Saturday, February 22, 2020

Dashed Off III

official standards -> working standards -> derivative standards

Satispassional compatience is a more profound unity than satisfactional compatience.

the we-are-all-in-this-together experience

All interpretation of Scripture and Church documents should take the Notes of the Church as its guiding lights.

allusion & the continually self-building character of language

comeuppance tales as 'duals' of mystery tales

"A democracy where public life is made up of strife between political parties is incapable of preventing the formation of a party whose avowed aims is the overthrow of that democracy." Weil

purgatory : prayer of quiet :: heaven : spiritual marriage

geek show magic & the ambiguity between stunt and illusion

though reason is the nature of the man,
corruption is the nature of the beast

The laity can earn many indulgences enduring the follies of bishops.

To make any sense of human experience, experience must be in some way an action shared between mind and world.

measurement as a form of communication (making-in-common)

We can recognize that something is such as to please on being seen even if under the circumstances we are not in fact pleased in seeing it.

convergence vs. sublimation accounts of progress

All creatures are part mendicant.

Transubstantiation is the only account of the Eucharist that does justice to the unity of the Church.

Memorialist interpretations of communion make the Church only approximately one (by resemblance).

(1) Human reason requires an ambience of rationality.
(2) Rationality is shot through with a concern for ends.
(3) The natural goal of each agent is objective good.
(4) The rule of law springs from natural law and the objective common good.

Papias on 'the living and abiding voice'
- cp. to Galen's use of 'living voice' in Compositoin of Drugs Bk VI (for medicine) and to Quintilian Inst Or. 2.2.8 (for oratory)

A way of stating the Modern Error: attempting to accomplish by mechanism what requires asceticism.

A considerable portion of what we think of as our knowledge of ourselves is in fact purely aspirational.

law of nature realism
--(1) positivistic (//divine command)
--(2) naturalistic
------ Platonic
------ Immanent
------ Exemplarist (Platonic + Immanent)

The contemplation of prayer does not remain in the icons but in icons the one who prays contemplates the purity of intelligible truths.

sense of fitness & sense of oddness in assessment of evidence

"Freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to everyone of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, where that rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, arbitrary will of another man." Locke

"Love transforms the beloved into the one loving through a peculiar union." John of St. Thomas

Love strengthens solicitude.

"From one miracle and mystery is gleaned an explanation for another." John of St. Thomas

An error theory can only grow in the situation in which a discourse posits what is excluded by the world. A common mistake is to propose an error theory where exclusion has not been established; in such cases no sense can be made of the 'error' as error -- one cannot in such cases rule out that the discourse is metaphorical, or approximate, or from a particular perspective, rather than a genuine error.

All sacraments are implicitly apotropaic; this may be made more or less explicit in the prayers.

experiments that solve problems (e.g., particle discovery) vs. experiments that establish the promise of a line of inquiry (e.g., Miller-Urey)

vague terms as having an aspect devoted to construction-in-use

Always beware the substitute for sanctity, whatever name it takes.

One of the fundamental principles of a large stable polity is the confidence of the provinces; it is a fundamental bulwark against tyranny.

structural frame obligations & protective belt obligations

Fictional characters exist as artifacts of reason and rational entities as much as proofs and proposed contracts do.

The actual world cannot be completely and adequately described by any set of propositions.

hyperanalogization & adaptive cooption
hypercombinatorialization & adaptive cobbling-together

the drifting of ideas into contexts with new evidential pressures

The invention of the wheel is really the invention of the wheel-and-plane. Laying down hard, flat routes is in its own way as remarkable a part of the invention as the roller.

The arguments that are popular in any given political dispute are ones that are adapted to ancestral political environments. That is, there is an adaptive lag.

islands of stability in the dialectical hyperspace

Because of discovery of new evidence (which takes time to assimilate), forgetting of old evidence (which leaves conclusions with uncertain support), and evidential reassessment (which is an extended process), as well as the inertia of belief, everyone is likely often violating Clifford's dictum.

Dogma is a seed of thought.

Christian penance is a work of Christian hope; all repentance depends on hope of some kind.

The gift of counsel guides us to spiritual directors and teachers.

devotion to the saints as an expression of the gift of counsel on the scale of the Church

An important aspect of sublimity that any account of it must explain is that extensive sublimity and intensive sublimity can affect us in the same way.

2 kinds of talent
(1) aptitude for easy development & furtherance of skill
(2) aptitude for easy development and furtherance of virtue

justifications for narrative choices
(1) internal truth
(2) greater good
(3) beauty-making
(4) greater art

Much cultural variation in moral matters can be seen as adaptive mutual modulation of moral principles in light of diverse circumstances -- e.g., in harsh environments the manner of expression of other principles is more closely controlled by the principles concerned with survival of individuals and communities than in more genial environments.

Mathematical reasoning is formal, but the form in question is the ideal form to which things tend, not the form of actual things. That is, it is the form of the final causes of operations and constructions.

