Sunday, August 20, 2017

Bernardus Claraevallensis

Today is the memorial of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church. A member of the Cistercian order, he built a reformed monastery in the Val d'Absinthe, which he named Claire Vallée, which later transmogrified to Clairvaux. He became extraordinarily influential, and was one of the earlier saints to be formally canonized by papal process, when Pope Alexander III canonized him in 1174. He was named a Doctor of the Church in 1830 by Pope Pius VIII.

From a letter to a monk named Adam:

If you remain yet in that spirit of charity which I either knew or believed to be with you formerly, you would certainly feel the condemnation with which charity must regard the scandal which you have given to the weak. For charity would not offend charity, nor scorn when it feels itself offended. For it cannot deny itself, nor be divided against itself. Its function is rather to draw together things divided; and it is far from dividing those that are joined. Now, if that remained in you, as I have said, it would not keep silent, it would not rest unconcerned, nor pretend indifference, but it would without doubt whisper, with groans and uneasiness at the bottom of your pious heart, that saying, Who is offended, and I burn not (2 Cor. xi. 29). If, then, it is kind, it loves peace, and rejoices in unity; it produces them, cements them, strengthens them, and wherever it reigns it makes the bond of peace. As, then, you are in opposition to that true mother of peace and concord, on what ground, I ask you, do you presume that your sacrifice, whatever it may be, will be accepted by God, when without it even martyrdom profiteth nothing (1 Cor. xiii. 3)? Or, on what ground do you trust that you are not the enemy of charity when breaking unity, rending the bond of peace, you lacerate her bowels, treating with such cruelty their dear pledges, which you neither have borne nor do bear? You must lay down, then, the offering, whatever it may be, which you are preparing to lay on the altar, and hasten to go and reconcile yourself not with one of your brethren only, but with the entire body. The whole body of the fraternity, grievously wounded by your withdrawal, as by the stroke of a sword, utters its complaints against you and the few with you, saying: The sons of my mother have fought against me (Cant. i. 5). And rightly; for who is not with her, is against her. Can you think that a mother, as tender as charity, can hear without emotion the complaint, so just, of a community which is to her as a daughter? Therefore, joining her tears with ours, she says, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me (Isa. i. 2).

Charity is God Himself. Christ is our peace, who hath made both one (Eph. ii. 14). Unity is the mystery even of the Holy Trinity. What place, then, in the kingdom of Christ and of God has he who is an enemy of charity, peace, and unity?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Speed in Rather Longer than a Span

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 it's speed in 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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Babylonian Mathematics

Daniel Mansfield and N. J. Wildberger discuss Babylonian mathematics:

Like Some Grave Mighty Thought Threading a Dream

Shelley, Leigh Hunt, and Keats once held a sonnet-writing competition in which the goal was to write a sonnet about the Nile in fifteen minutes. Hunt's was the only one published in their lifetimes. All three, interestingly, are explicitly allegorical; very difficult to do well in short space, and I think Hunt is the only one who quite pulled it off. I would give first prize to Hunt, second to Keats, and third to Shelley; Hunt is easily the least talented of the three in general, but in poetry it is the poem and not the reputation or ability that gives the laurels.

To the Nile
by Percy Bysshe Shelley


Month after month the gathered rains descend
Drenching yon secret Aethiopian dells,
And from the desert’s ice-girt pinnacles
Where Frost and Heat in strange embraces blend
On Atlas, fields of moist snow half depend.
Girt there with blasts and meteors Tempest dwells
By Nile’s aereal urn, with rapid spells
Urging those waters to their mighty end.
O’er Egypt’s land of Memory floods are level
And they are thine, O Nile--and well thou knowest
That soul-sustaining airs and blasts of evil
And fruits and poisons spring where’er thou flowest.
Beware, O Man--for knowledge must to thee,
Like the great flood to Egypt, ever be.

A Thought of the Nile
by Leigh Hunt


It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
Like some grave mighty thought threading a dream,
And times and things, as in that vision, seem
Keeping along it their eternal stands,—
Caves, pillars, pyramids, the shepherd bands
That roamed through the young world, the glory extreme
Of high Sesostris, and that southern beam,
The laughing queen that caught the world's great hands.
Then comes a mightier silence, stern and strong,
As of a world left empty of its throng,
And the void weighs on us; and then we wake,
And hear the fruitful stream lapsing along
Twixt villages, and think how we shall take
Our own calm journey on for human sake.

To the Nile
by John Keats


Son of the old moon-mountains African!
Stream of the Pyramid and Crocodile!
We call thee fruitful, and, that very while,
A desert fills our seeing's inward span;
Nurse of swart nations since the world began,
Art thou so fruitful? or dost thou beguile
Such men to honour thee, who, worn with toil,
Rest them a space 'twist Cairo and Decan?
O may dark fancies err!—they surely do;
'Tis ignorance that makes a barren waste
Of all beyond itself. Thou dost bedew
Green rushes like our rivers, and dost taste
The pleasant sun-rise; green isles hast thou too,
And to the sea as happily dost haste.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Maria Assumpta

Rubens's Assumption of the Virgin:

Baroque Rubens Assumption-of-Virgin-3

Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

Surely the Lord raises up the lowly,
giving goodness to those who seek His ways,
for He has mercy upon all nations
from generation to generation.
From Mary the Sun of justice has dawned:
He has showered His Mother with graces,
filling us with spiritual praises,
on this her feast of exaltation.

Surely the Lord raises up the lowly,
and blessed is His Mother for all ages,
fountain of blessings, holy treasure-ship,
pure Mother of God and leaven of life,
sanctified censer and fragrant rose,
vessel of the forgiving ember,
shining temple of the Holy Spirit,
bridal chamber of the heavenly King.

Surely the Lord raises up the lowly,
so that You, O Mary, may pray for us:
beseech the Lord who has appeared from you
for pardon for sins, peace for our churches,
contemplation for our monasteries,
strength for the aged and wisdom for the young,
good education for all our children,
O fair Mother of the salvific Word.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Mighty Word There Came

A Word
by G. K. Chesterton


A word came forth in Galilee, a word like to a star;
It climbed and rang and blessed and burnt wherever brave hearts are;
A word of sudden secret hope, of trial and increase
Of wrath and pity fused in fire, and passion kissing peace.
A star that o'er the citied world beckoned, a sword of flame;
A star with myriad thunders tongued: a mighty word there came.

The wedge's dart passed into it, the groan of timber wains,
The ringing of the river nails, the shrieking of the planes;
The hammering on the roofs at morn, the busy workshop roar;
The hiss of shavings drifted deep along the windy floor;
The heat browned toiler's crooning song, the hum of human worth
Mingled of all the noise of crafts, the ringing word went forth.

The splash of nets passed into it, the grind of sand and shell,
The boat-hook's clash, the boas-oars' jar, the cries to buy and sell,
The flapping of the landed shoals, the canvas crackling free,
And through all varied notes and cries, the roaring of the sea,
The noise of little lives and brave, of needy lives and high;
In gathering all the throes of earth, the living word went by.

Earth's giants bowed down to it, in Empire's huge eclipse,
When darkness sat above the thrones, seven thunders on her lips,
The woes of cities entered it, the clang of idols' falls,
The scream of filthy Caesars stabbed high in their brazen halls,
The dim hoarse floods of naked men, the world-realms' snapping girth,
The trumpets of Apocalypse, the darkness of the earth:
The wrath that brake the eternal lamp and hid the eternal hill,

A world's destruction loading, the word went onward still--
The blaze of creeds passed into it, the hiss of horrid fires,
The headlong spear, the scarlet cross, the hair-shirt and the briars,
The cloistered brethren's thunderous chaunt, the errant champion's song,
The shifting of the crowns and thrones, the tangle of the strong.

The shattering fall of crest and crown and shield and cross and cope,
The tearing of the gauds of time, the blight of prince and pope,
The reign of ragged millions leagued to wrench a loaded debt,
Loud with the many-throated roar, the word went forward yet.
The song of wheels passed into it, the roaring and the smoke,
The riddle of the want and wage, the fogs that burn and choke.

The breaking of the girths of gold, the needs that creep and swell,
The strengthening hope, the dazing light, the deafening evangel,
Through kingdoms dead and empires damned, through changes without cease,
With earthquake, chaos, born and fed, rose,--and the word was "Peace."

Hutcheson and the Sense of Beauty

Michael Spicher has a nice article on aesthetic taste at the IEP. It's a very large and complex topic, and I think article does a good job of getting much of it under control for the purposes of an introduction, but I think the handling of Hutcheson ends up being a bit odd, although perhaps the reason is that conciseness is creating a misleading impression of the intended meaning. For instance, he says that Hutcheson does not clearly define the internal sense. However, Hutcheson does, I think, clearly define it:

Those Ideas which are rais’d in the Mind upon the presence of external Objects, and their acting upon our Bodys, are call’d Sensations. We find that the Mind in such Cases is passive, and has not Power directly to prevent the Perception or Idea, or to vary it at its Reception, as long as we continue our Bodys in a state fit to be acted upon by the external Object.

Families of these sensations linked by resemblance, he goes on to say, are attributed to unified powers of receiving them, which we call 'senses'. The distinction between external and internal senses, Hutcheson takes to be a non-essential issue; it is based on a point that Spicher notes, namely, that they seem in some way linked to senses like sight and hearing, although not reducible to them because they can generate the relevant ideas in matters not involving them.

