Saturday, August 21, 2021

Your Teeth Are Like Washed Sheep (Re-Post)

 Some recent discussion in the comments box reminded me of this post from 2016, which I have lightly revised in a few parts for clarity of argument.


The simile, of course, is a flattened version of one found in the Song of Songs (4:4,6:6). In his discussion of metaphor in Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, Umberto Eco notes that our first reaction to this is to think of sheep as shaggy, dripping, bleating, smelling. But, of course, the figure of speech is not arbitrary (he also considers 5:15):

Nevertheless, we can imagine how the biblical poet drops all those properties of sheep negatively identified above, so as to preserve only the characteristic of aequalitas numerosa, their splendid unity in variety -- as well as their whiteness. It is understood that the poet is able to do so because within his culture these most probably were the properties associated with sheep, at least within the poetic tradition. And it is also clear that the qualities chosen to define the beauty of a healthy and sturdy country girl, destined to tend to the flocks among the rocky Palestinian hills, single out her upright solidity (like that of columns), her unbroken state of perfection, in the same way that it is not so much the cylindrical shape of columns that is preeminently chosen as is their whiteness, instead, and their grace of line. [p. 101]

This is plausible and, I think, not correct. Moreover, it is not correct in a way that I think sheds light on Eco's approach to metaphor in general.

I have on my shelves somewhere a book that was a required text for a theology class I took in undergrad on Old Testament wisdom literature. It's one of those books that can't just let texts be texts, but must also add on top something for 'critical distance' or 'deconstruction' (as theologians have considered, it anyway), an identification of things you have to be suspicious of, like sexism and the like. And one of the critical comments the book makes on the Song of Songs is that its language is crypto-monarchist. The first time I ever read that, I found it hilariously funny, and I find it hilariously funny every time I think of it. (This is what theology texts are good for when they are not good for theology; they are almost as good as joke books.) The Song of Songs is obviously not 'crypto-monarchist' in its language because there is absolutely nothing 'crypto-' about it. It talks about kings. It talks about accoutrements of kings. It talks especially about wealth of kings. And it does it all out in light of day without even a smidgeon of an attempt to hide it.

None of the figures of speech in the entire book are arbitrary; they all concern the things that make royalty wealthy and impressive. There is nothing in the work to suggest that aequalitas numerosa and whiteness were chosen because "within his culture these most probably were the properties associated with sheep, at least within the poetic tradition." It is of course, a sign that Eco is neither stupid nor sloppy that he adds that final phrase. In a society in which pastoral activities play a major role, it would hardly be the case that anyone could talk about sheep without having a very extensive familiarity with them, far more extensive than ours usually is. Most people today know that sheep are shaggy, bleating, smelling, only by hearsay. A few more have had occasional experiences of actual sheep, like myself (I had a pet lamb when I was a little boy). Only a very few people today have a familiarity with sheep that would match the kind of familiarity with sheep that would have been quite common in the poet's milieu. He would have known that they were shaggy, bleating, smelling, and more, and to a greater extent than we do. What is more, in the poet's actual culture it is extremely unlikely that in fact "unity in variety" and "whiteness" would be the most obvious properties associated with sheep, which would be food and clothing and the difference between wealth and poverty and between being poor and having nothing. Whiteness and unity in variety could hardly be more than minor properties in comparison. But Eco, being more careful than another might be, saves the claim with the final phrase. It's indeed possible that the poetic tradition tended to emphasize these properties when talking about sheep, if whiteness and unity-in-variety independently came up in poetry a lot. But there is no reason to think that this is operative in this case.

The order of events suggested by Eco's description is: talking about a girl, talking about teeth, teeth are white and numerously equal, sheep in poetry are white and numerously equal, her teeth are like sheep. But given the consistent pattern of figurative language throughout the work, it is much more likely that the order is something like this: he wants to describe a girl in terms of how impressively beautiful and worth valuing she is; this leads him to think of her in comparison with royal splendor and wealth, which is impressively beautiful and valuable; given that, the problem is to describe the girl in figures drawn from actual royal splendor and wealth; so he describes her nose, her legs, her belly, and, of course, comes to her teeth; what, from the domain of royal splendor and/or great wealth, has something in common with teeth?; he thinks through various things from that domain and comes up with the best fit -- flocks of sheep, white and many!; and so we get our simile. And where this is all going is that the girl is more valuable and wonderful than all of these signs of royal splendor and wealth, because she matches them all in one attractive little package. Given a choice between the extraordinary wealth represented by a flock of sheep with bright wool (and, as he goes on to say, pregnant with twins, which means the rich are getting richer) and the girl's bright smile, what do you choose? The girl's bright smile, of course. ("You look like a million bucks," he said, "the Rolls Royce of women, and your eyes are a mansion enough for anyone; and your lips are sweeter than fine wine.") In short, the whiteness and numerous equality being selected out is almost certainly an effect of looking for an appropriate metaphor, not something simply received and applied.

