Friday, February 02, 2024

Each Risk and Peril the Toil Endears

The Alpine Hunters
by Louisa Anne Meredith  

(Suggested by a picture of the "Hunters of the Tyrol," by J. F. Lewis, Esq.)   

Lightly bounding o'er Alpine snow,
 We merry, merry mountain-hunters go;
 With horn and rifle, at earliest light,
 We follow the chamois' fearless flight:
 O'er crag and gully -- o'er vale and hill,
 We merry, merry hunters are chasing still;

 Rousing the hawk from her lofty nest,
 As we seek our prey on the mountain-crest;
 And the startled eagle ascending flies,
 With her shrill scream rending the deep-blue skies,
 Then pauses -- to hear an answer borne
 From the merry, merry hunters' echoing horn.

When wounded, at length the quarry falls,
 And the note of triumph each bugle calls,
 Who thinks of danger -- dreams of fears?
 Each risk and peril the toil endears;
 Wood -- rock -- and torrent are swiftly past,
 At the merry, merry hunters' bugle-blast.

But list that heavy and fearful crash!
 The rebounding peal -- and lightning-flash!
 'Twas an av'lanche fall -- and the storm is near --
 Night closes and all around is drear: 
 Yet we care not though wind and tempests come,
 For the merry, merry hunters have reached their home!

Thursday, February 01, 2024


 Anna Smajdor and Joona Räsänen have an article at the Journal of Medical Ethics, Is pregnancy a disease? A normative approach. Their answer is that it is, on most accounts of 'disease', although they are quick, although not particularly persuasive, in claiming that a disease is not necessarily a bad thing. In reality, of course, it makes no sense to call the normal functioning of the species a disease, and pregnancy is one of the best candidates for such a thing -- if anything is normal functioning for a species, its usual form of reproduction is, and if anything is certainly not a disease, pregnancy is certainly not a disease. But it's worth noting how they build their argument, based on various claims that pregnancy has features associated with disease.

(1) One might identify something as a disease on the ground that it has harmful symptoms. But, they say, pregnancy shares many symptoms with diseases -- aches, bloating, swollenness, sleep problems, stretch marks, etc. Of course, exercise also shares many symptoms with diseases. The reason for this is that there are only so many ways in which major changes to the body can be accommodated, and many of the symptoms we are talking about here are just ways the body accommodates major changes; whether they are harmful or not just depends on how long they last, how extreme they get, etc. But it's true that 'harmful symptoms' is not a very good account of what a disease is; symptoms are just diagnostic markers, and most symptoms of most diseases are not actually harmful at all. There are very dangerous diseases who symptoms can be quite mild until they actually kill you. The point is, symptoms are symptoms; they are not defining characteristics.

(2) One might identify something as a disease on the ground that it is bad for a person in such a way as to be a misfortune that can be treated medically. The authors argue that even wanted pregnancies can fit this account; I think they are doing some tap-dancing with 'bad' and 'misfortune', and that the actual problem that their argument highlights is that they don't have a serious account of what it is for something to be bad or a unfortunate. But in any case, it runs into the same problem as the previous, in that we are trying to say what a disease is on the basis of things not strictly intrinsic to it. Anything can be messed with medically, so that if you wanted to interpret this account very generously, you can make anything count as a 'disease'. In reality, this account would only work if we are already implicitly restricting 'bad', 'misfortune', 'unlucky', etc., to cases that are relevant to diseases.

(3) One might identify something as a disease on the ground that this is what the medical community classifies as a disease. It's very clear that the medical community in general does not classify pregnancy as a disease, and the authors' attempts to get around this are not particularly convincing, I think, but the general point is right -- this can't be our actual account of disease. It's worth noting that, again, anything could turn out to be a disease on this account, unless there is something that actually constrains classification here. (There's a recurring pattern here, you notice.)

(4) One might identify something as a disease on the ground that it is dysfunctional. This is where, I think, their argument really starts breaking down a bit. Up to this point, there's been some stretching of what counts as 'harmful', perhaps, but the general point, that the accounts of disease can't get us what we need, has been right. But their argument against the dysfunction account of disease is actually quite bad, and in a way that is instructive. Their argument is:

(a) It's elitist. This is a non-starter as an argument, of course, because what they mean by 'elitist' is that it involves medically informed evaluation, which is not a correct use of the term 'elitist' in a medical context. It's also the case that, contrary to what they seem to suggest, not classifying a bad thing as a disease is not an elitist attempt to ignore the 'lived experience of the sufferer' -- it just means that medicine is not the relevant context for considering how to deal with that kind of badness. (I think this is worth emphasizing because there is an upsurge in people trying to claim things like, "Poverty is a medical problem". No, making such a claim is hubris; poverty may affect things that are medical problems, but part of good medicine is having the intellectual and moral humility to recognize that some problems are beyond mere medical competence.)

