Monday, October 23, 2017

The Third Policeman

Far and away my favorite postmodern novel is Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman; O'Brien, having had some success with At Swim-Two-Birds, tried to get the new work published by the same publisher, who rejected it on the ground that they wanted the author to be less fantastic, not more. It was only published after his death. I think it's an almost perfect blend of humor, seriousness, and absurdity (both humorous and serious).

The BBC put out an excellent, and I mean excellent, reading by Patrick Magee of an abridgement (quite a competent abridgement, too) of the work, which you can find online. It's a bit over two hours long. I highly recommend it. Magee hits everything perfectly, and has the knack of stating the most insane absurdities as if they were obvious facts only a child would deny, which is absolutely essential to capturing the spirit of the work.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fortnightly Book, October 22

Learned, clear-headed, and practical, he fulfilled in all emergencies those three conditions which united ought to insure human success -- activity of mind and body, impetuous wishes, and powerful will. He might have taken for his motto that of William of Orange in the 17th century: "I can undertake and persevere even without hope of success."

The next fortnightly book is Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island, which is one of the most notable of the works Verne wrote in his own favorite genre, the robinsonade, that adventure of the intellect in which Man is faced with Nature, overcoming whatever the hostility of the latter may throw against him, and even turning it to human ends. Five Union prisoners of war escape from Confederate prison during the siege of Richmond by an improvised hot air balloon and are blown far off the map in a great storm. The balloon is damaged, and eventually they reach the limitations of what they can do to keep it aloft over the ocean, and must just trust to providence. They discover an island, exotic and filled with resources and dangers. But even allowing for that, the island has deeper secrets to uncover....

I'll also be watching the 2005 TV movie The Mysterious Island, which I happened recently to see in the cheap rack in the grocery store and, knowing that I would eventually be doing this book, picked up. It has an excellent cast, but it looks awful, and, indeed, the reviews of it are pretty uniformly negative, with one review I saw noting that it wasn't really Verne's story so much as an adaptation of it by random monkeys. The question is, Will this be gloriously awful, or just awful awful? In case it is the latter, which it might well be, CBS Radio Mystery Theater adapted the novel into a radio episode in 1977, so I'll do that as well; CBSRMT, being post-Golden-Age, is often uneven, but it's never simply awful.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard


Opening Passage:

Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

The daily recital of the Rosary was over. For half an hour the steady voice of the Prince had recalled the Glorious and the Sorrowful Mysteries; for half an hour other voices had interwoven a lilting hum from which, now and again, would chime some unlikely word; love, virginity, death; and during taht hum the whole aspect of the rococo drawing room seemed to change; even the parrots spreading iridescent wings over the silken walls appeared abashed; even the Magdalen between the two windows looked a penitent and not just a handsome blonde lost in some dubious daydream, as she usually was. (p. 5)

Summary: Don Fabrizio is Prince of Salina in Sicily, the head of an old and crumbling noble House. They are not in a poor way, but their great estates have steadily been sliced off to pay for this emergency and that debt, to be bought up by the up and coming members of the mercantile classes, such as Don Calogero, Mayor of Salina. Don Fabrizio is a popular aristocrat, in part because of a certain negligence and lack of rigor in the collection of taxes, in part because of the prestige of the family name, which despite its accelerating decline nonetheless keeps that most stable of legitimations, that of being the devil you know. But change is in the air, and soon Garibaldi, operating partly in defiance of his Piedmontese/Sardinian masters, brings Italian Unification to the island. There is some sympathy for it, especially among the mercantile classes, who see it in part as a way to modernize Sicility. While modernity may have partly passed Sicily by, the peasantry is not stupid, and they have been observant to see that these new nationalist governments pressed on others by liberal revolutionaries are not cheap, and that the reliable fallbacks for paying for them have tended to reduce to two: more ruthless forms of taxation, particularly on peasants, and expropriation of Church property. But their votes do not count; despite the foofaraw of a plebiscite, the No votes will simply be ignored, and not even acknowledged. Don Fabrizio, for his part, recognizes that there is nothing he can do to stop the change, and concerns himself most with trying to make sure his House will survive in some form, particularly by marrying his nephew Tancredi, neck deep in the new regime, to Don Calogero's lovely and, of course, wealthy daughter, Angelica. The tale, in short, is a tale of extinction, the extinction of the symbol of Don Fabrizio's House, the serval (or leopard, as it always is in English translation).

This is a novel that is driven very much more by character than by plot; it is chiefly a sort of sketch of Don Fabrizio as he passes through the most significant change of his life. There is a lot of talk and relatively little action, and what story we get is mostly just change of circumstance. It is far from being dull, however, as the problems are genuinely human problems, and the style of the novel in its description of them is excellent -- a very balanced mix of bittersweetness and humor.

The style reminds me a great deal of Flaubert, although Lampedusa is consistently more humorous than Flaubert. Since Lampedusa was an enthusiast for French literature, there may indeed be some direct influence, but what particularly draws the mind to the parallel is the extremely polished description. There is never anything haphazard about it, and one can tell from the balance of events, from the very careful preparation and articulation of figures of speech, and from the fact that you can pick almost any passage at random and find some very carefully developed verbal excellence, that the author spent a great deal of time on every word of every sentence. As with Flaubert, this results in parts that are undeniably perfect and a totality that will seem either flawless or else artificial and absurdly overstretched, depending on the mood in which you read it. But the focus on character fits this well; it really is more of a series of episodes than a definite plot.

Archibald Colquhoun's translation is very nice -- it is smooth and readable, full of humor and vividness of description.

Favorite Passage:

"As for the boy, you know him; and if you did not, I am here to guarantee him in every possible way. There is endless good in him, and it is not only I who say so. Isn't that true, Father Pirrone?"

The excellent Jesuit, dragged from his reading, found himself suddenly facing an unpleasant dilemma. He had been Tancredi's confessor, and he knew quite a number of his little failings: none of them very serious, of course, but such as to detract a good deal from the endless goodness of which the Prince had spoken; and all of them such (he almost felt like saying) as to guarantee the firmest marital infidelity. This, of course, could not actually be said both for sacramental reasons and from worldly convention. On the other hand he liked Tancredi, and though he disapproved of the wedding with all his heart, he would never say a word which could either impede it or in any way cloud its course. He took refuge in Prudence, most tractable of the cardinal virtues. "The fund of goodness in our dear Tancredi is great indeed, Don Calogero, and sustained by Divine Grace and by the earthly virtues of Signorina Angelica he may become, one day, an excellent Christian husband." The prophecy, risky but prudently conditional, passed muster. (pp. 126-127)

Recommendation: Recommended.


Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard, Colquhoun, tr. Pantheon Books (New York: 2007).

Friday, October 20, 2017

Tent of Meeting

The wondrous form of the tent of meeting, and later, of Solomon's temple, erected as it was according to divine specifications, was considered an image of the entire creation, assembled in worship and service around its Lord....As the heavens in the creation story were stretched out like a carpet, so carpets were prescribed as walls for the tent. as the waters of the earth were separated from the waters of the heavens, so the curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the outer rooms. The "bronze" sea is modeled after the sea that is contained by its shores. The seven-branched light in the tent stands for the heavenly lights. Lambs and birds stand for the swarms of life teeming in the water on the earth, and in the air. And as the earth is handed over to people, s in the sanctuary there stands the high priest "who is purified to act and to serve before God." Moses blessed, anointed, and sanctified the completed house as the Lord blessed and sanctified the work of his hands on the seventh day. The Lord's house was to be a witness to God on earth just as heaven and earth are witnesses to him (Dt 30:19).

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Two Poem Drafts

Sounding Alleluia

Ah, lately lucid yellow Sun,
alleluia is your song;
a low and lively air you sing.
Allow a lesser bard to praise
your hallowed light, your holy ray,
and let with love your splendor shine
on lilting linnet's psalm of day.
Though lowly, I will learn the tune;
though little, I will leap in voice,
and, loud and lofty, I will verse
a sounding alleluia.

Perilously Fair

The impossibly desired
is the fountain of despair,
formed with frame of fire
and perilously fair.
Who ascends to touch the sun
will perish on that stair;
by light on light will be undone,
by perilously fair.

Some glory only stands alone;
it is not ours to share.
Splendor's splendor is not our own,
so perilously fair;
our human hands can never hold,
guarded, must then beware
never to be over-bold
with the perilously fair.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Figment of His Imagination

It is impossible for a formal effect to be separated from form; but to exist is a formal effect of form, for form is defined as that which gives existence (esse) to a thing; therefore it is impossible to posit existence without form. For just as it is impossible that there be white without whiteness, so it is impossible to be in act without act. But to give existence (esse) belongs to first act, which is the same as form. Therefore, from the proposition, matter exists without any form, it follows that contradictories would be simultaneously true. From the fact that matter exists, it follows that it is in act; on the other hand, from the fact that it exists without any form, it follows that it is not in act. Scotus gives some kind of answer to this, which we omit because it is a figment of his imagination, and unworthy of him.

