Saturday, June 20, 2020

Three Poem Re-Drafts

The Well

Amid the stones stands an ancient well;
perhaps the druids chanted its rites,
or some fair nymph gave it sacred gifts.

Through long years the endless caravans
cross the seas, cross barren lands,
through forests deep and wild wastes,
to seek the well, its darkened depth,
to cast their kingdoms in.

You too one day will seek that well,
with all your heart's unturning hope;
you too will treasures cast inside,
into the well most dearly sought,
and from your heart of hearts will cry,
"Unwishing well, undo my wish!"


A tree without roots is overturned by the wind,
unable to battle the storms that descend;
and how, my friend, how can you hold your head high
when your past is now nothing but shadows that die?

The building is lost when the ground gives away;
the crumbled-down base will the rest then betray.
And how, my friend, how can you hold your head high,
when nothing remains but the tears that you cry?

When the grain is not stored, the seed will be lost,
no spring will be sown, with harvest its cost;
and how, my friend, how can you hold your head high
with no food for the children save breezes that sigh?


Wisdom walks on kitten feet,
padding softly down the way,
stretching out in sunlight sweet,
taking joy in gentle day,
soft of bite in play and pounce,
growing by the quarter-ounce.

Endless flurry, flicking tail,
rumble-romp, no hint of harm,
wisdom walks along the rail,
tumbles down with kitten charm.
Purring, wisdom curls to sleep
on your lap, for you to keep.

Bhagavad Gita: The Song Celestial


Opening Passage:

DHRITARASHTRA: Ranged thus for battle on the sacred plain--
On Krukshetra--say Sanjaya! say
What wrought my people and the Pandavas?

Summary: The Kuru people are divided into two major clans, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Through a rigged game of dice, the Kauravas cheated the Pandavas out of their territory for a period of thirteen years and then refused to return it. Thus the Pandavas are going to war against the Kauravas. The blind Kaurava king, Dhritarashtra, unable to fight in the battle due to his age and blindness, is worried about what is happening, but this charioteer, Sanjaya, has divine sight, and tells the king of what he sees. On the verge of the great eighteen-day Battle of Kurukshetra, the Pandavan Arjuna looks out on the Kauravan host, foes that are related to him and his family, and is horrified at the thought of the mutual slaughter and how insignificant territory is in comparison to the death of even one of these. He throws his bow and arrow to the ground, sick at heart. But his charioteer, Madhusadan, criticizes Arjuna and encourages him to the fight, gradually revealing himself as the god Krishna.

It's important to recognize, I think, that Krishna never criticizes Arjuna for his compassion, but for his irresolution. Krishna's point is that Arjuna has let the mutable substitute for the immutable, and under the guise of compassion and kinship-feeling has in fact let himself rest with a superficial perception of the world, including the people on whom he takes himself to have compassion and for whom he has kinship-feeling. It is not a superior view of the world because it is wavering. The external expression of the immutable in human life, on the other hand, is found in duty; its internal expression is self-discipline; and its innermost core is pure regard for the divine.

We see this not only in the progression of Krishna's discourse, which goes through these very stages, but also in the narrative structure of the work. While the discussion is between Krishna and the Pandavan Arjuna, this is mediated by Sanjaya, who has been given divine sight by Krishna and is describing it to Dhritarashtra. Both Dhritarashtra and Sanjaya are Kauravan; Krishna's revelation transcends the divide of the civil war. But the Bhagavad Gita is itself part of the Mahabharata, which itself claims that it was recited by Ugrasrava Sauti, who was reciting what he had learned from Janamejaya, the great-grandson of Arjuna, who had learned it from Vaisampayana, who had learned it from the sage Vyasa, who is communicating Sanjaya's revelation of Krishna's self-revelation to Arjuna. Thus the Mahabharata, including the Bhagavad Gita, is attributed to the sage Vyasa; Vyasa is not an uncommon name, but 'Vyasa' literally means something like 'editor, compiler, arranger, or redactor', and Vyasa is also supposed to have compiled the Vedas and the Puranas, thus making his editorial career over a thousand years long, although perhaps he thinks of it as a very short period in his life, given that he is also said to be one of the Chiranjivis, the 'permanent livers', and is said to have been born at the end of the Tretayuga period of the universe, having lived through the entire 864,000 years of the Dvapara Yuga, and will live the entire 432,000 years of the current Kali Yuga (of which we have travered about 5000 years). Vyasa himself only writes, directly or indirectly, what is in the one Eternal Veda, which has no beginning and no ending. But the idea is that Vyasa took unitary forms of knowledge too great for human beings easily to grasp and 'divided' or articulated them so that they could be understood more widely. I think this captures something important about the canonical literature of India, namely, that it was often written, whatever its accidental features, as from the perspective of something unchanging and undivided, a depiction of a presumed unity through a present diversity, and it has likewise been read in the same manner. One of the reasons for the popularity of the Gita, I think, is that it exemplifies this in a preeminent and obvious way. Krishna talks about many things, but you get a clear sense that he is at all times talking about the same things, while the Song seems structured to convey the impression of an ever-deepening exploration of that First Unity. All of the many must be traced back to the One, which they reflect.

