Saturday, February 11, 2023

Certain Members of the Detection Club, The Floating Admiral


Opening Passage: There are several different things that one could identify as 'the beginning' of the book: Sayers's Introduction, Chesterton's Prologue, Whitechurch's Chapter I. Given the peculiar character of the book as a unified narrative with divided authorship, and the fact that much of the interest of the book consists in how the different mystery authors come together, I choose to treat Sayers's Introduction, which explains the rules by which it was written, as the 'real' beginning of the work:

When members of the official police force are invited to express an opinion about the great detectives of fiction, they usually say with a kindly smile: "Well, of course, it's not the same for them as it is for us. The author knows beforehand who did the job, and the great detective has only to pick up the clues that are laid down for him. It's wonderful," they indulgently add, "the clever ideas these authors hit upon, but we don't think they would work very well in real life." (p. 1)

Summary:  A mystery work written by thirteen different authors, each taking a chapter and able to take the story anywhere as long as they respect what came before, is truly a mystery, even to the authors. Canon Whitechurch's first chapter gives us the basic puzzle. A man, the Admiral, was stabbed to death. He is found in a boat which had drifted to the shore. There is no blood in the boat. The Admiral was last seen, it seems, crossing the river in his own boat, having had dinner with his daughter and the Vicar. But the boat in which the Admiral's corpse has been found is not his own boat. It is the Vicar's boat, and nobody knows the course of events between when the Admiral was last seen alive in his own boat and when his corpse was discovered elsewhere in the Vicar's boat. Nor does anyone have any obvious motive to stab the Admiral to death; nor does there seem an obvious explanation for why anyone, after having stabbed him to death, would put him in the Vicar's boat and set it adrift. What's more, the little village of Lingham where all this happens is a tiny insular place, in which could have lived for a decade and still be seen as an outsider, so Inspector Rudge will have a bit of work to do to get people to open up.

In many ways, the course of the book is determined by the manner of its production. A mystery writer puts a twist or two into his or her story. Twelve mystery writers in a row (excluding Chesterton, who writes the Prologue that is supposed to intrigue but doesn't contribute to the actual course of the narrative), writing twelve chapters, means that there is a twist or two or three in every single chapter. The inevitable result is that this is a book of red herrings. Over and over and over again we are led up a path only to find it shut down in front of us. The obvious suspect turns out not to be in the right place. People keep turning up in places where they shouldn't be able to be at times they shouldn't be able to be there. Evidence will point to one person at one point, then the same evidence will swing around and suggest someone else. The result is a fascinating puzzle mystery, although, despite the immense talent on display, it is probably too bewildering to be counted as a great mystery story.

The authors of each chapter were expected to have a particular ending in mind, and we have some of their anticipated endings provided as an appendix. It underlines a point about the narrative, which is that so many authors guarantees that the very nature of the mystery story changes over the course of the book. We have an entire range of approaches on display, from the highly systematic writers (John Rhode, Dorothy Sayers, and Ronald Knox, in Chapters V, VII, and VIII, respectively) to writers who are mostly larking (Agatha Christie definitely, who in Chapter IV doesn't move the story much but gives the book its funniest character, the infinitely voluble Mrs. Davis, and whose anticipated ending is so off the wall that she's pretty obviously trying to find the most unlikely solution to the problem as it existed up to that point; perhaps also Clemence Dane, in Chapter XI, who seems most interested in the character dynamics). 

The personal preferences of the authors also play an obvious role. This is seen a bit in the character of Inspector Rudge, whose character mostly holds together, but is nonetheless not quite consistent -- the Rudge of Sayers comes across as more literary, and the Rudge of Knox as more methodical, than he does in other chapters, for instance. Likewise, each author has things he or she is not willing to tolerate, or a suspect that he or she thinks should not be a suspect, or a preferred method for handling some problem or others. The most obvious case is seen in the fact that the early chapters strongly suggest that the  murder had something to do with the Admiral's past in China; this builds and builds until it hits Fr. Knox, famous among other things for laying down the rule that the solution of your mystery should never depend on a Chinaman -- 'Chinaman' being a stand-in for any foreigner who has no obvious reason to be in the tale, but here put to the literal test by the burgeoning reliance on a past scandal in Hong Kong. As Knox says in his anticipated solution, perhaps with some asperity, "It appears that Admiral Penistone, Sir W. Denny, Walter Fitzgerald, Ware, and Holland are all intimate with China, which seems overdoing it" (p. 296). So unsurprisingly, Knox begins diverting the story elsewhere. The background is already set, so it still has some influence on the future course of things, but the focus definitely shifts in the latter part of the book.

