Saturday, December 16, 2017

Like the Fire of the First Man

A very real psychological interest, almost amounting to a psychological mystery, attaches to any early work of Jane Austen. And for that one reason, among others, which has hardly been sufficiently emphasised. Great as she was, nobody was likely to maintain that she was a poet. But she was a marked example of what is said of the poet; she was born, not made. As compared with her, indeed, some of the poets really were made. Many men who had the air of setting the world on fire have left at least a reasonable discussion about what set them on fire. Men like Coleridge or Carlyle had certainly kindled their first torches from the flambeaux of equally fantastic German mystics or Platonic speculators; they had gone through furnaces of culture where even less creative people might have been inflamed to creation. Jane Austen was not inflamed or inspired or even moved to be a genius; she simply was a genius. Her fire, what there was of it, began with herself; like the fire of the first man who rubbed two dry sticks together. Some would say that they were very dry sticks which she rubbed together. It is certain that she by her own artistic talent made interesting what thousands of superficially similar people would have made dull.

G. K. Chesterton, Introduction to Love and Freindship

And Purity of Mind that Crowns the Whole

To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 — my Birthday.
by Jane Austen

The day returns again, my natal day;
What mix’d emotions with the Thought arise!
Beloved friend, four years have pass’d away
Since thou wert snatch’d forever from our eyes.–

The day, commemorative of my birth
Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me,
Brings back the hour which was thy last on Earth.
Oh! bitter pang of torturing Memory!–

Angelic Woman! past my power to praise
In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind.
Thy solid Worth, thy captivating Grace!–
Thou friend and ornament of Humankind!–

At Johnson’s death by Hamilton t’was said,
‘Seek we a substitute–Ah! vain the plan,
No second best remains to Johnson dead–
None can remind us even of the Man.’

So we of thee–unequall’d in thy race
Unequall’d thou, as he the first of Men.
Vainly we search around the vacant place,
We ne’er may look upon thy like again.

Come then fond Fancy, thou indulgent Power,–
–Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee!–
Bless thou, this little portion of an hour,
Let me behold her as she used to be.

I see her here, with all her smiles benign,
Her looks of eager Love, her accents sweet.
That voice and Countenance almost divine!–
Expression, Harmony, alike complete.–

I listen–’tis not sound alone–’tis sense,
‘Tis Genius, Taste and Tenderness of Soul.
‘Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence
And purity of Mind that crowns the whole.

She speaks; ’tis Eloquence–that grace of Tongue
So rare, so lovely!–Never misapplied
By her to palliate Vice, or deck a Wrong,
She speaks and reasons but on Virtue’s side.

Her’s is the Energy of Soul sincere.
Her Christian Spirit ignorant to feign,
Seeks but to comfort, heal, enlighten, cheer,
Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain.–

Can aught enhance such Goodness?–Yes, to me,
Her partial favour from my earliest years
Consummates all.–Ah! Give me yet to see
Her smile of Love.–the Vision disappears.

‘Tis past and gone–We meet no more below.
Short is the Cheat of Fancy o’er the Tomb.
Oh! might I hope to equal Bliss to go!
To meet thee Angel! in thy future home!–

Fain would I feel an union in thy fate,
Fain would I seek to draw an Omen fair
From this connection in our Earthly date.
Indulge the harmless weakness–Reason, spare.–

Friday, December 15, 2017

Dashed Off XXVI

I'm both grading and fighting off some kind of sickness, so things are likely to be slow around here for a while.

Even if Bayesianism is the proper account for coming to believe, it would not follow that it is the proper account for drawing a conclusion in a specific kind of inquiry, since all specific inquiry operates under constraints.

A Bayesian theory of evidence detaches evidence from explanation.

It is more fruitful to consider kinds of evidential support than degrees of evidential support.

Curie's principle should perhaps be regarded as a feature of natural classification in causal situations.
Curie's principle & the formation of general causal propositions

not-presence of evidence vs. evidence of not-presence

The Qur'an involves history only by allusion; it subsumes it as a supplement to command and exhortation, and an often incidental supplement, at that.

joy as a precondition of prophecy (Maimonides)

moral angst (as distinguished from moral guilt)
moral alarm, moral dread, moral terror (alarm + dread)

Sometimes the parts of evidence are only evidence in that kind of composition with its co-parts.

Some conclusions are not merely certain but hypercertain.

testimonial knowledge // sensory knowledge
testifiers as quasi sensory organs

Note that the major Buddhist arguments against substance fall into roughly two groups: change-based and composition-based.

