Saturday, September 23, 2023

Baptism of Vicarious Desire

 There has recently been in several places in social media some discussion of baptism of vicarious desire (baptismus in voto parentum); unfortunately it has been plagued by several serious misconceptions. I think it is worthwhile to make a few clarifications, although they do not on their own rise to a full treatment.

(1) The question of whether there is baptism of vicarious desire arises from the case of infants whose parents were intending to baptize them who die before baptism. There are a few things potentially confusing about the name.

Despite the English name, the 'desire' has nothing to do with 'desire' in the colloquial sense; the 'desire' in this context specifically indicates baptismal intention. For instance, catechumens may die before they receive sacramental baptism; but to be a sincere catechumen is to be preparing for baptism, and thus to have baptismal intention, so they are said to receive baptism of desire. Baptismal intention is a necessary but not sufficient element of sacramental baptism; thus in the case of catechumens who die, they have part but not all of what makes for sacramental baptism. When this has actually been discussed, saints and doctors have typically seen this as a case of genuine participation in something not completely possessed; that is to say, baptism of desire is genuine baptism, and thus suffices for salvation, but it is incomplete and does not provide everything that sacramental baptism does (e.g., it does not give any kind of sacramental character because it is not sacramental baptism). This is known as 'baptism of desire'. It is distinct from (although related to) what we are currently considering. Despite occasional skeptics, here is no real doubt in Catholic theology that there are cases of baptism of desire; it's not a hugely common topic, but one can find clear support for it in some Church Fathers, some particular version of it seems to be the situation for the Old Testament saints, and the Council of Trent at least implies it as a possibility and is often interpreted as requiring it as part of Catholic theology of baptism.

Most forms of baptism, including baptism of desire, involve what is known as proper baptismal intention; that is to say, the person baptized is the one who has the baptismal intention itself. However, there are kinds of baptism that do not involve proper baptismal intention but vicarious baptismal intention. This is the sort of intention that is involved in sacramental baptism of infants; the baptismal intention is that of the parents and the Church on behalf of the infants rather than of the infants on behalf of themselves. There is no real doubt in Catholic theology that vicarious baptismal intention suffices in the case of sacramental baptism; infants receiving sacramental baptism with only vicarious baptismal intention (which is the only way they can) are genuinely baptized.

Thus the question of whether there is baptism of vicarious desire amounts to this: Are there cases of baptism falling short of sacramental baptism where the baptismal intention is vicarious? For example, if parents are preparing for an infant to have sacramental baptism but the infant dies before it can actually receive sacramental baptism, is the infant baptized? Catholic theology does not take baptism to be an all or nothing affair; there are baptisms that are taken to be genuinely but only incompletely or partially baptismal, like baptism of desire and baptism of blood (martyrdom). Is an infant who dies (for instance) just before receiving sacramental baptism baptized in this kind of genuine-but-incomplete sense? That is the question.

It is important to recognize, because I find that people regularly fail to do so, that the question is not whether infants can be saved without baptism; the question is whether they can be baptized without sacramental baptism. Likewise, we are not considering whether every infant is so baptized; we are considering whether infants who were going to receive sacramental baptism but did not are baptized. (There's a weird notion that occasionally floats around that baptism of vicarious desire is an alternative to limbo; in fact, they don't really have anything to do with each other -- the claim that there is a limbo of children is a claim about what happens to children who are not baptized, the claim that there is baptism of vicarious desire is a claim that some children are baptized in a particular way. Dragging limbo into the matter is an ignoratio elenchi.)

