Saturday, May 29, 2021

Poem a Day 29

The Venture

The thought that thinks itself,
to which all thinking tends,
is nearly reached when faith
a light to pathway lends.

Beneath a sky of void,
more black and sure than night,
the mind wends careful way
by nothing but star's light.

All science and all art
from surmise take their start,
to know for you have heard
and hold it in your heart.

Like sailor brave and bold,
the stars alone to guide,
the mind sets out with faith
to reach another side.

It seeks and so will find,
though storms lie in the way,
and finds, if it abides,
the shores of glory's day.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Dashed Off XI

 modalities of personhood: age, mental condition, manner of dwelling (citizenship, residence, refugee status, etc.), familial role, civil role, ecclesial role)

Canon law is a means by which bishops preserve and protect the Church as a social instrumentality of Christ.

The Church has an intrinsic right to care for, investigate, announce, and expound the deposit of faith.

archive : philosophy :: memory storage : computing

the role of recall-from-archive in philosophical problem-solving

input, output, storage, and processing requirements for kinds of inquiry

filial piety as a sign of the divine Word

(1) Implicit in all episcopal authority is global scope (Mt 29:18-20).
(2) That the mission of the Church may be carried out in order and in an efficacious way, bishops have been organized by territory.
(3) Yet bishops still exercise their global authority synodally.
(4) And they hold it as well as an emergency residual power, for if all bishops save one were to die, that bishop would have the whole world as his jurisdiction.

quoting as an argument by analogy, when one quotes in evidence of something

The livelihood of workers is not 'capitalism'.

Value is always relative to survival, reproduction, or reason, or some combination of the three.

negative properties of the Church: indivisible, indefectible, illimitable, ineradicable
-- The Notes of the Church, being positive, are found wherever the Church is; the negative properties only apply to the Church as a whole.

To experience is already to accept the existence of the world and of oneself.

Aquinas's account of the episcopacy can explain how metropolitans, patriarchs, etc. can have the role that they have despite these not being sacramental -- they unfold naturally, not arbitrarily, out of episcopal authority insofar as its end is the Mystical Body.

A written constitution should consider quarantine as well as war.

"The mystery is a sacred ritual action in which a saving deed is made present through the rite; the congregation, by performing the rite, take part in the saving act, and thereby win salvation." Casel
"The Church not only stretches far beyond all national boundaries of one age, but from the beginning of the world to the end, from penitent Adam the just man to the last saint at the world's end."
"Christian worship is no longer bound to time but to eternity; it does not have to keep the days and hours; it is always in the new age, the aion. When we worship, we step out of time....In the Spirit we are in heaven; in the body we are in time still."

CCC 1085: The Paschal Mystery cannot only remain in the past because (1) by his death he destroyed death and (2) all that Christ is participates in divine eternity, transcending all times while present in them all. "The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides."

the Session of Christ as the bridge between the life of Christ and our own
"What was visible in our Redeemer has passed over into the mysteries." Leo

The liturgy of the Church is a patient cooperation with the life of Christ.

One act of the Spirit works in the life of Christ and the mysteries representing it.

active tradition (perfection/completion), passive tradition (prehension), reconstruction

Perfection of being
(1) as excluding privation
(2) as excluding potentiality
(3) as having integrity

the intellect as its own ostensive power (this is related to formal signs)

All persuasive agency presupposes some power to compel to something.

"...the living organ of experience is the living body as a whole." Whitehead

common-not = rare; common = rare not; not rare not = not common; not rare = not common not
Rare (b and not c); b; therefore probably c
probability as commonnness

'hoc dicimus esse finem in quod tendit impetus agentis' SCG 3.2

The fundamental source of power in a legislature is control of schedule, and thus agenda. The fundamental source of power in the executive is control of channels of authorization, i.e., ways in which you can do something on someone else's responsibility.

'Notwithstanding' is one of the most powerful words in law.

might-as-well-be (mawb): mawb 0 and mawb 1 play a massive role in our actual thinking about probability

jus canonica -> lex canonica
Jus canonica is intrinsic to the Church as a community; lex canonica arises over time through verdict and codification.

Datum is not reality but notation.

Death is understood only in terms of immortality, even if only counterfactually or hypothetically.

centrality measures in influence networks
(1) degree centrality: how many others in contact with
(2) eigencentrality: how many highly connected others in contact with
(3) betweenness centrality: how often the shortest path of connection
(4) closeness centrality: average shortness of path with everyone
examples of exercise of political influence
(1) tour: degree centrality increase
(2) ad limina: eigencentrality increase
(3) hosting: betweenness centrality increase
(4) universal communication: closeness centrality increase

passive influence (connection to influence network) vs active influence (increase of connection to influence network)

A consumerist economy by its nature requires a labor structure in which large numbers of workers can be easily fired or hired.

Aquinas talks about "the ultimate end of human life and virtues and vices" in Part II of the Summa so that there is a framework for talking in the Tertia Pars about "the benefits that Christ offered to the human race."

sensus communis & perceiving the difference between presence and absence

CCC 1099: "The Holy Spirit is the Church's living memory."

bounded freedom vs notwithstanding freedom vs executive freedom

Too much epistemology assumes that evidence is never messy when in reality that is its natural state.

Hb 11:3 and divine ideas

A meritorious cause causes because merit is accepted by a principal cause whose causing takes the merit into account.

Authority of person creates authority of offices, although they are distinct and the latter outlasts the former.

If you merely attack 'Sunday Christians', you just get people who are not even Christians on Sunday. If you merely attack hypocrites, you get people who aren't even so concerned with morality as hypocrites. You need to give people simple ways to step above rather than sink below.

intrinsic, inhering, extrinsic is often better than intrinsic, extrinsic

Being clothed is an inhering sign; the clothing is an extrinsic sign.

Much of our sense of reasonableness is shaped by our sense of loyalty.

"The Master taught by means of four things: letters, ethics, devotion of soul, and truthfulness." Analects 7.24

The principle of liberalism easily degenerates into treating the faking of unity as the end of society, being one as nothing but collectively self-identifying as one.

