Saturday, July 01, 2023

All Is Cold Beauty

 On Visiting the Tomb of Burns
by John Keats 

The town, the churchyard, and the setting sun,
The clouds, the trees, the rounded hills all seem,
Though beautiful, cold — strange — as in a dream
I dreamed long ago, now new begun.
The short-liv’d, paly summer is but won
From winter’s ague for one hour’s gleam;
Through sapphire warm their stars do never beam:
All is cold Beauty; pain is never done.
For who has mind to relish, Minos-wise,
The real of Beauty, free from that dead hue
Sickly imagination and sick pride
Cast wan upon it? Burns! with honour due
I oft have honour’d thee. Great shadow, hide
Thy face; I sin against thy native skies.

Friday, June 30, 2023


Retributivist theories of punishment tend in our day and age not to be given a fair shake. A good recent example is Adam Kobler's The Subjectivist Critique of Proportionality (PDF). We get the problem almost immediately with the definition of retributivism:

Retributivism varies in its details but typically holds that we are justified in making wrongdoers suffer (or be punished) in proportion to their wrongdoing.

There is a lot being crammed into the "suffer (or be punished)" phrase here. It is not in fact a retributivist principle that we are justified in making wrongdoers suffer in proportion to their wrongdoing; the principle is that we are not justified in giving wrongdoers a punishment beyond what is proportionate to their wrongdoing. These are not remotely the same things, and the former is not even remotely reasonable -- for one thing, it is impossible to control how people suffer in general with this precision (the penalized can themselves affect how much they suffer, for instance, and there can be completely unintended causes of suffering). When retributivists talk about proportionality, they are talking about punishments, not suffering; this is true even when they think of punishment as a particular kind of suffering. Kobler tries to deal with this in his main argument, but the argument itself is problematic:

Some retributivists deny that they must justify the side effects of punishment because those side effects are not themselves punishment. Rather than get wrapped up in debates about the meaning of punishment, I find it more helpful to speak of the justification of punishment practices. Retributivists who purport to only address the intentional inflictions of punishment will have little to say about real-world punishment practices as they invariably include side- effect harms.

If there are any retributivists who are not making this denial, they are conceding far more than retributivism itself requires. By the very act of saying that he is not going to get wrapped up in debates about the meaning of punishment, Kobler has already begged the question against the retributivist; it follows directly from retributivism that you cannot assess these matters at all without determining exactly what the punishment is. And the last sentence is simply false -- from the fact that retributivists will say some aspects of punishment practices are purely incidental to punishment itself, one cannot conclude that they say that all or most aspects of punishment practices are incidental, which is the only way they would 'have little to say about real-world punishment practices'. Very obviously, punishment plays quite a large role in 'punishment practices' (this is why they are called 'punishment practices'), and retributivism certainly has something to say about that. As for the rest, any side-effect harms, they may well be worth taking into account, but the retributivist is going to say that these, precisely because they are not part of the punishment itself, should be considered not under the theory of punishment but under some other part of the theory of justice, and how they relate to the issues of punishment will be handled by a more general theory of justice. There's no reason why retributivists have to include everything under punishment just because subjectivists want to do so. It's entirely OK to say that our punishment practices touch on other aspects of justice beyond punishment alone, and that our theory of punishment should confine itself to the actual punishment in our punishment practices. Precisely one of the reasons why retributivism spontaneously gets defenders every generation is that it is a fairly modest and simple theory of punishment; it does not demand a lot from punishment itself, and it does not overload the theory of punishment with questions beyond those directly concerned with penalty and desert. 

Kobler also seems to think (and many critics of retributivism do likewise) that retributivists are committed to saying that every wrongdoing must be punished as it deserves. No actual retributivism holds this. Every retributivist I have ever come across has recognized that (1) there are wrongdoings we just practically cannot punish, either because we never know enough about them, or because we cannot establish the relevant desert, or because we don't have the means to punish them; (2) there are cases where a wrongdoing deserves to be punished but either practical necessity or higher good (like that of the peace of the entire community) justifies pardon or commutation or just letting people off with a warning or even at times ignoring it altogether. These don't fall under the theory of punishment but under more fundamental parts of the theory of justice which consideration of punishment presupposes. What retributivism involves is not a demand to punish people according to their deserts no matter what; it rather says that punishment is justified by desert and punishment can only be justified by desert. Proportionality is a common way of understanding part of that second clause, but it doesn't rule out situations where you might punish someone with a punishment much lighter than they deserve.