Thus Hutcheson's definition of a sense is a power that originates an idea to the reception of which the mind is passive, and the distinction between internal and external senses is a matter of convenience based on the relations of senses to each other. The idea of beauty is the kind of idea that designates a sense, and it is distinguishable from senses like sight, hearing, etc.; and this idea of beauty applies to things exhibiting Uniformity amidst Variety. Nothing here seems obscure. Conceivably Spicher could mean that Hutcheson does not give a mechanism for it, but this is not the natural way to read the claim.

Later he says, in discussing Gerard:

Gerard divided up his study into seven principles of the internal sense (or powers of the imagination), not only a sense of beauty like Hutcheson. The seven principles are novelty, sublimity, beauty, imitation, harmony, oddity (humorousness), and virtue.

But Hutcheson himself distinguishes the senses of grandeur (=sublimity) and novelty from the sense of beauty; he has another treatise on the sense of virtue. Harmony is a more borderline case, since Hutcheson sometimes speaks of the 'sense of beauty and harmony' as if it were one thing, and sometimes speaks of the sense of beauty and the sense of harmony as if they were distinguishable. Perhaps the idea is that Hutcheson's study focuses only on beauty (so that, for instance, grandeur and novelty are mentioned only to be set aside as not the topic under discussion)? But this seems a misleading way to put it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Fortnightly Book, August 13

The next fortnightly book will be The Tale of Genji, by Murusaki Shikibu. Since it's a long work, it might end up being a three-week 'fortnight'.

We don't actually know the author's name; 'Shikibu' is derived from her father's official title, and 'Murasaki' appears to be a nickname borrowed from one of her characters. We do know that she was a lady-in-waiting of Empress Shoshi. Her education was unusual; women were not usually taught literary arts, but she helped her brother study and turned out to be have more talent than he did. According to a common literary story, she first conceived of the tale of Genji while watching the moon at Ishiyama Temple; we do not know if this is really true, but it is a scene that has often been depicted, as in this painting by Hiroshige III, from the 1880s:

Murasaki Shikibu by Hiroshige

Two other works are attributed to her, her court diary and a collection of poetry, but it is easily The Tale of Genji that has most inspired imaginations since the eleventh century when it was written.

The work is a long fictional prose narrative, probably written in installments, that is unified not by plot but by character. Famously, almost no one is named in it; most of the time people are referred to by their official title. Given that the narrative of the book spans a very long period of time, people's titles change over time, leading to complications in keeping track of the characters. The reason for this peculiarity was Japanese court custom at the time, the same court custom leaving us uncertain what Shikibu's personal name was: to use a person's personal name in a public matter was considered very rude and excessively familiar. Readers have often made up the gap by supplying their own nicknames. The work was also written in a very high literary diction, already archaic in its time; annotated editions have existed at least since the twelfth century.

Hikaru Genji is the son of the Emperor and a low-born concubine; his father, however, removed him from the line of succession, and so he is forced to make his way through the world as an Imperial official. A handsome playboy, he has a long string of affairs which will eventually lead to him being exiled -- and then to being pardoned and raised to a very high rank in the Imperial court. His story ends very abruptly, and scholars argue back and forth whether this abruptness of ending was intentional or not.

I will be reading Royall Tyler's unabridged translation, which seems to have good reviews. The entire work is 1120 pages, not counting the supplementary appendices, although it also is fairly generously supplied with illustrations and footnotes.

Katharine Burdekin, Swastika Night

Introduction

Opening Passage:

The Knight turned towards the Holy Hitler chapel which in the orientation of this church lay in the western arm of the Swastika, and with the customary loud impressive chords on the organ and a long roll on the sacred drums, the Creed began. Hermann was sitting in the Goebbels chapel in the northern arm, whence he could conveniently watch the handsome boy with the long fair silky hair, who had been singing the solos. He had to turn towards the west when the Knight turned. He could no longer see the boy except with a side-long glance, and though gazing at lovely youths in church was not even conventionally condemned, any position during the singing of the Creed except that of attention-eyes-front was sacrilegious. (p. 5)

Summary: Centuries into the Third Reich, the triumph of Nazi ideology seems to be complete. Its enemies are almost all crushed; the subject races have converted to the Hitlerian religion, which proclaims that Hitler, not born of woman, exploded from the head of God the Thunderer. Society has become highly stratified according to a creed of blood: the Fuehrer on top, the Knights who are the quasi-priestly military aristocracy next, then the ordinary German Nazis, then foreign Hitlerians, then, lowest of all, the outcast Christians refusing to recognize Hitler as God, without the right to buy or sell. The whole society has been reduced to a principle found in the Hitlerian Creed:

And I believe in pride, in courage, in violence, in brutality, in bloodshed, in ruthlessness, and all other soldierly and heroic virtues. (p. 6)

And 'reduced' is the right term. The emphasis on brutal heroism led to a movement, under a man named von Wied, to eliminate records of prior civilizations and reduce women to nothing but subservience to men, a movement that also ultimately succeeded. Women are property who cannot refuse a man. It is a great shame to give birth to a girl, and boys are taken from their mothers at a year and a half. The result is that the population of the German Empire is dwindling; too few girls are born, which leads to too few boys being born, and there is no way to counter the trend.

At the beginning of the rise of von Wied's movement, a century and some decades into the Reich, he had alone been opposed by a Knight named von Hess. Realizing that his opposition was futile, von Hess submitted publicly, thus allowing himself to be branded as a coward in a society in which that was one of the most shameful things, and instead turned to preserving the truth about the history that was systematically being eradicated. In a time of endless bookburning, at great risk to his own life, he wrote a book, and this book passed from father to son, in continual danger, until the time of the story, when the last von Hess, whose sons have all died, must decide what to do with it to preserve the one surviving candle-glimmer of the past through the centuries-long night.

One of the things that the book does very well is capturing the heroism of the characters. We tend to think of heroism as a pure and bright thing, untouched by any stain, but in the real world such heroes are rare indeed. The ordinary state of heroism is murky, flawed, as people entangled in error and wrong nonetheless recognize one truly good thing and sacrifice everything to preserve it. The men of the tale struggle to think outside a box that is all Reich and nothing but Reich, in which women are nothing and Hitler is all, and even with the help of the book, it is a difficult struggle, and one at which they are not always completely successful. The original von Hess was a firm believer in the importance of German ascendancy; but, an honest man, he burned his reputation and risked his life for the truth. The von Hess of the tale, far more a freethinker, does the same, as his fathers had done before him. Alfred, an Englishman who comes into contact, is part of a resistance movement that has no hope of any military victory against the all-dominant Germans who control the entire military infrastructure, and he still struggles with some of the ideas to which von Hess exposes him, particularly the recognition that women are part of the key. Heroism is not, in fact, a shiny and polished thing, any more than it is the brutal and savage thing of the Hitlerian Creed; it is a habit of doing some genuine good even at great risk to oneself. And whatever other flaw and fault men may have, it does not erase that habit, if they have it.

Burdekin's dystopia has more hope than most dystopias. By the end of the tale, the German Empire is as strong as ever, the Hitlerian Creed as ascendant. The night of barbarism is not overcome. Centuries of its dominance, at least, still remain. All that has been accomplished is that something of the truth about the past has been preserved for one more generation. But therein lies the hope.

Favorite Passage: The Hitlerian Creed has a line in which it speaks of Hitler as having crushed the four arch-devils, Roehm, Lenin, Stalin, and Karl Barth. The Knight is asked who Karl Barth was:

"Karl Barth is a mystery," said the Knight, sighing. "One we can never clear up. He may have been an ordinary man like Roehm, or a great leader such as Lenin and Stalin undoubtedly were, or he may have been another such great man as von Hess, a man of soul. On the other hand, he may have been a really evil fellow. I never say the Creed without wondering about Karl Barth." (p. 138)

Recommendation: Recommended.

******
Katharine Burdekin, Swastika Night, Feminist Press (New York: 1985).

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Baroness de Chantal

Today is the feast of St. Jeanne-Françoise Frémyot, Baronne de Chantal. She was born in 1572 to an important political family in Burgundy; she married the Baron of Chantal in 1592 and became active in helping him to manage his estate. He died in a hunting accident nine years later, and she took on the burden of managing the estate and raising their children as a widowed mother. A few years later, she met St. Francis de Sales and convinced him to become her spiritual director. They corresponded regularly, and St. Francis often shared parts of various treatises he was working on.

She eventually began working with St. Francis to build a new religious order, the Visitation of Holy Mary; it was a new kind of order, because the nuns were not intended to be cloistered, but active in the world, since part of the intent was for them to minister to people who could not leave their homes; unlike many religious orders, its rules were designed on the assumption that the elderly and the disabled might join. The problem, however, was that in an attempt to rein in the wild proliferation of religious orders, many of which were poorly thought out, the Counter-Reformation was cracking down on religious orders that did not have a clear structure and that deviated very far from the standard pattern. The Archbishop insisted on cloister; St. Jane Frances and the nuns protested; it went all the way up to the Pope, who sided with the Archbishop. So the nuns gave in. (It's a very good example of the trade-offs that inevitably arise in such matters; the rules being imposed on religious orders were very much needed, and yet St. Francis and St. Jane Frances were certainly right that there was a need for the religious order that they proposed. Two perfectly legitimate, perfectly reasonable lines of motivation, both of them truly concerned with the good of the Church, and both of them right in their way. But they were inconsistent with each other, and, as the ingenuity required to work around the inconsistency was lacking, one of them had to give.)

As superior general of the Visitationists, however, St. Jane Frances was active both in the order and in the convent by her correspondence, which became massive. We only have a tiny portion of it, but hundreds of her letters have survived, and they are virtually all very much worth reading. She was beatified in 1751 and canonized in 1767, and one of the reasons for it was her devotion through all states of life -- as a maiden, as a wife, as a mother, as a widow, as a nun.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Dashed Off XVI


If factual statements can tell us what is possibly and necessarily true, they can tell us what is permissibly and obligatorily true.

