Today is the feast of Queen Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Great Martyr, patron saint of philosophers. My favorite painting of St. Catherine, usually attributed to the Mannerist painter Barbara Longhi (1552-1638); it is often thought to be an idealized self-portrait:
Thursday, November 24, 2022
In any intellectual corner of modernity can be found such a phrase as I have just read in a newspaper controversy: "Salvation, like other good things, must not come from outside." To call a spiritual thing external and not internal is the chief mode of modernist excommunication. But if our subject of study is mediæval and not modern, we must pit against this apparent platitude the very opposite idea. We must put ourselves in the posture of men who thought that almost every good thing came from outside—like good news. I confess that I am not impartial in my sympathies here; and that the newspaper phrase I quoted strikes me as a blunder about the very nature of life. I do not, in my private capacity, believe that a baby gets his best physical food by sucking his thumb; nor that a man gets his best moral food by sucking his soul, and denying its dependence on God or other good things. I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
[G. K. Chesterton, A Short History of England, Chapter VI.]
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Hrishikesh Joshi has an interesting paper, Debunking Creedal Beliefs (PDF). The title is entirely misleading: nothing in the argument really requires that we are talking about beliefs (rather than, say, public claims proposed for belief or action, which are not the same thing); the argument is not actually debunking anything but raising a 'debunking challenge' that can often be answered, and that he explicitly gives a recipe for answering; and 'creedal' is just taken to mean here something like 'strongly influenced by social considerations'. Even sorting out the odd terminological choices, there is reason to be skeptical going into the argument. Actually debunking anything is extremely difficult; debunking an entire field of claims is almost always, and perhaps always, a category mistake -- debunking arguments are just not the sort of argument that can address an entire field of claims. It's actually very difficult to establish strict statements about broad fields of claims, in general; every claim has its particular quirks.
The 'beliefs' that Joshi is considering have three characteristics:
(1) any costs to individuals of their being wrong is negligible;
(2) they "fall under intense social scrutiny";
(3) in terms of evidence available, they are hard to verify.
One reason I think it's important to note that, despite Joshi's framing, there's nothing about this that has to do with believing is that everything here is actually public; the kinds of things that have all three of these characteristics are all claims that are publicly supported, whether they are believed or not. Society cannot directly incentivize (or disincentivize) believing; to the extent it does so at all, it does so environmentally, by making it easy to say such-and-such and therefore getting people used to such-and-such as something everyone says. Joshi also often tries to talk about his argument as downgrading certainty, but I think when we realize that the argument doesn't even directly apply to believing at all, what we are really looking at is a causal question of whether the social environment is making social testimony actively obfuscating (as opposed to things like 'merely approximate' or 'functioning as a loose practical heuristic'). That is to say, it's really an argument about the preparatory environment for belief, rather than belief itself. But Joshi insists on putting it in terms of beliefs, so we are stuck with talking about beliefs.
The 'debunking' challenge Joshi takes to be a 'blocking debunker', which prevents one from ever being justified in holding something. The paper is remarkably obscure about how this is supposed to work. Joshi says:
Beliefs formed with the goal (despite this goal being unconscious) of reaping social rewards and avoiding social costs are presumably not justified to begin with. Importantly for the debunking story, beliefs formed in this way are causally influenced by processes that are not robustly truth-tracking.
That is one whopping 'presumably'! Presumably how? All of our beliefs (and our public claims) are influenced by processes that are not robustly truth-tracking, so the claim has to be that beliefs with the above three characteristics are extraordinarily influenced by such processes. It's controvertible whether we always need the relevant influences to be robustly truth-tracking; if a process is weakly truth-tracking, as many social processes seem to be, it's unclear why one gets 'not justified to begin with' rather than just 'minimally justified but defeasible'. Almost every schoolchild forms beliefs with the goal "of reaping social rewards and avoiding social costs" (teaching itself is often structured on this principle), including a large number of claims that we don't generally regard as unjustified to hold, so 'presumably' here can't mean 'it fits our typical intuitions' or 'it makes sense of our usual behavior'. Indeed, that's not surprising, given the argument, since our social experience of learning things in general is unsurprisingly favorable to the value of social experience for learning, but then it's unclear where we get this 'presumably' at all. Endless numbers of broadly reasonable people, and many very reasonable people, act as if this 'presumably' is not at all 'presumably' true.
When one recognizes that the matter is really a causal question of the social environment, it becomes clear that what really matters is the causal story in each particular case. To be sure, one might still hold that claims with the above three characteristics are still cases where the causal story is often an obfuscating rather than an intellectually helpful one, but that has to be proven causally, and is not a matter of general debunking. One of the common problems with attempts to debunk is that debunking is not very discriminate; when not tightly constrained, it tends to spread very easily to other things like a fire. Joshi tries to argue that the debunking here is tightly constrained:
Many of our beliefs simply do not meet these conditions: either they are not incentivized and scrutinized by our communities, or they’re a priori obvious or easily verifiable, or the costs of being misinformed about the subject matter are sufficiently high.
This is certainly true, taken flatly; at any given time, a very great many of our beliefs (/public claims) are missing at least one of the characteristics noted before. The problem is that none of these characteristics are things that beliefs (or claims) have in and of themselves. What a community incentivizes or intensely scrutinizes is absolutely not stable; a claim that lacks this characteristic today might well have it next Wednesday. Whether something is easily verifiable depends on how clean or polluted one's evidence pool is (and we know that social influences sometimes incentivize tampering with the evidence pool), how easy it is to make certain arguments (and we know that some kinds of arguments are actively punished as a social matter), how accessible the means of verification are (and we know that this is highly influenced by social incentives to make them accessible). And the same goes for costs. (Indeed, with costs, Joshi later quite clearly understands this to be relative costs, because he talks about the first characteristic in terms of having costs that are greater than those that are the norm. But the relevant costs that are the norm change wildly over time and across cultures.) If any claim can be debunked in the way Joshi suggests, there is not a single claim that could not, at least in principle, become debunkable just by a change of the society around it. To be sure, many such changes are perhaps unlikely, and some might be actively detrimental to the society to which they would occur; but none are actually impossible. While most of our beliefs are in fact missing at least one of the characteristics at any given time, we have no beliefs that are such that they could never gain such a characteristic over time. Society can incentivize or disincentivize pretty much anything that can be put forward in public. It is highly suspicious to say we have a debunking argument, or in this case, a 'debunking challenge', that depends entirely on notoriously variable extrinsic circumstances, particularly given that we are supposed to be talking about a 'blocking debunker'. I could form a belief one week and you could form the same belief with the same evidential grounds next week, and if society had had a revolution between, my belief might not have been 'debunkable' but your belief might be 'debunkable'. Does that make sense? I don't that makes much sense. This does not seem to be a robustly truth-tracking form of 'debunking'.
In any case, Joshi gives a recipe for meeting the challenge, which is why the paper is not really a debunking argument at all. The recipe goes:
(1) Identify the groups that influence your social and professional success.
(2) Determine which claims are incentivized or rendered costly by these groups.
(3) Reduce confidence in any claim with the three previously noted characteristics.
Notice that the third step is reducing confidence, not rejecting; this is a sign that nothing has actually been debunked. What the argument really is, is an argument that everybody should be a contrarian and depreciate claims that are appreciated in a certain way by their society. While it's amusing to think of how that would work, this doesn't seem actually to get anyone closer to anything true; it, remarkably, requires us to be even more influenced by the society around us than we already are, since it makes a system of determining our own beliefs (/public claims) with an eye to what society is saying.
When we see this, it seems clear that Joshi is getting things the wrong way around. What's actually important are specific and definite processes of social obfuscation, which we should look for and not be tripped up by; which claims happen to be entangled in such processes at any given time is largely irrelevant. The beliefs are innocent, or at least not able to be proven guilty by an association that they themselves do not determine. They should just be assessed as they otherwise would be, by evidence and argument. Not they but the obfuscating processes are what need to be regarded with suspicion.
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
* Rabbi Gil Student, Rabbi Sacks' Religious Pluralism: A Halakhic and Hashkafic Defense, at "Torah Musings"
* Urban Hannon, God's Knowledge of Future Contingents: A Response to Alasdair MacIntyre, at "The Josias"
* Nevin Climenhaga, Epistemic Probabilities are Degrees of Support, not Degrees of (Rational) Belief (PDF). It's an interesting subject. The degrees of belief interpretation is an interesting example of inertia; it's always been weakly motivated, and several of the arguments that initially motivated it are either no longer accepted or are no longer thought to require the interpretation, but it continues because that's how people often learn it. But there are at least other interpretations and some of them have advantages worth considering.
* An interesting interview with a 21-year-old who was recently elected tax collector, at "North Carolina Rabbit Hole". It's so very easy to focus on the big fights, and it's always worth taking time to think of the immense value of elections to small, local office, which are often a very different animal from national elections; they often show how people can be opposed without being enemies and provide opportunities for people to get into office just by going out and talking to people.
* Bogdana Stamenkovic, Natural history and variability of organized beings in Kant's philosophy (PDF)
* Diane Scholl, Reading The Nine Tailors in a Time of Flu, Fire, and Flood, at "The Other Journal"
* Amanda Achtman, Canada's Orwellian Euthanasia Regime, at "Law & Liberty"
* Anne Jeffrey & Christa Mehari, The Primacy of Hope in Human Flourishing (PDF)
* Grace Paterson, Trusting on Another's Say-So (PDF)
* eigenrobot, effective altruism and its future
* A map of laboratory-acquired infections, put together by Christ Said
* Varol Akman & M. Burak Senol, The truth about "It is true that..." (PDF), an interesting argument against deflationism.