There is another problem with these kinds of arguments, although on this point, in fairness, it's a problem that does plague a large number of contemporary retributivisms. This is the notion that 'proportionality' indicates some sort of mathematical or quasi-mathematical measure. (We find the same problem haunting discussions of proportionality in just war theory.) In reality, 'proportionality' in this context means the proportionality of means to ends, where the general end here is 'addressing the wrongdoing insofar as it deserves to be addressed', which will in turn get specified further in light of what the actual wrongdoing was. This is something that can be reasoned out as to kind and as to quality of response, but it is not the sort of thing for which precise measures usually exist, particularly of the consequentialist sort that the people often assume. The reason people (including some retributivists) slip into thinking of proportionality as mathematical has less to do with core requirements of retributivism and (probably) more to do with the odd tendency of contemporary philosophy toward clunkheaded literalism. But 'proportionality' in these contexts is very old, and it is the proportionality of means to end, as found in theory of action; derived, indeed, from the even older mathematical usage, but only derived. And whatever its derivation, it has had its own meaning since the ancient Greeks. It's true that this means you can't reduce everything to a handy formula; but as no such magical formula could exist, and retributivism doesn't predict that it would, there's no problem here for retributivists.

Dashed Off XXI

 The axioms that are given for epistemic logics are often not things that make sense for knowledge in general, but are things to which inquiry towards knowledge may often converge for a given domain of inquiry.

knowledge as understanding logically mediated by causes

Readiness to express a judgment often overrides rather than expresses our beliefs, opinions, intuitions, and understandings.

While assertions can be challenged by, "How do you know?", the challenge can be answered completely by saying, "I don't, I just think this is true for such-and-such reasons."

The infelicity in "It's raining but I don't know it's raining", when it does exist, is in the ambiguity of 'know'. But it often doesn't exist -- it's perfectly reasonable to say, "It's raining, I don't know it is raining, but I have reason enough to think it is."

To say, "Your lottery ticket did not win," even not knowing the actual result of the lottery, may be entirely reasonable if one knows the nature of the lottery.

Assertions are lie-prone not because they entail believing what is asserted but because we often assert what we believe, in contexts in which people are interested in our beliefs.

We retract false assertions not because they are no longer assertions but because we assert as a means to ends.

It's underappreciated how much evolutionary theory owes to linguistics, which provided the first model of a historical science.

"In accomplishing great things, the more you plan, the more fortunate you are." Jouvenel

All artificial forms presuppose natural forms.
All conventional signs presuppose natural signs.
All social constructs presuppose things discovered in nature.

blameworthiness and praiseworthines in skill

reasoning on unpossessed evidence
(1) reasoning on evidence of what such evidence will likely be
(2) reasoning on the limits of our reasoning given what such evidence could be
(3) reasoning on possessed evidence in light of recognition that there is evidence we do not possess

The virtue of eutrapelia increases social versatility.

eutrapelia: pepaideumena hubris, erudita contumelia

"Since God and nature do nothing in vain, nature would not have given us such an inclination toward humor unless it benefited us in some way." Jean Buridan (QNE 4.19)

The first step in understanding the doctrines of simplicity, immutability, etc., is the doctrine of divine incorporeality, because this is what removes imaginable composition, imaginable change, etc., which which we are most familiar, and disciplines the imagination so that it does not distort our reasoning.

Whether outcome or procedure matters more in any given case depends on things quite distinct from either outcome or procedure.

There is no liberty without power.

Accessibility drives often lead to goods and services becoming scarcer because they are often done without regard for sustaining incentives.

the modality of 'true albeit improbably'

amor fati vs. amor providentiae

still life painting and the contemplative mundane

Successful fiat currencies depend on large economies resistant to conquest and natural disaster.

Much of the history of northern India is tied to the fact that the conditions there are not healthy for large-scale breeding of horses and camels.

For children, it generally seems that the kind of punishment matters less than the ceremony of it.

There is no single kind of modality that is 'metaphysical modality'.

impossible worlds as cataloging different kinds of impossibility

contradiction explosion as the principle that all impossibilities are indistinguishable

approaches of Catholics to Protestant theology
(1) ecumenicist abstraction
(2) controversial method
(3) centonizing method
(4) diversity-descriptive method
Bossuet is an example of (4), Bellarmine of (2); (1) is found in, e.g., joint agreements on justification. (3) is difficulty and usually only found in bits and pieces in apologetical discussions.