Cajetan, Commentary on St. Thomas Aquinas's On Being & Essence, Kendziersi & Wade, trs. Marquette UP (Milwaukee, WI: 2014), p.187. Scotist-Thomist disputes are sometimes more amusing than one might think.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, martyr, the third bishop of Antioch, and, according to tradition, appointed by St. Peter himself. From his letter to the Smyrnaeans (ch. 6):

Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels, and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." Let not [high] place puff any one up: for that which is worth all is a faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty.

Purple Eyes and Seas of Liquid Leaves

Patience, Hard Thing
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.

Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
No-where. Natural heart's-ivy Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.

We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us wé do bid God bend to him even so.

And where is he who more and more distills
Delicious Kindness? - He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Historical Period Designations

I was somewhat amused by this post by Scott Alexander on the Dark Ages. The primary reason is that I am somewhat amused by people talking about the Dark Ages in general; when people talk about this period of "profound economic and intellectual decline and stagnation" I always say, "For whom?" The exact period in question, from 500 to 1000, was a golden age of expansion and increasing prosperity -- for my Scandinavian ancestors. The early part of the period is the Germanic Iron Age: significant influx of gold and metals, consolidation of Scandinavian trade, increasing artistic sophistication, the Lombards finishing their long migration into Italy. The later part of the period is the Viking Age: increasing dominance of trade routes, increasing possession of England and Scotland, the rise of the Varangians, the rise of the Normans, the rise of the Three Kingdoms, invention of the Althing in Iceland, far-flung settlements. There were setbacks, such as Ireland and Andalusia, and various civil wars, but, by and large, it seems to have been an age of improvement and progress for all Scandinavians. Splendid, splendid days; we should call them the Awesome Ages.

But, jokes and amusement aside, what interests me more than the question of whether the Dark Ages were dark is the error that is commonly made when people discuss historical topics like this, namely, treating period designations as part of the data. It's interesting and worth thinking about on its own. We get a pretty clear example of the mistake here:

The period from about 500 to about 1000 in Christian Western Europe was marked by profound economic and intellectual decline and stagnation relative to the periods that came before and after it. This is incompatible with the “no such thing as the Dark Ages” claim except by a bunch of tortured logic, isolated demands for rigor, and historical ignorance.

And another example here:

Every other historical age name is instantly understood by everyone to refer to both a time and a place. The only time anyone ever gives anybody else grief over this is when they talk about the Dark Ages. This is an isolated demand for rigor. And if this is really your true objection, let’s just agree to call it the Western European Dark Ages, as long as we can also agree it existed and was bad.

Both of these express a misunderstanding about how period designations work in any kind of historical field; they treat the designated period and its label as if it were a natural feature of the data whose use requires no justification. Legitimate period designations are tools, however. They are not built into the data, but arise from the confluence of three factors:

(1) identifiable events, coherent enough to be more intelligible if classified together than they are if treated separately;
(2) the need to state what you are doing in shorthand, even if the way of doing it is primarily practical convenience;
(3) constraints arising from academic life itself.

All three are always operative, but not all are equally important for particular naming practices. Thus, for instance, Scott assumes, just before the second passage quoted above, that we name the Warring States period as we do because there were a lot of warring states, when in reality we call it the Warring States period because it is, more or less, the period covered by the Record of the Warring States. To be sure, there were a lot of warring states in the period, but there were also a lot of springs and autumns in the Spring and Autumn period; it's not the reason for the name, and if the Record of the Warring States had instead been called the Honey Milk Book, we'd likely be calling the era the Honey Milk period. Thus this is mostly an example of (2), not (1)-- one can give a (1)-ish account for the designation in terms of the breakdown of the Zhou dynasty, but doing so will inevitably result in complications that don't arise with a (2)-ish use -- for instance, some things in the early Warring States period might make more sense grouped with Spring and Autumn events than late Warring States events, and some late Warring States events might make more sense grouped as part of the rise of the Qin dynasty rather than with early Warring States events. And even when one takes it as a whole, there would be perfectly legitimate questions about whether it was misleading if lots and lots of people, assuming with Scott that the name is primarily descriptive rather than primarily referential, started making value judgments about the period on the basis of what it was called. We see the same conflation in Scott's argument when he says, "Historical periods get their names from random individuals reflecting on them; the names catch on if people agree that they fit." Sometimes. They also sometimes catch on because people need a communicative shorthand enough that it will do even if it is very flawed and does not fit very well at all, and all the examples Scott identifies are clearly cases where the label was proposed not because it 'fit' but because some people started using it as shorthand description and other people started using it because they too needed a shorthand description, and, lo! here there already was one.

A good example of label use that mostly has a (3)-ish account is the notion of a 'Middle Ages', which as its very name implies is a omnium gatherum for what happens between the Ancient and the Modern. Talk to medieval historians, and most would be happy to get rid of the designation, which is not particularly great for conveying any kind of information, and would prefer to replace it with half a dozen different ones that break the whole thousand-or-so years into more natural clumps of events. But in terms of how things are taught, funding that is provided, the need of scholars to engage in cooperative endeavors combined with the limitations that arise from having too few scholars to band together in such endeavors, the slow change of widespread naming conventions, it's just inevitable that the term keeps being used, even though it isn't particularly useful for historical research, and has some genuine disadvantages.

Thus period designations are not what historians study; they are classifications designed to facilitate that study, either because they are reasonably natural or informative given the evidence, or because they are practically convenient, or because they facilitate the smooth running of academic life. Thus it's already something of an illegitimate question to ask "Were the Dark Ages really dark?"; the real questions are, "Is the term 'Dark Ages' an appropriate (1)-ish term even to begin with?" and "Does the 'Dark Ages' serve as a shorthand whose practical convenience outweighs its potential to be misunderstood?" There is no such thing 'the Dark Age' in the historical data; 'the Dark Age' is a label that we use to group the historical data, if it is reasonable or useful.

Thus, to take another example, in my own field, one can reasonably argue that the Enlightenment was 'not a thing'; it's not, as far as I can tell, a particularly common position, but it is an intelligible one that you do occasionally find. But, someone might say, there are literally people in the period referring to their period as a period of Enlightenment! Yes, but:

(A) There were others who didn't, and there were lots of things going on that had little to do with these thinkers. Since the people who used the term (and have since used the term) often had a very open agenda about using it, one can reasonably question whether they were right in understanding their own times, or whether using the term buys too much into their particular valuations, to the detriment of understanding other things.
(B) It's pretty clear that the term 'Enlightenment' is often confusing to people who are not specialists -- they don't often distinguish it very well from other periods, with the result that 'Enlightenment' is often used in public for things that really only arose after the period you're trying to discuss.
(C) Even if one uses the 'Enlightenment' designation, it often makes more sense to think of it as several different things rather than a single thing -- that is, instead of 'the Enlightenment' to talk of the French Enlightenment, the Scottish Enlightenment, the American Enlightenment, the Swiss Enlightenment, and so forth. That is to say, whether you are in 'the Enlightenment period' depends in part on which area of the world you are taking as your reference point, and isn't always very useful taken as a neutral term covering everything. Thinking of this all as 'the Enlightenment' is much later. (This and (A) are probably the most widely accepted reasons among specialists for not putting much weight on 'Enlightenment' as a designation.)
(D) It's always a reasonable question, even if the designation is useful, whether there is a better one.

None of this is determinative of itself; in practice, people who would deny that the Enlightenment is a thing in the (1)-ish sense would probably often still use it in the (3)-ish sense, since it is a word that non-specialists recognize and that, because it is usually associated with positive value judgments, would usually not cause any problems for funding or the like. With the Dark Ages, it's unclear what analogous (3)-ish value would be operative; people might fund Enlightenment Studies, but good luck getting public interest and funding for Dark Ages Studies. They might also use it in a (2)-ish sense -- i.e., 'I study the Enlightenment, understood in the sense of the things that were happening in intellectual matters that Kant probably had in mind when he talked about Aufklärung'), although, because of (B), they might not. But if they are denying that it is a 'thing', it's a (1)-ish question -- and, indeed, rigor is the order of the day then.

In the case of the Dark Ages, people who deny that it is a 'thing' are typically denying that it is a natural classification of historical events and that it is a shorthand that sufficiently avoids misleading people. Scott considers both of these but, as noted before, does not adequately distinguish them. Worries about value judgments are typically (2)-ish problems:

So I assume you also raise a fuss whenever someone talks about Alexander the Great? The Golden Age of Athens? The Five Good Emperors? The Enlightenment? Ivan the Terrible? The Belle Époque? I S O L A T E D . D E M A N D . F O R . R I G O R.

