Saturday, July 12, 2014

Xenophon's Socratic Memorabilia, Book II

Theme and Structure

Book II examines Socrates' teaching on self-discipline by looking at how Socrates taught it in the context of the major areas of civic life.

2.1 In matters of physical pleasure and pain. Socrates discusses the importance of education in endurance of difficulty in food, drink, and hard work, and in resisting pleasures with Aristippus.

2.2 In the relation of children to parents. Socrates' son, Lamprocles, has difficulty respecting his mother, Xanthippe, because of her temper; Socrates teaches him the importance of gratitude to parents.

2.3 In the relation of sibling to sibling. Chaerephon and his younger brother Chaerecrates are arguing; Socrates discusses the importance of treating one's siblings well.

2.4-10 In the cultivation of friendships. Xenophon summarizes Socrates' general teaching on the importance of having friends and treating them well (2.4), and then recounts Socrates discussing being worthy of one's friends with Antisthenes (2.5) and the importance of having worthwhile friends with Crito's son, Critobulus (2.6). We then see Socrates giving specific good advice to a friend in difficulties (2.7) and to several different friends, including Crito, in need of business advice (2.8-10).

Notable Highlights

We get several notable things in Book II. Aristippus and Antisthenes were very important students of Socrates about whom we have very little information except from Xenophon (Plato mentions both in passing, and nothing more). We also see Socrates directly interacting with his son, the only time, I think, that this happens in all the preserved Socratic writings. We also, in the Critobulus discussion, get Socrates attributing good advice to Aspasia. I will only say a few things here about Aristippus and Antisthenes.

(1) Aristippus of Cyrene is associated in antiquity with what is known as the Cyrenaic school, which were famous for their hedonism. (The doctrines of the later Epicurean school may have been partly developed to avoid commonly recognized problems with Cyrenaic thought.) It is unclear whether the Cyrenaic school was actually founded by this Aristippus or his grandson (also named Aristippus), but we see this one already linked to discussion of pleasure, and is said by Xenophon to lack discipline in such matters. Socrates leads him to consider the importance of discipline in matters of pleasure by first engaging him on an abstract discussion of the most basic form of education. In the course of discussing this, Socrates argues that voluntary suffering can be better than involuntary suffering (cp. the analogous argument in Plato's Hippias Minor). Socrates ends by recounting the Choice of Heracles, which he attributes to Prodicus of Ceos.

Benjamin West - Choice of Hercules between Virtue and Pleasure

(2) Antisthenes of Athens also founded a school -- indeed, the stories told about him suggest that he had already founded a school when he discovered Socrates and then told all his students to take Socrates as their teacher. He wrote dialogues, of which only very limited fragments survive, but he also remained important in later philosophical history in that both the Stoics and the Cynics regarded him as their link to Socrates. In a Socratic move that we have seen elsewhere (Rival Lovers, Lysis, possibly Laches), Socrates attempts to teach someone on a topic by discussing it with someone else, in this case Antisthenes, in their presence.

Under the Twilight of These Ancient Trees

River of Life
by Frederick Tennyson

River of Life, oh! if thy waters were
As golden bright as from afar they seem
As thick with blessed islands, and as fair
As hope beholds them anchor'd in sweet dream;
If they were paved with gems of all delights
As lovers see them; I would sail with thee
Onward, for ever onward, day and night
And breathe in summer till I reach'd the sea.

Oh! I would lift my sail at break of day
And launching forward with a shout and song
Thro' shade of leaves and blossoms cleave my way,
And feast my heart with music all day long;
And when the purple and the gold of even
Flush'd the gray currents I would drop asleep
Watching with rapturous eyes the hues of Heaven
And their unnumber'd shadows in the deep.

But thy still places into whirlpools spin;
Thy free fair currents glittering in the sun
Change into shallows full of rocks within,
Or stilly into fatal cataracts run;
Thy shores lead into howling wildernesses
Thro' walks of rose, thy overshadowing bowers
Hide perilous caverns where the serpent hisses,
And dragons slumber underneath the flowers.

River of Life, lo! I have furl'd my sail
Under the twilight of these ancient trees,
I listen to the water's sleepless wail,
I fill mine ears with sighs that never cease,
If armed hearts come stronger out of 111
The dust of conflict fills their eyes and ears;
Mine unaccustom'd heart will tremble still
With the old mirth and with the early tears.