The structure of the story is also constrained in some ways by the nature of telling a mystery story. It's probable from the beginning that Neddy Ware is of some importance, somehow, because he's the first person mentioned, finds the body, and provides the first crucial information about the tides that gives an inkling of where the Admiral's corpse might have been put into the Vicar's boat. The writers, however, don't have much agreement on how exactly he plays a role. It became very obvious very quickly to the writers, and at some point becomes obvious to the reader, that the only possible way to account for some of the evidence is that some people must at some point be impersonating some other people; but they have different views about who is impersonating whom. It likewise becomes clear that some of the characters, like Ware and the Vicar, know more than they are saying; but the writers have different assessments of things like whether they realize that they know some additional crucial information or whether they are deliberately keeping something back, and if so, whether they are doing so for innocent reasons or guilty reasons, and, if the latter, whether they are the relevant guilty reasons or some other guilty reasons. I found all of this aspect of the novel fascinating. For a while I've wanted to write a mystery story that specifically focused on this multi-branching nature of inference, so it was particularly neat to see some of the twentieth century's greatest mystery writers struggling through exactly this aspect of the story.

The plot is tangled, inevitably, but it's really characterization that struggles in a book like this. I mentioned already the inconsistencies of Inspector Rudge. These are not too serious, in part because Rudge's role gives him more external coherence than any other character in the book. But other characters, shifting in and out of the suspicion spotlight, have ultimate characterizations that can only be considered a bit muddled and outlandish. The Vicar in particular began to exasperate me, because his actions, which often play a role in adding new complications to the mystery, sometimes border on the inexplicable. There's explanation provided, certainly, but at least far as this reader was concerned, the Vicar seemed sometimes to come across as somewhere between being stupid and having a a personality disorder. He is the most egregious case, or so I thought, but a lot of people in this novel act in weird ways, because that's the only way the writers could find to solve the weird problems that the twists of previous writers had created.

Favorite Passage: From Edgar Jepson's Chapter X:

"But the very last place that anyone who'd committed the murder would want to be seen in, is about here," protested Hempstead.

"M'm," said the Inspector. "If you'd seen the silly things murderers do that I've seen. Besides, there are some people who call themselves criminologists, who say that a murdered always goes back to the scene of his crime."

"Does he now?"

"No, he doesn't," said the Inspector. (p. 192)

Recommendation: Recommended, particularly if you like puzzle mysteries.


Certain Members of the Detection Club, The Floating Admiral, Charter Books (New York: 1980).

Friday, February 10, 2023

One Categorical Imperative in Three Formulations

 On Twitter, Kevin Vallier recently asked:

This is a good question, and I've known professional philosophers who definitely do not get this correct. Nonetheless, it's not actually a difficult question. There is more than one way you can establish it, but I'll give the way that I think is simplest and most straightforward.

When Kant gives the categorical imperative as such, he gives a version that says (allowing for slightly different wordings):

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become universal law.

This sentence is intended to capture the idea of morality as having maxims appropriate to universal law. There are three essential ideas here: maxim, universal, and law. And to facilitate understanding and application of the categorical imperative, Kant gives three re-formulations of the categorical imperative that brings one of these ideas front and center. The Law of Nature formulation emphasizes 'universal' by drawing an analogy to the most universal thing that directly impinges on our experience (the laws of nature), and it focuses on the formal structure of moral action; the End in Itself formulation (also known as the Humanity formulation) emphasizes 'maxim', which is the rule we make for ourselves in making a choice, and it focuses on the material content of moral action; and the Kingdom of Ends formulation (sometimes called the Autonomy formulation) emphasizes 'law' as something applicable to rational beings, and it focuses on how the formal structure organizes the material content of our choices, which Kant thinks of as its totality or wholeness.

To derive the End in Itself formulation, therefore, we need to know what a 'maxim' is. On Kant's account of willing, maxims are rules that have a means-end structure. They say what you are treating as valuable (the end) and how you are to treat it as valuable (the means). The categorical imperative tells us that we should only have maxims that are universalizable. But no maxim can be universalizable unless it has an end that is already universal -- that is relevant to every possible choice of every possible rational being. What is such that in every possible choice, no matter what, made by any possible rational being, it will be something that can be treated as valuable? Nothing, Kant thinks, except rationality itself. Kant uses the word 'humanity' as the popularly accessible word indicating rational nature. Thus, the categorical imperative tells us that we need always to treat humanity as an end. This, with a few clarificatory comments whose value is simply that they rule out potential mistakes of interpretation, gives us the End in Itself formulation:

Treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always as an end and never merely as a means.

Similar derivations work for the Law of Nature formulation and the Kingdom of Ends formulation. The reason that all three express the one categorical imperative is that in their essential meaning, they differ only by emphasis. Each takes one of the three ideas and emphasizes it, but the other two have to be included. You can vary up the vocabulary using analogies to other things (laws of nature, laws of societies, prudential rules), but the ideas have to be retained. In all cases you have to be talking about maxims conforming to universal law.

Are there any weak points in Kant's derivation of the formulations? With the End in Itself formulation a possible weak point is the assumption that only rational nature is available as something of worth for every rational choice of every rational being. But I suspect anything that one could add to it, Kant would just take to be included in 'humanity'.

Dashed Off V

 Hosea 2:16 as prophecy of Incarnation

the process of codification of cooking (Careme, etc.)

reduction, emulsion, and puree approaches to sauces
sauce = liquid + thickener + diversifier
(reductions use the liquid as its own thickener)

the use of quasi-syllogisms to explicate immediate and self-evident principles

four elements of obligation (civil law)
(1) obligor: who owes
(2) obligee: who is owed
(3) prestation: action owed
(4) vinculum iuris: cause that links obligants to prestation

"Practical rationality has the status of a kind of master virtue." Philippa Foote

the compenitence of the Church

In the long run, every reasonable thing will at some point be accused of being a nefarious invention by Catholics.

