Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Peacock

Today is the feast of St. Pietro Damiani, better known in English as Peter Damian, Doctor of the Church. From his Letter 95:

Do not as very many do, my brother, pay too much attention to the virtue you may possess and thus neglect passing judgment on the vices you have disregarded. But imitate the example of the peacock which naturally acts quite differently. It has its ugly feet, like those of a chicken, always in view, but displays the spectacular beauty of its tail behind it. In its feet it sees something gross that it may despise, but ignores its tail that might cause it to be admired. Before its eyes is that which causes it humiliation, but on the back it carries that for which it can strut before all other birds. You too should hide that which is virtuous within you, but never fail to view and judge what might be sinful and in need of correction.

The Saddest Birds a Season Find to Sing

Tymes Goe by Turnes
by St. Robert Southwell

The lopped trees in tyme may growe againe;
Most naked plants renewe both frute and floure;
The soriest wight may finde release of payne,
The dryest soyle sucke in some moystning shoure;
Tymes goe by turnes and chances chang by course,
From foule to fayre, from better happ to worse.

The sea of Fortune doth not ever floe,
She draws her favours to the lowest ebb;
Her tide hath equall tymes to come and goe,
Her loome doth weave the fine and coarsest webb;
No joy so great but runneth to an ende,
No happ so harde but may in fine amende.

Not allwayes fall of leaf nor ever springe,
No endlesse night yet not eternall daye;
The saddest birdes a season finde to singe,
The roughest storme a calme may soon alaye;
Thus with succeding turnes God tempereth all,
That man may hope to rise yet feare to fall.

A chaunce may wynne that by mischance was lost;
The nett that houldes no greate, takes little fishe;
In some thinges all, in some thinges none are croste,
Fewe all they neede, but none have all they wishe;
Unmedled joyes here to no man befall,
Who least hath some, who most hath never all.

Aquinas for Lent VII

Striving for Wisdom possesses this peculiar advantage: In doing her work she is more than sufficient to herself. For in exterior works a human being needs much help, but in the contemplation of Wisdom the more one remains solitary and alone with oneself, the more efficaciously one works. And therefore, in the words proposed, the Wise Man calls one back to oneself saying [Sirach 32:15-16]: First run into your own house; that is, away from external things you should, with solicitude, retire to your own mind, before it is occupied by what is alien and, through concern for that, is distracted. Hence it is said in Wisdom VIII: "Entering into my house I shall take my rest with her," namely, with Wisdom.

[Thomas Aquinas, An Exposition of the "On the Hebdomads" of Boethius, Schultz and Synan, trs. CUA Press (Washington, D.C.: 2001) p. 5]

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Links of Note

* Welcome to Monowi, Nebraska: population 1 at BBC Travel

* Ted Jackson, The Search for Jackie Wallace

* Louis Roy, O.P., On Anscombe and Wittgenstein

* A newly discovered draft of Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy

* MrD has a true word on the No True Scotsman Fallacy

* At the SEP:
Hanke and Jung, William of Heytesbury
Lévy, Philo of Alexandria
Mora-Márquez, Simon of Faversham

* Eleanor Cummins discusses the history of squab in America

* Logan Ward on the American College of the Building Arts.

Aquinas for Lent VI

Just as human beings acquire the first thing that completes them, i.e., the soul, from the action of God, so they also acquire the last thing that completes them, that is complete human happiness, directly from God, and they rest in him. This is clear from the fact that the natural longing of a human being cannot rest in anything else except in God alone. For human beings have an innate longing that moves them from the things that have been brought into being to seeking their cause. Therefore this longing will not rest until it reaches the first cause, which is God.

[Thomas Aquinas, Disputed Questions on the Virtues, Atkins and Williams, eds. Cambridge UP (New York: 2005) p. 65.]