(b) It tries to get an 'ought' from an 'is'. As I have noted many, many times, on every serious account of reasoning we have, you can at least sometimes get an ought from an is -- for instance, the authors repeatedly assume in their own argument that if something is classified as a disease according to a given account (an 'is'), then people using that account should classify it as a disease (an 'ought'). This argument also would prove too much, since it would mean that we couldn't recognize biological functions at all, which creates far more problems than the one they are trying to identify. However, this is a secondary matter, in a sense, because the authors are making a mistake that is common when "You can't get an ought from an is" comes up -- they are assuming that we are actually starting with an 'is' rather than an 'ought'. This is significant here because medicine itself does not start with 'descriptive facts'; it starts with a sorting of kinds of descriptive facts into those that need to be addressed and those that don't. (This is one of the reasons, incidentally, why 'what the medical community classifies as a disease' will often get you a right answer but can't be the actual account of disease, because it's circular.) Medicine is like engineering in this way -- engineering doesn't start with physical facts, but with something that needs to be done. Medicine is the same way -- it doesn't start with biological facts, but with something that needs to be done. Engineering and medicine are practical, ought-based fields; they start with a set of problems that need to be solved, and therefore have to meet certain standards required by the problems themselves.  These standards involve 'ought' already.

Thus their argument on this point fails completely. This is not surprising; the dysfunction account has always been the most resilient account of disease, so that no matter how many problems people may think they have identified with it, it never dies out and always surges back again. This is because, even if we assume that it is not correct, it actually does very well at least doing what an account of disease needs to do -- it's generally intuitive, it fits the way we tend to talk about disease, it allows us to shift back and forth between more theoretical and more practical perspectives, it gives a framework for defining medical problems in a relatively precise way and thus for finding medical solutions to those problems, etc.

(5) They then consider whether someone might think not in terms of 'function' but in terms of 'normal species function'. Their argument here is that pregnancy is not normal for men or young girls or elderly women, which is true but irrelevant. 'Normal' and 'Normal species function' are not the same thing; for one thing the latter very clearly and explicitly is talking about the species. They also note that not being pregnant is more common even for women of reproductive age than being pregnany, which is also true but irrelevant; the question is not whether it is the most normal thing, but whether it falls within the range of normal operation of the species in its survival and reproduction.Can we insist that something is a normal species function when most of the species does not exhibit it? Obviously, yes. Pregnancy is still quite common, and if it weren't, there would be no species; it's the central happening in the perpetuation of the species; thus it is a normal species function. In this whole section, they are tap-dancing with the word 'normal'.

(6) They also consider accounts in which disease is a statistical phenomenon. This of course brings us back to something that is extrinsic to the disease itself; and the authors correctly note that you can only get a statistical account of disease if you have already laid the normative groundwork that connects your statistical claims to something like disease.

Thus, the argument doesn't really seem to show that we ought to classify pregnancy as a disease;  it shows that you can easily raise questions about accounts of disease that are too indirect, and it fails to give an adequate argument against the most promising accounts. What it really does is make clear that whether anything is a disease depends on things that are more fundamental than anything medicine deals with -- questions about badness, about normativity, about function, etc. This is absolutely true; it's why over-medicalizing things always has a bad result (you turn fundamental things inside out by trying to explain them in terms of things that presuppose them) and also why medicine is not purely a matter of whatever doctors decide. Medicine instead is a practical field and a humanitarian tradition that is suffused throughout with normative assumptions about good and bad. If you try to ignore this, you just get gibberish like 'pregnancy is a disease'.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

There Was Chest on Chest Full of Spanish Gold

 "Dead Man's Chest" is a completely fictional sea shanty invented by Robert Louis Stevenson for Treasure Island, but ever since it came out, people have been trying to complete it. By far the most popular of these attempts is that of Young Ewing Allison, written in 1891; it soon became the go-to for musical stagings of Treasure Island.

Cap'n Billy Bones his song
by Young Ewing Allison

Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
The mate was fixed by the bos'n's pike,
The bos'n brained with a marlinspike
And Cookey's throat was marked belike,
It had been gripped
By fingers ten;
And there they lay,
All good dead men,
Like break-o'-day in a boozing-ken—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of the whole ship's list—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Dead and be damned and the rest gone whist!—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
The skipper lay with his nob in gore
Where the scullion's axe his cheek had shore—
And the scullion he was stabbed times four.
And there they lay,
And the soggy skies
Dripped all day long
In upstaring eyes—
In murk sunset and at foul sunrise—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of 'em stiff and stark—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Ten of the crew had the Murder mark—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
'Twas a cutlass swipe, or an ounce of lead,
Or a yawing hole in a battered head—
And the scuppers glut with a rotting red,
And there they lay—
Aye, damn my eyes—
All lookouts clapped
On paradise—
All souls bound just contrariwise—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

Fifteen men of 'em good and true—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Every man jack could ha' sailed with Old Pew—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
There was chest on chest full of Spanish gold,
With a ton of plate in the middle hold,
And the cabins riot of stuff untold,
And they lay there
That had took the plum,
With sightless glare
And their lips struck dumb,
While we shared all by the rule of thumb—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

More was seen through the sternlight screen—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Chartings ondoubt where a woman had been!
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
A flimsy shift on a bunker cot,
With a thin dirk slot through the bosom spot
And the lace stiff-dry in a purplish blot.
Or was she wench...
Or some shuddering maid...?
That dared the knife—
And took the blade!
By God! she was stuff for a plucky jade—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
We wrapped 'em all in a mains'l tight
With twice ten turns of a hawser's bight
And we heaved 'em over and out of sight—
With a yo-heave-ho!
And a fare-you-well!
And a sullen plunge
In the sullen swell,
Ten fathoms deep on the road to hell!
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Monday, January 29, 2024

Immediate Book Meme

 Mrs. Darwin recently did an Immediate Book Meme, so I might as well do one here.


There are plenty of memes that want to know all about your book history and your all-time greats and your grand ambitions, but let's focus on something more revealing: the books you're actually reading now, or just read, or are about to read. Let's call it The Immediate Book Meme.


Over the past couple years, I've been doing quite a few audiobooks as well as books, so for some questions I'll give two answers, the book answer and the audiobook answer. 

1. What book are you reading now?

A. Books

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, which is the current fortnightly book

Erik Varden, The Shattering of Loneliness -- only just started this

Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy: A new translation with introduction and commentary

B. Audiobooks

Agatha Christie, Evil Under the Sun -- Enjoying this one more than I expected

Michael Flynn, Rogue Star

R. F. Kuang, Babel -- only just started this

C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature

2. What book did you just finish?

A. Books

Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat, which was the previous fortnightly book

Gillian Russell, Barriers to Entailment -- excellent, I'll certainly have something up about it at some point

B. Audiobooks

Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot's Christmas

Agatha Christie, One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

Michael Flynn, Firestar

Agatha Christie, Cards on the Table -- of the Agatha Christies I hadn't read before, this has certainly been the best, although I think it would probably be a better read than a listen.

3. What do you plan to read next?

A. Books

By far, this is the hardest of these questions to answer. The obvious thing is the  next fortnightly book, but I haven't decided yet what that will be. At some point over Lent, which starts in about two weeks, I expect to do Sigrid Undset's Saga of the Saints

After a short pause, I will probably re-read Gillian Russell's Barriers to Entailment.

Last week, I picked up a few books at Half Price Books, some of which I intend to get through at some point in the near future:

Philip Zaleski & Carol Zaleski: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings

Agatha Christie, The Pale Horse -- I think I read this one in high school, but can't recall much about it.

Agatha Christie, Towards Zero -- I don't think I've read this one at all.

B. Audiobooks

The following are currently checked out on my Libby Shelf and just need to be started.

Agatha Christie, Appointment with Death -- I've read this multiple times, but really want to see how it works in audiobook

Agatha Christie, Mrs. McGinty's Dead -- I don't know if I've read this one at all, although I think not

The following are currently on hold with Libby, waiting for available copies.

Agatha Christie, Sad Cypress

Agatha Christie, The ABC Murders

Agatha Christie, Five Little Pigs

C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, The Departure of the Soul According to the Teaching of the Orthodox Church -- but this is a bit-at-a-time book, anyway

The other two I started before Christmas vacation and just haven't gotten back to them yet:

Albert the Great, On the Body of the Lord

Henri Poincare, The Value of Science

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

John Michael Greer, A World Full of Gods, 2nd edition.

