Saturday, August 22, 2020

Martinus Scriblerus Learns the Categories

Cornelius was forc'd to give Martin sensible images; thus calling up the Coachman he ask'd him what he had seen at the Bear-garden? The man answer'd he saw two men fight a prize; one was a fair man, a Sergeant in the Guards, the other black, a Butcher; the Sergeant had red breeches, the Butcher blue; they fought upon a Stage about four o'clock, and the Sergeant wounded the Butcher in the leg.

Mark (quoth Cornelius) how the fellow runs through the praedicaments. Men, Substantia; two, quantitas; fair and black, qualitas; Sergeant and Butcher, relatio; wounded the other, actio & passio; fighting, situs; Stage, ubi; two o'Clock, quando; blue and red Breeches, habitus.

At the same time he warn'd Martin, that what he now learn'd as a Logician, he must forget as a natural Philosopher; that tho' he now taught them that accidents inher'd in the subject, they would find in time there was no such thing; and that colour, taste, smell, heat, and cold, were not in the things but only phantasms of our brains. He was forc'd to let them into this secret, for Martin could not conceive how a habit of dancing inher'd in a dancing∣master, when he did not dance; nay, he would demand the Characteristicks of Relations: Crambe us'd to help him out by telling him, a Cuckold, a losing gamester, a man that had not din'd, a young heir that was kept short by his father, might be all known by their countenance; that, in this last case, the Paternity and Filiation leave very sensible impressions in the relatum and correlatum. The greatest difficulty was, when they came to the Tenth Praedicament: Crambe affirmed, that his Habitus was more a substance than he was; for his cloaths could better subsist without him, than he without his cloaths.

[Memoirs Of the Extraordinary Life, Works, and Discoveries of Martinus Scriblerus, pp. 54-55.]

It might sound a little odd to think of 'fighting' as a kind of posture, but in a duel of swords you need a fighting stance. The Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus was written by the Scriblerus Club, so one finds it attributed to different Scriblerians, with Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and John Arbuthnot perhaps being the most common. One of the common themes of the work is that the eighteenth century was a muddle of old and new, without much rhyme or reason, which is why Cornelius teaches his skeptical student that everything he learns as a logician (still based on Aristotle) he has to forget as a natural philosopher (based on non- and sometimes anti-Aristotelian principles).

The Basic Thomistic Account of the Categories

If we are talking or thinking about anything, we can in some way or another attribute being to it. In attributing being to something, we can attribute it as extramental or in the mind. Set aside intramental being. We always attribute something to a subject. This attribution in the case of what is beyond the mind can be an attribution of either what the subject is, or what is in the subject, or what is beyond the subject but taken up by it. These three ways capture how we think of anything outside the mind.

(1) When what we attribute to a being outside the mind is something essential to it, we are attributing it in the mode of substance. Thus in 'Socrates is human', we are saying what it is that Socrates himself is.

If we aren't attributing it to the subject as something essential, we obviously are attributing it as something other than what is essential. This may be done independently of anything beyond the subject (as in the subject) or as dependently on what is beyond the subject (as taken up by the subject). If we are talking about the first (what is in the subject), it may be in the subject absolutely or relatively. If we are attributing it as absolutely in the subject, we may be attributing it as materially in the subject, thus making it divisible into parts, or as formally unified.

(2) When we attribute something as being in the subject materially, we are attributing it in the mode of quantity.

(3) When we attribute something as being in the subject formally, we are attributing it in the mode of quality.

(4) When we attribute something as being in the subject relatively, we are attributing it in the mode of relatedness or to-another. For instance, in 'Socrates is a father', we are giving a way in which Socrates himself has a 'to another' aspect, namely, fatherhood, which is relative to children.