But this line of argument is just evidence that Scott doesn't spend an extensive amount of time talking with historians, because historians worry about this kind of thing all the time, particularly when referential uses capture the public imagination as if they were descriptive. 'The Enlightenment' is indeed the sort of label that can worrisomely introduce value-based prejudices that distort serious scholarship, and it's entirely possible to worry about it, and some people do, as I noted above. Historians often question the epithets and descriptions attached to figures in popular history. They will still use them, however, if they don't see any reason to think that confusion between the descriptive reading and the referential reading are misleading people -- particularly when they have (3)-ish incentives for doing so.

But Scott also muddles up with this (1)-ish problems about whether the Dark Ages were really bad -- which, first of all, assumes that there is already particular reason to treat clump these centuries together under a unified label rather than break them up or portion off part to the period before and part to the period after. If one has such a reason, that's a (1)-ish ground for the label. And second it raises the question of whether the label appropriately conveys what is going on even if there is reason to treat it as unified. Certainly there were bad things that happened; the question of significance is whether it was enough of a single bad network of things to warrant a single label, or just a bunch of bad clumps. And even if one argues the former, talking about 'the Dark Ages' makes it sound -- well, darker than everything else, since you are singling it out in particular as dark; and that is a comparative judgment that requires not only looking at the bad (as Scott does) but the good. This is because the label does not exist on its own but is an element within a labeling system, and its place in that system needs to be considered in a comparative matter like this.

Consider an example. The twentieth century saw something like 160 million people die from war, and probably as many in non-war killings by dictatorial regimes; it saw a nation drop atomic weapons on another nation; it saw major plague outbreaks and any number of other bad things. The end of it sees the collapse of a number of previously important institutions and the loss of cultural customs around the world, serious collapses of popular trust in governments, religious institutions, and scientific inquiry. But if in the future it gets called the Bad Century, one would have to look at the good of the twentieth century as well as the bad before one could properly determine whether the label was reasonable; just as one would also have to consider the question of whether the accumulation of badness was really obtained by jumping around and treating all these bad things as if they characterized the century rather than just this set of events at this particular point in this particular population; and one would also need to consider whether 'twentieth century' were too arbitrary a designation and whether its events would actually be better understood if split up in different ways, even though people in the twentieth century did tend to think of the twentieth century as a block. (Thus, to take just one for-instance, when Scott talks about population decline, he fails to consider the question of whether his data actually suggest 200 to 600 should be seen as cohering better as a Late Imperial period, or an Imperial Decline period, and then 600 to 1000 as a Recovery period. Assuming we should regard this as a single period, which is part of what is being questioned when people deny that the Dark Ages is a 'thing', why the pessimistic reading in which the entire era is blamed for a problem that obviously started before it supposedly began, since Scott takes the Dark Ages to start circa 500? The only reason is because there is already a label 'Dark Ages' and the pessimistic reading fits it better. This same thing actually happens several times in the argument: he is conflating the use of the label to interpret the data and the derivation of it from the data, so that his defense of the label as a legitimate one depends on using the label in the first place.) The use of the label is not self-justified just because it is used; if we are reading it in a (1)-ish way, we have to establish that it actually designates something non-arbitrary that is not better classified in a different way, and that the label is a reasonable label when put into the entire classification scheme composed by historical period designations.

Again, the point is not the question of the Dark Ages, which is an extraordinarily complicated historical question, but instead that of how historical period designations work. As Whewell pointed out, classifications are not trivial issues because they are one of the ways we store discoveries and they are instruments we use to organize evidence and research. The labels used for historical periods are classifications. Like other classifications, their use may be due to the fact that they converge on a natural classification, or because they are useful enough even if artificial to make research easier, or because they allow for the smooth functioning and administration of institutions and organizations that do the research. As with other classifications, one may criticize them on any or all of these grounds. But they are distinct.

This Late Day of Golden Fall

by Robert Bridges

April adance in play
met with his lover May
where she came garlanded.
The blossoming boughs o’erhead
were thrill’d to bursting by
the dazzle from the sky
and the wild music there
that shook the odorous air.
Each moment some new birth
hasten’d to deck the earth
in the gay sunbeams.
Between their kisses dreams:
And dream and kiss were rife
with laughter of mortal life.
But this late day of golden fall
is still as a picture upon a wall
or a poem in a book lying open unread.
Or whatever else is shrined
when the Virgin hath vanishèd:
Footsteps of eternal Mind
on the path of the dead.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Today is the feast of St. Teresa of Ávila, Doctor of the Church. From The Interior Castle:

A soul which gives itself to prayer, either much or little, should on no account be kept within narrow bounds. Since God has given it such great dignity, permit it to wander at will through the rooms of the castle, from the lowest to the highest. Let it not force itself to remain for very long in the same mansion, even that of self-knowledge. Mark well, however, that self-knowledge is indispensable, even for those whom God takes to dwell in the same mansion with Himself. Nothing else, however elevated, perfects the soul which must never seek to forget its own nothingness. Let humility be always at work, like the bee at the honeycomb, or all will be lost. But, remember, the bee leaves its hive to fly in search of flowers and the soul should sometimes cease thinking of itself to rise in meditation on the grandeur and majesty of its God. It will learn its own baseness better thus than by self-contemplation, and will be freer from the reptiles which enter the first room where self-knowledge is acquired. Although it is a great grace from God to practise self-examination, yet ‘too much is as bad as too little,’ as they say; believe me, by God’s help, we shall advance more by contemplating the Divinity than by keeping our eyes fixed on ourselves, poor creatures of earth that we are.

A painting by Rubens:

Peter Paul Rubens 138

And, of course, Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa:

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa September 2015-2a

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Womb-of-All, Home-of-all, Hearse-of-All Night

Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, ' vaulty, voluminous, … stupendous
Evening strains to be tíme’s vást, ' womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ' her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, ' stárs principal, overbend us,
Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ' her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end, as-
tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ' self ín self steedèd and páshed—qúite
Disremembering, dísmémbering ' áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ' whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish ' damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,
Ever so black on it. Óur tale, O óur oracle! ' Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind
Off hér once skéined stained véined variety ' upon, áll on twó spools; párt, pen, páck
Now her áll in twó flocks, twó folds—black, white; ' right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these ' twó tell, each off the óther; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ' thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dashed Off XXII

It is problematic to treat florilegia as a bunch of texts piled together rather than as building an impression in 'brushstrokes'.

the perlocutionary effect of a philosophical dialogue

--look at Thomas Roderick Dew's adaptation of Burke and Hume in *Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature of 1831 & 1832*

liturgy as monumental history

the Filioque and the appropriateness of mediation to the Second Person of the Trinity; the Word as Mediator

'the grace of imitating the apostolic way of life'

Chandi in Chandi Charitar as mythological/allegorical representation of victory of divine good over evil

The possibility of sin is in itself the possibility of hell.

Analytic philosophy of religion, when talking about higher theological topics (beyond basic natural theology) seems very often to conflate subjective effect and objective nature.

Anyone rational enough to evaluate evidence is rational enough to evade it.

A schismatic church tends to be a church subservient to secular pressures.

Perfect understanding of sin requires union with God.

The horror of sin is such that it involves deadening us who sin to the horror, like drugs that cloud the mind as they kill us in degrading ways.

Guru Granth Sahib as lyrical philosophical contemplation

"The syllable gu means darkness, the syllable ru, dispeller; because of the power to dispel darkness, the guru is so named." Advayataranka Upanishad 16

"it would be in vain for a thing to be tending to what is impossible for it to reach." Aquinas DC 132

"heavy and light bodies are moved by the generator or the remover of impediment" Aquinas DC 148

DC 165: Every natural body must have a natural inclination to some kind of change, and thus a natural aptness to be moved, if it is to be moved even by compulsion, which must be from a proper inclination by a stronger force.

Every irregular motion or change possesses intension, power (maximum), and remission.

the Mass as linking public and private prayer

pro bono work as a common constituent of humanitarian traditions

Sometimes by attempting to find a way to communicate a position simply, we find its pure cure.

"Beauty is a transcendental, a perfection in things which transcends things and attests their kinship with the infinite, because it makes them fit to give joy to the spirit." Maritain

poetry as trying to capture things by remotion, eminence, and causation

the being-in-the-story aspect of reading

the three great philosophical contemplations: self, world, God

The generated intimates the ingenerable.

the rejection of idolatry, murder, and adultery as key to proper understanding of the image of God in us

"Piety is nothing else than the recognition of God as parent." Lactantius

"A poet of original genius is always distinguished by his talent for description." Hugh Blair

Arguments persuade not directly but by raising the recognizable cost or increasing the recognizable benefit of a position. These costs & benefits may be rational or not.

Anything that can calculate is to that extent a computer; but in this sense there is no meaning to talking about something being 'merely' a computer.

"The sound method of demonstrating a truth is to expose the fallacy of the objections raised against it; and the disgrace of the deceiver is complete if his own lie be converted into an evidence for the truth. And, indeed, the universal experience of mankind has learned that falsehood and truth are incompatible, and cannot be reconciled or made coherent; that by their very nature they are among those opposites which are eternally repugnant, and can never combine or agree." Hilary De Trin 5.6

A template exists as a such only within a larger system.

The 'primitive' character of folk ballads is often really a quality of 'undergrowth', arising from their unsupervised and sometimes even outlaw or clandestine character.

Integrity concepts have to have a tolerance for defect or no one has integrity.

positions as methods for drawing conclusions

"In their several assertions and denials, there are points in which each heresy is in the right in defense or attack; and the result of their conflicts is that the truth of our confession is brought into clearer light." Hilary DT 7.7

"Our method is that of using bodily instances as a clue to the invisible. Reverence and reason justify us in using such help , which we find used in God's witness to Himself, while yet we do not aspire to fina parallel to the nature of God. But the minds of simple believers have been distressed by the mad heretical objection that it is wrong to accept a doctrine concerning God which needs, in order to become intelligible, the help of bodily analogies." Hilary DT 7.30

The danger of apologetics is losing the forest in the trees.

Anthony of Padua & concordantia as an exegetical principle

'Argent' and 'silver' are conceptually linked, but they are, as it were, differently tinged, and this is not a mere difference of sound or marks, but of associations that affect fitness of application. Substituting 'silver' for 'argent' may not affect truth value, but in many cases it will be a less fit term to use, because it will not have the right library of classifications and shared associations.

Utilitarianism is the theory of everything having a price.

territorial, national (ethnic), and ritual principles of ecclesial jurisdiction (noticeably, things can get very tangled when they conflict)

imperfect duties as character-focused

Every constitutive principle implies regulative principles.

Procedural fairness requires systems of honor to uphold the procedures and apply them properly.

Genuinely practical reasoning may nonetheless be highly abstract.

a natural stimulus to philosophy: reflection on the limits of application of aphorisms

"Every novelist ought to invent his own technique, that is the fact of the matter. Every novel worthy of the name is like another planet, whether large or small, which has its own laws just as it has it is own flora and fauna." Mauriac

the constative and performative force of sacraments (to show Christ to us and to make us Christ)

entertaining a proposition and judging it to be apparently possible/coherent/intelligible (I entertain the possibility that p, or the coherence or intelligibility of p)

Shelley's Prometheus Unbound as an allegory of the human mind

Vice obscures.

faith, hope, and charity as related to the natural structure of good marriage

one : remotion :: true : supereminence :: good : causation

teaching, sanctifying, and governing as all tending to hierarchical structure

The office of each bishop flows out to all the Church by (1) communion with the See of Peter; (2) communion under the see of Peter; (3) collegiality with fellow bishops.

Narrative retold tends toward stylization.

"The spirit of the world cares much for words but little for works." Francis de Sales

The Silmarillion as a myth concerned with Free will (cf. Letter 153)

docilitas and active participation in the liturgy

natural : conventional :: necessary : contingent

emotive theories of ethics & the experience of music
the meaning of music & shared expressive/emotive meaning (music as dialogical, at least semi-dialogical like the epistolary) -- note that Stevenson's view is indeed cooperative in this way
music & interjections (Uncle Toby is a good place to see the basic similarities)

The fashions of the world ape the powers of the world.

passions, moods, interactions of moods (ambiences)

the Tower of Babel and the temptation to try to seize divine gifts by method

Computing machines operate as parts of interpretation loops.

Dooyeweerd's theory of enkapsis seems to work best for artifacts.

an argument from per accidens causal series on the model of the Third Way

Sometimes when people speak of historical memory, they really mean historical unforgiving.

It is remarkable that science fiction often depicts futures that have no science fiction.

The power of a law is cumulative and builds slowly; it requires consistency in interpretation and enforcement.

An infinite per accidens series is only possible through the action of a cause outside the series that has infinite power.

the three primary episcopal munera/officia: (1) unity of faith; (2) integrity of sacraments; (3) harmony of the churches

"Every good poem must be wholly intentional and wholly instinctive." Schlegel
"Everything in a truly poetic book seems so natural -- and yet so marvelous." Novalis

Scholasticisms eventually collapse under their own weight because human ingenuity cannot rise to higher-level simplifications fast enough to keep up with the complexification that comes from human discursive reasoning.

Hume's account of causation has difficulty making sense of temporally extended effects except as mental conveniences; this follows from the role of successive contiguity.

All per accidens causation requires a larger causal system.

Bellarmine's discussion of the notes of the Church as an outline of a theory of motives of credibility

truth as (defeasibly) recognizable by: label, primordiality, durability, consensus of many, provenance, temporal coherence, structural coherence, internal goodness, efficacy, goodness-causing, diagnostic sign, predictive confirmation, confession of adversaries, detriment of denial, benefit of acceptance

"The emotive meaning of a word is the tendency of a word, arising through the history of its usage, to produce (result from) affective responses in people. It is the immediate aura of feeling which hovers about a word." Stevenson

moral sense of responsibility // musical investment

- a musical sense theory (cf. Hutcheson on the sense of harmony)

Music is motivating, in at least a vague way.

Disapproval cannot be mere dislike, and comparison of cases of disapproval shows that it generally has reference to a standard.

It is remarkable how often emotivist and expressivist accounts of ethics read as if they were written by people who have no conception of human emotional life or its expressions.

obligations arising from the need to do good before death, if possible

fiction : lying :: lending : usury

hypothesis as fiction under inquiry, postulate as fiction under practical problem-solving

the diversity of rites as allowing self-correction and redundancy
self-correction, redundancy, cooperation, complementarity, hierarchy, restraint, rich perspective

exemplar-occasion, exemplar-agent

That we can have means to ends establishes that there are causal dispositions.

Experimental design is planning using knowledge of causal dispositions.

deontic limitation as intrinsic to the notion of marriage

hidden decency as a narrative trope

Nietzsche on objectivity as intellectual castration.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Evening Note for Thursday, October 12

Thought for the Evening: Of the Logic of Imperatives

Inference is often assumed to be a matter of assertions; but there are good reasons for thinking that you can infer with imperatives. Consider, for instance, these arguments:

Don't brake while accelerating. (A little later) You are accelerating; therefore, don't brake.

A: Drive to Cleveland to see your mother.
B: I cannot drive to Cleveland unless I rent a car.
A: So rent a car!

Act only according to that maxim that you can at the same time will to be universal law. The maxim to lie to get money is not such a maxim. Therefore do not act according to it.

A: You have to go to town, either by bus or by car.
B: I can't go by car; my car's in the shop.
A: Then go by bus.

A: Take all of Joe's things to the station.
B: Does this belong to Joe?
A: Yes, so take that.

All of these seem to be reasoning involving imperatives, with imperatives in either the premises or the conclusions. Because of the assumption that inference is tied to assertion, though, there was a big dispute, as far as a logical dispute can be big, a few decades back, over whether you could have a logic involving imperatives, in the proper sense. Héctor-Neri Castañeda (who is still absurdly underappreciated) was probably the most influential voice arguing that you could indeed have such a logic. In the course of the dispute it became clear that the two major arguments against were (1) the fact that imperatives have no truth values; and (2) that trying to do an imperative logic on analogy with that for assertions creates some anomalies.

The first of these is certainly the major obstacle for most people; it has become common to associate logic so much with truth values and truth conditions that the prejudice against a non-truth-value logic is quite strong. But it's clear enough that you can have things that are analogous to truth values -- the one that I think is usually most useful is concerned with whether a command or imperative is 'in force', but there are others. I, of course, am on record saying that you can be interested in many other things beside truth values and truth conditions (possibility values and possibility conditions, for instance), so I am utterly unimpressed with this line of argument. But it also, I think, serves to distract from another, more important point, which is that you can obviously give rules governing reasoning with imperatives.

We can identify rule-governed phenomena involving imperatives. For instance, we can identify contradictories:

Go to the store. Don't go to the store.

Obviously, this is because we have some form of negation. We can find imperatives that are equivalent:

Go to Canada. Go to the country that is second largest by land area.

That means that we can substitute imperatives for another. Some imperatives include each other. For instance, 'Do this' and 'Do something' are related in that if you have conform to the former, you have also conformed to the latter, although the reverse is not true. This is at least something like an implication. We can have conjunctions (Talk to Bob and talk to Jane), disjunctions (Talk to Bob or talk to Jane); we can eliminate the conjunction by taking one of the conjuncts, and we can eliminate the disjunction by something that looks very like disjunctive syllogism. These are not arbitrary moves; they are rule-governed, and so there should be some logic to them.

The second major reason used by doubters is that we get puzzles if we take a logic of imperatives to be very like a logic of assertions. To some extent, this objection only gets its force by assuming that a logic of imperatives and a logic of assertions would have to be isomorphic, which was a common supposition in the attempt to build a logic of imperatives, but I see no reason to assume such a thing farther than the evidence requires. (It should be noted, that some anomalies are arguably not. For instance, one of the most common examples makes use of disjunction addition: 'Post this letter; therefore, post this letter or burn it.' But this is not a problem. Because disjunction addition is not standard for natural language assertions, either; it is a rule that is proposed not because it fits the way we talk -- it very much does not -- but because it simplifies the organization of the formal logical system. Thus some of these problems are due to the complications that come from trying to translate between natural languages and artificial languages, and are not actually unique to imperatives.) But there do seem to be some differences. The most obvious one, of course, is that you can't understand arguments based on imperatives to have validity in the sense of truth-preservation. Rather, there needs to be an analogous kind of validity -- in-force-preservation, perhaps.

I think there's another big issue that hasn't been considered at all in the literature. Every attempt at formulating a logic of imperatives that I have seen has focused on building the logic on the model of propositional logic. But there seems good reason to think that this will inevitably give us some odd results. Many imperatives seem to work not like unitary propositions but like predications. We have a subject (usually You), and what we do is apply the imperative to the subject: (You) -- go to the store. This is perhaps not true of all imperatives (if I say, 'This shall be done' as a command, it seems like the imperative is being treated more like a proposition and than like a predication), but it does seem true of enough that we should consider that a propositional-logic model might sometimes not fit things very well.

Various Links of Interest

* Thony Christie discusses the logician Christine Ladd-Franklin.

* Ralph C. Wood, J. R. R. Tolkien's Vision of Sorrowful Joy

* Razib Khan, The 100 Million Killed Under Communist Regimes Matter

* Clare Coffey, Addictions flourish when people are left to manage pain

Currently Reading

Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard
Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in the Church Fathers: The Ambigua, Volume II
Cajetan, Commentary on St. Thomas Aquinas' On Being & Essence
Edith Stein, The Hidden Life: Essays, Meditations, Spiritual Texts

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Originality and Eccentricity

The odd manner in which Mr. Mill worships mere variety, and confounds the proposition that variety is good with the proposition that goodness is various, is well illustrated by the lines which follow this passage:-- "Exceptional individuals ... should be encouraged in acting differently from the mass" --in order that there may be enough of them to "point out the way." Eccentricity is much required in these days. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded, and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportioned to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric makes the chief danger of the time.

If this advice were followed, we should have as many little oddities in manner and behaviour as we have people who wish to pass for men of genius. Eccentricity is far more often a mark of weakness than a mark of strength. Weakness wishes, as a rule, to attract attention by trifling distinctions, and strength wishes to avoid it. Originality consists in thinking for yourself, not in thinking differently from other people.

James Fitzjames Stephen, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Chapter II

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Subject to Truth and Free Because of It

The will to know, and to know freely, corresponds to the idea of ​​creation. The created world is rational, and this means that we can know it. Its rationality is a harmony that one contemplates: theory comes from theorein which means to contemplate: the truth draws to itself like the good and the beautiful. Indeed, creation is the work of a transcendent author, thus infinitely complex, the comprehension of which is never exhausted. Hence the idea of ​​a truth always to be sought and mined. It cannot be contained in a single book, as totalitarianisms (Stalin) or total utopias (Orwell) or fantastic literatures (Borgès) would want.

The regime of truth, under which we live, implies two essential consequences or characteristics:

Truth implies universality, because a true proposition is everywhere and for all. While a myth is only valid for a group, a tribe, a culture.

Truth implies freedom, because in the regime of freedom an arbitrary authority cannot impose dogmas according to its good pleasure: the human mind is at the same time subject to truth and free because of it.

Chantal Delsol, "L’idée d’Université" (my translation).

John of St. Thomas and the Verecundia Problem

I've noted before that there are some puzzles about Aquinas's treatment of verecundia as an integral part of the virtue of temperance. I noticed, recently reading John of St. Thomas's Introduction to the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas (as translated by Ralph McInerny), his interpretation of it:

He treats modesty first, whereby one fears to be confused or tested by the base. It differs from penance because penance grieves for sin as such as offensive to God, but modesty flees the baseness of sin insofar as it fears its dishonor and disorder. Thus this does not pertain to the perfect man, nor is it a virtue, but rather a laudable passion, since it does not directly seek the good but flees evil because of the dishonor of it. Thus modesty is not a component part of temperance but disposes to it.
[John of St. Thomas, Introductionto the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, McInerny,tr. St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN: 2004) p. 129.]

This is a very reasonable interpretation; verecundia

(1) is counted as a quasi-integral part of temperance;
(2) is not a virtue because it is inconsistent with complete virtue;
(3) is instead a laudable passion.

The major problem with putting these together is that temperance itself is required for complete virtue, and we have the puzzle of how temperance can be required for complete virtue when one of its integral parts is inconsistent with complete virtue. This is handled by the next point,

(4) verecundia is not a component part of temperance but dispositive to it.

This resolves the complete virtue puzzle completely: verecundia disposes to temperance, but is not required for temperance as such. Aquinas says as much at ST 2-2.144.4ad4. But it raises questions of its own.

This very neat and clean summary makes it easier to identify the verecundia problem. An integral or quasi-integral part of virtue is "in likeness to integral parts," that is, in the sense that wall and floors are parts of the whole that is a house, "so that the things which need to concur for the perfect act of a virtue, are called parts" (ST 2-2.44.1). Therefore, it seems that:

(a) if verecundia is a quasi-integral part, it should not be merely dispositive;
(b) if verecundia is inconsistent with complete virtue, it cannot be required for the perfect act of temperance.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Music on My Mind

Billy Joel,"Miami 2017". A bit of sci-fi apocalypticism from 1976.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Fortnightly Book, October 8

If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, born in Palermo, Sicily, spent a considerable portion of his life thinking through a novel. He had the idea of writing a story about nineteenth-century, in the time of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, based loosely on the life of his great-grandfather, who was Prince of Lampedusa in that period, and he worked on it, off and on, for decades. Every word, every sentence was closely scrutinized. Finally, in the 1950s it began to take shape, and he knew it to be good. So he submitted it to a publisher. It was rejected. He submitted it to another publisher. It was rejected. One of those rejections may or may not have been due to a clerical error. But Lampedusa was dying of a tumor in the lung, and so he never saw it published. His will asked that his heirs do everything in their power to get it respectably published, and so it was, in 1958, a year after his death, under its final title, Il Gattopardo. It is often regarded as the greatest Italian novel of the twentieth century.

A gattopardo is apparently a serval, but the English title has always been The Leopard. I will be reading the Pantheon Books edition, translated by Archibald Colquhoun, which is based on a more careful examination of the manuscript (Lampedusa had only one final draft manuscript) than some of the early published versions, and has an introduction by Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi, Lampedusa's cousin and heir, who was involved in the process of getting it published.

It is the 1860s, last decade of a divided Italy; the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, decadent and degenerate, is on the verge of destruction by the Risorgiomento. Garibaldi has already started the process that will bring the Kingdom to its knees. And, among the soon-to-be-extinct aristocracy, Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina, must decide whether to uphold the older values of the aristocracy or, as his nephew Tancredi advises, change so as to maintain the family's influence. Either way, much will crumble to dust.

Susan Cooper, The Dark Is Rising Sequence


Opening Passage: From Over Sea, Under Stone:

"Where is he?"

Barney hopped from one foot to the other as he clambered down from the train, peering in vain through the white-faced crowds flooding eagerly to the St Austell ticket barrier. "Oh, I can't see him. Is he there?"

"Of course he's there," Simon said, struggling to clutch the long canvas bundle of his father's fishing rods. "He said he'd meet us. With a car."

Behind them, the big diesel locomotive hooted like a giant owl, and the train began to move out.

"Stay where you are a minute," Father said, from a barricade of suitcases. "Merry won't vanish. Let people get clear." (p. 1)

From The Dark Is Rising:

"Too many!' James shouted, and slammed the door behind him.

"What?" said Will.

"Too many kids in this family, that's what. Just too many." (p. 3)

From Greenwitch:

Only one newspaper carried the story in detail, under the headline: TREASURES STOLEN FROM MUSEUM. (p. 1)

From The Grey King:

"Are you awake, Will? Will? Wake up, it's time for your medicine, love...."

The face swung like a pendulum, to and fro; rose high up in a pink blur; dropped again; divided into six pink blurs, all of them spinning madly like wheels. He closed his eyes. He could feel sweat cold on his forehead, panic cold in his mind. I've lost it. I've forgotten! Even in darkness the world spun round. There was a great buzzing in his head like rushing water, until for a moment the voice broke through it. (p. 1)

From Silver on the Tree:

Will said, turning a page, "He liked woad. He says--listen--the decoction of Woad drunken is good for wounds in bodies of a strong constitution, as of country people, and such as are accustomed to great labour and hard coarse fare." (p. 1)


When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track....

The series follows the adventures of the Drew children (Simon, Jane, and Barney), Will Stanton, and Bran Davies as they find themselves enmeshed in a great cosmic war between the Light and the Dark, a war in which they fulfill a role in prophecies with the help of Merriman Lyon, the oldest of the Old Ones.