Mortimer Adler, Philosopher at Large

6. What is your current reading trend?

In books I don't have a reading trend, but as should be obvious, I have (since November) been going through Agatha Christie on audiobook. I did the Marples in November last year and have been doing the Poirots since then. (As a sidenote, from what I've listened to so far, Miss Marple does consistently better in audiobook than Poirot, who is much more uneven; and of the Poirot works, it is, perhaps surprisingly, the middling works that usually seem to work best -- Murder in MesopotamiaDumb Witness, and the like. The better books often trade on subtleties that are just easily missed in audiobook, and the worst Poirots tend to be overly complicated, so the books that work best as audiobooks are those that trade on neither subtlety nor detail, or at least very little, and thus are primarily carried by what might be called 'psychological' features of the story and the general sense of each character.) I am also currently going (much more slowly) through Michael Flynn's Firestar series on audiobook.

Links of Note

 * Ruth Boeker, Hutcheson and His Critics and Opponents on the Moral Sense (PDF)

* John Haldane, Remembering Nicholas Rescher, a Gentle Giant, at "First Things"

* Alex Worsnip, What is incoherence?, at "Aeon", on the question of whether we can hold contradictory beliefs at the same time

* José Eduardo Porcher & Daniel De Luca-Noronha, Awe at Natural Beauty as a Religious Experience (PDF)

* Brian Cutter, The Many-Subjects Argument against Physicalism (PDF)

* Rowan Mellor & Margaret Shea, What Are We to Do? Making Sense of 'Joint Ought' Talk (PDF)

* "Tea with Tolkien" collects the current rumors and speculations about season 2 of The Rings of Power

* Katy Carl reviews Flannery O'Connor's unfinished work, Why Do the Heathen Rage?, at "Current"

* Caspar Jacobs, In Defence of Dimensions (PDF)

* David L. Barack, What Is Foraging? (PDF)

* Lorris Chevalier, Five Warrior Bishops in the Middle Ages, at ""

* At "Imperfect Cognitions", Alexandre Billon summarizes his paper "The Sense of Existence", which I've linked here before.

* Andrew Aberdein, Virtues Suffice for Argument Evaluation (PDF)

* Inna Kupreeva, Alexander of Aphrodisias on the Principle of Noncontradiction (PDF)

* R. A. Schuetz covers a story out of Houston that I find rather heartening. Houston passed an ordinance last year to ticket and fine people handing out free food to the homeless outside the Central Library. As you might expect, there have been complaints that it discourages families from visiting the library, but (I think significant in this case), this is a practice that goes back at least twenty years. The primary volunteers doing this are with a rather informal group that goes by the name 'Food Not Bombs'. The volunteers began to be ticketed under the new ordinance -- over ninety tickets with fines amounting to over $20,000. However, the city has hit a wall with regard to its attempt to enforce the ordinance -- despite all the tickets, the city has not been able to convict anyone for violating the ordinance. It has had difficulty even impaneling a jury -- it can't find enough people in jury pools to make a trial possible. At times, it has had to dismiss all potential jurors because all of them when asked would say either that they already don't believe the group is violating any ordinance or would say that, even if the group was guilty that they would not be willing to fine them for giving people food. Apparently the only instance in which the city was able to get it to trial and verdict, the jury heard all the evidence for the ordinance violation and voted that no ordinance was violated; despite the fact that the ordinance was specifically passed to prohibit groups like Food Not Bombs from engaging in this practice, the city seems to have had difficulty convincing impartial jurors that it made any sense to interpret any city ordinance as prohibiting the giving of food to people who actually need it.

Whatever one thinks of the ordinance itself, this is a good solid example of the role and power of citizens in actual governance, and an example of the utter importance of juries. (My own view of the ordinance is that cities cannot in justice prohibit citizens from doing ordinary good to other citizens, and if the location is causing problems, the city should be supplying an alternate location that would be acceptable to people in general.)

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Fortnightly Book, January 28

 In August 1881, Robert Louis Stevenson was on an extended vacation in Braemar, Scotland with his family, including his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne. While there, he started writing one of the most famous stories of the modern era, reading the first chapters to Lloyd and even working out a map for him. He wrote a letter about it at the time to W. E. Henley:


Of course I am a rogue. Why, Lord, it's known, man; but you should remember I have had a horrid cold. Now, I'm better, I think; and see here -- nobody, not you, nor Lang, nor the devil, will hurry me with our crawlers. They are coming. Four of them are as good as done, and the rest will come when ripe; but I am now on another lay for the moment, purely owing to Lloyd, this one; but I believe there's more coin in it than in any amount of crawlers: now, see here, The Sea Cook, or Treasure Island: A Story for Boys. 