Frederick Tennyson, of course, was the eldest brother of Charles Tennyson Turner and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Xenophon's Socratic Memorabilia, Book I

Xenophon son of Gryllus is the only student of Socrates besides Plato from whom we have extant complete works. (We have beyond this a small handful of substantial fragments from Aeschines and insignificant fragments from a few others.) While Plato's star has always been shining brightly above the horizon, Xenophon has not been so fortunate, and how highly he has been regarded has depended greatly on the tastes of the age. The past couple hundred years has been an era of depreciating Xenophon, usually on two grounds: he is a mediocre and unoriginal mind and he is morally platitudinous and conventional. I will say right up front that I regard both judgments as irrational nonsense backed by obviously stupid arguments. The first is almost always claimed on the basis of comparison with Plato; which is quite as dimwitted a standard as if I were to go about calling every novelist mediocre who did not write as well as Jane Austen. I think Xenophon is often not doing the same thing as Plato, so making straightforward comparisons is already unwise, but even if we pass this over, it is ridiculous to treat someone as intellectually or philosophically mediocre simply because they don't come up to the standard of Plato. I am very sure that those denigrating Xenophon on such grounds do not generally meet that standard themselves. Moreover, there are clear positive reasons for regarding Xenophon as brilliant. There have been plenty of times when he has been thought to be so. And he seems to have been the inventor of several different philosophical genres, and is an enduring master of them all. As for the other judgment, this is also false; but there's no better way to see it than actually reading Xenophon closely without prejudging the issue.

One of Xenophon's most important works is the Apomnemoneumata, most commonly in English as the Memorabilia. This work is a vigorous defense of Socrates against criticism. It is divided into four books. You can read it in English at the Perseus Project in E. C Marchant's translation or at Project Gutenberg in H. G. Dakyns's translation. He's an easier read than Plato, and he gives us Socrates in smaller portions than Plato does.

Theme and Structure

Book I is concerned with addressing directly the major charges against Socrates: impiety and corruption of the youth. Xenophon argues that he was innocent of both charges. This argument is naturally broken up into several segments:

1.1 Xenophon notes that Socrates regularly sacrificed to the gods in public and trusted in divination. He suggests that it was Socrates' daemon that led people to conclude he was introducing new deities; in fact, this is not any different than standard Athenian divination practices and shows Socrates' piety. Moreover, Socrates was always out in public without saying anything impious, and did not indulge in the kinds of speculations that get associated with that label. Moreover, one of the most famous events in Socrates' life, his defense of the rights of the generals after Arginusae, show him upholding his sacred oath.

1.2 It makes no sense to claim that Socrates corrupted the youth given that he practiced self-restraint or moderation himself. Xenophon then spends some time on Critias and Alcibiades, the two students who might be taken as evidence of Socrates' bad influence, arguing that their corruption was in fact a falling away from Socrates' teaching. After this, he handles specific arguments about the teaching itself: what he taught about family and friends and how he handled the poets. Socrates' life involved nothing worthy of a death penalty.

1.3 Xenophon moves on to argue that, far from corrupting his associates, he benefited them, partly by example and partly by discussion, in both religious practice and self-discipline.

1.4-7 The next criticism to which Xenophon responds is the claim that while Socrates might have been able to start people off in the pursuit of goodness, he could not lead them to it; Xenophon argues that people associating with Socrates actually became better people. He gives examples of particular cases in 1.4, and in the next three he gives more general features of Socrates' teaching that contributed to his associates being better: in 1.5, he gives a sample discourse of Socrates on self-discipline; in 1.6, he shows how Socrates in argument with Antiphon the Sophist emphasizes the importance of self-discipline and moderation; and in 1.7, he gives Socrates' argument against wanting only to seem good rather than really to be good.

Notable Highlights

(1) One of the most interesting passages in the first book occurs in 1.2, when Xenophon is discussing Critias, and showing how he and Socrates fell out, and the opposition between Critias and Socrates when the former became one of the Thirty Tyrants. Critias attempted to seduce a youth, named Euthydemus (whom we get more of later), and was warned that he was acting slavishly:

And when Critias paid no attention to these protests and was not diverted from his purpose, Socrates is reported to have said, in the presence of several persons including Euthydemus himself, that Critias seemed to be suffering from pig's itch: he wanted to scratch himself against Euthydemus like a piglet scratching itself against a stone.

(One of my favorite passages in any Socratic text!) According to Xenophon, Critias took this quite personally, and so when he became one of the Thirty, he along with Charicles insisted on passing a law against disputations, specifically out of spite against Socrates. Of course, this couldn't stop Socrates from being Socrates:

When the Thirty were putting to death many of the citizens (and those not the worst of them) and were inciting many others to do wrong, Socrates observed on one occasion that it seemed extraordinary to him that a man appointed to look after a herd of cattle who made them fewer and worse than they were before should not admit that he was a bad herdsman, and still more extraordinary that a man appointed as a political leader who was making the citizens fewer and worse than they were before was not ashamed and did not consider himself a bad political leader.