Scorn is an attitude that requires standing for having it.

Compounding interest actually levels off or collapses because as the interest increases it becomes harder to collect.

Institutional expectations about professions are grounded in professional roles, not vice versa.

(1) Medicine as a Humanitarian Tradition
(2) Virtue Cultivation in Medicine
(3) Perversion of Medicine
(4) Internal Moralities of Medicine
(5) The Patient as Participant in the Humanitarian Tradition
(6) Responsibilities of Deference
(7) Privileged Communication
(8) Conscientious Work and Conscientious Objection
(9) Medical Honor and Professional Courtesy
(10) Triage
(11) Development of Professional Ethics out of the Tradition
(12) Obligations of Medical Institutions and Societies to Professionals
(13) Obligations of Medical Institutions and Societies to Patients
(14) Interactions of Medicine and Law/
(15) Medical Greatness

A common failure in discussions of free verse is the failure to recognize that nobody speaks in free verse.

Poem a Day 28


We labor under law,
our actions shaped
by reason's given rule;
the parent's guide,
decrees and edicts writ
by councils, kings,
and crownless presidents,
who gain their might
from law which bubbles up
from people's customs,
which is a norm and law
that constitutes
the very things of law
and makes them be.
But whence the force of law
in custom's bounds?
The human mind is law
and regulates
the bounds of human act
with rightful rule
that merges with the light
that makes the world
a thing that can be seen.
It shines like sun,
too bright to see itself,
to make all seen.
Is this the root of law,
some fountain gush
without a further source?
I say instead
that light is pouring down,
and therefore law,
from endless angel choirs
in bright array,
for spirit is a law;
it rues and binds,
and like a golden chain
in mind to mind
the law runs up and up
to holy God,
who is the highest law,
for, clear and pure,
true goodhood is The Law.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Inside and Outside and All Alone

 R. T. Mullins and Joseph Schmid have an interesting paper trying to construct an argument against classical theism as a "model of God", called "The aloneness argument against classical theism". Unfortunately this is not a good start; classical theism is not a 'model of God'. I understand that, for reasons of habit, philosophers of a certain kind of analytic background like referring to everything as a 'model', but (a) classical theism is as much about what can be known and said about God as it is about God, and, more immediately to the point, (b) it is a family of philosophical positions, which should not be confused either in whole or in part with a model, and (c) it is, even more immediately to the point, a family whose core commitments have as one of their implications that every possible model of God we could construct, however well-founded, is inadequate. In any case, I wouldn't press the matter so sharply except that I'm quite certain that misconstruing as a model what is in fact a family of philosophical positions that implies the inadequacy of models is a reason for several of their more serious mistakes in developing the argument.

Their intent is to argue for an inconsistency in divine simplicity, divine freedom, and omniscience, so they begin with a definition of divine simplicity drawn from a couple of articles:

Doctrine of Divine Simplicity (DDS): There is no metaphysical or physical composition in God, such that: (i) there is no distinction in God between substance/attribute, essence/existence, form/matter, act/potency, genus/ differentia, agent/action, and essence/accident; and (ii) all of God’s intrinsic features are identical not only to each other but to God Himself.

OK, so already this is not promising. It's not that this is absolutely wrong -- this is indeed one doctrine of divine simplicity you could have, and you might have it if you were in one branch of the classical theism family -- but, as can be seen by the fact that Augustine, Aquinas, Scotus, Gregory Palamas, and a host of others who accept divine simplicity would reject this definition of it, we are already having red flags indicating that this supposed refutation might be one of those 'refutations' that prove the untenability of a very specific formulation of a marginal or even mongrel fringe version of what they are supposed to be refuting. 

With regard to (i), this is a very weirdly formulated list. You would expect not "substance/attribute" but "substance/accident". I suppose (given things that are later said) that "essence/accident" is actually about essential and accidental properties rather than essence and accident as such, as it's odd to think of essence and accident in composition at all. The others come up in discussions of composition, so I suppose this is just an assortment of different kinds of composition, although I don't know what compositions are in view with the substance/attribute and essence/accident. But it's nonstandard to think of composition as primarily a matter of distinctions; it's primarily a matter of potentiality, or potency. (This is why agent/action is a potentially controversial one, depending on exactly how you conceive of action in this context.)

With regard to (ii), I have through long and endless aeons pointed out that trying to define the doctrine of divine simplicity in terms of identity is a weird analytic quirk that comes from over-interpreting discussions influenced by Latin, in which identitas means not 'identity' specifically but any kind of sameness at all. Rather ominously for their argument (although not surprisingly), they don't have any account of how to distinguish the intrinsic from the extrinsic. They also want to distinguish between things that are "wholly extrinsic" and "partly extrinsic", but their characterization of the former is incoherent. Their definitions are:

Roughly, S has F wholly extrinsically provided that the proposition ‘S has F’ is true solely in virtue of something outside S. S has F partly extrinsically provided that the proposition ‘S has F’ is true partly in virtue of something outside S and partly in virtue of S itself.

However, we can only say that anything pertains to S at all "partly in virtue of S itself"; this is literally built into the logical structure: It's a contradiction to say that "S has F" is not true partly in virtue of S itself, because its truth depends on S having F somehow, and that is going to depend on S and its 'intrinsic' features. You can't have the truth of a proposition not in any way depending on the subject of the proposition.

They also give definitions of divine freedom and divine omniscience, which are less problematic (in part because more vague), although we'll see in a minute that there is a worry about the first:

Divine Creative Freedom: God is free to create or not create the non-God world, where the non-God world is anything with positive ontological status distinct from God

Divine Omniscience: Necessarily, God knows everything that exists, obtains, and is true.

But we're already getting another red warning flag here, in that there is a lot of defining going on. That would not necessarily be a problem, particularly given that Mullins and Schmid do refer at most of these points to people who can be put into the classical theism family; but their attempt to tie this whole definitional complex to classical theism is pretty cursory and patchwork. That would also not be a problem if we were dealing with a particular model of something; but, as noted above, classical theism is not a particular model but a family of philosophical positions.