* Chris Dalla Riva, The Death of the Key Change, discusses a way in which popular music has become flattened and less structured (sometimes to good results but sometimes not), and the causes of this shift.
* Philip Jenkins, Jesus the Carpenter, and the Search for Biblical Words
* Alana Newhouse, Brokenism, at "Tablet Magazine"
* Caspar Jacobs, The Nature of a Constant of Nature: the Case of G (PDF)
Monday, November 21, 2022
In certain Hindu circles, one of the divine attributes is lila, which is really hard to translate, but is often associated with playfulness; not that it has to be play in our sense, but that divine actions are purposeful but not bound to a purpose, in the way that (for instance) a young child playing is purposeful in action without having any real restriction to a purpose, able to shift purposes at will. I was reminded of this when reading James Reilly's paper, Two challenges for 'no norms' theism (PDF), which argues that someone who holds "that God is exempt from moral and rational norms" (which he calls 'no norms' theism or NNT) faces two kinds of problems. First, they cannot make use of what Reilly calls inductive arguments for the existence of God, which have a structure in which certain evidences are held to be more likely if God exists than if God does not exist. Second, that if God is not subject to norms, then God is effectively like Descartes's deceiver, and we are left with skepticism about our faculties. Reilly's paper is quite good, but I'm not convinced either challenge is particularly challenging.
I suppose I would be what Reilly calls a 'no norms' theist, although for what might be called ethical rather than theological reasons -- that is, I don't think there's any viable candidate for a serious account of obligations on which it would make much sense to say that God has obligations. If we have a positivistic account of obligations, there is no legislator or obliger who outranks God, so God doesn't have obligations. If we have a sentimentalist account of obligations, obligations are relative to natural sentiments, but God is impassible, and therefore has no obligations; and a sentimentalist account implies that it would be at least extremely difficult to work out what even nonhuman alien obligations might be, much less divine obligations. If we have a rationalist account of obligations, the two best accounts are natural law theory and Kantianism, and God doesn't have the kind of rational nature that is required to generate obligations on either theory. I suppose you could have a rationalist theory, maybe even a generalized natural law theory, on which, by a sort of deontic necessitation, God has an obligation to be God, and that is the entire list of God's obligations, but I don't see any prospect, in any theory of obligation worth taking seriously, of getting beyond that. Malebranche has a view in which God (the Father) loves Order, which is divine Reason and thus God (the Son), and therefore God is obligated by Order, which is, I think, the most serious attempt actually to make sense of what divine obligations would be; but the list of inconveniences and problems attaching to Malebranche's account of how God relates to divine Reason is quite considerable. It's pointless to say that God has obligations if we don't have any good account of obligations under which it makes much sense to say that God has obligations. Of course, there are many norms even in our own case that are not obligations -- norms of aesthetics, norms of etiquette, norms of technique, an entire forest of them. But many of the concerns with obligations do arise for at least many of the other norms.
I have no particular commitment to what Reilly is calling inductive arguments, but I think his account fails to take into consideration the flexibility of such arguments. For instance, if we take an analogous argument, an inductive argument to the existence of a particle, based on the idea of the effects that a particle would likely have, we are not arguing to the bare existence of the particle somehow. If I say, "This effect here in Texas is the kind of thing that would be caused by such-and-such particle," I don't mean that it is the kind of thing that would be caused by that particle if operating outside the Andromeda galaxy; I am saying that this is the kind of effect you get from such a particle doing particular things in particular ways (e.g,. hitting something in Texas). Likewise, inductive arguments for God's existence are not arguments to the bare existence of God acting anyway and anyhow; they are arguments to the existence of God as doing something relevant to the evidence. The inductivist is not committed to saying anything about what other things God might legitimately do. Norms, on the other hand, do cover other things that can be done; there are arguably no norms that cover one and only one action. Thus the inductive arguments don't really require appeal to norms; they just require appeal to something about the intelligible structure of particular actions, which could indeed involve norms, but might not (as there is much more to the intelligibility of any action than its position in a field of possible action governed by a norm).
Likewise, Reilly seems to have a rather expansive view of what involves norms; he takes, for instance, all appeals to goodness to be appeals to norms. This is certainly not true even in our own case; there are lots of goods that we do, not because of any norm, but just because they are good, where we could perfectly well do something else. If you identify something as good in a certain way, you are identifying it as a reason for action; but not all reasons for an action are norms for it. Reilly argues,
If God is not bound by the norms of goodness, then what reason do we have for supposing that he would favour a world of beauty and order over a world of chaotic ugliness? Why should we expect the existence of conscious life, rather than the cold sterility of a dead cosmos? The answer cannot be that it is better for such things as beauty, order, and conscious life to exist; once God is exempt from the norms of goodness, words like ‘better’ and ‘worse’ lose all relevant meaning. (p. 2)
But this is simply false; 'better' and 'worse' are not always or even usually defined in reference to norms. They do require a reference point so that you can get a comparison; but nothing requires that this reference point be functioning as a norm. What is more, a world of beauty and order is good, a world of chaotic ugliness is (thus far) not; you don't even need a reference point for that, because one description identifies a good and the other doesn't, so (thus far) there is a reason for one and not the other. Whether there is a norm governing God's favoring one or the other is irrelevant; by simply stating the case, you've given one reason one might favor the one over the other. Even if God were subject to norms, so that normatively he had to favor one over the other, whether a norm were relevant would depend on knowing all the reasons; we don't need to do that to identify that there is a plausible reason. I myself don't think you can argue this way -- it violates the principle of remotion and all good sense to pretend to have the kind of omniscience that can assess the reasons available to omniscience in such a definitive way -- but the inductive arguments only require reasons, not norms. They don't even require the norm that God should always follow reasons that meet certain conditions; they just require that they are reasons that God can consider.
If someone is not bound by norms of goodness, what reason do we have for supposing he would favor a world of beauty and order? The same reason that we would have if he was bound by norms of goodness. If I say, "John might have preferred that painting because of its beauty", I am not saying that John's preference was bound by a norm of beauty, I'm saying the painting meets a standard of beauty that is a reason John might have incorporated into his preference. I'm not necessarily saying that it would have been bad or stupid for John to prefer another painting; I'm not necessarily saying that John had to prefer paintings specifically based on their beauty; I'm not saying there was some rule that John was bound by to prefer beautiful paintings; I'm not even saying that in preferring the painting because of its beauty he was doing so in one way (e.g., because he would like it) rather than another way (e.g., because someone he liked would like it), which I would need to in order to identify what norms, if any, might be relevant. I'm very definitely not saying that if he had preferred another painting, he would have violated any norm, because norms need not be involved at all.
The same goes for the second challenge. Descartes, to block the evil deceiver, didn't need to identify a norm to which God was subject. The principle that blocks the evil genius is not, "God should not be a deceiver", but rather "God is not a deceiver". The Cartesian principle doesn't work -- indeed, it is hard to see how it could work -- as a norm; it does so as a fact. (Since it is a kind of necessary fact, one might hold that it also implies, by deontic necessitation, a norm of not being a deceiver; but, first of all, it's not this that lets it play the role it does, and, second, lots of people don't like deontic systems that have deontic necessitation.)
Reilly seems to have the notion that norms are the only things that make sense of intelligent action at all; it plays a role in his rejection of 'divine love' responses, for instance. But this is simply untrue. Even in our own case, many of our intelligible reasons for doing things are not norms; indeed, arguably, even in many cases in which they are consistent with norms, the norm plays no role in understanding the action itself. If I raise a beer in honor of a comrade, there's no norm that says I have to; I don't do it to fulfill a norm; I'm not being guided by a norm in doing it. There are norms that are maybe relevant to someone else's assessment of what I am doing, but my consistency with those likely has no role to play in my actually doing it. It's just a thing I can do, and there's a reason one might do it, and even though I could perfectly well not do it or do something else instead, I do it for that reason. That makes perfect sense, and I haven't appealed to anything normative at all. Even in our own case, even when we can judge actions by norms, we can often explain them without any appeal to norms at all.
I suspect too that Reilly is confusing 'being guided by a norm or standard in preferring something' and 'preferring something because it has a quality assessed by reference to a norm or standard'. The NNT is not claiming that God's effects are 'no norms', just that God's actions are 'no norms'. God could very well, non-normatively, pick effects to be consistent with certain norms. A painter might not be bound by a standard for the act of painting to produce a certain painting, but he could perfectly will choose to produce a painting in light of a particular standard for the painting that is painted. The professional painter is not in any way bound by the rules of classical style in making a painting, for instance, but he can certainly choose to paint a painting that itself is governed by the rules of classical style. I am not bound by the rules of chess to play chess; in lots of circumstances where other obligations don't come in, I'm not even really required to consider myself bound by the rules of chess in playing chess -- I can make up a game of fairy chess as I go. But this doesn't prevent me from choosing to play a game of chess according to the rules of chess, and I could indeed do so simply because I like a game of chess played strictly by the rules of chess. My choice to play a rule-bound game of chess is not because my choice is rule-bound by the rules of chess. Norms for acts are not norms for intended objects of acts; norms for objects are not norms for acts. NNT is not claiming that God can't choose to make creatures that are bound by norms, but only that God is not bound by any. Indeed, it is entirely consistent with NNT to say that there are norms for any creatures God might create but not for God's creative action itself.
