Saturday, December 04, 2021

The Brook Its Frozen Architecture Makes

 I had hoped to have a new installment of Abyss & Sea today, but I don't think that's happening; perhaps tomorrow, if I have time. Instead, here's a sonnet by Helen Hunt Jackson.

by Helen Hunt Jackson

The lakes of ice gleam bluer than the lakes
 Of water 'neath the summer sunshine gleamed:
Far fairer than when placidly it streamed,
The brook its frozen architecture makes,
And under bridges white its swift way takes.
Snow comes and goes as messenger who dreamed
Might linger on the road; or one who deemed
His message hostile gently for their sakes
Who listened might reveal it by degrees.
We gird against the cold of winter wind
Our loins now with mighty bands of sleep,
In longest, darkest nights take rest and ease,
And every shortening day, as shadows creep
O'er the brief noontide, fresh surprises find.

Friday, December 03, 2021

Dashed Off XXVII

 wondering as potential knowledge

the Muse & design prior to one's own design

thought, imagination, and ear as the sources of justification in poetry

the silver snowlight,
with starlike gleaming
in moon-glow blue and bright

language as implyling the external world
the worldness of language

the intrinsic partialness of our thought

name under accusative restriction
name under attributive restriction
name broken into further names

Fact implies counterfactual.

rule, notion, word
governing rule, internal discourse, verbal discourse

the beauty that uplifts beyond the passions

We produce in our minds so as to become in our minds.

Even a dead religion is a powerful thing.

percussive aspects of dance

monarchical (hereditary knighthood), oligarchical (paid military, either professional or mercenary), and democratic (militia) modes of military force

Elections never run smoothly; the most for which one reasonable aims is a lack of irreparable defects.

The bare ability to vote constrains nothing; its force as a bulwark against abuse of powers depends on the system of which it is part.

Positive rights grow out of actual solutions to actual problems.

Aspirational rights are useless unless there are adequate assessment and review processes. Operative rights are inadequate without carefully constrained enforcement procedures.

precedential, operative, and aspirational aspects of a constitution

Democratic governance only works to the extent that people maintain a sense of proportion and work for consistency.

Votes only have relative weight relative to some measure, and votes weighing equally according to one may not weigh equally according to another.

Elections are oligarchical by nature; when we talk of 'democratic elections' we mean elections structured so as to make certain democratic concessions.

Erotic feelings seem to have an unusually active tendency to meld with other feelings to create relatively unique cocktail failings. This perhaps helps with attachment to a particular person?

Attacks against faith are always eventually modified into attacks against reason.

the humility of the Eucharist

Protest gives no right of destruction.

Evidence that a distinction is widespread in language is evidence for its reasonableness.

Kant takes the analytic/synthetic distinction to be found, at least loosely and roughly, in Locke, Essay IV.iii.9ff.

three forms of class: money-based, education-based, power-based


the ethical counterpart of iatrogenesis

the well-field system as a symbol of good society at large

heavenly honors (virtues) : yang :: human honors (prince, minister, official) : yin

"Universalists say Jesus Christ is the Saviour of all men. But from what does he save them?" Brownson

A judiciary is an embodied custom of handling law.

sovereignty as primary superior dignity in effective action

knighthood as service, service as knighthood

Any system based on self-identification is easily gamed.

building priest-holes in a hostile society

Our sense of clarity is not (pace C. Thi Nguyen) a signal that we can terminate an investigation but one that we can fruitfully use what seems clear in investigation.

the involution of the gospel into reason, conscience, sense of beauty, sense of humor, etc.

-- look at Alexander Kox on the parables of Matthew 13

Scripture as read in the liturgy is an instrumental moral cause disposing us to sacramental grace; so read, it is morally an act of the Holy Spirit.

Creation, Scripture, Eucharist in the liturgy as appropriated to the Persons of the Trinity

With regard to heaven and earth, Providence is in heaven and earth. With regard to myriad things, Providence is in every one of them. There is but one Providence, received by the individuals of all things in its entirety and undivided. For it is the Supreme Ultimate, which is what is highest of all, beyond which nothing can be, which unites and embraces the orders of heaven, earth, and all things.

To say that the sacraments contain grace requires that the grace itself be attributable to the sacrament in the manner of presence. To say that it confers grace requires that this grace be given in the sense of being carried over to those who receive it.

Scripture as divine philophronesis

Many ideas are required to build one good idea.

"...we oftener say things because we can say them well, than because they are sound and reasonable." Landor

Billot's criticism of physical causality accounts of sacramental efficacy makes clear that the opposition to them is often a certain kind of dualism: the assumption is that a corporeal force can have no spiritual effect, a spiritual effect cannot be in a corporeal cause.

sacrament as
sign to us --- disposes us to grace
mark of covenant --- entitles us to grace
instrument --- contains and confers grace
sign to others --- allows us to witness to grace
rite we do --- orders the life of the Church, as a sort of decorum
rite we experience --- assists the completion of our virtue and self-cultivation
gift --- unites us with God in friendship
prayer --- expresses our love and reverence and draws us to God
hierarchical act --- purifies us, illuminates us, unites us with God
exemplate --- represents God to us

Without the divine, nothing conceptually unifies the purely possible and the actual.

each sacrament as perfecting the logic of a kind of myth, in preparation for that which is beyond all myth

rites as practical participatory signs

The Lord of the Rings is a quest for abnegation, not to obtain but to divest, to achieve by self-sacrifice.

eucharistic honor and prima facie grounds
(1) fidelity: to uphold baptismal vows, to be honest in one's devotion
(2) reparation: to do penance for injuries/disrespect to the eucharist
(3) gratitude: to give thanks for the eucharist
(4) nonmaleficence: to avoid injury or disrespect to eucharist
(5) beneficence: to act well toward the eucharist, to do good in its name
(6) justice: to act in a manner toward the eucharist that is due to its merit
(7) self-improvement: to grow in virtue on the basis of the eucharist.