"..." & empty quotation

Armand de Belvezer: transcendens = trans omne ens / transiens omne ens; occurs through
(1) nobilitas entitatis (e.g., God)
(2) communicatas praedicationis formalis (e.g., the six)
(3) communitas praedeterminativa (e.g., second intentions)

transcendentals as what encompasses/encircles/circuits every genus
-- Francis de Meyronnes rightly notes that this implies that the transcendental is found in all categories & he suggests instead a negative conception as 'what abstracts from every categorial notion so as not to be in a determinate genus'

Hierarchy with respect to 'transcendentals':
-- Divine Being as Hyperousia
-- Being as Transcendental
-- Properties of Being as Transcendental, Negative or Positive (e.g., one, true)
-- Higher Transcendental Distinctions/Disjunctions (e.g., actual/potential, cause/caused)
-- Category-Limited Transcendentals (e.g., 'accident') -- Transcategoricals
PREDICAMENTALS (Categories/First Genera)

"Every nature is both from God and directed towards God in such a way that the perfection of natures consists more in return or reversion to God than in emergence or in exit from God." Matthew of Aquasparta

Verum est indivisio esse et ejus quod est. (Philip the Chancellor)

the three levels of religion
(1) acquired virtue of religion: devotion to God as Creator
(2) infused virtue of religion: devotion to God as Savior
(3) gift of piety: devotion to God for His own sake

The error of quietism is in part to treat the gift of piety as if it annihilated the virtues of religion and of hope.

adoption -> gift of piety

The virtue of fortitude withstands death; but the gift of fortitude withstands not only death but the powers of hell.

The gift of fear goes beyond the virtue of humility by conferring not merely subordination but a sort of transparency to divine things, an openness beyond submission to divine majesty.

All the gifts of the Spirit are concerned primarily with good; thus, for instance, the gift of fortitude is not primarily a resistance to evil, but is primarily a sort of divine strength and stability of good, which by being itself also resists evil.

Romans 11:33-36
Keter: O depths of riches
Hochmah: both of the wisdom
Binah: and knowledge
Gevurah: unsearchable judgments
Hesed: untraceable ways
Tiferet: who hath known the mind of the Lord
Netzach: who gave to Him
Hod: and recompensed
Yesod: of Him, through Him, and to Him
Malchut: to whom be glory forever
-- Yours, O Lord, the greatness (gedullah), power (gevurah), beauty (tiferet), victory (netzach), majesty (hod); yours is the kingdom (malchut). I Chronicles 29:11
-- The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open and the clouds drop down dew. Pr. 3:19-20

Street's basic evolutionary principle (Natural selection played a significant role in shaping our evaluative tendencies) is really just a more specific form of 'We have evaluative tendencies that are natural'.

The eye and visual system did not evolve to see this tree here; the eye evolved as a light receiver, and the visual system to identify features of light. It is the light that shows us the tree.

With arguments that 'prove too much', one must be careful, because they might be fixable with additional qualifications.

Modern man is a primitive thinker acquainted with a lot of things that other people established as true.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Plagues of Egypt

Today is the feast of St. Peter Damian, so I thought I'd talk a little a bit about his letter 78 to John of Lodi, in which he discusses the plagues of Egypt, interpreting them spiritually as a description of wordly life, and connecting them to the Ten Commandments. As he says, "the plagues that occurred in Egypt are nothing but wounds. And what was this heavenly Law if not medicine for these wounds?" (pp. 172-173). He interprets the plagues thusly:

First Plague: Water into Blood, "when the mind, blind to its own condition, disturbs and violates the purity of the true faith" (p. 173) -- faith, like water, gives nourishment. The first commandment is the remedy for this vice, insisting on the purity of divine worship. (Damian actually quotes Deuteronomy 6:4 as the first commandment, and takes it to cover both Dt. 5:7 and 5:8.)

Second Plague: Swarm of Frogs. Frogs are noisy, like "heretics and philosophers" (p. 173), and they live in the mud, just as the heretics and philosophers who chatter nonsense about the faith make their home among the unbelieving masses. The remedy for this vice is the commandment against taking the name of the Lord in vain.

Third Plague: Swarm of Gnats, "the vice of wandering and restlessness" (p. 174), since by their stinging they make it impossible to stay in one place. This restlessness leads to treating sin lightly, and thus as remedy God in the Decalogue commands that we keep the sabbath holy as a day of rest. (As an interesting side note, St. Peter reads the first three commandments as Trinitarian: the first is appropriated to the Father, the second to the Son, and the third to the Holy Spirit, and notes in favor of this that it was the third plague that the magicians of Egypt ascribed to the "finger of God" in Exodus 8:19, which is of course, a name for the Holy Spirit. And, of course, there is the old tradition that the first three commandments, pertaining to God directly, were written on the first tablet and the rest on the second.)

Fourth Plague: Swarm of Flies, which Damian, influenced by St. Isidore, interprets as dog-fleas, which leads to probably the most strained of the interpretations. Dogs are not respectful to their parents, and their fleas make them especially bad-tempered, so the remedy for this is honoring your parents.

Fifth Plague: Death of Cattle. To commit adultery is to be like the beasts, as when Jeremiah 5:7-8 associates adulterers with horses, so the remedy for this is the command against adultery. (This sounds a bit strained, but actually I think this is a quite salvageable association, because cattle and prosperous fertility are associated in the ancient world.)

Sixth Plague: Wounds and Boils. Wounds suggest hatred; boils suggest pride; their festering suggests anger. So the sixth commandment, against killing, is applied as a medicine to it.

Seventh Plague: Hail Mingled with Fire. Ice and fire are opposites, but here they are combined. "Thus those who steal the property of others are both frozen in regard to fraternal charity and on fire with the ardor of their cupidity" (p.177). The thundering and lightning of the storm suggests fear, and the plague is quite clearly one that would be damaging to property. Thus the remedy is the commandment against stealing.

Eighth Plague: Locusts. Locusts are little creatures that destroy all life, so they are fitting symbol for slanderers and false accusers, destroying all the good in their path, ruining harvests of good deeds, and gnawing at the lives of others with specious lies. Thus the eighth commandment, which remedies it, is the commandment against false witness.

