Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Making the Punishment Fit the Crime

There are some limits to what ordinary men are likely to say that an ordinary man deserves. But there are no limits to what the danger of the community may be supposed to demand. We would not, even if we could, boil the millionaire in oil or skin the poor little politician alive; for we do not think a man deserves to be skinned alive for taking commissions on contracts. But it is by no means so certain that the skinning him alive might not protect the community. Corruption can destroy communities; and torture can deter men. At any rate the thing is not so self-evidently useless as it is self-evidently unjust and vindictive. We refrain from such fantastic punishments, largely because we do have some notion of making the punishment fit the crime, and not merely fit the community.

G. K. Chesterton, "The Mercy of Mr. Arnold Bennett", Fancies Versus Fads.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Evening Thought for Tuesday, August 22

Thought for the Evening: Apaideusia

In the Eudemian Ethics, Aristotle has an interesting passage on people engaging in fake philosophy:

...because to say nothing at random but use reasoned argument seems to mark a philosopher, some people often without being detected advance arguments that are not germane to the subject under treatment and that have nothing in them (and they do this sometimes through ignorance and sometimes from charlatanry), which bring it about that even men of experience and practical capacity are taken in by these people, who neither possess nor are capable of constructive or practical thought. And this befalls them owing to lack of education—for in respect of each subject inability to distinguish arguments germane to the subject from those foreign to it is lack of education. (1217a)

The word translated here as 'lack of education' is ἀπαιδευσία; one can indeed translate it as 'lack of education' or 'lack of training', but this often makes it sound as if it were just a claim that those who have it are ignorant, when in reality something deeper is certainly meant. Paideia was the cultivation of those qualities that made one suitable for civilized life. To lack paideia is not mere ignorance, but the kind of ignorance we might call barbarism. The person Aristotle is criticizing in the above passage is someone who has learned the philosophical knack for argument-giving, but uses it in what we might call a cargo-cult way; they have no real sense of good and bad argument, or of relevance in argument, because this is something that can only be had by cultivation -- and, indeed, can only be had fully by cultivation that involves participation in a community. They do not put forward arguments as participants in a community of inquirers; they put them forward because they are ignorant of how such a community works or because they are trying to ape the effects of being in such a community, without the actual work required to be so. Their imitation may be very good; but they are imitating the outward appearance, and not the internal character, of real rational argument.

Aristotle uses the term elsewhere. It shows up in the Rhetoric (1391a), where Aristotle talks about nouveaux riches, and how there vices with regard to money are often greater than those of old money because they are apaideutic with respect to wealth. I think this is arguably more than just a happenstance of using the same word; new-money people in Aristotle's example haven't learned to restrain themselves so as to be respectable in society, whereas the old-money aristocrats have. Likewise, those doing the imitation philosophy, having come into the wealth of reasoned argument, have not cultivated the habits of restraint that make one part of the community of inquirers.

The most important use of the term, however, is in the Metaphysics. Aristotle notes that order requires paideia (1005), and then goes on to give his most famous example of the kind of person who exhibits apaideusia: the person who demands that one prove the principle of noncontradiction:

But we have just assumed that it is impossible at once to be and not to be, and by this means we have proved that this is the most certain of all principles.Some, indeed, demand to have the law proved, but this is because they lack education; for it shows lack of education not to know of what we should require proof, and of what we should not. For it is quite impossible that everything should have a proof; the process would go on to infinity, so that even so there would be no proof....And I say that proof by refutation differs from simple proof in that he who attempts to prove might seem to beg the fundamental question, whereas if the discussion is provoked thus by someone else, refutation and not proof will result.The starting-point for all such discussions is not the claim that he should state that something is or is not so (because this might be supposed to be a begging of the question), but that he should say something significant both to himself and to another (this is essential if any argument is to follow; for otherwise such a person cannot reason either with himself or with another);and if this is granted, demonstration will be possible, for there will be something already defined. (1006a)

The person who demands that the principle of noncontradiction be proven does not understand how proof actually works. If he says nothing in support of his claim, Aristotle tells us that it's absurd to argue against him, because for all that he's actually contributed to reasoned discussion, you might as well be arguing with a plant; on the other hand, if he does say something in support of the claim, then, as quoted above, one can give a proof by refutation based on the fact that he says "something significant both to himself and to another", without which no one can reason. I think both prongs here flow directly from Aristotle's diagnosis of such people as apaideutic: they are either not reasoning (and thus might as well be a vegetable) or, in reasoning, they are not really familiar with what reasoning requires -- the importance of things like meaningfulness and relevance and communicability for it, and the things that follow from these. They have not developed the habits required to participate in the community of reasoners. They are barbarians in the land of reasoning.

There are also a number of passages in which he does not use the word apaideusia, but does talk about paideia in ways that are clearly relevant -- such as the famous passage in the Nicomachean Ethics (1094b) in which he says that it belongs to the trained to recognize the right amount of exactness to seek in inquiring into different topics. And he goes on almost immediately with an illuminating explanation:

To criticize a particular subject, therefore, a man must have been trained in that subject: to be a good critic generally, he must have had an all-round education. Hence the young are not fit to be students of Political Science. For they have no experience of life and conduct, and it is these that supply the premises and subject matter of this branch of philosophy. And moreover they are led by their feelings; so that they will study the subject to no purpose or advantage, since the end of this science is not knowledge but action. And it makes no difference whether they are young in years or immature in character: the defect is not a question of time, it is because their life and its various aims are guided by feeling; for to such persons their knowledge is of no use, any more than it is to persons of defective self-restraint. But Moral Science may be of great value to those who guide their desires and actions by principle. (1095a)

This passage puts together the bits we've already seen. To make good judgments in a particular field requires paideia in that field, to make good judgments generally requires good general training. You must, in particular, be familiar with the materials that "supply the premises and subject matter" and must have a sort of discipline, a self-restraint, that makes study advantageous by letting it be guided by principle rather than the passions.

Various Links of Interest

* Kenneth Pearce, George Berkeley and the power of words, at the OUP blog

* Miriam Burstein, Mill's Inaugural Address and the Contemporary University (or Not), at "The Little Professor"

* Richard Marshall interviews Michail Peramatzis about the notions of dependence and priority in Aristotelian metaphysics

* Geoffrey K. Pullum, Fear and Loathing of the English Passive, discusses the many wrong and misleading things said about passive voice in English

* A. C. Thompson, Sikhs in America

* Pius XI, Mit brennender Sorge

Currently Reading

Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness
Gaven Kerr, Aquinas's Way to God
Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity
George R. R. Martin, A Feast for Crows
George R. R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Monday, August 21, 2017

Music on My Mind

Ajda Pekkan, "Bambaşka Biri".

Three Poem Drafts

The River

A long and ashen river runs
in caverns never touched by sun,
where sorrows sleep and dream of death
in darkness never touched by breath,
and hope is lost, and vernal grass
will never grow as ages pass;
the fish are blind, the waters cold,
the air is chill and stale and old,
and to a lake of murky deep
the river stealthily will creep
until the world has met its end
and flames upon the earth descend.
I sailed that river long ago.
Its wending course I fully know,
and there I lost my beating heart,
where cold and darkness never part.

Human Power

The fake omnipotence of men
like magician's trick is made.
The drama, spectacle, and show
is full of sound and lights that shine;
a flurry, rush, and active pace
distracts from instruments of power;
a patter, endless flow of words
a veil imposes on the work;
and where they strive to make you look
is never where the secret lies:
a spark, a crash, a showy sign,
and you are shackled, made to serve.

Summer Bezels

Honeysuckle scent,
inebriating bee-wine,
hovers, just a hint,
a wisp of beauty.

The warm evening breeze,
summerlit beneath the stars,
blows on my bare ear,
softly, like your kiss.

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.