The memory and power of what was done in the Life of Christ as it were fuses into that which we bring, thus making it sacramental.

one -- cooperation -- multitude
thing -- community -- aggregate

Humean psychology is built on the assumption that we have direct access to atoms of experience; but in reality  we have fuzzy general impressions we articulate.

1 Cor 14:19 -- the superiority of doctrine to private spirituality

"When a man is empty and without bias, everyone will contribute his wisdom to him." Hsiang/Kuo

dispassionate effortlessness without overthinking

The powerless are never your enemy.

geographical terrain as a literary character

ontological, epistemic, moral, juridical, and aesthetic proxies

acquired distastes

Hunting and gathering is already the beginning of agriculture.

mono no aware & lacrimae rerum
-- the primary difference seems to be that mono no aware is present-focused and lacrimae rerum is past-focused

Lacrimae rerum in context is shared -- even in a foreign people, we are not all alone; there too the praiseworthy is remembered, there are tears for things, and mortal matters touch the mind.
sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt

mourning for the essential and deathliness on the mind

"I am a man, and what I have to recapture is the whole past of the world." Fanon

Choices are sacrifices, and religious sacrifices are symbolic choices.

The Way of Rejection is the Way of Affirmation; the Way of Affirmation is the Way of Rejection.

historical reconstruction as philosophizing-with, from one's own stance (or more broadly, that of a posited audience)

Every honest profession finds its completion in offering to God.

Exclusive legal positivism seems to have difficulty with precedential aspects of legal system, which require expectations of reasonable and impartial judgment and compliance with a view of normal action and reaction.

measurement practice -> input class -> equation -> output class -> operable practice

Citizenship, like love, blossoms in liberty and power.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Evening Note for Thursday, December 2

 Thought for the Evening: Basic Kinds of Evidence

Are there basic kinds of evidence? One way you might try to handle this is to look at evidence of how people handle evidence. There are three that are particularly interesting.

(1) Pramanas. The root meaning of 'pramana' is measurement, and a pramana is, roughly, a means for acquiring thinking that is correct. In traditional Indian epistemology, the pramana is what bridges the knower (pramatr) and the knowable (prameya). All the major Indian schools of philosophy have some sort of account of pramanas. There are different kinds of pramana; the ones usually you found are perception (pratyaksha), inference (anumana), comparison (upamana), postulation (arthapatti), nonperception (anupalabdhi), testimony (shabda or smrti). You'll sometimes find divisions, e.g., dividing testimony into revelation (smrti) and expert testimony (aitihya). More often, you'll find people reducing the list, by taking some of these pramanas to reduce to others. Since pramanas clearly are evidential in character and an extensive debate exists in the history of Indian philosophy about whether they are basic or reducible, this is obviously an interesting place to look for clues about basic kinds of evidence.

There's a standard account of the distribution of how these were accepted. All the major Indian schools of philosophy, and quite a few minor ones, accept perception (which can, depending on the school, include both sensory perception and internal perception of thought, and sometimes can also include unusual or preternatural perceptions) as a pramana. Only the very strictest materialist schools accepted only perception. Everyone else also accepts inference, in which a proposed conclusion is made certain by a reason tied examples, as when fire is inferred from smoke because we find fire consistently associated with smoke in kitchens and the like. The early Vaiseshika school is said to have only accepted perception and inference. Buddhists do the same. Other schools include testimony (which can include both Vedic revelation and informed human testimony). Samkhya schools, and some others, accept only these three. Everyone else accepts comparison. Comparison, like testimony, is word-based, but it's less direct. If you have never seen a cow, I might describe it; that is testimony. But then you might see the cow, and on the basis of my description say, "Ah, this is a cow!" That's what's meant by comparison as a pramana. The Nyaya schools accept only these four. Everyone else accepts postulation. Postulation is like inference, but less direct. Suppose the sky is very cloudy and it is very dark because of it. I might look at my watch and see that it is past when the sun would normally go down, and say, "The sun must have already gone down." In a sense, I'm profile-fitting; I've learned from other means that there is a normal way things go, and when I have partial information, I fit the normal template to it to conclude the rest. The Prabhakara Mimamsa schools only accept these five. Everyone else also accepts nonperception. If I look at a room and see no jar, I learn there is no jar. Advaita and Bhatta Mimamsa schools accept nonperception. Occasionally you'll find discussion of other groups of people -- calling them schools would be very loose, since it's groups like 'dramatists' -- to which acceptance of other pramanas (like 'fables')  is attributed, but it is probably best to read this remarks not as saying that they literally accept these as pramanas but rather that they are accused of treating such things as if they were pramanas.

Such is the standard account, more or less. It actually gets fuzzy around the edges and in the margins. And the differences are not always significant in particular cases -- for instance, the Navya-Nyaya position on postulation and nonperception seems to be not so much that arguments that use them are necessarily wrong but that, when correct, it's because they actually reduce to combinations of the four pramanas that they accept. So sometimes it's an argument over the best way to taxonomize the same things. But, of course, the kinds are what interest us. But, overwhelmingly, the big schools accept perception, inference, and testimony. With the others of the six, the question is usually just whether they are combinations of these three or something distinct.