The particular Heritage Press edition that I read is illustrated by Y. G. Srimati, and the illustrations are excellent. (You can see some here.) Her notes explaining her artistic choices for each illustration are also given in an appendix, and you could have very nice little booklet standing on its own, just from the illustrations and the notes -- a sort of beginner's Bhagavad Gita. Here is part of the note for the illustration in Discourse 10, when Krisha reveals his universal manifestation:

Krishna assumes the Visvarupa or colossal, all-pervading, all-engrossing form of the Supreme Being, to impress upon Arjuna that He is everything and contains everything. He is portrayed with the countless faces of His various creations --Gods, sages, demons, animals, etc.-- infinite in form on all sides, with innumerable arms, trunks, and legs, with no end, middle, nor beginning, only the waist showing that He is one entity.

You can see the illustration it is describing here, about ten images down.

Favorite Passage: From Chapter 6, 'Religion by Self-Restraint':

Let each man raise
The Self by Soul, not trample down his Self,
Since Soul that is Self's friend may grow Self's foe.
Soul is Self's friend when Self doth rule o'er Self,
But Self turns enemy if Soul's own self
Hates Self as not itself.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Dashed Off XIII

This completes the notebook finished in April 2019, and starts the next notebook.

creation myths as metaphors for discovery and for artistic invention, different myths capturing different aspects

the whole sacramental economy as an image of heaven and future glory

warrants as ways of documenting the apparent connection between police action and common good

-- primarily (formal & final): baptism
-- secondarily (formal): penance
-- secondarily (final): unction
-- formal: confirmation
-- final: eucharist

luck as coincidence suggestive of final cause

inculturation as cleansing, enlightening, and perfecting

participatio vs. quaedam participatio: Sent 1d36q2a3arg4

quaedam participatio as *grant* of imitation

"That a religion may be true, it must have knowledge of our nature. It ought to know its greatness and littleness, and the reason of both." Pascal

hyperpublic, public, semipublic, and private evidential contexts

self-signification (part signifying whole, whole signifying part, self-presentation in signifying context, manifestation)

Mutual aid requires self-restraint in habit and in customary practice.

Toil expands to occupy the time

When people say, 'machine learning', substitute 'statistics'.

Pascal's primary concern in his discussions of perpetuity is the election of Israel.

"Ce dieu touche les coeurs lorsque moins on y pense." Corneille

hope as counter-habit, a kind of freedom for the new (Péguy)
the splash of hope

Progress is made by the separation of chaff and wheat; but it is not as if this were endless refinement -- every harvest, there is chaff and wheat.

Christ does not only fulfill the prophecies, He gives to the prophecies a new future.

the Annunciation as the perfection of prophecy, the prophecy that already begins its realization (Péguy)

It is a dangerous temptation for academics to confuse the progress of learning with the progress of their careers.

The Kesh Temple Hymn identifies as components of religion: heroes, a consecrated house or shrine, sacrifices, priests, temple & priestly implements (stone bowls, staves, instruments [drum, horn]), recitation.

"You should not speak improperly; later it will lay a trap for you."
"Heaven is far, earth is most precious, but it is with heaven that you multiply your goods, and all foreign lands breathe under it."
"Prayer is cool water that cools the heart."
"You should not serve things; things should serve you."
"The shepherd who stopped searching stopped bringing back the sheep."

sacral Israel as type of the Catholic Church

appropriated doctrine vs private opinion

filial piety toward the Apostles

You are free to the extent that nothing constrains you except common good.

(1) prudence over self
(2) prudence with respect to others
-- (a) by example
-- (b) by rule
-- (c) by advice

American Buddhism is primarily a translation of Enlightenment rationalism, Romantic idealism, and liberal Protestantism into a Buddhist vocabulary (McMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism).

Xici: the I Ching as a learning tool for prudent reflection in light of change

baptism : citizenry :: confirmation : militia

"Prudence and justice are virtues and excellences of all times and of all places; we are perpetually moralists, but we are geometricians only by chance." Johnson
"Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason."

"What affirmation and negation are in thinking, pursuit and avoidance are in desire." Aristotle

"It is not absolution only which remits sin by the sacrament of penance, but contrition, which is not real if it does not seek the sacrament." Pascal

The notion of cause is part of our notion of the self.