He gets called before Critias and Charicles, and we get an interesting and typically mischievous dialogue between Socrates and the two tyrants. He asks them whether they take the art of disputation to involve speaking correctly or not, so that he can be sure to obey the law. Charicles impatiently tells him not to speak to the young at all. So Socrates asks what ages he means; Charicles says anyone below thirty. Socrates asks if these means he can't speak to people below thirty if he is just buying something from them and wants to know what the price is -- and so it goes on, and ends with an implied threat by Charicles that if he doesn't watch out, Socrates might be guilty of thinning the herd himself.

(2) Another interesting passage occurs in 1.3, where Xenophon relates a discussion between Socrates and himself. We never get this kind of thing with Plato, of course, who does not show himself interacting with Socrates; and it shows something about Xenophon that he is willing to write a little dialogue in which he gets called a fool or dullard (moros) by Socrates.

Socrates and Xenophon talk about Critobulus (the son of Crito), who had kissed the son of Alcibiades. (Critobulus is apparently there.) Socrates remarks that he was being reckless, and when Xenophon asks why, he remarks that it's the kind of action that turns men into slaves, just like a little spider can poison a person and drive them mad with a little bite. Xenophon remarks that spiders do it by injecting something. Socrates says he's a fool; good-looking people with the bloom of youth inject a poison as well -- but they can sometimes do it even without contact, just by sight. He advises Xenophon to flee anyone who is good-looking, and recommends that Critobulus go away for a year to recover from the poison.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


One of the tests, perhaps the most important test, that Schleiermacher used to determine whether allegedly Platonic dialogues were spurious or not was whether it individualizes the interlocutors. We've already seen two dialogues, De Justo and De Virtute, which don't, and which no one really regards as going back to Plato himself. There are two dialogues in the Thrasyllan canon, however, that fail this test: Hipparchus and Minos. Socrates speaks with an interlocutor who is thoroughly anonymous. These two share other peculiarities: they are the only dialogues in the canon named not after an interlocutor (which makes sense, given that the interlocutor is not named) but a figure of legend, and they are the only two dialogues in the canon in which Socrates simply opens the dialogue asking for a definition (in the case of Hipparchus, the unexpected question, "What is greed?"). For these reasons, the dialogue is almost always classified as spurious these days, a piece from the Academy, no doubt, but not going back to Plato himself. But it's worth keeping in mind that almost all the evidence for its being spurious rather than authentic is stylistic, which is often the weakest of evidences when it comes to Plato. As I've said before, the mere fact that a dialogue is different in some way from other dialogues tells us nothing; all of Plato's dialogues do things you would not expect if you only had the other dialogues to go on. It's just the sheer degree of uniqueness that is persuading people here. The dialogue is also interesting in that it is deliberately shocking and paradoxical -- Socrates argues that greed or profit-seeking or love of gain (any of which can translate philokerdia: the word literally means love of profit) can be good by arguing that a legendarily wicked and greedy ruler (Hipparchus) was good. For all these reasons, there is no consensus on how to interpret the dialogue.

You can read Hipparchus online in English at the Perseus Project and in French at Wikisource.