(2) Some peope take the fact that there is nonsacramental baptism due to proper baptismal intention and sacramental baptism due to vicarious baptismal intention as directly establishing that there can be nonsacramental baptism due to vicarious baptismal  intention. This is probably too quick, but it is true that it makes it a reasonable question to ask. Given that we certainly have 


what principled reason is there to claim that the right corner of the table should get a NO rather than a YES? Infant baptism does establish that vicarious baptismal intention can sometimes be adequate as baptismal intention; baptism of desire does establish that sometimes one can be baptized with proper baptismal intention without having received sacramental baptism in particular. So the question becomes, what principled reason is there for denying that someone can be baptized with vicarious baptismal intention without having received sacramental baptism in particular? And that turns out to be quite difficult; most of the arguments I've come across would, if they worked, also establish that there is no infant sacramental baptism. What is given with proper intention in baptism of desire and adult sacramental baptism is given with vicarious intention in infant sacramental baptism. Since infant sacramental baptism is a non-negotiable YES in Catholic theology, any argument against baptism of vicarious desire that would also imply that infants cannot be sacramentally baptized, if one attempted to apply the same argument to sacramentally baptized infants, is a non-starter. In practice I find that critics of the idea of baptism of vicarious desire tend to start with the baptism of desire and then argue that infants don't have proper intention and so don't have baptism of desire. This is trivially true, and irrelevant, because baptism of vicarious desire is not baptism of desire in this way. If lack of proper baptismal intention were sufficient, no infants could receive any kind of baptism. The fundamental puzzle that has to be addressed if one rejects baptism of vicarious desire is how the arguments for infant sacramental baptism work if vicarious baptismal intention is not adequate for baptism. (An indirect version of this, which one finds very occasionally discussed in Baroque authors, is circumcised children in the Old Testament, who are taken to have baptism by anticipation, a very specific form of baptism of desire, but who, if they died before the age of reason couldn't be baptized, as adult Old Testament saints could be, under baptism of desire, since their anticipation of Christ was vicarious rather than proper.)

In short, any argument against baptism of vicarious desire would have to be an argument that while one can be baptized with proper intention despite not having received sacramental baptism, one can only be baptized with vicarious intention if one has received sacramental baptism. Most attempts to discuss the question completely fail to argue this.

(3) Well, what do we find when we look at the Church Fathers and scholastic doctors? The answer is that we find almost nothing either way. The question does not seem to be directly asked until the early modern period. Scattered passages from the Church Fathers and scholastics that are occasionally brought forward in favor of baptism of vicarious desire are generally on closer inspection seen to be about infant sacramental baptism; scattered passages that are occasionally brought forward against it are on closer inspection either talking about infants who are not baptized at all (which is not relevant to this case) or occur in contexts that are clearly about proper baptismal intention (which is not relevant to this case) and don't discuss vicarious intention at all. Some arguments concerning infant sacramental baptism can be interpreted as also implying that there can be baptism of vicarious desire; some arguments concerning baptism of desire can be interpreted as also implying that proper baptismal intention is in fact required if there is no sacrament. The 'can' is quite important; one could also usually not interpret them in these ways. The handful of Baroque theologians who discuss the matter explicitly, usually building on or arguing against Cajetan, are divided and often cautious. Some people argue that they tend overall toward the negative on the topic; I don't know if this is actually true, and I don't know anyone who has actually done the study required to establish this, Baroque sacramental theology being a sorely neglected field of research. But even if it is, there doesn't seem, as far as I can tell, to be any consensus among those who definitely reject it as to exactly why there is infant sacramental baptism but not baptism of vicarious desire for infants who die before they can actually receive sacramental baptism. Part of this is that it is difficult to find any well developed account of vicarious baptismal intention and its relation to proper baptismal intention. The primary topic that comes up when discussing the question of baptism of vicarious desire is whether infants in the womb can be baptized; but this only looks at a subset of the infants whom one might consider candidates for having had baptism of vicarious desire, and therefore one's answer to this question does not give us a general account of the latter. Sacramental theology after the collapse of Baroque scholasticism, while not entirely empty, has for the most part left the topics of scholastic sacramental theology where they were, and where it has touched on them has usually done so in a perfunctory or fragmentary way. Baptism of vicarious desire has only very occasionally even had serious examination in modern times.

Thus, contrary to what some would imply, the matter has simply never had the discussion appropriate for definite decision, in either direction.