Exact resemblance is not an ontological free lunch; it requires conditions for possible comparison (e.g., to distinguish it both from mere identity and mere resemblance).

As field values in physics may be scalar, vectorial, or tensor, there seems reason to deny that 'field' is strictly univocal.

Tropes always make more sense as part of a theory of the phenomenal than as a theory of the real or mind-independent.

compresence as teleological

tropes : terms :: compresence : syntax

the Transfiguration as the emblem for iconography (it raises the question of whether similar emblem-isms are possible for other sacred artforms; it seems plausible to take the Ascension as emblem for music, for instance,and Annunciation or Nativity for painting or sculpture)

The sacredness of art in any medium is directly related to its suitability for public prayer.

the internalization of honor as converging on virtue

The central concept of honor is victory in the sense of overcoming.

"The word of God is addressed to all people, in every age and in every part of the world, and the human being is by nature a philosopher." John Paul II

It is an error to treat philosophy of language as if it were epistemology.

The final end of things is a convergence of equitable justice, restoring grace, ordering providence, and sovereign creation.

Church Militant : Tabernacle :: Church Triumphant : Temple

Law should favor widespread ownership: (1) universal destination of goods; (2) subsidiarity; (3) human dignity.

the inherent tendency of philosophical inquiry to universal community
the inherent tendency of philosophical inquiry to reason-based morality

sequential vs. spiraling curricula of philosophy

Antiquities are preserved through long ages by accident or by tradition.

Democracy is most attractive to those who cannot imagine any reasonable and honest person disagreeing with their most cherished beliefs.

anticipatory trial and error as a mark of skill

the Eightfold Path and knowing happiness by remotion

Nobody starts with experience; experience must be built on a basis of prior capacities and resources, which themselves only come to be known in learning other things.

ceremony & the principle that one should do good things on receiving good things

Medicine is of all areas of human life the one in which everyone is most naturally inclined to think in ways leading to superstition. (Indeed, one sees this even in religion itself -- superstitious practices are most likely to grow up where religion meets matters of health and sickness.)

Etiological accounts of function only give us a species-function -- to wit, the function of the thing in preventing the traited population from going extinct.

Given a function, one can always distinguish esse from bene esse with respect to that function.

The wetness of water is not just 'there'; it is an internal activity of water, composed of interacting smaller internal activities, involving the causal capacities of water-components.

Life functionally incorporates drift and chance.

luck as a component of inquiry

Truth is sign of itself.

the intrinsically deontic character of truth -- the true as partially characterizable in terms of what ought not to be regarded as false

the obligatory character of the principle of noncontradiction

Zwinglianism is implicit liberal Christianity.

In a fully democratic society, checks and balances mean nothing more than people stopping other people.

Anything can look epiphenomenal to one who has only a partial causal explanation.

Anticipation of nature can distort our experimental reasoning, but it is our capacity to anticipate nature that makes experiment possible.

language (vestment of thought) // clothing (vestment of body)
sincerity of speech // modesty of clothing

The background of every experiment is an abstract classification of possibilities.

shared beauty as the root of the importance of fine art

"Symbolic figures are a valuable adjunct to philosophy: they help men to integrate and bear in mind the essential meaning of complex issues." Rand

component strictly necessary for function (esse)
component quasi-necessary for function (bene esse)
component redundant under strict necessity
component redundant under quasi-necessity
component incidental for function
-- is quasi-necessity indirect strict necessity? (i.e., the result of strict necessity for a related function)

Newton's argument against vortices
(1) Celestial motions are (a) more regular than if they arose from vortices and (b) observe other laws so that vortices do not regulate but would disturb celestial motions.
(2) All phenomena of the heavens and the sea follow precisely from gravity acting in accordance with the laws of gravity.
(3) Nature is simple.
Therefore: (4) Other causes than the laws of gravity are to be rejected.
Therefore (5) The heavens are to be considered without matter as far as possible, lest the celestial motions be impeded or rendered irregular.

Descartes's discussion of gravitas can be turned upside down to form an analogical argument for final causes.

Arguments tend to have a certain symmetry -- ponens can be tollensed, apparent demonstration parallels apparent reductio, etc. Truth breaks the symmetry. But even abstracting from truth, asymmetries can arise through differences in generality or in circumstances. Genus-species introduces a privileged direction of relation, and circumstances can introduce exceptions (the things that do not fall under 'for the most part'). (Perhaps there are also asymmetries linked to the privilege of First Figure and analogously of modus ponens?)

change as a precondition of testing
actuality and potentiality as preconditions of testing

Statistical sampling is used to cross modal differences: different times & places, counterfactual possibilities

one-or-many as a transcendental disjunction (ST 1.30.3)

icons as memorials of real presence and anticipations of sacramental presence

structural works of mercy (hospital, school, recovery house, hospice) -- the infrastructure of alms

a mereotopological analysis of food entering a city from outside its circumference and distributing over its area

"he who prefers the common good before what is proper to himself is above all acceptable to God." Josephus

To translate well into English requires that English be able to bear what is translated, and this cannot always be guaranteed. Sometimes one must wait centuries for the right fashion, the right consensus, , the rediscovery that builds the right vocabulary to translate some aspect of a text. And sometimes, having had it, one loses it and must endure the inadequate again.

Philo on the doctrine of the mean: Migr xxvi.147; Immut. xxiv.163-164

"What is commonly asserted by all, cannot wholly be false." Aquinas (De etern 2.34)

It is an error to assume that mind and body are only related in one way.

Aquinas's probable arguments against the eternity of the world:SCG 2.38; SCG 1.3; SCG 2.31

Hume and Malebranche on pride

Chrysostom's contrasts between the apostles and the Cynics (in Ep I Cor 35.4)

academia and the collection of career-tokens

It makes little sense to treat the human body the way Kant treats the physical world; the body is, as it were, not mere phenomenon, but already in some fashion transcendental subject.

"the church is the primary work of the Holy Trinity" Turretin

colors as actions (flavors would also obviously be analogous)

It seems there has to be a level of authority between individual bishops and the college of bishops; this is synodal, and in particular is a local gathering of bishops representing, formally and functionally, the whole college. This contrasts with (for instance) episcopal conferences, which do not have this representation of the whole, being administrative conveniences for the parts.

Rights of conscience are indirect rights of God.

(1) Heaven and earth are finite.
(2) What is finite cannot have infinite force.
(3) Infinite force is required for infinite duration.
(4) Therefore heaven and earth have beginning and end.
(Saadia Gaon)

The greater the love, the less changeable it is.

A republic, more than any other government, must insist on the value of deliberation if it is to avoid fatal corruption.

"Comedy is music. It has a rhythm and a melody." Sid Caesar

All love strives toward impassibility. (Thus the lover's emphasis on stability, purity, eternity, certainty, the impossiblity of lessening; thus also the attributes of I Cor 13.)

Grace is our personhood reflecting divine personhood.

Family always suggests something of the eternal.

Reasons for polytheistic competition naturally drive polytheism toward henotheism; reasons for polytheistic cooperation naturally drive polytheism toward theomonism (although the latter tendency seems weaker, or at least slower, than the former).

the conditions for interpretatio graeca

the analogue of the Euthyphro dilemma for mathematical necessity
-- Note that there are several strong modalities (Always, Everywhere) in which it would make sense to say that they are so because God makes them so.
-- Note that we can even find such for ourselves (Proven, which is so because we have made it so). - Cartesian creation of eternal truths as constructivism at the limit.

love is makrothymei (cp Ex 34:6; Nm 14:18)
love is chresteuta
love is not zeloi or perpereuetai, nor physioutai
aschemonei, paroxyneta ou logizetai to kakon (It does not log/inventory what is bad)
sygchairei te aletheia (it celebrates the right)
panta stegei (it is restrained with all)
panta pisteuei (it has faith in all)
panta epizei (it has hope in all)
panta hypomenei (it endures all)

Literacy can be partly domain-specific because part of reading a text is recognizing its rhetorical features, which can often vary from domain to domain.

To think of belief entirely in terms of external action is to lose sight of the functioning of belief under conditions of abeyance of action.

Arguments usually convince only by clarification.

the responsibility for mutually beneficial discussion

mereological fusion and transcendental unity

shared humanity and the right to ask for reasons

Love hopes because the one who loves treats those he loves aspirationally.

Exchanges are externalizations of reasoning.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Fallacy of Special Pleading

'Special pleading' was a system used in British common law by which the precise point of dispute would be established for a trial. In other systems, this is done by the court, which looks at the arguments on both sides, filters out the irrelevant, looks at how one side's arguments relate to each other, and takes into account what has already been established by the evidence, as opposed to requiring the determination of the court. In special pleading, this was done by the plaintiff and defendant themselves through a very rigid and complicated process. The plaintiff would declare his complaint; then the defendant would plead; then the plaintiff would respond; then the defendant would respond; all according to special rules. This would continue until one of the parties could not proceed under the rules, and the point at which it stopped was the issue of special pleading, and the point that particularly needed to be considered by the court. A clever system -- it forces the parties to be precise without having to rely on the critical capacities of the judge to identify correctly what the parties are, in fact, actually arguing about. But it was also liable to abuses; the rules governing it grew to an extraordinary degree of complexity; you had to hire a special pleader to navigate it all and even then your plea might be dropped for very strange legal technicalities; and through much of the nineteenth century, when the vocabulary often used to talk about fallacies consolidated, it was a point of intense controversy whether the system should be abolished. It is thus perhaps not surprising that special pleading, often being associated with reasoning that often gets by on mere technicalities rather than substance, is often mentioned in association with fallacy, and ended up giving a term to the fallacy lists, although the process of how this happened is very difficult to trace.