The Matrix shifted the primary action-movie centerpiece from the chase to the fight.

the effect of one sacrament through another (ex consequentis)

coherence and the worldness of the world

External World
Part I: A History
-- Cartesian
-- Berkeleyan
-- Humean
-- Shepherdian
Part II: An Argument
-- Act/potency
-- Causation
-- 3 Properties
Part III: Expansions
-- Abstract Objects
-- Moral realism
-- Aesthetic realism
-- God

"It is the nature of power, always to press upon the boundaries which confine it." Paley

the essential features of standard logical assumption
(1) self-giving: Assuming A, you can conclude A.
(2) weakening: What is assumed may be ignored if not needed.
(3) bang: What is assumed can repeatedly be assumed.
(4) nonattachment: Assumptions do not change logical features if the order of assumptions is changed.
-- it's interesting to ask what happens if you drop each

Suarez on the signs of heresy
(1) origin infused by
-- (a) pride (Aug. De Pastor. ch. 8)
-- (b) envy (Chrys. hom 7 in Rom.)
-- (c) other vices (2 Tim 3:2ff)
(2) discord and separation from Rome (Cyprian, Aug)
(3) inconstancy and division of doctrine (Basil on Is 5)
(4) mutilation of the Word of God in its use (Vincent of Lerins, Basil; Ath. contra Arian. or. 1& 2)
(5) despising the Catholic Church (Vincent of Lerins; Aug, De unit. eccl.)
(6) refusal to acquiesce in the Councils (Ath. Contra Arian. 1)
(7) despising the authority of the Fathers (Aug. Contra Litter. bk 2 ch 61)
(8) being led by one's own spirit/arbitrating a religion for oneself (Hilary, De Trin Bk 1)
(9) colored eloquence that is precipitate and unrestrained (Naz or. 33; Gregory in Job Bk 7.2)
(10) novelty contrary to ancient doctrine (Chrys. hom 47 in Matt)
(11) loss of Catholic name and new denomination
(12) futile and earthly behavior

love, joy, and peace as paradisial acts

vices not consisting in any mean
vices consisting in what is only a mean with respect to something other than reason
vices consisting in a mean only according to imprudent reason

"Some hold that in the place of bliss, God is visible in His brightness but not in His nature. This is to indulge in overmuch subtlety. For in that simple and unchangeable essence, no division can be made between the nature and the brightness." Gregory, Moralia in Iob 18.90

We do not merely want good; we want good as contributing to a totality of good.

People misread the hypocrisy of their opponents as confirmation of their own sincerity.

Every mortal sin is
(a) a turning away from immutable good
(b) toward mutable good
(c) in violation of reason.

the human tradition
- the core part is received human nature itself
- this is integrated with received human society (being part of the human race)

Kant reduces all virtue to fortitude; Bentham cuts temperance out from the virtues.

the discernibility of symmetry as an aesthetic fact

As Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the teaching of the Church should partake of these, through accessibility, definiteness, and practicality.

evidence that a position is consistent, that it is true, that it is good, that it is beautiful

The perpetual challenge of tax law is that it must be done on the assumption that everyone is poor at mathematics, because with respect to taxes this is practically true.

eleos (mercy); elaion (oil)

human dignity // dignity of marriage

As a complete society, the Church has full moral and social powers of press, school, market, militia, and hospital, insofar as these are suitable for its supernatural end.

'But Knowledge is as food, and needs no less
Her Temperance over Appetite, to know
In measure what the mind may well contain.' (Milton)

"...since what orders the cosmos is double, we speak of one aspect of it as the Demiurge, and the other as the soul of the universe, and when we talk of Zeus, we are sometimes referring to the Demiurge and sometimes to the controlling principle of the universe." Plotinus (Enn 4.4.10)

On Plotinus's account of prayer, it is as it were pre-answered; that to which one prays is not responding to the prayer but acting according to its nature, ever sending forth emanations, and in prayer on harmonizes with these.

the consequentialist character of Eve's temptation in Milton: "Fair to the eye, inviting to the Taste /Of virtue to make wise".
-- Note that Satan in PL anticipates a sort of argument from evil: God would not be just if he punished you for doing what makes you happier.

In Paradise Lost, both Satan and fallen Eve assume that inferiority is inconsistent with freedom.

To distinguish coming into being from coming from elsewhere requires that the former be seen as causal. (Anscombe)
They are distinguishable *as effects*.

final causes as the root of the distinction between projectable and nonprojectable predicates

three types of public philosophy (Eugene Heath)
(1) situated in a public setting
(2) modified for varied public (public audience)
(3) functions as normative consensus (public expression)
-- Heath takes (2) to be the key one.
-- He notes that the classroom itself is a venue for public philosophy.