Ninth Plague: Darkness on the Land. The coveter of another's wife is someone who acts from an interior darkness, a secret unfaithfulness in his heart. Thus God commanded Israel not merely that they should not run away with or defile their neighbor's wives, which the commandment against adultery covered, but that they should not even covet.

Tenth Plague: Death of the Firstborn. St. Peter takes the death of the firstborn to represent the self-poisoning character of our attachments to worldly things and pleasures, by which we lose our spiritual inheritance rights. Thus the remedy for it is the tenth commandment, not to covet our neighbor's goods.

"On Mount Sinai, that is, on the heights of a holy way of life, we must heal all these plagues that we endured in Egypt, all the internal forms of disease that we had contracted on the even ground of the secular life" (p. 180).

One can wonder whether anything can be made of all this, but even if the Damianian interpretation is wrong in some aspects, (1) no Christian can deny that Egypt represents the worldly life; (2) it is entirely plausible that the plagues in some ways represent the sins of Egypt -- for instance, even commentators with no intention of doing any allegorical reading have often noted that the striking of the waters as the very first volley is a blow against the Egyptian religion, in which the Nile was closely linked with the gods, which, as can easily be seen, fits the scheme; so (3) the only question really is whether we should divide up the plagues individually, as Damian does, or whether we should simply take them collectively.

Peter Damian, Letters 61-90, Blum, tr. CUA Press (Washington, DC: 1992).

And Self-Delight the Seed of Woe

Man's Civill Warre
by St. Robert Southwell

My hoveringe thoughtes would fly to heaven,
And quiet nestle in the skye;
Fayne would my shipp in Vertue's shore
Without remove at anker lye;

But mounting thoughtes are haled downe
With heavy poyse of mortall loade;
And blustringe stormes denye my shipp
In Vertue's haven secure aboade.

When inward eye to heavenly sightes
Doth drawe my longing hart's desire,
The world with jesses of delightes
Would to her perch my thoughtes retyre.

Fonde Phancy traynes to Pleasure's lure,
Though Reason stiffly do repine;
Thoughe Wisdome woe me to the sainte,
Yet Sense would wynne me to the shrine.

Wheare Reason loathes, there Phancy loves,
And overrules the captive will;
Foes sences are to Vertue's lore,
They drawe the witt their wish to fill.

Need craves consent of soule to sence,
Yett divers bents breed civill fraye;
Hard happ where halves must disagree,
Or truce of halves the whole betraye!

O cruell fight! where fightinge frende
With love doth kill a favoringe foe;
Where peace with sence is warr with God,
And self-delite the seede of woe!

Dame Pleasure's drugges are steept in synne,
Their sugred tast doth breed annoye;
O fickle Sence! beware her gynn,
Sell not thy soule to brittle joye!

Robert Southwell died on February 21, 1595, having been convicted of treason for being a Jesuit priest in England.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Ethics and Reasoning IV (Kant)

We have been looking at consequentialism (I, II, III), which takes consequence-based reasoning to be fundamental to moral reasoning. For the consequentialist, everything in ethics is, directly or indirectly, based on the distinction between good and bad consequences. The consequentialist in looking at our actions will ultimately look at their results. But it is possible to have a very different approach to reasoning in moral matters, one in which you do not look at the consequences of an action but the structure of the action itself. This brings us to deontology, the approach to moral reasoning that takes obligation-based reasoning to be fundamental, 'obligation' being our catch-all term for rules, laws, rights, duties, and other kinds of things that are seen as standards to which we in some sense must conform.

Discussion of consequentialism has tended to be dominated by the popularity of utilitarianism, so that if you find a consequentialist, they will almost always be either a utilitarian or someone who is heavily influenced by utilitarians. But deontology has several very popular, and very different versions, and we need a basic way to classify the most important varieties. Since deontology is by definition based on a theory of obligations, the best classification will focus on this. There are several ways to classify theories of obligations, but one of the more useful starts with a basic recognition: some obligations are made, and only exist because they are made. For instance, promising, making a contract, and legislating, are all ways in which we sometimes create obligations that did not exist before, and that only exist because we made them. An unmade promise doesn't obligate; you are bound only to contracts that have actually been made; laws have no force if they are not passed. If some obligations exist only because they are made, this leads to a natural question: Are all obligations like this? There are two obvious answers you could give to this question: Yes and No. And deontologists do in fact divide on this question, and in ways that make their different answers to it important for their approaches as a whole. There is no standardized terminology for these two groups, but I will call the Yes-sayers 'moral positivists' and the No-sayers 'moral naturalists'.

Moral positivism has at least one very obvious advantage, namely, that moral positivists can give you a unified theory of obligation. All obligations can have the same basic explanation,and it will always have the same basic structure: you get the obligation when the obligation-maker makes it. Different moral positivisms will propose different criteria for who counts as an obligation-maker, or different accounts of how the obligation gets made, but if every obligation is made, every obligation is explained by its obligation-maker. If you have questions about whether a particular obligation exists, you just need to look to see whether there is reason to think someone made it; if you want to understand any obligation better, look at what its maker was doing in making it. That's very nice, and makes reasoning about obligations in some ways very straightforward.

We do run into a problem, however, that a moral positivist certainly must address. It's obvious that rules governing the state (state laws) are made by the state legislature; it's also obvious that the state legislature can only make laws for its own state. It's obvious that city ordinances are made by the city, and don't extend beyond the city. It's obvious that some obligations derive from contracts, and also that the contract only binds those who are parties to it. But where is the obligation-maker for moral laws, especially given that moral laws are generally taken to apply very widely and to trump other laws? Murder is morally wrong even if no state or federal law is passed against it; laws passed by legislatures can be morally wrong and corrupt; we expect people to follow basic moral rules quite generally. Where is the obligation-maker capable of making obligations that apply to human beings generally?

