come Unto the Quiet Isles

by Geoffrey Bache Smith

There is a place where voices
Of great guns do not come,
Where rifle, mine, and mortar
For evermore are dumb:
Where there is only silence,
And peace eternal and rest,
Set somewhere in the quiet isles
Beyond Death’s starry West.
O God, the God of battles,
To us who intercede,
Give only strength to follow
Until there’s no more need,
And grant us at that ending
Of the unkindly quest
To come unto the quiet isles
Beyond Death’s starry West.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Have You Seen the Manifold Things I See?

by Geoffrey Bache Smith

O scholar grey, with quiet eyes,
Reading the charactered pages, bright
With one tall candle's flickering light,
In a turret chamber under the skies;
O scholar, learned in gramarye,
Have you seen the manifold things I see?

Have you seen the forms of traced towers
Whence clamorous voices challenge the hours:
Gaunt tree-branches, pitchy black
Against the long, wind-driven wrack
Of scurrying, shuddering clouds, that race
Ever across the pale moon's face?

Have you heard the tramp of hurrying feet.
There beneath, in the shadowy street,
Have you heard sharp cries, and seen the flame
Of silvery steel, in a perilous game,
A perilous game for men to play,
Hid from the searching eyes of day?

Have you heard the great awakening breath,
Like trump that summons the saints from death,
Of the wild, majestical wind, which blows
Loud and splendid, that each man knows
Far, O far away is the sea,
Breaking, murmuring, stark and free?

All these things I hear and see,
I, a scholar of gramarye:
All are writ in the ancient books
Clear, exactly, and he that looks
Finds the night and the changing sea,
The years gone by, and the years to be:
(He that searches, with tireless eyes
In a turret-chamber under the skies)
Passion and joy, and sorrow and laughter,
Life and death, and the things thereafter.

For Christmas I received the biopic Tolkien, which makes the interesting choice of focusing almost entirely on Tolkien's early friendship with Christopher Wiseman, Robert Gilson, and Geoffrey Bache Smith (together making up the T.C.B.S), as well as with Edith in the years leading up to their marriage. The Tolkien estate wasn't happy with it, but in fairness, the Tolkien estate hasn't usually been happy with much. It over-reads Tolkien's early life in terms of his later works (and as critics have noted, overdoes the story-comes-from-the-author's-life trope); it also misses much more obvious opportunities to introduce links with his earlier work (Beren and Luthien, in particular). It also underplays the seriousness of Tolkien's Catholicism. But I thought it was actually enjoyable enough.

Geoffrey Bache Smith was himself a later member of the T.C.B.S. (the Tea Club, Barrovian Society), joining after Vincent Trought died of illness. There were others who were members beside the most notable four, e.g., Ralph Stuart Payton and Thomas Barnsley. Gilson, Smith, and Payton died at the Battle of the Somme. Barnsley was killed in 1917. Of all the close friends, only Tolkien and Wiseman survived. All of Geoffrey Bache Smith's poems were published posthumously.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Ethics and Reasoning I (Bentham)

As I have begun to get into the meat of the semester, in which I am teaching three Ethics courses, I thought I would start a series that would more or less follow the outline of my course and give a taste of what I go over. For the purpose of this series, I will be sticking to the essentials and dropping additional readings and side topics and the like, except where they naturally contribute to illuminating some particular essential matter directly.

An Ethics course is inevitably going to be a course in ethical reasoning, so it is reasonable to start with the kinds of ethical reasoning we find. Even a very crude survey of the kinds of reasons and arguments that people give on moral and ethical questions will show that at least most, and perhaps all, can be analyzed into three kinds of reasons, sometimes used alone and sometimes used in combination: consequence-based reasons, obligation-based reasons, and character-based reasons. To decide important questions we are constantly appealing to harms and benefits, to things we take to be requirements of some kind, and to what kind of person we would be. For instance, in explaining to a teenager why they should follow the speed limit, one might say that doing so protects from potentially fatal accidents (consequence), that speed limits are imposed by the law (obligation), and that a reasonable person will follow reasonable guidelines like posted speed limits (character). You can take practically any subject in ethics and analyze the reasons, whether for or against, into consequences, obligations, and character traits -- what comes from the action, what standards the action must meet, and what kind of person one is in doing that kind of action.