-- generalizing Aristotle's Poetics as an account of objective causation

To learn mathematics well, one must do many weird things with it.

"Nothing unaltered passes from one contradictory state to another. Otherwise there would be no reason why one contradictory would be more true now than before or why the other would be false." Scotus

society as the interleaving of loyalties and friendships

"What is not against faith and good morals is to be treated as of equal value and to be observed according to the community in which one lives." Augustine Ep 54 ad inq Jan 2

One can participate in holy communion anywhere along the spectrum from purely in sign (by those who take it unworthily) to purely in spirit (by presence in love and loving faith). The same is true of participation in the Church.

'Personal union with Christ' is not an effect of the Eucharist; the Eucharist is *itself* personal union with Christ, whether by sign or by desire or sacramentally. The same is true of 'personal union with other Christians', which we have in union with Christ.

1 Cor 11:27-32 and the linke between confession and communion

Removal from sin is an effect of the Eucharist; it cleanses both venial sin and stain, and while it does not of itself cleanse mortal sin, worthy partaking removes the receiver from future mortal sin by disposiion and assimilation to Christ, by tempering and restraining passions, and by providing consolation in the struggle against sin.

piacularity with respect to sacred things as one of the governing ideas of liturgy and rite

Identity-based gerrymandering of morals is a common human failure point.

As social animals in need of teaching, human beings attain adequation of mind and thing by practical cooperations.

one church
morally: as a human congregation or assembly seeking god
jurally: as the People of God, bonded by covenant
sacrally: as the Body and Bride of Christ, united to God

The waiting of Purgatory is the most clear expression of the new covenant as a covenant, the bond that is the sure foundation for hope.

Abraham : faith :: Moses : hope :: David : love

We do not merely pursue truth on our own, we pursue it with and for others.

Private reading of Scripture is immensely salutary, but it can also sometimes lead to people forgetting that much of the Bible is not addressed to individuals but to Israel and to churches. Most of the New Testament explictly, and all of it implicitly, is concerned with organizing churches.

Communities are structured by communications.

Anatolia converted to Islam through a lack of bishops and educated priests, thus leaving a void that allowed them to be effectively replaced by the spreading dervish movement.

The Church doesn't emerge out of responses to Christ; the Church is always, from its beginning, something into which one is received.

architectonic claims structuring community (e.g., 'Mohammad is the Prophet of God', 'Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life', 'Canada is the good governance nation') -- these claims serve as forms that are filled out by particular practices recognizing them, inspired by them, or proclaiming the; they exert a slow, steady pressure on the shape of a community and on the experience of participating in it

language interpreters as symbols of the Holy Spirit in prayer

figurative uses of proper names
ambiguous proper names
empty proper names
attribute-linked proper names (e.g., agnomen)

When a man crosses a street, the man and the street are not in a 'crossing relation'; crossing is an action of the man, associated with man and street having different relations.

eucatastrophe in intellectual inquiry

Academia teaches on quickly that fools and villains may have good insights.

space as the potential for light

'From each according to his ability' is actually a very heavy demand.

Everybody cold reads other people; it is part of how we converse, although most of us do it in a rather sloppy and unpracticed way, since we only use it on the way to other things, not as a technique in itself. There is a reason why so many con artists come to the technique, even independently -- it is a refinement of a general tool of conversation. When 'psychics' use it, for instance, they are just drawing people into conversations, but with a particular aim in view, to which they direct the conversation by means of the technique.

Freedom of speech is a freedom for mutual, and not merely one-way, interaction.

Passions may be condemned not only for being based on false assumptions or choosing means insufficient for the end, but also for being inappropriate to the circumstances, as when they are not regulated by reason.

Christ as moral, jural, and sacral head

"Human beings can't exhaust *anything* by one mode of considering it. The world simply does not appear to us as limited to one single mode of consideration." James Chastek

One human being strengthens another human being's intellect by giving it things usable as middle terms, either by speech or by some other sensible sign.

phenomena described by possible worlds -> causes differentiating possible worlds

Every means of measurement has modalities relevant to it.

counters, clocks, containers

godlike, virtuous decent (continent), indecent, vicious, bestial

Human life is lived between godlikeness and beastliness.

modalities conceptually prior to change and composition vs modalities conceptually superior to change and composition

the practical syllogism as structuring the action itself

Politics involves a remarkable number of people pushing their guesses as if they were self-evident truths.