(2) First principles of common sense. In Beattie's Essay on Truth, a major work presenting the essential ideas of the Scottish Common Sense school of philosophy, a major argument is that all knowledge and inquiry is based on first principles, and Beattie gives us a taxonomy of these. He divides them between those that concern abstract ideas and those that concern really existing things. When talking about abstract ideas, we are dealing with mathematical evidence, which Beattie divides into immediate intuitive evidence and strict demonstration. When talking about really existing things, we are either dealing with our own experiences or other people's. If we are dealing with our own, we are concerned with certainties or probabilities. In dealing with certainties, we are concerned with external sensation, internal sensation, memory, or inference from effects to causes. In dealing with probabilities, we understanding something by using something like it as a model, which can either be the same kind of thing, in which case we are reasoning experimentally, or merely similar to it, in which we are reasoning analogically. And if we are getting our understanding from other people's experiences, that is testimony.

This is obviously divided very differently, but notice that we have perception (mathematical, external sensation, internal sensation, memory), inference (mathematical demonstration, causal inference, experimental inference, analogical inference), and testimony.

(3) Evidential markers. There are languages that have a grammatical feature known as evidentiality. Pretty much all languages have some way of noting the source of one's knowledge of something; but in English, for instance, we mix up evidentiality with modality -- we use modal verbs to handle these things. There are languages, however, that do not do this; they have specific form of grammatical evidentiality that must be used in speaking the language. They are scattered all over, including Native American languages (Pawnee, Western Apache), Brazilian languages, Guinean languages, Siberian languages. These differ quite widely, but there are common patterns. Some evidential markers in languages distinguish between claims describing what you yourself have witnessed and those that you did not witness; others distinguish between claims that are first-hand knowledge of some kind and claims that are not; others distinguish between claims that are reported and claims that are not. When we have more developed cases, we often get the following:

visual witnessed
nonvisual witnessed

Others that you sometimes find are markers that indicate that something is assumed, or based on direct active participation. Sometimes you get a finer-grain of division, with different kinds of inference or witness or report. For instance, you find languages where claims that are hearsay have to be marked differently from claims that are direct quotations.

There are lots of complications with trying to make sense of how to understand grammatical evidentiality works. My own thought, which is only that, is that we should understand evidentiality as part of the intrinsic etiquette of the language -- as I've noted before, although it's often overlooked, etiquette plays a major and integral role in how languages actually work -- and if that's the case, it's analogous to cases in which you have to adjust your speaking to recognize the particular etiquette-situation. Regardless, what's notable, is that while this is a messy area of language, with lots of variation, the common recurrences are witness, conclusion, report, or, as we could also put it, perception, inference, testimony.

Taking all three of these, we can draw a modest but important conclusion. It's very common for modern theories of evidence to treat all evidence as if it were the same. Bayesian epistemologists are particularly egregious offenders in this regard. However, it seems to be a recurring thing among human beings to handle evidence by breaking it up in to categories. And, while the borders of the categories are often in dispute, the most commonly recurring are perception, inference, and testimony, which are handled distinctly. Now, it's possible that this is just a practical convenience, but unless we have actually shown this, I think it's reasonable to say that we should generally proceed on the assumption that perceptual, inferential, and testimonial evidence are importantly different and work in different ways.

Various Links of Interest

* Mitia Rioux-Beaulne, Fontenelle, Malebranche, et les limites de la philosophie (PDF)

* Bronwyn Finnigan, Phronesis in Aristotle: Reconciling Deliberation with Spontaneity (PDF)

* Zohar Atkins, Beauty Is Peace by Other Means

* The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards for 2021

* Preston Stuvall, Abductive Inference, Autonomy, and the Faith of Abraham (PDF)

* Joshua Cockayne, We Believe: Group Belief and the Liturgical Use of Creeds (PDF)

* Liam Bright, The Anglo-American Analytic Philosophy Left

* The voice actor, Will Ryan, most famous for being the voice of Eugene Meltzner on Adventures in Odyssey, recently died.

* David Kamp, How Jeremy Irons Rescued and Restored a 15th-Century Irish Castle, at Vanity Fair

* Philippe Lemoine, Have we been thinking about the pandemic wrong?

* Ronja Hildebrandt, What Is Philosophy in the Protrepticus?

* Hannah H. Kim & John Gibson, Lyric Expression (PDF)

* Lutherans are on the front lines of the battle for religious liberty

* Stephen Menn, al-Farabi's Metaphysics, at the SEP

* Kevin N. Cawley, Korean Confucianism, at the SEP, which has a really interesting discussion of the interaction between Catholic philosophers and Korean philosophers in the early modern period

* Christian McNamara, The Hidden Life of Ignatius J. Reilly, at "Front Porch Republic"

* Chad Pecknold, Imago Dei as a Political Concept

* Joseph Heath, Why are Racial Problems in the United States So Intractable?, at the American Affairs Journal

* Geoff Shullenberger, Foucault in the Panopticon

* Justin E. H. Smith, Nature Is Becoming a Person, discusses the trend of recognizing various natural features like rivers as juridical persons for certain purposes.

* If it seems to you that movie dialogue has grown harder to understand, you are not alone, nor are you merely getting old and hard of hearing. Here is a discussion of some of the things that have contributed to this problem.

Currently Reading

Matteo Ricci, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Abyss & Sea 19


For the next morning, the royals went down to the docks and boated around the Great Canal within the walls, talking, listening to music, eating greenhouse-grown strawberries and rhubarb with clotted cream. Disan spent some time talking with Zalan of Andra, although it was mostly polite chatting, and then with various others on more substantive matters. They then returned to the Porphyry Mountain, where Antaran corralled him; they then spent a considerable time in Antaran's office talking military strategy and tactics, as well as Disan's experiences fighting the tribes. Disan was not particularly happy about having to talk about the latter, which brought up many unpleasant memories, but he saw no politic way out of the discussion.