(This is a quite common problem. The medieval and Baroque scholastics did truly extraordinary work in systematically working through the issues of Catholic sacramental theology -- I truly believe that their efforts constitute one of the great wonders of intellectual history -- but despite working through it over centuries, scholastic theology as a shared conversation and project collapsed before it was completed. There are vast portions of the map of sacramental theology that are barely sketched out. To take just one easy-to-prove example, Thomists still don't have a fully worked-out theology of matrimony or unction because Aquinas never got to the point himself of fully working through the implications of his instrumental theory of the sacraments for these sacraments, and Thomists since have only barely contributed anything along this line. But you can find significant gaps everywhere.)

In any case, all this is simply to point out things that need to be taken seriously to discuss the matter at all. If anyone wishes to know my own view, it's that baptism of vicarious desire exists and is genuine baptism; on the usual principles we apply, it almost certainly exists for cases like the infant dying shortly before actually receiving baptism, and probably also for cases of infants who actually die in childbirth, where the parent certainly would have baptized them if they had lived long enough. Miscarriages are a much harder case, in part because any arguments are necessarily indirect, but I think the arguments are at least plausible. Children who die without sacramental baptism whose parents were committed to giving them such baptism participate in baptism because they have through their parents and the Church the intentional element of sacramental baptism; this suffices for salvation, but does not give other benefits of sacramental baptism, like the baptismal character. However, whether this is true or not, fully arguing in either direction requires prior work on vicarious intention, indirect and incomplete participation in the sacraments, and the like that has simply not been done.

The Tracks of Some Unearthly Friend

 Angelic Guidance
by John Henry Newman 

Are these the tracks of some unearthly Friend,
 His foot prints, and his vesture-skirts of light,
 Who, as I talk with men, conforms aright
Their sympathetic words, or deeds that blend
With my hid thought;--or stoops him to attend
 My doubtful-pleading grief;--or blunts the might
 Of ill I see not;--or in dreams of night
Figures the scope, in which what is will end?
Were I Christ's own, then fitly might I call
That vision real; for to the thoughtful mind
That walks with Him, He half unveils His face;
But, when on earth-stain'd souls such tokens fall,
These dare not claim as theirs what there they find,
Yet, not all hopeless, eye His boundless grace. 

 Whitchurch. December 8, 1832.

Friday, September 22, 2023

The Soil of Liberty

 Nor with heroic daring against the Foreign foe, can black vengeance against the Domestic be wanting. Life-circulation of the Revolutionary Committees being quickened by that Law of the Forty Sous, Deputy Merlin, not the Thionviller, whom we saw ride out of Mentz, but Merlin of Douai, named subsequently Merlin Suspect,—comes, about a week after, with his world-famous Law of the Suspect: ordering all Sections, by their Committees, instantly to arrest all Persons Suspect; and explaining withal who the Arrestable and Suspect specially are. ‘Are Suspect,’ says he, ‘all who by their actions, by their connexions, speakings, writings have’—in short become Suspect. Nay Chaumette, illuminating the matter still further, in his Municipal Placards and Proclamations, will bring it about that you may almost recognise a Suspect on the streets, and clutch him there,—off to Committee, and Prison. Watch well your words, watch well your looks: if Suspect of nothing else, you may grow, as came to be a saying, “Suspect of being Suspect!” For are we not in a State of Revolution? 

 No frightfuller Law ever ruled in a Nation of men. All Prisons and Houses of Arrest in French land are getting crowded to the ridge-tile: Forty-four thousand Committees, like as many companies of reapers or gleaners, gleaning France, are gathering their harvest, and storing it in these Houses. Harvest of Aristocrat tares! Nay, lest the Forty-four thousand, each on its own harvest-field, prove insufficient, we are to have an ambulant “Revolutionary Army:” six thousand strong, under right captains, this shall perambulate the country at large, and strike in wherever it finds such harvest-work slack. So have Municipality and Mother Society petitioned; so has Convention decreed. Let Aristocrats, Federalists, Monsieurs vanish, and all men tremble: “The Soil of Liberty shall be purged,”—with a vengeance!