Nothing is so conducive to self-deception as ingratitude.

the family as first hospice/clinic, first school, first market, first church

"Every reform, however necessary, will be weak minds be carried to an excess, which will itself need reforming." Coleridge

"Every man that is not absolved by the water of regeneration, is tied and bound by the guilt of the original bond. But that which the water of Baptism avails for with us, this either faith alone did of old in behalf of infants, or, for those of riper years, the virtue of sacrifice, or, for all that came of the stock of Abraham, the mystery of circumcision." (Gregory Moralia 4.3 pref)

In architecture, sometimes the good we do extends far beyond any memory that may remain of us.

the impossibility of an error theory about the existence of error
the impossibility of fictionalism about the existence of fictions

'Some possible claims are false' is a necessary proposition.

as-if intentionality → causal tendency → causal capability

"To move one's body is to aim at things through it." Merleau-Ponty

tradition as a resistance to propaganda

Heretics "are loath to have a common sort of knowledge, lest they should be placed on a part with the rest of their fellow-creatures, and they are ever making out new things, which, whilst others known nothing of it, they plume their own selves on the preeminence of their knowledge before inexperienced minds." Gregory (Moralia 5.45)

Without intentionality there could be no -ism in eliminativism about intentionality.

-isms as intentional structures

Eliminativism in general is the deliberate elimination of some intentional element belonging to an intentional structure.

The notion of an equation does not occur as a solution in the equations of physics, and yet those equations are proof of the existence of equations. And so it is with many other things that have to do with the mind. The theories of physics exemplify things about the universe that they do not describe.

Values are intrinsic to the notion of a theoretical model, and are what we consider when considering the quality of the model.

'knowledge production' vs cultivation of the conditions for knowing

Most forms of naturalism that include the reduction of all sciences to physics make the universe a concretely existing mathematical object.
the platonism of one lonely Idea

illumination from within by aspiration, instruction from without by doctrine and sign

Reason is intrinsically aspiring.

Penance deals specifically with actual sin; but unction concerns not just actual sin but also things merely associated with sin. (When penance gives grace against these things, it does so *as anticipating unction*, just as when unction gives grace to remit actual sin it does so derivatively from penance.) [ex conseqentis effects of sacraments]

the Church as family (household), as militia, as hierarchy of grace

Contemporary modernity is a resistance to hierarchy. Nonetheless people are fascinated by hierarchies of angels, by stories about courts, by the impressiveness (for good or for evil) of a military.

quando accidents, mutable substance

Promises are part of the natural expression of love; lovers promise, friends promise, people promise on behalf of or for the sake of what they love, Love Himself makes covenants.

Rising or Falling? Men or Things?

To America
by James Weldon Johnson

How would you have us, as we are?
Or sinking 'neath the load we bear?
Our eyes fixed forward on a star?
Or gazing empty at despair?

Rising or falling? Men or things?
With dragging pace or footsteps fleet?
Strong, willing sinews in your wings?
Or tightening chains about your feet?

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Two Poem Drafts and a Re-Draft

Cycle of Time

Silent skies
looking down,
sun and moon
round and round;
round and round,
sun and moon
looking down.

Turning night,
rolling day,
silver beam,
golden ray;
golden ray,
silver beam,
roll away.

Breezes soft
kiss my ear,
bringing words
whispered clear;
whisper clear,
bring me words,
kiss my ear.

Silent skies
round and round;
you and I
lost and found;
lost and found,
round and round,
you and I.

The Honor

How splendid it is to die;
it humbles us all.
However high we think ourselves,
we do not want the honor.
We think it more deserved
by another.

C. S. Peirce

Upon the empty page the pen
With reason writes, dividing thought;
As in life, line cancels line,
Breaking borders, erasing bounds,
Turning sheet into the sought;
And you, the pen, on truth's white page
The universal seize by sign,
By cunning, laws from cases find,
And muse that meaning may be found.
By practice mind may make the world:
By love and chance the world is wrought.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

On Baggini on Monuments

Julian Baggini has an article on monument-breaking; unfortunately it has the complete arbitrariness of almost all discussions. He identifies three questions to ask in order to decide which monuments to break ("Is the achievement for which they are being celebrated intimately or causally tied to their sins? Were they significantly worse than others of their time? How recent was the offence?"), and then says,

By any reasonable test, David Hume should be safe. (He’s not yet listed on Hume’s racism was no more than was sadly normal at the time and it had nothing to do with what made his philosophy great.