...and the grail gone before

The first in the series, Over Sea, Under Stone, is the one that is most different from the rest of the series, being less fantasy and more mystery that alludes to, but for the most part does not much depend on, larger fantasy elements. Invited to the fishing village of Trewissick, in Cornwall, by Great Uncle Merry (not literally their uncle, but a longstanding family friend), the Drews discover an ancient map and find themselves in a race to discover the long-lost grail before the sinister Mr. Hastings and his associates.

Six signs the circle...

Will Stanton, born on Midwinter's Day as the seventh son of a seventh son, discovers that he has been born into a prophetic role as the last and youngest of the Old Ones, guardians of the Light, and that his task is to gather the six signs, powerful relics that can aid the Light in turning back the Dark. Completing the circle of the Old Ones, he must complete the circle of signs; but the Dark is at its strongest in the days after Midwinter's Day, and the Rider of the Dark will stop at nothing to prevent him from succeeding. He walks a path laid out by prophecy -- but the Dark has its own prophecies, and victory cannot come without great risk.

Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea...

The grail has been stolen from the museum where it had been housed, and the Drew children return to Trewissick ready to discover how to get it back. They are very disappointed when they discover that Merry has invited a boy named Will Stanton, as well, which will make hunting for the grail much more difficulty. In Trewissick, it is the time of the Greenwitch, an ancient festival in which the townspeople make a figure out of green branches and cast it into the sea for luck. Jane will discover that the Greenwitch holds a secret on which the fate of the world depends -- and the Greenwitch is a thing of Wild Magic, with no allegiance either to the Dark or to the Light.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold...

Will is recovering from hepatitis, which has caused him to forget something absolutely essential; he can remember nothing more about it than that it starts with "On the day of the dead". He is sent to family in Wales to recover, and there meets Bran Davies, an albino boy. Together, they unravel the secret protected by the Grey King, one of the most powerful of all the agents of the Dark, as well as the secret of Bran's past.

All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.

The Dark has begun its final rising, a rising greater than any since it was partly back by Arthur, the greatest champion of the Light, and the Old Ones prepare for their last chance to stop it. Will returns to Wales with the Drews to find the crystal sword of the Pendragon, the last great relic of the Light needed to take the silver mistletoe on the midsummer tree, which grants great power to those who have it.

Fantasy relies on seeing the world, as we know it, not as an encompassing whole but as a thing with borders, beyond which is another world in which things work very differently and which can be explored imaginatively. Proper handling of those borders is the most important element in what is usually (and sometimes misleadingly, since it need not be a border that literally divides worlds) called 'world-building' when speaking of fantasy. Much of Tolkien's pre-eminence, for instance, comes from his deft constructions and handling of borders within borders within borders -- the hobbits are over the border from the reader, but the hobbits themselves are shielded by a border from a great world, and that greater world has its own border. Once you establish the border dividing our world from the other-worldly, there are many things you can do it. The mundane can stumble into the other world; the other-worldly can intrude into the mundane; they can run in parallel; one can stay entirely on the side of the mundane but in such a way as to suggest the existence of the other-worldly; one can stay entirely on the side of the other-worldly; if your story is sophisticated enough, you can mix these in various ways. Cooper is quite good at giving us a diverse treatment. The Drews at first don't cross the threshold, but find hints of the other world; in the next book, Will crosses it; in the third and fourth, the other world intrudes on the mundane in significant ways; in the fifth, we are in a sense always on the otherworldly side, but have to cross from other world to even stranger other world. All of these are handled well.

I think the series overall struggles a bit when it comes to integrating the "three from the circle" (Merry, Will, Bran) and the "three from the track" (the Drews); indeed, I think it struggles somewhat in integrating the mundane from the other-worldly in general. Within a single book, it does not interfere with the story, although I think it is nonetheless noticeable in SOTT; OSUS avoids the problem by deferring it, and TDIR manages to hide it by interweaving the story with the liturgical and paraliturgical elements of the Christmas season (somewhat ironically, since TDIR also makes clear that the series assumes a non-Christian cosmos). But the scale of things in the last three books is so great that the world of the Drews and the world of the Old Ones sometimes jar against each other a bit. Nonetheless, one needs both. For one thing, it is only because of the Drews that we can take the Light to be actually good, rather than just a different faction in a largely inexplicable war; we learn already in TDIR that the Light can be rather ruthless, and it is strongly hinted in TGK that Will's serious illness was simply a tactical move by the Light. The Light does benefit from the associations with Arthurian legend, but the associations are all stripped of exactly those things that would mark the Light as unequivocally good -- Arthur is not a Christian king, and the grail is not an instrument of divine grace. It is really the Drews who provide a reference point that lets us treat the victory of the Light as the victory of good.

TDIR is in many ways the best book of the series. I remembered liking Greenwitch quite well, and I think it actually holds up. It is usually regarded as the weakest in the series, but having read it again, I'm still inclined to think it the second best, although its story is complicated somewhat by being the first book in the series definitely to make the series a series; OSUS and TDIR could practically stand alone, since the only thing relating them before Greenwitch starts tying them together is Merriman Lyon. It is also, I think, only Greenwitch that gives the Light an unambiguously moral victory; OSUS shows the cleverness of the Drews and TDIR the determination of Will, TGK gives us a victory that is (unsurprisingly) grey and mixed, and the victory in SOTT is so abstract as to border on allegorical, but the victory of the Light in Greenwitch depends entirely on human compassion. The series trades very heavily on the moral overtones of 'Light' and 'Dark', but for most of the series, you could just name them 'Red' and 'Blue' without all that much change, beyond the fact that "The Blue is rising" lacks that ominous and urgency-inducing ring. But Greenwitch is a struggle not just between the Light and the Dark, but between light and dark in precisely a moral sense.

Besides some excellent characterization and 'world-building', the series also is strengthened by the fact that there many very memorable scenes -- the dog Rufus coming to the rescue in OSUS, the Christmas party and also the flood in TDIR, the agent of the dark painting his spell and also the rise of the Wild Magic in Greenwitch, the riddle test in TGK, and the train to the midsummer tree in SOTT stand out particularly.

Favorite Passage: A part of one of the strongest portions of Greenwitch, a point at which it makes a forceful turn:

"You are a made creature only, you will do as I say!" Arrogance sharpened the man's tone, gave it an edge of command. "Give the thing to me, at once, before the Dark shall blast you out of this world!"

The children felt Captain Toms gently but urgently drawing them all back against the wall, into a corner almost cut off from the spot where the two figures confronted one another on the quay. Nervously they moved as they were told.

From the blackness that was the Greenwitch came a hair-raising sound: a long low lamenting, like a moan, rising and falling in a mumbling whine. Then it stopped, and the creature began muttering to itself, broken words that they could not make out. Then there was silence for a moment and all at once it said very clearly, "You have not the full power of the Dark." (p. 107)

Recommendation: Recommended.


Susan Cooper, Over Sea, Under Stone, Aladdin (New York: 1989).

The Dark Is Rising, Aladdin (New York: 1986).

Greenwitch, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York: 2013).

The Grey King, Collier (New York: 1986).

Silver on the Tree, Collier (New York: 1986).

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Two Poem Drafts and Two Poem Re-Drafts


The ivy lodges on the tree,
freshly green;
the spring rains nourish it.
At Osaka,
where lovers meet,
I thought I saw you,
elegant beneath the clouds.
Your memory clings like vine
to my mind's bough.


The world is a deep sea;
waves of air above me do flow.
Beneath deep space they go,
which is a sea, I know, of light
through which the stars swim at night.
To the ends of our sight we see,
out and out, only sea.


The air is hot and dry,
obscured by storms of dust.
Unending realms of sand
parch with fatal thirst.
Yet even on this desert planet
water can be found:
dew in secret places,
springs in sacred places,
pools by wind-worn rocks.

I dreamed:
This desert was a beach;
mist was in the air.
Great waves of philosophy
broke against the shore.

The Battle

God came to me, rebuked me for my life of sin
and showed to me a way in which we both could win;
I heard His offer out, but in the summit of my pride
I chose to win alone. God I crucified.

I hanged Him on the tree, and on the tree He died.

But God does not just die; He rises to live again,
and soon returns, rebuking me for my life of sin.
Frustrated with His returning, that He does not simply die,
I choose myself again, and Him I crucify.

I hang Him on the tree again; on the tree He dies.

He returns and comes again, each time so vital, bold,
that I can only crucify by growing yet more cold.
Where our ending finds us is where we did begin;
we either taste the grace of glory or crucify with sin,
crucify forever or someday just give in.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Dashed Off XXI

market price, affective price, dignity-relevant price, dignity

intrinsic vs extrinsic meaning of a cathedral (e.g., Holy Sepulcher is the greatest of churches in terms of its intrinsic meaning, but it is not as great in its centrality as St. Peter's, which in a sense is the world's basilica)

necessity as an excuse and necessitation for deontic Box

the serious error argument for common ancestor (identical harmful mutations in widely separated species)
- has to consider constraints (mathematical, physical, chemical) that may increase chance of independent repetition or convergence
- somewhat complicated by functional variation over time

Competence requires courage for reasoned risks.

