Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Jottings on Erotetic Logic

Erotetic logic is the logic of questions. As with the logic of imperatives, there is a need for such a thing, and for similar reasons. You can have conjunctive questions and disjunctive questions, in which conjunction and disjunction work exactly like they do elsewhere. As importantly, questions can imply things. For instance,

Have you stopped beating your wife?

implies that you have been beating your wife, and

Was it Paul or Peter who opened the gate?

implies that either Paul or Peter opened the gate. More controversially, but also plausibly, assertions can imply questions, e.g., 'Either Paul or Peter opened the gate' naturally raises the question, "Which did it, Paul or Peter?", and this question-raising is either implication or something very like it.

But, as with imperatives there are a great many complications. For instance, questions do not seem to be the sort of thing that can be true or false, and this complicates practically everything. Interestingly, not everyone has agreed that questions can be neither true nor false -- Bolzano is the most famous case, since he argued that every question is actually an assertion about the one asking it. There is a certain plausibility for this with regard to some kinds of questions. For instance, if I ask a question in order to learn something I did not know, e.g., "What is the dominant predator on the island of Malta?", then this is not far from saying, "I do not know the dominant predator on the island of Malta." Indeed, the latter, in some circumstances, might be taken as an implicit question. And it is notable that much of the more interesting recent work on questions has tended to link it to various kinds of epistemic modal logics.

Nonetheless, Husserl showed that Bolzano's position is quite problematic, pointing out (among other things) the absurdity of thinking that when we are silently wondering about something we are doing the same thing as sitting there asserting our lack of knowledge about things. At the very least, some questions are not assertions, and for many questions it is absurd to take them to be assertions about the questioner.

Yet it's not so clear that Bolzano was wholly off-base. One of the things we do with questions is soften assertions. For instance, in Vietnamese, nhé? (or in some dialects, nha?) turns a statement into a suggestion, along the lines of how we might say in English, "I'll take you home now, ok?" This is arguably an assertion -- I am actually saying that I'll take you home, I'm just letting you have a say in the matter if you object. It is also prima facie a question. There seems to be a spread of ways in which this can work. In Vietnamese, if I understand correctly, Tôi đi nhé?, "I am leaving, ok?" is a different kind of question from Tôi đi à?, which might be something more like "I'm leaving!?" or "Am I leaving!?" and both from Tôi đi không?, "I'm leaving, aren't I?" or "Am I leaving?" (One could perhaps argue that these are actually compound, with an assertion part and a question part, but when we look at these things in use, it's not clear that this sort of analysis actually sheds any light on the meaning.)

One variation would be to take questions to be to assertion as incomplete to complete. So, for instance, an assertion might be, "John went to the party last night." Some corresponding questions might be:

Did John go to the party last night?
Who went to the party last night?
What did John do?
Who did what?

In each case we are missing something. If we supply the answer, we get something equivalent to the original assertion. For instance, "Did John go to the party last night? Yes", is equivalent to "John went to the party last night", and so is "Who went to the party last night? John."

There are appropriate and inappropriate answers to questions. For instance, if you ask, "Who is in the house?" and I reply, "Slowly," my answer is not just incorrect, it's not even the right kind of answer to be correct. Thus there is a longstanding tendency to try to account of questions in terms of their possible answers. Thus Hamblin influentially argued that questions create a situation in which we choose among possible answers, which he held to be propositions. A potential strength of this is that it makes the logic easier -- you could then say a lot about the logic of questions based on the logic of the assertions that make up their possible answers. One difficulty is that the appropriate answer to a question does not always seem to be a proposition. If I say, "What color is John's shirt?", I only need an answer like "Red", I don't need, "John's shirt is red." I could certainly say the latter, but the only part of it that is doing any work answering is the term 'red', and it seems that instead of thinking in terms of propositions, we can just take the answer to be supplying what's needed to finish making the proposition -- which we can do either by just supplying the particular element needed or by giving the finished product with the element supplied. An even more serious difficulty is that the possible answers to a question seem to have to be severable from understanding the question itself. We can make sense of a question without having much idea as to what its possible answers really are, so we don't want to characterize questions as if they could only be understood if you knew all the ways they could be answered. We need to be able to know what would count as a possible answer without having to know the possible answers.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Music on My Mind



Rockwell, "Somebody's Watching Me". I was in the car today and this came on the radio. It had been ages since I'd last heard it. It's a very, very Eighties song, but it works perfectly. Jermaine Jackson is the backup vocals, Michael Jackson the chorus; Michael only did it as a favor, and on the condition that his name not be associated with the song at all.