This is a shining example of philosophers and academics giving themselves free passes that have not been earned even on their own principles. Baggini had previously argued that Nelson, whose life overlaps Hume's (he was around 18 when Hume died), fails the test because, "Nelson was not just a racist in a racist world, but a defender of racism against contemporaries who were challenging it." Hume's racism was not "no more than was sadly normal at the time"; it was highly controversial at the time. Beattie's Essay on Truth, which was very popular and well-regarded at the time, spends pages and pages attacking Hume on precisely this point, and was occasionally lauded on precisely this point. Baggini says that Hume's racism "had nothing to do with what made his philosophy great", but this has been a matter of controversy among Hume scholars interested in the question for a long time. The most famous argument that Hume's comments on race are intimately tied to the particular form of empiricism he espouses is still that of Eric Morton's 2002, "Race and Racism in the Works of David Hume", but it has by no means been the only one. And certainly that "bigot" Beattie, as Hume called him, thought that it was a significant and seriously important element in Hume's philosophy. Why does Baggini's judgment count more than Morton's or Beattie's?

Suppose we grant, though, that it was not "what made his philosophy great". Was it a part of his historical work? Hume's name was made as much in his historical work as in his philosophical work. Was it part of his essay work? Hume's essays were highly influential in a number of ways, and certainly Hume didn't write them in order not to exert influence. When people think of Lord Nelson's achievements, they are not generally thinking of his politics but of his military career; but Baggini still counts his politics. The only reason Baggini is not doing the same to Hume is that Baggini wants to support the monument-breaking but wants Hume not to be a target, despite Hume's explicit comments.

But the real question, of course, is not statues. Books are monuments to their author; they are far more widely available than statues; they are far more effective and influential, since books, unlike statues, have a long history of making converts and bolstering support for positions; they are themselves tied far more closely to ideas. So the real question of whether Baggini is serious comes down to the results of applying his three-pronged test,

(1) Is the achievement for which they are being celebrated closely tied to their sins?
(2) Were they significantly worse relative to others in their period?
(3) How recent was the offense?

to the banning and burning of books. Should we support, as the "moral high ground", the banning and burning of Hume's Essays, which are monuments to Hume that make explicitly racist comments, and which were written to convince people (admittedly among many other things) of those comments, and which were worse relative to others in Hume's day on this very point? And if Nelson doesn't get off on being too distant in time, surely neither does Hume. It seems like Hume's Essays do not pass a test like that, and so fall down into "the abyss of iniquity". There are obvious reasons why a philosopher would oppose the precedent of banning and burning books of philosophy; but if the argument is purely a matter of moral principle, there is absolutely no reason to exempt philosophy books from the same test as public statues. Any statue or picture of Heidegger is pocket-change in influence and effect compared to Heidegger's Being and Time.

As I've said, of course, moral principle is not particularly relevant, and attempts like Baggini's to moralize monument-breaking are doomed to collapse into either incoherence or question-begging; moral principles may be involved in monument-breaking, but only indirectly by way of contributing to people's self-image in the act itself. They don't give a reason for toppling statues in particular; there is a vast range of other actions you might do on exactly the same moral principles. This is why, contrary to Baggini's argument, the slippery slope is a worry: if you treat it as a purely moral question, as Baggini still does, you can't just decide when to get off the ride. Moral principles are not taxi-cabs.

Monument-breaking, like monument-building, is an attempt to send a message about who has power, about what kind of society is in place. Our society has tended to treat book-burning and monument-breaking as both bad acts, and has tended in the past to punish them by opprobium, the sanction of public opinion, as Mill would have it, and occasionally by harsh and strict enforcement of property and anti-vandalism laws, because both book-burning and monument-breaking are anti-liberal. Allowing them lets stand a message that you do not have to justify yourself before liberal processes (like convincing a democratic government) or institutions, that the liberal regime does not inherit the good of past generations while rising above their often serious defects (indeed, it implies that liberal regimes are complicit with them in their defects, as has been explicitly stated by some people supporting the monument-breaking), that liberal institutions and procedures can be bypassed on these matters for moral reasons to which political liberalism must itself be held account and judged guilty.

Since Baggini wants to allow monument-breaking, trying to maintain himself in simultaneous superposition between the liberal and the anti-liberal position, he needs to explain how far he is willing to go with book-burning, with the removal of books from curricula and libraries, and the like. After all, he tells us it is a matter of moral high ground; so he should stop treating it like something that can be managed by tactical maneuvering.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Shepherd at Home

Putting together the final version of my notes for an online lecture on causation in Hume and Shepherd in my Introduction to Philosophy class later today, I was put in mind for some reason of this comment by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (who knew Lady Mary Shepherd's daughter, Mary Shepherd, very well, and had met Lady Mary Shepherd a few times), on the relationship between Lady Mary Shepherd and Sir Henry Shepherd:

There was love too in abundance, I am sure, between the metaphysician & the dramatist--& Lady Mary used to say jestingly--"We are very much in love with each other". Notwithstanding which, he used by her own account to take up his hat & walk out whenever she began to dissert (she does dissert you know) upon primary & secondary qualities in matter--and she on the other hand was the authority in all domestic matters & would'nt suffer any interference--"What can he know about children? Why he was only a boy when I married him". Just those words! I am certain this time about the syllables. They are unforgettable.