This is all, of course, speculative reconstruction. There are a number of ways in which this line of thought could be varied. But, remember, we get a lot of figures of speech in the Song of Songs, and they do display thematic patterns. The explanation here easily adapts to her belly like a heap of wheat, her hair like a flock of goats, her neck and nose like a tower, her thighs like jewels, her navel like a bowl of wine, and, yes, her legs like marble columns. All of the similes develop within a larger set of metaphors, and to this extent there is a workman-like quality to them: you can identify the concern that selects what to look for.

This is precisely where Eco's account of metaphors is consistently weak. He likes to jump quickly to infinities of possibilities, and then, to handle them, run to purely cultural explanations. But this does not lead to a very good explanation of most use of figures of speech, and it misses the most important thing, which is that the poet is not making up similes at random, but for a reason. Composing poetry is an extremely teleological affair: you have your ends, and you find your means for those ends. In the process you actively discover things that you weren't really expecting, but which happened to come along with the means that were available. It's like a master sculptor: he wants to sculpt Judith with the head of Holofernes, so he looks around for a marble of the right kind, and in sculpting he discovers features in the grain of the marble that he adapts to his use, and the choice of marble and the choice of the manner of adaptation are all governed by the end in view. Why does the poet go out of his way to mention that the sheep are ewes pregnant with twins? Was that what he was looking for from the beginning? No. Is it somehow a special feature of sheep as portrayed in standard poetic diction? Maybe, but that's not what explains its role here. It's an intensifier naturally arising as a possibility given that sheep were already selected, when you consider the end he had in view.

Rarely do we consider all properties when doing metaphors. Eco realizes this, but regularly tries to offload everything into culture, as if all the properties were really on the table and it's the arbitrary choices and historical contingencies of culture that narrow the focus. But this is backwards entirely. Why bring sheep in at all? Because there is already a reason for doing so. And that reason constrains and governs the properties selected out. Culture merely gives an order to the search by making some of those properties more likely to be called to mind than others; it suggests, while the poet does the actual selecting. When we deliberately choose a metaphor or simile, we are not picking them from an endless sea of possibilities; we have an end in view, and we usually only look at the things that are appropriate to that end; and from those possibilities we select the best fit we come across for that end. Only when we take into account the end in view do we get a real understanding of similes and metaphors.


Quotation from Umberto Eco, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, Indiana University Press (Bloomberg: 1984).

Friday, August 20, 2021

Dashed Off XVIII

Presence is based on form.

Half of politics is persuading others to classify things a particular way.

'Epistemology' was coined by James Ferrier, Institutes of Metaphysic (1854), as part of the triad epistemology - agnoiology - ontology.

Nowhere is tunnel vision more dangerous than in politics.

Rawlsian arguments against aristocracy usually exaggerate immobility, ignoring institutions (military, Church, guild) that at least complicate the caricature of everyone frozen by birth into a state of life.

It is impossible to establish a system of distribution that eliminates contingency and luck.

Effort should be rewarded, but is not the only, or even always the most important, thing that should be rewarded; nor does it make any sense to demand that all good whatsoever should only be had as a reward.

Rawls's difference principle falsely assumes that we are members of only one society.

Libertarian concepts of self-ownership treat persons as virtual quasi-property.

The oldest extant Manichaean temple is Cao'an in Jinjiang -- it survives because it was eventually turned into a Buddhist temple without much modification, and was for a long time thought to have originally been built as a Buddhist temple, with a slightly unusual representation of Buddha -- but it was unusal because it was originally Mani, and only Buddha later.

From each according to reason, to each according to reason.

