Saturday, April 03, 2021

Links Noted

I've decided to add another week to reading Kristin Lavransdatter; there were just too many things to work around, and I didn't want to do the rushing I'd have to do to finish it by today. I mean, it's three fair-sized books in a single volume, so I'm not going to apologize as if it were any kind of failure, but this will end up being a four-week 'fortnight'. But I'll have it done next Saturday.

* Gracy Olmstead on American farming communities 

* Amy Olberding, Nod Line

* Brendan Hodge, The pandemic and the collection plate ; What kept pandemic giving going -- and what stopped it?

* Guglielmo Verdirame, Rescuing Human Rights from Proportionality (PDF)

* Robert De La Noval, Sin for Its Own Sake? The Theft of the Pears and the Divine Image in Augustine's Confessions

* M. Folescu, Mary Shepherd on the role of proofs in our knowledge of first principles (PDF); I saw a version of this paper presented at an online conference last year, and it's a quite decent discussion.

* Branko Milanovic reviews Yang Jisheng's The World Turned Upside Down, about the Cultural Revolution in China

* Samuel Kronen, Thomas Sowell: Tragic Optimist

* Matt McKeown, Bunyan: Mapmaker of the Soul

* Carlo Rovelli, The Fisherman's Mistake (PDF), argues that a number of supposed conflicts between science and other parts of human life are actually based on a particular kind of error.

* David Kortova, Lost in Thought, looks at the possible psychological risks of meditation practices. Anyone who looks at traditional discussions of meditation in Asian philosophy and the like will note that a number of risks mentioned are quite familiar -- you find people warning novices off from practices precisely to avoid problems like them. Almost everywhere meditation practices are deeply explored, you find them recognized as valuable but also dangerous and not to be done lightly -- except in American culture and other Western cultures dominated by it, where it is treated as an easy lifestyle hack. This is a metaphor for something.

* Natalia Antonova shows why you should probably not post pictures online of yourself outside your home.

* Giacomo Giannini and Stephen Mumford, Formal Causes for Powers Theorists (PDF)

* John Gallagher, How to learn a language (and stick at it)

Holy Saturday

Great Saturday of the Light

O Lord, we have battled!
We have fought to exhaustion;
we have borne long combat,
we have known the endless ordeal.
In the night we have watched;
we held the line despite the pain;
we served Your covenant.
Have mercy on us, Most High God,
for you are rich in grace.
In compassion blot out our sins.
Wash us clean, purely clean,
Do not forget us, Lord our God,
on the reckoning day.

Your will we disobeyed;
You we offended with our sins.
Your judgment was righteous
on we who were born into sin.
But You love faithfulness,
and You have taught us Your wisdom,
planted truth in our hearts;
now sprinkle us with Your mercy,
cleanse us with hyssop wand,
that we may be made right and true,
washed more clean than pure snow.
Do not forget us, Lord our God,
on the reckoning day.

How great is Christ's bright love!
Who can understand its vastness?
Its scope is truly great,
its width, its length, its height, its depth.
It was seen on the cross,
in His passion and death for us.
Love is the light of grace;
by it mysteries are unveiled,
without it none are known.
Christ loved to the border of love:
He died for us, His friends.
Do not forget us, Lord our God,
on the reckoning day.

We in hope await peace.
We are confident of glory,
confident in trouble,
knowing that pain proves endurance,
that endurance proves faith,
that proved faith is ground for sure hope.
Turn Your eyes from our sins,
blot out the record of our guilt!
Breathe new life into us
as we await resurrection.
Strengthen us in Your grace.
Do not forget us, Lord our God,
on the reckoning day.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Good Friday

Great Friday of the Crucifixion

Have mercy on us, O Lord, from Your great mercy;
blot out our sins according to Your grace.
Wash our garments pure as snow, and cleanse our souls,
for we do not pretend we have no sin,
for we see our sins and know our iniquity.
Against You we have sinned, doing evil;
we are judged by Your justice and saved by Your love.
By Your cross, remove hate and strife.