Two answers to this question are especially popular. The first is that society is in some way the general obligation-maker. Society as a whole could certainly give moral obligation a broader basis of authority than other laws. An obvious question is how society would do this; there are a number of possible answers, of which custom and some kind of contractual process are probably the two most popular. There is no standardized name for this group of ethical approaches; we could perhaps call them something like 'social positivism'. One obvious advantage social positivism has is that, in principle, you could discover moral obligations just by investigating the society you are considering. An obvious disadvantage is that human beings are often members of several societies simultaneously, and it is unclear how you would take this into account. A further question is what to do about societies that we usually think of as very bad in some way -- we usually take some societies to be wrong in some of the obligations they seem to be making (e.g., slavery), so we'd need to know how to handle such cases. (This is one reason why some social positivists prefer a contract-based approach rather than a custom-based approach; making a contract seems a more structured process, so can perhaps help by limiting the kinds of things that are allowed.)

But people often have the idea that moral obligations are much stronger than social positivism can provide. So what possible obligation-maker can give you a stronger foundation for authority than society as a whole? Here enters the other popular moral positivism: divine command deontology (often more loosely called 'divine command theory', although strictly speaking you could have a divine command theory of obligation without being a deontologist). If you want an obligation that is as strong as possible, it seems it would have to be universal, inescapable, and in some way prior to all other obligations. If that's what you think the fundamental moral obligations should be like, then the obvious candidate for an obligation-maker who could provide this is God. An authority with absolutely universal jurisdiction, who has knowledge and power such that obligations coming from it cannot be evaded, and who is prior to and independent of every other authority certainly sounds like a divine authority. There is a lot to recommend this as a theory of obligation -- as a moral positivism, divine command deontology gives us a completely unified theory of obligation in which all obligations have a definite cause, which is useful, and by taking God to be the cause, we manage to keep this advantage while establishing moral obligations as vastly more authoritative than obligations we human beings make, thus lending the weight to morality that many people think it has. It is a very elegant solution.

There are many very bad objections to divine command deontology. (For instance, a common one is that it's repulsive to say that God could make bad things obligations. But nothing about divine command deontology requires that its supporters have to accept the claim that God could make anything an obligation, and most don't; all it requires is that if anything is an obligation, it is so because God made it so.) But there are obvious questions. One disadvantage that divine command deontology has in comparison to social positivism is that while social positivism in principle always gives you a way to find out what your obligations are (by looking at what societies actually do), almost everyone faced with a divine command deontology immediately asks the question, "How do we know what God has made an obligation?" It doesn't seem that you can just look and see. Different divine command deontologists will have different answers to the question, but it's a good example of how an elegant solution to a problem can at the same time raise new questions that have to be answered.

While divine command deontologists and social positivists do say some interesting things about ethical reasoning occasionally, it tends not to be a major component of their approach -- on moral positivist views in general, if you want to find out what our obligations are, it's usually better to go to the authority that makes the obligations rather than to try to reason them out on your own. So it's inevitable that any approach to ethics that focuses on ethical reasoning is going to spend a bit more time with moral naturalism.

Moral naturalists reject the view that all obligations are made; some fundamental obligations are natural. There are different ways you could do this. You could, for instance, hold that our basic moral obligations are biological instincts; we all have to accept them because it's part of our nature to accept them, although this is due wholly to our biological history. There are probably other answers you could give. But far and away a more commonly accepted answer is that moral obligations are fundamental rational principles, that they are based in reasoning and are necessary in a way somewhat analogous to basic mathematical principles. And far and away the most influential moral naturalism is what we call Kantianism, which brings us to Immanuel Kant.

Engraving of Kant by Johann Friedrich Bause; for discussion of various contemporary likenesses of Kant, see Steve Naragon's web resources on the subject.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) spent most of his life in Königsberg, Prussia (modern-day Kaliningrad, Russia); his family were hard-working Lutheran Pietists, Pietism being a movement that emphasized personal conversion, devout study of the Bible, and practical pursuit of holiness. At the University of Königsberg, he studied a wide range of philosophers, and then afterward became a tutor for a few years. He eventually returned to the University of Königsberg to teach as a professor for forty years. For the first fifteen years, Kant did not receive a salary from a University; he was paid directly by students, so he spent a very large amount of time each week lecturing on different subjects in order to get enough students to pay his bills (he also at one point began to supplement his salary with a job as sublibrarian). Fortunately for him, he turned out to have considerable talent for lecturing and was very popular. He was eventually appointed chair of logic and metaphysics, and therefore entered a more stable period. It wasn't until the 1780s, though, that he began publishing the works for which he is best known, including his major works on ethics, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and Critique of Practical Reason.

Given Kant's background, it's not surprising that people first coming to Kant find a very academic style of writing, and Kant is famously difficult for students just starting to look at questions of ethical reasoning. But it's easy to misdiagnose why he is difficult. Our first instinct is to say that it must be because he is very complicated. I want to suggest that the first instinct here is wrong. Kant is possessed by an idea of morality that is not complicated by simple. Everything in Kant's ethics is about this idea: preparing to understand it, considering it in several different lights so as to understand it correctly, applying it. Kant's ethics is just the unfolding of a simple idea. If we have difficulty with it, it is because we are complicated. Faced with Kantian simplicity, our natural tendency is to add qualifications, exceptions, room for excuses, things that can change or that depend on circumstances. But precisely Kant's point is that if you do this, you are trying to make morality be something it is not.