Eventually, however, Disan was saved by a steward entering and whispering in Antaran's ear. Antaran groaned and put his palms on his forehead, saying, "I forgot that I was supposed to meet Elea on the Southwest Garden." He groaned again. "And I have to talk to Xyly first. Elea is going to kill me." He looked at Disan. "I am sorry, old friend, but we will have to start up this discussion again at a later time." He grinned. "If I am not alive tomorrow, my friend, just know that Elea probably poisoned by dinner or something."

Disan, glad to be free of the obligation, went back to his room, intending to prepare for a small dinner in the Dracontine dining hall, but as he was deciding what to wear his eye settled on the squirrel-skin cloak, which he had packed with his other things. "I suspect I will regret this," he said. He folded it as thinly and small as he could, and made his way in the general direction of the Southwest Garden of the Khalkythra Palace. As most people were at dinner elsewhere, it was relatively deserted in that entire section of the Khalkythra. At the archway to the Southwest Garden, he looked around to make sure no one was in sight, and, putting the squirrel-cloak on, bounded into the garden to find a place to hide.

It was rather more difficult than he expected; no human being can without practice easily bound like a squirrel, even when by some strange sorcery they are one. Nothing felt right, nothing moved reasonably. His senses felt off, as if he were somehow seeing, hearing, feeling as both Disan wearing a cloak and a squirrel being a Disan. And the strange dream-like sensation, the strange sense of unreality, laced through everything, and disoriented him. But with some stumbling, he managed to bumble into the shrubs and, by a stroke of chance, found himself looking out not far from where Elea was sitting on a bench, obviously impatient and angry.

The both waited for what seemed like an interminable period of time, particularly to Disan, as it is not comfortable to be crouching like a squirrel if you are not used to it. Finally Antaran came striding in with some kind of bag in his hand, more confident and less sheepish than Disan, and, apparently, Elea, expected.

"I have been waiting and waiting," Elea said angrily.

Antaran dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "I was busy making plans with Disan, and then had to speak to Xyly to confirm some specifications for a shipment of swords, and then, as I was coming to see you, I came across this." He took the bag, and with dramatic flair unfurled it; and Disan realized with a chill down his spine that it was not a bag but a cloak like the very one he was wearing, although some kind of different material.

Elea stared at the cloak, unimpressed. "I do not understand."

"Ah, well," said Antaran with suppressed glee and deliberate delay, "there is a story to this. You are not going to like it, but if you prefer not to hear it, I can give you the summary. The summary is that I have succeeded where you failed, and this cloak is the token of my victory."

"Ever since you mentioned that Enver was missing, I have had men looking out for him. They found him. Quite by accident, I admit, since they were on their way back from Ezrym to admit their failure when they ran into him near Talamir. But I will still take the victory."

"And what does this all have to do with a ratty old cloak? I am sure you are dying to tell me."

"Ah, well," said Antaran. "I know you do not like my stories, so perhaps we should just leave it at that."

Elea groaned. "Just tell me and get it over with."

"Perhaps it is better if I show you rather than tell you." He threw the cloak over his shoulders and vanished. Elea gasped and rose, looking around to see him. Disan, too, peered around trying to see. Did this cloak make its wearer invisible? There was no squirrel. But suddenly there was movement: a gray mouse on the gray gravel. Elea saw it too, and stumbled back, and then suddenly there was no mouse, only Antaran. Then, in quick succession: Antaran, mouse, Antaran, mouse.

Antaran laughed at Elea's expression, her hand in stunned surprise over her mouth. He took the cloak and practically shoved it in her face. "This is astounding!" he said. "I would never have imagined that this was even possible. The wonders of which we have hardly any inkling! It is something from an ancient legend that nobody believes."

"It has to be something from the Court of Night."

"Obviously," said Antaran. Then he laughed again. "But do you not see the point? No wonder the man sometimes seemed omniscient! No wonder he knew things he could not possibly know! We spent so much time trying to weed out the Ezryman spies in our courts, and no matter how many we found, it never made a difference, and it never could have made a difference, because the man himself could stroll right in and hide under the cabinets or scurry through the walls. Have you ever in your life checked a room to make sure that no mice were listening? Would it ever have occurred to you to do so?"

Elea sat down again, heavily, on the bench in stunned silence. Finally, she said, "It is inconceivable, and yet I have seen it, and it explains so much. All the reports of his going missing for extended periods of time."

Antaran sat down beside her. "I have to give the man credit," he said. "It is an astounding advantage, and looking back, he must have played it beautifully well. I always credited it to a bizarrely competent network of spies, but that he could be anywhere is something beyond anything I could have imagined." He sighed. "We now know why your attempts failed; he at least already suspected them. But now the problem is solved."

"Is it?" said Elea reflectively. "We do not know how many of these cloaks the Ezrymans took from the Court of Night. For all we know, he could have an entire corps of men who can take the form of mice."

"I had not thought of that," said Antaran. "But you are right. Where there is one, there could be more." He looked around, and Disan huddled down under the shrub. But then Antaran shook his head. "But I do not think so. With power like this, who could he trust with it? -- Unless you are thinking of Adven."

"Why not? Would it not be logical?"

"Yes. Adven does not strike me as a clever spy, but who knows? We will have to track Adven's movements in the Mountain more closely."

"And from this point on, say nothing about our plans outside the vault until the rites are done."

Antaran considered this and then nodded. He rose. "I have not had dinner, and I am told they have a lovely bison steak tonight." 

