Saturday, November 25, 2023

Links of Note

 * Peter DeScioli, How Laws Evolved by Natural Selection, at "Psychology Today"

* Mathis Koschel, The Freedom of Solar Systems (PDF), on Hegel's account of freedom

* Alexander T. Englert, Kant as a Carpenter of Reason: The Highest Good and Systematic Coherence (PDF)

* Graham Priest, Nothing: The Contradiction at the Heart of Being, at "iai"

* Giulia Martina, Smell identification and the role of labels (PDF)

* Peter Glassen, The Classes of Moral Terms (PDF)

* Brendan Hodge, On vocations, asking is key, at "The Pillar"

* Nicholas Stang, Why Should Metaphysics be Systematic? Contemporary Answers and Kant's (PDF)

* Tim Juvshik, On the social nature of artifacts (PDF)

* Arden Ali, Manifestations of Virtue (PDF), on the concept of praiseworthiness

* Timothy Williamson, The patterns of reality, at ""

* Ian Cruise, Hume's Justice and the Problem of the Missing Motive (PDF)

* David Friedell, Abstracta are Causal (PDF)

* Cody Moser and Paul E. Smaldino, Innovation-facilitating networks create inequality, at "Proceedings of the Royal Society B"

* Graeme Turner, No way to run a university: ACU butchers the humanities and its own reputation, at "Tales from the Quadrangle"

* It should be noted that today is the Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Queen, Virgin, and Great Martyr, the patron saint of philosophers, rhetoricians, students, and unmarried women. She would have died in the reign of Maxentius (306-312). The earliest written account of her life is from the tenth century, although it describes the rediscovery of her relics from about a century before then, which is the first historical event that can definitely be associated with her. However, the shortness of time between these and our evidence of her very widespread cultus strongly suggests that her legend had been carried by oral traditions for a considerable amount of time before. The story we have is sometimes thought to be cross-pollinated with that of St. Dorothea of Alexandria, which is possible (stories of Virgin Martyrs have regularly been written to highlight their similiarities with other Virgin Martyrs, so despite historical differences, they often converge on a kind of sameyness of structure and have similar tropes). Some have claimed that her story is influenced by the life of Hypatia of Alexandria, which I think is obviously wrong; all the actual parallels between the two seem entirely derived from the fact that they are both described as women who were philosophers. Aikaterine/Ekaterine, which seem to be the earliest forms, is an odd name, etymologically; it became associated with the Greek word katharos, which means 'pure', but its original meaning is a complete mystery. To such an extent, in fact, that probably the simplest explanation is that her original name was garbled a bit over time; as names are often the most fragile parts of hagiography, such garbling is something that occasionally does happen. But I think it's not sufficiently recognized that the name is also evidence, however limited, of her historicity; nobody merely making up a name would have come up with such a puzzling one, so even if we assume that her name has been garbled by time, that seems at least one reason to think that her basic story (clever Alexandrian Christian virgin fends off important suitor and is martyred for it) goes very far back. In any case, she has been one of the most popular saints in the entire choir of the saints for pretty much as long as we can track devotion to her -- patronage of philosophers and patronage of unmarried women would each on their own make her cultus one of the most culturally significant, so being popularly associated with both has made her quite important. 

Here is the eleventh century Latin version of her legend: Passio Sanctae Katharinae Alexandriensis.

Friday, November 24, 2023

No Longer Either Outside or Inside

...A book is not shut in by its contours, is not walled-up as in a fortress. It asks nothing better than to exist outside itself, or to let you exist in it. In short, the extraordinary fact in the case of a book is the falling away of the barriers between you and it. You are inside it; it is inside you; there is no longer either outside or inside. 

 Such is the initial phenomenon produced whenever I take up a book, and begin to read it. At the precise moment that I see, surging out of the object I hold open before me, a quantity of significations which my mind grasps, I realize that what I hold in my hands is no longer just an object, or even simply a living thing. I am aware of a rational being, of a consciousness; the consciousness of another, no different from the one I automatically assume in every human being I encounter, except that in this case the consciousness is open to me, welcomes me, lets me look deep inside itself, and even allows me, with unheard-of licence, to think what it thinks and feel what it feels.

[Georges Poulet, "Phenomenology of Reading," New Literary History , Oct., 1969, Vol. 1, No. 1, New and Old History (Oct., 1969), pp. 53-68.]