Kant thinks that even if we just look at our ordinary, everyday view of morality, it becomes clear that it has to be in some way necessary and unconditional. Most of the things we call good are only conditionally good. For instance, intelligence is good if you use it properly. But the only thing we usually call good that can never be misused at all is a will that is good in the willing itself. That is, in ordinary terms, the good that can't be misused is doing one's duty because it is one's duty. (We can do our duty for other reasons, of course, but we recognize that this is defective. For instance, when hypocrites do what is right because they get some benefit from it, we still criticize them; it is doing the right thing for the wrong reason.) And the purer the case, the more obvious this is: we recognize moral action most clearly when the person does what is right even if they are going to be hurt or even killed because of it. To do one's duty because it is one's duty is, in a particular area of life, to will in conformity with a standard that makes the will unconditionally good; this standard can only be an unconditional standard. It has to be a universal law. But this means that it cannot depend on any circumstances, any consequences, anything changeable or uncertain like feelings or experience. It cannot have exceptions, cannot allow excuses, and cannot depend on our own preference, convenience, or expectations.

This is, of course, what I meant by saying that while Kant is simple, people keep trying to add complications. We like to make excuses for ourself. We like to find reasons why we, special little people, do not need to act according to some moral principle even though other people do. But in moral law there are no excuses and no exceptions. If moral life is too hard, we like to try to redefine it so it's easier; indeed, we have a bad habit of trying to define ourselves into being good people. But moral law just is what it is; you don't get to put that chin-up bar right under your chin. Moral law doesn't have to fit your standards; you have to fit the standard of moral law. You can't get it from your feelings, which change from time to time and from person to person; you can't get it from your experiences; you can't get it from examples; you can't get it from society. What you can get from these things may be good if used the right way; but everything that comes from these things can be misused. There are conditions attached. But moral obligation is unconditional. The way Kant puts it is that morality must be a categorical imperative, not a hypothetical imperative. A hypothetical imperative is a rule that comes with conditions (even if they are not specifically stated): Do this if X. It only identifies something as good for some possible or actual purpose. A categorical imperative is unconditional: Do this. There can't even be any assumed or implicit conditions. No further purpose needs to be considered.

What kind of law can be unconditional? What kind of imperative can be categorical? It can't have any content that depends on particular circumstances. It has to be the kind of law that is universal, applying to any and all possible rational beings, without exception, in every situation, without exception. So the content can't include anything that is not always available to every rational being making a choice. So what is going on when a rational being is making a choice? Kant thinks this involves making a rule for oneself. This rule that we make for ourselves in a choice is what Kant calls a maxim. Every maxim has a means-end structure. It identifies something valuable (the end) that provides a reason to act, and it also identifies a way of acting (the means) appropriate to the value of that thing that provides a reason to act. The maxim, then, captures what kind of thing we are intending to do and why we are intending to do it. The moral law is going to have be a standard for maxims, so it will have to tell us the kind of maxim that we are allowed to have; and in particular, the only maxims that we are allowed to have are those that can be willed unconditionally. And this gives us the categorical imperative, which effectively says that the moral law is to will in accordance with the moral law. As Kant says in the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (pp. 51-52 [4:420-421]):

If I conceive, however, a categorical imperative, then I know at once what it contains. For since the imperative contains besides the law only the necessity of the maxim*) to be in conformity with this law, the law, however, contains no condition to which it was limited, in this way nothing but the universality of a law in general remains over to which the maxim of the action is to be in conformance, and which conformity alone the imperative properly represents as necessary.

The categorical imperative is thus only a single and indeed this: act only according to that maxim, through which you at the same time can will, that it becomes a universal law.

Kant's view has the implication that whenever you are doing something wrong, you are in some way contradicting yourself, either directly or indirectly: you are, as a rational being, recognizing a universal standard, but you are also trying to excuse yourself from that standard. As he puts it (pp. 57-58 [4:424]):

If we now pay attention to ourselves during each transgression of a duty, then we find that we actually do not will that our maxim should become a universal law, for that is for us impossible, but the opposite of it should instead generally remain a law; only we ourselves take the liberty to make for ourselves or (even only for this time) to the advantage of our inclination an exception to it. Consequently, if we weighed everything from one and the same point of view, namely of reason, then we would find a contradiction in our own will, namely, that a certain principle be objectively necessary as a universal law and yet subjectively not hold universally, but should permit exceptions.

A moral maxim will have no excuses; it just is holding yourself to a standard that can be a standard for every rational being. If you want to know whether your maxim is a good one, you just take it and 'universalize' it; if you get a contradiction, either directly (what you are trying to do is itself incoherent) or indirectly (what you are trying to do is not the sort of thing you can always will as a standard), then it is bad. If it is 'universalizable', it is good.

In a sense, that's it. That's Kantian ethics: Act only according to that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it becomes universal law. It is the only possible categorical imperative, so all of moral life is based on this rule, this one moral precept, that can be put in one sentence. In practice, Kant recognizes that this is quite abstract and not always very easy to apply to real situations. It's also not very clear on its own how it relates to the ways we usually talk about moral choices. We now know what we are talking about, in abstract terms, when we talk about right and wrong, but how does it actually work in practice?

There is only one categorical imperative, but that doesn't meant that we can't rephrase it so that it might be easier to use. So Kant gives us three specific formulations of the categorical imperative. These formulations are the categorical imperative put into a different vocabulary, emphasizing different things in the imperative by using different kinds of analogy, so that it can more easily be related to certain aspects of our experience and to our usual ways of talking about moral choices. Let's take the above statement of the categorical imperative and mark the most important words with an asterisk:

Act only according to that *maxim, through which you at the same time can will, that it becomes a *universal *law.