Monday, February 19, 2018

Superpossibles II

I previously noted that there are cases in which we say that something is possible (or use another modality definable in terms of possibility) for which possible worlds semantics seems to provide no adequate translation. I called these, for lack of a better term, 'superpossibles'. The two obvious cases are the actual world and God. And I also noted that this raised the question of what other cases there might be.

One candidate would be causal powers, and for reasons analogous to those seen with the actual world and God: namely, that possible worlds talk has no adequate way to handle either actuality itself or hierarchies and dependencies among possibilities. We can run the argument either by linking causal powers to the actual world or to God. First, the reason the modalities of the actual world can't be adequately captured by possible worlds talk is that the actual world itself has different possibilities, and therefore cannot be identified with a possible world, but also cannot be reduced to either a collection of possible worlds or an element in a possible world. But if one accepts the existence of causal powers, it is the causal powers that make the actual world have different possibilities in the first place. Therefore, a fortiori, causal powers deal with possibilities that can, at best, only partially be translated into talk about possible worlds, and this means that causal powers are superpossibles. Or one can analogize to God: modalities attributable to God can't adequately be translated into possible worlds talk because the latter treats possibilities all on the level; but when one attributes possibility to (say) God's existence, one does so in a way that makes this false -- God's possibility has a priority or fundamentality with respect to other possibilities that possible worlds talk has no way to capture. God's possibility is connected to His being able to make other possibilities possible. But causal powers are also actuality-makers, and have a fundamentality with respect to other possibles, although on a smaller scale. So similar reasoning applies.

Because possible worlds semantics is just a device for relating possibilities in an extensional way, so you can consistently assign truth values to modal claims without making radical changes to the logic you use, it treats possibilities as nothing more than instances (in a possible world) and necessities as nothing more than regularities (across possible worlds). But not all our uses of modality work this way, so that possible worlds talk flattens out our notions of modality. If something would be describable in possible worlds analysis as 'true in all possible worlds' or 'true in all possible worlds with such-and-such feature), this could be because it is made to have this feature by something else or because of its own nature; and, likewise, when we talk about possibilities we can perfectly well treat possibilities as having hierarchical relations of dependency between each other, rather than treating them all on a level.

I had noted previously that one of the reasons for the use of the possible worlds framework is that it is, with a few tricks, easily adaptable to talking about a lot of different modalities. All of the candidates for superpossibles that I've mentioned arise with regard to alethic modalities themselves (possibility, necessity); but there are non-alethic modalities that also sometimes get discussed in terms of possible worlds. One would expect superpossibles in these cases, as well. And we can identify a few obvious candidates. Take, for instance, Kant's categorical imperative in terms of the modalities of obligation and permissibility (deontic necessity and possibility). The categorical imperative, by its very definition, has a fundamentality with regard to other permissible things -- whether other things are permissible depends on the categorical imperative, so that the categorical imperative does not involve permissibility in the way other imperatives do, even though obviously it is permissible to do what the categorical imperative requires. So the categorical imperative is a plausible candidate for a deontic superpossible, a superpermissible, whose modal character cannot adequately be captured by possible worlds semantics. A similar argument can be run for regarding self-evident first principles as candidates for epistemic superpossibles.

In other words, the existence of superpossibles, that is, of things whose modalities can only, at best, be partially captured by possible worlds analysis, seems to arise from (1) the limitations in how possible worlds analysis can handle actuality; and (2) the fact that possible worlds analysis assumes that 'possibility' is univocal. It has difficulty, then, capturing modalities intimately linked with actuality, and with modalities that are analogically or hierarchically related, according to prior and posterior. This raises the question of whether there are other lines of argument by which one could discover superpossibles.

Aquinas for Lent V

...because from the Church's precept all believers are bound to take the communion of the sacrament at least once a year, on the feast of Easter especially, therefore the Church decreed that once a year when the time for taking the Eucharist is near all believers should confess. Therefore, I say that delaying confession until this time [i.e., Lent], essentially speaking, is permitted but it can become unlawful accidentally, e.g., if a moment in which confession is required should be near, or if someone delays confession out of contempt. And likewise such a delay may be accidentally meritorious if he delays so that he may confess more prudently or more devoutly because of the holy season.

