Saturday, August 19, 2023

I Wonder at Not Wondering

 The Mystery
by G. K. Chesterton

 If sunset clouds could grow on trees
 It would but match the May in flower;
 And skies be underneath the seas
 No topsyturvier than a shower. 

 If mountains rose on wings to wander
 They were no wilder than a cloud:
 Yet all my praise is mean as slander,
 Mean as these mean words spoken aloud. 

 And never more than now I know
 That man's first heaven is far behind;
 Unless the blazing seraph's blow
 Has left him in the garden blind. 

 Witness, O Sun that blinds our eyes,
 Unthinkable and unthankable King,
 That though all other wonder dies
 I wonder at not wondering.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Notable Links, Noted

 * Graham Clay, Hume's Separability Principle, his Dictum, and their Implications (PDF)

* Valentin Braekman, Obstinacy in Suarez's Demonology (PDF)

* Daniel Buck, A Fundamental Miscalculation, discusses problems with California's mathematics curriculum, at "City Journal"

* Gregory Landini, On the Curious Calculi of Wittgenstein and Spencer Brown (PDF)

* Francis Jeffrey Pelletier & Bernard Linsky, Verification: The Hysteron Proteron Argument (PDF)

* Tim Kearl & Robert H. Wallace, Agentive Modals and Agentive Modality: A Cautionary Tale (PDF)

* Sungwoo Um, Duty, Virtue, and Filial Love (PDF)

* Yukinori Onishi & Davide Serpico, Homeostatic Property Cluster Theory without Homeostatic Mechanisms: Two Recent Attempts and Their Costs

* In June, the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church issued a paper, Synodality and Primacy in the Second Millenium and Today, which is fairly interesting, and probably the least useless document I've seen so far to derive from the 'synodality' craze.

* Chris Schoen has a new podcast project, Effigy; as he describes it, "a long-form show exploring a single subject per season, with detours. Season One recounts the Colorado Coalfield Wars of the Nineteen-teens, one of the bloodiest labor conflicts in US history."

* Brandon Warmke & Craig Warmke, Worship and Veneration (PDF)

* Cory Wimberley, Propaganda: More Than Flawed Messaging (PDF) -- this is a very good paper on a subject that tends to be handled badly.

* Eran Guter, Wittgenstein in the Laboratory: Pre-Tractatus Seeds of Wittgenstein's Post-Tractatus Aesthetics (PDF)

Alas, Alas for England

Elegy in a Country Churchyard
by G. K. Chesterton 

 The men that worked for England
 They have their graves at home:
 And bees and birds of England
 About the cross can roam. 

 But they that fought for England,
 Following a falling star,
 Alas, alas for England
 They have their graves afar. 

And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England
They have no graves as yet.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

On Gäb on Skepticism

 Sebastian Gäb has an interesting paper, Why you should be a religious skeptic (PDF)

In passing, I think it raises interesting points about a very common error, namely, assuming that the English words 'religion' and 'religious' actually identify a natural and coherent category of some kind. In particular, he is arguing that philosophers of religion should not be both realists and 'epistemic optimists' about 'religious statements'. Obviously the significant issue here is what a 'religious statement' is; and the fundamental problem is that whether we count something as a 'religious statement' depends entirely on the context.

Here is a 'religious statement': There exists some kind of world outside myself that continues to exist when I do not perceive it. Now, you may not classify this as a part of 'your religion'; it very definitely is part of mine, as Nicolas Malebranche famously noted, since I hold to a doctrine of creation, a doctrine of the Incarnation, and a religious ethics all of which require me to hold this. You may not have a commitment to this position that you would yourself classify as 'religious commitment'; I very much do. And it's not difficult to find accounts of this position that very clearly and specifically tie it to other statements that are often considered 'religious statements'; Malebranche is one, since he thinks religious faith is the only way to be certain about the existence of the external world, but also Berkeley and Shankara and many others, in a thousand different ways. You may well have particular arguments for the position that you yourself would not classify as 'religious'; but perhaps others would, and, even if not, nothing whatsoever requires a principle of conservation of religiousness -- nothing about a statement being classified as 'religious' requires that it can only be supported by statements that are also so classified. You might not attend the church picnic as a religious event, but nothing prevents it from being one for everyone else; you might not classify your experience of Bach as a religious experience, but others certainly could classify their own experiences as such.

In any case, as is clear from this, many of the things Gäb says about 'religious statements' are really things that would just apply to statements regardless of how one classifies them. (He himself recognizes this.) Gäb characterizes 'realism' about a certain class of statements as having three elements: 

(1) Statements have propositional content.

(2) Statements have definite truth-values even if we do not know them.

(3) Statements may be irremediably undecidable by us.

I think a problem for Gäb's argumetn is that while a realist might accept (3), nothing about realism itself actually requires such an acceptance. For instance, if you're a realist about a small class of statements, you might well hold that all of those statements are not only decidable but actually decided; if you're a realist about a very large class of statements, you might hold that all of them are in principle decidable even though we could never actually consider them all. Nobody is a realist about everything, and everybody is a realist about something; because of this, realists are not technically committed by realism to a gap between what is known and what can be known, it's just that human limitations are going to split the two apart for many subject domains. But the gap between what is known and what can be known also does not actually give us (3), either, as is clear from the person who thinks that every particular thing we're talking about is in principle knowable by us but that in practice we just can't get to them all with the attention they would need.