These three seem to be the most important: a moral maxim is a universal-law maxim. So let's take each in turn, and find a way of stating the categorical imperative that emphasizes that word or idea.

(1) The Law of Nature Formulation. Let's start with universality. When we look around for other things that we generally consider to be universal or conditional, we find an obvious case in laws of nature. The law of gravity is not conditional on who you are, nor does it care what excuses you make. So if we wanted to get a better grasp on how a maxim can be willed as universal, we can make an an analogy to laws of nature; in a sense, just as we blow up a picture if we want to see more details, so also, if we want to see whether our maxim can be consistently willed as universal, we can blow it up to the size of the universe. That will certainly capture universality. Thus we get a restatement of the categorical imperative:

Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature.

You can think of your moral choices as making the kind of world you want to live in. So imagine that this is literally true: when you make a choice, that becomes a law of nature. If you break a promise in order to get something you want, that maxim, 'Break a promise in order to get something you want', becomes a law of nature, so that every time anyone, anywhere, wants something that they can get by breaking a promise, they do. This seems to be an incoherent world: we're describing it as if there were real promises (otherwise they wouldn't need to be broken), but in reality if everyone automatically breaks a promise when it's convenient for getting something, just like everyone falls if they walk off a ledge, that's as good as to say that promises don't mean anything, and thus that there are no real promises. At the size of the universe see the problem: you are treating a promise as something that matters morally, as something that should be kept; but you are also treating promises as if you aren't really held to that standard. You're trying directly to will a contradiction.

On the other hand, sometimes things are more indirect. If you refuse to help someone in need because you want to stay comfortable, it doesn't seem like we have a direct contradiction. But we do have an indirect one. Maybe a universe can exist in which it's a law of nature that nobody helps anyone if they can stay comfortable that way, but given the limitations of human nature, no one can guarantee that they will never need help, so you can't always will that this be the way the world works. What you're willing is not inconsistent, but you aren't able to will it consistently. This also shows that you are trying to make yourself a special exception from universal law.

(2) The End in Itself Formulation. A maxim, I said, has a means-end structure: it identifies something of value (the end), and tells you what to do to treat as valuable (means). But a moral maxim, to fit the unconditional law, is going to have to take as its end something that is of absolute worth or value (something that is an end not because it is the means to some other, more important end, but because it is an end in itself. But that tells us that it's going to have to be an end that is always available, so to speak, something that can be treated as valuable no matter what. It can't be something to be used; and it can't be something that we would have to work to get the value from. There is nothing that can fulfill this function, Kant thinks, except rational nature itself -- which of course is always available to a rational being as something to be valued. Rational nature ('humanity', as we often call it) marks out rational beings as persons not things, as ends in themselves. So we get the next way of stating the categorical imperative:

Act in this way, that you use humanity in your own person, as well as in the person of every other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.

As with the Law of Nature formulation, this can show up a direct contradiction (you are treating people as if they were merely a means to get what you want) or an indirect contradiction (you are not treating someone in a way that is appropriate to treating them as an end).

(3) The Kingdom of Ends Formulation. The third important idea, law, requires a bit more maneuvering. Our will must act so that something can be law. We might call this 'legislation', although it's not quite the same as what we usually think of as legislation. Thus the categorical imperative tells us that morality is about our will legislating universally through its own maxims. This Kant calls autonomy; the opposite is heteronomy, when the will treats as its standard something it gets from somewhere other than itself. Now, the place we most often think about legislating is in discussions of politics or society. If we use the word 'kingdom' to describe a system of rational beings united by a common law, then in a society that worked on moral laws everyone would be treated as ends in themselves. This is the kingdom of ends. It doesn't exist, but in a sense our will makes it possible: you can choose to make laws like a legislator in the kingdom of ends, in the moral society. (And of course, given what we just said, everyone in the kingdom of ends is the legislator of the kingdom of ends, and everyone takes themselves to be subject to the laws, without question. It is literally a society governed by rule of law and not men.) If the categorical imperative gives us the idea of autonomy, we can picture this idea in terms of the kingdom of ends. It is a society in which every member has dignity, a worth beyond all price, because no one is treated as a mere means to something else. Thus we have the third formulation:

Act according to the maxim of a universally legislating member of a merely possible kingdom of ends.

If the Law of Nature formulation investigates the maxim by expanding it to the size of the world, the Kingdom of Ends formulation investigates it by expanding it to the size of a society.

It's easy enough to see how these formulations might be useful in different ways at different times, depending on whether the situation is more abstract (Law of Nature), concerned with our relationships with another (End in Itself), or concerned with society as a whole (Kingdom of Ends). It's also the case that they connect to different parts of our moral vocabulary: making a moral world (Law of Nature), treating people as not just to be used (End in Itself), building a moral society (Kingdom of Ends). It's probably not accidental that each of these could be seen as a secularized analogue of a theological concept, whether that be providence, or the image of God in people, or the messianic community or New Jerusalem.

One way Kant puts the relationship among the three is that the Law of Nature formulation focuses on the form of morality (its structure), the End in Itself formulation focuses on the matter of morality (its content), and the Kingdom of Ends formulation focuses on the totality of morality (how its structure organizes its content, since law is what links universality and the maxim). Probably related to this is that Kant talks about the Law of Nature formulation as if it gave us the possibility of morality and the End in Itself formulation as if it gave us the actuality of morality. But they are all one categorical imperative, since in every case you are to act according to the maxim that can be willed as universal law; it's just the emphases that are different.