Elea and Antaran left the garden, and Disan stayed a long while, his heart pounding. He then crept out, and after carefully peaking around both sides of the archway to be sure that no one was there, he took off the cloak and quickly rolled it up and put it under his arm as he headed in the direction away from the kitchens and dining hall. His mind was racing, and after some quick thought, he went down to a room that he remembered, which was usually know the Turquoise Fountain Hall, and folding the cloak as if it were a cushion, he sat on it on a bench. The Turquoise Fountain Hall was a room that received moderate traffic, and people went in and out. Indeed, the Maran king happened through on his way to some musical event or other and stopped and sat beside Disan for a few minutes, talking of his hope that Disan could arrange for him to buy several bolts of silk dyed in Sorean black for his wife; he was delighted when Disan offered to send the silk to him as a gift as soon as he returned. The king was delighted and, promising to think of some sufficiently lordly gift in return, he hurried off to his musical entertainments. A number of other people passed through, and eventually Disan, hoping that he had seemed sufficiently like someone just enjoying the sight of the fountain, and that enough people had seen him there in case someone had seen him earlier in that area of the Khalkythra Palace without his noticing, took up the cloak under his arm again and headed directly to his rooms. 

In the morning, there were demonstrations of equitations on the plain outside the Porphyry Mountain, and Disan found himself next to Adven. They discussed a number of things, and in the midst of it, Disan asked how Adven's father was doing.

"I wish I knew," said Adven glumly. "He comes, he goes, nobody knows where or for how long."

Disan felt a small pain in his heart, but did not dare say more on the subject. That afternoon the kings all met for more formal discussions of the proposals for Decrees of the Twelve Crowns. There were several on banditry and vandalism, which were commonly seen as spreading, but as is often the case with such documents, there was wrangling over last-minute ideas about changes to the wording, which had arisen in the course of the more informal discussions in the days before. The meeting went long, with occasional breaks, well into the evening, and felt infinitely longer, as committee meetings tend to do. But they eventually came to consensus, which is required for Decrees of the Twelve Crowns, and were glad of it.

The next morning, a grand ceremony was held in the Hall of the Khalkythra Throne, with similar pageantry to that of the opening ceremony, and the Decrees were officially and formally proclaimed as the law of the Great Realm, subordinate in majesty only to the Orikhalh Tablets. That night, there was a great feast, even greater than the first, with abundance upon abundance in endless profusion. But Disan paid much less attention to these things than he had before, and mostly just attempted to act as he ordinarily would, a husk of a Disan doing Disan-like things. In the morning, the official termination ceremony was held, and the kings began to prepare to leave. Before he himself left, Disan planned his timing so that he met up with Adven in the city.

"I have heard a rumor," said Disan, "that the High King has a strange cloak of mouseskin."

Adven stiffened, then looked around, and gave a small nod. His eyes were very sad, and Disan would occasionally remember them to the end of his life.

And with that, Disan set out for home. He was depressed, and did not sleep well the entire voyage.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Humanity and Righteousness

The supreme task of the intellect is the clarification of what is right, and the greatest foundation of the will is humanity; therefore, the constant concern of the superior man is for humanity and righteousness. These two things are related to each other, and neither the one nor the other can be neglected. But it is only after the intellect has made it clear that humanity is good that the will is able to develop an affection for it and to preserve it; and it is only after the will has formed an affection for righteousness that the intellect will examine it an seek after it. But humanity is the essence of righteousness, so that a man who is rich in humanity is bound to have an intellect capable of even greater understanding. Thus the education of a superior man is principally concerned with humanity.

Matteo Ricci, The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven,  Chapter 7, Section 451 [Lancashire and Hu Kuo-chen, trs., rev. ed. by Meynard, Institute of Jesuit Sources, Boston College (Boston: 2016), p. 299]. The Chinese words for humanity and righteousness are ren and yi, which are two of the Five Constant Virtues of Confucianism. This is part of discussion that is interesting in part because it is of an Aristotelian, broadly speaking, who is speaking in a Confucian idiom.

Music on My Mind


Clannad, "Mh├│rag's na Horo Gheallaidh (Remastered 2021)". A very old favorite of mine.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Abyss & Sea 18

And with this installment, we make a turn and begin to accelerate toward the end. While it depends on various things, I expect the story to be done in four or five more installments.


After lunch, everyone went to prepare for the evening festivities, which quickly came to fruition. It was much like the feast on Disan's previous visit, but vastly larger, with musicians, singers, dancers, jugglers, tumblers, and more, punctuated by gift-givings and seven courses of two dozen dishes each, many of the major dishes being quite exotic and rare even by the standards of the Great Realm: grilled silkworm, stuffed swan, roasted peacock, pickled swallow, octopus, embryo of duck, curried crocodile, head of ox, shark steaks, filleted porpoise, candied lemons, stewed fruits flavored with ambergris or musk or labdanum, and more. The feasting went on well into the night, and Disan was so tired when he went to sleep that he did not wake until morning, skipping the night hours between first sleep and second sleep.

The event planned for the morning was a great tournament; Disan pleaded indisposition and stayed in his rooms in the Dracontine Palace. He was not really sick, but, remembering his last visit, thought that he might well become so if he went. Instead, he studied the various proposals on the agenda and sketched out plans for trade agreements; this put him in good stead in the afternoon, when such issues were discussed. The meeting broke up in the early evening and all the royal delegations had the evening to themselves; as he expected, a steward came to guide him to the High King, who was sitting on a bench beside a fountain in a small deserted hall outside of both the Khalkythra and Dracontine Palaces. Antaran dismissed the servant and gestured for Disan to sit by him.

"My friend," he said. "At last we can talk. Elea will be here soon. How are you finding the Great Council so far?"