These are the four primary categories, and they serve in a sense as the framework for all of our talking and thinking about existing things themselves. But we can also attribute things to a subject that depend on things other than the subject itself. In such cases, the thing external to the subject serves as a basis for thinking or talking about the subject. In order to do this, the external thing has to be linked to the subject in some way that makes it possible for us to think about the one in terms of the other. There are three major situations in which this happens: when the external thing is a cause or effect, when it is a measure, and when it is an adjunct to the subject.

(5) When we attribute something to a subject in a way that depends on an external thing as cause, we are attributing it in the mode of passion, because things undergo the actions of their causes.

(6) When we attribute something to a subject in a way that depends on an external thing as effect, we are attributing it in the mode of action, because causes act on their effects.

Because of the way causation works, predications of these two kinds, while dependent on something beyond the subject, do tell us about what it is in the subject in some sense. Attributions involving measure are more removed and indirect. We can measure something either with regard to a change or to a containing boundary.

(7) When we attribute something to a subject so as to measure it by a change, we are attributing it in the mode of when.

Measuring with respect to a containing boundary can occur in two ways, either simply or in such a way as to indicate the ordering of parts to each other.

(8) When we attribute something to a subject so as to measure it in itself with respect to a boundary, we are attributing it in the mode of where. So 'Socrates is in the agora' indicates an outer boundary (the agora) with respect to which Socrates himself can be measured.

(9) When we attribute something to a subject so as to measure it in a way that relates its parts to each other, we are attributing it in the mode of posture. So 'Socrates is sitting' indicates how Socrates's parts are related to each other with respect to the boundary around Socrates.

The third way we can attribute something to a subject based on something beyond the subject is through an adjunct. The most common and obvious way in which this happens is with clothing and clothing-like things; for instance, if we say 'Socrates is dressed', calling him dressed is with reference to something joined to him.

(10) When we attribute something to a subject based on something beyond the subject that is adjoined to it, we are attributing it in the mode of habit or vestment.

The last six of these modes, sometimes known as the sex principia, are particularly useful for thinking and talking about changing things, where figuring out what is going on often requires using other things as a framework.

To put in outline form:

The predicate of the subject characterizes
-- (I) what the subject itself is: substance
-- (II) what is in the subject itself
-- -- -- (A) materially: quantity
-- -- -- (B) formally: quality
-- -- -- (C) relatively: relation
-- (III) What is taken up by the subject from outside itself
-- -- -- (A) causally
-- -- -- -- (1) from a cause: passion
-- -- -- -- (2) from an effect: action
-- -- -- (B) as a measure
-- -- -- -- (1) with respect to a change: when
-- -- -- -- (2) with respect to a boundary
-- -- -- -- -- (a) measuring the subject itself: where
-- -- -- -- -- (b) ordering the subject's parts to each other: posture
-- -- -- (C) as an adjunct: vestment

Obviously there are many questions that can be associated with each; for instance, you can ask whether vestment literally applies only to human beings or also to things like hermit crabs or inanimate objects that are covered. (Aquinas himself thinks that cases of the latter are metaphorical applications of the category of habitus or vestment, but you could perhaps have a somewhat broader understanding of the category in which they wouldn't be.) But the categories so interpreted lay out ways in which we characterize things in the external world.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Dashed Off XVIII

An obvious problem with the attempt of Smit, Buekens, and Du Plessis to reduce social facts to incentivizings is that (1) incentives are all over the place, pointing in different directions even on the same matter, and this is true even if we focus only on stable incentives; and (2) incentives are not that precise -- unless we are assuming socially shared agreements already. No one is incentivized to treat this bit of paper as money unless we already agree that this is what our incentives are supposed to do, and, in so doing, that the incentives supporting this are the ones that matter. For instance, they say that money is an object we are incentivized to acquire for exchange rather than direct consumption, but the incentives themselves do not establish this unless there is already a convention of classifying things as 'for exchange' as money. It is the adoption of paper as money that creates the incentives to treat it specifically as such, not vice versa.

Utilitarian theories are always elaborate systems of epicycles.

Most of our talk about most things is figurative.