"Christ *merited* salvation for his Church, and merit is the contrary of punishment." Chastek

"We individually cannot reasonably hope to attain the ultimate philosophy which we pursue; we can only seek it, therefore for the *community* of philosophers." Peirce

reincarnation as symbol of being freed from or tangled in layers of maya

The swift leap to violence is almost always bad strategy, even when it makes sense operationally.

the deimos and phobos of political contest

inferences of the sort 'possunt, quia posse videntur'

the work-hardening of arguments

In rhetoric as well as battle, effective siegework depends on preparation, that is, on fortification, provision, and watch.

"The existence of things consists in their regular behavior." Peirce

inherence, causation, systemic interrelation, representation, narration, internarration

an architecture of icons

relics as traces of providence ('trace' is perhaps too weak here, given its use in other contexts)
-- relics as commemorations of providential men and women

media of personal commemoration: name, memento (relic), image (icon)

the Church as super-relic

abductive inference as pattern recognition (cf. Peirce in "Pragmatism as the Logic of Abduction", on relation between abduction and perception)

Semo Sancus, the Sabine god of oaths/fides (from whom we get, with some modification, latinate words for 'holy'), was protector of: marriage, hospitality, law, commerce, and contract. He was sometimes possibly identified with Hercules (who also protected oaths), but this is based on limited data.

In the Simonian proto-Gnostic system, the five books of Moses were taken allegorically to represent the five senses.

All S is P & All S is Q -> All S is P&Q
All S is P & No S is Q-> No S is P&Q
All Sis P & Some S is Q -> Some S is P&Q
All S is P & Some S is not Q -> Some S is not P&Q
No S is P & No S is Q -> No S is P &Q
No S Is P & Some S is Q -> Some S is not P&Q
No S is P & Some S is not Q -> Some S is not P&Q

conscience as home, conscience as court

"Distinct cognition is nobler than confused cognition." Scotus

Scotus on concurring causes
(1) causes concurring in part (e.g., two men dragging same body -- they are on par as causes even if not equal in strength)
(2) causes not par
-- (2a) higher cause moves lower such that the lower does not act except by higher
-- -- (2a1) so that the lower receives the 'virtus' from the higher
-- -- (2a2) so that the lower is only moved to act by the higher ('virtus' from elsewhere, higher gives direction)
-- (2b) higher does not move lower but simply has the more complete power to act (with the two together being more complete)

fear of the Lord as practical recognition of his sublimity

(1) co-being
(2) so as to contribute to each other's work
(3) with respect to justice, dignity, or peace.

If an object persists through time, this is not because it exists at various times, because existing *at* a time is not the same as existing *through* a time; we see this with the hypothetical of something nontemporal intruding at multiple instants of time.

All physical objects both endure and perdure, because whole and part are not the same in each.

A thing may exist at time t1 according to one measure and at time t2 according to another; this is repeatedly ignored by analytic philosophers.

the categorical imperative applied to families, nations, etc., which can have subjective principles of action

original vs adaptive translation

"'To be concluded' is in rational actions as 'to be moved' is in natural actions." Aquinas

four ways of intending an end
(1) actual: requires actual knowledge and willing of end, including choice of means expressly directed to the end
(2) virtual: requires prior actual willing of the end that influences present act, including choice of means
(3) habitual: possesses habit arising from prior willing, but this does not influence choice of means
(4) interpretative: does not exist, but there are reasons why it would if things were a little different

Commemoration is always for some good serving as an end.

Wisdom has a natural aptitude toward cooperation in contemplation of truth.

glory, formally speaking: clara notitia cum laude
glory, objectively speaking: completion of a being that inclines those who know it to praise (praiseworthy completeness)

Christ on Cross: Church Militant :: Christ in Tomb : Church Patient :: Christ Risen : Church Triumphant

actual design
descendant of design
--  strict: design still controlling 
-- loose: design merely residual
presumptive design

Act according to the judgment of that conscience that could at the same time be treated as a universal tribunal.

- in its authoritative summons
- in its first advisory
- in its accusation
- in its defense
- in its judgment
- in its postjudicial reflection

modes of tribunal: right, erroneous, confused, scrupulous, doubtful, probable

evocative objects (Turkle)

(1) 'Father', 'Son', and 'Holy Spirit' are not synonyms of each other (i.e., not intensively interchangeable).
(2) 'Father', 'Son', and 'Holy Spirit' are not nonsynonymous ways of describing the same (i.e., not extensively interchangeable).
(3) The term 'God', applied to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is intensively & extensively interchangeable.

