Saturday, September 24, 2022

Links of Note

 * Justin E. H. Smith, Re-entering the Vampire Castle, on the history of the vampire

* Carissa Phillips-Garrett, Why Aristotle's Virtuous Agent Won't Forgive: Aristotle on Syngnome, Praotes, and Megalopsychia (PDF)

* Marc Morris, Normans and Slavery: Breaking the Bonds

* Eric Brown and Clerk Shaw, Socrates and Coherent Desire (Gorgias 466a-468e) (PDF)

* Sarah Karp looks at the Peace Warriors, an organization devoted to training for nonviolent campaigns

* Wenjin Liu, Ignorance in Plato's Protagoras (PDF)

* Meira Levinson, Tatiana Geron, and Harry Brighouse, Conceptions of Educational Equity

* David MacPherson, Transfiguring the Unborn: Abortion, Human Equality, and Moral Perception, at "Public Discourse"

Friday, September 23, 2022

Till Time Seemed Fiction, Past and Present One

 Rome: On the Palatine
by Thomas Hardy

 (April 1887) 

 We walked where Victor Jove was shrined awhile,
 And passed to Livia's rich red mural show,
 Whence, thridding cave and Criptoportico,
 We gained Caligula's dissolving pile.
 And each ranked ruin tended to beguile
 The outer sense, and shape itself as though
 It wore its marble gleams, its pristine glow
 Of scenic frieze and pompous peristyle.
 When lo, swift hands, on strings nigh overhead,
 Began to melodize a waltz by Strauss :
 It stirred me as I stood, in C├Žsar's house,
 Raised the old routs Imperial lyres had led,
 And blended pulsing life with lives long done,
 Till Time seemed fiction, Past and Present one.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Possible World Semantics

 Saul Kripke died last week (September 15), so there have been various obituaries slowly coming out. One of his major contributions was laying the foundations of possible world semantics, it's unsurprising that the obituaries and tributes make an attempt to explain the concept of a possible world to a lay audience. Unfortunately, they often make elementary mistakes in doing so. I don't intend this particularly as a criticism, since I think this is very easy to do when trying to explain things for those who are not familiar with them already; and, in addition, since analytic philosophers often don't read up on the history of the concepts they use, it's easy for mutations to develop and errors to propagate even among professional philosophers. Some of these are relatively harmless, but with respect to possible worlds, I think one error in particular has a tendency to cause no end of confusion. It is, more or less, this. A possible world, the error goes, helps us explain possibility statements by thinking in terms of other worlds; for instance, if you didn't eat breakfast, we can cash out the statement that you could have eaten breakfast by thinking of you as eating breakfast in another world. This is precisely how Kripke held we were not to think of possible worlds; in later times, reflecting on the confusion that this error caused, he wondered if he should have used a different phrase, like 'counterfactual situation'. Thus it seems reasonable to put up a very, very elementary guide to how possible world semantics is supposed to work.

We can start how Kripke would, with something that is familiar to most people with a basic mathematics education. If we talk about probabilities, we can do so in terms of what are sometimes known as microstates, particular configurations. For instance, a regular die has six microstates, depending on whether 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 come up. Since nothing differentiates the numbers on the face of the die, in a well-made die, each of these is equiprobable, and thus each has a 1/6 probability of being the result of a given roll of the die. 'Possible world' is just a generalization of this idea for cases in which we are more interested in possibilities than probabilities.

If we stick with our single die, we can think of each possible result of a roll as represented by a list of yes/no questions with their answers. For instance, the result in which one pip comes up could be represented as:

Does 1 come up on the die? Yes
Does 2 come up on the die? No
Does 3 come up on the die? No
Does 4 come up on the die? No
Does 5 come up on the die? No
Does 6 come up on the die? No

If nothing whatsoever exists or is relevant to the situation except the faces of the die, such a list specifies a possible world: a possible world is a logical object associated with a consistent list of yes/no questions with yes or no answers, which we can compare with similar logical objects. In this case we are interpreting the possible world as a roll of a die. If there were only two dice, and nothing else were relevant at all, we could capture the possibilities with lists that would cover all the new possibilities. For instance, this would be the list for the possible world for snake eyes:

Does 1 come up on die 1? Yes
Does 2 come up on die 1? No
Does 3 come up on die 1? No
Does 4 come up on die 1? No
Does 5 come up on die 1? No
Does 6 come up on die 1? No
Does 1 come up on die 2? Yes
Does 2 come up on die 2? No
Does 3 come up on die 2? No
Does 4 come up on die 2? No
Does 5 come up on die 2? No

We can even specify possibilities that have no well-defined probability. One of St. Olaf's miracles was rolling a 13 with two regular six-sided dice because one of the dice split in the middle of the roll. The possible world for St. Olaf's miracle roll, assuming that we call the die that actually split 'die 2', is described by the following list:

Does 1 come up on die 1? No
Does 2 come up on die 1? No
Does 3 come up on die 1? No
Does 4 come up on die 1? No
Does 5 come up on die 1? No
Does 6 come up on die 1? Yes
Does 1 come up on die 2? Yes
Does 2 come up on die 2? No
Does 3 come up on die 2? No
Does 4 come up on die 2? No
Does 5 come up on die 2? No
Does 6 come up on die 2? Yes

I said above that a possible world is a logical object associated with a consistent list of yes/no questions with their answers; the St. Olaf's miracle list is only consistent if we allow die-splitting to be relevant and possible, and even if we do, there are going to be question-answer lists that are not consistent -- they would require kinds of splitting that are not relevant or possible. Such lists designate, as you might expect, impossible worlds. Impossible worlds can be tricky to use; we will stick with possible worlds, that is, with cases designated by lists whose answers are all consistent with each other.

When we are talking about possible and necessary things, however, we usually want to handle more complicated things than dice rolls. Thus 'possible world' is usually reserved for cases in which our list of questions and answers are not just consistent but in some way complete, in the sense that they cover everything. This introduces additional complications; it means that we can't actually study each individual possible world by looking through all the items on its associated list, because we can't read through a list that covers everything. We need to handle these complicated cases in another way. The key is in another aspect of the description of possible worlds that we gave: possible worlds are things that can be compared with each other. That is, one possible world can be related to other possible worlds.

In principle, you could have all sorts of complicated and weird relations among possible worlds, but the relations in which we are particularly interested are binary relations, that is, relations that relate one particular possible world to another possible world by linking up their answers in some way. This is known as an accessibility relation: an accessibility relation is a binary relation between possible worlds that captures how the answers in the list for one possible world are related to the answers in the list for another possible world. Basically, what we're trying to do with accessibility relations is make sense of the fact that what we say about one situation may depend on what we say about another situation. For instance, I might interpret the possible worlds as moments in time and the list describing one includes the question and answer: "Is it 3:00 pm on Thursday, September 22, 2022? Yes." Then we would expect that it would also include things like, "When one minute passes, will it be 3:01 pm on Thursday, September 22, 2022? Yes." But the next minute also has its own list. On that list, both of those questions are answered with "No", but "Is it 3:01 pm on Thursday, September 22, 2022?" is answered with "Yes". The lists of the two times are related to each other, and the question & answer on the first, "When one minute passes, will it be 3:01 om on Thursday, September 22, 2022? Yes" tells us that that is the case. Therefore, the second moment is 'accessible' from the first, if we are talking about a relation of one moment being a minute in the future of another moment. The list describing one tells us a little bit about the list describing the other; they are linked by an accessibility relation.

With possible worlds and accessibility relations, we can define what are known as modal operators. Modal operators are the logical elements in the list-items that tell us about items on other lists. When dealing with times, for instance, 'at some point in the past', 'a minute in the future', 'at every point in the past', etc., are all modal operators. For instance 'at every point in the past, X' on a list for a possible world (call it W) tells us that if there are possible worlds accessible from W in the sense that their lists describe moments in the past for W, all of them have X (whatever X is) on their lists. There are many different kinds of modal operators; 'it is possible that X' (whatever X is) and 'it is necessary that X' (whatever X is) are common ones, for instance. And whenever we have a statement with a modal operator, we can translate it into discussion with possible worlds and accessibility relations. One reason you might do this is to see how one modal operator is related to another. There are many interesting kinds of research done in modal logic that look into the question of what kinds of accessibility relations go with what kinds of modal operators, and with that information you can learn a lot about how a modal operator works and its similarities and differences when compared to other modal operators. Another reason you might want to talk about possible worlds and accessibility relations rather than modal operators is that many modal operators are blunt instruments; they don't pick out particular alternatives, they just talk about them in a general way, and sometimes we want to talk about particular alternatives. There are other uses of possible world semantics, but these are probably the most common.

Those are the basics. Note that a possible world doesn't, strictly speaking, have to be a 'world'; that's just a figure of speech, although your lists could describe worlds. There are a few additional complications that are worth noting, although they aren't necessary for the basics. I already noted impossible worlds above. There are situations where using possible worlds can get very complicated  but if you allow yourself to use impossible worlds as well, you can simplify things a lot. Not everyone likes using them, though, and they are sometimes hard to interpret and relate to each other. Another complication is that people often assume that the list of questions for each possible world is always exactly the same. This is not strictly necessary, and there are times when you wouldn't want to make that assumption, but it simplifies things, so people often assume it. Another point worth noting is that, while I described the lists as being lists of yes/no questions linked with their answers, the more common way it is done is by describing them as lists of propositions linked with their truth values. For instance, instead of "Does 1 come up on die 1? Yes", the item on the list would be thought of as being, "1 comes up on die 1. True." But the two ways of talking (yes/no answers to questions and true/false evaluations of statements) are logically equivalent, so you can pick the one that you find easiest to use.

Ecstatic Heights in Thought and Rhyme

 Shelley's Skylark
by Thomas Hardy

(The neighbourhood of Leghorn: March 1887) 

Somewhere afield here something lies
 In Earth's oblivious eyeless trust
 That moved a poet to prophecies--
 A pinch of unseen, unguarded dust:
 The dust of the lark that Shelley heard,
 And made immortal through times to be;--
 Though it only lived like another bird,
 And knew not its immortality:
 Lived its meek life; then, one day, fell--
 A little ball of feather and bone;
 And how it perished, when piped farewell,
 And where it wastes, are alike unknown.
 Maybe it rests in the loam I view,
 Maybe it throbs in a myrtle’s green,
 Maybe it sleeps in the coming hue
 Of a grape on the slopes of yon inland scene.
 Go find it, faeries, go and find
 That tiny pinch of priceless dust,
 And bring a casket silver-lined,
 And framed of gold that gems encrust;
 And we will lay it safe therein,
 And consecrate it to endless time;
 For it inspired a bard to win
 Ecstatic heights in thought and rhyme.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Truth Will Be Truth Alway

 To a Lady
Offended by a Book of the Writer's
by Thomas Hardy 

Now that my page upcloses, doomed, maybe,
Never to press thy cosy cushions more,
Or wake thy ready Yeas as heretofore,
Or stir thy gentle vows of faith in me:

Knowing thy natural receptivity,
I figure that, as flambeaux banish eve,
My sombre image, warped by insidious heave
Of those less forthright, must lose place in thee.

So be it. I have borne such. Let thy dreams
Of me and mine diminish day by day,
And yield their space to shine of smugger things;
Till I shape to thee but in fitful gleams,
And then in far and feeble visitings,
And then surcease. Truth will be truth alway.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Three O'Clock on Friday I

 This is the first part of a short story draft.


It was three o'clock in the afternoon on Friday, and the bell of Our Lady of Sorrows rang out with one low, dull tone. A pedestrian walked furtively along the street beside the basilica. He met no one and saw no one, for the people of the city usually avoided this neighborhood. From time to time, the pedestrian would glance behind him, as if afraid even to be seen. In the distance a sound like thunder rumbled, and it was hot and humid in the way it often is before a fierce summer rain, but the pedestrian walked with no expectation of rain, because there was never any rain. His footsteps echoed in the empty street.

He was a long, thin man, pale with sandy-brown hair wisping out from under a shabby fedora. He wore a trench coat that was equally shabby. But it is perhaps not right to say that he wore it; he slouched into it, hunched into it, and the hat on his head was pressed down so low that it might be said to slouch into him as he slouched into his trench. A more suspicious-looking person could hardly be imagined, short of also wearing dark glasses. He wore no dark glasses today, though. He had gambled his away at some point. He also did not care whether he looked suspicious. Everyone in the city looked suspicious, especially when they were doing something suspicious like walking outside. He only cared whether he was recognized.

As he pulled away from the church, he heard something like voices echoing in the distance. He stopped suddenly, his head tilted first this direction and then that, in an effort to ascertain, first, whether he had really heard them, and, second, from what direction. He heard them again, and quickened his pace, turning suddenly into a dingy alleyway whose sides were littered with refuse. He tried to walk softly, but the footsteps insisted on echoing, regardless of what he did.

From this point, he went through a maze of alleyways and side streets and wynds in a way that seemed almost without reason; but he knew his destination, and, after a quick and furtive look around, turned suddenly into a run-down close and knocked on a door with a little steel sliding-window in it. The little window slid open and an eye and part of a face peered with suspicion out at him.

"What do you want?" the eye and part of a face said to him in a surly tone. Said, not asked, for the tone was not really that of a question but of a challenge.

"Fish in newsprint," said the pedestrian.

The little steel window slid shut again and there was a sound of locks unlocking. One bolt, two bolt, three bolt, four bolt. Then the turning of a key in another lock. The door opened, and the eye and part of a face were fully displayed with the other eye and the rest of the face and, indeed, a whole body, a stout man with cold, narrow eyes and a scowly face that made his surly tone seem almost friendly in comparison. He stepped aside, the pedestrian stepped in, and the door shut behind the pedestrian as he proceeded immediately a narrow and badly lit stair. He went up three flights and then knocked on the door.

"Who is it?" asked a muffled voice from inside.

"The milkman," said the pedestrian.

There was a sound of a sliding deadbolt, then a fumbling at the lock on the doorknob, and the door opened. A man, about a head shorter than the pedestrian but equally pale, with strawy blond hair stood there and waved the pedestrian in. His face looked very tired, but he had a small smile that made him seem rather genial in comparison with either the pedestrian or the scowly-faced man. The door was closed behind the pedestrian, the deadbolt locked, the door locked, and only after this did the tired-looking man say anything.

"Well, Howard," he said, "how have you been?" His voice was pleasant and bland.

"Well enough, John," said the pedestrian in a dull tone, his voice slightly more gravelly than John's. "And you?"

"Well enough," said John with his tired smile. "Were you followed?"

Howard hated this question, which was always asked, and for no good reason, since no one would ever have said that they were followed, but he gave the same ritual answer, "No."

"Good," said John. "Everyone else is already here, so we can start. A beer?"

"Yes, please," said Howard dully.

The apartment in which they were standing was not much of an apartment, there was no proper hall, the hall, such as it was, being about one foot long before it opened on a living room with beige walls and a horrid lime green carpet. In the middle of the room was a card table with four folding chairs around it, two currently occupied. John went into an adjoining room and came back with a bottle of beer as Howard draped his trench coat over one of the unoccupied chairs and sat in it, putting his hat on the table beside him. Howard looked across from him at a man with dark skin and curly hair, whose high-cheekboned facial features might have made him look haughty if it weren't for the fact that his wide green eyes made him look perpetually as if he were surprised, or had recently been dazed by something.

"Hello, Sam," said Howard dully. "How are you?"

"Well enough, Howard," said Sam. He had a warm voice, much as one would expect from a radio presenter. "And how are you?"

"Well enough," said Howard in his usual dull tone. He turned his head to the other man, who was tanned and had an unruly shock of red hair. It was dangerous hair, hair that would certainly get one recognized in the street, and all the more so because the man never wore any hat. He was a dangerous man to be with, a man who would surely increase anyone's chances of being recognized, and he had the mocking smile of a dangerous man to be with. He always made everyone nervous because he had narrow, sarcastic eyes that never seemed to look at anyone directly. He looked at Howard mockingly out of the corner of his eye.

"Hello, Howard," he said. His voice was, if anything, even more mocking than his smile. "How are you?"

"Well enough, Tom" said Howard dully. "And you?"

"Well enough, Howard," said Tom, and again his voice made the perfunctory answer sound like he was goading Howard rather than being polite.

John, who had been clearing and replacing the beers already on the table, sat down and said, pulling out a seventy-eight card deck. "Let's waste no time, gentlemen."

They drew for first deal and Sam got the low card and became the dealer. Tom, at his left, cut the deck, then Sam dealt out the cards three at a time to each, randomly each round throwing a card to the kitty in the center of the table, and so it went until all the cards had been dealt. They each threw a starter into the pot, then looked at the eighteen cards in their hand, and John, to Sam's right, began the bidding and the earnest part of the game.

"So Sam," said Tom in his mocking voice, looking at Sam out of the corner of his eye. "Are you still seeing that musician?" Tom liked to talk during the game itself, which irritated Howard to no end. But the man was a gossip and there was no stopping him.

"No," said Sam shortly, clearly not wanting to talk about it.

"She was a beauty," Tom said, and said truly, although his mocking tone might have misled anyone who did not know that into thinking otherwise. "And such a voice. And when she played!"

"Yes," said Sam.

"I heard she even played for the Duke in the Castle once," John said. "Is that true?"

"Yes," said Sam.

"What was that like?" asked John.

"I don't know," said Sam. "She always refused to talk about it."

"I have always wondered what the Castle is like," said John.

There was an uncomfortable pause, and Howard said, in a tone that for once was sharp rather than dull, "Don't wonder about such things. Better never to know."

Sam and Tom both agreed, and Tom said, "If any of us got pulled to the Castle, it certainly would not be for music. And you don't want to be brought before the Duke on the charge of gambling outside the casino and gambling tax evasion."

This went without saying, and Howard wished that Tom would shut up. But Tom was not the shutting-up kind, and his mocking voice went on, occasionally punctuated by a laugh that always reminded Howard somewhat of both a donkey's braying and a duck's quacking, probably because both sound sarcastic. It was only well into the game, with Howard now the dealer, that he brought it back to Sam's musical lady.

"I tell you, Sam, if you dropped your girl, let me know her number, because she was a beauty."

"I didn't drop her," said Sam. 

"But you aren't seeing her," said John, making the sentence a half-question.

"I've had a few relationships like that," said Tom with a sarcastic laugh. "Never with such a good-looking pair of legs, though."

"I'm not seeing her," said Sam, "and I didn't drop her. She was at the Obajdin party when it was broken up by the Ducal Guard. I haven't seen her since, and if anyone asks, I'm not seeing her in any other way."

There was an uncomfortable silence. Then Tom said, "Well, I knew a guy who was pulled to the Castle, and while he was never the same afterward, he did come back." Perhaps it was intended as a sympathetic comment, but 'sympathetic' is not one of the varieties of tones of mockery that Tom's voice could take.

"Shut up, Tom," said Howard.

"Stop talking about such things," said John, almost at the same time. His voice cracked slightly.

Tom looked at John, and despite the fact that John was sitting across from him, still managed to look at him out of the corner of his eye. What this look meant was anyone's guess, but he said nothing, and the game went on in relative silence until, to everyone's misfortune, Tom resoundingly won the next round with a bold bid backed by major trumps and kings in an improbably good hand.

"And the World wins it for me," Tom crowed. "It's too bad we weren't at the casino; I could have broken the bank. Instead, I have to settle for breaking your puny little wallets." And in the face of such an exultant victory, whatever silence Tom was capable of immediately evaporated away. 

Two rounds later, Sam suddenly said, "Do you guys hear something?"

They all froze, their ears straining in the sudden silence of Tom no longer talking, and they did indeed hear something. There was a sound, slightly, but only slightly, muffled, like one large object hitting another large object. Suddenly John said, "Quick! Into the bedroom."

They scrambled to grab money, coats, hats, knocking over their chairs and bumping cards onto the floor as they did so. There was a terrible banging and screeching as they rushed into the bedroom and, as John threw open the closet door, they heard the banging of a fist on the front door of the apartment, Bang! Bang!, and a shout, "Open up in the name of the Duke!" In the closet, John was trying to pull back a sliding panel disguised as a wall, and Sam stepped in to help him. There was banging again at the front door, this time not of a fist but of something far heavier. The panel slid aside to reveal a narrow stairway, and they hurried down it, first John, then Sam, then Tom, then Howard. At the bottom there was no door, only a kind of service hatchway or access panel through which they had to crawl on hands and feet. Above and behind them they heard  something like a splintering and shouting. Beyond the hatchway was a short tunnel, then another access panel to the outside. Out they each came, tumbling and stumbling a little, John, Sam, Tom, and Howard, and as they came out, they began to run in different directions.

Howard had had some difficulty squeezing through the last access panel, so he was considerably behind the others. As he ran, he heard more shouts behind him. He was being chased by the Ducal Guard. He was not chased long. The Ducal Guard are never patient, and the soon just shot him in the back as he ran. 

A searing pain coursed through him, like nothing he had ever felt before. A vivid flash of red and something like stars poured through his brain as he stumbled and fell, face-first, into the ground. His whole body seemed to be throbbing with pain. He could not think very clearly. The pain was horrible, and he did not like it, but he almost liked it; it was horrible but it was vivid. And at least he had been shot. His spinning brain grasped after the alternatives to being shot, looming like a nightmare at the edge of consciousness, but the alternatives all were swiftly spinning away, too, and nothing was left except this: At least he had been shot.

The pain itself seemed to be spinning away, although slowly, and darkness fell. He still heard voices in the darkness. Then, before it all went silent, he heard in the distance the bell of Our Lady of Sorrows strike one low tone, making clear to the whole city that it was three o'clock in the afternoon on Friday.

to be continued

Yea, I Have Wondered, Often Wondered

 To the Moon
by Thomas Hardy

“What have you looked at, Moon,
 In your time,
Now long past your prime?”
“O, I have looked at, often looked at
 Sweet, sublime,
Sore things, shudderful, night and noon
 In my time.” 

“What have you mused on, Moon,
In your day,
So aloof, so far away?
“O, I have mused on, often mused on
 Growth, decay,
 Nations alive, dead, mad, aswoon,
 In my day!”

 “Have you much wondered, Moon,
 On your rounds,
Self-wrapt, beyond Earth's bounds ? ”
“Yea, I have wondered, often wondered
 At the sounds
 Reaching me of the human tune
 On my rounds." 

 “What do you think of it, Moon,
 As you go?
 Is Life much, or no?”
 “O, I think of it, often think of it
 As a show
 God means surely to shut up soon,
 As I go."

Monday, September 19, 2022

Two Poem Drafts and a Poem Re-Draft


The sleep is sealing down my eyes
like envelopes with letters filled
and I am drawn by anchors down
to depths of sea against my will.

The waves are lapping at my cheek,
but strangely misty like a cloud,
as if the sky itself bent down
its stormy head, so handsome-proud.

A cloud is but a prophecy
that somehow lost its tangled way;
and I in clouds am drowning now
and falling down with falling day.

The end of day, the end of life,
the one, the other pictures small.
In sleep I softly vanish now,
as one day we will vanish all.

All Alone

All alone
beyond every wind
in an ecstasy
of worlds without end;
still as stone
when the fires descend
from eternity
where loves never die,
just infinity,
we are all alone,
you and I.

Can Even Death

 All this world's minions
before death come to flatter;
but if I love you,
can even death matter?
The world's many waters
in tide and in flood
pour down upon us;
but see -- all is good. 

If you love me,
what does death matter?
By force and by arrow,
by bullet to brain,
by harm to the soul,
by tortures of pain,
if love bonds us both,
what death can then matter?

The stars in their courses
circle above;
God in His grace
descends like a dove;
though all this world's minions
before death come to flatter,
if God is our Love,
can even death matter?

The Argument from Evil, Internal Critique, and Error Theory

 A few days ago, Greg Koukl tweeted:

Inevitably, the atheist-apologetics folks responded. Most of that is the usual hackery of atheist apologetics on the internet, but an interesting side issue kept arising that is worth noting, since it holds a lesson for arguments well outside this particular topic. A common response was that a person arguing against theism can engaged in an internal critique. This is true; one can typically modify an argument from common principles, ad iudicium argument in Locke's terminology, into an ad hominem argument in Locke's (rather than the fallacy manual) sense, arguing for something specifically on the interlocutor's premises. In this case we would shift the argument from saying that God cannot exist because there is evil to saying that the theist cannot say both that God exists and there is evil. However, the responses also regularly showed the reasons for thinking that this could be done by an error theorist or a similarly strong skeptical position were really based on the false assumption that internal critiques work like non-internal critiques. This is a common mistake made by amateurs and even occasionally by professional philosophers, but it is generally not a minor mistake in terms of how badly it can mess up an argument.

The argument given was amateurish, so I'll leave it in graceful anonymity, but essentially the claim made was that there is general agreement among atheistic and theistic arguments that you can be an error theorist and make the argument from evil. The empirical claim about the agreement of philosophers is in fact less sure than the internet atheist was assuming, but set this aside. Since everyone in the discussion is assuming that we are talking specifically about moral evil, and the error theorist doesn't think 'There is evil' is an objective truth (indeed, thinks it is false), the error theorist has to be engaging in an internal critique or Lockean ad hominem. However, as noted above, you cannot transfer features of a non-internal critique directly over to an internal critique. The argument from evil as a non-internal critique begins with establishing 'There is evil' as true and concludes (by some path) 'There is no God'. This is straightforwardly a problem for any theist. However, the internal critique cannot be structured the same way. As an internal critique, it is a critique of coherence, and therefore the internal critique is not getting the conclusion that 'There is no God', but the conclusion that 'There is evil and God exists' is false. Now if we also assume that the interlocutor is right in accepting 'There is evil' we can conclude from this that 'There is no God', just by the definition of conjunction. However, the error theorist is not making such an assumption; the error theorist already holds that the interlocutor is mistaken in accepting 'There is evil'. From 'There is evil and God exists' being false and 'There is evil' being false, you cannot conclude anything whatsoever about 'God exists'; 'There is evil' being false already suffices to make the conjunction false. Therefore the error theorist is not in fact in a position to make an argument from evil against God's existence by internal critique or Lockean ad hominem, because the error theorist is not in a position to say that the theist's best option is not to keep God's existence and reject 'There is evil'. To put it in other words: the error theorist could parrot the argument, but the error theorist is not in fact in a position actually to press one of the necessary points in it. When you are giving an internal critique, you don't get some kind of magical immunity from your interlocutor turning the tables and responding with an internal critique ("But you yourself don't think there is evil, so you aren't in a position to say that accepting the atheistic conclusion is the right thing to do, even if you are right").

Here we run into another problem that has to be navigated in converting from Lockean ad iudicium to Lockean ad hominem. There is no 'the theist'. There are lots of different theists, whose views form a family, not a monolith. Now, this is not an issue for Lockean ad iudicium; that's about what's actually true, and not about what follows from principles of interlocutors. But Lockean ad hominem is necessarily relative to interlocutor; internal critique is necessarily relative to the particular version of the system to which it is internal. Thus by internal critique you are not proving a given position false; you are proving a particular attempt to hold the position untenable. This is one of the foundational points in philosophy. In Book I of The Republic, Socrates argues against Thrasymachus's position that might makes right. But as Glaucon and Adeimantus point out when they leave the party, all Socrates showed was that Thrasymachus couldn't consistently maintain it; he hadn't shown the position false, much less that nobody could consistently maintain it. An internal critique just shows that something went wrong somewhere in a given set of claims in a position; it doesn't show where, and it definitely doesn't show that the problem is unfixable or that other positions in the family might not be right. If the positions in a family are sufficiently similar in a relevant way, then one can rule out tenability for the entire family, but this has to be established, and it can't be established by internal critique but by looking at what the actual positions in the family are. As it happens there are theistic positions that hold that there is no evil, and that is something that we know even without looking at potential limitations in generalizability of a given attempt to make the argument from evil as an internal critique. In the non-internal case, there would be no problem; the one putting forward the critique can simply argue that the no-evil theist took the wrong horn of the dilemma. But an error theorist doing an internal critique cannot make that argument. If you, not believing in elves, say, "This is my argument against X. At least one of these two views you hold is wrong: X, or elves don't exist," you've given an internal critique, but we might question whether you understand what an argument against X is. You can have all sorts of internal critiques, but an argument against X actually has to reach X. In fact, this is (while not impossible) usually difficult even under ideal circumstances with internal critique, precisely because it has to be an argument about coherence and pinning down possible causes of incoherence to that one X you are targeting is not always easy. But, as I'll note below, the error theorist seems to lack the resources by which one would solve this problem even in ideal circumstances.

Ah, Brandon, but you are just quibbling; obviously we are only talking about 'theism' in a sense that accepts both 'There is evil' and 'God exists'. Well, it's not quibbling to point out that the Lockean ad hominem version can only even apply to a subset of the positions to which the Lockean ad iudicium version can; that is something one always has to take into account when dealing with internal critiques. But let's assume that we are only dealing with such positions as hold both 'There is evil' and 'God exists'. But here we run into a third problem that has to be navigated in internal critique: the interlocutor sets the terms, and they can set them however they deem most appropriate. So suppose a theist whose position is this: God exists and there is evil, where 'evil' is taken in some sense consistent with the existence of God. On a Lockean ad iudicium approach, this is not a problem; you would just argue that the theist's account of evil is wrong. But with in an internal critique or Lockean ad hominem, you can't do that; you have to accept the theist's account of the terms. You can't appeal to common usage; the theist is not committed to common usage but their own, and internal critique has to build on the interlocutor's commitments. (And, in fact, I think a look at a lot of theists would show that it's quite common to have a view of evil such that how 'evil' is used in common usage is only broadly in the vicinity of how the theist understands it.) Someone who accepts the truth of 'There is evil' can point to actual evils to calibrate meanings ('Look at this evil, it's evil for this and that reason and in this and that way, right?'), and then can run an internal critique based on that calibrated meaning. They've checked that the understanding of 'evil' that they are using in the critique is at least close to the understanding of 'evil' that the interlocutor is using. If the interlocutor then says, "No, while I don't know yet exactly where it's diverging, I don't think you have my account of evil right because you keep getting a different answer than I do on this point", then the person putting forward the critique can go back to the calibration and potentially show that, in fact, they do have it right, so the problem really does exist. If we keep getting different answers to a reading comprehension quiz, we can go back to the text we share, calibrate our interpretations by the evidence of the text, and then we can go through your reasoning process and I can show you where your process of interpretation went wrong. But the error theorist can't calibrate meanings in this way; the error theorist has no way of calibrating in such a way as to show that they are not getting the interlocutor's own account of 'evil' subtly wrong. The interlocutor purportedly has the text and the error theorist doesn't think there's any text at all, so how is the error theorist going to show that his interpretation of the interlocutor's supposed text is correct in order to show that there is a problem with the interlocutor's interpretation of it? This is a problem, since going subtly wrong is a common hazard; you can spend years thinking about an argument before you realize that you were misclassifying an example or confusing one property with an associated property or being misled by the form of an expression into thinking that two things were more similar than they are. The error theorist could try to pin down the interlocutor's interpretation with other commitments, but the same problem arises as noted above: all you are doing, at best, is showing that the interlocutor is making a mistake somewhere. But if your argument is that theists make mistakes somewhere, this is, besides being obvious already, not an argument from evil; you only have an argument from evil if the conclusion is that the theist is making a mistake in accepting 'God exists', not if your argument is compatible with accepting that God exists and holding that the theist would have been better to classify or analyze evil in a somewhat different way. And in reality, what you've really shown, if you can't calibrate meanings, is that the interlocutor is making some mistake somewhere or else you don't adequately understand their view.

There seems to be a tendency among amateurs (and, indeed, among some professional philosophers) to think that internal critique is, because internal, hermetically sealed. But in reality internal critique requires meeting people on their own ground, which requires building interpretive bridges to get them correct. When you are doing this with someone whose relevant views are very different from your own, this is very difficult. We have ways of dealing with this, which involve calibrating interpretations based on shared reality. These don't make the internal critique less internal; they involve using our normal communicative means to make sure that your internal critique is getting the 'internal' right. Sometimes this is fairly easy, sometimes it's quite difficult. But if we can't directly calibrate meanings based on agreements about how concepts apply to shared reality, things get massively harder than even the difficult calibration cases. It's like arguing with a storyteller about how the storyteller's story actually goes when you think the storyteller just made it up (so you aren't catching them out on a factual mistake); the question then becomes, How do you prove that the storyteller is getting their own story wrong when they tell you that they don't think you are getting their story right?

We see these sorts of problems a lot. For instance, Chris Daly, in arguing against Nicholas Sturgeon's argument that the error theorist has problems with the argument from evil, considers in passing a case of an error theorist arguing against a theist who is a moral expressivist rather than a moral realist:

The theist who is an expressivist about ethics asserts that God has a strong con-attitude to suffering whether this suffering is brought about by agents or by nature, and so would prevent such suffering occurring if he had the intelligence and power to do so, and if he did not have a correspondingly strong pro-attitude to any of the consequences of that suffering. But, as the theist presumably concedes, there is such suffering.

'Presumably concedes' is doing all of the work here. Yes, if your interlocutor baldly concedes that they hold an obvious inconsistency, you have caught them in an inconsistency; this is not an internal critique, this is your interlocutor doing your work for you. Get better interlocutors. In reality, someone doing an internal critique can't presume; they need to know what the con-attitudes and pro-attitudes are supposed to be, and how their strength is measured, and to be able to assess whether their expressivist just forgot to mention one, or hasn't yet communicated a qualification, or some such, and need to be able to determine that they are getting the expressivist account sufficiently precisely right, and also that their interlocutor is not just making a mistake somewhere out of confusion rather than out of their relevant commitments. They need to make sure that the interlocutor has to concede, and what is more, has to concede it in the right way.

The ultimate problem with respect to calibration, I think, is that people (correctly) recognize that you could make an internal critique version of the argument of evil, thus not deriving the premises from your own moral view, and (incorrectly) assume that this means that setting up the internal critique does not involve your own view at all. Since you are not a telepath capable of assessing people's views directly, you have to establish a relevant common ground between your view and theirs so that you can assess whether you are getting their view correct. If you are trying to build on internal critique of an Icelander's view that elves are causing such-and-such phenomena, and you don't believe that any of the alleged phenomena really happen, you are going to run into difficulties, you are going to run into difficulties assessing whether you are correctly pinning down what these phenomena you don't believe exist would be if they existed and what the implications of their existing would or would not be for the question of whether they could be caused by the particular cause as understood not by yourself but by your interlocutor. Your interlocutor's own judgment is obviously already that the phenomena as he understands them are caused in the way he understands them to be caused by the cause as he understands the cause; you are literally trying to prove that the interlocutor is making a mistake about his own view. To do this, you have to be able to rule out, to at least a reasonable and relevant degree, that your understanding of all these things is not off, and since you can't directly inspect your interlocutor's understanding, you have to establish common ground that can help you determine that your interpretation of your interlocutor's position is right and that when your interlocutor tells you that their view does or does not have a particular implication that they are wrong on their own interpretation (or at least something close enough), rather than, say, the interlocutor's disagreement about the implications being evidence that you don't quite understand their meaning yet, which would often be the case. 

Daly had an answer to this problem, but not a solution. His response is, more or less, that the error theorist could just copy the homework of a moral realist (or whatever person has the relevant common ground) making an argument from evil; but this increases rather than reduces the severity of the calibration problem. What the error theorist needs to be able to do in order to make the critique himself is assess whether the moral realist atheist's internal critique of the moral realist theist is correct, so the error theorist now has to be getting two moral realists right, instead of one. Plagiarizing someone else's critique is not the same as being able to give the critique yourself.

The arguments he gives fail in any case. For instance, he suggests that the error theorist could take over an Objection from Bad Semantics if the theist held that God's goodness is different from human goodness, since it doesn't require that the error theorist make any commitments about first order moral views. "What it requires is that any proponents who are competent language users employ ‘is good’ with the same pattern of use when they apply it to humans as when they apply it to God." The problem with this is that we already know that for the objection to succeed it has to be false or else we have to take the theist simply not to be a competent language user. That is, we already know that the theist in question is not employing 'is good' with the same pattern of use, ex hypothesi, so this completely fails as an internal critique (we are attributing to the theist a position he has already flatly denied, and so are either simply failing to get his position right or are arguing on non-internal grounds that he is wrong to have denied it). A similar problem occurs with Daly's other example, the Objection from Bad Methodology; and indeed, it seems clear that we are going to run generally into the problem that the moral realist critiques that the error theorist can directly assess as effective are at least usually not going to be internal critiques. (Daly gives another possible approach for the error theorist that is infinitely more promising, but it's irrelevant to the question here, since it is not an internal critique or ad hominem at all.)

Thus (1) the error theorist doesn't seem to be in a position to press the right points to make the internal critique work without being subject to internal critique himself; (2) the error theorist doesn't seem to be able to make the internal critique of how the theist combines belief in evil and belief in God an actual argument against the existence of God; and (3) the error theorist doesn't seem to have the basic means that would be required for calibrating his critique so as to be sure that it is an actual internal critique against any given interlocutor. Someone can run the argument from evil as a Lockean ad hominem, but there are major obstacles to an error theorist doing so; the assumption that one can do so seems largely to be based on the false assumption that moving from a non-internal critique to an internal critique doesn't fundamentally change the argument or how one can even argue. When we compare the non-internal and internal versions of arguments, we will usually find that the latter, just for reasons of structure, (i) can make oneself vulnerable to a responding internal critique; (ii) does not apply to all of the same positions the former does; (iii) does not allow for all of the same rational moves and inferences; (iv) gives weaker and less certain conclusions; (v) can be effectively vulnerable to kinds of arguments that would not work for the non-internal version.

Now, conceivably there is some way to navigate these problems in the error theory case, so that we can show there is some particular way by which the error theorist can in fact make the argument from evil by internal critique. The field of possible arguments is vast, and some trail through it might be possible. But we already know enough to know that it will be a walk on a non-straightforward razor's edge. And I can guarantee you, absolutely, that no one has actually done the work to show that such a path even exists. The point is mostly of interest to those of us who like arguments and their quirks in their own right. In reality, an error theorist who puts forward an internal critique argument from evil is guaranteed either to be an idiot or an analytic philosopher playing argument games; intelligent people in serious arguments don't try to prove things by the argumentative equivalent of Rube Goldberg contraptions, and that's precisely what an error theorist's internal critique argument from evil would be. No one is honestly thinking that the error theorist can catch the theist in a game of Mousetrap, pulling the lever that releases the ball that falls on the see-saw until the trap finally after so many indirect connections descends on the mouse. The real interest is its use in showing the kinds of complications that come up with internal critiques.

Snow-Bound in Woodland, a Mournful Word

by Thomas Hardy 

Snow-bound in woodland, a mournful word,
Dropt now and then from the bill of a bird,
Reached me on wind-wafts; and thus I heard,
Wearily waiting :

"I planned her a nest in a leafless tree,
But the passers eyed and twitted me,
And said: 'How reckless a bird is he,
Cheerily mating!'

"Fear-filled, I stayed me till summer-tide,
In lewth of leaves to throne her bride;
But alas! her love for me waned and died,
Wearily waiting. 

Ah, had I been like some I see,
Born to an evergreen nesting-tree,
None had eyed and twitted me,
Cheerily mating!" 


Sunday, September 18, 2022

Fortnightly Book, September 18

 Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was born into a well-educated but working-class family; he eventually became an architect. He found it frustrating -- his relative lack of social standing put him often at disadvantage -- and he became interested in social reform. He began writing novels and as they were serialized, they became highly regarded and influential. (While Hardy was adapting a novelistic device used previously by Dickens, it's usually thought that we get the word 'cliffhanger' from Hardy's A Pair of Blue Eyes, in which one of the cliffhangers that occur at the end of the serial installments involves a man literally hanging from a cliff.) The novel that is the fortnightly book, The Mayor of Casterbridge: The Life and Death of a Man of Character, was serialized in 1886. A tragedy, it depicts a cascade of events arising when a man, drunk on rum-laced frumenty (a wheat-based porridge), auctions off his wife and daughter.

I'll be reading this in a Heritage Press edition from my grandfather's library. The book has a gold-stamped printed linen cover and has a large number of very crisp and striking engravings by Agnes Miller Parker, one of the foremost British book-artists of the twentieth century.

While Hardy has always been most famous for his novels, he always considered himself a poet foremost, so I'll be putting up a number of his poems for the next two weeks, as well.