Proposals are not put on party or campaign platforms because of the reasons for the proposals but beccause, regardless of the reasons, they are thought to be salient to hopes and fears.

three forms of error with respect to God (Augustine, DT 1.1.1)
(1) transferring ideas of body to God
(2) transferring ideas of human spirits to God
(3) speculating out of ignorance while trying to pretend knowledge

sanctuary as creating a punishment option of self-confinement

Being unreasonable does not become acceptabel simply because it provokes others to excessive anger; yet there are entire patterns of behavior that assume that it does.

Reserve powers must be actively maintained (by repeated insistence, ceremonial recognition, etc.) or they become merely nominal and uncertainly hypothetical powers.

Social movements work in part by building up a 'social wallet', a network of people willing to spend money specifically on that issue, thus becoming attractive in the market and influential on the party floor.

"The noble is attentive to Tao because he wants to govern society by cultivating himself." Gang Jeonildang

It is important to distinguish the aspirational principles and the practical principles of a constitution.

The first rule of factional politics is to endure; many successes have been made simply because a faction did not disappear.

periodic debt forgiveness as part of the healthy functioning of a credit system

the accepted opinions about wisdom (Metaphysics 982a3-19)
(1) The wise know all, so far as that is possible.
(2) The wise know what is difficult to know.
(3) The wise know so as to be able to teach why things happen or exist.
(4) The wise know what is worth knowing for its own sake.
(5) The wise know with a more ruling knowledge.

Jesus' reply to the rich young man is not merely to sell his possessions and give to the poor, but to do so and follow Him. The rich young man is the prototype of all those who are 'nearly Christian' but do not follow Christ because there is something they love more, that they fear to give up. (And note that the barrier is to ask, "What can *I* do to be healed?" rather than to ask to be healed.)

The most basic kind of desert is not with respect to praise and blame, but with respect to what happens to one in general.

It is potentially exhausting not to have good taste.

All modern politics tends toward totalitarianism to the extent that it does not recognize a society whose jurisdiction cannot be subordinated by the state.

Moral deference pessimism directly implies that contractualism and all positivist theories of morality are wrong.

passive perfect: conceptus est (de/ek), natus est (ex/ek), passus est (sub/epi),crucifixus est, mortuus est, sepultus est
active finite: descendit, resurrexit, ascendit
present: sedet
future: venturus est
the threefold sanctity: in Spiritum Sanctum, in sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, in sanctorum communiorem
what we receive in the threefold sanctity: in remissione peccatorem, in carnis ressurrectionem, in vitam aeternam

monitory future as bridge between asserting what will be and making a normative claim for the future

Consent of the sort used in law is by nature relative to some form of deeming.

three forms of Christian philosophy
(1) philosophizing in a Christian setting
(2) philosophizing for a specifically Christian audience
(3) philosophizing in light of Christian topics

immediate vocation: baptism, confirmation
mediate vocation: ordination, matrimony
vocation-supporting: penance, unction, eucharist

rituals of future responsibility (confirmations, weddings) vs rituals of past accomplishment (graduations)

The undermining of the institution of marriage will destroy any economic system, if it goes on long enough.
maritalism as an economic system

Work gets its dignity from two things: reason and family.

Laborem exercens: "the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family"
"...the family is simultaneously a community made possible by work and the first school of work, within the home, for every person."
"Man must work out of regard of others, especially his own family, but also for the society he belongs to, the country of which he is a child, and the whole human family of which he is a member, since he is the heir to the work of generations and at the same time a sharer in building the future of those who will come after him in the succession of history."
"Just remuneration for the work of an adult who is responsible for a family means remuneration which will suffice for establishing and properly maintaining a family and for providing security for its future."

Every form of eliminativism is by its nature a normative position.

the fig tree: the merely natural does not suffice

Mk 11:22-26 // Lord's Prayer

Mk 12:16-17: We find the likeness and inscription of God on the human soul.