The fact that you can do this on every side, though, creates a problem. Consequence-based reasoning, obligation-based reasoning, and character-based reasoning can be very different kinds of reasoning. Since there are advantages to each, almost all of us use all three. But since they are so different, how do we keep them consistent? How do we compare them when they conflict? Something like this problem arises even if we stay within one family; for instance, even if we are only considering consequences, one thing might have both harms and benefits, so we'd have to figure out a way to compare them if we were ever to draw any consistent conclusions. The obvious way to do this is to think of one particular kind of consequence as fundamental, as the consequence that really matters, as the kind of consequence you always look toward if there are any doubts. All the other consequences get measured by that kind of consequence. And while I don't know that it is the only way, the nearly universal way of handling inconsistency when comparing reasons from different families is the much the same: pick one of the ways of reasoning as the fundamental one, the one on which all ethics is based.

This is one of the sources of ethical disagreement: people, in trying to be consistent, choose different kinds of reasoning as their preferred reasoning. Sometimes they pick based on what they find easiest to use. Sometimes they pick one because they think it does a good job of expressing their sense of why morality matters. Sometimes they don't so much pick one as fall into it because of how they were raised. But whatever the reason, almost everyone privileges one of the three families of reasoning over the other.

There are, then, three primary approaches to any ethical question. Whether these three are exhaustive is occasionally debated, but there is no doubt that they are the most common and influential. And they differ, sometimes considerably, because they privilege different kinds of reasoning.

Some people privilege consequence-based reasoning. They treat certain kinds of consequences as the most important thing in any situation. They may well talk about obligations or rules, but when you press them on why those obligations or rules matter, they will explain them as things we generally need to do to get good consequences or avoid bad consequences. They may well talk about character, but good character for them will turn out to be the kind of character that generally leads to the right kind of consequences. These people we call consequentialists. In older textbooks it is sometimes called 'teleology', but this is no longer common. 'Consequentialism' was originally an insult, but it fit well enough that even consequentialists started using it.

Other people privilege obligation-based reasoning. For them, there are certain rules or laws or duties or rights that are for some reason absolutely fundamental, and that everything else in ethics depends on. They might talk about good and bad consequences, but if they do so in ethics, they will still privilege the obligation, and take the distinction between good and bad consequences to depend on it. They might talk about character, but a good character for them will be one that generally leads you to fulfill your obligations. These people we call deontologists.

That leaves character-based reasoning. People who take character-based reasoning to be fundamental might talk about good or bad consequences, but where this is relevant to ethics, they will take the difference between good and bad consequences to be at least indirectly based on being a good or bad person -- for instance, they might take good consequences to be those a practically intelligent person would choose. When they talk about obligations, it will also, directly or indirectly, be based on character -- for instance, they might take an obligation to be what you have to do if you are to become a virtuous person. We call these people virtue ethicists.

There is not much rhyme or reason to these three names in particular. We could call them Consequentialism, Obligationism, and Characterism; or we could call them Teleology, Deontology, and Aretology; or we could call them Benefit Ethics, Rule Ethics, and Virtue Ethics. But as it happens, for purely historical reason, the three labels that are usually used are Consequentialism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics.

It is important to note that in the wild people will sometimes use these terms loosely, so that, for instance, someone could is treated as being both consequentialist and deontological. There are reasons why you might do this, but it's not the most helpful way to understand how the reasoning works, so for our purposes we will take all three in the strictest way -- they are mutually exclusive, and cannot be mixed-and-matched. Nobody can be both a deontologist and a consequentialist in this sense; that would generally not solve the problem of how to be consistent across different kinds of reasons.

In any case, it is useful to be able to think through all three approaches for a number of reason. First, doing so may help develop your own view by pointing out things you had not yet considered. Second, you will certainly meet people from all three camps, and it is good to know how they might think about things. Third, it is sometimes helpful in cases of ethical disagreement, because disagreements in ethics often arise because people, while using the same words, use different approaches in understanding and applying them.

