Saturday, March 11, 2017

Mary Renault, Fire from Heaven


Opening Passage:

The child was wakened by the knotting of the snake's coils about his waist. For a moment he was frightened; it had squeezed his breathing, and given him a bad dream. But as soon as he was awake, he knew what it was, and pushed his two hands inside the coil. It shifted; the strong band under his back bunched tightly, then grew thin. The head slid up his shoulder along his neck, and he felt close to his ear the flickering tongue. (p.1)

Summary: Fire from Heaven is in essence a novelization of the first few pages of Plutarch's Life of Alexander, which is almost the only surviving source we have for Alexander's life prior to his accession to the Macedonian throne. While it engages in some novelistic license and occasionally draws on other sources, the basic outlines of the story do not involve in any serious deviations from Plutarch's account. This serves, I think, as a defense, at least for this book, against a criticism occasionally raised against Renault's Alexander, that he is overly romanticized. As Plutarch tells us right off in his account of Alexander, he is writing not a History but a Life, and the latter is a genre that is concerned not with outward glory but with those things that manifest virtue or vice, reveal character, or serve as signs of the souls of men. Renault is not starting with a historical account and romanticizing it. The Alexander Renault has to work with in the beginning is idealized -- not romanticized, exactly, but put forward as a sort of Type of Man. What she is doing is trying to capture this Type in a realistic way, and this she manages, by and large, to do.

Renault's Alexander is a boy caught between his mother Olympias and his father Philip, the former being a jealous schemer and the latter being a blundering soldier. At times the relationship is oedipal, and we do find in Renault that occasional vice of mid-twentieth-century novels, in which psychoanalytic allusion substitutes for real characterization; it is especially noticeable in the early stages of the book. However, as Alexander matures, this slowly falls away and we get something more like real characterization -- although Alexander is always to some extent inscrutable, even to his closest friends like Hephaistion. Philip actually comes across rather sympathetically, and Olympias increasingly less so; but this is perhaps to some extent because we occasionally get Philip's viewpoint, and not Olympias's.

Throughout the work, vanity and self-importance, especially intellectual self-importance, are portrayed negatively; Aristotle, who gets the best treatment, is nonetheless regularly an object of affectionate fun, and Demosthenes is treated mercilessly. But it is a story of Alexander the Great: heroic ambition is lauded throughout, as is self-giving loyalty and devotion.

Favorite Passage:

It was the time when the wild beasts mated in the woods. Aristotle was preparing a thesis on their coupling and the generation of their young. His pupils, instead of hunting, hid in the coverts and made notes. Harpalos and a friend of his amused themselves by inventing far-fetched procedures, carefully doctored with enough science to secure belief. The philosopher, who thought himself too useful to mankind to risk a chill crouching for hours on wet ground, thanked them warmly and wrote all of them down. (p. 198)

Recommendation: Recommended; it has many good points.


Mary Renault, Fire from Heaven, Pantheon Books (New York: 1969).

Lent X

Because Ephraim hath made many altars to sin: altars are become to him unto sin. I shall write to him my manifold laws, which have been accounted as foreign. (Hosea 8:11-12)

For salvation it is necessary, therefore, to cling to the divine altars and adhere to the things of God, and not to go after other things which are sinful. The latter in fact is what they do who do not live a truly Christian life, lapsing, after the saving sacrament of baptism, into pagan cusoms and observances; it behoves them to say what they find in Paul: "You cannot partake of the Lord's table and the demons' table."

[St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Twelve Prophets, Volume 1, CUA Press (Washington, DC: 2007), p. 172.]

Friday, March 10, 2017

Dashed Off VII

(1) error-avoidance
(2) personal-verisimilitude-seeking (appears to me)
(3) common-verisimilitude-seeking (appears from common pov)
(4) good-inquiry-verisimilitude-seeking
(5) truth-seeking
(6) Truth-Itself-seeking

tradition & common truth
shared aesthetic experience and common beauty

depth, height, compass, and endurance of character

the internal diplomacy of prudence

Most major cognitive biases seem to recur, or have analogues, at the level of scientific method.

The use of intuitions about scenarios in analytic philosophy often collapses into an attempt to explain the more well known by the less well known.
"fables make one imagine many events to be possible which are not so at all" (Descartes DM 7)

regressing arguments to their germinating ideas

In baptism, "man is made body of Christ because Christ also is body of man" (Leo I, Letter 59).