Iconoclasms arise through the attempt to destroy or lame opposing political powers that are regarded as particularly threatening.

Professional responsibilities are abstractions from professionals acting with ethical deliberation, given specified goals.

Self-identification is a matter of aspiration.

Justice is often constituted by a practical recognition of genuine authority.

the nihil obstat for counting something as evidence

Being is not universal as genus but as included presupposition.

Being is the condition for the possibility of inquiry.

Loves are not equal, and love itself, ever aspiring to higher love, proves this in itself.

Scalzo on 3 types of gift
(1) ceremonial: gift serves as pledge and a sign of fulfillment of obligation
(2) moral: expression of reciprocity for purposes of (civic) friendship
(3) personal: human being as subsistent gift

Hume conceives of promises as contracts, but promises are first and foremost gifts.

money as symbolic demand

"All citizens desire that reciprocation be done to them proportionately. By reason of this all men can live together because they do for one another what they themselves seek." Aquinas

"No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one's sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one's character may remain entirely unaffected for the better." William James

political policy-building as a project of finding solution-overlaps

pre-allegiance acceptance

being as the most community-making concept

logos as light

In the fragments we have from Heraclitus, logos seems to have a unifying function, logos as unification. This fits with the 'to gather' apparent in the constructed root in Proto-Indo-European (*leg-).

analogy as proto-consilience
analogy as suggesting or setting up the possibility of consilience

Wisdom is an intellectual virtue we have within the context, and in communication with, a larger wisdom (tradition, shared community, divine wisdom).

Intentionality is not merely something formed toward things, but something arising from what is prior to us and then directed, given specificity of direction, by us.

Logos unifies by direction and by manifestation.

The claim that you can't get an ought from an is, ultimately requires that either there are no ought propositions or there is no possible account or definition of what they are.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Mellifluous Doctor

Today is the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church. From his sermons on the Song of Songs:

Observe, my brethren, how humility justifies us. Humility, I say, not humiliation. How many there are who suffer humiliation without being humble! Some endure humiliation with bitterness, others with patience, others again with gladness. The first class are culpable, the second are innocent, the last are just. Although innocence may be considered a part of justice, still the perfection of justice belongs to humility. Now, he is truly humble who can say from his heart, "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me." But he who submits to humiliation against his will cannot sincerely say this. Much less, he who murmurs against it. To neither of these do I promise grace simply because he is humbled. Yet there is a vast difference between the two, since the one possesses his soul in patience, whereas the other perishes in his discontent. But, although the latter merits indignation, neither merits grace. For it is not to the humbled but to the humble that God gives His grace. The humble man is he who converts humiliation into humility, and it is only such can say to God, "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me."

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Two Poem Drafts

Herteitr, 'Battle-Glad', is a name for Odin, also known as the god of twelve names. Warrior-Fields, Folkvangr, is the hall in which Freyja receives the noble dead who die in battle -- the Valkyries divide those who die in battle, with half going to Odin in Valhalla and half to Freyja in Folkvangr.


The raven's wine is thickly flowing,
hotly pouring, redly streaming,
the ravensong is loudly cawing
far and wide across the plain.

The maidens of the shield are dressing
groomsmen for their final wedding,
in the carts they all go riding
to a new and night-kissed home.

The choosers all the men were watching,
to the Father heroes bringing,
to the Warrior-Fields were taking,
all the hearts most sure and true.

The twelve-named god the hosts was blinding:
wolves and crows are merry-feasting,
the raven's wine is thickly flowing
in white and grinning chalice-bowls.


The watchful almond stands and waits,
the waters wave,
the winds are whipping through your hair,
and I, aware,
so very, deeply, in myself aware,
am standing,
heart laid bare,
and I am waving, too.
My heart is whipping deep within,
the spirit washing through,
and I am waiting,
I know not why,
but I am waiting for you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Through Sleep, as Through a Veil

Dream Land
by Christina Rossetti

Where sunless rivers weep
Their waves into the deep,
She sleeps a charmed sleep:
Awake her not.
Led by a single star,
She came from very far
To seek where shadows are
Her pleasant lot.