Epistemic optimism Gäb characterizes as the view that, for the class of statements in question, it is rational for us to accept that at least some of our beliefs are true. Gäb wants to argue that realists can't be epistemic optimists, despite the fact that many are.

This is an initially odd claim, since a common reason for being a realist about a class of statements is that you are an epistemic optimist about some of them. Gäb's argument depends on a premise of what he calls 'epistemic Copernicanism', which he characterizes as the view that it is irrational to hold that we have an epistemically privileged position unless we have reason to think otherwise. I find it baffling why anyone would think this is true in general, since it would seem that we would eventually have to get to reasons that we just take ourselves to have because we are in a good position to have them. I take myself to have good reasons to think that there is a coaster on the table beside me, because I take myself to be in a good position to know it -- I am awake, I am sitting right here, I am wearing my glasses, I am healthy and in my right mind, and I see it. The reasons in this case just are the epistemically privileged position. What is more, I think everyone is a natural 'anti-Copernican' on this point -- we just assume that we are in an epistemically privileged position unless we have reason to think otherwise. That's certainly how I am with the coaster, and an infinity of other things.

Gäb's argument for epistemic Copernicanism is the principle of mediocrity: if we draw at random from a large set, we will be more likely to get results from the largest class of possible results. A problem with this, which besets a lot of use of probability in epistemology (Bayesianism, for instance), is that belief is not actually anything like drawing marbles from a bag, even at a very abstract level. We see immediately how this affects the argument, when it becomes clear that Gäb's argument is that realism requires that there is a gap between what is known and what can be known (as we've seen, it strictly speaking does not, but such gaps often exist) which is then combined with epistemic Copernicanism, taken as implying that it is probable that we are not actually capable of knowing any of these particular statements. But in reality, we do not form beliefs at random, like drawing from a large set of objects, and his only argument for epistemic Copernicanism depends crucially on the assumption that we do.

There is another argument that Gäb uses for his ultimate conclusion, the deep time argument, but it seems to me to that it assumes falsely that increasing the things that could be known makes it hard to know anything.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Two Accounts of Divine Simplicity

 There are several different accounts of divine simplicity; I have noted this many times. Here are two:

Account #1: Actuality-Based

Composition involves the union of the actual with the potential. God is purely actual. Therefore there is no composition in God; i.e., God is simple.

Account #2: Identity-Based

Composition involves the union of distinguishable nonidenticals. Everything in God is identical to everything else, so that God is identical to all his attributes. Therefore there is no composition in God; i.e., God is simple.

Both, in different variations, have a venerable history, but they are not saying the same thing; they do not understand composition the same way, and they do not attribute a lack of composition to God on the same ground. They also do not have the same implications; for instance, Account #1 is consistent with there being distinctions in God, as long as those distinctions do not involve the union of the actual and the potential; Account #2 is not. To conflate the two accounts, then, is already to have flubbed discussion of the doctrine. Yet they are often conflated. Both accounts have been quite popular at various times; yet again and again we find that people treat Account #2 as if it were the only account of divine simplicity.

There are even other accounts of divine simplicity; Neoplatonist accounts and Cartesian accounts of divine simplicity are both somewhat different from these. Neoplatonist account are more metaphysics-heavy than Account #2, for instance, while Cartesian accounts have a somewhat unusual structure for epistemological reasons. It is important to recognize that while there is a general family resemblance among doctrines of divine simplicity, they are not all the same.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

We May Whisper of His Wild Precipitation

 A Ballad of Abbreviations
by G. K. Chesterton 

The American's a hustler, for he says so,
 And surely the American must know.
 He will prove to you with figures why it pays so
 Beginning with his boyhood long ago. 

When the slow-maturing anecdote is ripest,
 He'll dictate it like a Board of Trade Report,
 And because he has no time to call a typist,
 He calls her a Stenographer for short. 

 He is never known to loiter or malinger,
 He rushes, for he knows he has "a date ";
 He is always on the spot and full of ginger,
 Which is why he is invariably late. 

 When he guesses that it's getting even later,
 His vocabulary's vehement and swift,
 And he yells for what he calls the Elevator,
 A slang abbreviation for a lift. 

 Then nothing can be nattier or nicer
 For those who like a light and rapid style,
Than to trifle with a work of Mr. Dreiser
 As it comes along in waggons by the mile. 

He has taught us what a swift selective art meant
By description of his dinners and all that,
And his dwelling, which he says is an Apartment,
Because he cannot stop to say a flat. 

 We may whisper of his wild precipitation,
That its speed is rather longer than a span,
But there really is a definite occasion
 When he does not use the longest word he can,

When he substitutes, I freely make admission,
One shorter and much easier to spell;
 If you ask him what he thinks of Prohibition,
 He may tell you quite succinctly it is Hell.