[Letter 59 in The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford 1836-1854, Volume I, Meredith B. Raymond and Mary Rose Sullivan, eds. Wedgestone Press (Winfield, KS: 1983) pp. 154-155.]

Monday, June 15, 2020

Total Possibility

Provided we note carefully that universality is only the possibility of any thing, it is easy to see that the two qualities, necessity and universality, spring from one another. What is necessary has its origin in what is possible: we call necessary that which unites in itself every possibility in such a way that anything contrary to it is impossible.

We can see this in the following proposition: 'My friend Maurice is either alive or not alive.' This is a necessary proposition because the two contrary cases, alive or not alive, permit no middle case. Necessity, therefore, is that which includes within itself every possibility in such a way that nothing contrary is possible. But the form of the intellect is precisely total possibility. The intellect, therefore, understands necessarily, that is, it sees the relationship between possibility and everything understood, and its intellection becomes necessary by means of the relationship.

Antonio Rosmini, Certainty, Cleary & Watson, trs., Rosmini House (Durham: 1991), p. 50.

Cofnas Controversy, Again

Since I had discussed the topic before, I thought I'd point out that a number of faculty have written a letter on the Cofnas controversy; although Alfano is a signatory, it is a far better and more professional response than Alfano's original mess. Indeed, the only problem with it is that Alfano should absolutely not have been a signatory to this. In the original controversy, he (1) violated basic norms of professional decency by demanding the humiliation of the editors of the journal from the get-go; (2) violated basic professional ethics by publicly threatening to destroy the career of the graduate student in question; (3) incompetently argued that the problem with the paper was that it didn't consider whether environmentally based rather than biologically based racism might be true, as I pointed out in my original post. His name on this inevitably raises the question of whether this is in fact a part of an ongoing unprofessional vendetta.

The authors of the letter are complaining that the editors refused to publish it. It was probably ill-advised not to do so, although I can't say I'm all that surprised; from the perspective of the editors it must read as if, having blatantly attempted to ruin their careers and failed, the same people are back trying to do it again more indirectly. Nonetheless, in terms of content, it's much closer to what should have been done in the first place; even the passive-aggressive insinuations scattered throughout are well within the bounds of everyday academic cattiness.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Three Grand Requisites

Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England has a brief discussion of the nature of law; the theory of law that is used is a simplified natural law theory, although one that shares a number of features with more positivistic theories. In any case, he has an interesting discussion about law that take it to be closely tied to power, wisdom, and goodness. The account starts at the top, with God ordering the human world according to law. How do we fall under this law?

(1) We are dependent beings, and our dependency means our life is structured by rules determined by that on which we depend. However, our dependency is one of being created, which means it is in this sense a total dependency; we have free will, but this, too, is dependent on divine creation. Thus we fall under law because we fall within the scope of God's infinite power.

(2) God does not merely have infinite power; He is infinitely wise, as well. Considering only divine power, God could will any laws at all; but God's power over us is ordained or ordered power, governed by infinite wisdom. Thus, says Blackstone, "he has laid down only such laws as were founded in those relations of juftice, that existed in the nature of things antecedent to any positive precept"; our minds have been made to be able to recognize these "eternal immutable laws of good and evil", at least to the extent that is necessary for human life.

(3) However, while reason can discover these immutable principles, this cannot be adequate of itself, because doing so requires some difficult thinking, far too much to cover all of our practical life. Thus God's infinite goodness comes into the picture. God has made us so that we have a natural impulse to do the right thing; in particular, our self-love or drive for happiness, carries us in the direction of what is right, because our happiness and justice are interwoven. Thus "pursue your own happiness" is in itself a kind of natural summary of what we must do to live well: "This is the foundation of what we call ethics, or natural law."*

Power, wisdom, and goodness are not found only in natural law, of course; we have no reason to obey laws except so far as they can be traced to these three, even if they are positive laws:

For when society is once formed, government results of course, as necessary to preserve and to keep that society in order. Unless some superior were constituted, whose commands and decisions all the members are bound to obey, they would still remain as in a state of nature, without any judge upon earth to define their several rights, and redress their several wrongs. But, as all the members of society are naturally equal, it may be asked, in whose hands are the reins of government to be entrusted? To this the general answer is easy; but the application of it to particular cases has occasioned one half of those mischiefs which are apt to proceed from misguided political zeal. In general, all mankind will agree that government should be reposed in such persons, in whom those qualities are most likely to be found, the perfection of which are among the attributes of him who is emphatically stiled the supreme being; the three grand requisites, I mean, of wisdom, of goodness, and of power: wisdom, to discern the real interest of the community; goodness, to endeavour always to pursue that real interest; and strength, or power, to carry this knowledge and intention into action. These are the natural foundations of sovereignty, and these are the requisites that ought to be found in every well constituted frame of government.

