Saturday, October 08, 2022

Watch and Be Still

 The Truth
by Archibald Lampman 

Friend, though thy soul should burn thee, yet be still
Thoughts were not meant for strife, nor tongues for swords,
He that sees clear is gentlest of his words,
And that's not truth that hath the heart to kill.
The whole world's thought shall not one truth fulfil.
Dull in our age, and passionate in youth,
No mind of man hath found the perfect truth,
Nor shalt thou find it; therefore, friend, be still.

Watch and be still, nor hearken to the fool,
The babbler of consistency and rule:
Wisest is he, who, never quite secure,
Changes his thoughts for better day by day:
To-morrow some new light will shine, be sure,
And thou shalt see thy thought another way.

History of Philosophy

 There was an interesting question raised on Twitter recently:

The tweet's formulation of the question unfortunately is just one example of a common misunderstanding people, including professional philosophers (who are more easily misled by labels than they like to pretend), have about the field of history of philosophy (HoP) -- that it is, as a field, history. It is not; it is, as a field, philosophy. Thus the question of relevance is not, "How old does a text have to be for it to be history?", for which you should ask the history department, but instead, "How old does a text have to be for it to be history of philosophy?" And the answer is that it doesn't have to be any kind of old to be something studied in history of philosophy. It just has to occur at some time the entire history of the world as it is or as it could have been or as it will be. Obviously, our ability to study texts that don't exist yet is very limited and usually confined to genre issues or general and abstract questions of how schools relate to each other; and obviously most of the actual counterfactual work in HoP is concerned with helping clarify the actual course of philosophy through history, but HoP covers the entire history of philosophy insofar as it can be covered by evidence we have -- and note that I say that it covers the entire history, not 'the entire past'.

In general, there are three major interests in HoP; you get them in different mixes, both across individuals and across the different topics in the field.

(1) The diachronic and transpersonal life of arguments. If an argument has different effects through time (e.g., people responding to or influenced by it) or is communicated from one person to another, it has a history. Historians of philosophy study all the same arguments any other philosopher does, but they study them insofar as they have a history. A byproduct of this is that historians of philosophy are often much more concerned with evidence about arguments than some; they want to know what the evidence shows to be the actual life and history of arguments. For most philosophical arguments we actually know, the evidence is obviously going to be historical in the sense of being evidence about the past.

(2) The big-block historical elements of philosophy. Many academic philosophers spend their careers mostly looking at individual arguments one at a time, but a lot of us are interested in philosophy at larger scale -- not just individual arguments but schools, movements, networks of influence. This still involves a lot of looking at individual arguments, but historians of philosophy study them insofar as they contribute to much bigger blocks than themselves.

(3) The person as source and transformer of philosophical reasoning. Many academic philosophers look at arguments purely formally -- the argument as formulated in a specific artificial and natural language, without regard for its larger causal account. Historians of philosophy do not confine themselves to purely formal consideration of argument; they also look at the arguments insofar as they have a source, insofar as they have a purpose, insofar as they are constricted or made possible by their materials, insofar as they are affected by constraints of social and mental environment, and so forth. Thus historians of philosophy, while not as such interested in pure biography, are interested in the biographical aspects of how arguments develop, change, and influence.

Therefore, if the argument exists over time, it falls under history of philosophy. If the argument is part of a movement or school or chain of influence or something like that, it falls under HoP. If it is put forward by or modified by people, it falls under HoP. It follows from this that literally everything in philosophy is something that is or can be studied by historians of philosophy, every philosophical topic, every philosophical argument, every philosopher. What distinguishes the historian of philosopher is the reduplication: what HoP studies is studied as existing through time, as part of a movement, as proposed or modified by persons.

Historians of philosophy do often use what we might call historical methods, digging into archives, finding original readings, and things like that, but this is not something done consistently across the field, because it's not done for its own sake. It's a means to doing philosophy. Likewise, HoP has a lot of points of connection and overlap with its closest cousin in the field of historical scholarship, usually known as the history of ideas (particularly when looking at how social and material infrastructure affect or are affected by philosophical reasoning); but history of philosophy is not history of ideas. The historian of philosophy is a philosopher, not a historian.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Dashed Off XXIV

 Much, although not all, of the success of mathematics is tied to the notion of regular sequence, without which many discoveries could never be made or understood.

Scouting is most effective when it structures the actual adventure-ideals of the young.

As society degenerates and grows corrupt, people grow to expect the legislature to serve the political parties rather than vice versa.

the corruption of philosophy into sophistry as an effect of original sin


It is notable that technology is often marketed as a means for reclaiming what nostalgia remembers.

Every being is intelligible within an intelligible context.

"Every element in conscious experience contains within itself the reference to other elements, and however much we may try to simplify any element of conscious experience, we find this reference still present, in however imperfectly defined a form." JS Haldane (on Kant)

tax collection inefficiency as a protection against tyranny

The wise in many cultures have commended asceticism, although often recognizing that one must avoid excess.

People will always find things to argue about.

signs -> system of signs -> universal interpretant

All particular goods must be contextualized by or referred to some common good.

Physicists have had a long history of confusing either the precision or the accuracy (or both) of their theories with exhaustiveness.

Luke : lover of God :: John : beloved disciple

Mark as a study of 'good news' -- note the consistent interplay from people blurting it out when they are not supposed to (messianic secret) and not proclaiming it when they should (e.g., the women at the end of the shorter ending).

Mk&Lk: voice in Baptism addressed to Jesus
Mt: voice in Baptism witness to Jesus

Birth introduces us not into humanity but into the "common air" of human life.

Much of actual work in physics consists of thinking in mathematics and talking in analogies.

Critical theories of society and social problems often have a sort of conservation of enmity; all problems are attributable to enemies, and when no specific enemy is identifiable, to a generic enmity -- unbelief, priestcraft, patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism, communism, or whatever -- of which specific enemies are just particular manifestations.
-- NB it seems this conservation property is what distinguishes these from general conspiracy theories; both are totalizing narratives but in conspiracy theories enmity is not conserved -- there are only specific enemies.

In nonliterate societies, lore tends to pool in secret or semi-secret societies, within which intensive memorization is maintained in a well-defined way; this adds prestige to a role essential for survival.

matching games and classification

evangelization by co-diffusion (e.g., diffusion of Christianity in 'Western learning' in Jesuit missions in China)
-- this was deliberate, but this can occur spontaneously (e.g., through reading or contact)

evangelization as transportation and communication
(1) evangelizer resident, evangelizee fluent
(2) evangelizer fluent, evanglizee fluent
(3) evangelizer fluent, evangelizee resident
(A) active communication (e.g., preaching and particular conversion)
(B) passive communication (e.g., diffusion and co-diffusion)
(C) dispositive (pre-)communication (e.g., presence)
(1A)  preaching in Church
(1B) co-diffusion by way of institutions
(1C) visible presence of churches
(2A) preaching to co-travelers
(2B) traveler to traveler in passing
(2C) visible presence of Christians in travel
(3A) itinerant missionary preaching
(3B) itinerant missionary almsgiving
(3C) institutions with Christian travelers

marriage and virginal celibacy as the two equilibria for just relations between the sexes

personal communication vs projected communication (books, pamphlets, tracts, television shows)

Seeing things in proportion requires seeing them abstractly, in drawing and ethics alike.

Newton's Rules for Philosophizing as analogy-guiding principles

Modern physics can be characterized as the rigorous study of analogies between formal systems and systems of change.

In social matters, there is power, true power, in just enduring.

relation of ideas by forum-contiguity

"All men, if traced back to their original source, spring from the gods." Seneca

identity of indiscernibles as most properly pertaining to measurements

Hierarchy exists for subsidarity that is solidary in common good

Freedom requires stable procedures for its exercise.

person to person, centralized, and federated correspondence network structures

holistic synopsis
(1) by average (mean, median, mode)
(2) by type
(3) by unified effect
--- (a) cooperative
--- (b) external interaction
--- (c) internal interaction ('temperature')

Society is gathering at a shrine.

Victors are written into being by historians.

punctuation as a meaning-deepening act

citizen : Aristotle :: junzi : Confucius

the note-of-doubt element in magic tricks -- deliberately establishing a ground for doubt and then subverting it

The very world itself is understanding enacted and enlivened by love.

The story of the twelve sparrows in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas seems to be a parable of the twelve apostles. Likewise the discussion of alpha seems a symbolic representation of Christ's divinity.

"each of us is an allegory, embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and everlasting life." JRR Tolkien to Auden (7  June 1955)

the punctuation signature of a text

Many things must be tried before solutions can be found and established.

It is usually easy to see one side of the problem; it is seeing the other sides that is key.

"It is more blessed to give than to receive" in Acts shows the author of Luke recognizing a saying of Jesus not in the gospel of Luke.

"Be wise [dokimos: tested/testing, discerned/discerning] money-changers" is a common patristic  attribution to Jesus; Clement of Alexandria attributes it to "Scripture" and takes it to be about being discriminate in knowledge. Cassian applies it to thoughts.

Scripture is handed down to us in a context of saints using it and living according to it.

apocryphal gospels as witnesses to what people found narratively memorable or interesting about Christian message -- the backbround apostles (with the implication of non-obvious teachers), Pontius Pilate, the new covenant, Jesus himself

philosophy in a Christian context vs Christianity in a philosophical context

--the story of Thecla in the Acts of Paul seems to have links with the pastoral epistles

input price inflation
(1) hide increase
--- (a) quality reduction
--- (b) quantity reduction ('shrinkflation')
(2) pass on increase (output price inflation)

There is no violence except where there is a norm; violence is always a particular kind of violation of a norm.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Three O'Clock on Friday II

 This is the second part of a short story draft. Part I


Howard woke with a start and a headache, uncertain for a moment where he was. Looking around groggily, he noted the dingy lighting, the poles and handholds, the deteriorating seats, and briefly panicked. He was on the subway. What was he doing on the subway? No one should be on the subway. It was dangerous to be on the subway.

The lighting grew brighter and the subway came to its next platform. FITFOR, the tile name on the walls said, the K having at some point collapsed down to leave just a square of concrete marked with old tile adhesive. The doors slid open and Howard scurried out, hoping no one else was so stupid as to be on the subway at the same time. Fortunately, no one else came out onto the platform, but he was not safe yet. He ran up the subway stairs and through the unmanned turnstiles and came out onto the street. He scrunched his hat over his head -- fortunately he still had his hat -- and walked away, his heart pounding in his ears, hoping desperately that no one would see that he had been in the subway.

There were no shouts and, indeed, no sign of any other person at all, so his beating heart slowly calmed down and he trudged down the dirty, empty street, his footsteps kicking up little clouds of dust as he went. Howard had never seen a map of the city, at least as he could recall, but he always knew where he was when he was there. The Fitfork station was quite far from his usual haunts. He thought of it, in fact, as being on the edge of the city, although he did not in fact know where the city limits were. But there was a busy part of the city nearby, thriving after its limited fashion. And Fitfork was far from the Castle, at least. Howard did not know that that actually reduced anyone's chances of being taken in by the Ducal Guard, who seemed ubiquitous, and the Castle on its hill was equally visible in every part of the city, but the idea of being at a greater distance from the Castle was comforting. Somehow, though, no matter what one did, one always ended up in its vicinity at some point.

He walked for some time, his mind mostly running on nothing at all, until in the distance he heard the bell of Our Lady of Sorrows give out a low, dull tone, telling the whole city that it was three o'clock in the afternoon on Friday. Here and there, he began to see another pedestrian, bundled up so as not to be recognized, and when he did, either they or he would duck into a side street or, if that wasn't possible, speed up to pass more quickly, each carefully not looking at the other. There is something in the human psyche that makes it impossible to resist the suggestion that if you don't look too closely at someone, they can't look too closely at you.

The bell had reminded Howard of food. It had not reminded him that he was hungry, exactly, because introspection would not have led Howard to say that he was hungry, but it did remind him that it had been a long time since he had eaten. So when he came to a little dive of a cafe, a crudely painted sign in its dirty window indicating that it was open, he went inside. The cafe had no name on it; indeed, there was nothing to indicate that it was a cafe rather than anything else except that it said so on the crudely painted sign. Cafes and stores never had names on them, and names didn't matter, anyway, since they never stayed anywhere long. A name was recognizable, and if you stayed in one place, everyone would know that you were running a business without license from the Duke. Howard wasn't sure that you needed a license, exactly, in the sense that it would be illegal to have a business without one; he wasn't sure how you would go about getting one; but running a business without a license was not safe, and names and steady locations were actively dangerous.

The inside was dim, a mix of the yellowish light of an inadequate ceiling lamp and the dull daylight filtered through the duller window. Howard went immediately to an empty seat at the bar. They actually had menus; Howard could not remember when last he had seen a menu. He wasn't charmed by it, but it was unusual enough that he thought that it was a charming thing to do. Dangerous, perhaps, to leave a paper trail, but in an abstract way charming. There were only two options, so he ordered the bacon and eggs, studiously looking down at the counter rather than directly at the stout man behind it, then pretended to continue to do so while he looked around the room out the corners of his eyes. You did not want to look at people, in case it made them look at you, and you certainly did not want to be recognized in a place like this, but you also did not want to be in a room for an extended period of time without knowing who else was there.

It was not very busy. There were cutters in the corner, the wounds on their face and arms visible even in the dingy light, self-inflicted perhaps to reduce the chances of being recognized or perhaps even to reduce boredom. There were five or six, and Howard wondered if they were insane. It was illegal to congregate in public in groups of more than two or three; doing so, and, worse, looking like you were doing so, was dangerous. Actually, Howard did not know if it was really illegal to gather in public groups greater than three. He did not know the laws of the city, or, indeed, whether the city had any laws at all. For all that Howard knew, one could legally do anything in the city. Certainly the Duke in the Castle never paid much attention to most of it, most of the time. But not everything was safe. Very few things were safe. There were many things that, if done, could lead to the Ducal Guard dragging you to the Castle, and that was, Howard supposed, as serious as a law. Public gatherings were not safe. They were not quite as dangerous as being caught entering or leaving Our Lady of Sorrows, but they were extremely dangerous.

Some people were just reckless, Howard guessed. He had once known a man, Beck, who had an interest in architecture. It had not been an enthusiasm -- Howard had never known anyone with an enthusiasm -- but it had been enough to lead him and several others to explore the buildings of the city, and, eventually, Our Lady of Sorrows itself. The Ducal Guard had caught him sneaking out of the church after one of these explorations. Howard had himself been sneaking home out of a poker game and had had presence of mind to crouch in the shadows of a sidestreet. As they went by, he had recognized the man. Only barely, because the man's face was distorted by screaming, but it had been enough to send a wild terror through Howard's whole body. There is something deep in the human psyche that thinks that if you recognize anyone, everyone can recognize you. He had screwed his eyes shut so hard in the hope of not being recognized by the Guard that they hurt afterward, and had waited, as still as he could make himself be but trembling like a little mouse, as he heard the screams of the man as the Ducal Guard dragged him relentlessly toward the Castle. He shuddered slightly just thinking about it. He briefly wondered what had happened to Beck, and then castigated himself for stupidity, because he did not want to know what had happened to Beck.

The little bell at the door tinkled tinnily, so Howard adjusted his head to look directly at the sugar packets on the counter, fiddling with them a bit, so he could see out the corner of his eye what sort of person had entered. When he did so, however, his whole body went cold, because he recognized the man who had come in. It was Sam. And he knew immediately that Sam had recognized him, because Sam was standing stock-still as stone, his always-surprised facial expression taking on the tone of panicked surprise, as he looked like he was debating whether to flee back out the door. Instead, however, Sam came to the bar and sat in the seat next to Howard. They said nothing to each other, but Sam ordered bacon and eggs, and Howard's order was served, and then Sam's, and they ate lukewarm hasbrowns and crunchy bacon and greasy eggs in silence next to each other. Sam ate more quickly and finished first. He threw some money on the counter and then said quietly to Howard, without looking at him, "I have some money that I owe you from cards. I'd like to pay off the debt now, if you have the time."

Howard nodded quietly, never looking at Sam, and Sam walked out. Howard waited to the count of five, put some money on the counter, and went out himself. He looked furtively in both directions to see if anyone was noticing him, and then walked down the street after Sam, taking care always to stay at a distance. He followed Sam through a maze of wynds and alleys, and then came to a little close with a sign, CORVID CLOSE, going up the stairs to the second floor.

When they were safely behind closed door again, Sam said in his pleasant voice, "Hello, Howard, how are you?"

"Well enough, Sam," Howard replied. "And you?"

"Well enough," Sam replied. "I'm glad you weren't seized by Them; I don't know what happened to John and Tom."

"Neither do I," said Howard. "It's too bad for John. I suspect that Tom is the one who informed on us, though."

Sam appeared to consider this a moment, then shook his head. "No, I don't think so." Then: "Wait here a moment, and I'll get your money." He went through a side door into what looked like a kitchen, and there was some noise of banging cupboard.

Howard looked around at the drab apartment. Everything was in some sense nice (Howard had always admired Sam's good taste in decorating), but the primary aesthetic quality was that of wear. The nice dull blue carpet was worn and in places barely a carpet. The taupe walls were worn and pockmarked with old nail-holes for photographs, the outline of whose frames could still be barely seen on the wall. The olive green sofa was worn, and here and there threadbare. The coffee-table was worn and scratched. And standing in that worn apartment with all that worn furniture, Howard too felt worn.

Sam returned, but what happened next was very quickly, and Howard's brain could not process it all at once. First, Sam did not have the money in his hands, but instead a very large chef's knife. Second, Sam suddenly rushed at Howard and drove the knife deep into Howard's gut. Third, there was a searing pain that jarred Howard's brain into a sort of shock. Fourth, Sam pulled out the knife and, shifting how he held it, began stabbing at Howard again and again from above as Howard began to sank down in what seemed to Howard to be slow motion, like falling down to the bottom of a pool. Fifth, Sam shouted, "You should not have informed on us, Howard!" Finally, Sam threw down the knife and rushed out of the apartment, not even bothering to close the door.

Howard, aching all over, looked dully up at the ceiling. It was taupe like the walls but somehow seemed even more worn., with big water stains everywhere. There was a musty, rusty scent in the air. As Howard bled out stickily over the almost-not-carpet, he heard in the distance a bell, the bell of Our Lady of Sorrows, striking out one dull but absolutely unmistakeable tone. It was three o'clock in the afternoon on Friday.

to be continued

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Realms Ineffable as Sleep

 In Saturn
by Clark Ashton Smith

Upon the seas of Saturn I have sailed
To isles of high primeval amarant,
Where the flame-tongued, sonorous flowers enchant
The hanging surf to silence; all engrailed
With ruby-colored pearls, the golden shore
Allured me; but as one whom spells restrain,
For blind horizons of the somber main
And harbors never known, my singing prore
I set forthrightly. Formed of fire and brass,
And arched with moons, immenser heavens deep
Were opened—till above the darkling foam,
With dome on cloudless adamantine dome,
Black peaks no peering seraph deems to pass
Rose up from realms ineffable as sleep!

'Prore' is a rare word for the prow of a ship.

Monday, October 03, 2022

Three Oughts

This is a lightly revised version of a post from 2012.


 I've previously argued that 'ought' is a problem-relative and concerned with practical options, or, to put it on other words, that saying "I ought to do X," (or "I should do X") tells us that, given some practical problem for me, X is a solution. I think, however, that we can clarify this more by considering three major kinds of 'oughts'.

(1) Ought-at-least: As in "You ought at least to call your friend." This is a minimal solution ought. It says that X (calling your friend, in this case) is the least complicated, elaborate, or difficult option that solves the presupposed problem, or, to be more exact, that it is the solution that satisfies the bare essential requirements of the problem. Most uses of 'ought' are cases of ought-at-least.

(2) Ought-best: This is the optimal solution ought. It says that X is the solution that most completely fulfills what the problem requires.

Both of these are consistent with there being more than one possible 'ought'. Ought-at-least is consistent with there being better solutions; ought-best is consistent with there being less good solutions that are nonetheless adequate. We sometimes talk this way, taking there to be a spread of 'oughts', any of which are good enough. But sometimes, indeed, quite often, we do not. Then we need

(3) Ought-only: This is the unique solution ought. It says that X is the only solution that meets the problem requirements.

Of course, an ought-only occurs when there is no difference between ought-at-least and ought-best.

In reality, I think these are all, at the generic level, the same sort of ought, i.e., practical solution to a given problem. What actually distinguishes them is the particular problems to which they are solutions. Two problems can be broadly speaking of the same kind, but have precise details that narrow or broaden the practical options that can be considered. We often don't distinguish much among the three above merely because we often aren't identifying our problems very precisely. If I say, "I should go to the store," I may have only a hazy idea of the problem involved (e.g., I know that I need some things that would be helpful or necessary to have, but have no precise list, just a vague, 'milk, and tissues, and some other things probably', which will be filled out at the store itself). Kinds of solutions are categorizable according to the kinds of problems they solve; and some practical problems allow any number of courses of actions as solutions and some practical problems aren't solvable by any more than one course of action. But precisely because we are vague in specifying the problem it's useful to keep in mind that there are different kinds of solutions that could be meant by saying "You ought to do X" or "You should do Y".

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Fortnightly Book, October 2

 J. R. R. Tolkien's Unfinished Tales is the next fortnightly book. (I've already done The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.) Christopher Tolkien had published The Silmarillion after his father's death, but was never very easy about how he had pulled it together. Parts of the work were developed, but other parts were very early drafts that had not been revised since well before the published works. Thus Christopher Tolkien edited what he had in order to make it into a continuous, coherent narrative that did more or less what his father intended the work eventually to do. This meant a lot of cutting and changing, however, and Christopher Tolkien eventually decided that this was not the appropriate way to approach the mass of material left by his father. So as he was studying those materials and working out what to do about them, he decided to pull together some material that was fairly substantive even though it never reached a form in which J. R. R. Tolkien thought it worth trying to get published. Thus Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle Earth was born. It was a commercial success, and had given Christopher Tolkien room to experiment a bit about the best way to present the materials in the archive, so it gave him the encouragement to pull together the multi-volume History of Middle Earth, which does on a far greater scale (and on some things more accurately) what Unfinished Tales pioneered.

As Christopher Tolkien notes in his introduction, the tales are unfinished in very different senses. Some are finished in a sense but not stand-alone -- they supplement other tales. Some are complete drafts of important works that were never given final form. Some are partial drafts or fragments. Some are self-standing but cover matters that J. R. R. Tolkien was still in the process of working out. Some are not strictly works but the picture that emerges about events or characters from different sources. The work is broken into four parts, with the first three being devoted to major happenings of the First, Second, and Third Ages respectively, and the fourth being concerned with particular items of interest, like the history of the Wizards or of the Seeing Stones. Throughout there is an interplay and almost a dialogue between J. R. R. Tolkien's works and Christopher Tolkien's editorial commentary on them.