"Lo I am with you always" and the efficacy of the sacraments (Leo, Ep. 108)

The obligation to seek truth grounds religious freedom.
the right to free discussion about what is the true religion

Most formal fallacies can only be diagnosed holistically.

Whenever someone says 'intuition', substitute talk about interpretation and see if it still makes sense.

We already come into the world personated by others (our parents, for example).

2 Tim 3:16 and the Scriptures (as spirated) as the icon of the Holy Spirit

two primary maxims of equity (Snell)
(1) ubi jus ibi remediam (Equity will not suffice a wrong to be without a remedy)
(2) Equity acts on the person (in personam)

prime matter // logical genus (Symington)

Nothing can properly ground the persistence of law except reason itself.

The institutionality of law is ultimately grounded in common good.

vague objects as fusions across modal domains

immortality of the soul // tradition

Tradition may endure insofar as it is capax veritatis.

personation & the declaration of patron saints
- petitionary personation, perhaps?

Titus 2:11 & officia

Note the similitarities between Hobbes Leviathan 1.3.8 and the shadow-game in Plato's cave

The first principle regulating good teaching lies in the pure integrity of what is taught.

Even in a state of war there is common good, and thus law and justice.

the right to defend ourselves as we are part of human common good

the liturgical commonwealth as concerned with prudent preservation of holy things

On Hobbes' account of sovereignty, atheistic arguments from evil are impossible.

Rule of law is supported or constituted by all of the doctrines Hobbes calls seditious & poisonous:
(1) Every private man may judge of good and evil.
(2) To act against conscience is wrongdoing.
(3) Faith and sanctity may be attained by inspiration and infusion.
(4) Even the sovereign is subject to law.
(5) The rights of propriety may at times exclude the right of the sovereign.
(6) Sovereign power may be divided.

Dt 34:9 and apostolic succession. (Note Hobbes L 3.42.2)

The power to proclaim the kingdom of Christ contains in itself the authority to resist any sovereign but Christ in matters of Christ's kingdom.

Note that Hobbes rejects claims that the pope is antichrist (L 3.42.87-88).

The members of the liturgical commonwealth, as of a natural body, depend on each other.

On Hobbes's account of heresy, faithful followers of Christ may be heretics

"the teaching that matrimony is a sacrament giveth to the clergy the judging of the lawfulness of marriages, and thereby, of what children are legitimate; and consequently of the right of succession to hereditary kingdoms" (Hobbes, L 4.47.9)

Human dignity must be expressed by signs, or our ability to respect it fades; thus, as Douglass notes, we cannot respect those who show no signs of power. But at the same time, not all signs are equally suited to expressing such a thing.

solidarity with the martyrs and the virgins

immediate inferences as complex modal facts about terms

receivability as legal evidence
(1) relevant: tends to make a fact more probable than it would be without it
(2) material: is of legal consequence
(3) admissible (unexcluded); involves reasoning appropriate to legal process, as determined by the rules of that process, given the ends of that process

Haack's arguments that degrees of warrant cannot be probabilities:
(1) Weak evidence may require suspension of judgment (neither p nor not-p warranted), but probabilities must add to 1.
(2) Where probability of p and q are less than 1, conjunction is less than probability of conjuncts; but the warrant of a conjunction may be greater than the warrant of either conjunct (as in circumstantial evidence).

evidential weight as test survival

laws of nature as principles of object stability

interrogative function of propositions as analogous to Diamond

Willingness to endure the fire of purification is part of filial love.

Ascension : Pentecost : Parousia :: Orders : Confirmation : Baptism :: Ascension : Transfiguration : Baptism

analogies as implicit stories

three major concerns of prudence: consistency with rational order, consistency with friendship of virtue, consistency with common good

consistency with friendship of excellence as a constraint on licit consent

opposition to proselytism as contraceptive mentality

vocal argument, meditative argument, insight beyond argument

officium = kathekon

As marriage is understood, so society is understood.

PSR as like a conservation law for intelligibility

Joy is the destroyer of envy, peace the destroyer of wrath, love the destroyer of vainglory.