Political power is built by combining many different, smaller privileges and powers.

facts as beings of reason constructed out of evidences

evidence : thing/action :: right : title

"Do not try to defend or cover over what was wrong in the past, nor to fathom what has not arrived." Book of Rites, Shao Yi 15

Ex 19:5-6: possession, kingdom of priests, and a holy nation/people

Corruption expands to match the incentive for it.

the final cause as that which makes intelligible

The usual arguments against the 'ancient unwritten universal custom' view of common law are based on obvious confusions. The AUUC view does not and did not imply immutability, but instead continuity; it did not imply nondivergence across jurisdictions, but in a jurisdiction; it did not imply nonadaptability or lack of innovation, but placed the cause for such in novel circumstances; custom is participatory, not dictatorial the way statute is; it assumed the standard of reasonable Christian men; custom may authorize decisions indirectly and not just directly; it consistently recognizes that courts without legislative authority may apply and decide matters in common law.

All law in writing presupposes standards not in writing, which will effectively have the force of law.

The judge-made-law account of common law rests its case almost entirely on what is in fact customary law and customary judicial practice.

A court's decision is not 'law'; it is that court's assessment of law for now; it is inherent in such assessments that they can be temporary and that they can be not merely bad but *mistaken*.

Aboriginal title consists of three things: treaty title, sacral title, and customary usufruct.

remedial ends: admonition, mitigation, reformation
kinds of mitigation: provision of alternatives, compensation, restriction

the role of martyrial custody in episcopal authority

Leo, Letter XI: the merit of the prince of bishops

The interesting thing about the movie M is that both the police and the criminal express features or impulses all human beings share in the face of monstrosity. Both police and criminals represent people in general.

All norms and obligations presuppose classifications.

the principle of parallel polis in relations between the Church and the World

prefigurative evangelism
interstitial evangelism

Disparate impact depends by definition on classifications; different classifications, different disparateness.

"A lack of real activity does not, of necessity, result in leisure. A lack of occupation is not necessarily revealed by a manifest idleness." Parkinson

The infinity of language is a sign of the infinity of human intellect and will, of the boundlessness of human spirit, of the unfathomable depths of the human heart.

the ecclesial debt of gratitude to the Holy Virgin
the individual debt of gratitude to the Holy Virgin

(1) We owe the Holy Virgin respect in her own right, as of eminent virtue.
(2) We owe her respect in right of her Son, our Lord, whom we respect by respecting her.
(3) We owe her gratitude for her Yes.
(4) We owe her indirect filial piety as the mother of our Lord, and thus as our figurative mother.
(5) We owe her direct filial piety because of Christ's entrusting us to her and her to us at the Cross, in the person of the beloved disciple, so that she is our jural or juridical mother.

paying our debts to the saints as witnesses

'Doctor of the Church' functions indirectly as a sort of Index of Recommended Authors.

We owe a general gratitude to all people of virtue.

'A general definition is impossible/difficult because the term has many distinct but related uses' is nto the same as 'A specific definition is impossible/difficult for a given range of use'.

Highly alienated people will seize on almost anything that gives a sense of identity.

Civilization is a product of justice, not vice versa.

universalism and the preface paradox

Pardon, like rights, requires title, but can count as title is less predefined.

Numbers 5:11-31 (Sotah ritual) & God as jealous God
-- Note in Ex 32 Moses makes a kind of bitter water and forces the Israelites to drink

prophets as intercessors Gn 20:7

faith, hope, and love as the essential structure of virtuous marriage

affatus // kinaesthetic sense

Christ as sacrament hidden from the foundation of the world, sacramentum absconditum

Christ as primum mobile of the Church

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are that whereby Christ rules and preserves the Church.

Angelic participation in providence is angelic participation, as disposing causes, in the Incarnation and its effects.

the method of reformulating problems pseudomathematically

worthy-of, worthy-to, worthy-for

The Church, like the soul, goes through periods of aridity.

"...people learning new details about their art or trade must work in darkness and not with what they already know. If they refuse to lay aside their former knowledge, they will never make any further progress. The soul, too, when it advances, walks in darkness and unknowing." John of the Cross (Dark Night)

measured indecision as a tactic in diplomacy

Political actions and motives occur on a field of incentives far too diverse to be divided by 'friend vs enemy'; any political field that approaches the latter can only do so due to having been artificially mutilated.

Torah as lex declarata, Christ as lex animata

Iudex est iustum animatum et princeps est custos iusti. (Aquinas)

franchise as knightly virtue: free and generous bearing appropriate to good birth and name

Probabilities can only be actually assigned on the basis of evidence; evidence cannot be explained in terms of probabilities.

probability as degree of fit to a given profile

disposition : major premise :: occasion : minor premise :: exercise of disposition : conclusion

the Roman Curia as the exercise of the general faculty (envelope power) of the Holy See

The Church was universal before it was local or particular; the local or particular church is the expression of the universal church in local or particular form.

the importance of the concept of well-using

Bigotry is an injustice involving morally relevant general classification.