The theory of fallacies is merely partially systematized folklore; as one would expect from folklore, it is a weird brew of logical tidbits, practical advice, ethical admonition, historical detritus of exploded or doubtful theories, things people thought clever or neat at some point, and misunderstandings. I've given a number of examples over the years. A very obvious example is that of faulty analogy; the 'fallacy of faulty analogy' was put on fallacy lists by utilitarians, to whom it meant 'you are using an analogy that would suggest that utilitarianism is wrong', given a somewhat more rigorous, and less obviously tendentious, account by Mill on the basis of a theory of analogy almost nobody has ever accepted, and from there was copied from text to text, most often uncritically and sometimes with mutations when you get to an author of a critical thinking text who actually engages in critical thinking and starts wondering what explains this being on a list of fallacies. The 'fallacy of special pleading' is another good example of this mess. If you look at serious work in informal logic over the past forty or fifty years, one gets a farcical comedy of baffled intelligent people trying to make sense of its status as a fallacy. Giving an account of it that fits the examples to which it is typically applied seems to make inexplicable why it is treated as a fallacy; giving an account of it that makes it definitely a fallacy suddenly leaves it orphaned, since almost nothing to which it has ever applied then turns out to be an example of it.

As one might expect in these circumstances, there are quite a few different things called 'special pleading', and which one a person is using typically depends on whatever third-rate informal logic manual they got the concept from, or even on a person's vague impression of how the term is used in ordinary conversation.

A very common way of trying to make sense of it is by treating it as a form of double standard: an exception to a general rule is given and not justified. At this level of generality, it's useless; we need more precision about this 'general rule'. For instance, is it a generally accepted rule or a rule that the person in question is accepted. If the latter, that could possibly be a case of someone reasoning fallaciously, but then it just seems to be ordinary contradiction put inexplicably in fancy dress, since the actual fallacy is just self-contradiction. If the former, that would suggest reasons to have a particular category called 'special pleading', but also makes it not a fallacy -- it cannot be an error of reasoning to insist that there is an exception to a rule that only people other than oneself take to be general. The fact that justification is required also seems to suggest that it has to be the person's own rule; but if that's the case, and you are not just contradicting itself, it seems like the only other possibility is that the other party is mistaken in thinking that the rule is in fact a relevantly general rule -- perhaps it is only a rule for a specific domain and was never formulated for the domain of the exception, or perhaps it is a crude rule of thumb, or the like.

Older books often classify it as a particular form of fallacy of accent, which notoriously makes no sense whatsoever and has baffled logicians ever since -- fallacy of accent is an ambiguity arising through prosody (for instance, change of stress), but the older authors seem to be treating it as a confusion of aspects. As near as we can tell today, it seems that the idea was that they were taking it to cover any kind of difference in emphasis. Out of this line of thought comes the account on which special pleading is one-sided argument. Thus if you only give the reasons for something and not the reasons against it, you are special pleading. This actually has an advantage of making sense of the label itself, but as has been pointed out for years and years now, this is not a fallacy, it's just ordinary argument.

As usual, the mess becomes even more obvious when one looks at examples. Here is Nizkor's best example:

The person committing Special Pleading is claiming that he is exempt from certain principles or standards yet he provides no good reason for his exemption. That this sort of reasoning is fallacious is shown by the following extreme example:

Barbara accepts that all murderers should be punished for their crimes.
Although she murdered Bill, Barbara claims she is an exception because she really would not like going to prison.
Therefore, the standard of punishing murderers should not be applied to her.

This is obviously a blatant case of special pleading. Since no one likes going to prison, this cannot justify the claim that Barbara alone should be exempt from punishment.

This is a very odd example. Nizkor takes the fallacy to be one "in which a person applies standards, principles, rules, etc. to others while taking herself (or those she has a special interest in) to be exempt, without providing adequate justification for the exemption". 'Punishment' and 'going to prison' are not synonymous, so the 'exception' would not, strictly speaking, be an exception to this rule in particular. If you go with one or the other, though, Barbara has merely contradicted herself. If the rule is actually general, no exception could have justification; if we are considering whether there are exceptions, then it is an open question whether the rule is actually general, and therefore one should not simply be assuming that it is. Barbara explicitly gives a justification for her conclusion, so the final comment puts all the emphasis on the adequacy of her justification. But why is her justification inadequate? Only because it is irrelevant. But this means that to determine that this is special pleading, we had first to identify a different fallacy that is usually given a different name, and then we called that fallacy 'special pleading' for reasons that are unclear. This latter kind of thing would be possible if, for instance, 'special pleading' were a label for an ethical fallacy, since another fallacy could also be an ethical fallacy in a particular context, but that is not how the fallacy was characterized, and it is not how the example is set up.

Nizkor goes on to claim that the fallacy of special pleading is a violation of the principle of relevant difference -- things can only be treated as differently if they have a relevant difference -- (and this seems to be what FallacyFiles has in mind, as well, although since their primary example is not even a fallacy, it's less clear) but Barbara is identifying what she takes to be a relevant difference. So the problem must be that it's not actually relevant, which means that either she's really committing an ignoratio elenchi (which is a very plausible diagnosis here), or is just wrong -- and it's not a fallacy to be wrong. So, again, it seems that we determine that something is special pleading by first determining that it is, in fact, another fallacy, and then we call it 'special pleading'. A different example just confirms this:

Bill and Jill are married. Both Bill and Jill have put in a full day at the office. Their dog, Rover, has knocked over all the plants in one room and has strewn the dirt all over the carpet. When they return, Bill tells Jill that it is her job to clean up after the dog. When she protests, he says that he has put in a full day at the office and is too tired to clean up after the dog.

This is a very plausible violation of the principle of relevant difference. But while Bill's reason is relevant to why he should not clean up after the dog, it is not relevant to why Jill should do it, because Jill has the same reason. So again, we seem to have ignoratio elenchi.

Perhaps one could say that 'special pleading' is in fact an ignoratio elenchi applied to oneself? But it's not clear why applying to oneself would be an important classificatory factor here. It might be if 'special pleading' is, again, an ethical criticism. And this would explain some things. In practice people tend to use 'special pleading' like they use 'straw man' -- it looks like a neutral term but over and over again one finds that people use it to insinuate bad motives. You are treating yourself as special by not holding yourself to standards to which you hold others! It is always presented as a formal and objective criticism of the argument, but it gets its bite from being treated as if it were an ethical criticism of motivations. Perhaps, then, it's strictly speaking an ethical criticism presupposing a formal inconsistency; but it's difficult to find cases in which people actually use it this way -- the ethical criticism would require information beyond the argument, whereas people treat special pleading as diagnosable from the argument itself.

The IEP gets a much cleaner account at the cost of just making 'special pleading' another name for logical inconsistency, or perhaps for logical inconsistency on matters that interest the arguer, which seems pointless and useless.

If we attempt to think through fallacies critically rather than in the uncritical way most people do, a question that immediately comes to mind is, "How does one determine that something is an example of this particular fallacy and not something that merely looks like it?" If the answers you get amount to, "Prove that another fallacy is committed, or prove that it's wrong," this should be an immediate red flag: the former seems to reduce your fallacy to another fallacy, and the latter makes it not a fallacy, since merely being wrong is not a fallacy. This is exactly the situation with 'special pleading'; the answers are almost always, "Because the person contradicted themselves" or "Because their reason isn't relevant" or "Because they are wrong". If they are contradicting themselves, why not say that? If they are wrong, why not say that? On the other hand, if the complaint is that they are arguing dishonestly, why are you phrasing a complaint about their motives as if it were a complaint about their argument? It's not that you couldn't have good answers to these questions in particular cases; but they don't seem to apply generally. Likewise, maybe a particular instance of 'special pleading' is used meaningfully -- but it looks much like you can't assume that everyone will understand your use in the same way, and it will always be unclear how much of your use is just rhetorical flourish. The whole practice of classifying reasoning as 'special pleading' continues to be problematic.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Mrs. Elton's Sister's Barouche Landau

Both a barouche and a landau are fancy kinds of carriages, and a barouche landau is a carriage that includes some of the features of both to make a fancy-fancy kind of carriage, a sort of high-dollar convertible. The barouche landau is an occasional joke in Emma, one easily missed but funny when noticed:

Volume II, Chapter XIV (one part of a hilarious scene in which the grasping Mrs. Elton repeatedly treats herself as an expert on matters of good taste and high class while talking to Emma, who is actually upper class and of good taste):

“My brother and sister have promised us a visit in the spring, or summer at farthest,” continued Mrs. Elton; “and that will be our time for exploring. While they are with us, we shall explore a great deal, I dare say. They will have their barouche-landau, of course, which holds four perfectly; and therefore, without saying any thing of our carriage, we should be able to explore the different beauties extremely well. They would hardly come in their chaise, I think, at that season of the year. Indeed, when the time draws on, I shall decidedly recommend their bringing the barouche-landau; it will be so very much preferable. When people come into a beautiful country of this sort, you know, Miss Woodhouse, one naturally wishes them to see as much as possible; and Mr. Suckling is extremely fond of exploring. We explored to King’s-Weston twice last summer, in that way, most delightfully, just after their first having the barouche-landau. You have many parties of that kind here, I suppose, Miss Woodhouse, every summer?”