The Background

Solon gave Athens law, and then left for a journey that lasted ten years. During that time, Athens descended into confusion as faction fought faction. Pisistratus, a war hero and one of Solon's relatives, backed by the poor of the city, managed to impose order and become tyrant, sole ruler of Athens. One of his major accomplishments was exiling the Alcmaeonids. As it happens, he was quite effective: matters of government were run well, taxes were cut, the class tensions in Athens were diffused. He was a patron of the arts, and under his government they thrived -- dithyramb, tragedy, and more. He also had Homer copied and archived. He was fairly popular. When he died and his sons, Hippias and Hipparchus took over, they were not so popular, and the Alcmaeonids were plotting to return. The exact details of what happened are not clear, and our main sources (Herodotus' Histories, Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and Aristotle's Athenian Constitution) disagree on a number of important details; Thucydides himself makes clear that the Athenians actually had several different versions of the story floating around, since he uses the story at the beginning of his work as an example of the historical ignorance of most Athenians. But the common story seems to be that Hipparchus had made advances on a young man named Harmodius and been rebuffed. In retaliation, Hipparchus chose Harmodius's sister to carry the basket in the Panathenaeia (a great honor), but when it came time to do it, he refused to allow it, claiming in public that she was not, as the ceremony required, a virgin, and then chasing her away. In response, Harmodius and his lover/mentor (erastes) Aristogeiton decided to kill Hippias and Hipparchus. As it happens, they only managed to kill Hipparchus. Hippias initiated a very strict regime in response, which decreases his popularity. In the meantime, there was a fire at Delphi, and the wealthy Alcmaeonids paid for rebuilding; this gave them an opportunity to suborn the Oracle at Delphi. They bribed the Oracle into telling every Spartan who came to the Oracle that Athens must be freed from Hippias. Sparta was an ally of Hippias's government; but even the Spartans were not cautious and stubborn enough to ignore the repeated insistence of the god Apollo. So they invaded and Hippias was forced to flee. The Alcmaeonids came back and instituted the democratic regime (they probably wanted an aristocracy, but they had to compromise). In Athens, therefore, the Tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, came to be celebrated as heroes who had liberated Athens and made the democratic regime possible, in part due to the influence of the Alcmaeonids. Pericles, of course, was a member of the Alcmaeonid family, as was Alcibiades.

The Characters
(in order of appearance)

  Socrates converses with an anonymous interlocutor.

The Plot and The Thought

Socrates opens the dialogue asking what greed is, and who the greedy people are. His interlocutor responds that they are people who treat as gain things of no value. This is puzzling, Socrates points out, because if they treat valueless things as gains without knowing that they are valueless, then it seems greedy people are stupid; but if they treat valueless things as gains while knowing that they have no value, there doesn't seem to be anyone like that. To this the interlocutor replies that the greedy are those with an insatiable desire to gain, regardless of the value of things. But this just raises the same point, so greed must be a kind of ignorance.

But the puzzle gets more complicated. Greedy people love gain, which is the opposite of loss, which harms people; and to get a good is a gain, so the greedy people are the people who love what's good. But if that's the case, it seems that everyone's like that. The interlocutor protests that good people don't want gains from which they suffer harm. But this simply creates another puzzle: how can it be a gain if it harms you? Socrates accuses his interlocutor of trying to deceive him by saying the opposite of what he means; the interlocutor replies that it's Socrates who is deceiving him.

Socrates says that it would be wrong of him not to obey a wise man. This brings us to the tale of Hipparchus. According to Socrates, Pisistratus's son, Hipparchus, was the oldest and wisest of his chidren. He was the first to bring in Homer's works, and he made the rhapsodes recite them at the Panathenaea; he enticed Anacreon and Simonides to Athens. In addition, he set up Herms (statues of Hermes, god of travel) along the sides of the road, and put his own wisdom on them:

He did this in order that, first, his citizens would not be impressed by those wise Delphic inscriptions, "Know Thyself," and "Nothing in Excess," and other things of this sort, but would instead regard the words of Hipparchus as wiser. And, second, he did this so that when they travelled back and forth they would read and acquire a taste for his wisdom and would come from the country to complete their education. There are two sides to the inscriptions: on the left side of each Herm, it is inscribed that the Herm stands in the middle of the city or the deme, whereas on the right it says: "This is a monument of Hipparchus: walk with justice in mind." There are many other fine inscriptions of his poetry on other Herms. There is one in particular--on the Stiria road--on which it says: "This is a monument of Hipparchus: do not deceive a friend." So, since I am your friend, I would never dare to deceive you and disobey such a great man. (228d-230b)

After the death of Hipparchus, Hippias ruled for three years, which were in the ancient days the only years of tyranny, and "during the other times the Athenians lived almost as when Cronus was King" (229b). Socrates denies the basket story, saying that more sophisticated people claim that Harmodius had become the favorite of Aristogeiton, and the later prided himself on educating Harmodius, regarding Hipparchus as a rival. Harmodius in the meantime had become lover of someone-or-other; Socrates can't remember his name. The youth had thought Harmodius and Aristogeiton wise, but when he began associating with Hipparchus, he was no longer impressed by them; so Harmodius and Aristogeiton killed Hipparchus.