All persons can make rational relations to themselves.

martyr, doctor, virgin as each portraying an aspect of the Church itself

The 'where', if we may put it that way, of God is personal: the 'where of God is divine persons, the Father in the Son and the Spirit, the Son in the Father and the Spirit, the Spirit in the Father and the Son; then God in the angels and in us, and in other things insofar as they express person or are gift from person to person. 

Personality is more fundamental than spatiality and temporality.

existence as title to love in a general sense
divine love = divine being -> creaturely being = title to creaturely love

the confusion between what is loved and title to love

Love is the medicine for the wounds of love.

The soul in purgatory, truly loving God in a perfect manner after its fashion, suffers from divine absence intellectually, volitionally, and memoratively, not having the fullness of health, of delight, and of possession that is found in union with God. Thus it comes, mendicant in need, to God, in a bitter dryness and in lack, experiencing the turth that God alone is its health, its joy, and its life.

the humble and contrite heart as the perpetual sacrifice of purgatory

the layers of the Mass
Triumphant: Christ Ascended, united to the saints and angels, offering Himself, united to the saints and angels, as sacrifice to God.
Penitent: Christ offered as sacrifice to God through the penitent souls and the penitent souls in humility and contriteness offering themselves to be offerings to God.
Militant: Christ offered as sacrifice to God in the Eucharist and the humble and contrite heart offered through the Eucharistic Christ to God, in praise, thanks, and penitence.

purgatory as the perfection of the ascetic life

Josephus attributes royal, priestly, and prophetic gifts to John Hyrcanus (JW 1.72).

knighthood as symbol of Christian laity in general

the parallel between the Order of the Clergy and the Order of Chivalry (Llull)

Honor culture works by allowing people to substitute one action for another in order to maintain a proportionate response, whenever conditions are such that everyone could be harmed by a lack of proportion. However, there is always a limit to this, beyond which things can spiral out of control regardless of the intentions of those involved.

The civil war in King Arthur's kingdom largely breaks along Welsh and Norman lines, both tradition-wise and even in the characters (e.g., Gawain and his family vs Lancelot and his family).

Acts 14:23, 2 Cor 8:19 on ordination (but the term cheirtonein can be mean election, consecration, installation, or all three)
-- it literally means 'to extend the hand'; it came to mean 'to choose or elect'
-- it should not be confused with 'laying on of hands'

situations in which one is obligated to make a fool of oneself

Social facts about courts and legislatures include moral facts about them.

Law can only guide conduct on the model of skill or of virtue, and many laws are not structured on the model of skill, which is conditional and instrumental rather than authoritative.

Citizens cannot fulfill their responsibilities as citizens without moral considerations.

convenant as concentrating relationships

Credibility is a cheap coin and always easy to debase further.

The greater the good at which we aim, the more options we have for means over the course of our lives. Minor goods tend to have few means; major goods tend to allow many means.

Legislators should see legislation not as coercion but as giving aid.

"When you are about to give alms, don't pay attention to the expenditure of the money, but to the collection of righteousness." Chrysostom
"Giving birth is not the defining characteristic of a mother, for that is a matter of nature; instead, a mother's defining feature is raising, for that is a matter of choice." (He later equates 'defining' with 'crowning'.)
"If someone wants to praise martyrs, let them imitate martyrs."

The history of inquiry oscillates between periods in which discovery is extremely difficult and periods in which it is extremely easy. One of the factors contributing to the scientific revolution was the practice of doing very many different inquiries all at once, with the result that, besides cross-fertilization, for a long period of time significant advances could always be found somewhere, in some line of inquiry.

In the history of inquiry, one should not confuse stagnation with consolidation or slow advance.

nature, order, and office/role as three ways of giving something an ordering to an end

aggressive vs passive-aggressive imperialism

Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation, as object; the Church contains all things necessary to salvation, as enacted and acting.

A directs B to do for A (strong): command
A directs B to do for A (weak): beg
A directs A to do for B (strong): vow
A directs A to do for B (weak): promise
A directs B to do for B (strong): urge
A directs B to do for B (weak): advise
A directs A to do for A (strong): resolve
A directs A to do for A (weak): consider

goodness as the ground of 'normative powers'

Not all promises when broken are shattered; some are ongoing and, when broken, generate an obligation to return to compliance.

All the virtues of the justice family have potential bearing on the force of promises.

It is morally necessary for governments to have opportunities for citizen input, so that the citizens may have the dignity of causality.

promises and persons coming within the ambit of persons

Sublimity is conserved in the explanation of the sublime; the explanans must be adequately sublime to explain the sublime.

Every potential part of justice, interacting with custom and temperance, generates a protective etiquette.

Irrationality presupposes and posits rationality.

"Who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord." Pr 19:17

What we can make of ourselves depends on what we are.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Two Poem Drafts and a Poem Re-Draft

 I Hear the Darkness Fall

I hear the darkness fall;
the shadows sigh;
I cannot make out what they say,
but the sound is of meaning full.
The borderline between light and shade
twangs like lyre softly played
with melodies both warm and sad.
The darkness falls with gentlest song,
nostalgic with memories
as old tunes once sung,
fresh like harmonies
newly wed.