Intellectual matters can only indirectly be measured by clocks.

the similarities between tense logic P and F and mereological P
a is part of b, a is past of b

place reduction in modal logic Pab -> Pa

standard mereology has both D (Pab -> Oab) and poss. also 4

Every human individual has an intrinsic referentiality to others; to be human is to be with other humans in a broad sense.

figure sculpture / figure painting & the idea of permanent personality

The possible worlds framework requires (1) alternatives (2) discretely and (3) exhaustively (4) describable by lists of truth-valued propositions (5) that are consistent.

friendship as a standing capacity for good communications

The primary point of 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, unto God the things that are God's' is not, and can never be, Caesar.

The coin is stamped with the image of Caesar; we are stamped with the image of God.

An obsession with unconditional love is pathological. Unconditional love is by its nature rare, and even more rare is the circumstance in which it can be demanded from anyone else. Almost all human loves are conditional, and should be.

Responsibilities should not be confused with ideals.

presential self-reference ('de se') as neither de re nor de dicto

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Anabas eis Hypsos

 I, the prisoner in the Lord, call on you to walk around in a way worthy of the summons to which you were summoned, with every kind of humility and mildness, with undauntableness, enduring one another in devotedness, zealous to guard the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit as you also were summoned into one expectation from the summons, one Lord, one fidelity, one immersion, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. And to every one of us has been given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Thus it says, Having risen up to heaven, he captured captivity and gave gifts to men. And having risen, what is it if not also having gone down to the lower parts of the earth? Who went down is the same as the one who rose up above all the heavens, so that he might fill up everything.

And he gave some particularly as ambassadors, and some as proclaimers, and some as messengers, and some as shepherds and teachers, for the completeness of the holy ones, for the work of service, for the construction of the body of Christ, so that we might all come to the unity of the fidelity and the recognition of the Son of God, to the complete man, to the measure of maturity of the fullness of Christ, that we no more should be infants, tossed around and driven by every wind of teaching through the game-playing of men, the unscrupulousness, out of errant scheming. And speaking truth in devotedness, we should grow in all things into the one who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, compacted and brought together by every supporting ligament, each part acting in a measured way, makes for itself bodily growth for its construction in devotedness.

[Ephesians 4:1-16, my very rough translation. As usual, I'm here less interested in an ideal translation than trying to capture some of the meaning in a way that breaks up the familiarity, which is why I deliberately avoid some standard translations. The last two sentences are headaches to translate, grammatically, and I'm very far from sure about various aspects of them. Oikodomen shows up twice, translated as 'construction'; it means a building or a building-structure or an act of building. 'Construction' seemed to cover the possible bases. 'Undauntableness' translates makrothymia, which is usually translated by 'patience'. Kybeia, here translated as 'game-playing', literally means 'gambling with dice', but can have the sense of deceit or trickery; panourgia etymologically means 'every-deed-ness', but has the sense particularly of a willingness to do anything, even evil things, which is why I have translated it as 'unscrupulousness' (it is usually translated as something like 'craftiness', which I don't think actually fits it very well). Ten methodeian tes planes is an interesting phrase; one could translate it very woodenly as 'method of deviance', but the idea seems to be of schemes that deviate or wander from the good, thus 'errant scheming'. Several variants of kleseos (calling, invitation, summons) are used here. This is also notably one of the New Testament passages that treats pistis (faith/confidence/fidelity), elpis (hope/expectation), and agape (charity/love/devotedness) as integral to the Christian life, although they aren't specifically selected out.]

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Doctor Unitatis

 Today is the feast of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, Doctor of the Church. He was born to a Christian family in Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey), somewhere around AD 130, and in his youth heard the teaching of St. Polycarp (also from Smyrna), who was a student of St. John. Somewhere between 160 and 180, he became a priest in Lyon under St. Pothinus, the first bishop of Lyon. He visited Pope St. Eleutherius at some point in the 170s on an official mission concerned with the heresy of Montanism. The persecution of Marcus Aurelius was going on at the time; like all imperial persecutions, it was sporadic and patchy, but Lyon happened to face a crack-down on Christianity while Irenaeus was away; Pothinus was executed and Irenaeus was elected bishop when he returned. As bishop, he published against Gnosticism, and is still one of our major sources on it.  There was the inevitable extended period during which scholars assumed that his accounts of Gnostics were fictional or at least highly exaggerated, but, while there's no need to assume that he necessarily got everything right, rediscovery of actual Gnostic works has consistently shown him to be at least in the neighborhood. He appealed, successfully, to Pope St. Victor I to be lenient in the Quartodecimian controvery, but for the most part his episcopal tenure seems to have been quite uneventful. We have no certain information about how he died; on some calendars he's listed as a martyr, but there doesn't seem to be any plausible story, or indeed, any story at all, about how that would have happened. 