Learn the Mystery of Progression Duly

Incompleteness
by Adelaide Anne Procter


Nothing resting in its own completeness
Can have worth or beauty: but alone
Because it leads and tends to farther sweetness,
Fuller, higher, deeper than its own.

Spring’s real glory dwells not in the meaning,
Gracious though it be, of her blue hours;
But is hidden in her tender leaning
To the Summer’s richer wealth of flowers.

Dawn is fair, because the mists fade slowly
Into Day, which floods the world with light;
Twilight’s mystery is so sweet and holy
Just because it ends in starry Night.

Childhood’s smiles unconscious graces borrow
From Strife, that in a far-off future lies;
And angel glances (veiled now by Life’s sorrow)
Draw our hearts to some belovèd eyes.

Life is only bright when it proceedeth
Towards a truer, deeper Life above;
Human Love is sweetest when it leadeth
To a more divine and perfect Love.

Learn the mystery of Progression duly:
Do not call each glorious change, Decay;
But know we only hold our treasures truly,
When it seems as if they passed away.

Nor dare to blame God’s gifts for incompleteness;
In that want their beauty lies: they roll
Towards some infinite depth of love and sweetness,
Bearing onward man’s reluctant soul.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Temple of Living Stones

In place of Solomon's temple, Christ has built a temple of living stones, the communion of saints. At its center, he stands as the eternal high priest; on its altar, he is himself the perpetual sacrifice. And, in turn, the whole of creation is drawn into the "liturgy," the ceremonial worship service: the fruits of the earth as the mysterious offerings, the flowers and the lighted candlesticks, the carpets and the curtain, the ordained priest, and the anointing and blessing of God's house. Not even the cherubim are missing. Fashioned by the hand of the artist, the visible forms stand watch beside the Holy of Holies. And, as living copies of them, the "monks resembling angels" surround the sacrificial altar and make sure that the praise of God does not cease, as in heaven so on earth.

St. Edith Stein, The Hidden Life: Essays, Meditations, Spiritual Texts, Stein, tr., ICS Publications (Washington, DC: 2014), p. 9.

Alec Guiness Reading Julian of Norwich



(ht)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Dashed Off XXIV

This finishes off the notebook completed on July 20, 2016.

skepticism-blocking arguments for God's existence & the Logos

Intellectual humility requires respecting evidence for what it is; someone skeptical in the face of good evidence is not being intellectually humble, however much they may pretend.

We look for external information that allows us to reduce meander-problems to maze-problems and maze-problems to labyrinth-problems.

Universals are abstractions; instantial invariance is not a feature of how abstracting works, nor does abstracting appear to have any features that require instantial invariance. Indeed, since we often have to discover instantiations over time or with difficulty, and run into questions of vagueness, it seems abstracting must not involve any strict commitment to instantial invariance, even if such a principle is often useful to assume.

corruptible and incorruptible as disjunctive transcendentals (Aquinas In Met sect. 2145)

Governments tend to support ways of thinking about equality that require significant expansions of government power.

two aspects of authority: official (officium/munus) and assistive (subsidium/adjumentum)

Empires tend to have short dynasty lengths because of the difficulty of exercising control over diffuse populations and the inevitable rise of semi-independent frontier commanders.

populational influence, territorial control, sovereignty

state formation strategies: merger with established institutions, religious claims, and violence threat

Party politics takes pressure off of naturally arising local political conflicts (although, being artificial, it cannot end them). People are distracted by Congressional conflict from putting all their weight behind city council conflict.