Pukka is never angry.
It rides with joy the storm.
The wind is in its laughing,
in lightning it is born.
Pukka is never flagging;
it never wearies or fails
but roars across and flattens
all creatures small and frail.
Pukka is wind in running;
pukka is rain that falls;
pukka is fire leaping;
Pukka is stone that calls.
It never will aid your heartache,
it never will comfort give,
nor speed your journey homeward,
nor help your soul to live.
If it aids you, it never intended;
if it kills you, it does not hate.
It is as joyful as shining heaven,
but as ruthless as bitter fate.

Weep, if you must sorrow.
Rage as you may dare.
It all will come to nothing:
pukka does not care.

The Razor's Edge

I wandered, thinking well,
through sordid gates of hell
with subtle traipsing made to walk
unknowing on a blade,
razor's edge over chasm laid,
into which my glories fell,
as He bade. 

 Darkness all around me winging
but the grace of heaven singing,
but the wedding party flinging
wine in dance, and like the sea,
wine-dark was light in me.
And I with all my glories bringing
across a razor's edge did flee
above a dark and broiling sea
of fire; that sea reflected me.
 Meanders great and small in grace
brought me to a sacred place,
a grove of light,
where I burned
with flame inside
and gravely yearned
to catch the fox that fled the chase.
That fox reflected me; and in that race,
I found a stream and turned
to see in mirror my own face.
What I learned
was a lesson hard and bitter-laced. 

 Across the razor's edge I fled,
across the shadows of the dead;
my success wandered among the shades,
ghostly death of life that fades.
Each triumph bled
with flooding blood, flamed-iron red,
each glory a cut upon the blade,
each victory a fiction in my head.
I thought that I on lilies fed,
but I was to the darkness wed,
as He bade.

 A moment before the dawn's bright flame
I caught an inkling of a name,
a hint of breath.
Each choice was made
upon a wire
pending above seething fire
that bore my face and death.
I played
some old, forgotten game
with darkness and in desire
I saw my death; it was the same
in visage as my unwatched shame.

In darkness softly stirred
a rustling like some morning bird
in leaves, a single word
like a lyre that makes the air to sing; exhausted,
I beneath the wing fell, protected
by the Thing that stirred
but held me fast.
And in the darkness, still and fleeting,
no sound but grace and my heart beating,
light came at last.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Praesentia Realis

 A recent article, The Eucharist is about more than the real presence, by Thomas Reese, got a great deal of (deserved) pushback on social media recently. I normally wouldn't pay much attention to it, as Fr. Reese is famously one of those modern priests who likes talking about how to make theology relevant to the broader culture yet whose shaky grasp of theology is balanced by a nearly non-existent grasp of what is appealing to the broader culture. However, one paragraph in the article caught my attention:

Since my critics often accuse me of heresy, before I go further, let me affirm that I believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I just don't believe in transubstantiation because I don't believe in prime matter, substantial forms and accidents that are part of Aristotelian metaphysics.

As people have pointed out, the doctrine of transubstantiation isn't based on Aristotelian metaphysics; the Fourth Lateran Council defined it as a dogma before Aristotelianism had made a comeback, and the metaphysics of Aristotle himself doesn't have the resources for talking about transubstantiation. All the major scholastics had to make modifications to the metaphysics in order to discuss the doctrine. Thus transubstantiation makes no appeal to Aristotelian metaphysics, and the doctrine is not based on any considerations arising from Aristotelian metaphysics. But this wasn't really what caught my eye. What caught my eye was that the way real presence is being talked about here was a little odd. I couldn't figure why, at first, in part because Fr. Reese never explicitly says what he means by 'real presence', which obscures the oddity, but it was bugging me. And finally I realized it: Fr. Reese can say something like this paragraph because he doesn't know what 'real presence' means.

The give-away is that he dismisses 'prime matter', 'substantial forms', and 'accidents' as technical terms and contrasts these with 'real presence'. But the 'real' in 'real presence' is a technical term, not a colloquial one. It always has been. It does not mean 'genuine' or 'true'. (If you want to say that you believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, you say, "Christ is truly present in the Eucharist". This is a precondition for real presence, but is a much weaker claim.) Saying you believe in the real presence is not equivalent to saying that you believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, if by that you are just using 'really' as a colloquial synonym for 'truly' or 'actually'. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is His being, Himself, in the Eucharist -- not merely in an extended sense, not merely by proxy, not merely by sign, not merely by action, not merely in part, but Christ, himself, in his very person, present in the Eucharist. A technical way to say this would be something like "Christ is present as res". That's where the word 'real' comes from. Another technical way to state it is that Christ is present in proprietate naturae et veritate substantiae, in His proper nature and true substance. Aquinas, with his typical simplicity, likes to describe it by saying, "Christ as a whole is in the sacrament" or "The entire Christ is in the sacrament."