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution: A History, Chapter 3.4.VI. It is said that Charles Dickens carried around this book while writing A Tale of Two Cities.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Links of Note

 * William Paris, The Problem Spaces of Public Philosophy, at "The APA Blog"

* Bridger Ehli, Hume on Modal Projection (PDF)

* Lauren N. Ross, What is social structural explanation? A causal account (PDF)

* Baskerville, Book I of Plato's Republic, at "Baskerville Reads"

* David P. Hunt, Form and Flux in the Theaetetus and Timaeus (PDF)

* Colin Guthrie King, Aristotle's Categories in the 19th Century (PDF) -- I thought this was a very interesting article.

* Stephanie Pappas, Mistranslation of Newton's First Law Discovered after Nearly 300 Years, at "Scientific American". The headline, it should be said, is not very accurate, although the body of the article is much, much better than one would expect from such a title. The rough summary is that Daniel Hoek argues against a (now-)common interpretation of the First Law by going back to the Latin rather than the English translation which seems to be the basis of the interpretation. I haven't read Hoek's paper, but the abstract for it does suggest that the translation is an error; I would say rather that it is potentially ambiguous, in a way that later was misinterpreted. ('Unless' in the eighteenth century sometimes is used in ways that make it interpretable in the same way as 'except insofar'.) But in any case, it would not usually have been interpreted incorrectly due to the English translation until the twentieth century, because most Anglophone physicists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would have read the Latin original. Learning Latin was something that they would have done as schoolboys, and scientists like Faraday who could not read Latin and Greek with at least moderate fluency were rare. In England in particular, everyone who would have studied physics or calculus in university would certainly have studied Newton's Principia in the original Latin; it was a point of a pride. And when one looks at major Newtonian interpreters, like William Whewell, it is very clear that they did not make the mistaken interpretation that Hoek is criticizing (in fact Whewell's interpretation is quite close to the paraphrase suggested by Hoek). It's interesting to consider when the misinterpretation arose; the earliest reference given in the article is in the 1960s, and I would not be surprised if that were its origin -- new interest in Newton by people who probably (as Hoek suggests) did not go back and look at the original Latin.

* Fiorella Tomassini, Right, Morals, and the Categorical Imperative (PDF)

* Sara Protasi, Teaching Ancient Women Philosophers: A Case Study (PDF)

* Brian Kemple joins Hunter Olson for a two-part podcast on medieval semiotics.

* Ryan Haecker, Origen's Speculative Angelology (PDF)

* Andrea Iacona, Connexivity in the Logic of Reasons (PDF)

* Ben Zion Katz, Maimonides on Free Will, Divine Omniscience and Repentance, at "The Seforim Blog"

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The Portents and the Prodigies

 If we are to look for lessons, here at least is the last and deepest lesson of Dickens. It is in our own daily life that we are to look for the portents and the prodigies. This is the truth, not merely of the fixed figures of our life; the wife, the husband, the fool that fills the sky. It is true of the whole stream and substance of our daily experience; every instant we reject a great fool merely because he is foolish. Every day we neglect Tootses and Swivellers, Guppys and Joblings, Simmerys and Flashers. Every day we lose the last sight of Jobling and Chuckster, the Analytical Chemist, or the Marchioness. Every day we are missing a monster whom we might easily love, and an imbecile whom we should certainly admire. This is the real gospel of Dickens; the inexhaustible opportunities offered by the liberty and the variety of man. Compared with this life, all public life, all fame, all wisdom, is by its nature cramped and cold and small. For on that defined and lighted public stage men are of necessity forced to profess one set of accomplishments, to rise to one rigid standard. It is the utterly unknown people, who can grow in all directions like an exuberant tree. It is in our interior lives that we find that people are too much themselves. It is in our private life that we find people intolerably individual, that we find them swelling into the enormous contours, and taking on the colours of caricature. Many of us live publicly with featureless public puppets, images of the small public abstractions. It is when we pass our own private gate, and open our own secret door, that we step into the land of the giants.

G. K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study, Chapter X.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

On Bloomfield on Humility

 Paul Bloomfield in Humility Is Not a Virtue (PDF) argues, as you might expect, that humility is not a virtue. 