"Excellent," said Disan. "I was expecting more discussion of your plans, though."

"Ah," said Antaran wistfully. "I wanted that, too, but it soon became clear that the timing would not quite work out. The Andran failure set us back months, and there have been other things. In the end, it seemed best to have the Great Council early and use it for preparation rather than consummation. You may have noticed the proposals for expanding foreign trade and building more repair stations abroad for ships. Only a first framework rather than substance, but one works as well as one can with what one has. Still, one step forward is still forward, as they say. Oh, and I did want to ask you something. Based on your experience fighting the tribes, what, in terms of rough estimate, do you think we would need in place to seize the entire territory of the enemies of our Chipou allies, should we need to do so."

"To be honest," said Disan, "I do not think we could."

Antaran looked at him blankly with his eyes of Talan golden-amber. "What do you mean by that? You did well enough before. And surely we could seize their harbors and march inward."

"All we did in the Chipou expedition was assist the Chipou tribes. There is indeed no power in the world that can hold a harbor or port if we decide to seize it, and no power in the world that could seize it back if we decided to hold it. But the interior is always a different question. Perhaps we could have some limited success if we could sail up a navigable river and take interior river ports as well. But we do not even have the kind of army that would be required to occupy a significant amount of territory. And we would not be as familiar with the land as our foes, or with the kind of warfare suitable for it. In fighting alongside the Chipou, we had every advantage of armor and weaponry over everyone else, and this did give us a durability over many engagements that the other forces lacked; but in any particular engagement, we were not significantly better off than either our allies or our foes."

"Interesting," the High King thoughtfully said. He opened his mouth to say something else, but at that moment the golden-haired, blue-eyed Elea came into the room.

"I see that you have already started without me," she said sweetly.

"Only just barely." Antaran rose with something like a bounce in his step, and looked at Disan, who also rose. "Tonight, my friend, we advance a further step. There are secrets that Elea and I have had to bear alone, but tonight we will begin to be three, not two. We have something of extraordinary importance to show you."

They led him through a side door in the hall, through a passageway to another door, then across  a hall to another door, which went to yet another passageway, which ended at yet another door. This door was an old one, made of solid orikhalh, and it had the semblance of life. Antaran put his hand upon it.

"Do you uphold the pacts and the covenants?" he said.

"I uphold them, O High King."

"Then open for me."

"For you alone do I open," replied the door, and soundlessly swung open to reveal a dark, narrow staircase leading down. Antaran went down, followed Elea and then Disan, the door softly swinging shut behind the three, and as they went, torches on the wall lit ahead of them and then glimmered out behind them, for they were a kind of torch made in the Great Realm that no one else has ever learned how to make.

As they entered the room at the bottom, braziers along the wall sprang to life and light, so suddenly that Disan's eyes were dazzled a moment. It was treasure vault, rectangular and not very large. Various chests and cabinets were found throughout. But most strikingly, there was a monolith taking up the entire center of the room. It looked of granite, rough-hewn, and it shimmered strangely in the light.

"Here he is," said Antaran.

Then a voice, very mellifluous and rich and kindly, but muffled as if it were coming through a great distance and slightly distorted as if it came around a corner from a passage, said, or rather, seemed to say, Welcome, O Disan, king of Sorea, son of Rezan, son of Belan, in right line from Soran. I have waited long to meet you, but my friends were slow to make the acquaintance.

Disan looked for who could have said this, in vain, as Antaran grinned at his confusion. Disan walked around the monolith to see if he had missed seeing something in the room, but as he did so he noticed something strange about the monolith itself, and the play of light upon it from the brazier-fires. There was, almost as if it were the trick of the light, something like a human shape, or a suggestion of a human shape. It could not be seen directly in the rock, which seemed quite normal, but if you looked past it, or with your peripheral vision, or if you moved your point of view, you could see the suggestion of a human shape in it, hard to make out in the way that a fish is hard to make out when it is just at the edge of sight in the water.

"You are in the stone," he said.

You are swift in ascertainment, said the voice, and it did indeed seem to come from, or rather through, the monolith. I am not exactly in the stone, but it is like a window through which I am peeking.

"You are something from the Court of Night."

I am much older than the Court of Night, said the voice gently and pleasantly. But the monolith was taken by Talan forces from the Court of Night, yes. I was there many long centuries, teaching them wonders and giving them the means to become great in the world. But they were cruel and would not let me step through this barrier; they used me but would not aid me. I am glad to find myself again among friends.

"This is the greatest of all secrets, Disan," said Antaran. "We are at the beginning of new things."

We are, indeed, said the voice from the monolith. The people of the Great Realm may now begin to free themselves from tutelage under the Powers, and become Powers themselves. The children shall become adult; the beasts of burden shall rise up to live for themselves; no longer will you need to bow down.

"The Powers and the forces they brought together destroyed the Court of Night, and having you did not help them," said Disan.

Again, said the voice in a kindly fashion, the Court of Night was limited by its own cruelty; they could not draw on my full help, because they would not open the door for me to help them. And yet because of the lore they learned from me, they outlasted the Court of Day, and it took many centuries for the Powers to build up what they needed to assault the Court of Night. Had the Court had my further assistance, a different story would be told. But I do not complain; because of it, I am freed of their cruelty and come to a wiser land.

"And what help do you offer us?"

To your people, glory and splendor. The Powers were miserly with what they gave you. They gave to your kind only the Gifts of Fire, and to your peoples in particular the minor trinkets that you call 'the pacts and the covenants', which are merely dim echoes of much greater Gifts. When they came to your kind, huddled in caves, scarcely more civilized than the beasts, and they taught you Fire, you adored them, and that was their purpose. When they gave to some of your kind this land and gave you dim and distorted bits of other Gifts, you adored them, and they bound you by the Orikhalh Tablets, chains of flawless metal, which you bear still today. I wish allies, not slaves. I will give you freedom and the Gifts of Water and of Wind, of Wood and of Metal. Now you control these things by Fire, both physical and spiritual; but what might you accomplish when you can not only subjugate metal with fire but wield the very nature of Metal itself? You rule the sea by the Fire within you; what shall you accomplish when you are kin with it as you are now kin with Fire? I will give you Gifts yet greater; I will spill out the treasuries the Powers hoard away from you, the Gifts of Light, of Space, of Time, of Death. Now you are limited in knowledge, by place, by moment, by lifespan. I will give you the freedom your kind has always sought from these cruel limitations. The Court of Night grew powerful beyond imagination on the fragments that they extorted from me. I will give them all to you, whole and entire, and freely.

As the voice spoke, it was as if great visions rose before the imagination, slowly at first and then more quickly. Like the figure in the stone, they were not clear, almost suggestions of visions more than visions themselves, suggestions of extraordinary things. Disan shook his head to clear it. "For what?" he asked.

I am not done answering your previous question, O king. You asked what help I offered, and I have said what I offer your people. But I have much to offer you, as well. Even through this door, this dark stone window, I can see something of your future, dark and tangled. What the Powers plan for you will destroy what you love. They have no concern for human life. As they see things, you are tools to be used. I will free you yourself from such limitations, the chains they place on your own shoulders. I will give you the power you need to protect the things you love from them. I know that you have brushed against them. You know that they are miserly in what they give. They are not your friends.

"Perhaps," said Disan. "But I still would like to know what you expect from us."

Only what my friends here have already begun to give, said the voice. They have only to continue, and I will give them everything. You have only to help them, and I will give you everything.

"When my father was dying," said Antaran, "he brought me here. At that time, you could only hear the voice when you touched the stone. But Elea and I have followed the instructions provided by our friend here, and now he can speak more freely. From him, we have already learned much. We know, for instance, that the Powers came to you when you were abroad; he sensed it when last you were here."

"It would help us greatly," said Elea, "if you will tell us what they said to you."

"They said that judgment would come upon us and that I should keep my eyes and ears open."

You speak honestly, said the voice. I can read it in you. I thank you for your good faith. It is a good beginning, And so, my friends, we see my fears confirmed by the very Powers themselves. They intend you harm. Do not dally. Finish the rites I have proposed to you as swiftly as you can, so that you will not have to face them without an ally.

"What are these rites?" asked Disan. But the monolith gave no answer.

"He comes and goes," said Antaran, and he and Elea began to go back up the staircase, with Disan following. The fires in the braziers went out as soon as Disan's foot left the floor, and their ascent was lit by torches ahead suddenly glowing and then fading as they passed them. 

"Do not worry about the rites," said Elea. "We have those covered. We need the ships. And we need you to tell us if the Powers speak to you again."

After they were back in the passageway and the orikhalh door closed softly and firmly behind them, Disan said quietly. "How do you know that anything this stone-creature says can be trusted?"

"Everything he has ever said has been found true," said Antaran, "going all the way back to when my grandfather brought him from the War of Night. From him we have learned many things about the Court of Night, including the use of some of the treasures brought back from it that were otherwise very mysterious. And he is right, you know, for reasons that we talked about last time you were here. We are stagnating."

"We have no more avenues of greatness," said Elea. "We need something new. And we cannot do that as things are, with the limitations that have been forced upon us."

"We need new shores," said Antaran. "New lands, new frontiers of thought and deed, new powers."

They walked along quietly for a few minutes. Then Antaran said, as if relieving himself of a heavy burden. "I must apologize to you, Disan. I wanted to bring you in much earlier, and he was willing, but when you were last here, he told us that there were signs in your destiny that you had somehow been in communication with the Powers, and we hesitated." Here he shot Elea an angry look, which she ignored. "This meeting should have occurred last time. But when it was clear that you were cooperating with the ships, and the preliminary reports have been excellent, and now it has been done"

"Yes," Disan said slowly. "The ships are coming along well."

"Do you think you can have the first fleet for delivery by midsummer?"

"Easily," said Disan, still slowly. "We are currently testing many of them to ensure that they were built properly. And most of what has slowed us down so far has been the need to expand shipyard capabilities, which we now have mostly done."

Antaran put his fists in front of his chest and shook them slightly in excitement. "That is wonderful. And you have no idea how wonderful it is to have another conspirator in our little conspiracy of greatness. We three will change the world."

"It is very much in need of change," said Elea.

"It is, indeed," said Antaran. He clasped Disan's shoulder as they entered the hall at which they began. "We will leave you to think things over. Being in that room with that voice is sometimes a little overwhelming." He went to the door and called in the steward to guide Disan back to his rooms in the Dracontine Palace.

Disan followed his guide, scarcely paying attention to anything that passed. The suggestions of visions that had arisen with voice had not ceased with it; they hovered at the edge of the imagination. And the feeling of it was most peculiar. It was as if the imagination itself was sizzling and popping with half-formed ideas in dizzying multitude and variety, things it had never dared think before, thinks that were exciting to think, or would be if you could just catch them long enough to take full shape. And it came with a sort of exhilaration, like one might feel on the verge of a great reward.

But on the other side, a worry nagged, and Disan kept finding himself circling back to one question: Why had the Court of Night kept it sealed away in stone? And it tangled with another worry, which arose when he considered that he still did not know what the monolith-voice was actually demanding.

