Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Some Links and Notes

* Mike L. Gregory, Kant's Naturrecht Feyerabend, Achenwall, and the Role of the State (PDF), is a really good article for anyone who is interested in the context of Kant's philosophy of law.

* Robert Elder, No, John C. Calhoun Didn't Invent the Filibuster

* James Simpkins, Nimrod vs. Abraham

* Richard Cross, Deification in Aquinas: Created or Uncreated?

* Cornelia H. Dayton, Lost Years Recovered: John Peters and Phillis Wheatley Peters in Middleton, examines recently uncovered evidence of a period of the poetess's life that had previously been obscure.

* Brendan Case's Bonaventure's Critique of Thomas Aquinas has been going around; I don't think it's a particularly good account of either Bonaventure or Aquinas on this point (and I think we should be wary of claims that one is 'critiquing' the other). Bonaventure is not a fierce critic of "efforts to baptize Aristotle", as is obvious to anyone who reads a great deal of him; Aquinas has an extensive Neoplatonist aspect, as seen by the fact that his major non-Scriptural influences are Augustine and the Dionysian corpus. They do differ in a number of major ways; difference is not always direct disagreement, and reading them as directly in opposition, when they are at least sometimes just responding differently to a common milieu, can distort the reading of both. While it's conceivable Aquinas read the Itinerarium, it's not as if Bonaventure was the only illuminationist he would have known. And it is noticeable that in at least one place, Case's argument for a strong opposition between Bonaventure and Aquinas depends on explicitly saying that Aquinas mischaracterizes his own account of the relation between the human intellect and the eternal reasons, and in at least one other case in saying that Aquinas is criticizing a position that is actually different from Bonaventure's. (Case, of course, takes Aquinas to have 'misconstrued' Bonaventure, but there is no reason to think that Aquinas was trying to construe Bonaventure in particular to begin with -- far more plausible would be that they are responding to similar kinds of potentially problematic positions, but, for example, Bonaventure might think they can be salvaged with some basic modifications and Aquinas might think not.) The article also thoroughly misconstrues the point of the 24 Thomistic Theses, which wasn't to "ensure conformity" but to reassure teachers that the theses that they were using to characterize Aquinas's teaching were reasonable statements of his positions. Case, I suspect, is confusing the theses identified by the Decree of Approval with some commentaries on it. The representation of Gilson almost borders on scurrilous, since Case neglects to mention that the Gilson quote occurs (1) immediately after Gilson explicitly says that there are necessarily many legitimate Christian theologies, that other theologians and Doctors of the Church may be right, and that the point does not disqualify other theological interpretations; and (2) immediately before Gilson goes on to explain that many theologies are accepted by the Church, any of which may be more suitable to some people all or some of the time, but that he means that Aquinas's has the distinction of universality. Trying to paint Gilson as making a bizarre claim in treating Aquinas as the Common Doctor is absurd; you can regard it as hyperbolic, but it is not in any way bizarre in context, particularly given how Aeterni Patris was often read.

But, in any case, the most serious problem with it (and, unfortunately, not exclusively with this article) is that Aquinas is a saint and a Doctor of the Church and Bonaventure is a saint and a Doctor of the Church, and you should be taking them both very seriously, not pretending that you have been granted authority to stand in condemnation over either; it's perfectly fine to find oneself with a greater affinity to one authority and to defend him robustly, even against another (should that arise), but you should not go around trying to turn theology into a team sport complete with fandoms.

* Oren Hanner, In Search of Buddhist Virtue (PDF), discusses what theory of virtue seems implied by Buddhist lists of virtues.

* Monica Chin, in File Not Found, discusses a problem that every educator comes to notice at some point: in an age of unparalleled information technology, students usually have no idea how some of it works. Of course, it varies considerably, but the problems become quite noticeable over time. 2017 does seem about right for some kind of shift, although I noticed long before that, that despite having access to databases and the like, students never used them unless you explicitly told them to do so. But around 2017 seems about right for when I started having students who had difficulty posting on a discussion board, and a lot of the problems have been linked to not having a clear understanding of threaded structure. As the article notes, this is less a matter of simply lacking knowledge and more a matter of having different skills, but I think there is room to be rather pessimistic about the end result, though, because the different skills they have are often in how to use entertainment and social media apps, which are not generally skills for doing serious work. What kind of general research skill is familiarity with Instagram? Perhaps some of it has to do with teaching philosophy, though;  complicated arguments most commonly have threaded or tiered structure, so not being able to understand different hierarchies in a structure, of which directory structure is one of the simplest, is a significant logical handicap. If you see a long argument as just a pile of arguments (a 'laundry basket', as the article puts it), then you are going to go very wrong. (I hadn't really thought of it before, but people often lacking a sense of multilayered structure would explain a lot of weird arguments I've had online the past several years.) In any case, the article seems to blame search engines, but (1) if my students are any indication, the difference is definitely not linked to any kind of improvement in search engine skills, (2) search engine skills have been around for quite some time, and (3) the real difference is almost certainly smartphones and apps.

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