From Adversus Haereses, Book 3, Chapter 1:

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed "perfect knowledge," as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

 These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God. If any one do not agree to these truths, he despises the companions of the Lord; nay more, he despises Christ Himself the Lord; yea, he despises the Father also, and stands self-condemned, resisting and opposing his own salvation, as is the case with all heretics.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Possible Worlds, Ersatzism, Circularity

'Ersatzism' in modal metaphysics is a label we owe to David Lewis; in effect, he takes it to be the primary opposed position to his own position of modal realism. On modal realism, possible worlds are actually worlds just like ours, but slightly different. Lewis contrasted this with what he saw as the alternatives, which is the position that possible worlds are ersatz worlds. This has caught on; it's an embarrassment, I think, that this is so, and people who are opposed to modal realism should not have let Lewis seize the linguistic high ground in this way. In fact, on any reasonable view that gets labeled as ersatzism, possible worlds are not ersatz worlds, in either sense of 'ersatz'. They are not substitutes for worlds, and they are not fake worlds. Lewis's entire position is based on assuming that 'possible worlds' is a literal description; his argument is ultimately that the only way this can be the case is if the actual worlds exist, and that all the other alternatives on the table arise from people treating non-worlds as if they were worlds. The fundamental problem with this is that the only reason we call them 'possible worlds' is that Kripke happened to use this as a convenient figurative expression. Precisely because people kept taking the label literally, Kripke later regretted using this figure of speech. It's purely a historical accident that we call them 'possible worlds'.* Lewis was simply wrong to assume that possible worlds were worlds; it is something Lewis just takes to be obvious on the basis of a name that was given to them for a completely different reason. That he definitely was wrong can be seen by the fact -- which we already knew well before Lewis -- that a 'possible world' could actually be a moment in time or a location in space (to give just two examples) rather than a world.

In any case, one of Lewis's major arguments against what he calls 'ersatzism' is that it's circular. It cannot explain possibility because regardless of how you build your 'ersatz worlds', whether from sentences or propositions or fragments of the actual world, or whatever, you can only select the right one's by assuming possibility. For instance, if you take possible worlds to be maximally consistent sets of propositions, the only way to understand 'consistent' is in terms of what is possible, so your selection of the right sets of propositions will presuppose what counts as possible. Therefore ersatzism cannot explain possibilities. But this is another good example of a confusion that comes from thinking of possible worlds as necessarily worlds. For the most reasonable interpretation of possible world semantics is that the formalism is modeling possibilities; no one has to try to make it explain possibilities. We find in the actual world that things can be possibly this or that; we can model this formally with possible world semantics; the point of the latter is to give you a rigorous way of talking about possibilities, not giving you an account of how anything is possible at all. It's just not even a relevant consideration; one might as well complain that calculus in physics has to assume that things change. Of course it does. It's not an explanation of change; rather, you use the tools of calculus to construct some very useful things in understanding what does change.

What Lewis does happen to get right -- although he seems to have reached the point through many wrong turns and thus gets it in a garbled form -- is in identifying the only thing that could explain possibility: actuality, or actual being. Possibilities depend on what actually exists, and when we think through counterfactuals or the like, we do so based on actual things, and especially on actual causes. This will always be a fundamental principle, regardless of how exactly one might interpret the standard possible world semantics, because it's not about 'possible worlds' but about something much more fundamental than possible worlds, which we use possible world semantics to describe.