Hobbes's Calliclean account of happiness (Lev 1.11.1-2)

Hobbes allows for a morality-by-negative-impression, since on his account there are things that cannot be made moral because they violate the conditions necessary for morality.

Mackie attributes a queer power to the human mind, namely, its ability to identify objects as queer in themselves.

The rejection of summum bonum is perhaps the single most significant element of Hobbes's political philosophy.

If the papal office concerns the unity of the Church, it touches in its authority on all individuals.

priests Ex 28:41
kings 1 Sam 10:1
prophets 1 Kings 19:16
2 Cor 1:21-22

The text is an authorial disposition of mediate instruments.

Gadamer et al buy into the Protestantish notion of the text itself speaking to us, on its own, rather than having its meaning only within a spirit of communication proceeding from the author. This is nto to say that they never compensate for it in minor ways, but they start in the wrong place.

to consider & think about: hyperintensionality is just hybrid modality (& the hyperintensional paradox just involves leaving out relevant modalities)

A mechanism is a teleological system.

constant domain and variable domain interpretations of quantification

Strong Doxastic Voluntarism and Pragmatic Reasons

One of the more important discussions of doxastic voluntarism, the idea that belief is under our voluntary control, is Keith Frankish's "Deciding to Believe Again" [Mind, New Series, Vol. 116, No. 463 (Jul., 2007), pp. 523-547 ]. He argues for doxastic voluntarism, but a version he calls weak doxastic voluntarism. Actually, he identifies three different positions that often tend to get lumped together:

(1) direct activism: we can form beliefs directly
(2) weak voluntarism: we can form beliefs directly for pragmatic reasons
(3) strong voluntarism: we can form beliefs directly for pragmatic reasons and without epistemic support

(All of these would be classified as 'doxastic voluntarism' by most people.) Frankish suggests that (1) tends not to be separated out because there is a plausible case that it implies (2); but that it does not imply (3). Strong voluntarism he regards as necessarily false, but weak voluntarism as very defensible. The case against strong doxastic voluntarism is interesting and worth looking at.

Frankish begins with a principle, what he calls the Revised Williams Principle:

For any proposition p, it is impossible to believe in full consciousness that one consciously believes that p and that one's belief that p is both unsupported and deviant.

The basic idea, crudely put and without worrying too much about precise nuances, is that we can't believe something if we think that there is no reason to believe it (unsupported) and that the process of coming to believe it is not connected with the truth (deviant). The 'both' is important; Frankish thinks there are marginal cases where we probably can believe things we think are unsupported as long as we think they are nondeviant, and where we probably can believe things we know to be deviant if we think they are supported.

Now, let's say that we are being wanton if we believe ('in full consciousness') that we believe something on purely pragmatic reasons and have no evidence to believe it true. Strong voluntarists hold that we can do this. But, Frankish says, this violates the Revised Williams Principle: this would make beliefs accepted wantonly both unsupported and deviant, at least for typical cases. But this deals with coming to believe rather than believing. There are two kinds of change that could go on simultaneously with the possibly make the situation consistent with the Revised Williams Principle: (1) I come to believe that it is supported; (2) I forget that it is deviant. But, if we are talking about 'full consciousness', the belief in (1) runs into the same problem: it is unsupported and deviant. And we cannot simply forget things the way (2) requires -- Frankish, without committing to an explanation of this, suggests that it could be due to an analogous situation -- to forget something at will we would also have to forget that we forgot it. Thus, the idea goes, strong voluntarism requires that both conditions are under our voluntary control; but they cannot be simultaneously under our voluntary control.

As Frankish notes, this argument requires that it all be done in full confidence -- obviously people do believe things that happen to be both unsupported and deviant. What they cannot do, according to the argument, is will to believe things that are both, which requires consciousness of both the lack of support and the deviance. And, of course, Frankish goes on to argue that you can have doxastic voluntarism that does not require this incoherent willing.