To this, they add the proposition that God could be alone, in the specific sense that "Possibly, God exists without a non-God world" or "there is a possible world in which God is alone." This sudden bursting of possible worlds onto the scene raises another warning flag. This premise is stated two different ways using two different concepts of "world". In "a non-God world" the "world" is not a possible world in the sense of the way the actual world can be (which is how "possible world" would usually be understood here), because it is incomplete. A possible world in this sense is effectively one list of all the compossibles (by some method of assigning them). Mixing and matching two completely different definitions of 'world' is not something you do in a well-constructed argument, and we are going to have to watch each use of it very very carefully. Really what this set of claims is describing is that God is necessary, and "the non-God world" is not; thus the next step, which maddeningly uses both senses:

Contingency of Creation: There is a possible world in which God exists alone, and there are possible worlds in which God exists with a world of non-God things.

Why not just say, "God the Creator necessarily exists, the created world could have not existed"? I don't really know, unless it's to drag possible worlds into the mix.

There is a kind of problem we are slowly circling around. Possible worlds are a logical apparatus. A possible world is a logical object associatable with a list of truth-valued propositions (or answered yes/no questions, if you prefer) and having a certain set of relations to other similar logical objects. Despite the name, in itself there is nothing about this that requires that our lists identify any kind of possibility or world. You can use these logical objects to model not possibilities but moments in time or regions in space or kinds of actions, or whatever else you please, as long as you keep the essential logical features. You can use them to model not worlds but organizations, people, regions of the world, or whatever else you please, as long as you can characterize these things in lists of truth-valued propositions or yes/no questions and they allow for the relevant logical relations. When we are talking metaphysics, we usually give possible worlds the interpretation 'ways the actual world can be'. (This is intuitive, but a bit unfortunate in that we have a third sense of 'world' being assumed, if Mullins and Schmid understand 'possible worlds' in the standard metaphysical way.) Each list is chosen to be a distinct representation of a 'way the actual world can be'. This is sufficient if we are doing modal metaphysics at a very abstract and generic level.

However, problems arise in situations in which we can start asking, "What is meant by 'the actual world' in 'way the actual world can be'?" Remember, this is not set by the logical apparatus at all -- it is being assigned as a part of the interpretation of it. For instance, to say "There is a possible world in which God is alone" is quite clearly false if "actual world" means the actual world we live in -- the actual world we live in is not one in which God is alone, so 'God is alone' will never show up as true in any of the ways it can be. So we're not talking about a way the actual world we live in can be. What's more, given the way this is being framed, the only thing that is stable here is God. So 'possible world' has to be a 'way the actual world can be' entirely and only in the sense of 'way God can be'. We can entirely do this, since possible worlds are a logical object and we give them interpretations; nothing prevents us from treating possible worlds as ways God can be, assuming we can make sense of that enough to conceive of them in terms of lists of truth-valued propositions. But we're going to be faced with the question of how we are determining these lists that in principle completely describe a way God exists. (Actually we can't do so at all unless God, understood the relevant way, actually exists, which is awkward for an argument intended to prove that He can't actually exist in that way. Mullins and Schmid, I take it, are arguing ad hominem in the Lockean rather than fallacy-theory sense of 'arguing on their opponent's principles'. The problem is that very few classical theists frame their position using possible world semantics -- only a very narrow group of analytic philosophers do this, in fact. Once again, we see that a very bold claim about classical theism in general -- a globe- and century-spanning family of positions -- ends up being parochially about a narrow group of a few hundred mostly English-speaking academics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries who adhere to a particular technical vocabulary.)

In any case, Mullins and Schmid note that it follows from this that it is necessary that there be one contingent truth. Yet another red warning flag: Mullins and Schmid in their argument use 'contingent' for four completely different things that get called contingent: the divine choice to create, since God is free to create or not (they need to do this to argue that claims that the world is actually suppositionally necessary are not relevant); the world (in the sense of 'non-God world'), which can exist or not; features (in the sense of some features that are 'contingently possessed'), which can be had or not; and now contingent truths, which are actually true propositions that could have been false. It's obvious why these would all be called 'contingent' in some way; they are also obviously not the same kind of contingency.

With all of these preliminaries out of the way, and a few others, we get the argument:

1. God’s knowledge is either wholly intrinsic to God, wholly extrinsic to God, or intrinsic to God in some respects but extrinsic to God in others. 

2. God’s knowledge is (i) wholly extrinsic to God or (ii) intrinsic to God in some respects but extrinsic to God in others only if God doesn’t exist alone. 

3. Possibly, God exists alone. 

4. So, possibly, God’s knowledge is wholly intrinsic. (1-3) 

5 Necessarily, God contingently has some knowledge. 

6. So, possibly, God contingently has wholly intrinsic knowledge. (4,5) 

7. Whatever is wholly intrinsic to S is either an essential feature of S or an accident of S. 

8. Nothing God contingently has can be an essential feature of God. 

9. So, possibly, God has an accident. (6-8) 

10. If DDS is true, it is not possible that God has an accident. 

11. So, DDS is false. (9,10)

When we look at what our preliminaries allow us to do with this, the answer is not much. We don't have an account of intrinsic/extrinsic, and the account of 'wholly extrinsic' was incoherent, so the distinction between 'extrinsic' and 'intrinsic' here can only really mean something like 'when we are considering God and something else' and 'when we are considering God alone'. But even this is not very helpful. If God knows that a flower exists, is this 'intrinsic' or 'extrinsic'. Well, obviously God's knowing this is in some sense 'intrinsic' to God, in that it is God's knowing, but it's obviously 'extrinsic' in the sense that existing flowers are not God, and thus in that sense 'extrinsic' to the divine nature. But God is also not a merely possible flower, so the same thing would be the case if the flower were merely possible. So in every world God's knowledge is 'intrinsic' to God in the sense that God naturally knows, but in every world, even the alone world, the knowledge is extrinsic in the sense that what is known is, by definition, what is not God. What we are calling 'God's knowledge of x' is just an x-based way of referring to God, and thus is intrinsic insofar as it refers; but x is not God.