“No; not immediately here. We are rather out of distance of the very striking beauties which attract the sort of parties you speak of; and we are a very quiet set of people, I believe; more disposed to stay at home than engage in schemes of pleasure.”

“Ah! there is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. Nobody can be more devoted to home than I am. I was quite a proverb for it at Maple Grove. Many a time has Selina said, when she has been going to Bristol, ‘I really cannot get this girl to move from the house. I absolutely must go in by myself, though I hate being stuck up in the barouche-landau without a companion; but Augusta, I believe, with her own good-will, would never stir beyond the park paling.’ Many a time has she said so; and yet I am no advocate for entire seclusion. I think, on the contrary, when people shut themselves up entirely from society, it is a very bad thing; and that it is much more advisable to mix in the world in a proper degree, without living in it either too much or too little. I perfectly understand your situation, however, Miss Woodhouse—(looking towards Mr. Woodhouse), Your father’s state of health must be a great drawback. Why does not he try Bath?—Indeed he should. Let me recommend Bath to you. I assure you I have no doubt of its doing Mr. Woodhouse good.”

Volume II, Chapter XV:

“You appear to feel a great deal—but I am not aware how you or any of Miss Fairfax’s acquaintance here, any of those who have known her longer than yourself, can shew her any other attention than”—

“My dear Miss Woodhouse, a vast deal may be done by those who dare to act. You and I need not be afraid. If we set the example, many will follow it as far as they can; though all have not our situations. We have carriages to fetch and convey her home, and we live in a style which could not make the addition of Jane Fairfax, at any time, the least inconvenient.—I should be extremely displeased if Wright were to send us up such a dinner, as could make me regret having asked more than Jane Fairfax to partake of it. I have no idea of that sort of thing. It is not likely that I should, considering what I have been used to. My greatest danger, perhaps, in housekeeping, may be quite the other way, in doing too much, and being too careless of expense. Maple Grove will probably be my model more than it ought to be—for we do not at all affect to equal my brother, Mr. Suckling, in income.—However, my resolution is taken as to noticing Jane Fairfax.—I shall certainly have her very often at my house, shall introduce her wherever I can, shall have musical parties to draw out her talents, and shall be constantly on the watch for an eligible situation. My acquaintance is so very extensive, that I have little doubt of hearing of something to suit her shortly.—I shall introduce her, of course, very particularly to my brother and sister when they come to us. I am sure they will like her extremely; and when she gets a little acquainted with them, her fears will completely wear off, for there really is nothing in the manners of either but what is highly conciliating.—I shall have her very often indeed while they are with me, and I dare say we shall sometimes find a seat for her in the barouche-landau in some of our exploring parties.”

“Poor Jane Fairfax!”—thought Emma.—“You have not deserved this. You may have done wrong with regard to Mr. Dixon, but this is a punishment beyond what you can have merited!—The kindness and protection of Mrs. Elton!—‘Jane Fairfax and Jane Fairfax.’ Heavens! Let me not suppose that she dares go about, Emma Woodhouse-ing me!—But upon my honour, there seems no limits to the licentiousness of that woman’s tongue!”

Later in Volume II, Chapter XV:

Emma could not but rejoice to hear that she had a fault. “Well,” said she, “and you soon silenced Mr. Cole, I suppose?”

“Yes, very soon. He gave me a quiet hint; I told him he was mistaken; he asked my pardon and said no more. Cole does not want to be wiser or wittier than his neighbours.”

“In that respect how unlike dear Mrs. Elton, who wants to be wiser and wittier than all the world! I wonder how she speaks of the Coles—what she calls them! How can she find any appellation for them, deep enough in familiar vulgarity? She calls you, Knightley—what can she do for Mr. Cole? And so I am not to be surprized that Jane Fairfax accepts her civilities and consents to be with her. Mrs. Weston, your argument weighs most with me. I can much more readily enter into the temptation of getting away from Miss Bates, than I can believe in the triumph of Miss Fairfax’s mind over Mrs. Elton. I have no faith in Mrs. Elton’s acknowledging herself the inferior in thought, word, or deed; or in her being under any restraint beyond her own scanty rule of good-breeding. I cannot imagine that she will not be continually insulting her visitor with praise, encouragement, and offers of service; that she will not be continually detailing her magnificent intentions, from the procuring her a permanent situation to the including her in those delightful exploring parties which are to take place in the barouche-landau.”

Volume III, Chapter V:

In this state of schemes, and hopes, and connivance, June opened upon Hartfield. To Highbury in general it brought no material change. The Eltons were still talking of a visit from the Sucklings, and of the use to be made of their barouche-landau; and Jane Fairfax was still at her grandmother’s; and as the return of the Campbells from Ireland was again delayed, and August, instead of Midsummer, fixed for it, she was likely to remain there full two months longer, provided at least she were able to defeat Mrs. Elton’s activity in her service, and save herself from being hurried into a delightful situation against her will.

Ed Ratcliffe has a fascinating paper on the different kinds of carriages in Austen's novel, and what they say about the personalities and social stations of those who own them.

Edith Stein

Today is the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, more commonly known as St. Edith Stein. Raised an atheist in a secular Jewish family, she studied philosophy under Husserl and was baptized into the Catholic Church on January 1, 1922. She taught at a girl's school until she was forced to resign by anti-Jewish laws put into effect by the Nazis. She then became a Discalced Carmelite in 1934. She and her sister, also a convert, were eventually sent to a monastery in the Netherlands in the hopes of protecting them, but the Nazis invaded shortly thereafter. And on August 2, 1940, she and her sister were among a large number of Catholic Jews in the Netherlands who were rounded up by the Nazis in retaliation for Dutch Catholic policies, and they were sent to Auschwitz. We don't know precise details from there, but she is thought to have died in the gas chamber on August 9. She was canonized in 1998 by St. John Paul II.

From her work Potency and Act, which she wrote as a thesis in 1931 but which was not published until after her death:

Genera and species prescribe beforehand a framework that abides throughout the individual's entire duration in being and is concretely fulfilled successively by variable [veränderlich] accidents. We should then take substance here (in the sense of "second substance") as an instantiated general species. It becomes a concrete individual by being successively filled, and for the first time actual being accrues to the concrete individual--with its abiding stock as well as its changing stock.

Actuality cannot be due either to the abiding stock, or to the changing stock, or to the form of the individual; for each of these "abstract parts" of the concrete individual requires the others, nor can the individual being bring them about or draw them into itself. Thus all mutable being, all becoming, points to an upholding outside of itself, to something immutable, to absolutely actual being. What becomes must take its origin [Ursprung] from what is immutably and thereby it must be upheld.

[Edith Stein, Potency and Act, Redmond, tr., Gelber and Leuven, eds. ICS Publications (Washington, DC: 2009) p. 70.]

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Astell on Improvement of Understanding

259. All understandings should be improved. All understandings are not of equal reach and brightness, but all may and ought to be improved; the most excellent because they are most capable of improvement, and the meaner because they need it most. But whether the having too high or too low an opinion of our own abilities is the greater hindrance, is not easily determined; for they who think they can't improve, will no more attempt it than they who think they need not. Experience shows, that people often act in this case just contrary to what they ought; it being easier to make some ladies understand everything, than to persuade them that they are capable of understanding anything. On the other hand, they are usually most confident of themselves, who have least reason to be so.

[Mary Astell, The Christian Religion, as Professed by a Daughter of the Church of England, Broad, ed. Iter Inc. & Center for Reformation and Renaissance Studies (Toronto: 2013) p. 201.]

Monday, August 07, 2017

Pure as White Lilies

A good poem for a birthday.

The Great Minimum
by G. K. Chesterton


It is something to have wept as we have wept,
It is something to have done as we have done,
It is something to have watched when all men slept,
And seen the stars which never see the sun.

It is something to have smelt the mystic rose,
Although it break and leave the thorny rods,
It is something to have hungered once as those
Must hunger who have ate the bread of gods.

To have seen you and your unforgotten face,
Brave as a blast of trumpets for the fray,
Pure as white lilies in a watery space,
It were something, though you went from me today.

To have known the things that from the weak are furled,
Perilous ancient passions, strange and high;
It is something to be wiser than the world,
It is something to be older than the sky.

In a time of sceptic moths and cynic rusts,
And fattened lives that of their sweetness tire
In a world of flying loves and fading lusts,
It is something to be sure of a desire.

Lo, blessed are our ears for they have heard;
Yea, blessed are our eyes for they have seen:
Let the thunder break on man and beast and bird
And the lightning. It is something to have been.


Ozymandias

In 1817, Shelley had a sonnet-writing competition with his friend Horace Smith (and a number of others); there had been a recent announcement by the British Museum of the acquisition of a large statue of Rameses II, and that seems to have inspired the idea to use a passage about Ozymandias (a Greek name for Rameses) in Diodorus Siculus's Bibliotheca Historica 1.47 about a giant statue of him and its boasting inscription:

And it is not merely for its size that this work merits approbation, but it is also marvellous by reason of its artistic quality and excellent because of the nature of the stone, since in a block of so great a size there is not a single crack or blemish to be seen. The inscription upon it runs: "King of Kings am I, Osymandyas. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works."

Shelley's sonnet was published in 1818 in The Examiner, under the pseudonym 'Glirastes':

Ozymandias
by Percy Bysshe Shelley


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

Smith's sonnet was also published in The Examiner, a few weeks later.