She left the rosy morn,
She left the fields of corn,
For twilight cold and lorn
And water springs.
Through sleep, as through a veil,
She sees the sky look pale,
And hears the nightingale
That sadly sings.

Rest, rest, a perfect rest
Shed over brow and breast;
Her face is toward the west,
The purple land.
She cannot see the grain
Ripening on hill and plain;
She cannot feel the rain
Upon her hand.

Rest, rest, for evermore
Upon a mossy shore;
Rest, rest at the heart's core
Till time shall cease:
Sleep that no pain shall wake;
Night that no morn shall break
Till joy shall overtake
Her perfect peace.

Monday, August 17, 2020


One of the worrying things about modern American politics is the tendency to conspiracy theory, which has become very widespread, even among people who don't think of themselves as conspiracy theorists of any kind. QAnon at least has a sort of purity, being a bunch of conspiracy theorists recognizing themselves as conspiracy theorists and participating in it for social reasons; but we have had to endure the whole 'Russiagate' debacle, which was from the beginning pretty obviously a conspiracy theory, and now we have this absurd Post Office furor. A few points about the latter:

(1) The USPS is an independent government agency; while the President has considerable authority and power over even such agencies, they are deliberately set up in such a way that it generally takes time and a considerable amount of political backing to effect large-scale change quickly. This is not even a plausible locus for a large-scale conspiracy.

(2) The Postmaster General hasn't been appointed by the President in nearly fifty years. The President appoints the USPS Board of Governors, who then appoint (and when they deem appropriate, remove) the Postmaster General. No appointments were made between 2010-2017 so that the Board dwindled to the point that it lost its ability to maintain quorum (indeed, at one point there is one Board member); appointments began to be filled again in 2017. Because of this it is in fact true that Trump has appointed most of the governors. There were several political reasons, at different times, why nominations were not made or else not given the consent of the Senate, including an extended period of time when Senator Sanders held up all postal service nominations (for reasons that are not very clear but are usually thought to be related to a plan to close a large postal center in Vermont). Regardless, the Postmaster General can't do much on a large scale without the support of the Board, and Congress, not the Board, is the entity that decides the actual structure for the Postal Service.

(3) The USPS is pretty much completely funded up for all current operations through 2021, and for most things up to 2024, and it has the option of receiving a large loan from the US Treasury. While the loan would require certain forms, it is purely optional, and it has not received the loan. The USPS currently bleeds money like crazy, and has been for quite some years now, but it is not in any way in danger, much less immediate danger.

(4) The only political question of serious concern in the vicinity is whether the USPS can handle large-scale mail-in voting; the USPS has warned that it cannot guarantee that mail service would meet election deadlines for mail-in voting with the time schedules that 46 of the states have previously been using, and has proposed alternate schedules that would be more manageable.

(5) The people with really die-hard investment in the conspiracy theory claim that Trump himself admitted that he was blocking funding for the USPS to manipulate the election; in fact, unsurprisingly, Trump said nothing of the sort, saying instead that (a) the USPS was asking for $25 billion to handle mail-in voting, and he didn't think it actually needed that much; (b) if Democrats did not work with Republicans to make a funding deal, they wouldn't get the money and the USPS would certainly not be able to handle mail-in voting. It is astonishing how easily people will believe that their political opponents are cackling melodrama villains monologuing their evil plans.

The entire weekend has seen a wave of people sharing 'evidence' of a conspiracy to destroy the USPS for political purposes -- pictures of stacked mail boxes (in fact waiting to be refurbished), pictures of locked mail boxes (a practice the Postal Service uses in areas in which mail is repeatedly stolen, and which only lock the most vulnerable slot, or else are always open for certain hours), pictures of mail boxes being removed (which the Postal Service constantly does in order to move them from low-volume mail areas to high-volume mail areas), etc. etc. I'm afraid it all reminds me of the garbage-stealing conspiracy in The Stupids. You have to sometimes step back from your politics or your politics will certainly start actively making you an idiot.