We find a similar view -- that power, wisdom, and goodness are required for authority of government -- in Josiah Tucker's later anti-Lockean work, A Treatise Concerning Civil Government, Part II, Chapter III:

[T]here must be Power, Wisdom, and Goodness, subsisting in one Degree or other, in every Government worthy to be so called, let the exterior Form of it be whatever it may.

For Example, without Power the very Idea of Government is annihilated; and there are no Traces of it left.

Without Wisdom to conduct this Power towards some certain End, or Object, the Thing itself would not be Power, in a moral Sense, but blind Impulse, or mechanic Force.

And without Goodness to influence and incline the Operations both of Wisdom and Power towards some benevolent Uses, conducive to public Happiness, the Efforts of Wisdom would in effect be Knavery, Trick, and Cunning; and the Display of Power mere Tyranny and Oppression. There must therefore be a Coalition, or Co-operation of all three, in order to form a Government fit to rule over such a Creature as Man.

Tucker then uses this as a framework for assessing different forms of government. Absolute monarchy, requiring less coordination, most clearly exhibits power, but monarchs are also often deficient in wisdom and goodness. Hereditary aristocracy suffers from the same problems, and lacks the chief advantage of monarchy, "that Glare of Glory, which surrounds a Throne"; it is weak because of its division. It fares better than absolute monarchy with regard to wisdom; actual aristocrats tend to be actively involved in various aspects of the business and practical life of the realm, and so a large aristocracy is guaranteed to bring into their policies an extent and depth of experience far beyond what any absolute monarch could.** Further, aristocracy tends to do better than absolute monarchy in goodness; they tend to commit fewer abuses, except where they are driven by jealous protection of their privileges. Democracy -- real democracy, where everything is directly or indirectly put to the votes of the people themselves -- suffers even more completely the disadvantages that arise from division, and thus is a weak government indeed; and democracies do very poorly with regard to wisdom, since they are liable to mob injustices, and with regard to goodness, since their benevolence is unstable at best.

On the basis of this, Tucker makes the standard argument for the excellence of the British Constitution (as it stood in the eighteenth century): as a mixed government combining elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy in checks and balances with each other, it can minimize the dangers of each, even if it occasionally loses out on their strengths, and he argues that it does it better than "the Gothic Constitution", i.e., what we would call feudalism or manorialism, and better than the classicizing republics that the modern period introduces into Europe and America. He does, however, point out a number of ways in which he thinks it is defective and could be improved (he thinks in particular that it is thrown off balance by the possession of overseas colonies and that its democratic aspect has a number of problems and is in the way of becoming even more disordered under the influence of Locke's political philosophy).***


* This is, of course, the idea behind the notion of the "pursuit of happiness" as a foundational right in the Declaration of Independence, although the idea is not exclusive to Blackstone and there is a scholarly dispute about whether Blackstone is the primary influence -- Jefferson had a somewhat mixed view of Blackstone, but did know him, and Blackstone's popularity as a compendium of law made him a natural source of vocabulary when you wanted to be widely understood. In any case, we could just as easily talk about the right to life, liberty, and virtue.

** We tend, on the basis of fiction, to think of aristocrats as lolling about doing nothing except attending parties and social events, but this is never true in practice except where the aristocracy has been deliberately neutered -- historically, aristocrats are busy managing estates, working as landlords, and organizing military units, until a centralizing power tries to limit their influence by pulling them to court, where one gets something like the decadence recognized in fiction.

*** I'll use this occasion for some rambling. I find Tucker particularly interesting because his conclusions, at least, are fairly similar to my own. Speaking abstractly and only of ideal government, I think parliamentary monarchy is probably the best form of government that we have discovered and that Britain (almost entirely accidentally) managed to stumble on the form of parliamentary monarchy that most closely approximated the ideal somewhere between the accession of Queen Anne and early Victoria, and that it failed to hold onto it in part because it was not merely a United Kingdom but an Empire. Imperial distortions of the power balance led to the overgrowth of the effective power of the Commons at the expense of Crown and Peerage until they reached their almost vestigial forms today, uselessly flapping around like tiny wings on the body of a turkey bred to be so large that it can barely waddle around.