The formulations help bring the categorical imperative down to earth a bit. But it's still a strict standard. Can we even act according to it? Obviously Kant would say that moral law doesn't depend on whether we can act according to it -- it doesn't depend on us at all, because that would make it conditional. But it would be very unfortunate if we were morally obligated and had little chance of fulfilling our obligation. There's a sense in which the categorical imperative is the whole of Kant's ethics. But if we stop there, we can also be easily misled. Kant is, I think, very aware of how high a standard it establishes, and does explore, to a certain extent resources that we have available for being moral. Moral law doesn't depend on human nature, but human nature is a nature that takes into account moral law in a number of ways, and in practical terms, even if not in absolute terms, these can be quite important. But that is another set of topics for another post.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A New Poem Draft and a Poem Re-Draft


The whispers still remember,
as when bright colors fade
or leaves in deep November
on branches bare are splayed,
yet still they have a power,
the queen, the monks, the saint,
to seize in quiet hour
the heart whose feelings paint
the very world we see,
the things we think we know,
and guide us on the journey
beneath a sunlit glow.


The autumn leaves are falling brown and dusty on the road,
the winter chill is beating like a hammer on the brain,
the sun perhaps forever-lost is hiding, veiled by cloud.
A dull and aching boredom rules, worse than any pain,
and time --
the word is inexact, but we may call it 'time' --
time is bare, oppressive;
it smothers the sublime.

We itch to walk and wander,
inquire, think, and ponder --
we itch but do not scratch,
for where is there to journey
when the sameness never ceases
(brown below and gray above)
and life in bits and pieces
knows not peace nor joy nor love?
All drained of every color,
now fades life and light,
and all without reprieve await
an all-elusive night.

Yet in a little building, quiet, tucked away,
a little light of day
through dismal dark is breaking,
a single subtle ray
of sunlight bright and pure
like water to the thirsty, to the ill a cure:
like bread plain and unobtrusive
yet of endless grace diffusive,
like red wine upon the tongue
but ever ancient, ever young,
but the bread is living bread
and the wine is holy vine
and they who see and taste that supersubstantial sign --
the word is inexact, but call it living sign --
are abundant with renewal that can resurrect the dead.

The autumn leaves are falling brown and dusty on the road,
the winter chill is beating like a hammer on the brain,
yet sublimely, and how finely, like fair face behind a veil,
with enigmatic smile lives the lamb that had been slain.


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Il Beato Angelico

Today is the feast day of Guido di Pietro, more commonly known as Bl. Giovanni da Fiesole, even more commonly known as Fra Angelico.

Angelico Transfiguración

Fra Angelico 066
The Beheading of Saints Cosmas And Damian

Fra Giovanni was a simple man and most holy in his habits, and one day when Pope Nicholas V desired him to dine with him, he had scruples of conscience about eating meat without his prior's leave, not considering the Pope's authority. He would not follow the ways of the world, but lived purely and holily, and was a great friend of the poor. He painted constantly, and would never represent anything but the saints. He might have been rich, but did not care about it, saying that true riches are nothing else than being content with little. He might have governed many, and would not, saying it was less troublesome to obey, and one was less liable to err in obeying. It was in his power to hold dignities among the friars and elsewhere, but he did not esteem them, affirming that he sought no other dignity than to escape hell and attain to Paradise. He was most kind and sober, keeping himself free from all worldly ties, often saying that he who practised art had need of quiet and to be able to live without cares, and that he who represents the things of Christ should always live with Christ. He was never seen in anger by the friars, which is a great thing, and seems to me almost impossible to believe; and he had a way of admonishing his friends with smiles. To those who sought his works he would answer, that they must content the prior, and then he would not fail. To sum up, this father, who can never be enough praised, was in all his works and words most humble and modest, and in his paintings facile and devout; and the saints whom he painted have more the air and likeness of saints than those of any one else. It was his habit never to retouch or alter any of his paintings, but to leave them as they came the first time, believing, as he said, that such was the will of God. Some say he would never take up his pencil until he had first made supplication, and he never made a crucifix but he was bathed in tears.
[From Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists]

Monday, February 17, 2020

Evening Note for Monday, February 17

Thought for the Evening: Dedekind on the Infinite Realm of Thought

Richard Dedekind's "What are numbers and what are they good for?" is one of the foundational works for set theory. The search for a version of the latter that met certain formal desiderata, however, led the latter to drift a bit from what Cantor, Dedekind, and other early contributors to the field were intending. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is sometimes worthwhile to remember what the original aim was. This is particularly true since sets were not originally taken to be primitives but to be a way of formally capturing something else: thought.

Dedekind is quite explicit in his monograph. "In what follows," he says, "I understand by thing every object of our thought" (sect. 1, p. 44). One thing or object in this sense is taken to be precisely distinguishable ("completely determined by all that can be affirmed or thought concerning it") from another, and we can mark them therefore by distinct letters as labels. Because objects of thought in the sense used here are completely determined by what can be thought about them, we naturally get a criterion for identity: thing a is exactly the same as thing b when everything that can be thought about a is thought about b, and vice versa.

Objects of thought can in turn be thought-together, "associated in the mind" (sect. 2, p. 45). Dedekind calls this a system; it's the parent of what we call a set. If a, b, and c can be thought together, they form a system S; a, b, and c can then be called elements and we can say that these elements are contained in system S, or that S consists of a, b, and c. But S is something we can think about that can be exactly distinguished by all that can be thought concerning it, in the sense that S just being the thinking-together of its elements, it is completely determined by knowing exactly what is and what is not contained in S. So S can itself be a thing. Dedekind extends this to the singleton -- the system with only one element; but, while he recognizes that you could posit a system that had no elements, he sets that possibility aside in the monograph.