* This is sufficient for a complete answer to an argument sometimes given to reduce the implausibility of possible worlds being existing worlds. Ted Parent's IEP article on Modal Metaphysics gives a good summary of it: 
Despite the prima facie implausibility, however, there is a type of indispensability argument which may speak in favor of the view. The idea is that talk of “possible worlds” is too useful to modal semantics to see it as a mere façon de parler (way of speaking). In the hard sciences, moreover, if an unobservable entity is theoretically useful, that is often seen as a reason to think it exists. In like manner, says Lewis, the theoretical utility of possible worlds provides at least some reason to believe that these objects exist (in the only sense of ‘exist’ that there is).
What this establishes is that there is reason to think that possible world semantics is capturing something genuine about what it is used to describe. The fact that we call the logical objects posited by PWS 'possible worlds' is entirely incidental to everything that is useful about them. We could use them exactly the same way even if, instead of 'possible worlds', we used Carnap's 'state descriptions' or Kripke's later suggestion of 'counterfactual situations'. We could just call them 'complete possibilities' or 'possibility-slices of the actual world'. All of these are figures of speech, but so is 'possible worlds'. The Lewisian argument is just as if we called the mathematical object created by putting things in one-to-one correspondence a 'tally' and then insisted that because we can use mathematics to describe the world, the world must be made of actually existing physical tallies. The whole argument manages to make multiple category mistakes in one bizarre inferential leap that derives entirely from a contingent event in the history of how we came to name things.

Seal of All the Fathers

 Today is the feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Doctor of the Church. From his Commentary on the Gospel of John, Book 1, Ch. 3:

By many and varied names do the Divine Scriptures call the Son. For they say that He is the Wisdom and Power of the Father, according to what is said by Paul, Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God. He is called again both His Light and His Truth, as is sung in the Psalms by one of the Saints, O send out Thy Light and Thy Truth. He is called also Righteousness, as, Quicken me in Thy Righteousness: for the Father quickens in Christ those who believe on Him. He is called also the Counsel of the Father, as it is said, Thou shalt guide me with Thy Counsel, and again, The Counsel of the Lord standeth for ever. Since then the Son is all these to God the Father, let them tell us who fawn on the error of Arius and are filled with that man's folly, how He is lesser than He. For if they be right, it is time to say that the Father is not wholly wise, not wholly Mighty, not wholly Light, not wholly Truth, not wholly Righteous, yea, not even Perfect in Counsel, if the Son Who is all these to Him, by reason of being inferior is shewn to be not Perfect. But to think or say thus is impious. Perfect is the Father, because He has all things perfectly in Himself: Perfect then clearly the Son too, the Wisdom and the Power, the Light and the Truth, the Righteousness and the Counsel of the Father. But He Who fulfilleth Perfection in His own Father, how can He be conceived of as inferior?

Monday, June 26, 2023

Evening Note for Monday, June 26

 Thought for the Evening: Legal Doublets

The legal doublet is a common feature in Anglophone legal language (and not unheard of in other legal systems). In a legal doublet, things are specified not by a single term but by a binomial, a conjunction of two terms:

metes and bounds
aiding and abetting
breaking and entering
terms and conditions
will and testament
cease and desist
hue and cry

There seem to be several different causal stories that contribute to the creation of legal doublets. Sometimes they arise from intersections of language -- so one might have a Norman term and an Anglo-Saxon term, and both are used to make clear what is going on in both languages. Sometimes they indicate sequences, like 'breaking and entering', where the crime has two parts, 'breaking' (i.e., opening a closed boundary) and 'entering' (i.e., crossing it). In other cases, like 'aiding and abetting', the two components are overlapping but distinct (to aid is to provide support and to abet is to incite or encourage). Others, like 'metes and bounds' are tied to historic practices. In others, we seem to have a hendiadys, where the two components are basically synonymous; this seems to be the case with 'hue and cry'. However, in all cases, the components are partly submerged -- the binomial works as a single label.

There is currently a significant movement in law to eliminate legal doublets as redundant verbiage. I think this is a serious mistake. For one thing, the doublet form often marks off a specific legal usage. 'Terms' or 'conditions' could be taken any which way; 'terms and conditions' you know to be legal. And there is a considerable practical importance in signaling to people when terms are being used in a legal and not necessarily a colloquial sense. Second, the doublet can function as a mnemonic for the issues involved -- 'breaking and entering' gives you the essential elements of the crime, where as a single word for it does not. In addition, there is usually good practical reason not to change legal terminology unless the laws themselves have fundamentally changed.