A basic principle behind the notion of karma is that what we do in acting goes well beyond what we immediately experience.

The handing down of sacred Tradition is a handing down of a way of being in the world.

the role of mulling in inquiry

"The resurrection cannot be explained without the Holy Trinity." Staniloae

Time becomes a grace by being transfigured into an opportunity for repentance.

original sin and humanity's lack of union with a Head

"The lips are offered as spirit, but they respond as flesh." Scruton

There are only two routes to wisdom, prayer and virtue, and modern education selects for neither.

Without repentance, there is no progress.

support of the Church as part of one's responsibility for the education of children
natural responsibility // ecclesial responsibility
survival // participation
reproduction & education // support of Church and its missions
social // active life
truth // contemplative life

One of the greatest talents in philosophy and science is to be able to recognize as evidence what other eyes pass over, blind to the implications.

An action may be objectively wrong and yet not everyone in a position to see this clearly -- for that it could be seen does not mean nothing can impede or confuse, nor does it mean it is always easy to see.

Descriptive terms in the sciences depend heavily on testimony (shared perceptions, shared methods, shared experiments, shared inferences). It is only when testimonially grounded in this way that descriptive terms are used scientifically, and only to the extent they involve this testimonially shared aspect do they matter for scientific purposes.

cause, manner of causation, invariance through causation

aesthetic regard as synoptic

considering an idea in the guise of another idea

A command decision is mostly tactical compulsion.

rise, spread, twist, inflow, outflow
Stained glass allows inflow without outflow (light clearly comes in, sight does not go out)
Church architecture should use its form (rise, spread, flow of light, flow of sight, curl) to direct to the sacred (the consecrated).
the link between spread and flow of sight
The difficulty with inwardly radial flow of sight is that the flow of sight is unstructured and thus unguided. This is not a problem for sitting around a campfire, because the flow of light is outward; in church architecture, one must do more to creat a non-bland result, like a raised platform, creating a rise. A semicircular set-up has the same problem. And in both cases, solutions are limited. Rectangular halls (naves), on the other hand, allow the flow of sight to be structured by wall, pillar, rise, flow of light, shared orientation, and so forth.

intrinsic vs extrinsic title for making public (e.g., in journalistic reporting)
- one sees a loose approximation to this in the recognition that some matters concern public interest and some do not.

In terms of voluntariness, opinion is more like breath than like heartbeat.

An air force is an artillery with minimal terrain-dependence.

Bulgakov's pretensions of understanding the Incarnation (not some detail, not some particular expression, but essential elements of the doctrine) more fully than St. John Damascene get very tiring very quickly.

Belief may depend on inquiry, but inquiry does not depend on belief as such.

moments of the Incarnation
(1) divine eternity
(2) creation of the world
(3) creation of humanity
(4) election of Israel
(5) immaculate conception
(6) divine overshadowing
(7) virgin birth
(8) sacramental incorporation

the progression of esse, vivere, sentire, and intelligere in the days of creation

arguments for God's existence based on esse, on vivere, and on intelligere

miracles as God's metaphors

patterns of shaming escalation

Bulgakov's 'docetic' appears to be a label for a fiction.

the spiritual co-crucifixion of Mary

Temptation arises out of the human need to learn obedience and conformity to law.

Civilization is not something had at a time, but something received and passed down.

right to liberty and right to property as natural protections of right to life (cf Mendon MA)

Possibility preservation requires careful attention to the kind of possibility. This complicates giving a general account of it.

Cabasilas on baptism of blood (Life in Christ 4 sect. 14)

concinnitas in philosophical system-building (note that this is stronger than consistency)
"It is the task and aim of concinnitas to compose parts that are quite separate from each other by their nature, according to some precise rule, that they correspond to one another in appearance." Alberti
"Beauty is a form of sympathy and consonance between the parts within a body, according to definite number, outline, and position, as dictated by concinnitas, the absolute and fundamental rule in Nature."
concinnitas as a generalization of decorum

Evaluation of evidence is reflection on our union with our environment.

ornament as adjunct beauty

A theory of evidence that cannot distinguish between testing and not testing is defective.

No state can be adequate to the work of the Church.

As blades of grass trying to conceive the brightness of the sun from single photons reaching them, so is it when we try to conceive the goodness of God from our personal experiences of it.

I knew the dawn; her kiss was sweet.
She danced on mountains, swift of feet.

Found art is made art by the finding, or, rather, by the finding and presenting.

'work of art' used in a metaphorical sense and gray areas (e.g., is this a 'work of art' figuratively or literally?)

People will often prefer an emollient hypocrisy to an ardent charity. The former accomodates with conveniences.

similarity as overlap for practical purposes

Due to its complexity of causes, human testimony only gets us to its source with a certain measure of approximation.

Whewell's argument for the First Law of Motion in An Introduction to Dynamics uses something like PSR:
(1) straight line: if in a curve, there must be sufficient reason to curve one way rather than another, and to curve so much rather than less or more; but ex hyp. no external force to determine;
(2) uniform velocity: removing reasons for slowing removes slowing, without limit; if all external reasons removed, and no internal reason, it will not slow.

In business, dishonesty is often a sign of prior sloppiness.

James Ward's criticism of Whewell on plurality of worlds seems to give up actual evidence for imaginal evidence.

A merely apparent inconsistency is, superficially, an evidence against a position and, properly understood, an evidence for it.

We never experience bare pleasure, but only pleasure at, with, or in something else.

Terrified of the lightning on the mountain, impatient of the return of the prophet, the people made a golden calf. It is ever so in matters of theology.

applying philosophical discussion of works of art to works of research

Temptation at its most basic is not struggle between good and evil but a struggle with difficulty.

Note that in Homer we live in a world of sorrow and suffering because of the gods.

Church Militant : obedientia activa :: Church Patient : obedientia passiva

experiments//works of art

Prophet : Baptism :: King : Transfiguration :: Priest : Ascension

descent of the Spirit on Mary, descent of the Spirit on Christ in Baptism, descent of the Spirit on the Church at Pentecost

It is important for parents to teach their children the parents' own crafts, small though they might be.

An essential part of the skill for research is the ability to seize opportunities provided by chance.

Shame of virtue and pride of vice are the very heart of social degeneration.

respect for the object of inquiry

HoP and respect for fonds in inquiry itself
- inquiry as fonds-making

If someone is Christian, it is because he or she partakes of Christ; if anyone says that so-and-so is Christian because they feel this way or do this thing, that may be set aside as a confusion. Nothing makes anyone Christian except the appearance of Christ, or communion with Christ, or possession by Christ, or generation from Christ; for it is by Christ that Christians are made Christian.

imprudence of anger vs imprudence of negligence

circles of privacy vs circles of confidence

The affection of marriage depends on gratitude and esteem.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Juan de la Cruz

Today is the feast of St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church. From The Ascent of Mount Carmel:

We may say that there are three reasons for which this journey made by the soul to union with God is called night. The first has to do with the point from which the soul goes forth, for it has gradually to deprive itself of desire for all the worldly things which it possessed, by denying them to itself; the which denial and deprivation are, as it were, night to all the senses of man. The second reason has to do with the mean, or the road along which the soul must travel to this union — that is, faith, which is likewise as dark as night to the understanding. The third has to do with the point to which it travels — namely, God, Who, equally, is dark night to the soul in this life. These three nights must pass through the soul — or, rather, the soul must pass through them — in order that it may come to Divine union with God.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Single Sword to Thee

O God of Earth and Altar
by G. K. Chesterton

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honour and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

This was written in 1906.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sympathy with the Dead

An interesting passage from Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments (II.1.2.5):

If the injured should perish in the quarrel, we not only sympathize with the real resentment of his friends and relations, but with the imaginary resentment which in fancy we lend to the dead, who is no longer capable of feeling that or any other human sentiment. But as we put ourselves in his situation, as we enter, as it were, into his body, and in our imaginations, in some measure, animate anew the deformed and mangled carcass of the slain, when we bring home in this manner his case to our own bosoms, we feel upon this, as upon many other occasions, an emotion which the person principally concerned is incapable of feeling, and which yet we feel by an illusive sympathy with him. The sympathetic tears which we shed for that immense and irretrievable loss, which in our fancy he appears to have sustained, seem to be but a small part of the duty which we owe him. The injury which he has suffered demands, we think, a principal part of our attention. We feel that resentment which we imagine he ought to feel, and which he would feel, if in his cold and lifeless body there remained any consciousness of what passes upon earth. His blood, we think, calls aloud for vengeance. The very ashes of the dead seem to be disturbed at the thought that his injuries are to pass unrevenged. The horrors which are supposed to haunt the bed of the murderer, the ghosts which, superstition imagines, rise from their graves to demand vengeance upon those who brought them to an untimely end, all take their origin from this natural sympathy with the imaginary resentment of the slain. And with regard, at least, to this most dreadful of all crimes, Nature, antecedent to all reflections upon the utility of punishment, has in this manner stamped upon the human heart, in the strongest and most indelible characters, an immediate and instinctive approbation of the sacred and necessary law of retaliation.

It's also a nice example of the Smithian way with a phrase; I particularly like the part about our imaginations animating "anew the deformed and mangled carcass of the slain".

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fortnightly Book, December 10

The last fortnightly book of the year will be one of my favorites, G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, which was published in 1908. The subtitle is important; as Chesterton remarked in his Illustrated Daily News column for June 13, 1936:

It was a very melodramatic sort of moonshine, but it had a kind of notion in it; and the point is that it described, first a band of the last champions of order fighting against what appeared to be a world of anarchy, and then the discovery that the mysterious master both of the anarchy and the order was the same sort of elemental elf who had appeared to be rather too like a pantomime ogre. This line of logic, or lunacy, led many to infer that this equivocal being was meant for a serious description of the Deity; and my work even enjoyed a temporary respect among those who like the Deity to be so described. But this error was entirely due to the fact that they had read the book but had not read the title page. In my case, it is true, it was a question of a subtitle rather than a title. The book was called The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was, even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.

The book was written during Chesterton's Anglican period, and has become a classic. It was one of Orson Welles's favorite books, which is why his Mercury Theater of the Air did a production of it, which I've talked about before here. I'll be listening to it again.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass


Opening Passages: From Alice:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversations?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

From Looking-Glass:

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it:--it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it couldn't have had any hand in the mischief.

Summary: Both of Carroll's most famous works are attempts to capture, in a basic sort of fairy-tale narrative, the imagination of children. This is particularly obvious with Through the Looking-Glass, which, while it gets its structure from the chess game, gets its content from nursery rhymes, but it is true throughout. This is perhaps the simplest way to capture the new thing that Carroll was attempting: a fairy tale, but elaborated as much as possible from the perspective of a child of seven and a half years (as we discover Alice is in Through the Looking-Glass). This is a shift, since fairy tales typically had not been, indeed still aren't, constructed in an attempt to mimic a child's own imagination. The result is inevitably episodic; the overarching plots, to get to the garden party and to get queened, are minimal, and one thing comes after another in quick succession, and without much rhyme and reason. Carroll himself recognized this as a potential issue in his essay, Alice on the Stage, and attributes to his tendency simply to be struck by ideas and develop them on their own, but it fits with the child's-perspective approach.

In this sense, 'nonsense' is a misleading name for the genre; it is really concerned with fragmentary sense. It's not that the White Rabbit is nonsense; it's that the White Rabbit is sense on its own, and that is all. As Carroll notes in the same essay:

And the White Rabbit, what of him? Was he framed on the `Alice’ lines, or meant as a contrast? As a contrast, distinctly. For her `youth’, `audacity’, `vigour’, and `swift directness of purpose’, read `elderly’, `timid’, `feeble’, and `nervously shilly-shallying’, and you will get something of what I meant him to be. I think the White Rabbit should wear spectacles. I am sure his voice should quaver, and his knees quiver, and his whole air suggest a total inability to say `Bo’ to a goose!

The White Rabbit is not an allegory, but a fragment capable of serving as allegory for the oddness, from a child's perspective, of the adult tendency to rush around and 'nervously shilly-shally'. The nonsense is that of the adult world insofar as its sense cannot be fully grasped by a child. Thus the baffling conversations, which are like the conversations children sometimes have to get through with adults in which they don't understand half of the assumptions being made; hence the arbitrariness of the examination for being queen, or the endless tumble of apparently incomprehensible punishments. If you see the world of adult sense with a child's partial perspective and imagination, that is the sort of 'nonsense' that we get in the Alice books. In both books this is mediated by the fact that it is supposed to be a dream; this, however, I think mostly serves to help the adult reader get a foothold in a child's world, where the difference between dream and waking is not so sharp because the latter does not always seem as obviously more coherent than the former.

But all this is, perhaps, a bit too serious; it's not an allegory for children among adults, although it uses something of that as a basis. It's a lot of silliness, of course, just for the sake of it. There is, of course, a great deal of humor throughout. I found the tendency of the Looking-Glass folk to recite poetry to Alice whether she wanted to hear or not rather funnier than I remembered.

Favorite Passages: From Alice:

The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good-natured, she thought: still it had very long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.

‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. ‘Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question.

From Looking-Glass:

'I know what you're thinking about,' said Tweedledum: 'but it isn't so, nohow.'

'Contrariwise,' continued Tweedledee, 'if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.'

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.