If this don't fetch the kids, why, they have gone rotten since my day. Will you be surprised to learn that it is about Buccaneers, that it begins in the 'Admiral Benbow' public-house on the Devon coast, that it's all about a map, and a treasure, and a mutiny, and a derelict ship, and a current, and a fine old Squire Trelawney (the real Tre, purged of literature and sin, to suit the infant mind), and a doctor, and another doctor, and a sea-cook with one leg, and a sea-song with the chorus Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum' (at the third Ho you heave at the capstan bars), which is a real buccaneer's song, only known to the crew of the late Captain Flint (died of rum at Key West, much regretted, friends will please accept this intimation); and lastly, would you be surprised to hear, in this connection, the name of Routledge? That's the kind of man I am, blast your eyes. Two chapters are written, and have been tried on Lloyd with great success; the trouble is to work it off without oaths. Buccaneers without oaths -- bricks without straw. But youth and the fond parient have to be consulted. 

 And now look here -- this is next day -- and three chapters are written and read. (Chapter 1. The Old Sea-dog at the 'Admiral Benbow.' Chapter II. Black Dog appears and disappears. Chapter III. The Black Spot.) All now heard by Lloyd, F., and my father and mother, with high approval. It's quite silly and horrid fun, and what I want is the best book about the Buccaneers that can be had -- the latter B's above all, Blackbeard and sich, and get Nutt or Bain to send it skimming by the fastest post. And now I know you'll write to me, for The Sea Cook's sake. 

 Your Admiral Guinea is curiously near my line, but of course I'm fooling; and your Admiral sounds like a shublime gent. Stick to him like wax-he'll do. My Trelawney is, as I indicate, several thousand sea-miles off the lie of the original or your Admiral Guinea; and besides, I have no more about him yet but one mention of his name, and I think it likely he may turn yet farther from the model in the course of handling. A chapter a day I mean to do; they are short; and perhaps in a month The Sea Cook may to Routledge go, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! My Trelawney has a strong dash of Landor, as I see him from here. No women in the story, Lloyd's orders; and who so blythe to obey? It's awful fun, boys' stories; you just indulge the pleasure of your heart, that's all; no trouble, no strain. The only stiff thing is to get it ended -- that I don't see, but I look to a volcano. O sweet, O generous, O human toils. You would like my blind beggar in Chapter III, I believe; no writing, just drive along as the words come and the pen will scratch! 

 R. L. S. 
 Author of Boys' Stories

With the help of a visitor at Braemar, Dr. Alexander Japp, who heard the first few chapters and promised to recommend it to some friends, the novel was serialized under a pseudonym ("Captain George North") in Young Folks magazine under the title, Treasure Island, or the Mutiny of the Hispaniola. It did not make much of a splash, and the editor received letters from boys criticizing how slowly the first chapters moved. (In this it is a contrast with two later novels that Stevenson serialized in Young Folks, namely, The Black Arrow and Kidnapped, both of which were very popular with its readers.) It was published in book form in 1883 under the title by which it has since been known, Treasure Island, and that was the beginning of its undeniable success. Stevenson's goal of making it "the best book about the Buccaneers that can be had", even despite the formidable difficulty of writing pirates who don't use strong language, seems to have been achieved; there is no question that the tale knocked out all competition to become the pirate story.

Treasure Island has a number of radio adaptations, so I will be trying to listen to one or two of those, as well.

Common Doctor

Today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church. From his sermon, Beato gens

Understand that in Sacred Scripture the end of man is likened to three things. First, it is compared to a crown. For this reason, the Apostle (says at) 2 Timothy 4:8, As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice. Sometimes it is compared to a prize. Whence, the Apostle (says in his letter to the) Philipians 3:14, I press towards the mark, to the prize of the supernal vocation. Lastly, it is sometimes compared to a reward. Whence (it is said) in the Gospel of Matthew 5:12, Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. Not undeservedly did the Son of Man refer himself to these three, because the whole of our activity is reduced to three things. 

The activity of some is after the manner of battles, so far as concerns their effects. Whence, (it is said at) Job 7:1, The life of man upon earth is a warfare; and a crown is due to those who have fought lawfully in these (battles), because (as it is said at) 2 Timothy 2:5, For he also that striveth for the mastery, is not crowned, except he strive lawfully. 

(The activity of) others (is such that they) run, like those who contemplate; and these people have nothing slowing them down, but they run swiftly. (David) speaks of these people at Psalm 118:32, I have run the way of thy commandments. But for those [running], a prize is due. (Whence) the Apostle (says at) 1 Corinthians 9:24, All run . . . but one receiveth the prize. 

Others are laborers, prelates for example, who perform beneficial works among the people; and to these (prelates) is due a reward. Whence, the Apostle (says at) 1 Corinthians 3:8, Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor.

I've replaced 'fighting' in the third paragraph with 'running'; the former is a typo.