Experiment by nature involves communicable certitude. (Chastek)

Dialogue must be structured by love of the true and the good.

deriving questions from premises by possiblity-preserving inferences

"Music forms a part of us through nature, and can ennoble or debase character." Boethius

to reflect, to gloss, to preserve

All sin is a sign of judgment to come.

Euclid's definitions are clearly set up for the recognition of the analogy between line and surface.

A man in sin may yet have authority.

notarial vs essential certification

ostension & abduction

Whewell's moral Ideas quite clearly function as ends for human action. This suggests that we should see the theoretical Ideas as ends for human understanding.

relics as tangible stories

a book considered as individual (this physical object) vs. a book considered as specific (the book that this physical book is)

argumentation as gift exchange (Dutilh Novaes)

giving reasons using only gestures (e.g., pointing where to go gives a reason to go there)

autocephaly as a recognition that a church preaches to all nations and enriches all the churches in its own right

The Maltese word for Lent is Randan, from Ramadan.

Probabilities derive from arguments, not vice versa.

We can assign probabilities to premises, sometimes, because we can sometimes argue for them.

We dream in allusions.

Protestantism as liber acephalus

Comedy is a defense against boorishness, and tragedy against frivolousness.

comedy & the temptation to iconoclasm; tragedy & the temptation to iconolatry

In the long run, Christianity pulls all philosophy into its orbit.

One only genuinely sees a hero if one can see the flaws and still see the heroism.

The poet, like Varda, scatters stars in defiance of Morgoth.

What one gets out of liturgy is in proportion to one's service, prayer, and study.

the notes of the Church as applied to the Church Patient, the Church Triumphant, and the whole Church together (Militant, Patient, Triumphant)
- intercession & both apostolicity and unity
- indulgences & both unity and sanctity
the notes of the Church Militant and the Church Patient reflect those of the Church Triumphant, in which the notes achieve their perfection (perfect unity, perfect sanctity, perfect catholicity, perfect apostolicity)
the Church Patient is likewise more one, more holy, more catholic, and more apostolic than the Church Militant

The suffering of the souls of Purgatory is a solidary passion, a com-passion, with each other and with all who suffer.

Purgatory is a discipline of not meriting for oneself, but of accepting grace from the prayers of others, a martyrdom of waiting.

the three aspects of purgatory: (a) suffering; (b) waiting; (c) learning
(a) : martyrdom :: (b) : virginity :: (c) doctorality

the peregrination of the Church Militant as a reflection of that of the Church Patient

The phenomenal can only be a sign of the noumenal if the noumenal in some way is in it.

wonder -> Beatific Vision

"The Temple of the Beautiful is the porch of the Temple of Religion." S. S. Laurie

"The book of philosophy will indeed by closed when it shall have presented God and the world to us as an Epic." Laurie

"The correspondence between the living pattern set before the Christian and the ideal of a perfect life as conceived by Plato is an argument that both are real." Campbell

the pastoral authority of parents: Bede, Hom Ev. 1.7

the attractive force of a useful classification on rational discussion

The sacraments work not only by infusing grace but also by drawing as ends of rational action.

indulgences as an overflow (redundantia) of public prayer into private prayer

Philosophical problems are thematic histories.

By 'relevant' people often mean 'reactive'.

acting by reason of ignorance vs acting in ignorance (Aristotle)

Definitions should not use metaphors because metaphors are by nature pre-definitive.

Most formulations of the argument from evil amount to asking why all causes aren't 'omnibenevolent' in their effects.

rightly combining reason and rite

papal social encyclicals as encapuslating a memory that commerce can be otherwise (Douglas Rushkoff)

The human mind does not systematize rather than rhapsodize; it systematizes out of its rhapsodizing.

the Persian Council of 410: the bishops of Persia accept Nicaea and its canonsas translated into Syriac and presented by Saint Maruta (Maruthas) of Maipherkat

Mary Magdalen as symbol of the laity: isapostolicity and evangelization

"betrothal is a kind of sacramental annexed to matrimony, as exorcism to baptism" Aquinas ST Supp 43.1ad6

fides pactionis, fides consensus

Too much irony destroys a love poem, but most love poems fail through having no irony at all.