I think an issue of slippage in the actual course of the argument, even granting its principles, is that Frankish assumes that when we recognize that we are believing something only on pragmatic grounds that we recognize that our belief is deviant. There's good reason to think this false, I think. That is to say, I think it is generally the case that people regard even purely pragmatic reasons as broadly and loosely truth-conducive, in at least the sense that much of the time they tend to get you closer to the truth even in the absence of supporting evidence. Take, for instance, the idea that we should go with the simplest theory that fits the evidence. By the very set-up of the claim, 'simplicity' does not affect the evidence; it's a purely pragmatic reason for accepting a theory. But most people would regard simplicity as truth-tending in at least some limited way. Frankish would fit this, I imagine, into the category of 'thought to be unsupported but not deviant'. But what pragmatic reasons do we actually take to be deviant when we are actually using them? What does it mean to take something as a 'reason' in the first place? Perhaps little more than 'it may be relevant to getting us closer to the truth or something in its neighborhood'. That's very weak, but it seems to suffice to block any certainty that it is deviant.

When Frankish originally characterizes strong voluntarism, he characterizes it as the position that "we can form beliefs directly, for pragmatic reasons, and without epistemic support" (p. 527). But if all pragmatic reasons are taken to be presumptively nondeviant when we are using them, then strong voluntarism in this sense does not violate the Revised Williams Principle: consciously believing that one's belief is only for pragmatic reasons does not suffice to make it a case of consciously believing that one's belief is deviant.

Most people who advocate doxastic voluntarism do not, I think, much care whether it is weak or strong in Frankish's sense, and probably actually accept a weak voluntarism; there are only going to be occasional situations in which it would make a difference. It's rarely if ever going to be the case that you literally have no epistemic support whatsoever and yet have pragmatic reasons relevant to belief. (Pascal's Wager, for instance, the most famous argument suggesting doxastic voluntarism, requires only weak voluntarism, if that: the agnostic whom Pascal is addressing can perfectly well have reasons both for and against that leave him in suspense, and the Wager appeals to pragmatic reasons to break the deadlock.) But Frankish's argument, as it stands, slides too quickly between 'based only on pragmatic reasons' and 'deviant'.

Lent IX

O ye sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart? why do you love vanity, and seek after lying? (Psalm 4:3)

That is to say, how long will you have a heart of stone, a hard one, inclined to the earth, thinking of nothing but the goods of the world? For, according to the Lord, "The hearts are weighed down by excess, drunkenness, and the cares of this world;" and because hardened hearts are not susceptible of celestial thoughts, but only of terrestrial and transitory, they only love what is terrestrial and transitory; and as we take trouble only in seeking for the things we ardently love, the Prophet adds, "Why do you love vanity, and seek after lying?" The goods of this world are called vain and fallacious, because they are neither stable nor solid, though they may seem to be so; and are therefore, with justice, designated as false and fallacious, especially when compared to those of eternity.

[St. Robert Bellarmine, A Commentary on the Book of the Psalms, O'Sullivan, tr., Loreto (Fitzwilliam NH: 2011), p. 5.]

Thursday, March 09, 2017


And Jesus said to them: I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall not hunger: and he that believeth in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

When material bread is eaten, it does not permanently take away our hunger, since it must be destroyed in order to build us up; and this is necessary if we are to be nourished. But spiritual bread, which gives life of itself, is never destroyed; consequently, a person who eats it once never hungers again....

One reason why temporal things do not take away our thirst permanently is that they are not consumed altogether, but only bit by bit, and with motion, so that there is always still more to be consumed. For this reason, just as there is enjoyment and satisfaction from what has been consumed, so there is a desire for what is still to come. Another reason is that they are destroyed; hence the recollection of them remains and generates a repeated longing for those things. Spiritual things, on the other hand, are taken all at once, and they are not destroyed, nor do they run out, and consequently the fullness they produce remains forever....

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapters 6-12, Larcher & Weisheipl, trs., CUA Press (Washington DC: 2010), pp. 25-26.]

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Nascent Strength

"Reason," says Rousseau, "is the bridle of strength." I would rather say that it should serve as a bridle to the first interior movements, which incline us to our strength. A child of ten years of age has a lively sentiment of his nascent strength, a sentiment active and vigorous prompting him to be active, to be continually fidgeting, to take those objects that are near at hand, and to turn them about and work them in every manner....This nascent strength in animals is governed by a certain unalterable instinct that guides them, but in man there is no immediate rule other than reason. Why then should reason be entirely useless to a child of ten years old? This interior propensity that stirs and agitates him, which prompts him to continual action and keeps him always out of breath -- does it not need some restraint? It is true that at this age reason is too weak to suffice by itself. It needs to be assisted and fortified by precepts, examples, and appropriate practices.