Regardless, legal doublets are interesting in a broader sense in that they are examples of a very common linguistic phenomenon, which we might call 'associative entanglement'. Two terms put into association with each other can modify each other's meaning. Sometimes this is purely a matter of changing registers of formality -- 'cease and desist' is a much more formal, and thus in many ways a much more emphatic, order than 'cease'. 'Null' and 'void' are both less formal, and thus less emphatic, than 'null and void', which suggests a definitive dissolution. 'Will' and 'testament' are synonymous, but both are less solemn than 'will and testament'. In other cases, each term specifies the kind of meaning that is relevant to the other. We see this in 'breaking and entering', in which the kinds of 'breaking' and 'entering' are specified to be those relevant to each other. 'Cry' means many things but there is less room to doubt about the 'cry' in 'hue and cry'. Sometimes there is seems to be a signal of non-difference, telling us that we should use the terms in the way in which they would be synonymous -- 'cease and desist' is perhaps a case, but 'bind and obligate' is almost certainly one. This is interesting in that such cases are repetition without redundancy -- we're just saying the same thing, but we're doing it to make sure that we're saying the same thing. Sometimes the concern seems more to be to avoid leaving something out -- 'aiding and abetting' is possibly a case, since it seems you can at least sometimes 'aid and abet' by either aiding or abetting, and that we just want a category that includes both so that they can be handled together.

Meaning of sentences is often treated as if it were composed of atomic meanings, but we know in practice that this is generally not so, and entanglement of the meanings of associated words is an obvious example of why it would often not be even plausible as a model. The doublet is used as one, but we still can recognize the components. Word in association with word can change meaning precisely because of the association.

Various Links of Interest

* Bryan C. Reece, Aristotle's Four Causes of Action (PDF)

* Maki Shimizu, The Problem of Habit (PDF)

* Richard Holton, Knowing, Telling, Trusting (PDF)

* Philip Gonzalez, Christ the Fourfold Analogical Event, at "Church Life Journal"

* Pope Francis on Blaise Pascal: Sublimitas et Miseria Hominis

* Peter West & Manuel Fasko, The Irish Context of Berkeley's 'Resemblance Thesis' (PDF)

* Edmund Waldstein, The Primacy of the Common Good, at "The Josias"

* The Colorblind Rainbow Center for Campus Diversity Seeks a New Director to Tell Us that Nothing Is Wrong, at "McSweeney's"

* The Deep Sea is a fun website that lets you scroll down to get a sense of the depth of different kinds of things in the sea.

Currently Reading

Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil
Pope Leo I, Sermons
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fall of Numenor

Sunday, June 25, 2023

A Poem Draft and Two Poem Re-Drafts

Let the Cicadas Remove

Let the cicadas remove the stress from your shoulders
that you may become younger as you grow older;
let the birds in the blueness take wing on the wind,
rising up from the glory and descending again.
By the pond where the turtles in gentleness play,
breaking the surface with up-peeking head,
let sleep come to take you in breeze and in cool.
Cast off the ire of the lands of the day,
walk in the gardens of the realms of the dead
by the ripples and waves of a mirroring pool.


My heart, my life, my queen and soaring star,
now hear my prayer and place no bar,
but grant me mercy for my endless love;
I love you well, my rose, my grace, my dove!
From urgent need turn not your eye away,
but miracle endow as piously I pray,
and grant me cheer, and joy, and all good thing,
that I may in your honor rise to sing!
But, ah! most cruel beloved one divine,
though truly you have claimed that you are mine,
yet you deny, deny, deny, my every wish,
as though you were as cold as ocean-fish.
How cruel you are, unyielding in your ways,
and taking joy from all my summer days!
It seems that when I beg, you have but laughed,
and I have then been charged for overdraft.
The dollars in the book seem far too low,
though I have saved and saved, and this you know;
O empty bank account, my sweet, my pet,
refill your empty heart and heal my debt!


My foe was wise in dark and ancient art,
and so I learned that strange and eldritch way,
a witch's brew from stormy-shadowed heart
when madness rules and thought begins to fray; 

I cast a curse upon his evil deeds,
a horror formed of death and hate and time;
I cast it like a sower casts his seeds,
a nightmare-gift of malice grown sublime, 

and doom I brought upon his kind and race,
a torment like to hell and like to shame;
I cast a pox and plague upon his face
and malice like a devil on his name. 

For long we cast enchantments back and forth
that burned like raging flame and froze like ice
from ageless sea of white in arctic north,
and oft my cunning mind sought new device, 

but greatest of them all was endless death
that flowed around and through him like the sea;
and then I rasped my last and mortal breath.
At last I found my foe and he found me, 

for in a mirror hostile, filled with woe,
reflected back at me, his face I know.

Fortnightly Book, June 25

Norway has had two novelists who were undeniably world-class; both are read around the world; both have had a significant influence on authors throughout the world; both received the Nobel Prize in Literature; and both became embarrassments. The less serious embarrassment was Sigrid Undset, an immensely talented novelist who embarrassed secularizing Lutheran Norway by becoming Catholic and, even worse, actively and noisily defending the Catholic faith in the public sphere, which made it impossible to treat it as just some weird artistic eccentricity.  But Undset also had qualities that even secularizing Lutheran Norway admired, like her patriotism and fierce opposition to Nazism. The other great novelist / embarrassment to Norwegians was a higher order of embarrassment altogether.

Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) published his first novel in 1877, but with the publication of Sult in 1890, his worldwide reputation was secured. Sult, or Hunger, showed the world a new kind of novel, extremely psychological, and both it and the novels that followed made Hamsun the most influential novelist in the world, as other novelists began imitating Hamsun's innovative style and forms of experimentation. Markens Grøde, or Growth of the Soil, was published in 1917, and played a significant role in getting him the Nobel Prize in 1920. He was the titan of the Norwegian literary scene, indeed, of the world literary scene, and championed a literary approach that eschewed realistic naturalism and instead worked for a romantic union of scientific starkness and passionate feeling. He summed up the literary world of the day like no one else. And that was part of the beginning of the embarrassment. Hamsun was not some weirdo on the fringe; his beliefs were at the cutting edge of what the educated classes of his day claimed to believe. It's just that Hamsun really, really believed it.

The intellectual climate of the time saw itself as rising above the superstitions of the past, the Christian illusions, the pallid sentimentalism and ordinary conventional morality of the populace; it saw itself as a clear-eyed affirmation of a scientific view of the world, and, more than that, humanity; it had contempt for any kind of egalitarianism and looked for people strong enough to cast off illusions and seize the opportunity to achieve new things; it was eugenic and imperialist and chauvinist and racist. And Hamsun believed it all enthusiastically, so it is perhaps no surprise that when Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came along, Hamsun was right on board with them. It is a commentary on the historical course of modern Norway that this was not what caused the embarrassment. Hamsun's views, while not universally accepted, were entirely mainstream in Norway at the time, however much modern Norwegians might try to sweep that fact under the carpet. In many ways, Hamsun was the mainstream. (Indeed, part of Sigrid Undset's turn to Catholicism may well have been a reaction to just how common views like Hamsun's had become in Norway.) 

Norway was in an awkward position in World War II; it was a neutral country rich with resources that had become stretched very thin by the war, and by early 1940 both Britain and Germany were preparing to invade it to prevent all those resources from falling into the hands of the other side. Germany got there first, on April 9, seized a large portion of the country in about a day, and then systematically broke the underprepared Norwegian military forces while fending off a desperate attempt by the British and French to block German control of the country. By June 7, the British were abandoning the country and King Haakon VII was forced to flee to London. The Germans took over, first administering Norway directly, and then handing the reins over to the collaborationist government of Vidkun Quisling. Knut Hamsun was a firm supporter of the Quisling government (although not of every person in it). Many, many Norwegians who had been sympathetic to Hamsun-like views swung around quickly when they were invaded; not Hamsun, who actually believed it all. And even worse, he never stopped; he continued to insist that he was right even when the Quisling government was overthrown and the King's government returned. This was the last straw for the Norwegians, who started holding book-burnings for his books. He was forced by the new government to undergo a psychiatric examination, which  declared him to be severely impaired and he spent some time in a psychiatric hospital -- a situation that was almost certainly constructed to allow the Norwegian government to drop its treason charges against him and fine him instead. Certainly Hamsun insisted that it had all been rigged, and he doesn't show much evidence of impairment in any other way. He died in 1952, and ever since Norwegians have not quite known what to do with their most influential and famous novelist, who had been the single most important author in Norway for around sixty years. So they keep reading him and they keep hating him and they keep making excuses for him and they keep commemorating him and then hate him more for having commemorated him .

Growth of the Soil, which again was published in 1917 long before much of this, has been on my pile of possible candidates for the fortnightly book literally for years now; every time I've considered doing it, there were always more intriguing books to do. There still are, but while there is no doubt whatsoever that in the opposition between Hamsun and Undset, my sympathies are entirely with the latter (not merely morally and religiously but also aesthetically to the extent that I have so far seen), I think there's an advantage to knowing something of what Undset in part was reacting against. In any case, I'm getting it off the pile and reading the Penguin Classics edition translated by Sverre Lyngstad.