In every 'possible world' God knows every possible non-God world. That is to say, it is necessarily true that God knows even what is merely possible. If we were really looking at possible worlds, it seems the natural thing to do would be to say that God's knowledge is the same in every possible world, because in every possible world, God knows the full descriptions of every possible world. In every possible world God knows every possible world. Remember, aloneness means that we are really talking only about 'ways God can be'. But, by omniscience, in every way God can be, God knows every possible thing that can possibly be and everything He would know in knowing it to be. What sense does it have to say that this somehow changes between 'the alone [possible] world' and any other? It doesn't have any.  But it's precisely what Mullins and Schmid have to assume; as they put it, God's knowledge varies across possible worlds. But in fact, in every possible world, God knows all the possible worlds, including what God knows in every single one. There is no variation here; God knows every possibility regardless what possibilities you assume.

Ah, but see, here we have the problem. Mullins and Schmid are making the mistake that people make with possible worlds: they are assuming that the actual world is a possible world, as indeed, they must in order to link up creative freedom (which is about the actual world, namely, how the non-God part relates to the actual God) with all this possible world stuff by which they characterize aloneness. As I have pointed out many times, the actual world is not a possible world, not at least in the sense of possible world semantics. Possible world semantics can't in fact characterize the difference between the actual and the non-actual at all; the closest it can get is distinguishing this possible world from that. If we assume that any possible world is the actual world, we have already assumed that there is only one possible world -- because we have identified the actual world with one way the actual world can be. If we are only talking possible worlds, for every possible way the actual world can be, God knows everything that can possibly be known about it. 

If we're going to call it 'intrinsic' in one way God can be, it's intrinsic in every way God can be. If we're going to call it 'extrinsic' in the non-alone possible worlds, it's not any different in the alone one. And we could call it either, because we don't actually have an account of intrinsic/extrinsic precise enough to make precise differentiations between individual possible worlds -- which is an extreme degree of precision, but necessary in order to distinguish out the difference between one possible world and every other possible world. (We would, in fact, have to have it precise enough that we could pinpoint the problem down to a single, completely unambiguous, yes/no question.) In lots of situations, this wouldn't be a problem. If you are making a picture frame, you just need to be precise enough, and you can designate a big black dot as your 'point' and a very clearly visible pencil mark as your 'line'; but if you're dealing with the properties of one particular infinitesimal geometrical point as opposed to every other, you need a way to pin down what point you're talking about that lets you specify features it has that no other point does. A grease pencil is just not going to do. If you are talking about a single possible world, like 'the alone world', out of infinite possible worlds, and contrasting it to those other possible worlds, the features you are talking about need to be precisely characterized enough that you can pinpoint that single possible world. But Mullins and Schmid give us a grease pencil, and it's not going to cut it. 

This is a problem even before we get to a question that Mullins and Schmid don't consider, which is whether you can adequately capture every divine possibility in a set of lists of truth-valued propositions. This is not a quibble; there is in fact good reason to think (and classical theists generally have said things that at least suggest it) that divine omniscience (and, even if we are not talking about God, "everything that exists, obtains, and is true") cannot be adequately described in any set of lists. But if that's the case, possible world semantics is inadequate for characterizing divine omniscience; and it would seem by analogous arguments to be inadequate for fully characterizing everything that is possible to God. 'Possible worlds' in the sense of possible world semantics are not things 'out there'; they are logical objects related to lists of propositions mapped to truth values (or, as I've said before, yes/no questions mapped to yes/no answers), and in possible worlds metaphysics, we are using those lists to model possible ways the actual can be. But it follows necessarily from this that if there are any possibilities that cannot be adequately described by lists of truth-valued propositions, possible world semantics cannot 'see' them, and if there are any possibilities that cannot be distinguished entirely by their lists of truth-valued propositions, possible worlds semantics cannot distinguish them.

There are other problems. (7) is false; besides essential features and accidents there are properties, modes, transcendental relations. Lots of things, really, depending on the background metaphysics. There are certain analytic schemes that try to divide everything up into essential features and accidental features; I suppose some analytic classical theists could be really hardcore into that dichotomy for some reason. Regardless, we see again that this bold refutation of classical theism is really, if anything, an argument raising a problem for some Harvey AnalyticGuy's attempt to translate it into a very specific metaphysically vocabulary and, apparently, a model.

Poem a Day 27


The curtain on the stage is rolling back
with slow and stately pace,
the structure of the scene begins to form,
each actor and each dancer lifts its face
as light begins to pierce the gloomy black,
like ventures after storm.

The sun, the audience, begins to view
the play that on this stage is taking place;
it every day is improvised anew
upon this stage that whirls in empty space.

The act that is the morning slowly builds
as sunlight gilds
the actions and the characters below,
new plots and themes will interlace,
new dramas and new spectacles will race,
today as fresh as newly fallen snow.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Vermigli on the Nicomachean Ethics

The seventeenth century Reformed theologian Peter Martyr Vermigli on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: 

Through ethics, those who are its students will, one by one, become good men. If they prove upright, they will raise good families; if the families are properly established, they will in turn create good republics.  And in good republics, both law and administration will aim at nothing less than each man becoming a good citizen, for they have eyes not only for the body but also for the spirit, and they will take care that citizens live according to virtue.

Therefore, as far as our method of analysis is concerned, let us accept the following outline of these ten books. First, the goal of human life is discussed, defined in book 1, where it is taught that happiness is the carrying out of perfect virtue. This requires a consideration of the nature of virtue, which occurs in book 2 in which the virtues are first dealt with--not yet those of the intellect, but those that pertain to moderate desires--and then it is asserted that virtue is the state between excess and defect. In book 3, the principles of virtue are taught: voluntary, involuntary, choice, and that sort of thing. A detailed discussion of particular virtues begins specifically with courage and the entire books 4 and 5 are devoted to this matter. After that, in book 6, Aristotle examines those dispositions that enrich the reason or the intellect, that is prudence, industry, skill, and many others of this order. Book 7 is about the virtue of heroism, which far surpasses those already mentioned, and about temperance and intemperance, neither of which truly belongs to the category of virtue and vice. Books 8 and 9 treat friendship. Book 10 contains an elaborate discussion of pleasure. The book ends with a discourse on true and absolute happiness, which is based on contemplation, especially of things divine.