Someone who accepts NNT can perfectly well say that God likes norms for creation without having to say that God's liking is because of a norm on divine likings. Why, for instance, does God create James Reilly? Does he need to be guided by a norm in creating James Reilly? Maybe God creates James Reilly because God likes James Reilly; or maybe God likes something else, and James Reilly makes a sort of nice accompaniment or aperitif or heightening contrast to it, so why not make James Reilly, too; or maybe something of both. There seems nothing wrong, at least from the perspective of what 'no norms' theism requires, with saying that God does some things just because God likes them, just out of divine lila or superabundant divine goodness.
So in short, the basic position, NNT, seems not really to be affected by the challenges; someone who accepts NNT is only really going to have trouble with them if they for some reason also accept some of Reilly's more controvertible views about norms.
Sunday, November 20, 2022
Sixty-five years ago, in 1957, a science fiction novel was published that had as its theme the role and power of the human mind. It was an instant bestseller and, despite being famous for certain peculiar literary choices, has remained in print and popular ever since, and thus has claim to being one of the most successful science fiction novels of all time. It tells the story of a young woman who rises to prominence in a male-dominated and, we find in the course of the novel, passive-aggressively misogynistic industry; she succeeds by brilliance and competence, but finds it an ongoing struggle, because her male colleagues continually dump responsibilities on her, hoping that she will crash and burn, while continually shirking their own responsibilities. Instead of actually doing good work, they prefer to grease palms and trade favors in the good-ol'-boys network, using their connections to get themselves bailed out of the results of their incompetence. In the midst of her struggle, this dynamic young woman connects with a brilliant, hard-working inventor who has discovered a metal stronger and cheaper than steel, and with his help she hopes to be able to save her family's business and pave the path to a new future. Against them, however, is arrayed corporate America, with its long tendrils interlocked with those of parties in the U.S. government, and an endless field of non-governmental organizations willing to lie, cheat, and steal to oppose people who dare not to toe the party line. And on top of it all, the greatest minds of the day are mysteriously vanishing, one by one, as the U.S. economy heads toward collapse.
I am speaking, of course, of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, her fourth and (notoriously) longest novel. It was largely hated by the critics, but has been a popular favorite, continually getting on lists of the best American novels of the twentieth century, whenever those lists are open to popular nomination and vote. Keeping enthusiastic readers for sixty-five years is not a minor accomplishment, and it is likely to be read for some time yet.
One reason for doing this work now, besides its sixty-fifth anniversary, is the recent FTX scandal. FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange company, built not on actually producing anything but on a lot of promises, bought favors, and glittering appeals to altruism and giving, getting its support not from quality work but from pouring money into faddish progressive causes, relying on political connections rather than actual accountability, the perception of whose success depended not on actual achievement but on favorable press: one could not imagine a more perfect exemplification of what Rand criticizes in this novel. Even Rand would have hesitated, for realism's sake, in putting some of the justifications that were thrown around for FTX's behavior into the mouth of one of her (deliberately) melodramatic villains. Even Taggart Transcontinental and Associated Steel in her novels had to produce physical results sometimes. Truth is more cartoonish than fiction.
Saturday, November 19, 2022
Opening Passage: From The Tale of Sinuhe:
The Patrician and Count,
Governor of the Sovereign's Domains in the Syrian lands,
the True Acquaintance of the King, whom he loves,
the Follower, Sinuhe says,
'I was a Follower who followed his lord,
a servant of the Royal Chambers
and of the Patrician Lady, the greatly praised,
the Queen of Senwosret in Khnemsut,
the Princess of Amenemhat in Qanefru,
Nefru, the blessed lady.... (p. 27)
Summary: The Tale of Sinuhe has a reputation for being the greatest surviving literary work of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, and it deserves it. Sinuhe is a courtier in the court of Pharaoh Amenemhat I. As part of his duties, he accompanies the king's son, Senwosret I, on a military mission to Libya. As they are returning, they meet messengers from the palace bearing terrible news: the king is dead. As Sinuhe's whole life had been centered on service to the king, it is as if his whole life comes crashing down, and he runs away. It is made very, very clear in the tale that he is not doing so out of any fear of Senwosret; not long after, he lauds the former prince in the very highest of terms. He is not afraid of any reprisal or anything specific at all. He does not in fact know why he runs away; it is like panic, but he himself cannot identify anything to cause panic, except this, that Amenemhat is dead. When he tries to explain himself later, he attributes his action to some god imposing it on him. In any case, he ends up in Upper Retjenu, that is probably somewhere in the hills and mountains of Lebanon or Syria, a place that the locals call Iaa. There he meets and becomes good friends with another king, Amunenshi. Iaa is a splendid place, "a good land" (p. 31) that has figs and wine and cattle in abundance. Sinuhe becomes a major figure among the tribes there and has a family, the children of which each become great leaders among the people. He becomes the primary commander of the king and he is never defeated.
It is fascinating that fleeing the good land of Egypt, Sinuhe comes not to a miserable land, but a land in some ways even more paradisial; in fleeing the honors of the Egyptian court, he becomes in some sense an even more important figure in another nation. But the thing of it is, Iaa is not Egypt. It is in a sense a false Egypt; for Sinuhe, it is in a sense a fall. He has done well, but he has done well in a land far from God. Because, of course, as an Egyptian, Sinuhe believes that the pharaoh is a living god. He has fled his god, for reasons he cannot even himself explain, and he has shut himself off from that divine source. And one of the divine powers is the Egyptian king is the latter's pull in the afterlife. Sinuhe is living in a paradise. But it is a barbarian paradise; he will die in barbarian lands. And he will not be buried with the splendors of an honorable Egyptian burial, providing him wealth and influence and power in the realm of death in the West; he will not be in the pharaoh's retinue or share in the pharaoh's glory, even as a distant servant. This is brought home when he is challenged in a duel to the death by a peerless champion from among the tribesmen. Sinuhe wins, and is showered with wealth and power and fame because of it. But here we find in the tale a long prayer in which he gives thanks to the mercy of whatever god had led him astray for saving him, a thanksgiving of victory that turns smoothly into a lament over how he will be buried so far from home.
That god, whoever it was, perhaps has heard his prayer, because his fame has now grown so great that Pharaoh Senwosret hears about him and his story, and sends him a letter asking him to return, precisely so that he will no longer be a roaming stranger in the world but can be honored in Egypt and buried unto blessedness as can only be done in Egypt. Happily, Sinuhe returns home and is brought into the presence of the king. He is somewhat overwhelmed, but both the king and the king's family meet him with abundant good will and gladness, and he is given his proper life as a courtier. And he is given his proper death. The tale had begun as if it were a tomb inscription, giving his titles, and then, when Sinuhe wandered, it had wandered into another genre along with him; but now that he is returned, it too returns and becomes the kind of eulogy found on tomb inscriptions. Sinuhe has truly come home.
The Tale of Sinuhe is not long, but it manages to be immensely rich. It is a tale of redemption, the tale of a man living a divine life who wandered out of it. Though his life is still extraordinary -- one suspects that his service in the courts of Egypt had given him a wide variety of skills that could not but do well elsewhere -- it is no longer a divine life; it is not his life, it is not the life appropriate to him. It is a life that is ruled by death. But by divine grace, he is allowed to return and is even more blessed than before, in a life that is now blessed with immortality. I was expecting it to be interesting, but it was truly enjoyable to read it, and I think it absolutely deserves a place among the great literary works of human history.
In The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, a merchant commoner, Khunanup, is attempting to get justice done; his goods have been stolen and he is trying to get the High Steward Rensi to punish the offender. However, unbeknownst to Khananup, Rensi has told the king about how eloquent he was, and the king has instructed Rensi to be silent about the case and record the peasant's words. Again and again Khananup comes and tries to get justice, his eloquence continuing but becoming more bitter as time passes. What he doesn't really understand, because he can't see, is that his repeated pleadings are in fact heard, and are being heard by a higher authority than the High Steward, and it is because of his pleadings, which seem fruitless to him, that he will succeed. He is, without really recognizing, praying to a god, after all; pharaoh is listening. In The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, the narrator is trying to comfort a passenger on the ship; they are apparently sailing back home to court, and for reasons that are not favorable to the passenger. In consolation, the narrator tells a story of shipwreck on a paradisial island, where a great serpent taught him how to endure death. The symbolism is generally thought to refer back to Egyptian myths of the creation of the world; the serpent's lesson is the lesson of history itself, because the problem of unexpected destruction is the problem of there being a world at all. But the passenger is unconvinced. What good does it do to hope for help when you are doomed? And if there is a further answer to this question, the tale does not give it to us.
The above three tales all get into deep metaphysical waters, and in a way that is very concise and concentrated. The Tale of King Cheops' Court (sometimes elsewhere called King Cheops and the Magicians) takes a different route. It has a more rambling, jokey quality to it, stringing together several tales. They are not random tales, however. The picture that emerges, indirectly, is of the infallibility of destiny but the fallibility of kings, and the consequent and crucial need to distinguish the false from the true, the merely apparent from the real.