Ozymandias
On a Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below
by Horace Smith


In Egypt's sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows.
"I am great Ozymandias," saith the stone,
"The King of kings: this mighty city shows
The wonders of my hand." The city's gone!
Naught but the leg remaining to disclose
The sight of that forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when through the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the wolf in chase,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What wonderful, but unrecorded, race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

There is no question that Shelley's is the greater sonnet -- it has a better build-up and a more flexible use of language -- but it is not a failing for a sonnet to be less good than one of the greatest sonnets ever written, and the last half of Smith's is excellent.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Music on My Mind



Maddy Prior, "The Rolling English Road". A G. K. Chesterton poem, of course.

Transfiguration

Transfiguration by fra Angelico (San Marco Cell 6)

Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

You, O Christ, assumed our human nature,
undiminished in Yourself and Your glory,
and yet like us in all things except sin.
You shone brightly before Peter, James, and John,
a foretaste of the happiness You bring.
Shine on our minds that we may be enlightened;
allow us to taste the sweetness of light.
How good it is that we may dwell in Your grace,
for You are resplendent on the mountain!

One in nature with Father and Spirit,
to exalt servants You became a servant,
and yet in serving You were not severed:
there is one Power, one Kingship, and one Light.
Because of You, we heard the Father's voice,
and You have shown us the way of salvation.
Before the glory upon Golgotha,
You revealed Your majesty on Mount Tabor,
in beauty resplendent on the mountain.

On Tabor You showed us You are God's Son,
for the Father confirmed it with splendid love.
You gave us a taste of heavenly life
and showed us the beauty of Your Father's light,
the bright blazing in which You will return,
in the body but glorious in Godhead.
May our bishops, Lord, remember their task,
to show the brilliance of Your divinity,
bright, unending, resplendent on the mountain.

Today we hear the voice of the Father,
saying, "This is my beloved Son; hear him."
Today the Church cries out with rejoicing,
for this is the Son who has come to save us.
May all be touched by Your light and transformed;
may we carry Your name to all the nations,
revealing the light You revealed to us,
that we may contemplate Your face forever,
radiant, resplendent on the mountain.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Deed and Talk

...so long as the peoples keep to good customs, they do decent and just things rather than talk about them, because they do them instinctively, not from reflection. But when they are corrupted and ruined, then, because within themselves they ill endure their sense of lacking such things, they speak of nothing but decency and justice, just as it comes naturally for a man to talk of nothing but what he affects to be and is not. And because they feel themselves resisted by their religion (which naturally they cannot disavow or repudiate), in order to console their errant consciences they use the same religion with impious piety to consecrate their wicked and nefarious actions.

[Giambattista Vico, The New Science of Giambattista Vico, Bergin and Fisch, trs. Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY: 1976) p. 428 (section 1406).]

Friday, August 04, 2017

Dashed Off XV

"The first death drives the soul from the body against her will; the second death holds the soul in the body against her will. The two have this in common, that the soul suffers against her will what her own body inflicts." Augustine (Civ Dei 21.3)
"Eternal punishment seems hard and unjust to human perceptions because in the weakness of our mortal condition there is wanting that highest and purest wisdom by which it can be perceived how great a wickedness was committed in that first transgression." (Civ Dei 21.12)
"The very life we mortals lead is all punishment, for it is all temptation." (Civ Dei 21.14)
"God's anger is this mortal life, in which man is made like to vanity and his days pass as shadow." (Civ Dei 21.24)
"Sinners are destroyed in two ways -- either like the Sodomites, the men themselves are punished for their sins, or, like Ninevites, the men's sins are destroyed by repentance." (Civ Dei 21.24)

Note Augustine's suggestion that spirits (like devils) are attracted to symbols (Civ Dei 21.6).

"Humble yourself to the utmost, because fire and worms are the punishment of the ungodly." Sirach 7:17

Every argument from evil against God's existence has analogues in arguments against providence and against hell.

Arguments against the existence of hell usually collapse due to a defective conception of heaven. There's nothing that seems to necessitate this; but it happens over and over again.

the danger of attributing the properties of the whole Church to oneself

the frame of the picture & the boundary of the experiment
the abstract architecture of an experiment (mereotopological)

the catholicity of the Church and room for disagreement (Paul & Barnabas, Augustine & Jerome)

The devil generally works by a touch here, a touch there.

the dangers of an amorphous compassion

the Kantian critiques as metaphilosophy (they set up for Hegel in precisely this way)

the inherent tendency of philosophy qua inquiry toward free choice, intellectual independence from matter, and divine primacy (each is associated with a condition for pure inquiry)
the inherent tendency of philosophy qua inquiry to a community of inquirers

the coherence-finding and constancy-assuming faces of scientific inquiry
the continuant, the independent, and the external as the goals of scientific inquiry

"Taste and elegance, though they are reckoned only among the smaller and secondary morals, yet are of no mean importance in the regulation of life." Burke

There is a dangerous tendency to replace disciplines of temperance and of fortitude with disciplines of justice. disciplines of justice are indeed very important, but justice cannot survive where a people do not learn moderation and endurance.

sports as performance fiction

icons & faith; relics & hope; indulgences & charit

principle of traditional precedent in iconography

"Faith thinks, and if she does not think like the world, it is not because she thinks less, but on the contrary because she
thinks more than the world." Jean-Luc Marion

"The three great doctrines of the redemption of man by the sacrifice of our Lord on the cross; the three equal persons united in one Godhead; and the resurrection of the dead,--are the foundation of Christian Architecture." Pugin
- cruciformity, integral triplicity, verticality

gratitude for architecture
architects and artists as benefactors

architecture that expresses and emphasizes human dignity

sense of danger & sense of health as moral senses

Almost all time travel paradoxes arise out of free will -- it is free will that makes them possible and apparently paradoxical.

Good taste, particularly as it is relevant to courtesy, is a fundamental condition for dealing properly with the poor.

Eugenics has a naturally utilitarian structure.

The danger with breeding for intelligence is that it is likely to be a stupid man's idea of intelligence.

"At the summit, true strategy and politics are one." Churchill

originary analysis in early modern philosophy

good-seeking and bad-avoiding motives for crimes

ideation -> objectification of ideas -> reassessment
cycling in inquiry

Lullian art as middle-term finding

overlay of metaphor as source of discovery

An analogical inference may be rationally acceptable even if its conclusion is not more probable on the evidence than any rival conclusion based on the same evidence
the casuistics of analogical inference (safety &c; probabilism &c.)

In historical reasoning, one must always recognize that the evidence is but a trace, that there was more to the real thing than shows up in your evidence.

historical evidence as like advice

historical narrative as an exploration of the rationality of specific actions (Oakeshott)

Gluttony, lust, and greed as violations of already existing common good; sloth, wrath, envy, and vainglory as preventing even the formation of new common good.

the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Note of Sanctity

stole of immortality (Latin vesting prayer)

There are times when disputes over liturgy seem like a perpetual war between those who delight in removing the landmarks of their ancestors and those who refuse to use accurate weights and measures.

One way to read medieval discussions of the agent intellect is as accounts of philosophy itself.

For idealizations to be realistically grounded (as opposed to merely justified as practically useful) requires final causes: the tendencies of which the idealization is the limit.

'the original source of things has no more regard to good over ill than to heat above cold, or to draught above moisture, or to light above heavy'
- note that these are all of degree
- this has the greatest plausibility for natural evil (the difficult and the easy)

Bayesian accounts of belief inevitably make belief otiose (belief becomes just the word for relations among apparent evidences).

The problem with credences, or assimilating belief to probability in general, is that such things fail to account for the differences in kind between raising something as a possibility, holding it in abeyance, toying with the idea, doubting if it could be true, suspecting it might be true, thinking it could very well be true, or actually believing it.

If probabilities characterize only how belief should be, then belief itself is an act or event distinct from anything to do with probability, if belief is to be characterized in terms of probabilities, then it seems it would have to be only how things seem to be.

The purpose of a talent is the multiplication of God's goodness.

the Psalms as an exploration of the moods of the Church

common attention and shared beauty

undesigned correspondences and the Muse (inspiration)

good - pleasant good - beautiful

Strong forms of vice create typical reactions. Thus intemperance creates a pressure toward contempt, and vainglory toward resentment, in those who must deal with it.

The point of a wedding is to be a sign of the marriage, not to stand on its own.

tradition & diachronically common good

All common good is capable of having a diachronic aspect due to inheritance.

It is always easy to find the advice an age least needs because it is the advice most commonly given.

We cannot determine what requires consent in the first place except in light of some more fundamental moral standard.

inner-core moral concepts: virtue, universal duty, human dignity, common good
intermediate perimeter moral concepts: honor, prima facie duty, sociability, social order
outer defense moral concepts: enlightened self-interest, tolerance, consensual relations

Marriage is for all too many the only school of temperance.

Traditions cannot give virtue, but, properly handed down, they can build bulwarks of honor and profit and pleasure for virtue.

modestia as good bearing

The prudent rethink the world.

the importance of distinguishing the consensual and the preferential

Marriages, like societies in general, may be built on virtue, honor, profit, or pleasure; and like societies they face the same kinds of difficulties.

The intemperance of one is often the penalty of many.

Love transfigures truth; it does not erase it.