The interlocutor replies that Socrates either does not regard him as friend, or is disobeying Hipparchus, since Socrates will never persuade him that he is not deceiving him with these arguments. Socrates says he'll let the interlocutor take back anything he wants from the previous discussion. Socrates goes through a list of possible things the interlocutor could take back, and finally suggests that instead of taking gain to be good, they say that some gain is good and some bad. Since they are both, by supposition, genuinely gain, we have to determine what makes them both so. Socrates suggests that it might be either getting things without spending anything or receiving more when one spends less. But again, not just anything you could get would count as a gain; for instance, if you 'gain' sicknesss at a feast for which you do not pay. So it seems we are back to the claim that only good things can be gains. Likewise, it's not just 'more' that is important: to give gold and get double the weight in silver is not a gain if gold is worth by weight twelve times what silver is. It needs be valuable. But if the valuable is what gain is, then we need to know what's valuable to possess. But it seems that what is valuable to possess is whatever is beneficial. So people are greedy when they want what is beneficial; which all virtuous people do. And so it seems that both the wicked and the virtuous are greedy.


* Thucydides explicitly denies that Hipparchus was the oldest of Pisistratus's children; Hippias was. This fits what we know from other sources. Likewise, Hipparchus never actually ruled; only Hippias did. Likewise, Pisistratus was tyrant before Hippias. But the claim that the Athenians, outside of Hippias's 'three years', lived like they did in the Golden Age is so absurdly exaggerated, and the over-the-top terms in which Socrates describes Hipparchus's 'wisdom' are clearly not intended to be taken seriously. And while it's not wholly surprising that Socrates reads the erastes/eromenos relations primarily in their educational sense, the more 'sophisticated' story about why Hipparchus died is so obviously implausible it has to be deliberate. (It's worth noting that the very brief allusions to it in Plato's Symposium are also inconsistent with it.) So we seem to have a case of Socrates deliberately telling his friend a lying story with the moral 'do not deceive a friend'.

* The road to Stiria is a nice touch; apparently it went out to a stone quarry, which Socrates as stonecutter would no doubt have known.

* Aristophanes mentions in The Wasps that Simonides received payment from Hipparchus for his poetry, and regards it as a scandal; so Hipparchus's patronage of the arts also fits with the theme of greed.

* In Thucydides the Hipparchus story is closely linked with the Syracusan expedition -- and Alcibiades, of course, was accused of mutilating the Herms on the eve of that expedition. It is unlikely that the same association would not have occurred to the author, so perhaps part of the point of the dialogue is to link the Syracusan expedition to philokerdia? That's remarkably subtle, if so.

* I think it's worth remembering Gorgias, and Socrates's insistence there that what people like (or prefer) is not what they want; it seems to be closely related to the issues related by this argument. On the account there, everyone wants what is genuinely good, so unjust people necessarily are not getting what they want, even if they get what they like to have.


Quotations are from Nicholas D. Smith's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds., pp. 609-617.

Philosophers' Carnival CLXV

Welcome to the 165th edition of the Philosophers' Carnival! We have the good fortune of having a diverse selection of posts, proposing ideas, examining assumptions, raising questions across a wide field of serious philosophical inquiry. Since summer's a great time to break out of the parochial ruts into which we all occasionally fall, I've deliberately jumbled up topics so as to avoid slotting them into categories; and I think you'll see, if you read through a number of the links without pre-categorizing them as 'philosophy of mind' or 'philosophy of sport' or the like, several of them turn out to have ramifications in more than one field. Count that as your bit of professional moralizing for the day, or ignore it entirely, but by all means jump in and see what's on offer!

* Stephen Harris, Comment on Lele’s “The Compassionate Gift of Vice” (Journal of Buddhist Ethics Vol 20. 2013) at the Indian Philosophy Blog:

The article, “The Compassionate Gift of Vice: Śāntideva on Gifts, Altruism and Poverty” takes as its point of departure an apparent contradiction in Śāntideva’s writing. Śāntideva instructs the bodhisattva to give gifts such as alcohol, sex and weapons to those desiring them. Yet the text as a whole is clear that these objects harm their possessor. Particularly puzzling is Śāntideva claim that alcohol should be given to alcoholics to help them develop mindfulness and introspection, since he specifically claims that consumption of alcohol hinders developing these mental states (Lele, 703).

* Ruth Chang, Dao Article Discussion – Ralph Weber on Comparison in Comparative Philosophy:

Weber’s paper begins with a cri de coeur, one with which I couldn’t agree with more: “Comparison is fundamental to the practice and subject-matter of philosophy, but has received scant attention by philosophers.” Most of my research to date explores the nature of comparability in the context of axiology and practical reason, but I have often felt as if I’m whistling in the wind. Understanding the nature of comparison, I believe, is critical for understanding rationality, rational agency, the nature of values, action, and normativity in general. Weber’s paper helps demonstrate how attention to comparison is also important for what’s called ‘comparative philosophy’.