I. Consequentialism

In philosophy, answers generally raise new questions. If I tell you that all ethical reasoning is directly or indirectly based on getting good consequences and avoiding bad ones, one of the obvious next questions is, "What makes the difference between a good consequence and a bad one?" After all, you could imagine some crazy person saying, "The best consequence is murder, so right and wrong, good and bad, depend on increasing murder and avoiding things that reduce murder." That's definitely consequentialist, but it's not a kind of consequentialism most people would accept. If someone answered the question a different way, you would get a different kind of consequentialism. Inevitably there will be many possible consequentialisms even when you've eliminated crazy ones like murder consequentialism. But there is one answer that is, overwhelmingly, the most popular answer to the question: "Good consequences are those that tend to or contribute to happiness, bad consequences are those that hamper happiness or increasing unhappiness." Consequentialists who put forward that answer are called utilitarians. For utilitarians, all of ethics comes down to happiness as a consequence, taken generally. This is where they get their name -- 'utility' in this context is a technical term for something that contributes to happiness. In this sense, we often say that utilitarians try to maximize utilities. Strictly speaking, they are trying to maximize happiness; but utilities are anything that fill the role of being a means to happiness.

Again, we have an obvious next question. If someone says that all of ethics comes down to increasing happiness and decreasing unhappiness, we can ask, "What is happiness in general?" It's certainly true that not everybody has the same theory of happiness, and utilitarians with different theories of happiness can have very different kinds of utilitarianism. There are many things that could go into your theory of happiness -- virtue, knowledge, pleasure, getting what you prefer, freedom, beauty, and friendship are all things that people have proposed. Preference satisfaction is a popular one today. But one kind of utilitarianism, which is usually called classical utilitarianism is especially useful to look at. It is very influential historically, it is relatively simple to understand (utilitarianisms can become very complicated very quickly), and even utilitarians who disagree with it will often use it as a reference point when explaining their own views. The classical utilitarian's theory of happiness is hedonistic. Hedonism in the strict sense is the theory of happiness that takes happiness to be pleasure without pain (to the extent that is possible), and nothing else. While you could be a hedonist without being a utilitarian, if you are a utilitarian and a hedonist about happiness, you are a classical utilitarian. The two most important classical utilitarians are Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and in understanding how utilitarianism works, it is helpful to look at both.

Jeremy Bentham by Henry William Pickersgill
Jeremy Bentham as painted by Henry William Pickersgill

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was trained as a lawyer, and in a sense that is the root of his utilitarianism. He found British law extremely frustrating -- it was complex, it was haphazard, it was filled with things for which it was difficult to give any account based on general principles. It would become one of his lifelong projects to reform it, to make it rational and reasonable. But the only way you can make law better is if you have some notion of what 'better' means; you need an account of what it means to make progress in matters of law, and it seems reasonable to say that laws are better when they have better consequences for society at large. This brings us to utilitarianism. Consequentialisms in general tend to be forward-looking and reform-oriented -- if you are constantly thinking about the consequences, it starts making sense to consider what you can do to change things so that you get better consequences. In developing a version of what we call classical utilitarianism, Bentham held that we have our guide for progress in happiness, understood as pleasure without pain; we are all, he thought, aiming at this already, and when we get together in society, a condition for society working is that we all aim at improving the overall happiness. We are all, to some extent, classical utilitarians already. And those laws, customs, practices, and institutions will be best which best contribute to the overall happiness. Everything can be measured by a principle of utility. As he puts it in his most influential work, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Chapter 1,

By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose that happiness. I say of every action whatsoever; and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government.