Conspicuous to the Nations

Composed by the Sea-Side, Near Calais, August 1802
by William Wordsworth


Fair Star of evening, Splendour of the west,
Star of my Country!--On the horizon’s brink
Thou hangest, stooping, as might seem, to sink
On England’s bosom; yet well pleased to rest,
Meanwhile, and be to her a glorious crest
Conspicuous to the Nations. Thou, I think,
Should’st be my Country’s emblem; and should’st wink,
Bright Star! with laughter on her banners, drest
In thy fresh beauty. There! that dusky spot
Beneath thee, that is England; there she lies.
Blessings be on you both! one hope, one lot,
One life, one glory!--I, with many a fear
For my dear Country, many heartfelt sighs,
Among men who do not love her, linger here.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Anecdotal Jottings on Consumerist Life

I was in the convenience store today, and stopped, astounded by the sight of Ruffles All Dressed potato chips. One of the (relatively few) disadvantages of having lived for a while in a foreign country is that there are always things that are only found there. In Canada, I used to have really neat toaster crumpets for breakfast almost every day; they were done by a local bakery, and good luck finding toaster crumpets in Central Texas. (The bakery that made them burned down a few years after I left, I believe, so even Canadians couldn't have them anymore. The past is the most foreign-country of all foreign countries.) But one of the things I had a lot of in Canada was All Dressed Ruffles, that potato chip flavor than which no greater can be conceived, or close enough to it, anyway. But they aren't distributed in the U.S.; you can ship them in from Canada these days, and once they were a special offer in the U.S. for a time, which you could buy online. But finding bags of them just sitting on the shelf of an ordinary convenience store was enough to stop me in my tracks.

We talk a lot about the problems of a consumerist society, and the problems are real, and sometimes serious, and, yes, some of them are serious enough to serve as signs that our society is in desperate need to be reformed from its decadence. It is a problem that you can most convince people of the importance of self-control if you package it as a consumer product (diet and exercise programs); it is a problem that the best way to get people to sign on, in principle, to fasting and repentance is by giving away free stuff (Ash Wednesday). It is a problem that will eventually break us. But I think all the criticisms, right as they are, often don't face squarely the fact that consumerist society has its advantages and charms, and that they are significant enough that we can be looking right at the degradations they cause and still have difficulty doing anything about them.

There is a story that Boris Yeltsin was visiting the United States -- Texas, in fact -- and on the way back from the trip they had to stop at a grocery store to pick up some things. It was just a random grocery story on the way to the airport, practically in the middle of nowhere. And Yeltsin walked up and down the aisles, astounded at all of the food, just an endless abundance of it, so much so that no one was rationing it out, that people didn't have to stand in line for it, that in this insignificant little store out of innumerable such stores, there was so much abundance that ordinary working people could just walk in, grab whatever they wanted off the shelf, pay for it, and leave. It is said that he turned to one of the people he was with and said something like, "If people back home in the Soviet Union were ever to know, really know, that this was possible, the next day we would have a revolution on our hands." And he himself attributed his drifting away from Communism to that stop at a random grocery store in the middle of nowhere. And one can see the point of it. To live surrounded by perpetual abundance is not the only sign of a good society; it is not the best sign of a good society; it is perhaps not even a very reliable sign of a good society except under very specific conditions; but it is one of the things we look for in a good society. A society without it might be good by making up for it with other things -- but it is something that would have to be made up for, and in spades. Given a choice between living in a land flowing with milk and honey and starving in Venezuela, people will endure quite a bit of awfulness to be in the land of milk and honey. And there is nothing unreasonable about that. This is something, and something of importance, that consumerist capitalism does better than any other kind of society of which we know. You can talk up the advantages of other kinds of society, and those advantages may be real and important and worth it, but it's still the case that they all require people giving up an endless ocean of comfort and luxury, because nothing you propose will be likely to compete on this particular point. When you're not swimming in it, it's perhaps not difficult to steer people another way -- although we should not underestimate the general attractions of the very idea -- but if a nation is in it, nothing will get it out except massive sacrifice and self-denial.

And we may criticize as we please; living in the midst of a consumerist society, we are already enmeshed in it. You can have a sense of what home is like regardless of the society in which you live, but in a consumerist society, your sense of home is partly consumerist. Your entertainment and creature comforts will be brought to you by a consumerist society in consumerist terms. And it is not a replacement. What is happening is that consumerism is building on something very natural -- and very few things are better at building on it than on consumerism. Bits and pieces agglomerate to our family identity; my family is a Ford family. The consumerism is woven into our language. I have a family member who worked for Ford, and he was once part of a team working out some sort of deal with the Chinese government. The Chinese were not being very cooperative, and it was a long slow process, but finally they managed to work their way through and get an appointment with a mid-level bureaucrat of some importance. For reasons I forget, there was a change in some plan or other, and so they informed the Chinese that they apologized, but there was a switch in the people who were coming; the team would now be including Henry Ford II. After some delay, the Chinese got back with an apology of their own -- they would need to reschedule the meeting slightly because Deng Xiaoping couldn't make the time it was originally scheduled. And so they met with Deng Xiaoping himself, and he said that once he heard that the grandson of Henry Ford was coming, he knew he had to be there himself. He had grown up around farms, regularly using trucks, and commented that he had been almost twenty before he realized that 'Ford' was not the Chinese word for 'truck', but a name. We, however, aren't just around Fords. We're a society of brand names and advertisements; they're a continuing part of how we think and speak.

Consumerism, like any kind of society with popular appeal, will never fall to mere criticism because it satisfies natural needs, and does things that people need and want societies to do; and, what is more, it does some of those things better than any competitor on the table. The problem is that it metastasizes. Everything becomes consumption; consumption accelerates almost on its own even when we know that it's going wrong; we get caught in cycles with no way out except sacrifices we're no longer trained to make; and, knowing the problems, the sheer impulse of the things we like carries us along, and can only be turned with great difficulty. Food without limit, sex without limit, self-indulgence without limit, use of petroleum without limit, we always reach a point we said we would not cross, but momentum just carries us over the line again and again and again. That sort of thing is not something we just happened to pick up; it's not an external imposition. It is a natural process that somewhere lost its checks and balances, so that it gives us something that we like, and even something of some importance, and it will keep doing it until it kills us.

That's a bit of a depressing turn to a line of thought that started with potato chips. But one of the things we'd all like is the world at our fingertips. It is not the only thing we'd like. It is not the thing we might deem most important. But it is something that a consumer-focused society does a lot to give; and along this particular line of genuine benefit, none of the more balanced and reasonable options can compete. Which is why people criticize and criticize and yet consume more and more.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Two Poem Re-Drafts

Bewitchment

Bright phantom!
Cast through my heart some thin, pallid light
tangled in shadows that flow in the night,
ocean of darkness eddying black,
muddled with motion, like spidering crack.
Sing with a melody argent and fine,
higher than bell and as tinny as tine,
thin as a reed yet rich as the spray,
angel-like mists that aeolian play.
Dream me a dream, my alchemist sprite,
manic with madness from unction of light,
pure as a potion, medicine deep,
thick as forever and stringent as sleep.

Night Walk

In silent starlight rivers flow,
their waves of moonshine rippling light,
and I am where I do not know
on empty lane in quiet night,
and I am walking, robed with glow,
on pebbled way of gray and white.

The moon above, in dancing mist,
is bright with light no shade can mar
as, bowing down, its beams have kissed
a road that glints like crystal spar;
it lures, and I could not resist
to walk where moonlit visions are.

The stars like song refract a fire.
Their iridescent showers fall
on rivers silver like a wire
and snow the caps of mountains tall;
and as I walk, I never tire,
but stride refreshed by heaven's call.

On night-lit ways my feet have passed;
in shadows I have voyaged far,
on farther lands my fortune cast
with no companion but a star,
and all has led to this at last:
to walk wherever visions are.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Plato's Philosophical Style

In Plato's anti-tragic theater, we see the origin of a distinctive philosophical style, a style that opposes itself to the merely literary and expresses the philosopher's commitment to intellect as a source of truth. By writing philosophy as drama, Plato calls on every reader to engage actively in the search for truth. By writing it as anti-tragic drama, he warns the reader that only certain elements of him are appropriate to this search. This, we can now see, is the real meaning of the Protagoras's tension between dialectic and elitism, between its appearance of offering us a choice and its announcement that only a superior being ought to choose. Each of us has the choice, in fact: but it will be an appropriate choice only if it is made by the highest element in us, viz. intellect. We now begin to understand that Plato's style is not content-neutral, as some philosophical styles are sometimes taken to be; it is closely bound up with a definite conception of human rationality.

[Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness, Cambridge University Press (New York: 2001) p. 134.]

Liguori

Today is the feast of St. Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori, Doctor of the Church, founder of the Redemptorists, patron saint of confessors and moral theologians. From his work on the Mass:

We must also know that the Old Law exacted five conditions in regard to the victims which were to be offered to God so as to be agreeable to him; namely, sanctification, oblation, immolation, consumption, and participation.

1. The victim had to be sanctified, or consecrated to God, so that there might not be offered to him anything that was not holy or unworthy of his majesty. Hence, the animal destined for sacrifice had to be without stain, without defect; it was not to be blind, lame, weak, nor deformed, according to what was prescribed in the Book of Deuteronomy....

2. The victim had to be offered to God; this was done by certain words that the Lord himself had prescribed.

3. It had to be immolated, or put to death; but this immolation was not always brought about by death, properly so called; for the sacrifice of the loaves of proposition, or show-bread, was accomplished, for example, without using iron or fire, but only by means of the natural heat of those who ate of them.

4. The victim had to be consumed. This was done by fire. The sacrifice in which the victim was entirely consumed by fire was called holocaust. The victim was thus entirely annihilated in order to indicate by this destruction the unlimited power that God has over all his creatures, and that he created them out of nothing, so he can reduce them to the nothingness from which they came. In fact, the principal end of the sacrifice is to acknowledge God as a sovereign being, so superior to all things that everything before him is purely nothing; for all things are nothing in the presence of him who possesses all things in himself....