Even Bentham recognizes that actual harms at hand should weigh more heavily than hypothetical harms in the distant future; but it is strange how many consequentialists do not.

"a language requires a suitable habitation, and a history in which it can develop" Tolkien

Propositions are actions of mind.

asceticism as the natural stimulus for the healthy building of new worlds

"The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger." The Rule of St. Benedict

Etymology is better called the dreamwork of language than metaphor is.

hypothesis as experience with galley effect

relatedness of accident to substance as a transcendental relation

Time-Validity
P at all times until tomorrow
P at all times after today
Therefore P at all times
(Space would be more complicated, but would also be possible)

Extension-Validity
Everything nonB is C.
Everything B is C.
Therefore, everything is C.

Most A are B
Most B are C
Therefore, some A are C

scaling problems with philosophical methods
scaling problems with philosophical infrastructure

If truth is adequation of mind and thing, only mental actions can be 'truthbearers'.

If 'x is so even if y', this implies that x can be not-y; whereas this is not true of 'x is so if y'.

possible worlds manifold as representation of prime matter (as well as some of its conditions)

Common good is not built out of reasoning, but it is foolish to think of the latter as an optional extra.

to speak the truth even if no one hears

How fair and how lovely
the death of the gods
with their merciless fate
and their punishing rods.

the hierarchical character of purity

philosophy as cajolery

If there is a divine attribute, there is a divine being.

propositions as attributes of cosmophases (Carroll)
Carroll's 0 and 1 as 'cannot exist' and 'can exist'

infinite divisibility of matter // infinite analyzability of idea

Warburton interprets Job as an allegory of the Captivity.

the tomorrowladen day

impressional, presential, reflective, and expressional aspects of emotion

Every kind of Euthyphro Dilemma has an analogue at the positive level, with respect to positive law.

Particular propositions are consistency propositions.

"nothing-buttery...always part of the minor symptomatology of the bogus" Peter Medawar

Competent scientists do not work in order to make scientific progress or find breakthroughs (although many no doubt sometimes daydream of it) but to learn about things. They inquire because they love butterflies or are fascinated by light or want to figure out how the vine grows the way it does. But there is always a dangerous social pressure to lie about this -- dangerous because it misleads the public and creates false expectations, dangerous because it places scientific inquiry in a context that tends to falsehood, and morally dangerous for the inquiry itself, encouraging shortcuts and sophistry to blow up interesting learning so that it might pass, in rhetoric at least, as life-transforming progress.

mechanisms as modal structures based on mereological structures

comparative analogy (from known to unknown) vs contrived analogy (from unknown to known, e.g., in building a purely conjectural model to explain observations)

"Scientific truth should be presented in different forms, and should be regarded as equally scientific, whether it appears in the robust form and the vivid coloring of a physical illustration, or in the tenuity and paleness of a symbolic expression." Maxwell

(1) We start with the idea in the mind (the impression), ex hypothesi. Assume external world realism of a materialist variety. Then from the idea as effect we reason to the external prototype as cause, recognizing that the prototype is more real, and removing those things in the idea that are due to it qua idea. Thus causation, eminence, and remotion.
(2) Assuming external world realism of an immaterialist variety follows an analogous course, but the remotion is of what pertains to the idea qua my idea.
(3) We get something analogous if we remove the ideal starting point by recognizing that what is there being called the idea is the actual perception of the object, which itself can be taken as effect.

Rabban Bar Sauma and the ecumenism of pilgrimage

"Mere caprice can never be the object of any right." Rosmini

Of every law we must ask, how does this contribute to the friendship of the people? It is not the only question to ask, but always must be asked.

All the sacraments are linked to love of God and love of neighbor; but baptism especially is linked with love of neighbor and eucharist with love of God.

True love is not manipulable by slogan.

Both pilgrimage and relics in Christianity arise naturally out of the communion of saints, theologically, although both, of course, are transfigured versions of things people tend to do, anyway. The idea, at its root, is that we are all part of the story of the martyrs and of Christ's Passion.

a mereological analysis of rights analogous that of virtues

In decision-making, one must sift before one weighs.

evidence as itself structured by the Divided Line
-a semiotic reading of the Line

Laches & the opposition between philosophia and philonikia

"It is foundational to faith that God conveys prophecy to man." Maimonides (yesodei Ha-Torah 7:1)

Every theory of knowledge has an analogue among theories of happiness, and vice versa.

oikeiosis and homoiosis as two aspects of prudence

Academics and Skeptics as Ishmaelites (Philo, Q&A in Gen 3.33)

Appearances apparently conflict only because we already take them to be appearances of the same.

zetetic and aporetic modes of apologetics

the acts of faith: to inquire, to believe, to profess

preambles of charity

the natural ecumenism of reason

Even in the application of a tried and true technique, the technician matters more than the technique.
Techniques, like books, cannot defend themselves against abuses.

Note that Descartes's comments on Aristotelian gravitas would transfer to all forms of attraction as well.

verecundia and honestas of reasoning
meekness in reasoning (regarding the desire to overcome objection) and clemency (regarding the response?)
modestia about manner of argument: intellectual humility, studiosity, ornatus (appropriate to person), bona ordinatio (appropriate to circumstance), eutrapelia (humor), modesty of rhetoric

John 17:5,24 & and the Holy Spirit as Gift

We often think we ought to do what we cannot do if we choose; for instance, when an outside force prevents us. If parents recognize that they ought to protect their children, they recognize it as an ought even if outside forces clash with, impede, or even make impossible actually doing it. Only when people take, rightly or wrongly, a prevention to be preventing choice (whether they take that strictly or loosely) do they take it to dissipate the obligation.

Free choice requires a certain minimum of rationality; and it is more fully exercised the more fully rational we are.

relevance as primarily a relation among terms

the notion of merit in the context of intellectual inquiry

adaptationism as an aristocratic view of evolutionary facts (contrast this with monarchical theistic evolutionism and a democratic view in which there is no emphasis on excelling lines but simply each organism as being, as it were, a vote for the future)

Peano axioms cannot actually distinguish or define the set of natural numbers as such; they cannot distinguish them from the set of odds, or any other set for which one can have any kind of successor function. What is true that sets that fit the Peano axioms can be put into correspondence with natural numbers.

Intellectual and moral excellence by their nature require merit.

the 'etymology' of rites

volume-temperature indeterminacy

precedential causation as Humean

The modern world is afraid of relying on hope; people are constantly seeking certainty.

the second table of the Commandments read figuratively as describing our ecclesial duties

Social engineers, unlike real engineers, tend not to respect the qualities of the materials with which they work.

Every universalist argument either violates remotion or has a closely analogous counterpart among atheistic arguments from evil.

Love works by testimony.

Human beings are very poor at distinguishing intelligible requirements from strongly preferred choices in inquiry.

Everything looks like it is deterministic if you are coarse-grained and general enough, regardless of assumptions about what is really going on. This is because the more general the level of one's analysis, the more closely it conforms to an analysis considering only necessary preconditions.

slavery as usurious use of labor
as intemperance with regard to evaluation of human worth
as injustice in the broad sense (violation of amiability, perhaps also of religion?)

To say that something is not intrinsically evil does not mean that it may always be done rightly, but only that it may sometimes be done without being wrong.

Note that Aquinas's insistence on the possibility of demonstration in sacred doctrine is firmly opposed to the position of the Islamic philosophers (like Al-Farabi and Ibn Rushd) that theology, being based on religion, cannot rise above persuasion (cf. Kitab al-huruf).

Can one do an intrinsic/extrinsic title account for false-speaking, etc.? It seems plausible one could do it for killing.
Have any of the casuists done work on a general theory of titles, or toward such a thing?
Are there analogies with titles in the case of usury?

Manwë as prudence, Melkor as pride, Tulkas as decent thymos

The early church did not develop from local communities but into them, for it was a missionary church spreading out from the apostles.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Seemly, and Fair, and of the Best

Plato in London
by Lionel Johnson


To Campbell Dodgson

The pure flame of one taper fall
Over the old and comely page:
No harsher light disturb at all
This converse with a treasured sage.
Seemly, and fair, and of the best,
If Plato be our guest,
Should things befall.

Without, a world of noise and cold:
Here, the soft burning of the fire.
And Plato walks, where heavens unfold,
About the home of his desire.
From his own city of high things,
He shows to us, and brings,
Truth of fine gold.

The hours pass; and the fire burns low;
The clear flame dwindles into death:
Shut then the book with care; and so,
Take leave of Plato, with hushed breath:
A little, by the falling gleams,
Tarry the gracious dreams:
And they too go.

Lean from the window to the air:
Hear London's voice upon the night!
Thou hast held converse with things rare:
Look now upon another sight!
The calm stars, in their living skies:
And then, these surging cries,
This restless glare!

That starry music, starry fire,
High above all our noise and glare:
The image of our long desire,
The beauty, and the strength, are there.
And Plato's thought lives, true and clear,
In as august a sphere:
Perchance, far higher.

1889.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

God and Vast Spaces

Emily Thomas (best known for her work on early modern accounts of space and time) has a post at "RealClearScience", Does the Size of the Universe Prove God doesn't Exist? It looks at a kind of argument put forward by Michael Martin and Nicholas Everitt, in which the size of the universe is taken as a reason for the conclusion that God does not exist. Based on claims in religious texts about God's care for human beings, about human persons being in the image of God, and the like, it draws the conclusion "that God is human-oriented: human beings are like God, and he values us highly." Given that foundation, the argument proceeds:

If God is human-oriented, wouldn’t you expect him to create a universe in which humans feature prominently? You’d expect humans to occupy most of the universe, existing across time. Yet that isn’t the kind of universe we live in. Humans are very small, and space, as Douglas Adams once put it, “is big, really really big”....

Clearly, there is a discrepancy between the kind of universe we would expect a human-oriented God to create, and the universe we live in. How can we explain it? Surely the simplest explanation is that God doesn’t exist. The spatial and temporal size of the universe gives us reason to be atheists.

To be honest, when I come across an atheist telling theists what one would expect if God exists, I have come to expect that a bit of fast sophistry is coming this way. That's not quite the case here, and yet there are reasons why this kind of argument is relatively little used (although I have been seeing it more often than usual in the past few years).

(1) The argument depends crucially on what one would expect given what religious texts say about God. This is reasonable, but it requires consistent application. The texts in question don't just talk about human importance; they also talk about the grandeur of the cosmos. The point of Job 38 and following is certainly not that the world is a small and cozy one. What is more, it's not as if this is entirely unaddressed in the texts themselves:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

The religious texts themselves, in other words, show no sign of expecting a small and cozy universe; given that "the heavens are telling the glory of God", they even at times insist on how extraordinary the world is in order to make the point that its Creator is even greater. The thing they portray as surprising is not that the universe is vast but that human beings are significant, and they affirm both. If you are going to talk about what can be expected on the basis of claims made in religious texts, one has to take in the whole; and there is another strand of those texts which plays up the vastness and power displayed in creation precisely in order to speak about the power and wisdom of God.

(2) More seriously, however, talk of what God can be expected to do is either dangerously ambiguous or an outright violation of the principle of remotion. When we talk about what can be 'expected', we can be taking the term either objectively or subjectively. Subjective expectation is irrelevant here (why would one's feeling be determinative here?), so the only thing that can be meant is that there is some causal requirement that God create a small universe if human beings are important. This point is always at least handwaved.

And it at least appears to violate the principle of remotion. As I've noted before, the principle of remotion is roughtly that God is known only by causal inference from effects and in such a way as not to fall under a genus. Thus anything that is said about God needs to be warranted by some causal pathway, taking the world or something else (like a religious text) as an effect. What is the actual causal warrant for saying that God would create a universe in which humans occupy most of the universe? The texts used to start the argument off can at most justify the claim that human beings are important; they don't even strictly require taking God to be "human-oriented", as opposed to simply caring about humans among many other things. So what causal reasoning is supporting these claims about what God would do? This is always glided over very quickly; and that suggests that the argument violates the principle of remotion.

(3) But perhaps the most problematic element of the argument is not what it says about God but what it says about human beings; it depends on a crabbed and limited view of human persons, and especially a crabbed and limited view of the excellence of human reason. Kant, on this point, at least, is far more accurate: the starry heavens above display the smallness of the human body, but the greatness of the human mind that is able to contemplate them. We know the vastness of the universe because we can study it; we are awed by the vastness of the universe because we are not merely crushed by an expanse of over two trillion galaxies but exhilarated by its awesomeness. Far from being unsuited to a vast universe, the human mind is immensely more at home in such a universe than in a universe supposed small, which is why people are so fascinated by astronomy, and, indeed, why we have astronomers at all.

Nor is this a new point. Ovid has the famous story that the distinctive feature of the human animal is that, unlike other animals, we stand upright in order to look at the stars, the point being that far from being intimidated by the starry skies, we are in some sense more at home taking as much of it in as we can than we are just rooting around in the earth. We have minds fascinated by apparently infinite expanse, exhilarated by countlessness, drawn on by endless vistas.

And this is where the argument most goes wrong. For it depends not merely on the claim that God, taking humans to be important, would create a world to fit humans, but also on the claim that a world to fit humans would have to be a small world. This derogatory view of the human mind is simply false of human beings as we actually know them. Give us a vast ocean of stars, with endless new and surprising things; that's the universe appropriate to our minds, where we find ourselves at our best. There is no mismatch at all.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Universal Doctor

Today is the feast of St. Albert the Great, Doctor of the Church. He was, of course, the teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas and a great many other Dominicans.

The following is from the Liber de Muliere Forti, a commentary on Proverbs 31. There is some debate over whether this is indeed St. Albert's, but the book was certainly written by a Dominican, comments on a passage that is often quoted in St. Albert's undoubtedly authentic works, and doesn't seem to say anything that would rule out his authorship. There are many works attributed to St. Albert that are disputed, and quite a few that are definitely spurious; this one is the disputed work that is far and away the most likely to be authentic if any are. The author takes the poem of the strong woman to be a depiction of the Church, and indirectly of the soul insofar as it participates in the Church, and thus takes Proverbs 31 to be a complete ecclesiology in poetic summary. (A thing that has to be noted in the following is that Albert uses 'seed' where we would use 'egg'; the ovum was not yet discovered at that point.)

In the second way, the Church and the faithful soul are thought of as a woman by the instrumental means of the organs by which man and woman differ: these are four. The first instrument is for receiving the seed; the second for conserving and forming it in the womb; the third is for the care of the embryonic child; the fourth is for the upbringing of the baby when it has been brought into the light. The first is called seed, the second womb, the third source of blood, the fourth breasts. And in the Church these, spiritually understood, are: zeal for souls, preaching, piety, and thanksgiving. By zeal for souls the Church conceives the salvation of converts. By preaching she forms, as if by the hand of doctrine, the one conceived. Piety, which is benevolence to all signed with the image of God, as Augustine says, provides the material that there might be no lack in its formation, yet she asks not about its size but only about its health. The fourth, thanksgiving, indicates that as from one part as from one breast flows milk inviting to goodness, and from another as from the other breast flows milk that fortifies in perseverance in what has been received from God; accordingly, the twofold nutrition of milk works in the baby, namely, for growth in size and perseverance in life.

Another passage, from a different work:

In investigations of nature, however, it is necessary not only to consider the changeable understood universally according to its common features, but it is necessary to get down to details so that the primary agent in each individual case may be ascertained, especially in sensible, animate things, because in investigations of nature we must discover the universal principles through singulars, since in such investigations the particulars are better known than the universals. It is through the singulars that we come to believe that it is convenient and necessary for universals and their principles to exist, since it is only those universals which are exemplified in particulars that we accept, while those which are not exemplified in particulars, we reject.

[Albert the Great, De animalibus IX tr. 2, c.4, ed. HernannStadler, in: BGPhlvfA5, Munster9 16'.T21, ll.16-21m as quoted in Leen Spruit, "Albert the Great on the Epistemology of Natural Science", p. 64.]