Thursday, November 23, 2023

The Position of Clement (Re-Post)

 Besides being Thanksgiving, today is the feast of Pope St. Clement I of Rome. According to tradition, Clement was a Roman citizen, was a co-worker of Paul (the same one mentioned in Philippians 4:3), was ordained as bishop by Peter, and was executed by drowning in about the year 99, in the reign of Emperor Trajan. I re-post here a brief discussion from July of Clement's position in the line of Bishops of Rome, with some minor revisions.


 The very first extant list of of the Bishops of Rome that we have is that of St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.3.3):

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus.

We have the letter of St. Clement to which Irenaeus refers, which does say what Irenaeus says, although these things are not particularly singled out by the letter itself. (Irenaeus is focusing on them because his point is that already as early as Clement we have a clear evidence of the tradition that Gnostics deny or treat as a superficial guise for their views). Irenaeus had been to Rome, and had fairly good connections to it, so our best early list of the first bishops of Rome is: St. Linus, St. Anacletus, St. Clement.

At the beginning of the third century, Tertullian, who knew the Roman traditions, tells us this (Praescr. Haer. 32):

But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men, — a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter.

So Tertullian seems to suggest that Clement was ordained as bishop of Rome directly by Peter.

This sets up the puzzle. We have two traditions, both relatively early, both provided by people who had familiarity with Roman traditions, one of which says Clement was third and one of which seems to indicate that Clement was first.

The fourth century Liberian Catalog gives us a different order: Linus, Clement, Cletus. But the Liberian Catalog does not seem to be very reliable; it seems to be a compilation of different sources without much effort to harmonize them, and also has quite a few weird errors, probably due to bad copying.

Also in the fourth century, Jerome gives us the view of things as they were understood then (De Vir. Ill. 15):

Clement, of whom the apostle Paul writing to the Philippians says “With Clement and others of my fellow-workers whose names are written in the book of life," the fourth bishop of Rome after Peter, if indeed the second was Linus and the third Anacletus, although most of the Latins think that Clement was second after the apostle.

So Jerome tells us that the general Latin view was that Clement followed directly after Peter, but recognizes that there is a tradition in which he is third after Linus and Anacletus. Again we have the duality of the tradition.

One of the things that possibly trips us up a bit is in assuming that things were originally divided up as they are today. This is sometimes put as a denial that the primitive church had a "monarchical episcopacy", but this is an extremely misleading way of stating things; the phrase doesn't usually seem to mean anything, and we know that if we take it to mean 'one bishop to a city', this rule wasn't formally imposed until the First Council of Nicaea, although for purely practical reasons this was already the state of things by then in most parts of the Empire (and outside it).  Bishops are heads of communities, and nothing actually requires that a city have only one territorial bishop (outside of practical convenience and, after Nicaea, canon law) because nothing requires that it be organized as only one community. The reason for saying all of this is that the Liber Pontificalis (which was first compiled, probably, in the fifth century, although it seems to have been heavily revised at times since) gives us an account that includes both traditions and seems to have something like this in view. Speaking of Peter, it says:

He ordained two bishops, Linus and Cletus, who in person fulfilled all the service of the priest in the city of Rome for the inhabitants and for strangers; then the blessed Peter gave himself to prayer and preaching, instructing the people....

He consecrated blessed Clement and committed to him the government of the see and all the church, saying: "As unto me was delivered by my Lord Jesus Christ the power to govern and to bind and loose, so also I commit it unto thee that thou mayest ordain stewards over diverse matters who will carry onward the work of the church, and mayest thyself not become engrossed with the cares of the world, but mayest strive to give thyself solely to prayer and preaching to the people."

Thus the Liber Pontificalis seems to envisage a scenario in which Rome had a period in which there were at least two and possibly three bishops of Rome, not counting Peter himself, who as apostle was above them all, but that they had different functions. Linus and Cletus oversaw the spiritual needs of the people of the city (possibly with Linus devoted to residents and Cletus devoted to pilgrims and travelers), and then at some point -- it makes it sound like it was a later arrangement --  Peter gave authority over Rome to Clement. However, while the work lists Linus and Cletus, it makes clear that it accepts the tradition that Clement was first after Peter:

Therefore Linus and Cletus are recorded before him for the reason that they were ordained bishops also by the chief of the apostles to perform the priestly ministry.

Thus, Clement is the first in line after Peter, but Linus and Cletus are bishops charged with lesser duties, who seem to get an honorary placement, presumably because they were bishops of Rome ordained before Clement, although they were not like Clement the successor of Peter.