5. All the people, together with the priest, had to be partakers of the victim. Hence, in the sacrifices, excepting the holocaust, the victim was divided into three parts, one part of which was destined for the priest, one for the people, and one for the fire. This last part was regarded as belonging to God, who by this means communicated in some manner with those who were partakers of the victim.

These five conditions are found reunited in the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Evening Note for Monday, July 31

Thought for the Evening: The Epistemological Objection to Divine Command Theory

John Danaher has a nice article on the epistemological objection to divine command theory. I have talked about this before, and why I don't think it works, but it's interesting to have a more developed form to look at. Danaher gives a simple version of the objection:

(1) DCTs, either explicitly or implicitly, include an epistemic condition in their account of moral obligations, viz. you must either know or successfully receive communication (implying knowledge of divine commands in order for you to be morally bound).

(2) There are such things as reasonable non-believers (i.e., non-believers who do not violate any epistemic duties in their non-belief) and for these reasonable non-believers (RNBs), satisfaction of the epistemic condition is not possible.

(3) Therefore, on DCT, there are no moral obligations for non-believers.

This is a nice way of conceiving the objection, because I think it makes the reply very clear. As anyone knows who has read me before on DCT before, whenever faced with an objection to divine command theory, I always ask, "Would this be a problem for William Warburton, or someone like him?" And this formulation makes it relatively easy to say: he would deny both (1) and (2). The first part of (2) is the easy one; on Warburton's account, non-believers are trying to have moral obligations without a moral obliger, which he regards as a contradiction, and therefore they are not reasonable. On Warburton's account, non-believers should not be saying that there are general moral obligations; they can say that things are in bad taste or that they are stupid ways of being and doing good, but he is quite insistent that nothing can create an obligation except a wise and good agent with power of sanction, and nothing can create a moral obligation except a supremely wise and supremely good agent with universal power of sanction. And (1) Warburton would deny for exactly the same reason that we say, if a law has been promulgated, that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

In order to consider the problem with (1) a little better, it is worth remembering another thing that I always bring up when people object to divine command theory, namely, that you have to do justice to one of its clearest advantages. If you are positivist about legal obligations -- as a great many people are -- DCT is the only available unified theory of obligation that allows moral obligations to be universal in scope. If we're talking about legal obligation and moral obligation, there are only a limited number of views:

(a) Legal obligation is part of, or at least derives, directly or indirectly, from moral obligation, which does not itself depend on any kind of obligation-making process or action.
(b) Legal obligation is created by law-making process of some sort, while moral obligation is independent of any such process or action.
(c) Both legal obligation and moral obligation are created by an obligation-making process or action of some sort.

For (a), legal obligation is a kind of moral obligation, although often a qualified kind. Natural law theorists and Kantians accept such a view. A benefit of (a) is that it provides a unified theory of obligation: all kinds of obligation ultimately get the same explanation. Legal positivists have historically tended to accept (b), but (b) has the obvious disadvantage that it allows there to be two kinds of obligation, and no unified account of why they are both obligations. To get the latter, you need (c). But there are only two major forms of (c). Legal obligations are always recognized to be limited in scope, because they are formed by a process or action that is limited in scope, so the question is whether this is true of moral obligations or not. If you say, "Yes," this is some kind of social relativism: morality changes from society to society. If you say, "No," moral obligation has to be created by an obligation-making process or action of universal scope. And that, as they say, all men call God. If you are a positivist about law, you have some reason to be positivist about morality, because your reasons for being a positivist about law have analogues for being a positivist about morality; if you are a moral positivist who wants a morality that is universal, as most people do, you have reason to be a divine command theorist, because that is precisely what is offered by DCT. And thus whenever we look at an objection to divine command theory, we should always ask: Would this objection work applied to a lesser obligation, like a law passed by Congress? It is, for instance, simply not true that such laws require an epistemic condition -- ignorance of the law is no excuse, if the law was properly promulgated -- so we would need a very good reason to think that moral obligations differed on this point.

Danaher notes that some divine command theorists accept something at least like an epistemic condition; but, of course, perhaps they shouldn't. I confess I'm not impressed by the argument Danaher gives, which is that metaethicists tend to hold that moral obligations have an epistemic condition because our usual platitudes about moral obligation seem to require one. Danaher's example provides a good reason for why I'm not impressed: we tend to think moral obligations are "action-guiding and motivationally salient". It is true that an obligation can't guide your action if it's not known, but this does not mean that its being an obligation depends on its actually guiding your action. If you know it and don't act on it, it didn't guide your action; if you know it and don't care about it, it is not motivationally salient; but in neither case can we conclude that it is not an obligation. You don't get out of the obligation not to murder simply by being a sociopath who doesn't care about it and so ignores it. What we mean is that a reasonable person aware of the obligation will let it guide his action and be relevant to his motivations; it is not an account of what is required for it to be an obligation. And with 'ought implies can', Danaher's other example, Kant's own version of the maxim depends on his having an account of obligation diametrically opposed to that of divine command theory. On Kant's account of obligation, obligation is built into reason itself, and therefore, since it's impossible for a reasonable person not to have 'epistemic access' to their obligation, the only 'can' he himself ever intends is the 'can' of being able to act on it, at least in principle. But even if we ignored that, on Kant's account, it is unacceptable to do an action you are obligated to do for any reason other than that it is what you are obligated to do, but you can talk to people about the topic and discover that this is not what most people assume -- most people think that if you inadvertently did what your obligation requires, you fulfilled your obligation, even if only by luck. And if you accept that this is true, then 'ought implies can' only means that an obligation implies that you can in principle do what fulfills it, whether you know it or not.

It's worth thinking about why we say that ignorantia juris non excusat. And the reason is found in another legal maxim: Leges instituuntur cum promulgantur, laws are imposed when they are promulgated. We require that laws be published with signs that they are from the appropriate authority and intended to be published as law. But if laws are instituted simply in their being communicated in this way, whether someone learns about it is irrelevant to whether they are obligated by it. You can honestly not know that you have to pay your taxes, and you can still be obligated to pay your taxes, if the law requiring you to do so was promulgated as such by the appropriate authority. We might take your ignorance into account in determining punishment; but not in determining whether you were obligated. And the only exceptions to this are the exceptions that prove the rule -- that is, the only time this is the exception in the case of legal obligation is when the law itself provides for ignorance being an excuse.

Danaher's defense of (2) seems to me to be marred by a confusion between "having epistemic access to X" and "knowing X". His point, of course, is that since rational non-believers don't believe that something is a divinely promulgated law, they can't know it. But whether they believe it or not is irrelevant to the question of whether they have epistemic access to it. I think part of the problem may be that he is assuming that if you have epistemic access to something you will know it if you fulfill your epistemic duties; but this, I think, is quite generally false. For instance, I have epistemic access to how many shirts I have in the dryer, and I am not in any way currently violating any epistemic duties with regard to my shirts, and yet I don't know how many shirts I have in the dryer because I haven't gone to look -- I have no duty to do so. But, that aside, Warburton would reject (2) in part because he doesn't think it's possible for anyone to reasonably posit that you have an obligation that no one made obligatory, as noted above, but also he would deny you have any actual duties unless someone has obligated you to perform them. We can say that it's stupid not to do something, or it's bad taste not to do something; but Warburton's account of obligation, if accepted, applies to any kind of obligation. So on his account either we don't actually have much in the way of epistemic duties, or each one implies an authority capable of imposing general epistemic duties, which is an apparently divine legislative power.

Danaher does consider matters related to this. He argues that legislative signs are easy to fake; but, of course, this is true of laws, as well, and, again, this doesn't affect the obligatory character of laws. Even reasonable doubt about whether something is a law does not make it so that it's not a law for you.

But here's an interesting question: suppose the argument is sound. Does this cause a problem for DCT? For some versions perhaps. But while Warburton would reject the conclusion because he thinks moral obligations have universal scope, if the conclusion were right it wouldn't be a problem for the basic account of obligation. Warburton holds that when we talk about morality we talk about three different things -- good and bad taste, based on sentiment; good and bad sense, based on rational recognition of what is appropriate to what; and obligation and prohibition, based on authority. Why would anyone be bothered with whether atheists are obligated on such an account? When atheists claim they have a moral obligation, they can only do so on the basis of sentiment or reason, anyway. Warburton will simply say that things grounded on these are not actually obligations, and that treating them as if they were is incoherent, but the content itself will not be affected -- if incest is icky, it stays icky whether it is prohibited or not, and if helping someone in need is reasonable, it stays reasonable whether it is obligatory or not. So all the moral reasons atheists give can perfectly well be right; Warburton would just regard the talk of obligations as something that they are illicitly borrowing from theists. (It's worth comparing with Anscombe's article, "Modern Moral Philosophy", in this regard.) We can perfectly well make sense of some people having obligations that others don't; for instance, one of the reasons you might be given special obligations, is because you are given responsibilities or privileges others aren't. So the objection, even if sound, is not a direct problem for divine command theory as such, but for trying to combine DCT with universal moral obligations. It's true that it removes one apparent advantage of DCT over social relativism -- that it allows obligations of universal scope -- but it doesn't seem to affect anything else.

Various Links of Interest

* Nick Davis explains why professional psychiatric ethics needs the Goldwater Rule.

* Gracy Olmstead, How Jane Austen Proves that Prudence Is at the Heart of Happiness

* David Benton and Hayley Young look at the current science regarding losing weight.

* Sean Hermanson, Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat, and Political Correctness in Philosophy

* The ideals of chivalry in the works of Bl. Ramon Llull

Currently Reading

Katharine Burdekin, Swastika Night
Giambattista Vico, The New Science
Mary Astell, The Christian Religion, as Professed by a Daughter of the Church of England
Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness