Saturday, March 27, 2021

Fortified and Revitalized

Hope is a virtue that very strongly befits the office of a knight, for through hope knights remember God in battle, in their trials and tribulations, and through the hope that they have in Him they receive succour and aid from God who triumphs in battle because of the hope and trust that the knights have in His power rather than in their strength or weapons. With hope the knight's courage is fortified and revitalized, and hope allows them to endure travails and makes them venture into the perils into which they place themselves, and hope makes them endure hunger and thirst in the castles and cities that they defend when they are besieged. And if there were no hope the knight would not have the wherewithal to fulfil the office of knighthood.

[Ramon Llull, The Book of the Order of Chivalry, Fallows, tr., The Boydell Press (Woodbridge, Suffolk: 2013) pp. 71-72.]

Friday, March 26, 2021

Quasi-entitative Non-entities

 We can identify cracks, talk about them, point to them. Cracks spread, travel, propagate. There is even a field of physics, fracture mechanics, that studies the underlying laws of their motion. There are cracks; cracks are. But cracks, we can very well say, are not existing things.

We can say similar things of holes, of gaps, of empty spaces, of blanks, of silences. There is an entirely understandable sense in which all of these are 'nothings'. But they also in some sense are. These paradoxical nothings you find in the real world are what we might call quasi-entitative non-entities, although, to be sure, we could also call them, more vaguely and loosely, 'things that in a way really aren't but in a way definitely are'.

The scholastics distinguished between thing-beings and reason-beings, and it is clear enough from the sense in which we call these things 'nothing', quasi-entative non-entities have to be reason-beings rather than thing-beings. A reason-being (ens rationis) is being that is only found in and of itself as an object for thought.

This is not necessarily to say that they are purely imaginary or made-up, which is a confusion that always arises when people talk about beings of reason. Reason-beings can really be; they just aren't real things in themselves. The hole currently in my ceiling as I wait for it eventually to get repaired is in my ceiling. You can see it. You can put your hand through it. You can fill it. If you don't take it into account, you will not understand certain things about the ceiling. But the hole is there only as negative space, only in the sense that the really existing ceiling stops and has non-meeting borders from several directions. The being it has as a hole consists in the fact that we think of it on the model of a real thing, that we take it as an object of our minds. A hole is in the thing insofar as the thing is (or could be) an object of our minds.

It's possible that thinking in terms of holes, cracks, etc., at least as such, is due to limitations of our minds. God knows things fully as they are, in and of themselves, but in navigating the world, we find that we can't know thing-beings, like ceilings or windows or stones, both directly and adequately. Much of what we know about real things we have to know by thinking of them on the model of other real things. And much of what we know about real things requires having a way of going beyond the limits of what we directly know about them.

Traditionally, the classes of reason-beings were negations and rational relations, although sometimes people preferred to divide the first class into bare negations and privations, and although you can even find some philosophers, like Thomas Compton Carleton, who argued for the (mostly unpopular and difficult to defend) opinion that bare negations were actually thing-beings. I think we have to be a little careful with this -- we should really think of these as being-by-negating and being-by-relating, and (as I will go on to suggest) take them to be combinable.

All quasi-entitative non-entities are 'quasi-entitative' because we think of them in terms of thing-beings. Take a hole in the wall. We can think of this as a hole in the wall in two ways. We can think of it as fillable. When we do this, we are thinking of the hole in terms of thing-beings (usually but not necessarily exclusively the normal components of the wall) that could be there but are not. If I walk into the room and find to my surprise that there is a hole in the wall, it makes sense that I would think of it as a not-there part-of-a-wall. Or we can think of it as traversable. For instance, we could move through it. If we do this, we are thinking of the hole in terms of its relation to thing-beings in its context -- the wall that makes its borders, the things that can move through it. In fact, we all have deliberately placed holes in our walls -- windows to let in light and perhaps air, doorways to let physical things in and out. Passageways are there, but a passageway is an emptiness understood as related to its context in a certain way.

I would suggest that all quasi-entitative non-entities have this feature: they are negative reason-beings that are also relative reason-beings. (I think you can go in the reverse direction and have primarily relative reason-beings that are also negative reason-beings; distinctions and partitions, I think, are such things.) They are not mere non-entity. Walking into a room and discovering a hole in the wall is not like walking into a room and discovering a lack of unicorns. There just aren't any unicorns, but there is a hole in the wall. I can't do anything directly with a lack of unicorns; I can do something to a hole, like put my hand through it. So holes are negative, but not merely negative; it's actually essential to their being holes that they also be understood as relative. The same is true, of course, of cracks, blanks, gaps. It may be a bit less obviously true of empty spaces and silences, but I don't think it's difficult to argue for them, either. It's probably also true of shadows, which as someone somewhere has said are like holes in light. In general, I think particular non-things will always be in this same family; mere negating leaves you with something indefinite, so you need relating to get a particular negation-of-thing. Thus evils, not evil as such but particular evils, are in this family: they are privations related to a context so that we can reason about those contexts more easily, in the way that we would do if they were particular examples of substances, qualities, or stuffs.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Feast of the Incarnation

The Feast of the Announcement to Mary

The Angel went to Nazareth, Alleluia:
"Peace, O Mary, maiden given great grace,
blessed are you among women, greatly favored!
Have no fear! Your God is gracious to you,
and you shall conceive a Son whose name is Jesus."

Mary was with wonder filled: "I am but a girl,
a maiden; how can I bear a son?"
"Mary, the Holy Spirit overshadows you,
with divine might is descending on you,
You shall bear God's Son. With God all is possible."

The holy Virgin said with joy, "Let it be so,
for I am the handmaiden of the Lord!"
O Mary, receiving peace from God, you give peace;
you restored Eve's children to their true place;
in you the Word was made flesh to dwell among us.

What a sublime altar on which God now descends!
God within the Virgin joins with our kind,
takes flesh in union with her flesh to aid our plight,
bringing to us salvation and glory,
becoming Man in her that we might become God.

O Lord, we do not understand and are amazed;
we are blinded by Your eternal flame.
The incense of our prayer alone can we give;
we hide behind its smoke in Your presence,
for great is the Might that comes upon Your altar!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Links of Note

* Richard Yetter Chappell on Querying vs. Dismissive Objections

* Joseph Keegin, Forgiveness -- Christian, and Otherwise

* Marcy Lascano, Early Modern Women on the Cosmological Argument (PDF)

* Marcel Weber, Darwinism as a Theory for Finite Beings (PDF)

* Frank Cabrera, Evidence and Explanation in Cicero's On Divination (PDF)

* Internet Archive Scholar is a treasure trove of archived online scholarly articles

* Maarten Steenhagen, Explaining the Ugly (PDF), on how ugliness might fit into Kant's theory of beauty

* Magdalene College Cambridge recently discovered Mary Astell's book collection, including many with her handwritten notes, in its collections. It had been hiding in plain sight; there was evidence that Astell had donated her book collection to a college, but the evidence had been interpreted as suggesting that she had donated it to Magdalen College, which is in Oxford, and there was no sign of it there. (The difference of the 'e' was only introduced later, when the Cambridge college adopted it so that people would stop confusing it with the Oxford college.) Nobody knows why the collection was given to Magdalene College, but the article (plausibly) suggests that it was partly because of shared intellectual interests between Astell and Daniel Waterland, the Master of Magdalene College for a period.

* Ashley Barnes, Toward an Incarnational Aesthetic

* Thomas Chatterton Williams, Encountering Thomas Sowell

* Ben Dickson, Why machine learning struggles with causality

* John Finnis, Abortion is unconstitutional
Josh Craddock, John Finnis is right

* Josh Carmony, Ground operations, on the adjunctification of higher education

* Churchill's Secret Army, on Churchill's project of training Auxiliary Units, civilian volunteers to fight, should the Nazis invade

* Texas Monthly had an interesting feature on car clubs with Austin, and the problems they have been having due to the massive expansion of newcomers to the city. One of the car clubs mentioned, Hands Full of Cash Car Club, I know something about, although I don't really move in car club circles; they are very active in local community-building, and beyond the direct good they do, they do a lot of indirect good by making the city one with strong community connections. On Twitter, unsurprisingly, there were attempts to treat this as primarily a racial issue, but the incoming population is mostly tech workers, who are a very diverse population; this is fundamentally a too-many-newcomers-swamps-local-communities-and-traditions problem. There was another feature in 2019 on HFC and the difficulties car clubs are having.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021


Sigrid Undset, on a discussion she had with a married male friend who fell in love with a married woman; they both divorced their spouses and were about to marry each other when he discovered that she had been cheating on him on a large scale:

My friend was in despair, which was not to be wondered at, and he asked me from the bitterness of his heart:

"Tell me, Sigrid, do you believe at all that a woman *can* be true to a man?"

To which I made the decided answer: "No, I don't. I not only believe but know that a woman can be true till death, if she has an ideal which demands her fidelity. But true to a man--no, I don't believe any woman can be that."

And to put it mildly, it's an unreasonable thing to ask, I thought to myself, that a woman should be true to a man--seeing what men are. Or a man true to a woman, seeing what women are....

[Sigrid Undset, "Reply to a Parish Priest," Stages on the Road, Arthur Chater, tr., Christian Classics (Notre Dame, IN: 2012) pp. 186-187.]

I think this is quite relevant to the story of Kristin Lavransdatter.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Senate and DC Statehood

Recently, there has been a lot of criticism of the constitutional structure of the Senate as somehow a violation of democratic rights, and a lot of argument for DC statehood on the grounds that its lack of statehood involves violation of the rights of its residents. What is more, these positions are sometimes put forward by the same people, which I don't understand, because there seems no principled way to accept both. If it's undemocratic for the people to be represented statewise, then it can't be a violation of any actual right that DC residents are not so represented; and if it's fundamentally important for DC residents to be represented as a state, it can only be because being represented statewise is actually democratically important.

The inconsistency of accepting both may be obscured by some truly bad arguments for both. For instance, I have seen people argue that DC needs to be a state so that DC residents can have voting rights. Anyone suggesting that they don't is simply ignorant; they have voting rights and elections just like everyone else. I have seen people pull out 'no taxation without representation', somehow overlooking that DC residents do have representation in both the Electoral College and the House of Representatives. What they don't have, as a territory, is specifically representation as a state. Their Congressional representative can't vote on final legislation because DC is not a state; they can debate, participate in committees, and vote in committees. One could well argue that it would make sense to give the delegate full voting privileges, but this need have nothing much to do with statehood -- it's a privilege that we could in principle grant in the House simply on the basis that DC has a large enough population, for instance. What hinges wholly on statehood are (1) sovereignty of statehood and (2) the concomitant Senate representation that follows from it.

On the other side, arguments that the Senate is undemocratic are often quite weak. As I've noted before, elections are not intrinsically democratic, but oligarchical; what we call a 'democratic election' is an election in which special features are added to reduce the oligarchical tendency. The Senate is not less democratic as far as elections go than the House; the elections for the two chambers are pretty similar, and have similar features, with the exception that, unlike Congressional districts, states have permanent borders and are thus far immune to gerrymandering (which is generally seen as undemocratic). So the only thing that can be meant is that the representation is undemocratic. But this is always handwaved; it generally depends on some measure of vote weight, usually implicit and not explicitly defended, and, as I have noted before, there is no single measure of vote weight, and no reason to think that all measures agree. Further, as I've also noted before, one of the ways to make a representative system more representative is to make sure that the people are represented in multiple, different ways; making all the representation the same reduces, rather than increases, the representativeness of the system.

In any case, the DC statehood argument requires that statewise, and thus Senate, representation is important for people's interests to be represented properly, and the anti-Senate argument requires that it not be. Perhaps there's some way to resolve this without contradiction, but I've yet to see anyone discuss it in any way.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Fifth Week of Lent

Fifth Week of Lent

I desire to do, but I fail to do:
rough wind tangles the sail,
the kernel hides in tough shell,
the poem spoils to doggerel.

I desire to do, but I fail to do,
true heart is veiled by lie.
New grace needs old self to die,
nailed on rough wood, crucified. 

I desire to do, but I fail to do,
Easter seems far away;
nothing remains, save to pray
for a resurrection day.