The anthology then includes a number of monologues and dialogues: The Words of Neferti, The Words of Khakeperreseneb, The Dialogue of a Man and his Soul, and The Dialogue of Ipuur and the Lord of All. These are all various kinds of reflections on how far the world is from the way it should be. They might be thought of as diagnoses of social illness. The world is wrong, and filled with doers of wrong. On every side there is woe. The wise are given no place. Here and there are signs of something like hope; The Words of Neferti looks to a possible king to make things right, The Dialogue of a Man and his Soul looks to the afterlife. But even that is hope in a great darkness.
This contrasts with the last section of the anthology, on the Teachings, which are proverbial and aphoristic works about how we ourselves should act. Like the Discourses, they are concerned above all with doing Truth (ma'at), the fundamental principle of Egyptian ethics, but while the Discourses describe this negatively (by accounting how people fail to do Truth), the Teachings describe it positively, giving advice for how it can be done, usually in the context of fulfilling one's proper role in Egyptian society. The Teaching of King Amenemhat and The Teaching for King Merikare do it for the role of king; The 'Loyalist' Teaching seems to have in view courtiers and servants of the king, whose form of doing Truth consists in great measure of loyalty to the king, and this is true as well of the most famous of the Teachings, The Teaching of the Vizier Ptahhotep. The Teaching of Khety was one of the most commonly transcribed works of the Middle Kingdom, and perhaps unsurprisingly because it is all about the extraordinary awesomeness of being a scribe, which of course is a position that in Ancient Egypt was at the overlap of the royal and priestly aspects of Egyptian life, being an immensely important office for purposes of government, involved in the semi-divine act of writing.
All of these works are old, and they come to us from old remains. Parkinson, who put together this anthology, included all the extant works of the Middle Kingdom that we have in sufficient form to understand what is going on. Nonetheless even the best preserved of them have obscurities, and several of them have significant chunks that have not survived to come down to us. So Parkinson also includes an appendix that looks at some of the tiny scattered fragments of other works. They are not enough to determine much about those works themselves. However, they do have value in giving us some sense of the literary production of the Middle Kingdom; in particular, they make clear that the works that have come down to us are far from being the only genres that were produced. When I did Craig Williamson's The Complete Old English Poems for the fortnightly book, I noted that what has survived is in fact a tiny sample of what we know to have been a vast literary treasury; the Anglo-Saxons took poetry extremely seriously, but time has eaten most of it. I suppose, though, one could say that the Anglo-Saxons produced so much poetry that even time has not yet been able to devour all of it. This is, if anything, more true of Ancient Egypt. The Middle Kingdom produced a vast cultural treasury. Time has eaten away most of it. But so much of a powerhouse was it, not even time has been able to eat it all. As the Great Pyramid of Khufu still stands, not yet consumed by the years, so too still stand some of its great writings.
Favorite Passages: From The Tale of Sinuhe:
...I found his Majesty on the great throne
in the portal of electrum.
Then I was stretched out prostrate,
unconscious of myself in front of him,
while this God was addressing me amicably.
I was like a man seized in the dusk,
my soul had perished, my limbs failed,
my heart was not in my body.
I did not know life from death.
And his Majesty said to one of these Friends,
"Raise him up, let him speak to me!" (p. 40)
From The 'Loyalist' Teaching ('l.p.h.' is an abbreviation for 'May he live, be prosperous, and healthy'; Atum and Khnum are maker-gods who make the bodies of men; Bastet is the cat-headed goddess who protects the land; Sekhmet is the lion-headed goddess who inflicts divine punishment):
The king is Sustenance; his speech is Plenty.
The man he makes is someone who will always exist.
He is the heir of every god,
the protector of his creators.
They strike his opponents for him.
Now, his Majesty is in his palace (l.p.h.!)--
he is an Atum of joining necks:
his protective might is behind the man who promotes his paower.
He is a Khnum of every limb,
the begetter and creator of the folk.
He is a Bastet who protects the Two LAnds:
the man who praises him will be sheltered by his arm.
He is a Sekhmet against the man who transgresses his command:
the man he disfavours will sink to distress. (p. 239)
From The Teaching of the Vizier Ptahhotep:
'Do not be proud because you are wise!
Consult with the ignorant as well as the wise!
The limits of art are unattainable;
no artist is fully equipped with his mastery.
Perfect speech is more hidden than malachite,
yet it is found with the maidservants at the millstones....' (p. 251)
Recommendation: The anthology as a whole is Recommended. The Tale of Sinuhe and The Teachings of Grand Vizier Ptahhotep are major works of world literature, and are Highly Recommended.
R. B. Parkinson, ed. and tr., The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems, 1940-1640 BC, Oxford University Press (New York: 2009).
Friday, November 18, 2022
ziran (lit. 'so of itself'): nature
"Every military government floats between the extremes of absolute monarchy and wild democracy." Gibbon
"The refinements of life corrupt while they polish the intercourse of the sexes. The gross appetite of love becomes most dangerous, when it is elevated, or rather, indeed, disguised by sentimental passion."
People are oppressed not by another's power but by imposed impediments to their own.
God as the common good of all common goods
To say that something is a complete society is not to say that it is not part of a broader society; all societies connect to other societies.
"Politically the societies of Western modernity are oligarchies disguised as liberal democracies." MacIntyre
The New Jerusalem is the eschatological fulfillment of all nations.
Manhood and womanhood are laid down in many layers.
the 'modern world' as a relatively depauperate population of spiritual practices
the cultural molting of philosophical ideas
fideistic beauty: pleases on being seen by intellect with virtue of faith
Fideistic beauty is a sign of truth discernible by faith.
Kant's df. of event (A192/B237): perception following another perception
deterministic structure but with locations (or possibilities, or permissibilities) rather than times
On the timescales at which the Church works, art and architecture are very good investments, even at considerable expense, and even allowing for maintenance expenses.
poetry as saying what the heart intends
Drawing is an exercise in multiple abstractions.
drawing a line vs. making a drawing of a line
(in the latter, the line is actually a shape or value-shape)
ritualistic behavior as a structuring of interior thought
aphorisms as slices of reasoning
"The modern world will have to fit in with Christmas or die." Chesterton
Maria porta caeli
pragmatism as magicalism
every existence an epiphany
being-in-the-Church as a form of being-in-creation
being created vs being in creation
conditionals as descriptions of illative potential
Every faithfulness is under the guise of some loyalty.
"Truth is meant to save you first, and the comfort comes afterward." Bernanos
It is a matter of considerable importance, and inadequately taken into account by both academic practices and philosophy of science that most scientific research will inevitably fail, that much that one does will mislead, and that there are always wrong assumptions.
'Publish or perish' inevitably becomes 'cheat and lie to get by'.
Gn 6:11 -- The world was filled with chamas.
cf. Micah 6:11; Ezk 7:11, 23; Am 3:10; Gn 16:5
-- plundering that leaves others without any recourse
diagrams as mediating notations
Of the six kinds of causes mentioned by neoplatonists (e.g., Olympiodorus), the paradigmatic and the instrumental are most essential (but not exclusive) to discussing intelligent causes in particular.
All evaluations presuppose principles of classification.
We go beyond mere tribalism by means of shared rituals.
necessity under ideal conditions, at the limit, in the final cause, as three different kinds
natural velleities as indirect indications of natural inclination
Inspired by wisdom, we aspire to it.
Even elicited natural desires, qua elicited, cannot be wholly in vain, although the end that fulfills them may be so eminenter rather than formaliter.
etiology : efficient cause :: allegory : formal cause :: anagogy : final cause
philosophy as the point between exitus and reditus, the point of exitus becoming reditus
"Prayer, considered in its essence, has a relation to the order of creation. In invoking the divine aid, we implore a continuation of the creative action, of which oblation is the perpetual memorial." Gerbet
"The superiority of the Christian religion properly so called over the primitive religion, consists principally in uniting us more closely with the Deity."
"The eucharistic communion is something intermediate between the union with the Deity granted to the just of old in this land of banishment, and that which saints enjoy in the celestial city."
"The precept which ordains the pardon of injuries, is the great mystery of Christian morality, as redemption is the great mystery of faith."
Substitution of one thing for another is one of the most essential elements of human society.
forms of apologetics
(1) evidential (the point is inferred from principles)
(2) mediational (the point is a principle that reconciles an opposition or tension)
(3) convergent (the point is a limit case of a series)
fear of the Lord & recognition of divine power
In the face of great difficulty, people generally become both harsher and more generous.
ecclesia: gathering of those summoned
Democracy only works when it arises out of the self-organizing of the demos.
conspiracy theories as arising from a taste for complaining
"Personal interest is often the standard of our belief, as well as of our practice...." Gibbon
It is remarkable how often people talk about the future to justify focusing only on the now.
necessary vs gratuitous means
means in which the end is achieved, means through which the end is achieved, means with which the end is achieved
Where and how to research/inquire next requires prudential regard for circumstances, and cannot be determined by rule.
"Every kind of intelligence is a fullness of forms." Proclus
"The foundations of chemical philosophy, are observation, experiment, and analogy. By observation, facts are distinctly and minutely impressed on the mind. By analogy, similar facts are connected. By experiment, new facts are discovered; and in the progression of knowledge, observation guided by analogy, leads to experiment, and analogy confirmed by experiment becomes scientific truth." Sir Humphry Davy
"No Cosmos is complete from which the question of Deity is excluded; and all Cosmology has a side turned towards Theology." Whewell
the intimate relationship between almsgiving and hope
the depravification of names
We can answer a question with an action. (e.g., "Do you have X?" can be answered by offering X.)
a high-trust society, reverent of its past, rich in fellow-feeling
Thursday, November 17, 2022
Be Quiet, Wind
by Charles G. D. Roberts
Be quiet, wind, a little while,
And let me hear my heart.
You chiming rivulet still your chant
And stealthily depart.
You whisperings in the aspen leaves,
You far-heard whip-poor-will,
You slow drop spilling from the rose--
You, even you, be still.
I must have infinite silence now,
Lest I should miss one word
Of all my heart would say to me--
Now, when its deeps are stirred.
Hardly I dare my breath to draw
Lest breathing break the spell,--
While we commune, my heart and I,
In dreams too deep to tell.
Tuesday, November 15, 2022
Today is the feast of St. Albert of Lauingen, Doctor of the Church; he is often known by the name he was given even in his own time, Albertus Magnus, Albert the Great. From his De corpore domini, on the Eucharist:
That it is nothing but grace is shown by the name, because it is and is named the Eucharist, which means "good grace". Although we receive grace in all the sacraments, there is in this sacrament the whole of grace, which we see, touch, and taste. Thus Zechariah 4.7 says about this sacrament, "And he will give equal grace to its grace." Whatever graces are scattered to be gathered in all the [other] sacraments and virtues, the whole is found here together in one grace. This is signified by the omer, which was the measure of the manna, which was sufficient for each one. [Exodus 16.16-17]
For the measure which is sufficient for man's salvation can only be that which contains the grace in which the whole Christ is contained....
[Albert the Great, On the Body of the Lord, Surmanski, OP, tr., CUA Press (Washington, DC: 2017) pp. 31-32.]
Monday, November 14, 2022
The world flows in, I ball it up,
I bounce it here and there;
I play with it like string and cup
and toss it in the air.
The world flows in, I shape it so,
I build with it like clay,
and then I outward let it flow,
returned to light of day.
The Words of Ameny
The collected words, the gathered verses,
the heart-searching utterances
of the priest of Elephantopolis,
Ameny son of Ankhu:
The realm is destroyed and none care;
none weep the end, nor do any speak it.
None are free from evildoing, no, not one;
all do it and all suffer it.
Some are learned enough to understand it;
none are roused enough to speak against it.
Everyone only loves their own utterances;
crooked of heart, all honest speech is abandoned.
Each mouth says only, "I want."
What past ages built is torn and ruined;
rebuke is answered with knife in the belly.
May Thoth, the god-appeaser, vindicate me;
may Khonsu, who reckons Truth, favor me;
may Irdes in the holy place defend me!
As for men, their hearts are selfish;
as for men, their hearts are unsteady.
The brother is unveiled as an enemy;
to find an honest man, one must find a stranger.
Every face is set against every face.
Evil roams the land; no end can be found to it.
Where is found recover for the sick?
Where is found wind for the sail?
Where is found homecoming after long journey?
Where is found the land where men are living gods?
Seek out the answer, even if you weep;
life is transitory, but the wise seek what endures.
Sunday, November 13, 2022
After the end of the tournament, Epiphany Eve having arrived, there gathered together all the great men of from around about, whether of the lay orders of knight and king or the holy orders of priest and bishop, for a trial of the sword. After the singing of Te Deum Laudamus, many barons and lords tried their hand, and all failed, until Arthur stepped up to the sword and drew it easy, giving it over to Bishop Bedwin. Then the house of Sir Ector, the houses of Duke Corneus and Sir Don, the houses of Sir Ulfius and of Sir Brastias, and all their supporters, as well as all the common people, stood with Arthur, but the other lords and barons were in great shock and disbelief, and then in great anger, saying that no one of such low degree was deserving to be king.
"Shall we be overgoverned by a boy of no blood?" they said to each other in wrath. "This is surely some trick."
But Bishop Bedwin said, with great hardness in his voice, "Though he were even a shepherd-boy, younger than his brothers, the Lord might raise him up, and what man is there who could gainsay it? But I shall show you. Arthur, take the sword and return it to the stone."
Arthur did as he was told. The barons and lords again tried to take it from the stone, but found it as fastly bound as it had been. Arthur, however, again drew it easily.
"Will you then be against the Lord's will?" said the bishop to the barons.
The barons and the lords were for the most part not moved, but wary of the influence of Sir Ector and of Duke Corneus, and not wanting to defy the Church directly in the presence of the common people, they said, "Good sir, we are not against the Lord's will, but surely the boy is not old enough yet."
To this, Bishop Bedwin replied, "The one who has chosen him knows who he is." But still the barons demanded that another trial be held at Candlemas. And some of the more clever among them added that by this means the trial could be witnessed by men from more distant lands. This was then agreed, and it was agreed as well that until then, ten knights should guard the sword, so that, day or night, there should always be five guarding it.
After all of this, Sir Don came to Bishop Bedwin and Sir Ector, saying, "We must take great care, or the boy may meet with a mishap that is not a mishap." From that moment on, Sir Kay, Sir Lucan, or Sir Bedivere was with Arthur, no matter the time and no matter the place. The three were the first of the Companions of Arthur.
Thus at Candlemas the trial was held again, with men coming from every part of every realm around. Again the barons and the lords attempted to draw the sword, and again Arthur drew it easily. The prelates and the common folk all shouted acclamation, saying, "Who shall deny that Arthur is the choice of the Lord?"
But the barons and the lords replied, "Surely we must be sure that there is no better. Let the trial be held again, this time at Pascha, that any man who wishes to try may try it."
Bishop Bedwin said in response, "If we hold a trial yet again at Pascha, will you accept the choice?" And when they affirmed this, he granted their request.
Thus the trial was held again on Easter Eve, and again Arthur alone drew the sword. Bishop Bedwin spoke at length of the sobriety and prudence he found in Arthur. Then the barons and lords consulted among themselves and came to the bishop.
"What impediment to the Lord's choice do you bring this time? Surely the boy should already be crowned," the bishop said.
"We do not impede it at all," said the representatives of the lords, "but you have seen his character and we have not. Thus let him be crowned, if it be the Lord's will, but let it wait until Pentecost, that we may ourselves behold his character, and may also spend the time in prayer."
Thus Bishop Bedwin, having taken counsel with Arthur and Sir Ector, agreed that Arthur's crowning and sacring would be delayed until Pentecost. Then the barons and lords brought fine gifts to Arthur as tokens of good faith; but in reality, they wished to see if he could bought and bribed. However, all that they gave him, Arthur at the advice of Sir Ector gave away. Horses and fine tapestries he gave to knights, and jewels to merchants and their wives, and gold and silver to the poor, and his fame among the common people grew. And indeed, some of the lords and barons were won over by this, either because they themselves received gifts, or because they found him to be a noble young man in heart, or because they did not wish to cross directly one who was increasingly well liked.
Thus all things continued until Whitsuntide. Again on Whitsun Eve, the sword was tried, and again only Arthur could draw it from the stone. But this time the Bishop Bedwin had ready the crown and the scepter and holy oil. In the view of the people and with the consent of the barons, he knighted Arthur. Then he adorned Sir Arthur with royal vestments, and bringing him before all, he said, "Here is the man God has chosen to be your king. But if any of you have reason why he should not be made king, let him now speak or else hold his peace." But none dared speak.
Then Bishop Bedwin, showing the sword to Sir Arthur, said, "This is the sword with which you will keep justice in defense of the holy Church and to maintain right and the Christian faith. If you will, here before all the orders of Christendom, swear to God, and to our Lady, Saint Mary, and to Saint Peter and to all the saints, to save and uphold truth and peace in the land, and to use your power to keep justice, come forth and take this sword of your election by God."
Then Sir Arthur and many of the people were greatly affected and wept as Sir Arthur took the sword. He said, "As truly as God is Lord over all, may he grant grace and power to do as you have said." Then he was led to the altar and laid it thereon. Bishop Bedwin crowned and anointed him with the same rite that Bishop Fastidius had used for King Uther Pendragon. Then High Mass was sung, the first Mass of the reign of King Arthur.
When the people left the church, they marveled, because there was nothing where the stone of the sword had been.
Then King Arthur held court, and lords and barons and knights came to give their service. Many complaints were also brought to King Arthur of wrongs that had been done since the death of King Uther Pendragon, for many knights and ladies had been bereft of their lands. The king gave judgment in all such cases, and he became known for his fairness and impartiality. He also created the officers of his household; Sir Kay was made seneschal and steward, Sir Ulfius was made chamberlain, Sir Lucan was made butler, Sir Bedivere was made constable, and Sir Brastias was made warden of the north. Then King Arthur began establishing his magistracy over all the counties and lordships around Londinium, and even into Cambrian lands.
All things went well until the middle of August.
In the middle of August, King Arthur held a great feast and royal court at Caerleon, and invitations were sent far and wide. There came King Lot of Lothian, King Urien of Rheged and Gore, King Caradoc Strongarm of Stangore, known far and wide as the husband of Queen Tegau Goldenhearted, King Yder the Elder of Scotland, and the young King Anguish of Ireland. There also came a king named Malaguin or Maelgwn, but known more often as the Tall King or the King of a Hundred Knights; he was the king who is known elsewhere to have at first opposed St. Padarn and St. Tydecho, but who eventually gave them lands and became a great supporter to them. And each of these kings came with their knights.
When they were all assembled, King Arthur showered gifts upon them and invited them to a great feast. But the kings, regarding him as being a beardless boy of low birth and not a suitable king for such a realm as Logres, held all that he gave them and all that he did in disdain. They refused his gifts, saying that they came instead to give him gifts, namely, a sharp sword between the neck and the shoulders. Then King Arthur withdrew to a strong tower in Caerleon and they besieged him. With King Arthur were five hundred good men. But with the six kings there were twenty-seven hundred knights.
For fifteen days the six kings besieged King Arthur, for the tower to which he had withdrawn was well victualed. And on the fifteenth day, Merlin came, showing himself with wonders and marvels in the town, so that rumor of him spread like fire all around. Hearing of this, the kings at the advice of King Urien sent for him. They met him at a palace on the banks of the river outside the town, in a tower that overlooked the water and had a view in the distance of the walls of Caerleon.
"What do you think of this beardless boy," asked King Urien, "whom the bishop of Trinovant has crowned a king without our license and without the assent of the people of the land? What do you propose as our best means of dealing with him?"
But Merlin replied, "Bishop Bedwin has done well, and could not have done better than he did."
The kings in turn responded, "How can it possibly be as you say? Many there are who are of higher lineage or of greater experience, many who are stronger or wiser. No man knows whence this boy comes, for Sir Ector is merely his foster father."
"You say what you wish were true," said Merlin, "but his lineage is higher than any of yours."
King Lot replied, "You have gone mad."
"This boy Arthur," said Merlin, "is the son of Uther Pendragon by Igraine of Tintagel."
"You are saying he is a bastard," the kings replied.
"Not so," said Merlin. "He was begotten after Gorlois had died and he was born in wedlock after Uther had married Igraine. I will tell you more than this. Those who oppose him, he will defeat. Even to his dying day, no one who rises against him shall have victory against him, though they had many more men, and much better men, than any that you are able to bring. He is, by right, the King of Britain."
Then some of the kings, such as King Urien and the King of a Hundred Knights, were disturbed. But King Lot, laughing in scorn, said to them all, "He lies. Is he not often said to be the Devil's son? Like his father, he lies."
Nonetheless, Merlin persuaded the kings that an embassy should be received under truce so that the matter might be discussed. Thus he went to the tower, where he was received joyfully by Sir Ulfius and brought to the king.
Merlin told them all that had happened, and said, "Do not fear, my king. The days before you are difficult, but you will triumph. Go forth boldly, as a king and not as a supplicant, and answer them in all things as their lord and chieftain. For they will kneel before you, whether they will or nill."
to be continued
Saturday, November 12, 2022
* Christopher Kaczor, Magical Thinking: Free Will Is an Illusion, at "Word on Fire"; a humorous story.
* David Corey, Politics, Friendship, and the Search for Meaning, at "Comment"
* There has been a fair amount of controversy recently over Pierre Manent's MacIntyre's Flight from Politics. I think MacIntyre has more resources for addressing the issue than Manent's summary suggests, but the MacIntyreans who are criticizing it are often glossing over the important (and, I think, deliberate) ways in which MacIntyre certainly is an 'Aristotelianism of the opposition' in contrast to what we find in Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas.
* Alice MacLachlan, Fiduciary Duties and the Ethics of Public Apology (PDF)
* Daniel McCarthy, Remembering Michael Oakeshott
* James Mumford, Are Human Rights Merely a Matter of Perception?
* Ed Lamb, Civil Disobedience: A Puzzle in Plato's Crito, at "Antigone"
* James Franklin, Resurrecting logical probability (PDF)
* Oliver D. Crisp, Infant baptism and the disposition to saving faith, on the Reformed theology of infant baptism; this was a very interesting paper.
* Huaping Lu-Adler, Kant on Language and the (Self-)Development of Reason (PDF)
* Jonas Faria Costa, On Gregariousness, looks at human sociality in contexts in which we are not directly interacting, like at a coffee shop to which one might go to be around people, but in which one mostly does one's own thing. As the author notes, this is not considered very often, and most accounts of human sociality don't really shed any light on it.
* Jonathan Simon and Colin Marshall, Mendelssohn, Kant, and the Mereotopology of Immortality
* Giulia Martina, How we talk about smells (PDF)
Friday, November 11, 2022
This begins the notebook that was started in December 2021.
incipit/desinit as constructed by comparison of changes
Metaphysics 1056b4-5: If 'many' is placed in contrariety to 'one', impossible things follow.
1056b33-35: "The one is opposed to the many as measure is to measurable."
the child "guided by the inner teacher" (Montessori)
the joy of strolling as a mild exercise in learning
the charm of social life as diversity of people in harmonious interaction
Historically, secularization is always accompanied by (but not caused by) a kind of atrophy of reason.
the regrounding or re-radicating of passions and virtues as part of evangelism
barbarism as "the absence of standards to which appeal can be made" (Ortega y Gassett)
beauty as something that invites thought
Acts 4:31 -- filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Logos of God boldly
Simple ethical actions are signs and symbols of greater ethical actions.
Faith may express itself in the midst of any and all of the passions.
Fortune favors the diversifier.
Nothing can be discovered out of nothing.
In scholarship as in all else, nothing is made from nothing.
Sovereignty must itself be a kind of right, or it is not sovereignty.
To arbitrate disputes presupposes the authority of reason.
Bentham's "Anarchical Fallacies" and "The Necessity of an Omnipotent Legislature" as laying out the real structure of utilitarianism
the monitorial system of education
the method of learning by teaching
plastic platypus learning
teaching structures: professional, monitorial, democratic
learning structures: receptive, apprenticed, autonomous ?
-- a school is a combining of a teaching structure with a learning structure
Athanasius Kircher gets a lot of flak, but it's often forgotten that Kircher's view was that hieroglyphics can't actually be translated -- his paraphrases are not intended as translations in the proper sense. And he did recognize that there could be a phonetic value for a hieroglyph, the foundation of later work, and he was the first to recognize that Coptic was related to demotic; both of these were elements necessary to the actual discovery of how to read hieroglyphs.
Hieroglyphs are complicated by the existence of honorific transposition -- divine things, like the solar sign, are elevated or moved to the front out of respect.
progress as converting genius to method
the 'link' between the I and the eye
Dates for the 'Fall of Rome'
[Fall of Republic]
31 BC -- Actium
27 BC -- Principate
[Fall of Empire]
---[Fall of Caesarean Empire]
180 -- Death of Marcus Aurelius and Succession of Commodus
312 -- Conversion of Constantine
378 -- Adrianople and Death of Valens
410 -- Sack of Rome by Visigoths
455 -- Sack of Rome by Vandals
476 -- Sack of Rome and Deposition of Romulus Augustulus by Odoacer
---[Fall of Byzantine Empire]
1204 -- Latin Sack of Constantinople in Fourth Crusade
1453 -- Ottoman Conquest of Constantinople
1806 -- Last Holy Roman Emperor
1917 -- Last Czar
All of these are right; Republics and Empires are many-layered things, and with each, something important was stripped away and sometimes replaced.
All falls of nations are either defeat by external force, defeat by internal force, or moral corruption. Nothing else is actually any kind of fall at all. Declines are likewise multiplications of problems related to these.
If we think of myth as meaning-making story, we can ask what the myth would be that is commensurate with human life.
There are clearly multiple ways to assess disparate impact and no reason to think they would all agree; thus one should always ascertain the relevant standard.
Economies arise out of communications.
visible shapes as color-dependent, tangible shape as resistance-dependent
-- The key question: Do we perhaps link these by a sense of color (at least sometimes) being resistant to the eye? Or is it something else like constant conjunction or abstract analogy?
acquired dispositions of institutions -> institutions having a quasi-character, and thus quasi-virtues and quasi-vices
Anyone who truly loves virtue will love divinity, its exemplar.
plot-focused ethical reasoning vs. episode-focused ethical reasoning
Nations rise from small springs and fall in cataracts small and great.
trace-fossil formation and the major genera of trace fossils
(1) left in soft-sediment surface: Cubichnia
(2) dwelling structure formation (e.g., burrowing or boring): Domichnia
(3) sediment disturbance in deposit-food search: Fodinichnia
(4) surface disturbance in grazing-food search: Pascichnia
(5) locomotion: Repichnia
[These are Seiacher's and account for most trace fossis , but there are others, e.g., Colichnia, arising from making structures for breeding activities, like bee cells), and people propose others from time to time.]
the palaetiology of ideas
arguments as environments of ideas
ideas as undergoing selection within argumentational environments
manifest contradictoriness or impossibility in a context // extinction
Multiplicity can in a certain fashion be attributed to the noncomposite by expression (how it is reflected, received, etc., or by assumption).
geometrical diagram as speech act: locution (line and circle), illocutionary force (interpretation), perlocutionary effect (for illustration or for proof)
Tengwar and Lodwick's Universal Alphabet
word, as quasi-form, structuring world, as quasi-material
The ebook is a more fragile, not a less fragile, technology, than a codex or scroll, and whether it is more or less accessible depends on environmental factors, not itself.
the 'practical minimum of concession' as a key idea in planning
Skepticism requires that we be able to say that such-and-such does not appear to have sufficient ground or reason.
One often finds in theology that one doctrine serves as an allegory for another.
Poorly analyzed experiments are worse evidence than trustworthy anecdotes.
arrow of time // dominance of matter over antimatter
The meaning of a myth depends in part on its ritual context.
the economy of myths -- myths are one of the things we exchange
Academic papers are not primarily research instruments but career instruments.
pandemics and defense-in-depth
Cuisines spread by 'fast-food-izing'.
the moral-juridical presence of Christ in the sacrament of reconciliation
being married before God as the base for the presence of Christ in the sacrament of matrimony
Christ's Baptism as a symbol of His Incarnation.
repentance unto friendship
"A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against the enterprises of an aspiring prince." Gibbon
"The principles of a free constitution are irrecoverable, lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive."
"In elective monarchies, the vacancy of the throne is a moment big with danger and mischief."
"Wit and valour are qualifications more easily ascertained than humanity or the love of justice."
"But the power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous."
"Of all our passions and appetites, the love of power is of the most imperious and unsociable nature, since the pride of one man requires the submission of the multitude."
All lovers are fighters.
symbolism & allegory : virtue ethics :: critical exegesis : deontology :: x : consequentialism
'artfully to collect in his own person all the scattered rays of civil jurisdiction'
(1) superintendance of ceremony
(2) levy and command of legions
(3) reception of ambassadors
(4) presidence in assembly, both senatorial and popular
(2) convene plebeian assembly
(3) summon senate
(4) propose legislation
One of the most important goals in constitutional law is to force things into visibility -- literally anything can be abused by human ingenuity, but it is harder to abuse them in full light of day.
emperor (imperator): general + consul + tribune + censor + pontiff
One cannot properly understand the Church as People of God without understanding it as societas perfecta.
Solidarity primarily works by other routes than obligation.
immersed life, study, reparative reconstruction
The Genesis creation story places God before all the cosmogonical origins and supposed divinities of pagan myth.
the Shabaka Text ('Memphite Theology'): thought -> word -> world
grace as participation in divine missions
Law intrinsically applies a higher rational order than itself.
law as humanitarian tradition -> human common good -> God as primal good
'this rational and bloodless sacrifice, for our own sins and for the ignorance of the people'
Empathy can be valuable, but it is not itself good judgment.
Boredom sometimes repulses us more than pain.
constant polynomial : s orbital :: linear polynomial : p orbital :: quadratic polynomial : d orbital :: cubic polynomial : f orbital
the transcendental unity of the history of philosophy
Forgiveness is not a release of resentment; the latter is sometimes a removal of an impediment to forgiveness, but one can forgive where there is no resentment at all, and release resentment without forgiveness.
Nobody confines their forgiveness to people who deserve it, if only because we are often not well positioned for assessing whether they deserve it.
No one has a right to be forgiven, but no one can be charitable without a willingness to forgive.
Forgiving is never condoning -- they are completely opposed acts.
One reason to be ready to forgive is to avoid self-righteousness, which is one of the worse things that can befall a person.
Philosophy is per aliud wisdom participating per se wisdom, contingent wisdom participating necessary wisdom, etc.
Note that in Psalm 148, the angels and host are put before sun, moon, and stars. (Compare Turretin on this.)
Ps 148:5 -- "he commanded and they were created"
the sentiments of the people vs the professions of the people
Moving from sets to categories emphasizes functions over membership/inclusion.
the classic problem of organizational ethics: good intentions deteriorating the ethically constrained functioning of the system
Marriage is not a commitment but a union.
finality as a transcendental
Possibilities are represented in myths as other places or other times.
"Had it not been love which is the basis of all relationships, it was impossible to promote peace, respect others. In fact, meaningful life on earth would have been impossible." Mawere
fantasy and the literalization of striking metaphors
A very great deal of Chinese Imperial history seems to consist of the Confucians losing whenever they were most clearly and inconveniently right.
generic experience, structured experience, directed experience, participative experience
Every giving creates signs: giving as the root of semiosis.
As the Incarnation was made possible by the Virgin's Yes, so too every Eucharist morally depends on her Yes.
As Israel in suffering was sign of Christ in Passion, it therefore was also the sign of Christ in Eucharist.
Crucifixion - Session - Mass as one act of sacrifice (morally, juridically, and really)
'deism of the Cross' in certain accounts of Christ's sacrifice
contracts as agreeing on ways to express one's rights
-- this is the correct idea that social contract theory misplaces
The senses do not distinguish substance and accident at all; when we recognize that accidents require substances, we are not starting with an experience of accidents and concluding to substances beyond them, but starting with an experience of accidents-in-substances and concluding to substance within it.
partial substance (hand)
Aquinas's use of mereological terminology to organize virtues works because the part-whole relation is relativity without separation.
incomplete induction as credibility-lending
more-and-less as hypercategorical
hypercategorical transcendental : convertible transcendental :: change (incomplete act) : actuality (complete act)
-- this is a conjoined rather than separate analogy, because change is hypercategorical and actuality is convertible
three kinds of evidence:
actuality anticipative of actuality
actuality reminiscent of actuality
actuality suggestive of actuality
common good : Matthew :: subsidiarity : Mark :: human dignity : Luke :: solidarity : John
Freedom of conscience does not have to be asserted and vindicated for everybody because matters to which conscience is applied are not all the same in their relations either to conscience or to freedom; a finer-grained analysis is necessary.
the right to religious freedom (Dignitatis Humanae)
(1) all should have [some kind of] immunity from coercion in religious matters
(2) that no one should be forced to act against conscience in religious matters within due limits [i.e., as long as due public order is preserved]
Human dignity, solidarity, subsidiarity, and common good are four ways human beings are not separate from each other.
Because of Adam's sin, our dignity is mixed with baseness, our solidarity with discord, our subsidiarity with rebellion, and our common good with mutual temptation.
Parenthood begins prior to birth; this is much more important than usually recognized.
If mathematics or logic are ever explanatory, there must be real formal causes.
To deny the principle of sufficient reason is to hold that there are possibilities that are not any kind of possibility, and are thus unspecifiable.
Liberty is protected by mediating institutions.
choices as pure formal means
Thursday, November 10, 2022
Today is the feast of St. Leo I the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church. From one of his Easter sermons (Sermon 72):
Because therefore there is no place for ignorance in faithful ears, the seed of the Word which consists of the preaching of the Gospel, ought to grow in the soil of your heart, so that, when choking thorns and thistles have been removed, the plants of holy thoughts and the buds of right desires may spring up freely into fruit. For the cross of Christ, which was set up for the salvation of mortals, is both a mystery and an example : a sacrament where by the Divine power takes effect, an example whereby man's devotion is excited: for to those who are rescued from the prisoner's yoke Redemption further procures the power of following the way of the cross by imitation. For if the world's wisdom so prides itself in its error that every one follows the opinions and habits and whole manner of life of him whom he has chosen as his leader, how shall we share in the name of Christ save by being inseparably united to Him, Who is, as He Himself asserted, the Way, the Truth, and the Life? the Way that is of holy living, the Truth of Divine doctrine, and the Life of eternal happiness.
Wednesday, November 09, 2022
Every so often, you get accidental clusters of similar events and, as it happens, in three different places in the past two weeks I have come across people getting the usage of 'high tea' wrong. This is, after confusing peerage titles and feudal titles, one of the most common Americanisms that seems to spread everywhere. So a few quick points related to 'high tea'.
(1) The first and most important is that high tea is not fancy. High tea gets its name from being 'high' in the afternoon or even into the evening; it was originally a working-class tea for people who had to work until 5 pm or later. Despite its working class origins, it become common in general, because almost everybody has situations where they can't take tea until late, and because travelers and guests would often arrive fairly late in the day, so it became a common form of quick-bite-to-eat hospitality. As such, it's usually a simple tea meal, consisting basically of tea with both a savory (like ham salad sandwich) and a sweet (like bread and jam) snack.
(2) The fancy tea can sometimes be called low tea, but is usually just called afternoon tea. It usually has a nice spread of tea sandwiches, scones, cakes, tea biscuits, and the like. It's a nicer tea than high tea in the sense that it is more social and less utility-driven, but, strictly speaking, it does not have to be formal. A cream tea, for instance, is basically just tea and some scones (with clotted cream or Devonshire cream, hence the name). However, when people talk about 'high tea' in American movies, television shows, and novels, they almost always mean formal afternoon tea. Formal afternoon tea is a tea for a tea party, a special-occasion light meal for a group; for the past century, it's almost always something taken at a hotel. You typically have to dress up for it. The most common formal afternoon tea in the United States is the debutante tea occasionally hosted by women's organizations for younger women.
(3) The fanciest form of afternoon tea, though, is arguably not formal afternoon tea but dancing tea, or tea dance, which is a full-scale party with music and dancing. Just as a tea is a light meal, so a dancing tea is a light dancing party, well short of a formal dance; you'd do the dancing in a garden or drawing room rather than a ballroom, and the tea meal itself would be handled like a buffet.
Needless to say, there can be, and have been, all sorts of variations. The kettle drum, for instance, was a form of very informal afternoon tea party that became popular for a while in the eighteenth century; it was basically just a dropping-in kind of tea, as people would come by without much formality, mingle and talk a bit, and then leave when they felt like it. Lots of other variations exist, particularly if you look at local modifications throughout the Commonwealth. But a high tea is an informal tea for after work or at the end of a long day.
Tuesday, November 08, 2022
In every age of Christianity, since it was first preached, there has been what may be called a religion of the world, which so far imitates the one true religion, as to deceive the unstable and unwary. The world does not oppose religion as such. I may say, it never has opposed it. In particular, it has, in all ages, acknowledged in one sense or other the Gospel of Christ, fastened on one or other of its characteristics, and professed to embody this in its practice; while by neglecting the other parts of the holy doctrine, it has, in fact, distorted and corrupted even that portion of it which it has exclusively put forward, and so has contrived to explain away the whole;—for he who cultivates only one precept of the Gospel to the exclusion of the rest, in reality attends to no part at all. Our duties balance each other; and though we are too sinful to perform them all perfectly, yet we may in some measure be performing them all, and preserving the balance on the whole; whereas, to give ourselves only to this or that commandment, is to incline our minds in a wrong direction, and at length to pull them down to the earth, which is the aim of our adversary, the Devil.
John Henry Newman, "The Religion of the Day" (Sermon 24), Parochial Sermons, Volume 1.
Monday, November 07, 2022
Cathedral of Immerath
Sorrow, mortal children, cast the dust of time upon your head;
all your fairest works are crumbled; soon they will be dead;
this soldier-building, wounded once by guns of blood and death,
was left unheeded, unregarded, rasping in its breath;
unloved and lonely veteran, it kept the watch of years
where its ancestors broke the ground; it fought the things of fear.
But God and holy Lambert's way no longer find respect,
for Mammon is this age's god, and all things does direct.
So strip the village! Strip the church! And strip the very earth!
Those things a people will destroy will measure their unworth.
The future is out of reach; the present now
is running swiftly past; hope is now
as memory, however cut and shaped, is now,
and both are running swiftly past; so now
be patient with the day; for only now
are you and I here, and we know no fate but now,
when we are as we are before God's eternal now.
Sunday, November 06, 2022
The next fortnightly book will be The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems, 1940-1640 BC, one of the Oxford World's Classics books. It is edited by R. B. Parkinson and purports to include all surviving literary works of Ancient Egypt that are still relatively complete and relatively intelligible. The Tale of Sinuhe, of course, is the most famous. It tells of a courtier (Za-Nehet or Sinuhe) who flees the Egyptian court on the death of Pharaoh Amenemhat I and ends up in the court of a king in Retjenu, which is roughly the Egyptian name for Syria and Canaan, but eventually in his old age returns home.
The works that are included in this edition:
1. The Tale of Sinuhe
2. The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant
3. The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor
4. The Tale of King Cheops' Court
5. The Words of Neferti
6. The Words of Khakheperreseneb
7. The Dialogue of a Man and his Soul
8. The Dialogue of Ipuur and the Lord of All
9. The Teaching of King Amenemhat
10. The Teaching for King Merikare
11. The 'Loyalist' Teaching
12. The Teaching of the Vizier Ptahhotep
13. The Teaching of Khety
It also ends with a selection of some of the fragments we have of other Egyptian literary works from the period.
Opening Passages: From "Striding Folly":
'Shall I expect you next Wednesday for our game as usual?' asked Mr Mellilow.
'Of course, of course,' said Mr Creech. 'Very glad there's no ill feeling, Mellilow. Next Wednesday as well. Unless...' his heavy face darkened for a moment, as though at some disagreeable recollection. (p. 35)
From "The Haunted Policeman":
'Good God!' said his lordship. 'Did I do that?'
'All the evidence points that way,' replied his wife.
'Then I can say that I never knew so convincing a body of evidence produce such an inadequate result.'
The nurse appeared to take this reflection personally. She said in a tone of rebuke:
'He's a beautiful boy.' (p. 59)
'Yes, my son.'
'You know those peaches of Mr Puffett's, the whacking great big ones you said I wasn't to take?'
'Well, I've tooken them.' (p. 93)
Summary: "Striding Folly" is a story of Mr Mellilow and Mr Creech, who regularly meet for a chess match. Mr Creech is extremely unpopular, having bought a significant quantity of highly scenic and universally visible land (originally owned by the Striding family and marked by a stone tower known as the Folly) in the area simply in order to the Electrical Power Company to build a large power-plant as the area begins to be electrified. Mr Mellilow is the only person who is still polite to him, because of their regular chess matches, although even he is very unhappy about Mr Creech's actions. In this state of mind, Mr Mellilow has a dream in which he is missing his goloshes and chased by a pair of towers across a chessboard-like land lit by flashes of lightning, ending with seeing a dead black crow. When next he is supposed to meet Mr Creech, however, Mr Creech does not show and instead a stranger comes by asking to play; afterward, Mr Mellilow, looking for his goloshes, wanders up to the Folly, where he does indeed find his goloshes, right by a murdered Mr Creech. Mr Mellilow is of course the primary suspect for the murder until Lord Peter Wimsey, a friend of the Chief Constable's, shows up.
In "The Haunted Policeman", Lord Peter and Harriet have just had their firstborn son, and Lord Peter, having just seen off the doctor, meets a worried and distracted policeman just off duty, whom he spontaneously asks to help him celebrate. The policeman tells Lord Peter the source of his distraction. Walking a beat, the policeman had turned into Merriman's End and noticed a suspicious character when someone began shouting about a murder. The policeman goes to Number 13 and sees a curious sight through the letter-flap. Inside there is a black-and-white marble floor and a staircase with a red carpet. A nude woman at the bottom of the staircase is carrying a pot of blue and yellow flowers. He sees a number of other things, all quite vividly, but the most serious is a large man on the floor with a knife in his throat. He blows his whistle, and has to leave the house temporarily to make sure people don't run into the street, and soon is met by another policeman, who was coming to take over for the night. They discover a problem. There is no Number 13 (all the streets are even-numbered), and Number 12 and Number 14 (and, indeed, all the others) look nothing like what the policeman had seen through the letter-flap. He is accused of having been drinking and might well lose his job, if Lord Peter cannot solve the mystery of the disappearing house.
In "Talboys", the oldest son of Lord Peter and Harriet, Bredon, is in trouble for having stolen a couple of prize peaches from Mr Puffett. Mr Puffett is fairly affable about it, and Lord Peter whips Bredon. A visitor, Miss Quirk, a friend of Harriet's sister, is staying and takes a dark view of corporal punishment as only encouraging delinquency, and takes herself to be vindicated when all of Mr Puffett's peaches are stolen, since Bredon is the likeliest suspect. Lord Peter and Mr Puffett investigate the scene of the crime, while Miss Quirk follows up her suspicion of Bredon, who is certainly hiding something.
All three stories are that particular form of mystery story in which someone is falsely accused, whom we know from having 'met' them probably to be falsely accused, but on grounds that seem unimpeachable, and therefore all have a structure of building up evidence in order to show that the evidence's apparent direction is not what it seems. "Talboys" is best of the three, and on its own is a reason to read this short collection. It has the most natural set-up for the crime and the most natural reason for Lord Peter to be involved; it has the most distinctive characterization; and it is a very funny story, being in part a send-up of modern views of education and parenting, embodied in Miss Quirk. It perhaps helps the story that Miss Quirks have become more, rather than less, common; being judgmental about other people's approach to parenting seems a common sport in our day and, as with Miss Quirk, it is a sport that anyone can play, even the childless. But while it's true enough that parents make their share of mistakes, sometimes even serious ones, it's only in the most extreme cases true that another person in their place would certainly do better. As in war, no plan survives contact with the enemy, so too in parenting, no scheme of how it should be done ever survives contact with actual children. At the very least, all parenting requires some custom-tailoring. Sayers's skewering of Miss Quirk's refusal to recognize this is very well done, and makes for an enjoyable story throughout.
My past two weeks have been for the most part extraordinarily busy, but listening to audiobooks is something I can occasionally do even when my reading is itself taking a hit -- more places I can do it -- so I also listened to two audiobooks -- the audiobook version of Striding Folly, put out by Blackstone Publishing and narrated by Ian Carmichael, and Colin Duriez's Dorothy L. Sayers: A Biography of Death, Dante, and Lord Peter, published by Oasis Audio and narrated by Simon Vance. Both were quite good. "Talboys" in particular works quite well in audio form; I did notice that the audio script toned down some of the policeman's crudeness in "The Haunted Policeman". Duriez's biography struck me as probably better in audiobook form that it would be in book form; it's more a conversational introduction than a deep dive into Sayers's life.
'I wish,' said Harriet, a little irritably, for she strongly disliked being lectured about her duties and being thus prevented from attending to them, 'you wouldn't always talk about "a" child, as if all children were alike. Even my three are all quite different.'
'Mothers always think their own children are different,' said Miss Quirk. 'But the fundamental principles of child-psychology are the same in all, I have studied the subject. Take this question of punishment. When you punish a child -- '
'Which child?' (p. 115)
Dorothy L. Sayers, Striding Folly, New English Library (London: 1977).