Of course, 'ideal government' is ideal, not actual, and not always practical; the single most important desideratum for government is not that it approximate the ideal but that it grow organically in a way appropriate to the customs and lives of its actual people. I have a much higher respect for the American Republic than Tucker, and think it, despite its many flaws, still one of the best forms of actual government that has ever been developed; and, regardless, Americans have republican habits and would not know what to do with a Crown and Parliament, much as the British have political habits that (despite the wishful thinking of British republicans) would not stead them well at all in a republic.

I often think of quangos: the British have entities that they call "quasi-autonomous non-governmental organizations". Americans have something like them, too; we call them "independent government agencies". I think these completely opposed uses of the term 'government' capture more than a merely accidental difference between British and American English; they capture completely opposed habits of thinking about governance. There's a reason why American monarchists and British republicans seem increasingly kooky the more you talk to them; they are enamored of a scheme, and may even have excellent arguments for it, but their patterns of thought and political habits are all wrong for the scheme they are concocting. Every time I have talked with British republicans, it eventually becomes manifest that they have no idea how power works in a republic; they lack the weird instinctive mixture of paranoia of power, cunning hyperlegalism, casual magnanimity, and jealous protectiveness of what's yours (in an expansive sense of 'yours') that is found in a people born and bred to long-lived republican ideals. Any republic actually implemented by British republicans would become a third-world dictatorship within a matter of decades; they don't even know what to be suspicious of, and while some might turn out to be quick studies, most people can't shift that drastically. Americans have always been weak on understanding our own behavior, but we are nonetheless, even in these decadent times, excelled by no one when it comes to acting like we live in a republic, even (perhaps especially) when we aren't thinking about it; and we would continue doing so even if we became a monarchy, to chaos and confusion everywhere. But Americans are not particularly tempted to unsuitable monarchical schemes (our temptation when it comes to unsuitable and artificial kookery lies toward democratic utopianism), whereas I think the British are much more tempted by the thought that they could just become a republic tomorrow if they wanted. It's a dangerous error.

Which is not, of course, to say that these things are set in stone. Our republic-mindedness has been weakened by bread and circuses, or in modern terms, healthcare and Hollywood; that is to say, we have let ourselves give in to the temptation to allow consolidations of power we should not have allowed, on the excuse of a better life and more choices, and created dependencies that slowly eat away at our native suspicion of government in any form. And half the world is slowly being Americanized, willy-nilly, regardless of their own political customs. But a good fit between scheme of government and political habits of mind is far more important than the precise structure of the former.

Suppose a Change o' Cases

This poem has been with the blog almost since the beginning, and it never ceases to be relevant.

Address to the Unco Guid, Or the Rigidly Righteous
by Robert Burns

My Son, these maxims make a rule,
An' lump them aye thegither;
The Rigid Righteous is a fool,
The Rigid Wise anither:
The cleanest corn that ere was dight
May hae some pyles o' caff in;
So ne'er a fellow-creature slight
For random fits o' daffin.
Solomon.-Eccles. ch. vii. verse 16.

O ye wha are sae guid yoursel',
Sae pious and sae holy,
Ye've nought to do but mark and tell
Your neibours' fauts and folly!
Whase life is like a weel-gaun mill,
Supplied wi' store o' water;
The heaped happer's ebbing still,
An' still the clap plays clatter.

Hear me, ye venerable core,
As counsel for poor mortals
That frequent pass douce Wisdom's door
For glaikit Folly's portals:
I, for their thoughtless, careless sakes,
Would here propone defences-
Their donsie tricks, their black mistakes,
Their failings and mischances.

Ye see your state wi' theirs compared,
And shudder at the niffer;
But cast a moment's fair regard,
What maks the mighty differ;
Discount what scant occasion gave,
That purity ye pride in;
And (what's aft mair than a' the lave),
Your better art o' hidin.

Think, when your castigated pulse
Gies now and then a wallop!
What ragings must his veins convulse,
That still eternal gallop!
Wi' wind and tide fair i' your tail,
Right on ye scud your sea-way;
But in the teeth o' baith to sail,
It maks an unco lee-way.

See Social Life and Glee sit down,
All joyous and unthinking,
Till, quite transmugrified, they're grown
Debauchery and Drinking:
O would they stay to calculate
Th' eternal consequences;
Or your more dreaded hell to state,
Damnation of expenses!

Ye high, exalted, virtuous dames,
Tied up in godly laces,
Before ye gie poor Frailty names,
Suppose a change o' cases;
A dear-lov'd lad, convenience snug,
A treach'rous inclination-
But let me whisper i' your lug,
Ye're aiblins nae temptation.

Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human:
One point must still be greatly dark, -
The moving Why they do it;
And just as lamely can ye mark,
How far perhaps they rue it.

Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
Decidedly can try us;
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias:
Then at the balance let's be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What's done we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted.