Saturday, December 03, 2022

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged


Opening Passage: 

"Who is John Galt?"

The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum's face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still -- as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness within him. (p. 3)

Summary: The Taggart Transcontinental railroad system spans the continent, from ocean to ocean, serving as a major artery system for American industry. It is kept running by Dagny Taggart, the vice president in charge of operations, a forceful and dynamic woman with a brilliant organizing mind who has succeeded in the railroad business despite the common view -- still clearly held by many of her supposed colleagues -- that a woman cannot run a railroad. The CEO of Taggart Transcontinental is her brother, Jim Taggart, who knows relatively little about railroads himself, but who knows how to play the political game with people in Washington. Taggart Transcontinental, while a still major powerhouse, begins having some difficulties when Jim Taggart, alerted to opportunities by his friends in Washington, diverts funds and resources from the development of the industry-crucial Rio Norte Line in Colorado to a southern line toward the San Sebastian mines in Mexico, run by the d'Anconia Copper Company, one of the oldest and wealthiest mining companies in the world. The investment goes very badly, however, when the government of the People's State of Mexico nationalizes the mines, but discovers that they have seized a mirage; the mines are spending a truly extraordinary amount of money on payroll, but there is no copper in the mines at all. Scrambling to fix his mistake, Jim Taggart pulls strings in Washington to regulate out all competitors in Colorado. This is the fundamental way Jim Taggart, and indeed most of corporate America in the novel, works: rather than do quality work, they use government levers to harm their competitors and benefit themselves in the name of 'the People'.

Dagny Taggart, however, is running a railroad, and she strikes a deal with Hank Rearden, who has invented a new metal alloy that is cheaper and stronger than steel, which he calls Rearden Metal. With Rearden Metal, she can lay even better tracks on the Rio Norte Line while reducing the cost of the overall project. However, they are hampered by Rearden's competitors who, making their profits as much by manipulating laws and regulations as producing steel, stir up opposition, both popular and political, against the use of the new metal. 

This is the recurring pattern of the story as things spiral downward. Rand does not have a particularly high opinion of corporations as such; every corporate firm in the novel is in a state of corruption, including Taggart Transcontinental, in which shirking responsibility is the order of the day and doing political favors is rewarded more than actually producing anything. The result is that the whole system of industry is in a state of slow collapse as an ever larger number of people attempt to use law and politics to dip into the few remaining springs that are actually producing wealth. All of this is done in altruistic terms, in the name of 'the People', but it is impossible not to notice that things done in the name of 'the People' keep benefiting the same responsibility-shirking individuals, and that they don't even go that far except by cannibalizing the work of others. 

Throughout the story, people keep shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Who is John Galt?", a saying that has sprung up and that is used to indicate that some questions have no answer. Dagny takes over the Rio Norte Line as a temporary spin-off company (to get around the continual political obstacles created by opposition to Rearden's highly proprietary attitude toward Rearden Metal), who hates this kind of shoulder-shrugging, names her spin-off company, The John Galt Line, as an act of defiance. In the course of making the company successful, she and Rearden come across an abandoned factory of the failed Twentieth Century Motor Company, where they find the remnants of a motor, along with partial plans and some of the inventor's notes for it. The notes indicate, and the remnants and the plans seem to confirm, that the motor's inventor had come up with a way to harness atmospheric static electricity. There is not enough left, however, to reconstruct the working version of the motor, particularly as the motor seems to depend on a theory of electromagnetism more sophisticated than that which is usually accepted. Recognizing that such a motor would revolutionize transportation, she sets out to try to find the inventor. This will lead her down a trail like nothing she ever expected, but she will eventually learn the name of the inventor: John Galt. Meanwhile, great minds and successful entrepreneurs around the country are slowly vanishing without a trace, the government is creating economic planning boards that essentially function as monopolies, and the ever-increasing difficulty of finding quality components is sending warning-tremors throughout the whole economic system.

One thing I think Rand is not given sufficient credit for is the excellence of her characterization. She is deliberately exaggerating features, in a way much like Victor Hugo does, and the satire is often scathing and ruthless (Rand is not an author who has any sympathy for her villains), but even secondary characters are often quite multi-layered in their motivations, and however hyperbolic or satirical she gets, the outlines are still recognizable as patterns you find in the real world. I was particularly struck this reading with the characterization of Lee Hunsacker, the former president of the Twentieth Century Motor Company. He tries to portray himself as selfless, but repeatedly makes everything about himself and in fact, despite having no accomplishments of importance, is writing his autobiography; he tries to justify his actions as having been for the workers, but never bothered to learn their names; he is only kept off the street by the generosity of some friends, but whines behind their backs about how selfish they are in expecting him occasionally to do chores in return; when he describes his tenure as president, he talks about not having had the money to spend on research and supplies for improving motor production, after having done essential things like redecorate his office and put in a new cafeteria; and, most notably, he keeps blaming everyone else for his failures, despite the fact that he shows in the brief time Dagny meets him that he can't even be trusted to keep a pot of soup from burning. None of this is subtle, but it's beautifully woven together, and it's not actually difficult all to find people who are like Lee Hunsacker in one way or another.

Rand gets a lot of criticism for John Galt's speech, which is indeed an endurance run, but in artistic terms I think she is right that something like it is in fact necessary for the resolution of the novel: we need a way of conveying the fundamental climactic event, the strike of the producers, whose visible impact is necessarily diffuse and therefore needs specific highlighting; we need something to show that "Who is John Galt?" is in fact an answerable question; and we need the thought of this very thought-driven narrative to be tied together in a way that fits with the plot. (I also think the idea that a man capable of seizing and using the entire broadcasting capability of the United States would use it to deliver a manifesto is perhaps one of the most prescient elements of this science fiction story, and has only grown more plausible with the rise of social media.) And, of course, this is a novel of ideas, and Rand's refusal to run away from that or try to camouflage it is part of what has made the work stand out as memorable.