Upon the cross, O Lord, Your side was pierced by spear.
The Church approaches You with open hands,
in hope to receive the Blood and living water,
the signs that You are divine and human;
May we be worthy to praise the chalice You give,
which was filled with salvation on the cross:
the blood of forgiveness poured down in Your passion.
By Your cross, calm tempest and wrath.

From before our birth we bore the burden of man,
swept away by the revolt of Adam;
but You have made divine things manifest to us.
You have sprinkled us that we may be cleansed,
washed us clean that we might be whiter than pure snow.
You have anointed us with great gladness,
and our bones shall leap up with joy on the last day.
By Your cross, humble the haughty.

By grace, O Lord, clothe us with the robe of justice,
the vestment for serving Your mysteries,
the bright uniform of Your heavenly kingdom.
May we be worthy to praise Your chalice,
to rejoice in the Blood in which we are baptized.
With the threefold crown of faith, hope, and love,
crown us kings and queens in the kingdom of our God.
By Your cross, establish Your Church.

O Lord, turn Your face away from our wickedness,
blot out all record of our transgressions.
Create in us a clean and reasonable heart,
a bright temple for Your Holy Spirit,
and refresh our spirits with Your glory.
Shower us with the joy of salvation,
strengthen us with the anointing Spirit of God.
By Your cross, protect Your people.

Engrave on our hearts the image of Your passion;
conform us to the mercy of Your death.
Between two thieves You were raised on the wood of shame,
in mortality naked on the cross,
that the sons of Adam may be robed in glory.
Your cup was filled with salvation for us,
and by the wine of Your Blood we rejoice with hope.
By Your cross, pardon all sinners.

Shall we not speak of Your ways to the unrighteous,
we who were unrighteous but may be cleansed?
With the blood of ages our clothes were stained, O Lord,
but by Your Blood they are made like white light.
Open our lips that we may praise Your great justice,
God of our salvation, let us rejoice,
for You who wished more than sacrifice gave Yourself.
By Your cross, bring truth to our words.

You were trampled by death, but You made death a path,
submitting to Your death to conquer it,
thereby to give us triumph over our own ends.
By Your wounds we are given endless hope.
In human armor, God faced devouring death;
in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain.
Give to us a song that we may praise Your great name!
By Your cross, overcome the grave.

Of Your own free will You offered Yourself for us;
You did not complain that You bore our sins.
You are the Lamb of God who takes away all sin;
by Your humility we are raised up.
Therefore Your Father has given You a nation,
a royal priesthood delivered from death,
because You gave Your soul to death and bore our sins.
By Your cross, sanctify Your flock.

Is any sacrifice better than contrition?
Repentance is a gift the Lord loves.
Spread Your graces richly among Your people, Lord,
build up the walls of Your Church and guard it.
Receive, O Lord God, the sacrifice of justice
upon the altar of Your merciful cross,
by Your Blood and living water purify us.
By Your cross, raise us to new life.

Thursday, April 01, 2021


If there's one thing that very much baffles me about the current cultural climate, it is the insistence of some people on talking like villains in a totalitarian dystopia novel. There have been many examples of this in past years, but one of the current examples is endless talk about 'disinformation'. Most things that get called disinformation these days are pretty obviously not disinformation, i.e., a form of deliberate lying for propagandistic purposes, but just people being wrong, or people being confused, or people being right but in a misleading way, or people just having views you don't think are right. But if you wanted to write a novel about a totalitarian dystopia, having the villains go around talking about the need to do something about the disinformation spread by their opponents would not merely fit into your theme, it fits into it so obviously that it would like be seen as a cliched trope.