Part of his argument is that many of the virtue-ish things associated with humility are really matters of justice. This part of his argument fails miserably. For instance, one phrase associated with humility is 'having a just opinion of oneself'; Bloomfield argues that this is naturally seen as really an act of justice (as shown by the 'just' part of the phrase). But in reality all this shows is that humility is at least similar to justice, which is trivial, since all virtues have similarities to other virtues. In the traditional way of understanding justice, justice is not primarily or directly about oneself at all, but about paying one's debts (monetary or otherwise) so that equality is maintained. There is no sense in which 'having a just opinion of oneself' can be construed as literally a performance of this action. When we say things like 'humility involves having a just opinion of oneself', we are using justice as an analogy, not as a classification -- humility is like justice but applied to oneself (so could be called justice loosely), which justice (in the relevant sense of a specific virtue) is not. Of course, we can use 'justice' to mean something broader and more loosely than any specific virtue; we do so a lot. But precisely because of this we cannot assume that something pertains to the specific virtue of justice merely because we use justice-words for it. Bloomfield says if you replace 'humility' with 'justice' in common statements about humility that you get something that makes complete sense, but notably none of his examples show this if we are talking about justice as a specific virtue rather than justice as meaning any aspect of character that is justice-y in some way -- justice as a specific virtue, for instance, tells us nothing at all about what about ourselves we should or should not be proud of. Bloomfield's arguments on this point are merely showing that humility is plausibly in the family of virtues clustered around justice, not that justice is the real virtue we are talking about when we are talking about humility. This is all the more sure given that, when Bloomfield talks about justice here, he characterizes it as having to do with respect and self-respect, which is not a traditional account of justice; this merely confirms that he is actually talking about a virtue in the justice family that is not the one we usually call 'justice', but another one, which we often call 'humility'.

He has a further argument, focused on the notion of humility as 'owning limitations'; Bloomfield argues that 'owning one's limitations' requires appreciating one's strengths and competencies, and that if you put this together with 'owning one's limitations', you don't have humility. Thus humility would only be 'half a trait'. But this argument fails as well -- 'owning one's limitations' may require appreciating one's strengths and competencies, but owning limitations and appreciating strengths are simply not the same act, and therefore they could very well be done by distinct traits. Futher, virtues can break up into virtues ('integral parts' in the old terminology), and it is entirely possible for a virtue to be analyzable into other virtues as integral parts, where those sub-virtues need to be combined together to reach their full potential as virtues, despite always being distinguishable. People have proposed something like this with justice, taking it to be analyzable into the virtues of beneficence and nonmaleficence; the fact that these sub-virtues need to be put together in a fully integrated character does not change the fact that they are distinct, with different objects.

These failures are largely due to the fact that many modern theories of virtue have a flat and unsophisticated notion of how virtues can be related to each other. But not all theories of virtue are flat in this way, and in a more sophisticated account it becomes clear that neither of these lines of argument could actually prove what Bloomfield wants them to prove. (Bloomfield mentions other arguments briefly in passing, but they also are poorly suited for drawing such a conclusion; for instance, that humility is learned through mistakes and failure -- this is not necessarily true -- unlike other virtues which are not -- this is also not necessarily true, as we see with prudence -- or that humility is phenomenologically unpleasant -- this is not necessarily true -- unlike other virtues -- this is also not necessarily true, as we see with patience and fortitude.)

But there is a broader point that Bloomfield makes that is, I think, quite relevant. Bloomfield notes -- clumsily, but accurately -- that humility makes sense as a virtue in a theistic context. No matter how good you are, your good is derivative and infinitely far from the greatest good, the divine good, and so it becomes a virtue to recognize that your good, however good it may be, is a finite and derivative good. If we don't assume a theistic context, it becomes much less clear why humility would be a virtue. Modesty in the sense of not being boastful still would be, but humility is a much harder sell if there is no good that is far and away greater and more fundamental than your own excellence. Bloomfield argues that humility could be a 'corrective' in cases violating equality, but I would argue that this does not work, and Bloomfield would simply have done better to reject humility altogether. For one thing, as he characterizes humility, it simply can't act as a corrective in the way he suggests, because humility as he characterizes it is not concerned with equality but lowliness, and whatever else may be said about humility this surely has to be in some way right. Another issue is that it becomes unclear that there would be much use for it, since people are usually not treating others as equal because they have a reason to treat them as inferior, whether good or bad; once you take out a principle like 'We are all in the image of God' or 'We are all equal before the judgment seat of God', the sense in which we are ever actually equals in practical situations is attenuated at best. People think that the excellent athlete should have humility precisely because he is an excellent athlete; but this is precisely the point at which the excellent athlete is not equal to other people. In the theistic context it makes sense -- you recognize the inequality but recognize that it doesn't make you 'all that', because before God other things matter far more. But take that away and it's difficult to see how human equality (as opposed to say, equality of benefit in very narrowly defined exchanges) is not just a polite fiction; all of the alternatives to God, like reason, end up being quite abstract and removed from the practical features of this particular situation. 