"Everyone knows that man is obliged in many instances to help his fellows with a simple, plain loan." Vix pervenit

legitimate profit in the context of lending
(1) loan without interest receiving free gift of thanks
(2) loan without interest as sine qua condition for participating in profitable contract
(3) loan with interest under legitimate extrinsic title concerning loss, risk, or service
(4) loan without interest with donation or grant for the service of lending

the oak park principle of civilization-building

how much of the work of 'representation' in psychology and neuroscience can be done by appeal to feedback and adaptation?

The machinery of modern civilization does not suffice to uphold civilization.

Spaemann's futurm exactum and Whitehead on God

representation compatibilism // free will compatibilism

inference to the best explanation as the structure of fictional worlds

particular judgment Sir 11:28
general judgment Wis 5:1-2

the functioning of hte peiorem rule for hybrid modal logics

Scripture as vocabulary-building
the Election of Israel as a historical precondition for speaking well of God

Holy Scripture
(1) Author: God as remote author, man as proximate (instrumental) author
(2) Exemplar: Divine Ideas as remote exemplar, Divine providential scheme in history as proximate exemplar
(3) Formal Character: Text as Tradition
(4) Material Character: Text qua sign with respect to its object (spiritual sense), text qua sign with respect to that by which it is a sign (literal sense)
(5) End: historical purpose of text as proximate end, salvation-historical purpose of text as remote end
-- all together thus constituting the text as disposed for teaching and grace (as instrumental mover)
-- which then is actually used as instrument for teaching and grace by the Holy Spirit as prime mover

tropological sense : anticipatory good :: anagogical sense : culminatory good

jury authority as an essential part of a healthy judiciary

pramanas as specific cases of ways of teaching (the kind that validate knowledge)

the pramanas as operative in the sacraments as signs

Schopenhauer's claim that the works of poets pasture peacefully side by side shows a remarkable ignorance of poetry.

Nationalism tends naturally to encourage revivals of paganism.

Hope is not merely a matter of probabilities.

a pramana as a stable layer of our experience of the world

the clerical aspects of logic and mathematics (keeping track of relevant things)

Metaphor often depends crucially on discernibility between one thing and another. Indeed, arguably it always does -- otherwise it would often be false literal speech.

chrismation // consecration of altar

"To walk straight to God is to walk in love." Cabasilas

arthapatti as a major principle in the interpretation of art

brevity as itself a form of pedagogical power

Empires generally excel at short-term solutions and little victories.

Hedonism is a philosophy of treachery.

an account of 'credence' that are more like voting than like balancing (nothing prevents such an account)

The Church is infallible in its general sense because it is united to the Word, and is infallible in the articulation of that sense because it is moved by the Spirit. It is authoritative even where not infallible because in reflecting on itself it reflects on a sign of higher things and on an icon whose Exemplar is in heaven, one that was caused to exist by divine authority to show divine things.

Trust is an excellent thing when armored with caution.

the maieutic work of the Holy Spirit

practical politics as the layering of reasons people already have

Consensus in physics is based on three things: deference to mathematics, assumption of the relevance of the mathematics, broad agreement on kinds of acceptable evidence.

methods as systems of practical maxims

Practical situations partly determine one's assumptions for one.

retaliatory vs presuppositional resistance to a position

Full rectification of names requires recognizing relation to exemplars.

Christ as tianxia zhicheng

Social interaction requires relatively little actual prediction of the behavior of our fellow human beings. What we don't bother to predict, or don't expect to be able to predict, or don't think it in any way possible to predict, is a far larger amount than the things we occasionally try to predict.

Moral self-culture is more about the present than the future.

Determinism tends to force a spectator-centered ethics.

free will compatibilism in psychology // design compatibilism in biology

It's interesting that we have mereological analogues for so many positions on mind and body. INdeed, we often talk about the problem mereologically. But totum in toto et in qualibet parte raises an interesting set of questions about our grounds for doing so. Likewise, we get into questions of alternative kinds of parts -- virtual, potential, hylomorphic, subjective.

Retorsion arguments are sensitive to the precise characterization of the universe of discourses.

New heritage grows from the ruins of old heritage.

When hazard is everywhere, anyone may fail; but the timid will certainly do so.

afterlife myths as different representations of philosophical posterity in the history of philosophy

Rigorous grasp of first principles can only be hardwon.

"The gates of the Mysteries are far more august and beneficial than the gates of Paradise." Cabasilas

It is one of the most important facts of human society that if something is considered an important value, or an important moral guidelines, people will try to use it to hide and 'spin' their evil deeds. The higher the thing, the more terrible the evils people try to mask with it.

Scottish common sense theory of evidenceNyaya-influence pramana theory
external and internal sensepratyaksa
causal inferenceanumana
-- the parallels are weakest for arthapatti and upamana
-- abhava would be folded under the others for Scottish
-- first principles and demonstration would be folded under others for Indian

gravity (boundary-fleeing) and levity (boundary-tending) in dynamic mereotopology

Upamana cannot reduce to mere perception, inference, testimony, or memory of likeness. therefore it seems we should see it as transfer of likeness to the new. Since it always involves descriptions, this suggests that it is in particular a transfer of description involving likeness. Since all pramanas are about actual existence, it is a way of linking actual existents, and the knowledge is of the link itself, newly recognized between this actual existence and others. Thus upamana is language-based classification (this is quite clear with dharmamatropomana, but is also found in other forms).

prudence as intrinsically maieutic

Each pramana yields a different sort of sameness.

self-governance, trade, security from violence

What makes something a tally? One possibility: a tally is an indefinite positing operation (indefinite in the sense that something is posited without knowing more than that). A difficulty here is that distinct tallies must posit distinct somethings. A possibility: a tally is a successor relation.

ringing the changes of conceptual variations

Dialogue without self-reflection is deceit.

Newman's Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent as an argument beforehand against the Principal Principle (the sun rising tomorrow, etc.).

flaw-finding and value-finding aproaches in argument

Truth is friend to truth.

- a religious order concerned with the press, the way some are concerned with schools and with hospitals

History has taken a wrong year every year since the dawn of the human race. Fortunately, that is not the only thing to be said.

polytheism as tending in practice to the principle of might makes right

the seven words of the Cross as summing up the Jewish experience in the history of Israel

People always try to solve philosophical problems by politics, whether it be that of the polis, or the patria, or the imperium, or modern liberalism.

The catholicity of the Church is the catholicity of Christ, its unity is the unity of Christ, its sanctity is the sanctity of Christ; but its apostolicity is its being from Christ and of Christ, proceeding from Him.

the one who is Christ sends || the many are sent as one
the holy Christ sanctifies || sinners are sanctified
the implicate universality of Christ || the explicate universality of the Church
apostolicity provides the links
(the apostolicity of the Church establishes a doctrine of appropriation for the unity, sanctity, and catholicity shared by the Church and Christ -- the unity, co-sanctity, and co-universality of the Head and the Body)

We reflect on ourselves by introspection, by inference, and by prediction.

three theories of corporate bodies (Michael Phillips)
(1) concession: corporations are artifacts of positive law
(2) aggregation: corporations are a nexus of contracts among individuals
(3) real entity: corporations are emergent agents

To be a citizen is not merely to be under a law to but also to contribute to a good the law serves.

Since human beings need the invisible to represented through the visible, such representation is necessarily part of our service of God.

Kantianism as a dualism of everything

(1) The invisible is cognized through the visible.
(2) The obligatory is a sign of what is sublime.
(3) The supernatural works through the natural.

prayer as the liberal art of faith

The solemnities of the Church are sensible representations and expressions of the intrinsic unity, sanctity, catholicity, and apostolicity of the faith.

Icons represent Christ in the saints and both express and occasion the prayers of the Church.

mimesis and catharsis as part of the normal functions of tradition
- note the role of the notion of hubris in heresiology, as well as pity and fear

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Descartes on Virtues

An interesting passage for understanding Descartes's ethical views, from his dedication of the Principles of Philosophy to Princess Elisabeth:

There is a vast difference between real and apparent virtues; and there is also a great discrepancy between those real virtues that proceed from an accurate knowledge of the truth, and such as are accompanied with ignorance or error. The virtues I call apparent are only, properly speaking, vices, which, as they are less frequent than the vices that are opposed to them, and are farther removed from them than the intermediate virtues, are usually held in higher esteem than those virtues. Thus, because those who fear dangers too much are more numerous than they who fear them too little, temerity is frequently opposed to the vice of timidity, and taken for a virtue, and is commonly more highly esteemed than true fortitude. Thus, also, the prodigal are in ordinary more praised than the liberal; and none more easily acquire a great reputation for piety than the superstitious and hypocritical. With regard to true virtues, these do not all proceed from true knowledge, for there are some that likewise spring from defect or error; thus, simplicity is frequently the source of goodness, fear of devotion, and despair of courage. The virtues that are thus accompanied with some imperfections differ from each other, and have received diverse appellations. But those pure and perfect virtues that arise from the knowledge of good alone are all of the same nature, and may be comprised under the single term wisdom. For, whoever owns the firm and constant resolution of always using his reason as well as lies in his power, and in all his actions of doing what he judges to be best, is truly wise, as far as his nature permits; and by this alone he is just, courageous, temperate, and possesses all the other virtues, but so well balanced as that none of them appears more prominent than another: and for this reason, although they are much more perfect than the virtues that blaze forth through the mixture of some defect, yet, because the crowd thus observes them less, they are not usually extolled so highly.

In her letter of August 1644, after she received a copy of the dedicatory letter, Princess Elisabeth agreed that the basic principle of ethics is being guided by using your understanding as well as you can and acting on the good you discover from it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Philosophy and the Virtue of Temperance (Re-Post)

This is re-posted from last year.

One of the ways to read Plato's Gorgias is as an argument that the practice of philosophy requires the virtue of temperance (sophrosyne, self-control), and vice versa. This contrasts with rhetoric and sophistry, which have no such connection. In fact, the rhetors in the Gorgias end up explicitly affirming a number of things that are inconsistent with the virtue of temperance. The reason for this has to do with the distinction between what seems good and what is really good.

Gorgias claims that rhetoric is valuable because it is concerned with speeches that persuade, without educating, on matters of right and wrong in the city; as Socrates notes, this means that rhetoric deals with what seems good rather than what is really good. This is affirmed when Polus argues that orators are powerful because they do what they like (i.e., what seems good to them). Socrates, however, denies that what people like (i.e., what seems good to them) is what they want (i.e., real good), although, of course, since he likes provoking Polus, he states it in the most paradoxical way he can find. For instance, Socrates claims that people who do wrong and are never punished for it are to be pitied, while being wrongly punished is always a happier life than doing anything wrong; Polus will be boggled at this kind of view, in which someone could suffer terribly and have a happier life than someone who gets everything they like. Callicles in turn argues that success, the good life, the life worth having, consists of desiring as much as possible and having the phronesis (intelligence) and andreia (manliness or courage) to achieve your desires, and denies that restraining your ambitions when you could achieve them is anything but either weakness or stupidity. Socrates will argue that all of these claims are incoherent.

But more than this, all of this argument, while about self-control, is also about philosophy. This is actually made clear in multiple ways. Early on, in the discussion with Gorgias, Socrates says that he hopes Gorgias is a man like himself: someone who would prefer to be refuted than to win an argument. The claim here is entirely analogous to Socrates' later claims about punishment, because both refutation and punishment are kinds of correction. Winning an argument is a matter of appearing good; but being right is a matter of real good. Not being punished is a matter of appearing good; being just is a matter of real good. In order to be the philosophical kind of person, rather than the kind of person we later learn (despite Gorgias' facile claims otherwise) the rhetors are, you must be willing to make a distinction between merely apparent good and real good. The oratorical conception of success is concerned with winning the argument, getting away with it; the philosophical, with improving the argument, improving oneself.

It's more than just a matter of aims, though. Socrates' argument against Callicles that the good life needs self-control doubles as an argument that the good life needs philosophy. (It is one of the standard marks of Plato's philosophical brilliance that he can make an argument about one subject also at the same an argument about another subject.) Socrates argues that the good and the pleasant (i.e., what seems good because it satisfies desire) can't collapse into each other. Callicles' view that we should desire as much as possible and satisfy those desires in neverending progress requires exactly this kind of collapse. But if we hold this view, we start getting very weird results: we should itch as much as possible, letting our desire to scratch grow as large as possible, in order to maximize the pleasure of scratching; soldiers should let fear, i.e., our desire to run away, grow as big as possible and then have the manliness/courage to satisfy that desire. Callicles tries to get out of this by saying there are better and worse pleasures, but this just breaks his argument against self-control: if some pleasures are better than others, we should sometimes control ourselves so that we get the better pleasures rather than the worse pleasures. Good needs to be discovered and accommodated; it cannot be imposed by force of will.

If real good and apparent good can't be collapsed into each other, though, then we have to reflect seriously about what real good is -- which is philosophy. Thus if the good life requires self-control, as Socrates argues, the good life requires philosophy.

If this is the case, though, it applies to reasoning as much as it does to anything else in life. Winning an argument is merely seeming to be good. Rhetoric may be able to give you that appearance. But the good of reasoning does not boil down to the appearance of winning the argument, however nice that might be; the good of reasoning is having a good argument that gets you something true, and what counts as that good must be discovered. Philosophical reasoning is temperate reasoning, in which you control and restrain yourself in order to find real good in reasoning rather than merely apparent good. Someone who falls back on mere rhetoric is someone who has committed himself to 'might-makes-right' in rational matters. There is a kind of very general moral realism about reasoning implicit in philosophy itself; if you reject the idea that good in reasoning is independent of our preferences, then in Socratic terms you are no philosopher at all: you are a sophist.

Note that the moderation here is not one of tone. Plato's Socrates argues respectfully with those who argue respectfully, but vehemently and polemically against those who argue vehemently and polemically. But Plato's Socrates is also quite clearly put forward as someone who insists that there is a real good of reasoning, and that it is discovered and not imposed by force of will. Because of that, we have to restrain ourselves, not running after merely apparent good but seeking that real good. That is philosophy.

Crucified Seraph

Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. From his Praises of the Virtues (pp. 132-133):

Hail, Queen Wisdom! The Lord save you,
with your sister, pure, holy Simplicity.
Lady Holy Poverty, God keep you,
with your sister, holy Humility.
Lady Holy Love, God keep you,
with your sister, holy Obedience.
All holy virtues,
God keep you,
God, from whom you proceed and come.
In all the world there is not a man
who can possess any one of you
without first dying to himself.

From St. Bonaventure's Major Life, Part I, Chapter XIII, Section 9 (p. 735):

O valiant knight of Christ! You are armed with the weapons of your invaluable Leader. They will mark you out and enable you to overcome all your enemies. It is for you to bear aloft the standard of the High King, at the sight of which the rank and file of God's army take heart. And you bear, nonetheless, the seal of the supreme High Priest Christ, so that your words and example must be regarded by everyone as genuine and sound beyond all cavil. You bear the scars of the Lord Jesus in your body, so that no one should dare oppose you. On the contrary, all Christ's disciples are bound to hold you in devout affection. God's witness in your favor is beyond all doubt; the sacred stigmata were witnessed not just by two or three, which would have been enough, but by a whole multitude, which is more than enough, and they leave those who are unbelieving without excuse. The faithful, on the other hand, are confirmed in their faith and raised up by confident hope and inflamed with the fire of divine love.


Quotations from St. Francis of Assisi, Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of Sources for the Life of St. Francis, Brown et al., trs., Habig, ed., Franciscan Press (Quincy, IL: 1991).

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

O World Invisible, We View Thee

The Kingdom of God
by Francis Thompson

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air--
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!--
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places--
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry--and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry--clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

Monday, October 02, 2017

Infant's First Smile

I conjecture, therefore, that the moment in which intelligence awakens to activity is marked by the infant's first smile.

By this ineffable expression of its joy, the infant seems to hail the light of the day which is dawning upon him. His reasonable soul rejoices in the truth which it recovers, and springs forward, as it were, to clasp it. How great, how solemn a moment to the human soul, must be the first act of its intelligence, the sense of a new and boundless life, the discovery of its own immortality! Is it possible that an event so stupendous and so startling to the infant, though the adult can form no idea of it, should not be manifested externally by signs of exuberant joy? You are right, then, O mothers, who watch so eagerly for your infant's first smile, who try to induce it, who welcome it with such trembling joy in every fibre of your being. You alone are the true interpreters of those first utterances of infancy which, in the shape of a smile, break from the lips and the eyes and the whole countenance of the little intelligent being; you alone understand its mystery; you understand that from that hour he knows you and speaks to you; and you, the first object of human intelligence, you alone know how to answer this language of love, and to make yourselves the image and type of the truth which is intelligible, and which shines by its own light.

Antonio Rosmini, The Ruling Principle of Method Applied to Education, pp. 60-61. Rosmini's idea is that infants have first a purely sensory period, beginning in the mother's womb, in which they are, so to speak, swept on by the world, and then, stimulated to have a sense of wanting other sensations, they begin to become mental agents -- and Rosmini's proposal is that the sign that this has begun is the infant's first clear expression of delight, which establishes that they have attended to and recognized something so as to be delightedly startled at it. From this point on, with this smile, he thinks, the infant's intellectual life begins its steady development.