[Thomas Aquinas, Quodlibetal Questions 1 and 2, Edwards, tr., PIMS (Toronto: 1983) pp. 53-54]

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Till in Deep Calms of Space

Finite and Infinite
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The wind sounds only in opposing straits,
The sea, beside the shore; man's spirit rends
Its quiet only up against the ends
Of wants and oppositions, loves and hates,
Where, worked and worn by passionate debates,
And losing by the loss it apprehends,
The flesh rocks round and every breath it sends
Is ravelled to a sigh. All tortured states
Suppose a straitened place. Jehovah Lord,
Make room for rest, around me! out of sight
Now float me of the vexing land abhorred,
Till in deep calms of space my soul may right
Her nature, shoot large sail on lengthening cord,
And rush exultant on the Infinite.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Elizabeth Barrett Browning on Extension and Minds

Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Lady Mary Shepherd (1828), letter 314:

I am reduced to the necessity of offering my written but warm thanks, for the valuable present, left for me by your Ladyship– I have read several parts of the Essays with a curious pleasure—several with an entire mental satisfaction: and I have everywhere admired the originality, brilliancy, & power, which,—whether your Ladyship’s positions be questionable or the contrary,—undeniably distinguish your mode of supporting them. It is better to appear arrogant than to be dishonest: & it would be dishonest & disingenuous if I were to conceal the opinion I cannot help entertaining, respecting the extension of finite minds. I cannot honestly say that your Ladyship’s arguments have changed or modified that opinion. If finite minds have not a distinct locality, they must inter-exist & be commingled: if they have a distinct locality, they must have bounds: and bounds pre-suppose extension.

This is an interesting argument.

(1) Either finite minds have a distinct locality or not.
(2) If they do not have a distinct locality, they are not distinct.
(3) If they have a distinct locality, they must have bounds.
(4) If they have bounds, they must be extended.

And, presumably (given that she summarizes the argument as concerned with "the extension of finite minds"),

(5) Finite minds are distinct.


(6) Finite minds are extended.

The obvious premise in need of defense is (2), since place-distinction is not the only way to distinguish, but the premise that in a sense matters is (3), since finite minds do prima facie often have distinct localities -- for instance, we associate my mind with my body and not with the moon. There seems to be need of a distinction or two here, though.

Browning seems to be referring to Lady Mary Shepherd's Essay XI, "On the Immateriality of Mind", in which she argues of sensation that "though it does not occupy space as solid extension, yet it has a necessary relation to space, by requiring space in which to exist" (EPEU, p. 386). Her primary concern is to argue that sensation cannot exist on its own; but it does require that finite minds have a distinct locality, and Shepherd does there at least consider the possibility of attributing extension to the immaterial mind, despite its not being her own view. Browning is certainly right that Shepherd's arguments would not have modified her own view; Shepherd hardly talks about the topic at all.

Aquinas for Lent IV

Corporal need occurs either during this life or afterwards. If it occurs during this life, it is either a common need in respect of things needed by all, or it is a special need occurring through some accident supervening. On the first case, the need is either internal or external. Internal need is twofold: one which is relieved by solid food, viz. hunger, in respect of which we have "to feed the hungry"; while the other is relieved by liquid food, viz. thirst, and in respect of this we have "to give drink to the thirsty." The common need with regard to external help is twofold; one in respect of clothing, and as to this we have "to clothe the naked": while the other is in respect of a dwelling place, and as to this we have "to harbor the harborless." Again if the need be special, it is either the result of an internal cause, like sickness, and then we have "to visit the sick," or it results from an external cause, and then we have "to ransom the captive." After this life we give "burial to the dead."