We are caught up in a creativity more fundamental than we are.

Tradition is projective & project-building.

the three habits involved in knowledge of morality: synderesis, moral science, prudence

imputability -> responsibility (dominion over acts) -> liberty

demonstration proper : condign merit :: demonstration ex convenientia : congruous merit
(indeed, one could figuratively speak of 'meriting' conclusions)

God can grant a dispensation from secondary precepts of natural law that concern creatures insofar as there is a significant difference between acting on one's own and acting as an instrument or agent of another.

means to end
(1) preparative
(2) contributive
(3) regulative
(4) constitutive

Lv 19 as outline of human holiness: right with respect to origin, with respect to attitude in obligations to God, with respect to attitude to other human beings, with respect to observation of the divine law
-- note that these are preceded in Lv 17 & 18 by nondefilement, the impediment-removing condition for holiness, and followed in Lv 20-22 by social safeguards to prevent defilements from entering into community, thus concerning the preventative condition for holiness.

Human reason is not a law unto itself; the law natural to it is a law that implies a law higher than it.

apparent miracle
(1) illusion
-- -- -- (a) physical (mis-sensing)
-- -- -- (b) testimonial (fiction)
-- -- -- (c) psychological (hallucination, delusion)
(2) natural event of unusual circumstances, with no identifiable significance
(3) diabolical work
(4) real divine miracle

(a) There are apparent miracles, in the broad sense of 'apparent'
(b) Apparent miracles that involve no sensory, testimonial, or psychological defects are genuine wonders, in a broad sense.
(c) Genuine wonders (in a broad sense) that are morally or theologically significant are supernatural wonders.
(d) Supernatural wonders that have an efficacy, utility, mode, end, personal involvement, and occasion appropriate to God are divine wonders.

Miracles are rare, but the human heart anticipates them. It is true that this can over-incline people to believe that they have occurred; but it is also true that it makes it impossible to argue that they are intrinsically incredible.

Holiness always involves relation to others.

holiness and belonging to God

The Sign of the Cross as a summary of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Redemption.

Each of he four elements in St. Thomas's definition of law may be exemplified to a greater or lesser degree.

Dooyeweerd's aspects as really capturing domains of human sense-making

poetic justice as an aesthetic anticipation of the juridical

All images are imitations of the Son as Image.

direct conspiracy theories (the ct is specifically about a cabal) vs indirect conspiracy theories (the ct is about soemthing else and uses appeal to assume conspiracy to interpret evidence along a certain line)
-- could be called 'cabal conspiracy theories' and 'opportunistic conspiracy theories'

"A scientific type is a concrete individual object that serves as an objective standard reference for, and realization of, the definition or taxon category it names." Alisa Bokulich

the doctrine of creation -> the modal structure of the world

We require virtue
(a) to give good determination to our capabilities
(b) to enable us to act well easily
(c) to enable us to act well consistently

community unions, like labor unions but for communities

human nature as first title to dominion over things, as regards their use
Another way to say this is that rational use of things for what human life requires is a human right and that other uses, rational or otherwise, presuppose this.

The sign is as it were the signified, the signified is as it were the sign. -- This gives important clue for understanding the phrase 'as it were'.

Authority exists to foster friendship and community.

Everything in a consumer society becomes packaging -- a packaging of politics (spin), a packaging of morals, a packaging of religion.

Human feelings are layers and layers.

correspondence between people as a literary making-common by giving and receiving


 Today is the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church. From Sermon 6 of his most famous work, the sermons on the Song of Songs:

Happy is the man then in whose soul the Lord Jesus once sets these feet of his. There are two signs by which you may recognize such a one, for he cannot but bear upon him the imprint of these divine footsteps. These signs are fear and hope, the former presenting the imprint of judgment, the latter that of mercy. Truly, the Lord takes pleasure in them that fear him, and in them that hope in his mercy, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, hope the growth of wisdom. Its perfection charity reserves to itself. If all this be true, then obviously this first kiss, given to the feet, brings forth no small fruit. But of one thing you must beware, that you do not neglect either of these feet. If, for instance, you feel deep sorrow for your sins along with the fear of the judgment, you have pressed your lips on the imprint of truth and of judgment. But if you temper that fear and sorrow with the thought of God's goodness and the hope of obtaining his pardon, you will realize that you have also embraced the foot of his mercy. It is clearly inexpedient to kiss one without the other; a man who thinks only of the judgment will fall into the pit of despair, another who deceitfully flatters God's mercy gives birth to a pernicious security.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

With One Hand the Trowel Wielding

The Building the Walls
by Emily Seaver

“And the walls shall be built, even in troublous times." Dan. ix. 25. 