[Peter Martyr Vermigli, Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Campi & McLelland, eds., Austin, Beall, and Wysocki, trs., Truman State University Press (Kirksville, MO: 2006) pp. 12-13.]

There is an error in the translation with respect to the description of Book 7: Vermigli (rightly) says that Book 7 is about Continentia seu Incontinentia, continence and incontinence, not temperance and intemperance. Temperance and intemperance are undoubtedly a virtue and vice; continence and incontinence are related to these but involve self-restraint with struggle, rather than self-restraint that has become second nature.

Poem a Day 26


In truth we live, and move, and have our being,
but not solely from reason born and bred;
imagination's grace makes truth eternal,
touching on what is beyond aeon,
in deathless towers rising above the land,
a citadel beautiful in life.

In that place we live lives other than our own;
with new vision our eyes open; 
the common is made strange, the old is made new,
the odd familiar, the distant near.

There we who sit as judges over the realm
are judged by the beauty of fruits reaped.

High rise the spires, the steeples in their glory,
where fantasy endows truth with grace,
where streets are paved with gold, of jade are the bricks,
the water in fountains leaps brightly,
and there, adorned with symbols in greatness,
truths rise like the dwellings of the gods.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Virtue of Magnificence

 Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics (Book IV) distinguishes two virtues concerned with money: liberality and magnificence (megaloprepeia). Liberality covers every aspect of wealth, magnificence covers only expenditure, which makes the latter like just an offshoot of the former, but, Aristotle says, magnificence greatly exceeds liberality in scale. He notes, however, that scale is necessarily relative when we are talking about money, so concludes that 'greatness of scale' is really determined by appropriateness to context: magnificence is spending greatly in doing great things. As he puts it, the magnificent man is like an artisan, seeing what is appropriate and spending on it what is in good taste, focusing on what would be beautiful rather than what it costs. It is between stinginess and vulgarity; the stingy will harm the beauty of the result to save money and the vulgar will harm it by focusing on showing off their wealth rather than the beauty of the result.

He gives a number of  examples of the kind of things he means:

sacred embassy
votive offerings, buildings, and sacrifices
religious services
equipping a chorus
equipping a trireme (which comes up more than once)
receiving a foreign dignitary
diplomatic gifts and counter-gifts
furnishing of house
beautiful ball or bottle (for a child)

It is famously difficult to make complete sense of Aristotle's comments on the virtue. The distinction between liberality and magnificence is hard to make out, since liberality covers all matters of money already, and Aristotle's few comments about the difference -- essentially that magnificence is concerned with greatness and beauty in a way that liberality is not -- are not particularly helpful. It seems like it's a virtue only rich people could have, and Aristotle in fact flatly says that the poor cannot be magnificent because they do not have the funds for spending a lot appropriately. But he repeatedly says that the greatness involved is relative to circumstances, and the example of the child's ball or bottle raises the question of why the poor could not in fact spend appropriately on 'small greatnesses' like that. 

Aquinas has some difficulty with this; he always wants to give Aristotle the benefit of the doubt, if he can, but being Christian he obviously cannot sign on to the notion that there is a special virtue for rich people. Aquinas handles things by splitting up liberality and magnificence -- instead of being related, as Aristotle, seems to treat them, liberality is associated with justice while magnificence is associated with fortitude. Magnificence involves a certain amount of sacrifice and risk. Since the greatness involved is relative, it is clear that the poor can risk or sacrifice in reasonable and appropriate ways to achieve relatively great things.

This is an ingenious solution (and it has a nice symmetry, since Aquinas does something similar with magnanimity, another troublesome greatness virtue). But, while it's dangerous to try to correct Aquinas on the subject of virtues, I think we have room here for a better solution. There are two things that I think provide the materials for a solution:

(1) With the possible exception of the child's ball and bottle (which doesn't seem to be a typical result of magnificence), every example Aristotle gives clearly relates to the good of the city, and Aristotle at several points emphasizes the public nature of these things, that the magnificent do what is publicly honorable, etc. For instance, he explains that the reason the magnificent man spends lavishly on furnishing his house is that houses are public ornaments.

(2) Aristotle clearly characterizes magnificence as a virtue that is concerned with getting a beautiful or fitting result.

A virtue being concerned with beauty and fitting results is generally a sign of a virtue in the temperance family of virtues. So Aquinas's idea of splitting up liberality and magnificence seems sound; but magnificence would on this proposal be a virtue adjacent to temperance, not fortitude. The key point is not risk or sacrifice but beautifying, doing a beautiful job. But more than this, magnificence is concerned specifically with common good in a way that liberality is not.

In ancient Athens, there were taxes, of course, but for particular important expenditures -- like equipping a trireme, or important civic ceremonies, which in the ancient Greek world were all religious -- what would generally happen is that the Assembly would ask the wealthy to pay for them out of their own pockets. And the wealthy would do it, in part because the Assembly is not something you lightly say no to, but also because it earned them respectability, honors, attention, and, of course, good publicity for business. The magnificent man would be someone who, in providing some good for the city, would spend lavishly so that it was well done, but would not make it about himself or his own wealth. It's in this sense, I think, that Aristotle really means that the poor cannot be magnificent (although it is still a weakness in his account): it's not about the bare quantity, it's that, while the rich will regularly have the duty to pay for celebrations and triremes and the like, the city will never expect the poor to pay for these things, and it would be rather absurd for them to try.