* Catarine Dutilh-Novaes, Preferential logics, supraclassicality, and human reasoning at "M-Phi" (also cross-posted at NewAPPS):

[I]f we want to explain both undergeneration and overgeneration within one and the same formal system, we seem to have a real problem with the logics available in the market. Logics that are strictly subclassical, i.e. which do not sanction some classically valid arguments but also do not sanction anything classically invalid (such as intuitionistic or relevant logics), will be unable to account for overgeneration. Logics that are strictly supraclassical, i.e. which sanction everything that classical logic sanctions and some more (such as preferential logics), will be unable to account for undergeneration.

* Amod Lele, Paradigms in Philosophy:

The danger of a paradigmless one visible in the works of a Richard Rorty, where philosophy is explicitly viewed as simply a matter of ever-expanding conversation without truth as a referent. The activity may turn out to be pointless. And so in many such fields it is often worth trying to establish a paradigm, create a model of work that others can then take as first principles. Wilber has tried to do so and I think he has failed. But that shouldn’t stop the rest of us from trying.

* Marcus Arvan, A Posteriori Necessity: Misled by Language at "The Philosophers' Cocoon":

Kripke's discovery of a posteriori necessity is often invoked as a great discovery in 20th Century Analytic Philosophy. I think it was an important discovery--just not what some seem to have thought it to be.

* Ralph Wedgwood, State-given reasons not to believe, at "PEA Soup":

According to a common view, the difference between the “right” kind of reasons that support the distinctive rationality of belief, intention, or other attitudes, and the “wrong” kind of reasons that do not, is that the former are “object-given” reasons while the latter are “state-given” reasons. As I shall argue here, this view is false: it is open to some simple counterexamples.

In this post, I shall explain why the reason that explains why it is irrational to believe Moore-paradoxical propositions (like the proposition that you might express by uttering a first-person present-tensed sentence of the form ‘p and I don’t believe that p’) is a state-given reason, even though it is a reason of “the right kind”.

* Maryann Spikes, Leibnizian Moral Argument? at "Ichthus77":

I think my moral argument for God's existence is similar to Leibniz' cosmological argument (except it has to do with the explanation of the Good, a.k.a the Golden Rule).

* David Papineau, Morality, Convention and Football Fakery at "More Important than That":

[H]ow can just the same action be morally acceptable in one sport but not in another? Am I saying that morality is relative? Not at all. To untangle this issue we need first to distinguish between morality and convention, and then to understand their relationship.

* Alexander Pruss, The argument from vagueness at "Alexander Pruss's Blog":

Here's an argument inspired by Plantinga's argument from counterfactuals:

The meaning of a word is wholly determined by the decisions of language users.
The meaning of "bald" is not wholly determined by the decisions earthly language users.
Therefore, there is a non-earthly language user whose decisions at least partly determine the meaning of "bald".

* Jean Kazez, Borderline Cases at "In Living Color":

Anne Fausto-Sterling's books are informative and fascinating. She writes in an exploratory, non-dogmatic way that I really appreciate. She is hard to pin down and I (often) like authors who are hard to pin down. But one argument she seems to make in her books does not convince me much -- the argument that sex must be socially constructed, based on there being intersex individuals who wind up "assigned" to a sex in a social fashion.

* Wolfgang Schwarz, What are our options? at "wo's weblog":

Lewis, in "Causal Decision Theory" (1981, p.308):

Suppose we have a partition of propositions that distinguish worlds where the agent acts differently ... Further, he can act at will so as to make any one of these propositions hold, but he cannot act at will so as to make any proposition hold that implies but is not implied by (is properly included in) a proposition in the partition. ... Then this is the partition of the agent's alternative options.

That can't be right.

* Shawn Klein, Sportsmanship, MMA, and Sacrificing Victory at "Philosophy of Sport" (also cross-posted at The Sports Ethicist):

...I claim that sportsmanship is the embodiment of the kinds of virtues and moral dispositions that are proper for those participating in athletics and sports. I don’t think this is too controversial a claim; that is, until we start to unpack just what the claim really means (a huge project beyond the scope of a blog post).

But one important implication of this claim (one that follows from the nature of virtue) is that sportsmanship ought not to be reserved for exceptional or extraordinary actions. Sportsmanship is the manner of acting to which _all_ the participants should be held. It shouldn’t be analogous to sainthood.

* Nomy Arpaly, Aristotle and Autism: Some Thoughts about Moral Virtue at "PEA Soup":

Tim Schroeder and I have defended a view according to which even though virtuous people seem different from the rest of us in many ways, it basically comes down to a difference in desires. A person who has a deep intrinsic desire for the right and the good de re (or desires for the various things that are right and good) is as a result not only disposed to act differently but also has a different mental life in many ways, emotional and cognitive. For the purpose of this post, though, it doesn’t matter if we talk about what we intrinsically desire or what we care about as long as we assume neither is a cognitive state.

I would like develop this view further, with attention to questions I keep getting.

* Terence Blake, Latour and Mathematics: Heuristics and Hermeneutics at "Agent Swarm", as part of an ongoing series examining Latour's work:

Bruno Latour is well-known for having applied semiotic and post-structuralist thought to the study of the natural sciences – typically a blind spot in the generalised critique of institutions of thought that characterised the 60s and 70s in French philosophical thought. Indeed Latour himself regarded this complaisaance towards the hard sciences as a defect in Foucault’s project. Yet even Latour has seemed to have nothing to say about that most demonstrative and apodictic of all the sciences – mathematics. Here it would seem that all the Latourian insistence on what may be called the heuristics of scientific research, on what he calls “science in the making”, is incapable of including mathematics in any informative way within its purview.

* Bill Vallicella, Divine Simplicity, the Formal Distinction, and the Real Distinction at "Maverick Philosopher":

There appear to be two ways of construing 'real distinction.' On the first construal, the real distinction is plainly different from the formal distinction. On a second construal, it is not so clear what the difference is. I have no worked-out view. In this entry I am merely trying to understand the difference between these two sorts of distinction and how they bear upon the divine simplicity, though I will not say anything more about the latter in this installment.

* Jakob Hohwy, Is prediction error minimization all there is to the mind? at "Brains":

The prediction error minimization theory (PEM) says that the brain continually seeks to minimize its prediction error – minimize the difference between its predictions about the sensory input and the actual sensory input. It is an extremely simple idea but from it arises a surprisingly resourceful conception of brain processing. In this post, I’ll try to motivate the somewhat ambitious idea that PEM explains everything about the mind.

* Richard Yetter Chappell, Allocating Asylum at "Philosophy, et cetera":

Suppose that:
(1) There are more English-speaking refugees seeking asylum than there are available "positions" for refugees in your country (let's call it "NZ") given current policy.
(2) Migrants (including refugees) who speak English are more easily integrated into NZ than those who don't already speak the language. Thus, a greater number of English-speaking refugees (only) could be accepted into the country at no greater cost or institutional strain relative to current policy.

...[S]hould we think it at least an improvement upon the status quo to introduce a policy of letting in a greater number of refugees all of whom are English-speaking?

* Eric Schwitzgebel, The Calibration View of Moral Reflection, at "The Splintered Mind":

On the calibration view, the proper role of philosophical moral theorizing is not moral self-improvement but rather more precisely targeting the (possibly quite mediocre) moral level you're aiming for. This could often involve consciously deciding to act morally worse.

* And a passing of note. Joyce Mitchell Cook passed away in early June, and the blog for the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers reflects on a portion of her contribution to the profession in Remembering Joyce Mitchell Cook:

Dr. Cook was the first African American woman to earn the Ph.D. in Philosophy (Yale, 1965). Her areas of specialization included value theory, ethics, and social and political philosophy. We learned yesterday that she passed away on June 6, 2014.

Since it's summer, I'll also remind everyone that there are a great many philosophy-themed podcasts currently available. Here is just a selection:

* SpaceTimeMind: Richard Brown and Pete Mandik discuss philosophy, science, and a whole bunch of other stuff, with musical interludes provided by their band, Quiet Karate Reflex.
* The Partially Examined Life: Informal roundtable discussion of philosophy, philosophers, and philosophical texts by Mark Linsenmayer, Seth Paskin, Wes Alwan, and Dylan Casey.
* History of Philosophy without any gaps: Peter Adamson discusses the history of philosophy while making sure not to skip lesser known figures with interesting ideas and arguments.
* Philosophy Bites: David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton interview philosophers in bite-sized bits.

The next Philosophers' Carnival will be hosted at Philosophical Disquisitions one month from now. Please help everyone out by looking for good philosophy posts over the next month and submitting them through the Philosophers' Carnival page!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Like a Star Upon His Mother's Tears

St. Augustine and Monica
by Charles Tennyson Turner

When Monica's young son had felt her kiss --
Her weeping kiss -- for years, her sorrow flowed
At last into his wilful blood; he owed
To her his after-life of truth and bliss:
And her own joy, what words, what thoughts could paint!
When o'er his soul, with sweet constraining force,
Came Penitence -- a fusion from remorse --
And made her boy a glorious Christian saint.
Oh ye, who tend the young through doubtful years
Along the busy path from birth to death,
Parents and friends! forget not in your fears
The secret strength of prayer, the holy breath
That swathes your darlings! think how Austin's faith
Rose like a star upon his mother's tears!