Hyacinthe-Sigismond Gerdil, The Anti-Emile, Frank, tr. St Augustine's Press (South Bend, Indiana: 2011), p. 48.

The essential argument here is against a combination of two claims by Rousseau, that children under the age of ten or even fifteen do not have a sufficiently developed reason to be capable of rational moral distinctions, and that the first inclinations of the heart are naturally right. Gerdil has just finished arguing that the former is in fact false -- if one child takes another's toy, for instance, young children who saw it, though they have no other connection, will tell you all about how it is wrong, and they can even distinguish between doing wrong accidentally and doing it deliberately. These are rational distinctions. Rousseau, on Gerdil's view, has diagnosed the situation in exactly the opposite way he should: they have the capacity for rational distinctions, but need assistance to be consistent with them, particularly given that their first inclinations drive them every which-way. This disagreement is in some sense the central disagreement between Rousseau and Gerdil about the nature of education, because everything else builds on the question of what this first, basic education is supposed to be doing.

Lent VII

A double minded man is inconstant in all his ways. (James 1:8)

In all his ways, he says, in adversities and in prosperity. The man, however, is double-minded, who both bends his knee to entreat the Lord, sends forth words of entreaty, and yet because of his consciousness accuses him within, he lacks confidence in being able to obtain what he requests. The man is double-minded who wishes both to rejoice here with the world and to reign there with God. Likewise the man is double-minded who in the good he does looks not for reward inwardly but for approbation outwardly. Hence it is well said by a wise man, Woe to the sinner entering the land by two ways. A sinner enters the land by two ways indeed when he both shows that what he seeks by his work is God's approbation and the world's in his thoughts. All such as these, however, are indecisive in all their ways, because they are both very easily discouraged by the adversities of the world and ensnared by prosperity, so that they turn aside from the way of truth.

[Bede the Venerable, Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, Hurst, tr., Cistercian Publications (Kalamazoo, MI: 1985) pp. 10-11. A footnote notes that the word translated 'consciousness' is conscientia; that can indeed be translated as 'consciousness', but I'm not sure what was gained by avoiding the more obvious translation of 'conscience'.]

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Evening Note for Tuesday, March 7

Thought for the Evening: Of the Russian Byzantine Catholic Church

I was interested to see this news item recently, about a meeting of Russian Greek Catholics over the fate of their little sui juris church. The church, which is fully Catholic, is in a bit of desperate state:

About 30 clerical delegates from Russian Catholic communities across the world, as well as laity, will meet in Seriate, just outside Bergamo, Italy, to discuss their future and once again petition Rome for an exarch, or bishop, and the revival of the Russian Catholic Exarchate.

“We have saints and martyrs, many dead in the gulags and shot for their Russian Catholic faith. I can’t believe that was all in vain,” said Fr Cross.

“This is our last hurrah. If this fails, you can forget about the Russian Catholic movement,” he said.

I have discussed the Russian Catholic Church before; it was formally recognized in 1908 by Pope Pius X (although it predates it) as a body of Russian Orthodox in communion with Rome; the liturgy was deliberately not latinized in any way. But it has had continual hard times since then; Byzantine Catholic Churches rooted in Slavonic liturgies were severely devastated by the rise of Communism, which brutally suppressed them whenever it could, and the Russian Catholics, being mostly in Russia, were the easiest to attack. There are now perhaps a few thousand Russian Byzantine Catholics scattered throughout the entire world. Legally, they have an exarchate (two, in fact, one for Russian and one for China), the Byzantine more-or-less equivalent of a vicariate, which is a little bit more organized than a mission (since it would technically be governed by a bishop). But the Russian Catholic Exarchates have been empty for ages -- the Russian since 1951 and the one for China since 1953. That is a long time for a small church to go without active cultivation by a bishop; it means, in practice, that the entire subcommunion is just a bunch of scattered parishes struggling on their own. Every so often, Russian Catholics have petitioned Rome for relief. It has never come, and it sounds like they are increasingly worried that it never will.