If someone tells you that progress is to be measured by contribution to happiness, an obvious next question is, "Whose happiness?" You could rig up various answers to this, but the one that has tended to be most attractive to utilitarians, and certainly one of the simplest you could give is, "The happiness of whatever can experience happiness." If happiness is what matters morally and your dog can experience happiness, your dog's happiness matters morally. If cockroaches experience happiness, their happiness is relevant for the overall happiness. People often summarize the principle of utility with the slogan, "Greatest happiness for the greatest number"; it is important to grasp that in general utilitarians do not mean by this "Greatest happiness for the greatest number of human beings". Everything that can experience happiness will count. It could be that we have a theory of happiness in which only human beings experience happiness, of course. But for classical utilitarianism, happiness is pleasure without pain to the extent possible; and it seems quite clear that many animals can experience pleasure and pain. One of Bentham's most famous statements occurs as a footnote in the work noted above; speaking of non-human animals he says, "the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"

It's all well and good to say that we measure things by their contribution to happiness, but in practice what does that really mean? Bentham notes that when we compare pleasures and pains, our comparison is not arbitrary. We can recognize that the pain from being punched hard in the face will be more intense than the pain from being poked in the side; we can recognize that the pleasure of conversation with old friends will last longer than the pleasure of gobbling down a small piece of chocolate. And it seems like these different ways we compare them can be quantified: you could, in principle, give an exact number to how intense or how long-lasting a pleasure could be, how certain it is, how quickly you will get it, how easily it leads to other pleasures, how many people share in it. Bentham tried to pin down exactly what they were, and Benthamite utilitarians made mnemonic for all the things you need to look at in order to compare pleasures and pains:

Intense, long, certain, speedy, fruitful, pure
Such marks in pleasures and in pains endure.

Such pleasures seek if private be thy end:
If it be public, wide let them extend.

Such pains avoid, whichever be thy view:
If pains must come, let them extend to few.

It's not wholly clear whether this list is really exhaustive. For instance, we can localize pleasures and pains, so there doesn't seem to be a reason why we should not try to increase cubic meters of pleasure, beyond the fact that we don't ever compare pleasures and pains this way. More seriously, these are all different kinds of measurements: intensity is measured in degrees, duration in units of time, propinquity or 'speediness' by a rate, extent by a number of animals, certainty by a percentage or fraction of possibilities. It's not obvious how it should all come together. But we do compare pleasures and pains even across measurements -- we'll judge, for instance, that there is more pleasure in A than in B because the pleasure in A is much longer-lasting, even though the pleasure in B is a little bit more intense -- so Bentham thinks that you can, in fact, put it all in a calculation. This aspect of Benthamite utilitarianism has come to be called 'the felicific caculus'. For any ethical problem, you could in principle measure up exactly how much pleasure and pain are involved and give an exact answer to exactly how good or bad something is. In practice, of course, we don't measure anything exactly but estimate on the basis of long experience, like someone measuring out lengths of cloth by eye rather than by ruler.

The focus on quantity leads Bentham to interpret the principle of utility in a very strict way. When Bentham looks at ethical systems other than his own, he diagnoses them as sharing a very serious, indeed fatal, flaw: asceticism. As he defines it in the Introduction, Chapter 2:

By the principle of asceticism I mean that principle, which, like the principle of utility, approves or disapproves of any action, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question; but in an inversive manner: approving of actions in as far as they tend to diminish his happiness; disapproving of them in as far as they tend to augment it.

The principle of asceticism is the opposite of the principle of utility, understood in classical utilitarian terms: it treats pain as good and pleasure as bad. Few if anyone accepts such a principle explicitly and directly. But the problem, Bentham thinks, is that the principle of utility requires that we never treat pain as good or pleasure as bad, but almost all ethical systems violate this, and therefore have parts that imply the principle of asceticism.

This is often not grasped even by utilitarians reading Bentham. On Bentham's account, self-restraint is no virtue; the virtue, if anything, is enlightened pursuit of pleasure. The only reason you can ever restrain yourself or others from the pursuit of pleasure is if the restraint will itself lead to greater happiness (through more pleasure or less pain) in the long run. The only reason you can ever impose painful action on yourself or another is if the painful action will itself lead to greater happiness overall. Bentham means this quite seriously. When he looks at the practice of observing Lent, for instance, in which people give things up that they like on the ground that the virtue of temperance is better than pleasure, he sees a practice that he thinks is wicked. It is a practice based on the lie of asceticism. If you are dieting, and you are doing so for any other reason that that the inconvenience will lead to greater happiness, you are doing something wicked. If you refuse to let your children do what they like for any other reason than that preventing them from doing it will actually contribute to their happiness or the happiness of others in a greater degree than the activity being prevented would, then you are acting wickedly.