This solves the problem of whether Clement was first or third quite neatly. It does so in a way that suggests a much earlier tradition, since if it were not based on something earlier, one might expect (as happened later) a simplification of the list without this complicated "Linus and Cletus are first, but not actually first" bit. It's even a solution that has a great deal of plausibility both in itself and insofar as it would explain the divergent traditions, but we don't know much about the sources the Liber Pontificalis used, or how far back this idea actually goes, and one could perhaps argue that this is the author's attempt to try to reconcile the two different traditions.

In any case, this seems to be the lay of the land as far as the textual evidence goes.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023


 Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and since I'm doing the Protevangelium of James as the current fortnightly book, it's worth saying something about the feast -- the Protevangelium is a major reason why it exists.

The feast is also known, in certain Eastern calendars, as the Feast of the Entry (Eisodos) of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, and this is in fact what it celebrates. According to the Protevangelium, which may be drawing on prior oral legend and is certainly influenced by reading of certain parts of the Old Testament (e.g., Psalm 45) as prophecies of Christ, the Virgin's parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne, glad to have a child, promise to consecrate her to the Lord. When the young girl is three years old, they bring her to the Temple to be trained to provide some of the materials that are used in the Temple services (spinning thread for various cloths being the primary one). She is there for the next nine years, during which time both of her parents die, so according to the Protevangelium, when she is twelve, and thus about to enter puberty and unable to participate in the service in which she had thus far participated, the priests arrange for her to be betrothed to Joseph, who becomes her guardian. 

The feast itself commemorates the Virgin's dedication to Temple service, and thus one of its important functions is that it liturgically presents Mary as patron of consecrated virginity; it is associated as such with the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. The association with the Temple also makes the feast a celebration of Mary as symbolically the Ark of the Covenant. The feast itself is Byzantine in origin, possibly arising as early as the sixth century, although the first definite identification of it in a liturgical calendar is in the eleventh. It has ever since been continuously celebrated as one of the major feasts of the Byzantine liturgical calendar. It has had a rockier history in the West; it was occasionally celebrated, but only became a consistent feast in the Western calendar in the sixteenth century, possibly even then only as a concession to its importance in the East. It likewise became a popular subject of Western art in the late Renaissance, with Titian's painting perhaps being the most famous example:

Presentation titian.JPG

We don't know a lot about the broader Temple service and organization in the Second Temple period; we don't have much definite evidence from other sources as to how the Temple sourced its physical requirements like cloth, and the Protevangelium is, as far as I know, the only early source that indicates that there was some sort of formal dedication to the Temple, although it's at least consistent with Luke's account of the Nativity that Anna and Simeon may have been known by name because they were associated by some vow with some aspect, however secondary, of Temple service. But Luke's account also does not require such a thing. (The Protevangelium also does not strictly require that it was a matter of a vow by Mary herself, although later sources do say this.) The Mishnah, long after the fact, records the tradition that there were fifteen departments, each overseen by an officer, that looked after the various material needs, with two of them devoted to cloth (one for curtains and one for vestments); it seems clearly to envision these as woven specially for the temple, which of course would make sense. We have very little for external evidence beyond this, and arguably this is one of the reasons why it was slow to be accepted in the West, and also why the Western tradition tends to be more vague than the Eastern tradition about exactly what the feast celebrates, often treating it as a general feast commemorating the Virgin Mary's own self-dedication to God, and treating some of the Eastern traditions as metaphorical rather than literal. (What the story definitely seems to establish historically, however, is that there was a fully developed Christian tradition of consecrated virgins by about the middle of the second century when the Protevangelium is usually thought to have been written; the Protevangelium, while showing some broader knowledge of at least some Jewish customs, seems regularly to describe them in terms that would be familiar with Greek-speaking Christians in its own time.)

Links of Note

 * Johan Olsthoon, The problem of penal slavery in Quobna Ottobah Cuguano's abolitionism (PDF)

* Michael Walschots, The Rationality of Love: Benevolence and Complacence in Kant and Hutcheson (PDF)

* Daniel O'Malley, A Thomistic Argument against the Simulation Hypothesis, at "Reality"

* Cheryl Misak, C. David Naylor, Mark Tonelli, Trisha Greenhalgh, and Graham Foster, Case Report: What—or who—killed Frank Ramsey? Some reflections on cause of death and the nature of medical reasoning, at Wellcome Open Research

* Elzė Sigutė Mikalonytė, Musical Works Are Mind-Independent Artifacts (PDF)

* Roe Fremstedal, Kierkegaard on the Metaphysics of Hope (PDF)