It would be a terrible thing. People often treat the Eastern Catholic churches as bridges between Catholic and Orthodox, and they are, but there are many other reasons why a church like the Russian Byzantine Catholic church needs to be cultivated. One that I was pleased to see Fr. Cross in the article explicitly mention was that they are a clear witness to the independence of the Church:

“In the same way that in the 19th century our Church was a rebuke to the [Orthodox] Church for allowing itself to become a department of state … now the same thing has happened,” said Fr Cross, archpriest of the Russian Catholic community in St Kilda East, a suburb of Melbourne.

“We are a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church that says; ‘Stop! Wrong way. Go back. Don’t go into the arms of the state … Soloviev’s message comes back; ‘Brothers and sisters, be careful.'”

And the Catholic communion as a whole needs something like the Russian Greek Catholic Church: the Russian Orthodox liturgy, the Russian Orthodox heritage, the full fruition of the two great Exarchs of Russia of the Russians, Blessed Klymentiy Sheptytskyi and Blessed Leontiy Leonid Feodorov, and also of the Russian Catholic martyrs under the terrors of Communism. Without these things, not just as curiosities but as living and growing parts of the Church, all Catholics are impoverished.

Various Links of Note

* Roger Scruton, If We Are Not Just Animals, What Are We?

* Berit Brogaard, Intuition vs. Reason

* Peter Krasniewski, In Honor of Saint Thomas: A Portion of St. Francis's Litany of the Attributes of God, which is based on praying through the Summa Theologiae.

* Caitlin Green, Global Britain? A brief chronology of an awareness of Britain's existence

* Alex Poulos, Textual Criticism and Biblical Authority in Origen's Homily on Ps. 77

* Edward Feser, Supervenience on the hands of an angry God, discusses Jaegwon Kim's analogy between his 'causal exclusion argument' and Jonathan Edwards's occasionalism.

Currently Reading

Mary Renault, Fire from Heaven
Lois McMaster Bujold, Cryoburn
Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth
Max Planck, Eight Lectures on Theoretical Physics
Scott Ryan, Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality
Hyacinthe-Sigismond Gerdil, The Anti-Emile

Fierce Was the Flame While It Lasted

Libera Me
by Ernest Dowson

Goddess the laughter-loving, Aphrodite, befriend!
Long have I served thine altars, serve me now at the end,
Let me have peace of thee, truce of thee, golden one, send.

Heart of my heart have I offered thee, pain of my pain,
Yielding my life for the love of thee into thy chain;
Lady and goddess be merciful, loose me again.

All things I had that were fairest, my dearest and best,
Fed the fierce flames on thine altar: ah, surely, my breast
Shrined thee alone among goddesses, spurning the rest.

Blossom of youth thou hast plucked of me, flower of my days;
Stinted I nought in thine honouring, walked in thy ways,
Song of my soul pouring out to thee, all in thy praise.

Fierce was the flame while it lasted, and strong was thy wine,
Meet for immortals that die not, for throats such as thine,
Too fierce for bodies of mortals, too potent for mine.

Blossom and bloom hast thou taken, now render to me
Ashes of life that remain to me, few though they be,
Truce of the love of thee, Cyprian, let me go free.

Goddess the laughter-loving, Aphrodite, restore
Life to the limbs of me, liberty, hold me no more
Having the first-fruits and flower of me, cast me the core.

Lent VI

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him: and he saith of him: Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile. Nathanael saith to him: Whence knowest thou me? (John 1:47-48)

The reason he had no guile is that, although he was wise, he was not embarrassed to follow a simple person. Thus Nathanael expressed in words what he believed in his heart, for he was not coming to Jesus with a desire to tempt him, but out of a desire to make progress in virtue. Proverbs 12:20 complains about a different sort of person: "Guile and deceit are in the hearts of those who think evil things." However, Nathanael does not believe Jesus' commendation until he has some certitude about what he's hearing, because men and women should not be eager to believe the good things that are said about them.

[St. Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Karris, tr. Franciscan Institute Publications (Saint Bonaventure, NY: 2007) p. 130.]

Monday, March 06, 2017

Shrine of Texas Liberty

Today in 1836 was the Battle of the Alamo. Antonio López de Santa Anna had been a war hero, of sorts, in the War of Mexican Independence, although he tended to inflate his actual role in the war, and then a war hero again defending Mexico from various incursions. He leveraged this fully to catapult himself to the forefront of Mexican politics, in which he became a champion for federalist government and democratic elections. He was elected President in 1833, but in fact seems to have been completely bored by the work of governing; he just let his vice president, Valentín Gómez Farías, do it all. Gómez Farías, having a free hand, initiated sweeping liberal reforms, mostly aimed at breaking the power of the army and of the Catholic Church, the two dominant forces in Mexican politics. So sweeping were the reforms that they encountered stiff opposition, and then Santa Anna stepped in and overturned them. He dissolved the Mexican Congress and began centralizing power. Multiple states rebelled at the sudden loss of federal safeguards for state power. The best equipped of the states, Zacatecas, was utterly crushed by Santa Anna's army, and then it went northward to quell the rebellion in Cuahila y Tejas, a region heavily populated by immigrants from the United States.

It was a heavier project than Santa Anna bargained before, in part because, despite the fact that he liked to style himself 'the Napoleon of the West', he lacked Napoleon's sense of logistics. Zapatecas was in central Mexico, rich and populated; Texas was at the edge of the Mexican empire across some relatively desolate country. Supply lines stretched thin. Nights grew cold, increasing illness among the soldiers and overloading the limited medical resources. Santa Anna had a poor staff organization, and so it seems many of the problems never came to his attention; those that did, he often seemed to have dismissed because he thought that it was temporary inconvenience and that he could crack the Texians quickly.

In Texas, in a reasonably competent move, Santa Anna split his forces, sending one group along the coast under General José de Urrea and leading the other himself to San Antonio de Béxar. (The two represented the major fortresses already in operation to which the rebels had access.) Urrea pushed to Goliad, and his campaign was a resounding success: over and over again Urrea won battles overwhelming the Texian army. Santa Anna, in the meantime, found at San Antonio a Texian garrison, which had taken over after defeating the previous Mexican garrison. They were holed up in the Alamo mission complex. For thirteen days, Santa Anna's thousand or so soldiers laid siege to the couple hundred Alamo defenders under the command of William Travis. An intense battle was fought on March 6, and the mission walls breached.

While all of this was going on, representatives from all over Texas had met and declared independence on March 2; Travis had sent a letter to them asking for reinforcements, but it did not arrive until the Alamo had already fallen. And Santa Anna's army marched on.

The Alamo was an easy win -- a minor affair, as Santa Anna called it, despite the fierce defense. There was no way Santa Anna could have lost, short of reinforcements that could not possibly have arrived. And the Goliad Campaign was an extraordinary success, as well. But more was going on than just the military victories. Texas was now committed to full-scale fight, having declared independence. Santa Anna expected (and he was not alone) that general report of the Alamo victory would demoralize soldiers; the effect was more complicated. And at Goliad, Urrea had promised to treat prisoners fairly and well. Santa Anna had them executed on March 27 -- almost five hundred of them. These things were adding up to something that Santa Anna could not quite grasp. Military-wise, the Texans were massively on the run -- what is known as the Runaway Scrape, the massive evacuation and flight of citizens and soldiers from the advancing Mexican army. Sam Houston, in charge of the last remnants of the Texan army, was in constant retreat, to the immense demoralization of his soldiers and the anger of the interim Texas government. Texas was collapsing before the Mexican juggernaut.

Then Santa Anna camped his army in a poorly chosen location not far from Lynchburg Crossing, a marshy area with lots of tall grass, and on April 21, Houston came full strength against a completely unprepared and surprised Mexican Army, with the Texians shouting, "Remember Goliad! Remember the Alamo!". The Battle of San Jacinto lasted eighteen minutes. Six hundred Mexican soldiers died (compared to eleven Texians) and Santa Anna himself was captured.

A significant portion of the Mexican Army remained under Urrea, who could have fought and could have won. But after weeks of negotiation, Santa Anna signed the Treaties of Valasco, and the war ended. The Mexican Army withdrew south. But nobody expected to end there; Urrea was gathering a bigger army, and everyone in Texas expected that he would be back soon. But it never quite happened. Santa Anna had been deposed (and notably the Mexican press and government were almost as harsh in their judgment of his Goliad decision as the Texans were), and there were still rebellions going on elsewhere. Eighteen minutes of vengeance for the Goliad Massacre and the Alamo had established Texas as a free republic.

Santa Anna would eventually push his way back into power by fighting off a French invasion, and try to invade again; it was fought off, but it was this, perhaps more than anything else, that really pushed Texas into considering annexation by the United States. Santa Anna would later be deposed again. Then he got back into power again. It's one of the features of his career that really does make him a sort of Napoleon of the West.

Lent V

Stay me up with flowers, compass me about with apples: because I languish with love. (Song 2:5)

Love dwelt among the saints with immeasurable celebration, through the coming of Christ. They who tasted the savor of that Love became insatiable; they were not satisfied with the various trials which they suffered, whether from Satan or from human beings, but they voluntarily added innumerable tribulations for themselves....Similarly, the Holy Illuminator and the great Paul and other saints like them considered the tribulations which came for Christ's sake to be gifts, like apples; thus Trdat said to Saint Gregory, 'Is that happiness?' and he responded, 'Yea, this is happiness!'

[St. Gregory of Narek, The Blessing of Blessings: Gregory of Narek's Commentary on the Song of Songs, Ervine, tr. Cistercian Publicans (Kalamazoo, MI: 2007), p. 105. The context of the exchange alluded to is that St. Gregory the Illuminator, who brought Christianity to Armenia, is said to have been tortured and beaten over the head severely for preaching Christianity.]

Sunday, March 05, 2017

An Intention Argument for Doxastic Voluntarism

(1) If coming to believe is an act capable of being under direct voluntary control, doxastic voluntarism is true.
: This is one form of what is called 'doxastic voluntarism', by definition.
: Note that this does not require that the voluntary control be complete, indefeasible, or universal.
: Note that the reference is to 'coming to believe' rather than 'believing'.

(2) An act is under direct voluntary control when actually guided by intention to a particular end.
: Voluntary control requires (a) voluntariness and (b) control. The former requires that there be an intention; the latter requires that this intention guide action to a particular end.

(3) Coming to believe is sometimes actually guided by intention to a particular end.
: This can be seen by the fact that we seem to be able to have a direct effect on coming to believe in at least some specific ways.
: (a) We seem to be capable of affecting our coming to believe by resolving to follow evidence or be logical. We do sometimes resolve these things. Our resolving them is best explained by the fact that we find in our experience that we can come to believe under stricter or looser regimes, i.e., holding ourselves to stricter or looser standards, and these standards are voluntarily accepted or discarded. But this means we can change our coming to believe at least in some ways by resolution, which means that intention is a causal factor in coming to believe.
: (b) We seem to be capable of suspending judgment. But to suspend judgment is both an intentional act and one that directly affects our coming to believe. Therefore intention is capable of providing at least some guidance in coming to believe.
: (c) We seem to be able to refuse to believe, for ethical reasons; thus, for instance, we talk about refusing to believe that one's spouse is betraying one, because of the ethical value of trust. But refusing to believe would be a direct intentional control of coming to believe.
: (d) We seem to be capable of deferring to others in other belief; thus, for instance, we seem to defer to experts about what to believe about specific details in matters in which we are already in agreement. But this deference is an intentional act, and it appears to guide coming to believe.
: (e) We regularly propose pragmatic reasons for believing something (e.g., that it is easier to understand or more promising for future inquiry). In other areas of life in which we propose pragmatic reasons, it is because they are capable of being acted on voluntarily.

(4) Therefore coming to believe is an act capable of being under direct voluntary control.
: From (2) and (3).
: Note again that this is a fairly minimal conclusion: it does not require that we be able to believe arbitrarily and without any regard for evidence, for instance, and it does not require that our control be perfect or easy; nor does it require that we always are able in fact to do it. One of the most common errors in arguments against doxastic voluntarism is the assumption that it requires that coming to believe be arbitrary, easy to change, or involve nothing but choice, none of which are actually required in order to hold that we can control our belief, any more than saying that you have voluntary control over your limbs means that your movements will always, or even can ever, be purely arbitrary, always easily effected, or depend solely on one's will, all of which obviously may depend on conditions.

(5) Therefore doxastic voluntarism is true.
: From (1) and (4).
: Those who dabble in philosophical discussions of doxastic voluntarism may note that this is something of a 'tollensing' of the argument against doxastic voluntarism in Dion Scott-Kakures, "On Belief and Captivity of the Will." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54 (1994): 77-103, with some adaptation for difference of direction.

War in the Night

Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good—" At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.

G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, Chapter 1.