But we can be more generous in these matters than Aristotle. Even the poorest of the poor will often spend well, to the extent they can, on a wedding or on hospitality to important figures or on religious services. And these are contributing to common good in their case as much as it would in the case of the wealthy. The poor widow throwing her two mites into the Temple treasury was giving a magnificent gift, relative to her means, to exactly the sort of thing that the magnificent man would. In addition, human beings are social animals, and by pooling our resources can sometimes do impressive things together that none of us could have done individually. Here in Central Texas, there is a set of famous buildings, southeast of Austin near Schulenberg, mostly, called The Painted Churches. In the nineteenth century, there were a lot of Eastern European immigrants pouring into Texas through Galveston. They were tight-knit poor laborer-communities, from Moravia, Poland, eastern Germany, etc. They wanted churches like they had known back home, but were limited by the limits of workmen's wages. So they pooled their funds together and built churches, Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant as they happened to be. They were just ordinary wood and brick churches with steeples, like you find everywhere. But for the inside they hired wandering painters who were from Europe (and thus would know themselves what the inside of European churches were like) to paint and stencil them so that they looked like the great basilicas of Europe. The painters painted the inside of the churches on the inspiration of the European church interiors they remembered enjoying. The people couldn't afford the gold and silver, so they had wood painted in metallic paints; they couldn't afford fine marbles, so they had the woods painted in delicate pastels; wood and stone carving in any large quantity was prohibitively expensive, so they had the beams and panels painted to look like they were carved in intricate designs. Much of it is done so well that the eye cannot easily tell what is two-dimensional and what is three-dimensional. And they are magnificent.

Sanctuary of the Nativity of Mary, Blessed Virgin Catholic Church, also known as the St. Mary Catholic Church, in High Hill, a little community near Schulenburg in Fayette County, Texas LCCN2014631550

(Nativity of Mary Blessed Virgin Catholic Church, High Hill, Texas)

Aristotle notes in a number of places that wealth lies more in the using than the possessing, and it is here that the significance of all of this lies. The existence of the virtue of liberality establishes that part of the rationally necessary use of money is in giving to those in need (which, as it happens, could be our families, friends, and neighbors as well as anyone else). And the existence of the virtue of magnificence also implies something about the rational use of money: part of it concerns what we all have in common. Money well used will meet your own needs, yes, and the needs of others, as these things come up; but money well used will also lavish what is required on making the whole community more beautiful. And this is not a 'rich person thing'; it's part of the rational use of all money. This is what money is for: necessities, gifts, and community.

Poem a Day 25

Star of Bethlehem

My Cousin, God, and King,
my myrrh and frankincense
and gold I bring to give,

my treasure and worship
and human sympathy,
an offering complete.

With threefold gift I kneel,
with threefold heart I pray,
after too-long journey.

I looked for signs and saw
Your sign, drawing to You,
the language of heaven.

I asked for wise counsel,
consulted prophecies,
and so I came to You.

Reason and human aid
have lit the path like stars
that I may give my gifts,

until this rough stable,
this unexpected throne
of an ox's manger,

an end I had not thought,
and You, to whom I pray,
my Cousin, God, and King.

Monday, May 24, 2021


Liam Kofi Bright has a nice post, The End of Analytic Philosophy, laying out a rough argument that analytic philosophy is in a state of deterioration and attempting to diagnose it. I am not wholly convinced by parts of the diagnosis, although some of it I think is surely in the vicinity.

We have some rough notion from history of the kinds of things that indicate a philosophical approach or movement in decline. Analytic philosophy has shown for some time the signs that typically indicate a philosophical approach in a state of deterioration. Thirteen years ago (!) here on the blog I argued that this was the case, and Bright's argument gives me an opportunity to review the argument:

...people who self-identify as analytic philosophers have a very bad habit of flattering themselves in the mirror: they are clear, they are rational, they are substantive, etc., etc. It is not exclusive to them, of course; but it does tend to increase the exasperation of others. I am sympathetic to this; I get exasperated by it myself. I also am inclined to think that it is all a sign, one of many, that "analytic philosophy" as a philosophical tradition is in the process of dissolving. None of the former views of analysis that allowed some sort of agreement in philosophical approach have panned out; none of the compromises for weak alliances between such views that have been attempted have particularly satisfied anybody; nothing now unites 'analytic philosophers' in a philosophical 'project' except some commonalities in how they were educated and a slowly shifting collection of texts that act more-or-less as common sources of vocabulary and rhetorical formats.

It has always been an analytic conceit that good philosophy has always been analytic; but when, for instance, A. J. Ayer said it, he meant something that could be pinned down precisely, subjected to rigorous examination, and seriously evaluated. Now you find defenses of the idea becoming more and more amorphous and subjective in nature. Such syncretistic moves usually are suggestive either of pressures to form alliances and increase general appeal (a sign of increasing weakness and incohesion), or an increasing disinterest in the original core projects that ground the family resemblances of participants (people try to get more and more of their pet interests characterized as legitimate or 'philosophically interesting' or 'substantive' by loosening the requirements and extending terms until there ceases to be a real unity under the verbal one), or both. My own guess is the second of these. We have, in the past forty years, seen an immense expansion in the topics considered by people considering themselves analytic philosophers; throughout a great deal of this time there has been a great pressure on people trying to publish on more marginal topics or figures to argue that their subject of discussion is 'philosophically relevant' or has some special link to some hot topic of the day. When a fad becomes hot, everyone tries to cash in on the craze, whatever their favored topic or approach; it's a matter of academic survival. And thus we have concept inflation: the unifying key words (analysis, simplicity, clarity, etc.) have to expand to cover so many different things that they no longer have clear meaning. From here there are really only two likely paths: either the whole thing will simply collapse, everyone leaping from the sinking ship in disgust, or there will be a reformation, a new rallying, or a series of rallyings, under a banner or two or three....