Dedekind also defines 'part' for systems: S is part of S' when every element in S is in S'; in this sense every system is part of itself. We can distinguish a narrower definition of part, however: S is a proper part of S' when S is a part of S' but is not the same as S'.

We can transform the elements of a system, in a sense to turn them into other elements (although it may just be a correspondence rather than an actual change); a transformation is a rule whereby for any element s there is another determinate thing φ(s), which is called its transform. A transformation of S (i.e., the new system) is similar to S if there is still a one-to-one correspondence between elements in S and their transforms.

On the basis of these definitions, Dedekind builds several important parts of mathematics, such as mathematical induction. But the key definition is that of the infinite:

A system S is said to be infinite when it is similar to a proper part of itself...; in the contrary case S is said to be finite.

In other words, if S includes a part (other than itself) that has elements that can be put into an exact one-to-one correspondence with the elements of S, it is infinite. An infinite system has proper parts that are infinite. Systems whose proper parts always have fewer elements than themselves are finite. And here we get to the most interesting argument of all, the argument that there are infinite systems, which is based wholly on the understanding of these systems as objects of thought (sect. 66, p. 64):

My own realm of thoughts, i.e., the totality S of all things which can be object of my thought, is infinite. For if s signifies an element of S, then is the thought s', that s can be the object of my thought, itself an element of S. If we regard this as the transform φ(s), then has the transformation φ of S, thus determined, the property that the transform S' is part of S; and S' is certainly a proper part of S, because there are elements in S (e.g., my own ego), which are different from such thought s' and therefore are not contained in S'. Finally it is clear that if a, b are different elements of S, their transforms a', b' are also different, that therefore the transformation φ is a distinct (similar) transformation.... Hence S is infinite, which was to be proved.

In other words, for every object of thought s, one can have the further object of thought 's is an object of thought'; we can do this one-to-one correspondence with everything about which we can think, but if we take all the explicit 'is an object of thought' thoughts, they will be a proper part of the totality of objects of thought, because there will be some objects of thought (like myself) that are not in the explicit 'is an object of thought' group. So the entirety of things that can be thought is infinite.

I find, looking at commentaries on this, that mathematicians are regularly baffled at Dedekind's 'non-mathematical' argument here. But, of course, if this is 'non-mathematical', so is all of Dedekind's set theory, since everything that could be said to be 'non-mathematical' in section 66 arises from how Dedekind defines the basic terms to begin with. But perhaps there is a legitimate sense in which this is true, and we can say that Dedekind is not doing mathematics. Rather, he is attempting to establish the existence and nature of numbers without assuming them. The only way you can do this is to start from something more basic and fundamental than number. What is more basic than number? What is a more general intelligible field out of which numbers can be drawn? Well, the obvious one is the intelligible field, all the intelligible things that can be associated with each other. More basic than the mathematical realm is the intelligible realm of which it is only a part. And the intelligible realm is infinite, which makes it possible for us to think about infinites in mathematics.

Various Links of Interest

* Rob Alspaugh, Theological Virtues

* Matthew Wills, How 1920s Catholic Students Fought the Ku Klux Klan

* Edmund Waldstein, Marx's Fundamental Insight into Capitalism

* Paul Lodge, What Is It Like to be Manic?

* Erin Blakemore, Is Emma Really the Heroine of Emma? The real answer, of course, is that she is, but Blakemore is right that Emma does have features that in other novels are associated with villainesses. It matters, though, that Emma has good taste in friends, one that gives her a way out her scheming.

* Re-sonnets.

* Cheryl Misak on Frank Ramsey.

* Yair Rosenberg on the interesting background to the Yiddish translation of Harry Potter.

Currently Reading

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Benoît-Dominique de la Soujeole, O.P., Introduction to the Mystery of the Church

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Fortnightly Book, February 16

There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.

One of the things I want to do this year is work through Sherlock Holmes, so that brings us to the first two, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four.

A Study in Scarlet, the first appearance of Holmes and Watson, was published in 1887 in Beeton's Christmas Annual. Conan Doyle had thrown it together in three weeks, and it had been rejected multiple times; he got a grand total of £25 for the entire thing. It was published in book form in 1888 by Ward, Lock, & Co.

The Sign of the Four, sometimes also titled The Sign of Four, started over dinner with a number of notables. The most famous person at the table was Oscar Wilde, but there was also an editor, Joseph Stoddart, who wanted to expand the very popular Lippincott's Monthly Magazine into England; in the course of the conversation, Conan Doyle, who was already well known for his short stories, promised to contribute to it. The Sign of the Four was published in February 1890 and J. B. Lippincott & Co. published A Study in Scarlet in American later that year.

History is sometimes made quietly. Neither book did badly, but neither made a big splash, either. But they both set the stage for the short stories, which Conan Doyle began writing for Strand Magazine in 1891, which made them both famous after the fact.

Looking at old time radio episodes, it looks like A Study in Scarlet was adapted for radio in 1962 for The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (with the inimitable Basil Rathbone as Holmes) and in 1977 for CBS Radio Mystery Theater; The New Adventures adapted The Sign of the Four in 1963, and CBS Radio Mystery Theater did it in 1977. In general, New Adventures tends to adapt quite loosely and Mystery Theater more strictly, but in any case I hope to listen to all four, if I have the time. [Having looked into it, some of this seems to be due to the fact that various lists often don't make adequate distinction between different Sherlock Holmes shows; which I should have suspected immediately, since 1960s is way too late for The New Adventure. I'll be looking into other OTR episodes, though.]