There was a long period of time in philosophy of science where a great deal of work was put into elucidating the notion of 'pseudoscience'. The question of exactly how to draw the line between pseudoscience and science, known as the demarcation problem, sucked up a lot of ink and paper. Eventually, the widespread consensus arose that the demarcation problem was actually insoluble. There are just too many different factors involved to find any clear and method for drawing the line, and the problem becomes especially acute when you consider that some things that people now want to classify as 'pseudoscience' were original classified by people as 'science', and (much more rarely, but it happens) some things that were dismissed as pseudoscience made a significant scientific comeback when someone made a discovery that showed that it was not so off-base as it had originally been thought to be. And the term is easily highjacked for a very large number of very different purposes. Nowadays very few philosophers think that we can cordon things off in general as 'pseudoscience'; it's a still usable term, because in a particular context you can mean something very specific by it, but you're not going to find these very specific usable senses in very specific contexts to be generalizable. Of course, every so often you'll find academic philosophers trying to resurrect the demarcation problem and insist that it can be solved, because this is what academics do -- they never beat a dead horse only once if they can find a way to beat it from another angle -- but nobody except the people doing the resurrections are ever very impressed with attempted resurrections. It doesn't seem we can give a good account of pseudoscience in general; the demarcation problem doesn't really seem soluble or even to be easily formulated in a clear and consistent way; and even if it can be clearly formulated and solved, it's pretty clear that what we currently have in hand won't do the trick.

The same is true of 'disinformation', which I note is starting the make the rounds in the huge combinatorial machine that is academia. There is no way to draw any consistent, general lines between 'information' and 'disinformation', for much the reason there was no method of demarcation for 'science' and 'pseudoscience', namely, that there are just too many different things involved in those areas in which people wish to apply the term; what's being counted as 'disinformation' is often just old information; some of what has been called 'disinformation' has turned out to be right; a lot of the use of the term is in advance of actually showing it to be applicable, in service of the rhetorical goal of portraying one's opponents as people whose arguments don't even have to be considered at all. The term is easily highjacked. It can still be usable in specific contexts used for something like its original meaning of lying propaganda, but what makes something disinformation in one context may not make it so in another. I mean, I've even seen people accuse The Babylon Bee -- an Onion-like satirical humor site -- of being an outlet of 'disinformation'; this is a point at which it becomes clear that the word is not really being used in anything like its ordinary usable senses.

And it, again, sounds like something a villain in a totalitarian dystopia novel would label his opponents with. Stop flinging it around; it makes you sound creepy and untrustworthy.

Holy Thursday

Thursday of the Mysteries

O Christ, Word of God, Savior of the world,
Your great compassion was a divine compassion,
and You stooped to help the sinner in need.
You descended to him that You might exalt him;
By your assumption of humanity,
You invested our race with Your divinity.

O Christ, Word of God, one with the Father,
You became man and submitted yourself to law,
that we might worship in spirit and truth.
You fulfilled the law that it might be light for us.
You washed the feet of Your own disciples
that we might learn humility and gracious love.

In the desert the people tempted God,
demanding the food for which they hungered.
"Why does the Lord leave His people to starve?
Can God spread a table in the desert?"
They did not believe, nor trust in His help.
But He in mercy opened up the skies,
raining down heavenly bread for their food.
The bread of angels was eaten by men,
abundant provision beyond all hope.

O Christ, Word of God, one with the Father,
You observed the holy Passover of the lamb
that You might become our Passover Lamb.
By Your Body and Your Blood we are purified,
saved by Your death, reborn by Your rising,
raised to heavenly heights by Your abounding love.

O Christ, Word of God, Savior of the world,
as Lamb of God, You bore the sins of Your people.
By Your love You became the Paschal Lamb,
the fulfillment of Passover in grace and truth.
You offered Yourself a true sacrifice,
and gave us the food and drink of salvation.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Spy Wednesday

Today is Wednesday in Holy Week; one of the other names for Wednesday in Holy Week is Spy Wednesday, because of the events associated with it:

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
"What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?"
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

It's the day of the wolf in sheep's clothing, of the subversive Fifth Column, of the worm in the apple, of the corruption that eats from within. The Church may rise as high as is imaginable in the Palm Sundays of its history, Christ in the forefront and palms at the feet; but there is always a Spy Wednesday.


Christ was looking to the heavens,
looking with a sigh and frown,
looking for the time of day;
'Judas, make my way,' he said,
'buy a room in Zion-town.'
Judas said, 'A stately dwelling
I will buy us for the feast --
money rings within the wallet,
bells of silver, thirty piece.'

Judas searched then over, under,
Judas searched then broad and deep.
Nowhere did he find a dwelling,
nowhere was a room for having,
nowhere would his money buy it,
coins of silver, thirty piece.

Tired from his ceaseless searching,
ceased he then to nap a while,
deeply on the lawn he slumbered.
When he woke, the noon-time vanished,
nowhere could he find the wallet,
nowhere could he find the money,
treasured silver, thirty piece.

Judas wept and beat his breast,
crying, 'What can now be done?'
Judas wept for thought of failure,
wept (for what would others say?),
fearing to return to Jesus
without dwelling, without wallet,
without silver, thirty piece.

But a young man near was shouting,
'Have you heard? The priests have posted
prize for word to help them capture
Joshua the Nazorean,
trouble-making, rabble-raising:
prize of silver, thirty piece!'

Straightway Satan spoke to Judas,
'Never has the Lord been caught,
grasping hands he has eluded.
Can they capture one who conquers
blindness, sickness, lameness, death,
walks on water, loaves and fishes
multiplies like grains of sand,
water turns to wedding wine?
Crowds he passes through unharmed!
If he from the temple height
were to fall, the Lord's own angels,
soaring down, would surely save him!
If he were in starving hunger,
stones he'd surely change to bread!
If he wanted all the kingdoms,
kings would fall before his power!'
Judas to the scribes and priests
made a promise to betray,
promised to deliver Jesus,
for reward to fill the wallet,
costly silver, thirty piece.

Judas came again to Jesus,
saying he had found no dwelling,
nowhere taking merely silver.
Christ then looked up to the heavens,
looking with a sigh and frown.
John he called, and also Peter,
gave to them a different mission:
'Silver cannot buy a dwelling,
time is short, too soon too late.
Go now quickly to the city.
When you enter in the gate
you will find a water-bearer;
let him guide you to his home.
Ask the master of the house
"Where is found the special room?
He who asks has pressing need."'

Judas followed, worries lightened,
thinking how he was so clever,
how the priests he had outsmarted,
how he trusted in his Master,
how he had made right the problem,
thinking he would get the money,
shining silver, thirty piece.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Society of Descendants

 ...I can provide simultaneously for my own good and that of all my descendants. This is a bond of society, which I form with them. It is a society in which every member who arrives thereafter into the world contributes to the common good. Each shares his work and profits in common, providing for the good of the future members, and performing filial duties towards the departed by respecting their memory and honouring their tombs. Only the materialist mocks a religion which honours the dead and breaks the bond which holds generations together. For the believer in immortality the person does not perish; divested of its body and made invisible, the person co-exists with members of the family who come to live upon the earth. The human race believes this and has a profound understanding of it. This truth gives rise to customs, religion, literature, laws and art which speak both to and of future members. They do not yet exist, but they are protected and represented; they receive rights and duties, and a heritage of memories, teachings, support and riches produced by the arduous labour of others. The end of this society of descendants therefore is all the good that it brings to all the new members, everyone of whom must share in this good.

[Antonio Rosmini, Rights of the Individual (Vol. 2 of The Philosophy of Right), Cleary & Watson, trs., Rosmini House (Durham: 1993) p. 208.]

Monday, March 29, 2021

Carroll and Crutchfield on Abortion and Organ Donation

 Sometimes reading bioethics and medical ethics papers feels like reading reports from some alien culture from another planet; even when you understand exactly what is being argued, everything is a little weird. I had this experience reading Emily Carroll's and Parker Crutchfield's "The Duty to Protect, Abortion, and Organ Donation", which argues that people opposed to abortion on the grounds that the fetus has the right to life should hold that parents are obligated to donate organs if doing so would save their children.

Carroll and Crutchfield always treat the latter as a kind of strange thing, which I find strange itself, since I'm pretty sure most people would say, "Of course parents are morally obligated to donate their organs to save their children if they can do so without thereby committing suicide". I certainly don't think you'd get more controversy over this than over abortion. You would get a wider variety of views about whether it is in fact practicable to make it legally compulsory, or whether the problem of parents deliberately letting their children die rather than donate organs is widespread enough that it is better handled by law than just by social custom and conscience, and so forth. But it wouldn't be surprising, in any random group  of people to find a significant number horrified at the idea of parents deliberately refusing to save their children when they could. Nor, I think, do medical risks involved in organ donation change this much; all medical operations involve some risk, and the primary relevant question is how well we can mitigate these risks. Most people would regard it as a moral obligation independently of any considerations of abortion; lots of pro-choice people are horrified by the notion of letting children die, and just think that this is not relevant to the abortion consideration.

But a great deal of the alienness is how Carroll and Crutchfield describe the situation:

Some people oppose abortion on the grounds that fetuses have full moral status and thus a right to not be killed. Furthermore, many opponents of abortion claim special obligations of a parent to their child, whether born or unborn. These special obligations go beyond simply not killing the fetus or child. Rather, they place responsibility on the parents to keep the fetus or child alive at cost to themselves. Pregnant women are therefore obligated to continue unwanted pregnancies, necessitating the sacrifice of their bodily autonomy. They are obligated to accept the medical risks of pregnancy and obligated to allow the fetus full use of their reproductive organs.

I could tell immediately from this first paragraph alone that Carroll and Crutchfield are not very well acquainted with people who are opponents of abortion. There are two obvious oddities. The first, less obvious, is that most opponents of abortion do not characterize their position in terms of "full moral status" when they are not actually arguing against supporters who deny that fetuses have full moral status. The reason for this is that most opponents of abortion think of the fetus as human, and in that context talking about "full moral status" is nastily eugenics-sounding. That the arguments of supporters of abortion often push the discussion into this territory is widely seen as itself something unfortunate and awful, for exactly the same reason that most people would find it unfortunate and awful to be drawn into an argument about whether Blacks or the disabled have "full moral status": there's something utterly presumptuous and horrible about it, and nobody likes it when they have to deal with people who insist on arguing the negative. Of course, if someone insisted on saying that (say) people with Down syndrome did not have full moral status, you would naturally respond by insisting that they do; but this doesn't mean that it would in any sense be natural to describe your own position that way. They are human, they have human rights, having to argue with people who even think in terms of whether they have "full moral status" is already a very grave misfortune.

The second is the talk of "necessitating the sacrifice of their bodily autonomy". Perhaps there marginal exceptions, but people opposed to abortion who think about matters of bodily autonomy would not generally see the situation of not aborting as one in which you are 'sacrificing your bodily autonomy'. If you and I accidentally get stuck together, and someone tells me that I can't fix this situation by hacking your arm off, it's not a very natural interpretation of this situation to say that they are telling me that I have to sacrifice my bodily autonomy; rather, if anything they are telling me that I can't sacrifice yours. My right of bodily autonomy does not give me any right to violate your right of bodily autonomy. But more than that, most people would not see this situation as one in which I am being asked to sacrifice my bodily autonomy; rather, you and I happen to be both stuck in a situation in which we will have to use some ingenuity and effort and patience to find a solution that will respect both my bodily autonomy and yours. The reason is that almost all, and perhaps all, coherent accounts of something like bodily autonomy require consistency: I can't formulate what respects my bodily autonomy in a situation without also taking into account what respects yours in this situation. The fact of being stuck together makes it so that we are both in this unfortunate situation together; nothing even counts as my bodily autonomy or yours except what we can at some level both lay claim to. I can reasonably say that hacking off my arm to free you violates my bodily autonomy, but you can say the same about your arm; but the fact that we both have to be patient and endure the situation until we can find a solution that respects the autonomy of both of us is not a sacrifice of bodily autonomy. It's just that the situation practically complicates the questions of how we can respect each other's bodily autonomy. And likewise, many opponents of abortion will say that pregnancy, as such, is not a violation of bodily autonomy, but it is a complicating situation in which both mother and child find themselves together, and in which it is necessary to find a solution that requires neither the mother nor the child to sacrifice their bodily autonomy. Recognizing this is actually quite important for understanding the dispute over abortion.