Some of this holds up, although I think some of it could have been explained better. The self-flattery which I indicated was a sign of deterioration is a result of the increasing amorphousness that I mention in the second paragraph, a more fundamental sign of deterioration, and the latter has certainly grown, although I think Bright is right that the self-flattery has been flipping to self-recrimination, the manic flipping over into the depressive. I still think my post was right that, of the two usual causes of this kind of thing, the probable cause of this is increasing disinterest in the original core projects rather than a need to form alliances. Contemporary analytic philosophy as a whole is much more like Baroque scholasticism (interests expanding far beyond the capacity to keep handling them all in one approach) than like Indian philosophy in early Neo-Hinduism (weakness from divisions requiring forming alliances with other, sometimes very different, approaches); as Liam quite rightly notes, analytic philosophy is not in a position of weakness within its own domain, and this is if anything even more true now than it was then.

What I did not identify thirteen years ago*, but which is certainly operative and which Liam mentions as part of his discussion, is the infrastructural problem. Analytic philosophy's strength is becoming a weakness, like armor that is weighing down a drowning man. It is heavily tied to, and highly suitable for, academic life in universities. But that infrastructure is itself deteriorating, for a large number of reasons -- overextension, immoderation in graduate school admissions, adjunctification, administrator multiplication, consumerist mentality, alienation of local communities, practical stupidity of academics in chasing after fads, multiplication of useless requirements that interfere with what academia does best (exploring), external causes like economic crunches and pandemics -- there is undeniably enough blame to go around several times over. But regardless, as a causal matter, the deterioration of the general infrastructure of academic life has been accelerating, and I think this has accelerated problems that were already showing.

There is in fact not cause for total pessimism; even an approach in deterioration can produce good work -- sometimes (although usually not consistently) even better than some of the classical work of its heyday. I mentioned thirteen years ago that sometimes deteriorating approaches undergo reforms that revitalize them; this seems less likely for analytical philosophy today than it did then, although there was a period where modal logic and metaphysics looked like it might bring such reform, and for all anyone can say, it perhaps still could. Sometimes local or cultural pride in an approach holds it together externally despite its internal deteriorations, although it's difficult to imagine that there are all that many people who are proud of analytic philosophy as a component of their cultural or local atmosphere, and I agree with Liam that the 'applied turn' is not likely to do much in giving analytic philosophy that kind of space to recuperate. Academics are not the kind of people who can do an applied turn effectively, nor are they in a position to do it effectively as long as they are academics; it would be different if analytic philosophy had a significant non-academic following that could then have its time to shine, but you can't bootstrap one into existence.

Philosophy as such, of course, is not under any threat. It has survived infrastructural collapses far more catastrophic than what would likely kill analytic philosophy in particular; analytic philosophy's position has been in great measure because it has been heavily subsidized through the universities of some of the richest nations in the world, but there many philosophical approaches that have survived without much subsidy of that sort. But Bright is right that there is no obvious successor, if analytic philosophy dwindles out. Things could go anywhere.


* Actually, I discovered after publishing the above that while I did not identify it thirteen years ago, I mentioned it twelve years ago:

My own view, by the way, not that anyone really cares, is that analytic philosophy is not in a healthy state, but is slowly collapsing, mostly due to serious inadequacies in the academic infrastructure that carries it, but partly also due to the fact that people are not really engaging in a cooperative venture -- people cannibalize and build on each other's work, but they do it mostly from scratch, again and again. There is simply not enough unity to have a collective anything; we are entering an era of Ten Thousand schools. And because of that, no one is really tracing out the ramifications of the detail-work people do (which in fact is only at the very top levels "more rigorous and detailed" than what people have been doing for decades now). This is precisely what would be avoided if philosophers took the trouble to have philosophies, and worked with those who had similar philosophies, but still specialized in particular areas; this is the only way I can think of in which the result McMahan is hoping for has ever actually come about: specialization inevitably collapses unless people have sufficient unity of opinion with each other to allow specializations to fit together and cross-fertilize. Moreover, I think a telltale sign is that what goes by the name of analytic philosophy has been steadily becoming more amorphous for decades now, with older terms -- like 'analysis' and 'analytic' themselves, to such a degree that it's difficult to say what 'analytic philosophy' is supposed to be -- being stretched farther and farther in a sort of concept inflation. This, too, has often been a bad sign in history, because it eventually reaches a point where all the major similarities and agreements are purely verbal and begin to be recognized as such. Of course, this is also often the very sign that people take to show that analytic philosophy is flourishing, using different words from 'amorphous' and 'concept inflation'; time will tell, I suppose. But at present it seems to me that such claims as the above have little more substance than a self-satisfied pat on one's own back.

Poem a Day 24


A dream is a curious thing;
it drives the pulse of night.
The day knows but its echo.
It drifts in strange, chaotic order,
it dies but lives again.
With deep currents it flows,
both downward and upward.
To dream is to see the world anew,
the differences of the same.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Fortnightly Book, May 23

After the success of Evelina, Frances Burney set out to write a play, called "The Witlings", with a main character named Cecilia, which was supposed to be a satire; however, her father, Dr. Charles Burney, and her mentor, Samuel Crisp, forbade her to continue with it on the ground that it might offend real people, some of whom were quite important in terms of patronage. Discouraged, she set out to write her second novel, Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress, about a young woman born into a great legacy which is frittered away by the greediness of the men in her life. It's perhaps not completely unsurprising that people have wondered if her disappointment over the play shaped some of the new tale. In any case, it was published in 1782 and is the next fortnightly book.

This is a doorstopper of a book, over 900 pages long in the Oxford World's Classics edition that I will be reading, so this may end up being a three-week 'fortnight'. My summer courses start a week after next, so I have a lot to do, but at the same time, it's usually a period in which I have here and there long stretches of time that aren't chopped up by other things the way they usually are, so we'll see how it goes. In any case, I greatly enjoyed Evelina, so I am interested in seeing how this darker and more satirical novel turns out.