In any case, Bloomfield is right that whether humility is a virtue depends at least in part on whether God exists. If God exists, the reasons for thinking that humility is a virtue are quite considerable; if there is no God, they are at least very limited and perhaps nonexistent. This is not surprising; what counts as a virtue for human beings will depend on what human beings are, and whether God exists or not has fairly direct implications for how we should see ourselves.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Two Poem Drafts

 The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

A music weaves through waving reed and rush,
a bit of symphony that melds with swish and shush
of wind and water through the leaping stream,
with one small thread of song in dawning gleam.
Both old and new, with beauty bright and clear,
like foreign-land's adventures laced with homelands dear,
like dreams of things that never we have known
that give to waking life a strange but luscious tone,
behind the veil of life, like Pan in piping dance,
is realm of magic haunt and holy-high romance;
just on the other side of mundane shadows gray
the Piper pipes the song at gates of dawning day.

The Touch of Evermore

The world is dark and full of sorrow,
the roads are long and sharp with stone,
but with you here, the stars are shining
and I will never walk alone.

My dearest love, my night is falling
as was my fate since I was born,
but in your smile the sun is dawning
and hope can dream a fairer morn.

The shadows fall on every corner
and in the dark the monsters dwell,
but, bright of eye, you walk here smiling
and banish all the shades of hell.

My dearest love, I stand here dying,
as we all do on this wicked shore,
but you and I, our hearts are flying
and I feel the touch of evermore.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Fortnightly Book, September 17

The Klondike Gold Rush occurred between 1896/7 and 1899. The Klondike is entirely in Yukon, Canada, but the American/Canadian border nearby was worked out without regard for the geographical layout of the region; getting to the Klondike from Alaska was fairly easy, but due to the way the Rocky Mountains are laid out in the area, getting to it from anywhere in Canada was immensely difficult, and, indeed borderline impossible for much of the year. This is why we often tend to associate the Gold Rush with Alaska -- most people attempted to get to the gold-rich area through Alaska.

Because of this, when James A. Michener was writing his tome, Alaska, he considered the question of how one might try to reach the Klondike while staying entirely in Canada, particularly since one of his primary goals in working out his outline for the book was to emphasize the Canadian contribution to Alaskan history. He eventually settled on a Mackenzie River route and worked out some characters he liked for the expedition. And then the entire section was cut from Alaska, partly because Michener wanted to keep the book under a thousand pages and partly because it was hard to justify having such a significant portion of the book Alaska not occurring anywhere near Alaska, particularly given the development of a chapter on the Alaskan side of the Gold Rush. Alaska was published in 1988 without the section. But Michener really liked parts of the story that he had written, and considered how he might use it. It had to be reworked and filled out in some ways, since it had been pulled out of a larger context to which it was no longer connected, but in 1989 he published it as a standalone work of less than two hundred pages, Journey: A Novel

Journey is the next fortnightly book, of course. All-around athlete and explorer Lord Luton wants to head an expedition to the Klondike during the Gold Rush, but it aggravates him to have to leave the British Empire to do it. From London to Edmonton by boat and rail, and then the harder part of the journey begins: up through Athabasca Landing, along the rivers to Fort Norman, and then, hardest of all, along the Mackenzie River to Dawson. A difficult journey -- and one where it's uncertain that it can be done at all.