The principle of utility as interpreted by Bentham, then, is very strict, and while it may seem limited at first, in reality it has extensive ramifications, demanding not merely the reform of society but the reform of ethics itself. A good example of this is Bentham's stance on torture (which is discussed in excellent detail in John Davies's "The Fire-Raisers: Bentham and Torture"). In Bentham's day, cities tended to have a lot of closely packed wooden buildings, with the result that arson could burn down significant portions of the city and kill vast numbers of people. So we could ask a question. Suppose you are trying to prevent an arsonist from setting more fires and killing thousands, which he will do soon, and suppose further that you know you can get his location very quickly by torturing someone else. Should we then torture that other person, whether they are an accomplice or an innocent person who is merely reluctant to provide us with the necessary information for our own purposes? And the Benthamite position is going to be obvious: With so many lives on the line, so much pain and suffering looming, what kind of monster would you have to be to refuse to torture someone just because it would make you feel guilty to do it?

This is a strict position. Not all utilitarians take the principle of utility so strictly. Indeed, I dare say most, even most classical utilitarians, do not. But how would we go about interpreting it in a way that did not have such results? The most obvious way would be to rethink how pleasure and pain are being taken into account in that 'greatest happiness for the greatest number'. One influential utilitarian who took this route is John Stuart Mill, to which we will turn in the next post.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Man Who Summed All Truth

Saint Thomas Aquinas
by Aubrey De Vere

He left the fortress-palace of his sires:
The blood of princes coursing through his veins
Flushed him no more with pride's insurgent fires
Than streams, hill-born, make proud the sundered plains:
He loved that lowly life the world disdains;
Contemned the insensate pomp that world admires;—
He walked, in soul conversing with those choirs
That sing where peace eternal lives and reigns.
Tender Loretto to her breast elate
Caught him a youngling. Silent, meek, serene,
His small feet sought the poor beside her gate
That wondered at the brightness of his mien
Even then a holy creature dedicate
To Wisdom's sovran seat and sacred Queen.

Beauteous Campania! In the old Roman morn
The great ones of the nations rushed to thee:
In thy rich gardens by the full-voiced sea
Wearied they slept, and woke like men re-born.
Not so the greatest of thy sons! In scorn
He passed the snare; his spirit strong and free
Less honouring Pestum's roses than that thorn
The crown of Calvary's Victim. Who was he?
The Ascetic who refused a prelate's throne
Lest worldly aims with cares divine should mix;
The Builder lifting fanes of thought not stone,
Far less poor Babel Towers of sun-burnt bricks;
The man who summed all Truth, yet drew alone
His sacred science from his crucifix.

Great Saint! In pictures old a sun there flamed
Soft sphere of radiance on thy vest of snow;
It taught us that from hearts by sin unshamed,
The mind's inspirer best, alone could flow
Sapience like thine. "Master of those who know!"
At heaven's high mark alone thy shaft was aimed:
Therefore, by thee unwoo'd by thee disclaimed
Science terrestrial sought thy threshold low.
Beneath thy cell she knelt: all pagan lore
From mines of Plato and the Stagyrite
To thee she tendered. Thou, with spiritual light
Piercing each ingot of that golden ore,
To gems didst change them meet to pave the floor
Of God's great Temple on the empyreal height.

Quite a bit going on here. "The man who summed all truth" is, of course, a reference to the Summa Theologiae. The sun in the third stanza refers to one of his most noticeable iconographical symbols -- he is often depicted with a sun on his chest. "Master of those who know" is a phrase typically applied to Aristotle, as is "the Stagyrite".

Monday, January 27, 2020

To Peaks and Spires of Light

Saint Thomas Aquinas
by R. Metcalfe

O intellect sublime! Sounding the deeps
Of human science, compassing divine;
Whereunto shall we liken thee? To sweeps
Of mountain moorland, purpling line on line—
Distance to greater distance, where combine
The hills and heaven? Or to that mount of stone,
Whose shadowy gloom leads by gradations fine
To peaks and spires of light—thine own Cologne?