Summa Theologiae 2-2.32.2

Friday, February 16, 2018

Dashed Off IV

"The incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval." Tolkien

the free adjective as the foundation of fantasy (Tolkien)

4 characteristics of true contrition
(1) real and not merely verbal
(2) from faith rather than incentive
(3) complete in its recognition of the evil of sin
(4) complete in the scope of sins recognized

abstract object realism // immateriality of the soul

Human sexuality is a sign-making thing.

marriage as locution with illocutionary and perlocutionary force

"...a word, whether spoken or written, has a remarkable, even paradoxical quality,--namely that it both goes out and remains where it was to start with." Barfield

The 'cult of victimhood' is an attack on habits of mercy, (1) by making mercy dependent on some status as victim and (2) by encouraging unmerciful behavior to victimizers and (3) by discouraging merciful action by victims. It perversely takes a genuine ground for mercy and twists it to block mercy. It is consistent with, and indeed conducive to, some acts of mercy; but there are few things more toxic to merciful character, because it sets so many different kinds of impediments to mercy.

Genealogy is a matter of culture as well as biology.

Given the way he characterizes the Supreme Law of Human Action, Whewell's Five Virtues are perhaps best considered to be kinds of disposition to human common good: uniting affection (Benevolence), excluding of selfish desire (Justice), maintenance of common understanding (Truth), control of appetites (Purity), and distinct and definite conception of standards (Order).

St. Andrew of Crete on the garments of the Transfiguration, figurally understood:
(1) the words and deeds of the Savior in earthly life (spotless, showing the divine in the mundane without circumscribing it)
(2) the magnificence of those things brought into existence by the Word, esp. Scripture (made pure by the Spirit, revealing the Word to those perfected in the Spirit -- those like Peter, representing depth of faith, firmly anchored in the rock, carrying the Church, and James and John, representing the breadth and height, entrusted with mystical vision)

The book of Jude shows that there may be true prophecy amidst speculation and fable.

Scripture insinuates that the wine of the chalice is to be mixed with water, but gives no explicit institution of it.

Secularization is a disease of custom more than anything.

Titus 1:5 -- the establishment of elders by appointment by appropriate authority arising from the apostles
Acts 6:3 -- while the people select, only the apostles appoint

"there is one chair belonging to one, upon which now by divine authority three bishops sit" Gregory (letter 37 to Eulogius of Alexandria)

*Direct* temporal authority by the pope arises from the custom of the liturgical commonwealth and not from anything intrinsic to the papacy.

five works proper to God (Bellarmine): Creation, Conservation, Salvation, Foreknowledge of the hidden, Miracles

"The same act belongs to the mover as wherefrom it is and to the moved as wherein it is." Aquinas

One who has a democratic mindset and who begins to ridicule without intent to hurt will eventually ridicule with intent to hurt; ridicule is naturally escalating in an environment emphasizing persuasion.

"The Natural Affections are the proper moral School of the Heart." Whewell

From Christ the King, the Church receives the right of global and catholic mission.

The Church does not offer the sacrament of marriage; she receives it from Christ.

Life itself is a beginning of happiness.

Our duties are inevitably going to be somewhat general under most circumstances.

When dealing with wrongs, it is idle to talk about whether society should retaliate; the fact is that it inevitably does so, often as a reflex. The question is not whether but how it should retaliate, and what should be done to guarantee that it only does so in the right mode.

Human beings are such inveterate storytellers that we will defy heaven itself if we like the role it gives us in the imagined stories of our lives.

Acts of justice often arise out of the spontaneous negotiations of life and thus could not always have been determined beforehand.

Opus human generis totaliter accepti est actuare semper totam potentiam intellectus possibilis. (Dante)

Analogical inference requires not merely similarity but similarity within a universe of discourse.
- Can this perhaps give us a good account of a legitimate fallacy of alse analogy, as ignoratio elenchi arising through failure to respect the universe of discourse?

analogical inference as preserving possibility with respect to similarity-as-evidence (evidential possibility given similarity)

The love in charity is God's own religious act.

square of opposition for: theism, non-atheism, atheism, nontheism

Spontaneous interjections are often difficult to interpret due to a surplus of meaning, not a paucity.

rational zymurgy, the zymurgy of reason

Complete holiness is found only in the fullness of divine love.

causation, eminence, and remotion in the interpretive work of HoP

The right to vote is a right for protecting other rights; it does not exist for its own sake.

Christ is both symbol and means of the union of God and man.

"Every philosophic system is the outcome of that or those put forward before it, and contains the germs of its successor." Erdmann
"If Philosophy is the self-comprehension of the spirit, the proof that a philosophic system does not understand itself, is also a proof that it is not a complete philosophy, and therefore must be transcended."

Habituation as such is not a reversible process; one can lose habitus, the effect, but not by reversal, only by moving forward again. It's not like simply changing one's mind.

Universalist arguments seem unusually likely to commit the fallacy of simpliciter et secundum quid. Think about this.

NB that Aristotle treats music not only as imitative but as paradigmatically so.

The Fall of Man is not yet complete.

(1) What moves by locomotion has determinate direction. (2) What has determinate direction is determined to that direction rather than some other. (3) This is final causation.
(1)What moves in a given direction has a tendency to continue in that direction. (2) A tendency to do something is final causation.

"Each thing insofar as it is simple and undivided, always remains in the same state, quantum in se est, and never changes except as a result of external causes." Descartes Principles 2.37 (AT 8a62; CSM 1.240-1)
"Each thing, quantum in se est, strives to persevere in its being." Spinoza, Ethics 3P6
Descartes's df of conatus (Principles 3a56 AT VIIIa, 108, CSM 1, 259): "they are positioned and pushed into motion insuch a way that they will in fact travel in that direction, unless they are prevented by some other cause."
- Hoffman suggests that striving adds to the tending the notion of quantum in se est.

force as actio ad mutandum

Shared skeptical opposition tends to pressure dogmatisms to unite.

"...syncretism is dogmatism as well as scepticism, and it is just in this that the chief weakness of the system, and its formal inconsistency, consists." Erdmann
Is Erdmann right that imperial systems tend toward philosophical syncretisms?

reason : eclectic mixture :: understanding : organic fusion

filmlook & soundflow

possibilities in terms of (a) powers (b) objects of thought
are these, taken broadly, exhaustive?

Philosophy itself is a form of shared intentionality.

Aquinas for Lent III

As may be gathered from the words of Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv), beauty or comeliness results from the concurrence of clarity and due proportion. For he states that God is said to be beautiful, as being "the cause of the harmony and clarity of the universe." Hence the beauty of the body consists in a man having his bodily limbs well proportioned, together with a certain clarity of color. On like manner spiritual beauty consists in a man's conduct or actions being well proportioned in respect of the spiritual clarity of reason.

Summa Theologiae 2-2.145.2.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Much of modern discussion of modality in philosophy is concerned with possible worlds analysis. A question that one has to ask, though, is how adequate it is to talking about all matters of modality. An advantage of possible worlds semantics is that it is very flexible. It sometimes takes contortions and ingenious somersaults, but you can use it to talk about a very wide variety of modalities -- alethic, deontic, doxastic, epistemic, temporal, locative, and so forth. So there's no question that you can cover a lot of ground. But is there anything that is dropping out? Suppose you have something that is not possible but superpossible, in the sense that it is something such that it makes perfect sense to think of it as possible but also such that it makes no sense to think of it as a possible world or as a collection of possible worlds or as an element in a single possible world. There are at least two obvious candidates for a superpossible in this sense.

(1) The Actual World. One of the longstanding problems with the 'possible worlds' vocabulary is that it makes people think it is talking about worlds. To be sure, you could be, but there's nothing about either the formal structure or the semantics that requires that we be literally talking about a world. Now, this would be at most a minor confusion most of the time, but I think in one case it regularly hangs people up, and that case is this: it's very tempting to think of the actual world as a possible world. I mean, it's almost irresistible to talk that way; if the world is actual, it is possible, and therefore it is a possible world. But as far as possible-worlds talk goes this is, first, not necessary, and, second, wrong. Possible worlds semantics, as such, of course, has no actuality; you can add an actuality operator to it, but that's an additional complication bringing in a number of questions, not all of which are easy to answer. But there is very good reason to say this: if there are possible worlds, none of them are the actual world. And this is because the only reason for talking about these 'possible worlds' is so that we may more easily work out issues concerned with actual possibilities. And the diverse actual possibilities are possibilities available to the actual world. That is to say: if we are to make any sense of possible worlds at all, it seems we have to take the whole manifold of possible worlds as a way of talking about the possibilities inherent in the actual world. If the actual world can be more than one way, no single 'possible world' can be an adequate representation of it. But the actual world is certainly possible. The actual world thus seems to be superpossible.

(2) God. If one talks about God as a necessary being, you can gloss that as "existing in all possible worlds". But is this adequate? There seems to be plenty of reason to think it couldn't be. It might be a true statement in the vocabulary of possible worlds; but the question is whether it captures what it is for God to be a necessary being. To see why it does not appear to do so, consider for a moment where we get all of this possible worlds talk from. People have always talked about modality; but talking about modality in terms that start to look like our possible worlds talk really begins in earnest with the Molinists. Their phrase was 'order of nature', and their reason for talking about them was that God has the power to create many different world-histories (so to speak), and so, they said, he could consider these different possible divine plans and what they would involve as part of His 'middle knowledge'. (It was 'middle' in the sense that it wasn't simply God knowing His own capabilities, and it wasn't simply God knowing what He willed to exist, but was in between, like deliberation is in between understanding what you can do and knowing that you've chosen this particular thing to do.) God would consider what 'order of nature' -- a whole world from beginning to ending -- that He would make to exist, and then, having chosen one, create it. These orders of nature cannot be capturing modalities concerned with God Himself, even though God does in some sense exist in the actual order of nature, because God is what makes the orders of nature (1) orders of nature and (2) things that can be actual in the first place. This is not exactly how modern notions of possible worlds work, but a similar sort of issue arises with respect to possible worlds as arises with their ancestors. To say that God exists in all possible worlds does not do justice to what is meant by saying that God's existence is necessary, because it doesn't capture the fact that God is not merely 'in all possible worlds' but in some sense has a priority to other possible things. 'Possible worlds', if they are to be of any value at all, can't just be loose bags of possible things; they have structure, and that structure means that some things in them depend on other things. When people talk about God as being necessary, God is not treated as just something that exists, nor even just something that exists no matter what. God shows up as world-actualizer, as actual-possibility-maker, as making it possible for everything else to be actual. God has a fundamentality with respect to other possibilities that is not at all captured by talking about being in all possible worlds. Thus God seems to be superpossible.

Both of these are, of course, connected, since if the actual world is superpossible, and if God is the reason for the actual world's being actual, God must be superpossible.

Whenever we are talking about modality and its relation to the actual world or to God, we run into regular interpretive issues; they both massively increase the complexity and ingenuity that has to be used in order to deploy possible worlds to analyze modal questions. They aren't necessarily useless, but they constantly lack something that is needed, and the wrong turns you can make -- leading you to some really weird conclusions -- multiplies. This is borne up by looking at how modalities are actually handled in dealing with the actual world or God. And I think the reason is that the actual world and God are in terms of modality so rich that they exceed the resources of possible world semantics to capture. You can still say useful things; but you can't say everything that needs to be said. And it becomes a question, of course, whether there are other superpossibles.

Aquinas for Lent II

...pride, although it is a special kind of sin by reason of its proper object, is nonetheless a sin common to all sins by reason of the diffusion of its governance. And so also we call pride the root and queen of all sins, as Gregory makes clear in his work Morals.

[Thomas Aquinas, On Evil, Regan, tr., Oxford University Press (Oxford: 2003) p. 328.]