Charles Dickens, Hard Times


Opening Passage:

‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’

Summary: Coketown is an industrial town, large smokestacks generously bequeathing their smoke and ash everywhere, all the buildings choking themselves with their interchangeable industrial sameness, the whole of its citizenry bent toward work or making others work, its eighteen churches that are none of them churches of the workmen but always busybodily acting 'for' the workmen, to make them more upstanding citizens, which is to say, more wholly suited to bending their backs to labor for others. Mr. Gradgrind is a school superintendent in Coketown, and few fit the town better than he, because he absolutely insists that in his schools nothing will be taught but facts and figures, and seeks to extirpate any trace of that supremely unfactual faculty, the fancy. He raises his children, Tom and Louisa and Adam Smith and Malthus and Jane (only the first two will play a significant role in the story), on the same principles. He has a close friend, Mr. Bounderby, one of the richest businessmen in the city, who is a "Bully of humility", constantly beating people down by telling them (in any and every possible circumstance) how he has worked his way from rags to riches. Mr. Bounderby will eventually propose to Louisa, and, lacking much background in anything but facts and figures, Louisa will marry him.

Coketown is contrasted with the circus, a place that is, of course, concerned very little with facts and figures and almost wholly with fancy, and which, for all its many oddities, sees its own people not as statistics but as family. Mr. Gradgrind decides that Sissy Jupe, the daughter of a circus performer, is unsuitable to the school, and visits the circus to tell her father, but discovers that her father has abandoned her in the hope that she will have a better life than he could give her. So Mr. Gradgrind offers Sissy a choice to continue her education if she will work for Mrs. Gradgrind and never visit the circus again. She accepts. 

As a man sows, so shall he reap. Book I is called "Sowing" and Mr. Gradgrind has sown in a twofold way: first, he has sown by raising his children to be "model children" only concerned with facts and figures, and second, he has, despite himself, done one good deed, to the limited extent he knows how, in deciding to look after Sissy. Both shall bear fruit.

In Book II, "Reaping", Tom Gradgrind has become an employee at Mr. Bounderby's Bank. He has become cynical and surly, given to gambling and other wasteful activities. Louisa is weighed down by a marriage that offers her nothing. A well-dressed man, James Harthouse, comes into their lives. Mr. Harthouse is the perpetually bored man of the world, immaculate in his fashion, listless in his commitments, utterly amoral. Louisa's pretty face, however, breaks through his boredom, and he sets about seducing her by exploiting her one weakness, her affection for her brother, cultivating a friendship with Tom toward that end.

Stephen Blackpool, a "Hand" at one of the factories in town owned by Mr. Bounderby, finds himself in trouble when, to fulfill a promise to his friend Rachael, he refuses to join a union; as a result he is shunned by his fellow laborers. Mr. Bounderby, hearing of this, summons him to discuss matters, but when Stephen doggedly defends his fellow workers, Mr. Bounderby is infuriated and fires him. Shortly after this, the Bank is robbed, and as Stephen was seen in the vicinity of the Bank and then left town shortly after, he is the primary suspect.

Mr. Harthouse's seduction makes headway, and he professes love for her, arranging for them to run away together. Louisa by this point has begun to believe that her education had woefully failed to prepare her for the world and people like Mr. Harthouse; instead of going with Mr. Harthouse, she runs to her father, who is shaken by her story.

Book III is entitled, "Garnering", which literally means 'gathering into a granary', and is used in that sense here. Sissy tells Mr. Harthouse to leave and never come back, because Louisa will never run away with him, and she goes with Rachael to try to find where Stephen went; both are convinced that he is innocent, but his having vanished is a major part of the suspicion against him, and they can only defend him by discovering his own account. They do find Stephen, who has fallen into a chasm in old industrial ruins, called by the locals the "Old Hell Shaft". It becomes clear that the real culprit is Tom, who has also vanished. But Sissy knows where he is, and with the help of the circus she will help him escape. Louisa will live out the rest of her days encouraging fancy and imagination everywhere she can.

Hard Times is famously compressed, and given Dickens's standard way of making his characters and places symbolic of broader conditions and the fact that it occurs in an imaginary city, this gives the story very much the air and feel of an allegory. I suspect, in fact, that it is this that makes it one of the least popular Dickens novels; we have not lived in times with much of a taste for anything that suggests allegory. Perhaps people convince themselves that the 'facts and figures' of realism and Coketown-grittiness are more real than the 'fancy' of symbolism and allegory. But for all that Dickens can give the realistic, this is not a prejudice he shares. Perhaps, too, the compression works against some of Dickens's usual strengths as a novelist. Stephen Blackpool is an engaging character, but I am fairly sure that Dickens intended him to be much more engaging than he is, for instance. But I enjoyed the novel immensely. Dickens has always been an author whose technical ability I can admire much more than I can enjoy his storytelling, but that was not the case here.

Favorite Passage:

‘So you would carpet your room—or your husband’s room, if you were a grown woman, and had a husband—with representations of flowers, would you?’ said the gentleman. ‘Why would you?’

‘If you please, sir, I am very fond of flowers,’ returned the girl.

‘And is that why you would put tables and chairs upon them, and have people walking over them with heavy boots?’

‘It wouldn’t hurt them, sir. They wouldn’t crush and wither, if you please, sir. They would be the pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy—’

‘Ay, ay, ay! But you mustn’t fancy,’ cried the gentleman, quite elated by coming so happily to his point. ‘That’s it! You are never to fancy.’

‘You are not, Cecilia Jupe,’ Thomas Gradgrind solemnly repeated, ‘to do anything of that kind.’

‘Fact, fact, fact!’ said the gentleman. And ‘Fact, fact, fact!’ repeated Thomas Gradgrind.

‘You are to be in all things regulated and governed,’ said the gentleman, ‘by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word Fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You don’t walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You don’t find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use,’ said the gentleman, ‘for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste.’

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Poem a Day 23

Snow Wolf

I hunt the wolf that pads the snow
whenever sleep has closed my eyes;
the forest-track, the fields, I know,
and frosted stars that grace the skies.
Through tangled brush and mead I go
to seek the beast.

I track what never can be caught,
what moves with swiftness like the gale;
through snow, on mountains God has wrought,
it speeds with wolf-limbs coated pale;
the snow is crystal-fractal thought
and I the beast.