Yet seemest thou most like that ageless dome
Not reared for puny time, nor wrought in haste,
Catholic—for all tongues and nations made—
Symbol of unity, the Faith of Rome,
Grandly the world embracing, and embraced
By that pellucid heaven without a shade.

I know nothing at all about R. Metcalfe, beyond the fact that this comes from his 1901 work, Passion Sonnets and Other Verses; it is the second in a series on Dominican themes.

The feast of St. Thomas, of course, is tomorrow, the 28th.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Evening Note for Sunday, January 26

Thought for the Evening: Du Bois and the Cultivation of a People's Intellectual Life

W. E. B. Du Bois's "Conservation of Races" is perhaps unsurprisingly usually read for its discussion of race, which Du Bois defines as "a vast family of human beings, generally of common blood and language, always of common history, traditions and impulses, who are both voluntarily and involuntarily striving together for the accomplishment of certain more or less vividly conceived ideals of life." However, the discussion of race in this sense is the background for what Du Bois is primarily discussing, which is a social program for the support and development of culture, or, perhaps more exactly, of a thriving and distinctive intellectual life.

Any such social cultivation of intellectual gifts is potentially powerful, but it can only be so, Du Bois argues, if the people involved in it are honest, earnest, inspired, and united:

(1) Honest: Such cultivation requires a willingness to engage in self-critique and to correct oneself in light of such reflection;
(2) Earnest: Such cultivation can only be furthered among a people who take themselves seriously as human beings capable of great things;
(3) Inspired: Such cultivation must draw strength and direction from a heritage that gives hope;
(4) United: Such cultivation is only possible among a people cooperating for mutual good.

All four of these, especially the last, require the development of organizations specifically for the purpose of furthering "careful conference and thoughtful interchange of opinion", such as the American Negro Academy that Du Bois is specifically addressing. In order to meet these ends, the organizations have to have three characteristics: they must in a specific sense be representative in character, they must be impartial in conduct, and they must be firm in leadership:

(I) Representative in Character: By 'representative', Du Bois does not mean representative of a people quite so much as he means representative to the people. The organizations that uphold and cultivate social intellectual and cultural life must in a sense hold up a mirror to the people they support, but the reflection must be a reflection of what is the best in the people: their "best thought", their "most unselfish striving", their "highest ideals". These things are already implicit in the people, but they are scattered: the organizations must see themselves as in part gathering them together in concentrated form.

(II) Impartial in Conduct: The organizations are exalting the people by drawing together the best that is in them, but this creates a potential temptation that must be avoided, namely to exaggerate or fictionalize in the misguided notion of exalting people that way. People can only be exalted if the reflection created by these supporting organizations is concerned with truth. It must be unlying and unflattering. And in particular, it must show that these high qualities implicit in the people are not things that simply fall into their laps; they are things for which one must work, things that require "a vast work of self-reformation" and "dogged work and manly striving".

(III) Firm in Leadership: Given the vast number of problems the people must solve, the organizations need to provide "a practical path of advance", not always so much in terms of specific solutions as in terms of general policy arising out of its representativeness and impartial honesty.

None of this is the work of a night; it is a long and difficult road, requiring considerable thought and cooperation.

Du Bois, of course, is thinking specifically of what is needed to build a system of support adequate to the black community, but he is deliberately doing so in light of the general conception of the infrastructure required for preserving and developing the intellectual and cultural life of communities, and it's clear enough that this account can be generalized to give an account of the characteristics of healthy organizations for intellectual life, wherever they are found. It serves, for instance, as a reasonable standard to which one should hold schools in general like colleges and universities, for instance.

Various Links of Interest

* Katja Vogt, Seneca, at the SEP

* David Heddendorf, On Being Kind

* Eitan Hersh, College-Educated Voters Are Ruining American Politics. I've argued something similar for broadly related reasons, but I think I regard the problem as more general than Hersh does, since I don't think activism has shown itself to be resistant to it.

* Byrne Hobart, Coins as Tangible History

* Moti Mizrahi, How to Play the "Playing God" Card (PDF)

Currently Reading

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Treason of Isengard
John R. Page, What Will Dr. Newman Do? John Henry Newman and Papal Infallibility, 1865-1875
Julian of Norwich, The Showings of Julian Norwich