* John Michael Greer, Science as Enchantment, at "Ecosophia"

* Andrea Raimondi & Ruchika Jain, Dispositions, Virtues, and Indian Ethics (PDF)

* Aaron Wells, Du Chatelet's Philosophy of Mathematics (PDF)

* Michael Lind, Profit, Power, and Purpose: Rethinking the Modern Corporation, at "The Hedgehog Review"

* John Schwenkler, The Categories of Causation (PDF)

* Tony Svoboda, A Kantian Approach to the Moral Considerability of Non-human Nature (PDF)

* A new open access philosophy journal: Philosophy of Physics

* Raffaele Carbone, Cartesian and Malebranchian Meditations (PDF)

* Kevin J. Lande, Pictorial Syntax (PDF)

* Razib Khan, Genomics Has Revealed an Age Undreamed Of, at "Palladium"

* James Mahon, Getting Your Sources Right: What Aristotle didn't say (PDF), on metaphor

* Helga Varden, How to Move Beyond Our Endless Disagreements over Abortion Policies, at "Public Seminar". The position in the article does not, in fact, do anything to move beyond disagreements over abortion policies; and, despite Varden calling it 'Kantian', I think the particular distinction in the article between 'personal' and 'legal' conceptions is not at all Kantian. In a genuine Kantian position, the 'legal' only covers external behavior, and the contrast is not with the 'personal' but the 'moral', which is more, not less, common than the legal, since it obligates all rational beings. I think Varden's Step Two also underestimates the extent to which legal classifications do, in fact, presuppose moral classifications; the particular kind of legal positivism that Varden's argument seems to presuppose is also definitely not Kantian. It's also notable that Varden puts her hand on the scale, and assumes (what is in fact one of the major points of contention) that there is a moral right to an abortion; her 'let's all get along' position is not really a resolution but boils down to 'Pro-choicers should make minor concessions and pro-lifers should make major concessions'. Nonetheless, despite these criticisms, I think Varden's argument is interesting, and I do think there is a tendency to overlook the ways in which the gap between the statutory and the moral complicates the situation of what laws to have whenever controversies arise on matters intimately associated with our lives as persons.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Fortnightly Book, November 19

 The Protevangelium of James seems to have been written in the second century, almost certainly in Greek; it was certainly known in Alexandria by the third century, although it is usually thought to have been written in Syria. It is perhaps the most influential and important of what are known as the 'Infancy Gospels' (hence the common designation of 'Protevangelium'), hagiographical works that either draw upon or introduce various legends associated with the early life of Christ. Drawing on Matthew and Luke, the book is essentially a legendarium about the Virgin Mary, and much of its influence is due to this. It is almost certainly the earliest work, and certainly the earliest extant work, to give the names 'Anna' and 'Joachim' to the Virgin's parents. The book was translated into perhaps as many as a dozen different languages and widely circulated; besides its considerable influence on Christian artistic and liturgical representation of the Virgin, it is certainly one of the sources for the depiction of Mary in the Quran. This is, I think, fundamentally the way it should be read, as the earliest hagiography of the Virgin Mary (and, indeed, one of a handful of texts that stand at the root of the entire hagiographical tradition), dating from no later than the second half of the second century. While the work gives greater specificity, it is worth noting that many of the traditions found in the work are found in at least summary or allusional form in a wide variety of works, some of which are definitely earlier than this text is usually taken to be -- however one assesses the balance of history and legend in the work, the author is not making things up whole cloth but pulling together the story from Gospel, from oral legend, and from Old Testament prophecy.

The book has had many titles in its history. The earliest title of the work may have been either 'The Birth of Mary' or 'The Book of James' (the latter is the title Origen, the earliest author to give it a title, uses, and variations of both are very common in the manuscripts); the attribution to James is given at the very end of the work. It is usually thought that the James identified is supposed to be the same James as 'James the Brother of the Lord', but it is notable that the work itself actually makes no such claim -- it just gives the author's name as James and says he wrote it at the time of Herod's death (about AD 44) and hid in the wilderness until the uproar after that event had passed. Depending on how one interprets it, that is perhaps consistent with taking the attribution to be to the early Church leader, as is the subject matter, but again, the work itself does not claim this, even if one takes it to suggest it. Given how many Jameses there are in the early Church, it could for all we really know be intending someone else.

The Protevangelium will, of course, be the next fortnightly book. I am reading it in Lily C. Vuong's translation in the Early Christian Apocrypha series published by Cascade books.