I suppose it's not surprising that contemporary Catholics show increasing confusion when asked about the real presence if the priests are misreading 'real presence' as a colloquial label rather than a technical label based on a highly specialized meaning of 'real'. And I suppose it's not surprising that Fr. Reese thinks the Eucharist is about more than the real presence if he doesn't understand that 'real presence' here is a technical philosophical way of indicating something like 'Christ Himself in the fullness of what He is'. But I also suppose that a man who doesn't know this probably should not be giving people advice about Eucharistic renewal.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Sy Ei Petros

 Then Iesous, having come to the region of Kaisareia of Philippos, was interrogating his students, saying, Whom do men proclaim to be the Son of Man? And they said, Some Ioannes the Immerser, and others Elias, and others Ieremias or one of the prophets. 

He says to them: But who do you proclaim me to be? And Simon Rock responded, saying, You are the Anointed, the Son of the Living God.

Then Iesous responded to him, saying, Blessed are you, Simon Bariona. For flesh and blood did not unveil it to you, but my Father who is in the heavens. And so also I to you proclaim that you are Rock, and on this rock-material I will construct my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give to you the keys of the realm of the heavens, and whatsoever you bind on the earth shall be bound in the heavens, and whatsoever you loose on the earth shall be loosed in the heavens.

Then he admonished his students that no one should say that he is the Anointed. From that time Iesous Anointed began to show to his students that he ought to go to Hierosolyma to go away, and to endure many things from the elders and chief priests and scholars, and to be killed and on the third day to be wakened. And, having taken to him to himself, Rock began to admonish him, saying, Let it go, Lord; this will not ever happen to you.

And, having turned his back, he said to Rock, Retreat behind me, Satanas! You are a stumblingblock to me, for your thoughts are not on God's things but on human things.

[Matthew 16:13-23, my rough translation. Notice the pattern of proclamation: Whom do men proclaim the Son of Man to be? Whom do you proclaim Me to be? I proclaim you to be Peter.

Jesus's comment in v. 17 about the confession being revealed to Peter from his Father in heaven is very likely a reference back to 16:1, when the Pharisees and Sadducees were demanding a sign from heaven; Jesus then deliberately wants the disciples in v. 21 to hide this revelation from heaven from the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus's naming of Peter uses Petros and petra; they can be synonyms, just differing by grammatical gender, but in some contexts they are not exact synonyms; petra can mean not just a particular rock but an entire rock formation, for instance, but given the whole sentence, another association is definitely in view -- namely, petra can specifically suggest rock for building. Thus my translation of it as 'rock-material'. 'Assembly' is the literal meaning of ekklesia, the word for 'church'; it means a collection or council of selectmen. The word for 'wakened' literally means 'raised', which is why it is often translated that way, but the root word is 'rise' in the sense we use when we say, 'when you rise in the morning'.

The Church Fathers divided over whether 'this petra' meant Christ as confessed by Peter, Peter's confession of Christ, or Peter as confessing Christ. All three interpretations are consistent with what the passage actually says, and my own inclination is to agree with Soloviev in Russia and the Church when he argues that as ancient naming practices are often multi-level in their use of meanings, the most reasonable interpretation is to take it as meaning all three together, so that the three interpretations are just emphasizing different aspects of one thing. Giving someone keys is not a minor matter; locks in this period are custom-made items requiring a skilled metalworker, and giving keys to someone was very commonly putting them in charge. (Indeed, it continued that way at least as late as the Renaissance, when a surprising amount of fighting occurred over who would have possession of the keys of various fortress, since having the keys to the fortresses made you de facto governor.) That something like this is in view is very clear, given that 'binding' and 'loosing' are both also legal terms, and could be translated as 'compel' and 'annul'.

For some reason, I always forget that when Jesus says, "Get behind me" to Peter, he literally turns his back on him.]

Monday, February 06, 2023

Notable Links Noted

 * Johan E. Gustafsson, Did Locke Defend the Memory Continuity Criterion of Personal Identity? (PDF)

* Rebecca K. DeYoung reviews Thomas M. Osborne, Jr's Thomas Aquinas on Virtue

* Wilfred Reilly, How Political Bias Explains Everything, at "Tablet"

* Donald L. M. Baxter, Identity Through Time and the Discernibility of Identicals (PDF)

* Derek S. King, Seeing the Face of Christ (PDF), on divine hiddenness arguments

* Jane Lymer, The Phenomenology of the Maternal-Foetal Bond (scroll down)

* Jennifer Fitz, Modesty for Priests

* Stephen Harrop, Academic freedom and adjunct instructors who aren't so free to speak, at "Boston Globe"

* Carl Hendrick, The evidence is clear: learning styles theory doesn't work, at "Aeon". When I was an undergrad, I had a few friends were Education majors, and they spent an extraordinarily amount of time with learning styles theory. But over time, it just became very obvious that nothing was really replicating. It's been certain for quite some time now that it was not effective, and yet I still come across traces of it.