These two struggled and tangled in Disan's head, and their conflict left him feeling drained. When he reached his room, he fell into his bed almost immediately, and was asleep at once.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland; Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist


Opening Passage:

I feel little reluctance in complying with your request. You know not fully the cause of my sorrows. You are a stranger to the depth of my distresses. Hence your efforts at consolation must necessarily fail. Yet the tale that I am going to tell is not intended as a claim upon your sympathy. In the midst of my despair, I do not disdain to contribute what little I can to the benefit of mankind. I acknowledge your right to be informed of the events that have lately happened in my family. Make what use of the tale you shall think proper. If it be communicated to the world, it will inculcate the duty of avoiding deceit. It will exemplify the force of early impressions, and show, the immeasurable evils that flow from an erroneous or imperfect discipline.

My state is not destitute of tranquillity. The sentiment that dictates my feelings is not hope. Futurity has no power over my thoughts. To all that is to come I am perfectly indifferent. With regard to myself, I have nothing more to fear. Fate has done its worse. Henceforth, I am callous to misfortune. (p. 5)

Summary: The elder Wieland was a German worker who, having experienced a religious conversion, conceived a plan to preach to the American Indians. As often happens in evangelizing, he fails. He ends up in Pennsylvania where he builds a temple where he can pray. As very rarely happens in prayer, one night while praying he spontaneously combusts. He survives, but not for long, and his children, Theodore and Clara, divide the property, and make a good life for themselves. The two are close friends with another family, the Pleyels; Theodore, the younger Wieland, marries Catharine Pleyel, and Henry Pleyel often stays with them when he is not in Europe. The temple they continue to call The Temple, but they convert it to a sort of salon for art and music and conversation where the Wielands and Pleyels spend many a happy hour. Theodore and Clara carry forward much of the religious temperament of their father, while the Pleyels, particularly the skeptical Henry, are a bit more secular. Our story really begins to pick somewhere between the French-Indian Wars and the American Revolution. And if you think there might be some kind of allegory lurking in the fact that their little community grows out of a religious mission that collapses but still coheres, as a community of religious devotees and skeptical rationalists, around a humanist temple to freedom of speech just prior to America becoming America -- well, you are not the only reader who has ever read it that way.

This idyllic community begins to be disrupted by strange events. Voices seem to materialize out of the air; Wieland hears them first, but even his skeptical friend Pleyel is disturbed when he begins to hear it. Clara soon begins to hear voices also. Nobody knows what to make of it. The voices tend to mimic those of people they know. This unsettles them all more and more. Soon, however, a new figure enters: Carwin, who seems more skeptical than anyone else, insisting that these things can be done by human power (and it soon becomes clear that he is somewhat mixed up with it all). But this does not settle things down at all, and eventually the community is utterly torn apart as apparent betrayal and eventual murder tears it apart.

The subtitle of the book is The Transformation, and this is really what is being tracked by the story. We start in one place: Theodore Wieland, an upstanding and very moral and decent member of an almost ideal community, religiously devout and deeply loving of his family. We end in another place: Theodore Wieland, notorious, standing trial for murder of his wife and children. How does this happen? And the story's answer is more or less what Clara says in the opening paragraph above: deceit and erroneous discipline. But it is the double-tongued Carwin who sets everything tumbling, and the novel presents him as doing so apparently for the most trivial of reasons, an almost incredible disproportion between the intended and the actual effect. But this is part of the point. The novel is intended as an exploration of the human mind in a psychological realistic way; but it does not do so by showing minds unfolding in reasonable ways in response to ordinary circumstances but by showing them unfolding in unreasonable ways in response to baffling and distressing circumstances. People often do great harm for trivial reasons; they often act extremely unreasonably when distressed; and, most importantly, they are easily deceived in any number of ways, any one of which could set them down a dangerous path. 

We learn a bit more about Carwin's background, and a bit more therefore about his motives, in the fragmentary work Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist, in which we see the early Carwin caught up in a utopian vision of making the world a better place by nudging people in the right direction at the right time. It is a daydream we might all indulge at times, but Carwin's unusual skills means he can actually do it, and we can see that this utopian vision is actually a cover for a terrible temptation, although the fragment ends before we get very far. Trying to nudge people in the direction you want them to go, whether it's by exploiting their superstitions with ventriloquism or their emotions with oratory or their perception of what is going on through journalism, or whatever the mechanism may be, is an immensely dangerous thing. Sooner or later it does lead to disaster.

Favorite Passage: This is not a particularly quotable work, but there are striking passages. From Chapter XVI:

I approached the corpse: I lifted the still flexible hand, and kissed the lips which were breathless. Her flowing drapery was discomposed. I restored it to order, and seating myself on the bed, again fixed stedfast eyes upon her countenance. I cannot distinctly recollect the ruminations of that moment. I saw confusedly, but forcibly, that every hope was extinguished with the life of Catharine. All happiness and dignity must henceforth be banished from the house and name of Wieland: all that remained was to linger out in agonies a short existence; and leave to the world a monument of blasted hopes and changeable fortune. Pleyel was already lost to me; yet, while Catharine lived life was not a detestable possession: but no, severed from the companion of my infancy, the partaker of all my thoughts, my cares, and my wishes, I was like one set afloat upon a stormy sea, and hanging his safety upon a plank; night was closing upon him, and an unexpected surge had torn him from his hold and overwhelmed him forever. (p. 172)

Recomendation: Recommended. It's very readable, a little melodramatic in a potboiler kind of way, but deliberately using this as a vehicle to touch on serious problems in society.


Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist, Fliegelman, ed.,  Penguin Books (New York: 1991).