The novel is explicitly and even aggressively Aristotelian in many of its themes, although with occasional important deviations from Aristotle himself. The conflict is a struggle between the magnanimous -- the great-souled men and women -- and the pusillanimous. Like Aristotle, Rand puts skill, justice, and friendship as central components of a healthy society. Unlike the aristocratic Aristotle, Rand regards the highest expression of justice as the trader, but the trader in turn is understood in a very Aristotelian way as someone who (like Aristotle's magnanimous man) has a profound self-respect and does not live at the expense of others or allow others to live at his own expense, but instead insists on giving, in all things, value for value, for the equal benefit of those involved in the trade. The structure of the novel is based on the traditional three Laws of Thought: the principle of noncontradiction (something cannot be both true and not true of the same subject in the same way), the principle of the excluded middle (everything is either true or not true), and the principle of identity (everything is what it is). The collapse of system and culture and the problems faced by the protagonists are tied to the attempt to shirk the implications of these principles: to pretend that contradictory plans can be implemented, to ignore the actual stark choices with which one is faced, to treat reality as if it were not what it is. Reason, which is based on the three Laws of Thought, is the only thing that does not lead to collapse and death. And all of this is tied to the most striking adaptation of Aristotle in the work. A social and economic system requires motive power. This motive power cannot be manufactured out of nothing, any more than you can move train cars without an engine. It must be traced back to the only thing that can give it, to the socioeconomic prime mover: the human mind.

Favorite Passage: Rand's description of the first crack in a cascade of cracks that will ultimately undermine Taggart Transcontinental:

On the morning of September 2, a copper wire broke in California, between two telephone poles by the track of the Pacific branch line of Taggart Transcontinental.

A slow, thin rain had been falling since midnight, and there had been no sunrise, only a gray light seeping through a soggy sky -- and the brilliant raindrops hanging on the telephone wires had been the only sparks glittering against the chalk of the clouds, the lead of the ocean and the the steel of the oil derricks descending as lone bristles down a desolate hillside. The wires had been worn by more rains and years than they had been intended to carry; one of them had kept sagging through the hours of that morning, under the fragile load of raindrops; then its one last drop had grown on the wire's curve and had hung like a crystal bead, gathering the weight of many seconds; the bead and the wire had given up together and, as soundless as the fall of tears, the wire had broken and fallen with the fall of the bead. (p. 909)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended, although you have to be in the mood for a work whose author doesn't mind speechifying.


Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, Random House (New York: 1957).

Friday, December 02, 2022

Dashed Off XXIX

 hegemonic symmachy as the primary structure of American international power

Gibbon's criticism of Julian the Apostate on allegorical exegesis (xxiii) is extremely unfair, given the value of fable as metaphor or figure, as well as genuine structural analogies and germinal morals.

Governments often construct markets as taxation devices.

In properly perceiving something, we also perceive, in a loose sense, things associated with it.

In politics, all our good intentions are justified by arguments that have a life beyond our intentions. Every argument gets analogized, generalized, made less qualified, shifted in meaning, regardless of what we intended.

The sense in which a sign makes things known is not the most fundamental sense of making things known.

personal harm, proprietary harm, adjunct harm

culture : sign :: skill-context : means

the mind's self-aspiration, in which it wills itself as a whole without willing everything about itself, in which it wills its own willing

Oral traditions grow like vines on material traditions.

An artifact is in some way always of the artificer even if the artificer is dead.

rejection of self-movers & thermodynamic rejection of perpetual motion machines
-- think about this more

All practice is through means.

Every divine title is a path of worship.

use of means : participating divine providence :: use of signs : participating divine light

plan as formal means
design as productive plan

fortitude as a sign or symbol of immortality

kinds of debunking
-- astonishing coincidence
-- insensitivity
-- truth independence
-- lack of safety
-- evidence of unreliability

All debunking arguments are attacks on means.

structure of instrumental means : tool, means-relativity (formal character of means), intended consequences

the domestic church as the primary maintainer of traditions that reflect Tradition

People will try to hide cruelty and malice behind appearances of compassion, dishonesty behind gossip presented as truthtelling, injustice behind selective fussy concern for what is right, arrogance and contempt behind shows of humility. Vices strive to imitate the symbols of virtue. The defense against this is to reason things through and look to experience and for good advice.

Someone chanting a slogan at you is not advising you or aiding you, but demanding that you comply.

"This body of ours has been yoked to us by God in order to be a fellow worker and under our control." Palamas

totalitarianism as a sin against apophaticism

To get social justice, you have to start with social prudence.

Every human passion has a face that leads to God, but this face cannot be reached just through the passion alone, and in some cases -- like anger -- people only rarely find it even with help.

Sometimes things are not wrong but are nonetheless better left alone.

Tutiorism is rooted in a failure to recognize the intellect as a free power, capable of acting otherwise, and thus needing to be perfected by prudence, the virtue of free judgment.

the unity of virtues = full moral integrity // divine simplicity

-- monopsychism
-- God as coordinating mind
-- God as ordering cause
-- necessitarian universe

sophistics as argument diagnostics

Politics will always falter when there is an inability or refusal to abstract as at least part of one's assessments.

giving one's secular life a Christian tinge
(a) by emphasis
(b) by conceptualization
(c) by witness
(d) by transfiguring overlaps
(e) by filling interstices

antecedent vs consequent mercy

pandemics as large sets of overlapping epidemics

democracy & the problem of merely accidental majorities

Nothing teaches how to read like reading.

the possibility of x as resident in the exemplar for x

Judith 16:20-21 & hell

-- friezes are found on Ionic rather than Doric styles of temple (the Parthenon is an unusual exception)

-- one can imagine a Humean virtue epistemology based on usefulness and agreeableness to self and others (i.e., advantageousness in business and action, and facilitation of love and esteem) [this would get results rather different from Hume's actual epistemology]

It follows from Hume's account of space that mathematical points would always have a color.

sensus communis & the capacity of one sense modality to provide signs for another (colors for sounds, spatial relations for tactile relations, etc.)

three are the cats at the gates of hell;
their eyes see thing that no tongues tell

God as supercommunicative good

Elections are not 'legitimate' or 'illegitimate'; they are legal or illegal. The laws that serve as standards may be better or worse for the community, but there is no other standard by which an election can be judged than the laws that constitute it: Does this election work by a regular process as determined by law?

God will see to the New Jerusalem; our role is play what we are dealt.

Esther 1:3 // Gn 40:20
Esther 2:7 // Gn 39:6
Esther 3:4 // Gn 39:10

Doing the right thing often goes wrong; it is necessary for an ethics to take this into account.

Who kills a person deliberately, makes that decision for everyone; and it is rare that anyone is even in the position to do that.

"Nothing becomes obsolete like a period vision of an older period." Anthony Grafton (on forgeries)

particular good : sign :: common good : interpretant

Jer 19:3 and the Petrine ministry

Jurisprudence is a kind of metaethics.

kind of being, way of being, order of being, context of being

"Man was made in the image of God, which contains these two principal rays -- holiness and immortality." Turretin

-- moral isangelia (monastic/religious)
-- metaphysical isangelia (Lk 20:35,36)

comminatory vs definitive punishment

All moral actions are incomplete until they are returned to God.

It is morality that usually makes history relevant to present concerns.

implicit vs explicit gift

Manetho: 'seventy kings in seventy days' (First Intermediate Period) -- figurative, may mean either short reigns or overlapping/disputed reigns or both
(We know that the main city shifted from Memphis to Herakleopolis during this period.)

There are few things in human society more enduring than its trash.

honor-as & the link between honor and trustworthiness in a role

directional vs consummative ends
-- Can one argue that all directional ends are subordinate ends and therefore direction ends imply some consummative end? This seems very plausible in most cases, but people bring up inertia-like cases.

natural obligation, ritual obligation, legal (positive) obligation

custom as expressed in rites

In mutual love, lover and beloved 'resonate' in ways that go beyond what either strictly knows of the other. The more perfect the love, the tighter the 'resonance'.

To some extent, every person is loved through a cloud of unknowing.

Assessment of photographic evidence needs to consider what is outside the frame, just like assessment of experimental evidence needs to consider the environment of the experiment.

modes of didactic painting: narrative, symbolic (e.g., iconography), allegorical

Dynasty XV: The Hyksos
introduced horse and chariot
capital at Avaris
traded with Minoans
Seth worship common
the god Reshep (storm and wars)
contemporaneous with Theban Dynasty XVI in Upper Egypt (i.e. the south)
"They ruled without acknowledging Ra."
Hyksos are wholly defeated and expelled in stages at end of Seventeenth Dynasty (Kamose, the last) and with the Eighteenth (Ahmose, his brother).

'Potiphar': seems to be late (noncontemporary) Egyptian name = Podjipera (Potiphera), 'he whom Ra  has given. According to traditional Jewish calendars, Joseph sold in about 2216 = 1544 BC, at end of Second Intermediate Period or beginning of New Kingdom.
Pharaoh is said to give Joseph the name Zaphnath-Paaneah (Gn 41:45). The 'neah' is almost certainly ankh (nh), meaning life. Some have suggested the original may have meant 'A god speaks and he lives.' Joseph's wife's name, Asenath, probably means 'belongs to the goddess Neith'. All of this, of course, is speculation on verbal analogies, since we have a probably loose Hebrew transliteration of an Egyptian pronunciation we only roughly know, although some of the analogies are very probable.

People give alms because they believe in some good, because they hope for some good, or because they love some good. This is true of all almsdeeds, physical and spiritual.

Hope is something even a pessimist can have.

"Lying is a language-game that needs to be learned like any other." Wittgenstein

Amicus animo possidendus est. (Seneca)

Russell's A History of Western Philosophy should be seen as a work on the intellectual conditions of liberalism.

"all is peril where principle is not the guide." Francis Burney

Hegelian synthesis as an answer to the Agrippan mode of hypothesis

We investigate by making provisional assumptions; who makes no such assumptions cannot investigate.

Sorites arguments against polytheism (Sextus Empiricus M 9.182-183)

Virtues in the justice family have an especially strong tendency to form rites.

Levinas as a generalization of Descartes's Third Meditation

Evil per se does not incline the will, so evil simply as such is something the will can only permit.

"The intellect and the will are not assigned to God figuratively but properly unless we want to become like Spinoza." Leibniz
"No wise person would say that punishments and rewards are intended equally by the legislator."
"The rules of justice are no less eternal truths than the rules of geometry, and they have force with all intelligent beings."

liberum sed cum ratione

election an act of grace, reprobation an act of justice
(pure grace -> mercy)  -> justice

Hawaii is not at a plate boundary, but in the middle of it. Its volcanic state is not clearly understood, but the current hypothesis, backed by various evidences, is that it is above a mantle plume that just happens not to be at a plate intersection due to the sheer size of the Pacific plate.

paleontology as a comparative interdisciplinary science

Not all societies are religious, but civil society, considered as such, is.

Mt 16:18-19 // Rv 20:1-3
Mt 24:21 // Rv 2:22, 7:14

Mt 17:1 // Ex 24:1
note that Nadab and Abihu were brothers (Ex 6:23), just like James and John

(1) The virtue of prudence is essential to happiness.
(2) The virtue of prudence is essential to duty.
(3) The virtue of prudence requires the falsehood of strict consequentialism and tutioristic deontology.

the boldness of courage vs the boldness of gratitude

Both mercy and justice are like love, from which they spring, but mercy is more like.

There is greater freedom in mercy than in justice.

Justice between friends is the highest justice on which we can act.

No human being can rise superior to all trouble, but the aspiration to it is a sign of the possibility of beatitude, and a preparation for it.

"The wish of death is commonly but disgust of life...." Francis Burney

Cultivating melodrama is one of the follies of youth.

All contingent power is completed in goodness. Such power is goodness extending toward goodness.

evangelism as communicating Christ

negative divine attributes -> positive human responsibilities

flickering kinds of signification

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Music on My Mind


Clamavi De Profundis, "Carol of the Bells". Not many know that the music is Ukrainian in origin (by Mykola Leontovych). The melody became popular in the United States due to a tour by the Ukrainian National Chorus. The lyrics in Ukrainian are very different, being about a sparrow bringing good news for the New Year; the English lyrics were written by the Ukrainian American composer Peter Wilhousky in the 1930s for play on the radio. It has only increased in popularity through time, and there are now many, many variations of the original.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Yet Fame Hath Still Her Splendent Ways

The Unfinished Book of Bleise
by Ernest Rhys 

All the battles that were won
 Merlin bade his master, Bleise,
Put on parchment. Caerleon,--
 Blazoned round with crimson rays
Was that page of night and sun:
 And the seige of Ile Maleise,--
Black and purple, marching on.
 But when he wrote the fierce assays
The Haut King had in Caledon,
 The letters fought: the rampant A's,
The S's all awry--each one
 Recall'd the burning tower of Pase,
Wherein the knights in agony spun.
 For so the letters twirl'd, till Bleise
Left Merlin's book of wars undone.
 Yet fame hath still her splendent ways:
 Still shall keep the Haut King's praise
 Sounding to the end of days.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Evening Note for Monday, November 28

 Thought for the Evening: The Logical Argument from Evil and the Free Will Defense

Analytic philosophy of religion is not a field that tends toward consensuses, but one of the most commonly accepted views, such that it can reasonably be said to be the scholarly consensus, is that the logical argument from evil is defunct. And in fact this is right, and so obviously so that it could just be taken for granted. I say 'could', however, because there have recently been pushes -- and they are pushes, because they are not based on any actual change of argument or evidence -- to try to reject the view. Setting aside cases of mere obstinacy, I find that all of these pushes tend to involve not understanding what is meant either by 'logical argument from evil' or by saying that it is defunct or dead.

So what is it? It's an argument with premise that evil exists and a conclusion that God does not exist that has certain specific characteristics. It is (and this seems to elude some people) a specific kind of argument. It is very important to grasp that there are many kinds of argument from evil that are not classified as 'logical argument from evil'; arguments that are probabilistic and thus not directly making the inference once based on logical consistency and inconsistency are the most obvious, but also many arguments that are based on some supposed logical problem associated with holding both that evil exist and that God exist. That is, to count as a 'logical argument from evil' there has to be a logical inconsistency, but it has to be the right kind. For instance, it has to be a general inconsistency, not an inconsistency with a specific fact. In particular, however precisely it is formulated, it has to be equivalent to the following set:

(1) God is omnipotent
(2) God is omniscient
(3) God is perfectly good
(4) There is evil

And it has to take this set to be an aporetic set, that is, it has to be a claim that it is logically impossible to accept these four. What is more, it was an ad hominem argument (in Locke's sense, not the fallacy sense), so all four have to be understood in ways that would fairly typically be accepted by thoughtful theists; that is, you can't cheat by making up definitions that get you the inconsistency -- you have to use definitions that would be generally accepted -- indeed, generally have to be accepted to be a typical theist.

Such an argument had been argued by a number of people (Mackie is generally held to have given the best exposition). Plantinga is often credited with 'killing' it, i.e., with showing that it is dead or defunct. This often seems to be understood as saying that Plantinga refuted it. That is, people who say that the logical problem of evil is not 'dead' often seem to mean that it is was not refuted, in the sense that Plantinga didn't show either that one of the premises were false or that there was no logical way to get from those premises to the conclusion that there is no God. Well, yes; but in that sense, Plantinga did not intend to refute it and never claimed to have refuted it, and nobody thinks he did, except for people who don't understand the topic. What Plantinga did -- and conclusively -- was show that an argument of the relevant kind (a general aporetic tetrad (1)-(4) whose premises would typically have to be accepted) was not possible, because using only standard methods of analytic philosophy and without even assuming as definitely true any particular features of any particular form of theism, one could always construct counterexamples in which (1)-(4) on their own were consistent. Plantinga actually did a very large number of things to lock this in as conclusive, but the most famous and for many people the most persuasive component of his work is what is known as the Free Will Defense or FWD.

There are slightly different ways of formulating the basic FWD, but the general framework is to construct by a set of hypotheses a scenario in which persons with free will are importantly valuable, and the relevant kind of persons with the relevant kind of free will cannot be had without the possibility of the existence of evil. For instance, let us suppose that morality requires free will in the sense that one can refrain or not from doing something without being determined one way or another; let us suppose, too, that morality, and thus any conditions required for it, are very valuable; let us suppose, too, that the world is one that gets its value in part from being a world with morality in it. Then it seems that it is impossible for this world to be arranged in such a way that people could be determined not to do evil.

It's important to grasp a few things about this argument, and it's easy to slip up on them. 

(A) The FWD does not assume that the hypotheses in question are actually true. They just have to be intelligible. If they are, then you have just constructed a counterexample to (1)-(4) being an aporetic tetrad. They may be inconsistent with each other for some other reason, but you have shown that just taking them themselves, you can make suppositions that are not ruled out by any one of them on which they would be logically consistent. This is why the FWD is not a refutation but a 'defense'; it doesn't show that (1)-(4) are actually consistent in the world as we have it. It shows that if they are inconsistent, it is not because they are themselves logically inconsistent. There are possible situations in which they would be consistent, even if those possible situations are not actual. 

(B) Because of this, the actual strength of the FWD is not in the particular hypotheses or suppositions chosen. Sometimes people get confused about this. Plantinga has his own preferred hypotheses for constructing a counterexample, and there are lots of arguments that have been made that this or that feature of one of his hypothesis is a problem for this or that reason. But Plantinga's preferred hypotheses for describing the FWD are just examples. What the FWD shows is that there is a general template for constructing counterexamples to (1)-(4) being an aporetic tetrad, one that is consistent with many different hypotheses, and this general template doesn't even have to appeal to features of any particular theistic view -- notice that none of the particular suppositions I mentioned above actually said anything directly about God, being only about morality and free will and their importance. An implication of this is that a theist can reject the argument that (1)-(4) are logically inconsistent in and of themselves without even having to defend any theistic claim at all. It follows from this in turn that rejecting the logical inconsistency of (1)-(4) doesn't require an atheist to accept any directly theistic claim. And there are lots and lots of different possible variations on sets of hypotheses about free will that could get you the same general kind of counterexample. If even one such set of hypotheses is logically consistent, then (1)-(4) is not an aporetic tetrad, and this will be the case whether God exists or not. In fact, you could add to the FWD the supposition 'God does not actually exist', and still get a counterexample to (1)-(4) being logically inconsistent.

(C) And notice, again, that this is all independent of any distinctive features of any particular form of theism. This all plays out independently of any argument that any theist might have that (1)-(4) are consistent on his interpretation of (1)-(4). It can all be done purely hypothetically, with the inevitable conclusion that if (1)-(4) cause any problem for theism, it is not because of (1)-(4) and their logical implications themselves, which was the point under discussion. Of course, it's likewise true that if a theist wants to give a positive argument that (1)-(4) are consistent in themselves, this would give yet another reason for thinking that the logical argument from evil would fail; the FWD is not the only conceivable way of proving that (1)-(4) are not an aporetic tetrad -- it's just a general recipe that allows you to construct extremely large numbers of reasons for holding that it is not, and if any of those reasons are even possible, it is not an aporetic tetrad.

(D) Because the FWD provides a general template for counterexamples, it doesn't matter what evil we are considering, either. An early attempt to get around the FWD argued that it could only handle moral evil and not natural evil. And Plantinga famously pointed out that this is not true. Here's another hypothesis we can add to our set to run an FWD for natural evil: All natural evil derives from moral evil -- to give just one of many possible ways one might understand this, perhaps all natural evil is due to ultimately to the instigation of the devil. Again, it's not at all relevant to the immediate point whether this is true or not. All it has to be is intelligible, and if it is, you have a created a counterexample, for natural evil, to (1)-(4) being logically inconsistent in and of themselves. And since FWD is a general template for endless numbers of counterexamples, if you don't like one, you can pick another by either modifying the hypotheses or adding new ones. For instance, maybe the version of the hypothesis you pick is that all natural evil is due to the choices of Adam and Eve, or for that matter due to your own choices. It doesn't have to be true; it doesn't even have to be plausible; it just has to be coherent and intelligible. And here is one of the grand kickers (and one of the reasons the FWD was able to convince so many atheists): If you use a hypothesis that is provably false on evidential grounds, that would show it to be coherent and intelligible enough to prove false and show that it can be used for constructing counterexamples using the FWD.  You can generate logical counterexamples from counterfactuals, so proving that something is counterfactual can prove it to be a logical counterexample. You can be an atheist, using hypotheses you think are provably wrong on the evidence, and still get a logical counterexample even for natural evil. And we can do this kind of thing with any kind of badness, so modifying which evils you are talking about doesn't change anything. The FWD does not apply only to moral evil.

Now, as previously noted, there are many arguments from evil other than the logical argument from evil, in the sense being considered; there are, for instance, arguments purporting to prove from (1)-(4), plus additional suppositions that are thought reasonable by those who propose them, that God cannot exist. In effect, since the FWD is purely based on hypothesis, and is proving something about logical structure, an atheist could likewise just as easily propose hypotheses that, when added to (1)-(4), make the set inconsistent. The FWD is not a refutation of the claim that you can get an atheistic conclusion from (1)-(4), and was never intended to be. But what people had been wondering was whether (1)-(4) on their own, understood in typical ways, prove such a conclusion, and Plantinga in the FWD, as well as other lines of argument proposed by both Plantinga and others, showed that they do not. Why does this matter given that there are so many other possible arguments from evil? Well, first, the argument that the FWD shows to be impossible was an actual argument that people had proposed; it was not a hypothetical argument for atheism, but one that people actually put forward. Second, the way the FWD was formulated did not presuppose a position about theism or atheism as such, and since it showed that the question of God's existence was not logically provable from (1)-(4) on their own, it showed that the real point of dispute was about one of two things, either (a) other hypotheses of the sort that you could add to (1)-(4) to create inconsistency, or (b) whether you could get from (1)-(4) to the atheistic conclusion by a weaker sort of provability than logical provability. And, indeed, everything that has been argued since is one of these two -- either people argue that you can still get logical provability if you add particular suppositions to (1)-(4) or that (1)-(4) make God's existence less likely. So it was undeniably a significant conclusion for the shape of later discussion.

And it still holds. There are practically endless numbers of ways in which you can show that an argument with the properties the logical argument from evil was intended to have can't be constructed. Even if you assumed (what no one has proved) that every single one of the possible counterexamples were not actually possible, the FWD would still show that actually constructing an argument with the properties required for it to be a logical argument from evil in the relevant sense would require an utterly unfeasible amount of work for anyone to get through, because constructing it would require having similar logical proofs (about free will, morality, etc., etc.) over large areas of philosophical inquiry. Thus people say that the logical argument from evil is dead or defunct.

Various Links of Interest

* Irem Kurtsal, Russell on Matter and Our Knowledge of the External World (PDF)

*  Craig K. Agule, Defending Elective Forgiveness (PDF)

* An interesting news story about the legal right not to be 'fun' at work

* Gideon Lazar, Creation and Divine Freedom

* Researchers recently figured out how to decipher a coded message written by Emperor Charles V in 1547.

* Eleanor Parker, The Sermon of the Wolf, on St. Wulfstan

* Daniel van Wachter, Roman Ingarden's Theory of Causation Revised (PDF). This is interesting, although I think Ingarden's theory is in some ways better than the suggested revision.

* Billy Trout, Monkey Speak, Monkey Learn

* Christ A. Kramer, The Philosophy of Humor: What Makes Something Funny?, at "1000-Word Philosophy"

* Louise Daoust, Shepherd on Causal Necessity and Human Agency

* David Landy, Shepherd on Meaning, Reference, and Perception

* Kenneth L. Pearce, Astell and Masham on Epistemic Authority and Women's Individual Judgment in Religion (PDF)

Currently Reading

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Thomas Joseph White, OP, The Trinity: On the Nature and Mystery of the One God
D. G. D. Davidson, Rags and Muffin

On audiobook: James S. A. Corey, Cibola Burn

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Logres XII

 continuing Book II

Chapter 7

Thus at Merlin's encouraging, King Arthur went down from the tower under flag of truce, to a place of neutrality, in order to speak with the six kings. Beneath his robes he had a double-mailed jesserant and at his belt he had the sword drawn from the stone. With him went Bishop Bedwin, Sir Kay, Sir Bedivere, and Sir Brastias; Sir Ulfius and Sir Lucan remained behind in charge of the men in the tower. It perhaps not be correct to say that the talks that followed between King Arthur and the six kings were for peace; there was no meekness nor gentleness on either side; the kings had many a severe word, but King Arthur always had an answer, and replied to them as a liege lord to his men. Finally, the meeting broke with King Arthur saying that, as he lived, they would kneel, and he and his men returned to the tower.

Then Merlin said to the six kings, "What plan do you have? For I tell you true, that if you had ten times as many men you would not succeed in battle against him."

King Lot in response to this said angrily, "Shall we listen to liars and fortune tellers?" And when he had said that, Merlin vanished before their very eyes, and all who were there were troubled.

King Arthur was in deep counsel with his knights, and of a sudden Merlin, sitting at the right hand of the king, encouraged him to set on his enemies with all ferocity, although no one had seen Merlin come or had even known he was there until he spoke.

"Sire," he said, "even now there are men in the armies of the six kings who, having heard my words and seen my signs, as well as having heard your own arguments, will come over to your side. And though they still will have greater numbers, this is all to good, for you shall defeat their greater numbers and by doing so shall make clear to all who live by the sword that your right to rule is a right you can enforce. But heed my advice in this. When you go to battle, do not fight with the sword that was pulled from the stone until you see all things on the field turn for the worse; then you may draw it and set it to work as best you may."

Then like a fire came King Arthur and his men against the six kings, and three hundred men were added to his strength by those who deserted the six kings. Then Sir Bedivere, Sir Kay, and Sir Brastias, the greatest knights among his men, slew both right and left with a speed and sureness that was a marvel to behold; Sir Ulfius and Sir Lucan leading a smaller group drove against the flank of the six kings. King Arthur himself, on horseback, set his sword both left and right, before and behind, with such marvelous feats of arms that King Caradoc said to King Urien, "Perhaps this boy is more fit as a successor to Pendragon than he seemed," and King Urien said in reply, "Now I better understand what Merlin meant."

But King Lot, King Anguish, and the King of a Hundred Knights fought their way around toward the back of King Arthur's army, forcing him to turn to meet them. He smote both behind and before, with deeds as great as he had so far done, but the three kings had set upon him with great numbers, and the press of the other three kings prevented all but a few of his knights from rendering him aid. Thus both he and his guard were hard-pressed and it seemed that they would fall with time. Down went King Arthur's horse, and King Arthur with it. King Lot rode at King Arthur, striking him down, and four knights set on him at once. At this, King Arthur heeded Merlin's advice. He took the sword that had been drawn from the sword and pulled it from his scabbard. All at once there was a light, shining from the blade, like thirty torches bundled closely, and as they were dazzled, he forced them back. A great light was about him, and with a fury of strokes he slew left and right, and the armies of the kings broke and began to flee.

Then a signal was sent out and the commoners of Caerleon poured onto the field. They had for the most part only clubs and wooden staves, but the knights who were slow to retreat could not stand against them. The kings, however, were still able to gather their chief knights and flee. King Arthur, however, called back their pursuers, because Merlin counseled him not to follow them.

Chapter 8

After the battle at Caerleon, King Arthur withdrew toward Londinium, where a great feast was held to celebrate the victory. The king also took counsel with his barons, for as Merlin said, the six kings were sure to return in search of vengeance. The lords and barons could provide no sure counsel, so Merlin said to them, "Greatness of kingship requires many things. The king has right, and he has shown that he has good men. But I warn you all that, of those who fought with the six kings, the greater part of the best men survived. The armies that they fielded this time were based on the false assumption that the king, being young, could not fight like a king, and they will no longer make such an assumption. Even greater numbers they will gather. Further, the great kings of the north are not weak in alliances, and as we speak, they are consulting with those allies, and, as we speak, agreements are being forged. Six kings you fought off; there will be more kings against you when you return. The men of Logres are strong, but even if all the chivalry in all the realm were gathered together, they would not suffice. Thus we must look to alliances ourselves."

But the barons did not know whom he meant, so he continued, "Across the water, there are two kingdoms, Benewic and Gannes, ruled by twin brothers, King Ban and King Bors. Their chivalry is exceptional. But to the south and to the east, bordering both kingdoms, is a larger kingdom ruled by a man named King Claudas, and the border between the kingdoms of the brothers and the kingdom of King Claudas is in dispute. King Claudas is very wealthy, and thus is able to hire many soldiers and knights against them, and by numbers has slowly made progress against the brothers despite the excellence of their men. Where need for alliance and need for alliance meet, alliance may be born. Offer them a deal. Send two trustworthy knights who may speak for the king with diplomatic letters and gifts of goodwill. Tell them that if they come to the aid of King Arthur and his court, King Arthur will swear by solemn and sacred oath to come to their aid."

This was agreed, and Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias were chosen as the knights of the embassy. After they had crossed the channel, and were riding toward Benewic, they were met stopped by eight knights.

"We bear messages to King Ban," they said. "Please let us pass."

"Then you shall die or be prisoners," said the knights, "for we serve King Claudas." And two of them rode with spears against Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias, but by their spears Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias threw the knights to earth with great force, and ran through the midst of the knights. But the six who were left gave chase and soon, choosing their moment to turn well, Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias threw another two down and by deft maneuvers knocked two others off their horses. Thus finally they had weeded it down to two against two, and Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias were wholly victorious. At this point, two knights of King Ban, Sir Lionses of Payarn and Sir Phariance, came upon them, for rumor had already reached the courts of their embassy, and Sir Lionses and Sir Phariance were impressed by the achievement of Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias against the eight knights of King Claudas. Thus they came to Benewic, where as it happened both kings were taking counsel together, and the knights of King Arthur were brought by Sir Lionses and Sir Phariance before King Ban and King Bors.

Receiving the letters from King Arthur, the two kings had them read, and, once they understood the contents, were glad of a sudden. A great feast was held, and Sir Ulfias and Sir Brastias told the story of the eight knights, confirmed by Sir Lionses and Sir Phariance, to great cheer.

"Ha!" said King Ban jokingly. "They are well known friends to us, having caused us endless trouble; I would certainly have rendered them a harsher friendship than you did, if I had met them."

So Sir Ulfius and Sir Brastias returned to King Arthur with letters of promise and many gifts. And by Hallowmas King Ban and King Bors, along with their brother, a cleric named Gwenbaus, had come over the sea with three hundred knights of the highest skill. Then three kings held a great feast. Sir Kay the seneschal served the hall; Sir Lucan, the son of Duke Corneus, and his cousin Sir Griflet, the son of Sir Don, served the kings personally. Then afterward for Hallowmas they held a great tournament.

The shields dressed and the spears couched, Sir Griflet received the lot to fight first; he fought one Sir Ladinas from Benewic, and they came together so furiously that both their shields shattered, and both knights were knocked to the earth, stunned, so that at first was feared that they were dead. But Sir Lucan, running to Sir Griflet, found him alive, and helped horse him again, then helped Sir Ladinas up as well, and both did well later in the tournament. Then Sir Kay with five knights went up against six knights of Brittany and all of the latter were unhorsed. Indeed, Sir Kay fought so well that the men of Brittany wondered at him; no one did better than he that day.

However, after he had unhorsed many knights, Sir Kay went up against one Sir Placidas and was unhorsed, far more fiercely than Sir Placidas had perhaps intended. Sir Griflet, seeing this, was wrathful and rushed against Sir Placidas, whom he smote hard to the earth, and this began an escalation on both sides, as knights both of Logres and of Benewic and Gannes grew angry at the treatment. When the three kings saw this, they rose suddenly and summoned the knights to court, where they had evensong and then supper. The kings awarded Sir Kay the first prize, and distributed prizes also to other knights who had performed surpassingly well, such as Sir Griflet, Sir Lucan, Sir Ladinas, and Sir Gracian of Gannes. 

Then in the morning, after holy Mass, they held a small council, consisting of the kings, Gwenbaus, Sir Ulfius, Sir Brastias, and Merlin, and argued out what they would do. For their part, the tournament had convinced King Ban and King Bors that they had chosen their allies well, but on reviewing new information of the numbers that had been raised against them, their foes having now increased to eleven kings, it seemed good to them to increase their numbers further.

"And yet it is a difficult thing," said King Bors. "Our knights are bold and brave, but long years of war have perhaps made them wary of leaving too little defended their homes and families against a foe capable of fielding great armies. And any numbers we can bring will be limited by the difficulty of provisioning them at such a short notice."

"These are not such difficult problems," said Merlin. "This is my counsel. Send me, with tokens of authority, to the kingdoms of Benewic and Gannes, to raise the men, and pick two knights of intelligence and boldness to return as well to organize the border in defense against King Claudas until we are able to ride against him in force. Do this and all things will proceed to their proper ends."

King Ban and King Bors wondered at this, but as the plan had the support of King Arthur, King Ban gave to Merlin his signet ring as a sign of authority, and the two kings appointed Sir Gracian and Sir Placidas as the knights to organize the defense of the kingdoms. Thus Merlin, Sir Gracian, and Sir Placidas were sent over the sea.

Chapter 9

Thus Merlin, Sir Gracian, and Sir Placidas went to Benewic. The people there were glad to see them, and, recognizing the authority of King Ban's signet, several hundred men of valor were gathered together. 

But Merlin rose and spoke to them, saying, "Men of Armorica, you have heard of the feats of Saint Germanus, the bishop of Autissiodorum, who was sent with Saint Lupus of Tricassium to the island of Albion in the days of your fathers. This was the same Germanus who died in Ravenna, petitioning for aid and mercy to the Armoricans.  He had been a general and a governor, a man such as all of you, accomplished in the ways of strategy and war. In his travels, he came upon a band of Bretons who were menaced by bands of Picts and Saxons. As the leader of the Bretons was dead, Saint Germanus took the people in his charge and led them to a valley nested between two great mountains. When the band of raiders drew near, the Bretons at Saint Germanus's command shouted Alleluia three times in a great and roaring voice. The mountains, hearing them, called back Alleluia, and then, hearing each other, called Alleluia again, until, the whole region was filled with echoes, as if a great army were hidden behind every stone. Terrified of what they thought a vast host, the Saxons and the Picts threw down their arms and fled, each one seeking to get ahead of the others.

"Men of Armorica, I have not come here to place before you an easy road, but a difficult one, a path not for the cowardly or weak, although there is great glory in it. But I come here because the men of Armorica have few peers in chivalry and a reputation for valor and skill, with none greater in warlike fame. If there is such potency in a Breton shout, can any deny that there is potency in a Breton sword? I do not come to propose to you a path of comfort, but one of glory, achievements of renown on fields that will be remembered, and when it is done, the aid of King Arthur and his knights against your own foes."

And as Merlin spoke, it seemed to the men who heard that they saw themselves in battle achieving great things. Thus Merlin went speaking from place to place in Benewic and Gannes, and wherever he went, the hearts of the men who heard him were set alight with visions of glory. Some there were who, seeing their sway with the knights falling aside, said to each other, "This man is dangerous; he speaks with the tongue of a devil." But they did not dare intervene, for the spirits of the knights and even the common folk were increasingly high.

Because of his efforts, Merlin gathered together fifteen thousand men on horse and foot, and many of the men were of great renown. Among these was one, named Sir Illtyd, also known as Hildutus, who was a son of Bicanus and grandson of King Anblaud, as well as a cousin of King Arthur through his father's side. He was a man educated in all arts, having intended to go into the priesthood, for he had a very great devotion to Saint Germanus, but the attraction of arms had drawn him away, and thus he had served instead in the forces of his father, who was a tributary ally of King Bors. With him went his friend, Sir Nasciens, a descendant of King Bron, the brother-in-law of Saint Joseph of Arimathea, and a cousin of King Ban and King Bors. Both were soldiers and scholars of exceptional ability, valiant in battle and skilled in arms, learned and lettered in all of the liberal arts, and afterward they each achieved great renown, although for matters more serious than war.

When the host was beginning to be gathered together, Sir Illtyd, Sir Nascien, and others came to Merlin and said, "Sir, how shall we victual this army; for even bringing such supplies as we can, we find we will soon run out."

"This is not a difficult matter," said Merlin. "Select out some men who have skill in hunting, and have them hunt for deer."

"Sir," they said with surprise, "there are not enough deer in the woods to feed this many people."

But he insisted, and they sent out hunters to hunt. The hunters could find few deer, but Merlin said, "Carve and dress it as I shall tell you, and then begin distributing it." So they did, and soon distributed meat to the entire host, with the few deer they had not being exhausted of meat until all of the army had been well provisioned.

Merlin said, "Let all of the footmen be sent to aid Sir Gracian and Sir Placidas in the defense of the castles of the country, for their time shall come soon enough." This left about ten thousand men, all on horse. Then Merlin hired a great many boats, as well as those already available, including fishing boats, to bring the men to Albion. When they were at sea, Merlin said to Sir Illtyd and Sir Nasciens, "Have the men in the fishing boats set nets over the side." And when they did, they drew back the nets full to bursting with fish, so that it was difficult for strong men to pull them in. Thus the host came to the Portus Dubris, also known as Dover, on the island of Britain, provisioned in abundance by land and sea. Then Merlin led the knights northward through secret ways and encamped them in a valley in the forest of Bedegraine, and afterward rode to meet with the three kings.

The kings were astounded to meet Merlin, for they had not expected him to be more than just beginning, and could not understand how anyone could raise an army so swiftly, and indeed thought at first that some accident had prevented him from going or caused him to return before he had finished. But Merlin told them of the ten thousand well armed and well provisioned men in the forest of Bedegraine, and there was nothing more to say but to ride to join them. 

to be continued