Here is the dirty little secret: Nobody knows how to teach. Teaching gets done; basically, teachers work with students and some learning happens, and different teachers over time find things that seem to work through trial and error and a bit of imagination. But it becomes very clear that what works for one teacher won't necessarily work for another; a lot of things that seem very effective if you only look at one teacher turn out to work only because of the teacher's background familiarity or comfort or personality or preferred way of doing things. Some methods seem to work (like the Socratic method), but do not do so in any way that shows up consistently in any measurements we can make; they might be defended on intangible grounds, but it's difficult to prove to skeptics that they work, much less work better than any other method. Others sound like they would work, but when implemented don't have any consistent results. Since before my time there has been one and only one pedagogical method that measurably, consistently, and for every student demographic (equitably, as we would say today) delivers: rote drills. People will remember for decades finer points in which they were properly drilled. But very, very obviously, most of what needs to be taught in any field cannot be taught by rote drill.

A major reason for this in most cases is, I think, the Platonic one that teaching happens because of the student, not because of the teacher; the teacher is mostly just clearing things away and pointing out shortcuts, the actual act of teaching occurs in the student and is the same act as the act of learning -- learning is the act of the student insofar as we focus on the student, and teaching is the act of the student insofar as the student's doing it is related to the teacher. I think a crude recognition of this is behind the popularity of learning styles theory. But learning styles theory ran up against another major problem: nobody actually knows how they learn. The feeling of learning something is extremely deceptive; in cases of learning we all sometimes confuse the effectiveness of learning, which requires something that endures through time, with the ease with which we can process something in the here-and-now; we massively underestimate the number of different things that come together when we really learn something; we tend to assume, falsely, that if we like something we are learning from it.

I don't think this is a reason for pessimism in general; as I said, teaching very often does happen. But the great modern error here, as elsewhere, is assuming that all you need to solve a problem is the Magic Method. That would indeed be nice, no doubt; it just runs into the problem that sometimes there is no Magic Method, and things that look like Magic Methods, even sometimes for very modest problems, are sometimes just snake oil. One should be skeptical of methodism in education; despite the recurring temptation to it, it has always been one of the most devastatingly serious failures in human intellectual history. Teaching and learning, however, are part of who we are as human beings; we mostly do it naturally, not artificially.

* Liam Bright, The New Alexandria, at "The Sooty Empiric", discusses problems faced by contemporary analytic philosophy. I largely agree with it, although I think I would emphasize mounting infrastructural problems much more.

* John G. Brungardt, The Polyvalent Hierarchy of Wisdoms

* An interesting article on the upcoming beatification of the Ulm family, including if the article is accurate the unborn child in the womb, who were murdered by the Nazis for sheltering Jews.

* Michelle La Rosa, Why some pro-lifers think that 'free birth' should be the next policy goal, at "The Pillar". This is, I think, right, although it trickier ground than simply arguing for a universal basic right to life; despite continual attempts to treat it as simple, medical treatment is always a complicated tangle of rights, goods, standards (sometimes reasoned out but sometimes quite arbitrary and existing only because some standard is needed), and available materials.

* David Polansky, Against the hysterical consensus, at "The Critic", on American foreign policy

* David Kordahl, The Incommensurable Legacy of Thomas Kuhn, at "3 Quarks Daily"

* Sandrine Berges discusses do's and don't's in writing about women in the history of philosophy, all of it good advice.

* Richard Chappell, Don't valorize the void

* Meg Hunter-Kilmer, The CIA and the Rosary Priest: Venerable Patrick Peyton, CSC, at "Church Life Journal". This sort of thing is more common than usually recognized, I think; during the Cold War, both the First World and the Second World spent immense sums of money on a wide range of things, hoping to find something, anything, that would stick. Very famously, much of the success of abstract expressionism as an artistic movement was due to American intelligence patronage; the CIA spent large amounts of money backing abstract expressionists on the hope that abstract expressionism made people somehow or other less sympathetic to communism. It's also worth remembering that the same thing is happening even as we speak; the bugbears may have change, but modern governments fund all sorts of things on the idea -- sometimes reasonable, sometimes crackpot -- that it gives them some kind of advantage in some kind of political project.

* Sarah DeWeerdt, The peanut snack that triggered a fresh approach to allergy prevention, at "Nature"

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Aquinas on Philosophy

 Of all human studies, the study of wisdom is the most complete, most sublime, most useful, and most joyful:

Most complete because, inasmuch as man gives himself to the study of wisdom, so much does he have already some part of true beatitude, so that the wise man says, "Blessed the man who continues in wisdom" (Sir 14:22).

And it is most sublime because through this, man preeminently approaches to the divine likeness, who "made everything through wisdom" (Ps 103:24), in that, because likeness is the cause of love, the study of wisdom preeminently unites with God through friendship. Thus Wis 7:14 says that wisdom "is an infinite treasury to men, of a sort that those who use are made participants in friendship with God."

And it is most useful because through this wisdom we come to the kingdom of immortality: "Craving for wisdom leads to the perpetual kingdom" (Wis 6:21).

And it is most joyful because "her company has no harshness, nor her banquet any sorrow, but gladness and delight" (Wis 7:16).

[Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles 1.2.1, my rough translation. Studium could also be translated as 'pursuit', so one could substitute that for 'study' at any point here. The point of the 'most complete' is that, as the pursuit of wisdom already participates in beatitude, and beatitude or happiness lacking nothing is the ultimate end and goal of all human pursuits, there is nothing in any pursuit it does not in some way cover. Thus the honest seeker of wisdom, to the extent that he or she actually seeks wisdom, is fulfilled as a human being (blessed), a friend of God, is preparing for an inexhaustible reward, and is already in the process of achieving what he or she loves (which is how Aquinas understands joy). 

ADDED LATER: I suppose I should say something about the 'most'. The terms are actually comparative in form, not superlative. I've gone back and forth, but if one follows through the reasoning, the claim is that the pursuit of wisdom is more complete, sublime, useful, and joyful than all (other) human pursuits. Thus, while the forms are comparative, the meaning is superlative.]

On the Texas State Constitution

 I've been a bit behind this past week on a number of things because of our winter freeze here last week. I was not one of the people who lost power, although that seems to be almost a fluke, since neighborhoods only a few blocks away on every side had outages for at least some of the time, but internet has occasionally been very inconsistent, and, of course, there was both preparation before and during the storm and a lot of catch-up on everything afterward, as errands that would ordinarily have been spread over the week had to be done all at once toward the end. It should be noted, as I have seen many false claims about this, that there was no problem at all with Texas's electrical grid. The winter storm, while not very cold, occurred at the mushy, sleety border right around freezing that coated everything with ice. The result was that tree branches everywhere broke under the weight. (Toward the end of the storm, you could hear, every so often, a loud CRACK as yet another one went down. I was out on a long walk Friday, and everywhere I went there were broken tree branches that people were still trying to clean up.) A large number of such broken branches kept taking out power lines. The ice also made repair difficult and dangerous. Thus the real issue was a maintenance problem. It's unclear to me whether it was the utility company or the city that fell down so badly in this department. My bet is on the city; around here, you are usually not completely wrong if you blame Austin City Council. The city receives very large sums of money from the utilities and is notorious for wasting most of it, and since COVID a lot of the city's maintenance has been at least inconsistent. Regardless, someone needed to be out doing a lot more tree trimming.

One thing I find somewhat interesting is the repeated attempt by a lot of parties to pin the problem on Abbott. This happened over the last winter freeze, too, and occurs for political reasons, of course. But Governor Abbott has no direct authority over most of these matters. As the most visible state politician, he can put a lot of political pressure on particular points, and he has some powers under various laws that can increase such pressure, but he is not directly in charge of any of it. One of the things that often seems to confuse people about Texas -- I've known Texas residents who get confused about it -- is its somewhat peculiar state constitution. Texas was built very clearly and explicitly on principles of legislative primacy. This is why, for instance, at least as I was told growing up, if you look at a map of Texas, this huge state is divided into lots of little tiny counties -- 254 of them, more than any other state even accounting for size. The borders of the counties also often don't make much sense in terms of what they divide. This is a designed feature, one that was put into the system in order to guarantee that there would be no way for counties to mount any kind of effective resistance against state laws. It's also why the state fathers originally attempted to have Governors serve two-year terms (which was eventually changed because it wasn't really workable, although people still try to reinstate every so often).

In any case, this is likewise the reason why the Governor of Texas is the weakest state governor in the United States. One might naturally expect that the Governor has more authority and power than the Lieutenant Governor, just as one might naturally assume that the New York Supreme Court is New York's supreme court, but in the one case as in the other, this is wrong for historical reasons. Practically speaking, the most powerful position in Texas is the Office of the Lieutenant Governor. This is because the Lieutenant Governorship is both an executive and a legislative position; he can exercise some powers of the Governor as the Governor's deputy, but primarily serves as president of the Texas Senate, where he has considerable influence over legislative committees. In addition, executive authority is deliberately broken up in what is known as the plural executive system --several of the most important positions that technically answer to the Governor's office are not appointed by the Governor but are independently elected. The Governor also has only very limited power to remove anyone from office. There are a few things over which the Governor is directly in charge as a constitutional matter, and he has further powers under various statutes, but Texas is deliberately and undeniably designed so that the buck always ultimately stops at the Texas State Legislature, which is balanced only by the people, although it is also deliberately restricted in ways that guarantee that that has some bite. (The Constitution of Texas is famously long and complicated, and the reason is that the legislature cannot do anything that the constitution does not explicitly allow, so every time something new comes up, an amendment has to be put forward to the people. The result is that the document is filled with exceptions to limitations to grants of authority, as well as things like a very long section about what debts the legislature can allow that has two subsections that are accidentally numbered the same.)

The electrical grid (officially known as the Texas Interconnection) is directly under the authority of ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT is a nonprofit organization whose members are the electrical utilities. ERCOT is regulated as far as fees and customer rights are concerned by the Public Utility Commission of Texas. This is an executive agency whose board is appointed by the Governor, and its Chair is a non-voting member of ERCOT's governing board. But ERCOT itself, in its primary operations, answers only to the relevant committees in the state legislature. And, likewise, failures at the city-level, like the recent one, are not directly under the Governor's authority, either. This sort of thing is quite common for almost everything in Texas -- authority is divided up, when there is any relevant authority at all, but usually in such a way as to give primary responsibility to the legislature.