I wonder, though, if there are broader causes. Conspiracy-theory-like thinking seems to have become more prevalent even in academic life. Charles Mills's racial contract, some accounts of white supremacy in critical theory, Kate Manne's account of misogyny in Down Girl, Jason Stanley's account of fascism, all have features common to conspiracy theories. The primary difference is that they are all generalized rather than occasional -- that is, they are more like the early modern conspiracy theory of 'priestcraft', which was supposed to tell us why society in general was messed up, than like 9/11-Trutherism, which is focused on particular events. The academic cases are often more intricately and carefully argued than their folk counterparts, and one can certainly learn genuinely worthwhile ideas from looking at particular arguments on particular points. But overall they have many of the same features as the folk conspiracy theories, and sometimes some of the worrisome red flags -- the unfalsifiability, the immoderate scope of speculation, the suspicion of official stories, the blurring of general-level explanation with explanation at the level of particulars, the inadequate distinction between accident and intent, the facelessness of their discussions of people, the tendency toward 'psychosis of resemblances' (to borrow a term from Eco) arising from very crude, rule-of-thumb classifications being treated as if they were precise and reliable. Diachronic totalizing narratives like Hegelianism and Marxism are no longer much in fashion; but synchronic totalizing narratives seem to be the rage of the day. Perhaps some of the latter are distinguishable from conspiracy theories in some way I'm not seeing; but they are cousins, at least. I have no idea, however, why such narratives have become so tempting to so many people.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Fortnightly Book, August 16

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes with the "The Final Problem", published in 1893 but purportedly telling of events that happened in 1891. Doyle had to deal with regular requests from fans for more stories, which he resisted, but when Doyle set about pulling together some ideas for a story that would be a sort of revived homage to Victorian-era thrillers, Sherlock Holmes (prior to his demise) ended up being a good fit for drawing it all together, with The Hound of the Baskervilles as the result. The novel was a stunning success. A number of his works in the meantime, particularly his historical novels, had been moderately well regarded by critics, but nothing on the same level. So Doyle finally gave in, and brought back Holmes -- really this time, and not, as with Hound, simply going back in narrative time. Thirteen stories were serialized in monthly stories in Collier's and Strand Magazine beginning in September (Collier's) or October (Strand) of 1903. They were published as a book in 1905. The stories included in the collection are:

"The Adventure of the Empty House"
"The Adventure of the Norwood Builder"
"The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
"The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist"
"The Adventure of the Priory School"
"The Adventure of Black Peter"
"The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"
"The Adventure of the Six Napoleons"
"The Adventure of the Three Students"
"The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez"
"The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter"
"The Adventure of the Abbey Grange"
"The Adventure of the Second Stain"

Since the last story puts Holmes into retirement, the work can be seen as Doyle's attempt to bring the Holmes stories to a close that would be more acceptable to fans of the character. If so, it was not particularly successful. Doyle's explanation for the Great Hiatus -- why Holmes simply vanished -- has also not always been found particularly convincing by readers, who in the Great Game have often tried to come up with better accounts -- the most extreme and interesting to think about probably being Charles Williams's suggestion (in a brief review of S. C. Roberts's Dr. Watson) that Sherlock Holmes in fact died at Reichenbach Falls and all of the return stories are really about Moriarty impersonating Holmes. While they usually do not speculate quite so boldly, Williams has not been the only reader to think that there is something different about Holmes post-Return, probably in part due to the fact that Doyle does a lot more experimenting after the Return.

While they are not generally as popular as the pre-Return stories, there have been quite a few adaptations of the tales in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, so I might listen to a radio adaptation of a couple or a few, as time permits, and perhaps even TV or movie adaptation, if any strikes my fancy.