With one hand the trowel wielding,
While the other held the sword,
Such has ever been the building
Of the City of the LORD! 

Thus was laid her sure foundation
Long ago, in troublous time,
In the last great tribulation
Shall they rear her towers sublime. 

When men dwell at ease, securely,
Ah! how oft the building stays,
But it rises fast and surely,
In the dark and troublous days. 

Let us rise then to our duty,
Work and watch, in faith and prayer,
Till, at length, in all her beauty
Zion rise, complete and fair! 

Let no threatening make us falter,
Treacherous friend, nor open foe,
Care we not how times may alter,
If our glorious work may grow. 

What, though evil men oppress us,
He, who says Arise and build,
In the work He gives will bless us,
And His word must be fulfilled. 

His the plan, and His the glory,
In His Name the walls we raise,
When we crown the topmost story,
His, alone, shall be the praise !

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Four Attributes

 Most true, indeed, is the statement that there are four attributes which embrace all that exists, namely, being, unity, truth, and goodness, provided that they are taken in the sense that their negations be: nothing, division, falsity, evil. Two others, something (aliquid) and thing (res), have been added to these by the late disciples of Avicenna, who interpolated the philosophy of Averroes in more than one place, wherefore Averroes attacked them vigorously. But, to tell the truth, on this point there is little reason for discord. For they merely divide what is subsumed under 'one' into 'one' and 'something,' a procedure that is not contrary to Plato who, in the Sophist, enumerates unity among the most extensive genera; and that which is contained under 'being' they divide into being and thing. But of this later. To return to our subject, -- these four attributes exist in one way in God, and in another way in beings created by God, since God has them from Himself, other beings from Him.

Pico della Mirandola, On Being and One, chapter 8.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Evening Note for Tuesday, August 17

 Thought for the Evening: Philosophical Systems as Adaptive

One of the things that Hegelians get right about philosophical systems is that real philosophical systems are adaptive and changing things. I say 'real philosophical systems' to contrast them with what I think people often assume philosophical systems to be, namely, rigid structures of relations between particular claims. On the Hegelian view, that is something more like an X-ray. An X-ray depicts the body, but very selectively; it captures real relationships and relations among relationships, but only some of many possible relationships of which the parts of the body are capable, because it is in fact just a snapshot of how the body is arranged under a particular set of circumstances. To be sure, it's very useful, and you can learn a great deal about the body from an X-ray; but only if you put the X-ray in the context of some kind of knowledge of how living bodies themselves work. So too with philosophical systems. In real life, if you introduce new data, or a new objection, into a philosophical system, it adapts, because philosophical systems are expressions of people, and people adapt to new data or new objections.

I've previously noted that parts of philosophical systems are bound together in ways that can be evaluated according to consistency or according to tightness. Consistency is determined by whether the parts of the system contradict each other or not. Tightness, often confused with consistency, is determined by whether the parts are linked to each other by clear, definite, logically connected steps. It is possible to have a very loose system that is very consistent -- say, one where positions are mostly bound together by analogy. It is possible to have a very tight system that is inconsistent. Consistency and tightness are related, but obliquely; we might roughly put it by saying that tight systems let inconsistencies spread, whereas loose systems make inconsistencies harder to identify. Logical positivism is fairly tight; you can evaluate its consistency fairly easily, but an inconsistency can wreck the whole thing. Romanticism, with its aphoristic approach to thought, is quite loose; it's often difficult to prove definitely whether anything in it is consistent or inconsistent with anything else, but if you do find an inconsistency, it's relatively isolated, and if you just took it out, it might not affect much beyond a few analogies and associations. There is a third way in which we can assess how a philosophical system is bound together, and that is connectivity. The connectivity of a system is how well-linked any one part is to any other -- roughly, if you start at one part of the system, how many ways can you take to get to any other. Neo-Platonism, for instance, is very highly connective, because you can easily start with (say) the virtue of justice and from there get to (say) the metaphysics of geometry and from there get to (say) the existence of the gods, by many different routes. Almost every part is connected to almost everything else, whether it's by direct analogy or because they use principles that have analogies or because they use the same principles in ways that are adapted to a given subject-matter.

Eclectic systems, which might almost be called non-systematic and are certainly minimally systematic, are loose, weakly connected, and often inconsistent. Most actual philosophical systems are probably eclectic systems. Such systems tend to be very adaptable but also not very stable. The strongest and most durable systems, like Aristotelianism or Neo-Confucianism or Nyaya tend to be systems of very consistent parts loosely but highly connected to other very consistent parts. Such systems are very adaptable. There is no way to refute Neo-Platonism with a single argument; Neo-Platonic systems have the potential to marshal dozens of counter-arguments for any particular objection you might make. Important for understanding adaptability is most of these arguments are in fact merely potential: most arguments that a Neo-Platonist could make have never been made, because no Neo-Platonist ever had occasion to make them. But the principles, the analogies, the examples, or what have you that are already there could be formed into the argument, even if no one has ever done so. This contrasts with very consistent, very tight, very connective systems, which are often beautiful but extremely fragile. You might well be able to demolish a very consistent, very tight, very connective system by a single good argument.

Philosophical systems are also not purely structural. Every philosophical system has what might be called a 'flow of thought'. There's no system in which everything is equally important with everything else; we do not see philosophical systems with a God's-eye view as pure abstract structures. Some parts of a philosophical system are more natural starting-points when we are thinking something through; some tend to be convenient mediating hubs; some tend to be terminal points. Likewise, some bonds between the different parts are not symmetrical, and cannot as easily think in one direction as you can in the other. In one system, we might start with the senses in order to get to mathematics; in another, it might be more natural to start with mathematics in order to get the reliability of the senses. Whenever we have a philosophical system and introduce new data or new objections, this new element creates new relations in the system, and these new relations can shift the flow of thought, either making it easier or harder for the mind to pass along certain pathways between different parts of the system. In the course of time, as new things add up -- say, mounting evidence, difficult to dismiss, that part of a system might be wrong, the flow of thought will often 're-route'. Suppose position A and position B are linked by two different lines of argument, R and S, and that R is the easier, simpler route. You would expect people to emphasis R. If new evidence comes up that is not easily dismissible but puts R into question, you would expect people then to emphasize the longer, more complicated, but less in-question, S.

Sometimes the flow of though in a philosophical system becomes so re-routed that a part of the system that was previously important is largely avoided. In such a case, a number of things can happen, depending on the resources available. The part that has been isolated might be shifted around by people eventually building stronger connections between the isolated part and other parts of the system; that is, the part might be 'reattached' in a different way or to a different set of parts. The relations between the part and other parts might be reconceived -- for instance, things previously taken literally might now be taken figuratively, or things previously asserted might now be taken as hypothetical or as parts of arguments per impossibile. This is, and has always been, a common way in which analytic philosophers handle matters like this. (I've noted this, based on personal experience, with analytic accounts of pain.) The relations between one part and others are modulated. Or the isolated part might become isolated enough that it is merely pinched off, detached, and, whatever value it had in the past, it just gets dropped.

Philosophical systems also require infrastructure. You need an archive, whether that be just memorizable sutras, or paradigmatic examples and a handful of principles, or an entire library. You need people who actually put some effort and energy into thinking through philosophical systems, the more the better. You need ways of interacting with the world and others. One thing Hegel gets wrong is playing down this infrastructural component in any philosophical system. While Marx overemphasizes it, he is right that it is there. It doesn't matter how good your principles are, if you don't have enough people applying them to address objections, you are going to get swamped with objections to which you don't yet have any answer. Thus infrastructure often affects the adaptiveness of arguments by affecting the speed at which they adapt. It often does so in a very indirect way. There are many means by which a philosophical system might be adapted; some are naturally slow (rigorous analysis and proof), some are fast (speculation, light analogy, loose metaphors). Lack of resources will reduce how much you can do of the former, and will tend to push adherents and defenders of the system to use more and more of the latter to address any potential objections or any unexpected new evidence.

Various Links of Interest

* Philippe Lemoine, Why Covid-19 Is Here to Stay, and Why You Shouldn't Worry About It

* Jack Zupko, "Nothing in Nature is Naturally a Statue": William of Ockham on Artifacts (PDF)

* Wessie du Toit, How the Internet Turned Sour

* Brian Kemple, The Constitution of Culture

* Francisco Eduardo Plaza, Christian Philosophy as Existential Habitus

* Ryan P. Doran, Ugliness is in the Gut of the Beholder (PDF)

* John P. McCaskey, Induction in the Socratic Tradition (PDF)

* Brendan Hodge, The kids are not alright -- a look at US religious belief and practice

* Justin P. Holt, Wollstonecraft's Feminist Virtue Ethics: Friendship and the Good Society (PDF)

* Paul Campos, The Truman Show, looks to Harry Truman as the beginning of the practice of Presidents greatly enriching themselves after leaving the Presidency.

* Holden Karnofsky, Does X cause Y? An in-depth evidence review, pokes mild fun at statistical analyses.

* Jennifer Banks, Mortality and Natality in the Pandemic

* Christopher Kaczor, Do Children Contribute to the Flourishing of Their Parents?

* Thomas R. Rourke, Secularization, Marxism, and the Enlightenment in Augusto Del Noce

* Thaddeus Metz, Exactly Why Are Slurs Wrong? (PDF)

* Joshua Fox, Two Pessimisms in Mill (PDF)

Currently Reading

John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany
Alexander, Ishikawa, Silverstein, et al., A Pattern Language
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Order of Things

Monday, August 16, 2021

Three Poem Drafts

 Misty Moon

The moon peeks through my window,
sweet and flirty-shy,
swinging like an angel
in a warm and humid sky,
halo all around it
like a temple-presence deep,
the mist of holy ages
and dreams that never sleep.

Bear you any message,
O moon in cloudy-shadowed skies?
Yea, O mortal hero:
What waxes, wanes and dies.


A puppy he was, two decades past;
hardly had he known his master's gentle hand.
He had passed his hunting years, his solar days,
long ago by a dog's count, and was old and tired,
and, no master to care for him in his age, abandoned,
weak and tick-infested, as untended, unloved dogs are.

He lay by the door and endured the time till death.

But once a scent familiar tickled his nose;
once a stranger who was not a stranger passed by.

Two paired eyes met and knew each other,
dog and man, both no more like themselves,
both changed by years, as years only can change.

The ears dropped. 

The tail wagged a thump.

The legs struggled to raise the old body,
but soon gave up, for lack of a pup's strength.

Then Argos passed into darkness, one last sigh,
fulfilling his faithful fate with a dog's faith.

Starry Sky

The world that shines
within my eye
is bright;
it gleams and glows
like flakes of snow
to sight
in twinkled stars,
those angel-hearts,

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Fortnightly Book, August 15

 I was wondering what I was going to do for the fortnightly book after A Dream of Red Mansions; but I was on a plane last weekend and a woman sitting next to me was reading John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. I have it, and haven't read it since (I think) high school when visiting my grandparents, and have been intending to do it for a fortnightly book at some point, and just never have come around to doing so. Thus, it is decided: I'll be doing A Prayer for Owen Meany.

John Winslow Irving was born John Wallace Blunt, Jr. in 1942 in Exeter, New Hampshire; he eventually took the last name of the stepfather who actually raised him. He wrote his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, in 1968, which received some polite critical interest but no much more. He eventually became a professor of English at Mount Holyoke, and in 1978 had his big breakthrough with The World According to Garp, which became a heavily-awarded international bestseller and on its own made him independently wealthy. Several other novels by Irving went on to become major bestsellers, such as The Cider House Rules, published in 1985, and A Prayer for Owen Meany, published in 1989.

The book has three epigraphs, which capture its intertwining themes:

Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. -- The Letter of Paul to the Philippians

Not the least of my problems is that I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a genuine, self-authenticating religious experience would be. Without somehow destroying me in the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me. -- Frederick Buechner

Any Christian who is not a hero is a pig. -- Leon Bloy

Thus we have the three themes of the nature of prayer, the nature of religious experience, and the nature of heroism, and the question of what each of these things are. John Irving had attended Philips Exeter Academy in high school when Frederick Buechner had been teaching here. In any case, the three quotations capture the guiding concerns of a very liberal form of New England Christianity, which is familiar to anyone familiar with American culture, which is often found in Irving's novels, and which absolutely saturates A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Music on My Mind


The Blind Boys of Alabama, "I Shall Not Walk Alone"