But the strangest part of their argument is later, in the attempt to glide easily from moral obligation to legal obligation. Take it as given that parents have a moral obligation to donate organs to their children, if doing so would save the child's life and if it can be done without actually killing the parent. And let's assume that there is a similar duty-to-protect obligation in the abortion case. Does it follow that they are therefore equivalent enough for legal purposes, so that making one legally required forces us to make the other legally required?

Not simply from this barebones description. Reasonable legal obligation does not follow directly from moral obligation, but also has to consider things like (1) how serious a problem there is, (2) how difficult it would be to enforce the legal obligation, (3) whether the alternatives to legal compulsion are the same in both cases, (4) how strong the state interest is, and so forth. All of these have to be considered. There are somewhere between 600,000 and 900,000 abortions in the United States every year, depending on what you think the best way to count them is. If we look at the statistics for organ donations, there are about 30,000 total organ donations and about 6000 living organ donations a year in the United States, and about 7000 or so people die each year while on the organ transplant waiting lists -- these numbers include everybody, not just children. So if one regarded both of these as problems, it seems clear that the abortion case is literally magnitudes more serious, in terms of how many people are directly affected. Possibly it would be easier to enforce a law in a particular organ transplant case, but arguably not by much; but in terms of the general law, it's a lot easier to enforce a law against a few thousand cases than against a few hundred thousand cases. And state interest is stronger in the organ transplant case, as well: in the abortion case, the state has an interest in protecting possible citizens and having a society that is hospitable and welcoming to them, but in the organ transplant case, the children are usually citizen minors already, and therefore are entitled to a greater degree of protection by law. But it's also quite clear, given the technology we have now, that in most cases the alternatives are more favorable in the organ transplant case. A baby has the mother it has, and transplanting a baby would be, I dare say, a vastly more complicated endeavor than most organ transplant surgeries; but most of the time, parents would not be the only possible donors who could provide organs for their children. Thus, given a regime in which abortion is illegal, there are still things that could be said both in favor and against legally compulsory organ donation.

None of this is unusual -- these are things that must be considered whenever we are considering laws, and that we take into account all the time. But Carroll and Crutchford's argument considers none of this at all, as if none of it were relevant. For instance, they say things like,

It may be that the fetus in the mother’s body is significantly more vulnerable to its mother than the average child is to its parents. But the child who needs an organ is just as vulnerable to their parent as the fetus is to its mother.

But this is obviously false if you consider the relative difficulties of transplanting a baby in the womb and transplanting most organs; the latter may not be easy, but we have a much better grip on how to do it than the former. And it is also false when you consider that children in need of organs have more options as to who can provide what they need.

But more than that, despite the fact that they keep slipping it in, they never actually argue the legal obligation at all -- they just treat it as following directly from the moral points, whereas in no situation does reasonable legal compulsion follow directly and without further considerations from moral obligation. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday

Hosanna Sunday

We are hardly worthy to praise Your name,
You who are seated on a lofty throne,
You whom the seraphim praise with great joy,
singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy," on high!
The cherubim beneath You bless Your deeds,
with rush of wind and fire hymn Your light.
We are hardly worthy of Your mercy,
but we will sing Your praise at Your coming:
Hosanna, Hosanna, Son of David!

We are hardly worthy to praise your name!
As the Father was traded for a calf
beneath the thundering mountain of law,
so the Son was traded for a robber,
so the Spirit is traded for repute
among the errant nations of the world.
We are hardly worthy of Your mercy,
but we will sing Your praise at Your coming:
Hosanna, Hosanna, Son of David!

We are hardly worthy to praise your name,
You who in the desert were set aside,
You who in Zion shall be crucified,
the women weeping at your slaughtered feet.
But mercy in You lets us to be saved,
we who dishonored You are raised on high.
We are hardly worthy of Your mercy,
but we will sing Your praise at Your coming:
Hosanna, Hosanna, Son of David!

We are hardly worthy to praise Your name;
divinity rode on humanity;
You chose an ass's colt to be Your steed;
You chose the acclamation of children;
from mouths of babes You have drawn Your defense;
You have taken sinners and made them pure.
Zion grew uneasy at Your entry,
but we will sing Your praise at Your coming:
Hosanna, Hosanna, Son of David!