Charles Tennyson Turner is the older brother (the middle son) of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Menexenus (Part II)

The Plot

Socrates opens the dialogue by asking whether Menexenus is coming from the agora, and Menexenus replies that he was coming from the Council Chamber. Socrates remarks that Menexenus must be giving up his philosophy so that he can rule old men like Socrates. Menexenus responds that he will only seek office if Socrates gives him permission -- the real reason why he was there is that the Council was looking for someone to give the epitaphios or funeral oration for the war-dead. Socrates remarks that dying in battle seems to have some advantages, since you get a nice funeral, even if you are poor, and you get to be eulogized by experts with praise whether you merit it or not. These experts enchant people, praising not only the war-dead but the living as well, so that those who listen think of themselves as even better than they did before. Socrates drily remarks that it often takes him three days after such speeches to remember that he doesn't live in the Isles of the Blessed.

Menexenus recognizes this as mockery of rhetors and orators, but he remarks that in this case it might be quite difficult, since it is so last-minute. Socrates dismisses this, saying that these speeches are always made long before, and even if they weren't, they are not difficult to make up off the top of your head: it's easy to praise the Athenians if your audience is the Athenians. Menexenus asks him if he thinks he could deliver such a speech. Socrates remarks that there's nothing surprising as his ability, since he happens to have a very good teacher of oratory, Aspasia. Just yesterday Aspasia declaimed a funeral oration herself, and went through it with Socrates, making up some of it off the top of her head, and pasting in things she had come up when writing Pericles' funeral oration. Menexenus wants to hear it, and Socrates gives it.

After the speech, Menexenus is clearly convinced that Socrates just made the speech up himself, and says he is grateful to Socrates for the speech. Socrates responds that if Menexenus doesn't give him away, he'll pass on many others of Aspasia's speeches. Menexenus says he won't, and Socrates ends with a promise to pass the speeches on.

The Thought

Understanding the Aspasian speech requires, I think, recognition of two principles:

(1) The Fragments Principle: Socrates suggests that Aspasia made her funeral oration out of "bits and pieces", some of which were extemporized and some culled from parts left out of Pericles' Funeral Oration (236b). So we should not see the Oration as a unified entity, but something stitched together.

(2) The Greatest City Principle: Consistently throughout the speech, things that were done by the Greeks as a whole are attributed to Athens alone; or things that were done well by other cities are attributed to Athens even if Athens really opposed them. Everything Athens does is said to be for a purely altruistic motive, and this is treated as obvious. Athens is never really defeated; disasters and failures are mostly another city's fault; and so forth. Athens is the center of the world.

These principles are not always applied in the same way, so should not be regarded as mechanical rules. Sometimes they are applied very subtly -- a slight spinning of the facts, an introduction of an inconvenient truth Pericles left out, or the quiet dropping of something he said. Sometimes they take the form of egregious falsehoods (for instance, the Oration falsely claims that Athens could not reinforce the Syracusan expedition because of the distance, when it actually did reinforce it early on, and only toward the end could not because it was at war with Sparta again). Sometimes they take the form of obvious contradictions (for instance, it is claimed in separate places that Athens won the Peloponnesian War and that she lost it, because that's the only way to make Athens the hero in all the major events in that period; and the Oration insists that the Athenians would never betray Greeks to barbarians but just a few lines later talks about how the Athenians helped the Persians beat the Spartans). Sometimes they take the form of truths that are treated with the wrong valence (for instance, when it is said enthusiastically that Athenians were to fight for the freedom of all Greeks by fighting Greeks, or more broadly when the fairly reasonable moral drawn at the end is treated as if it were the obvious conclusion of the history that went before, whereas they don't fit together at all). This means the Oration really requires a very close analysis that I probably don't really have the expertise to do and couldn't easily put here if I did. But here are some things that become quite notable just by brief comparison of the Oration with other speeches and with historical accounts.

(1) Contrary to Pericles' emphasis on deeds rather than words, Aspasia says that "it is by means of speech finely spoken that deeds nobly done gain for their doers from the hearers the meed of memory and renown" (236e)

(2) Contrary to Pericles, but like Lysias and Isocrates, Aspasia emphasizes the autochthony of the Athenians, and discusses it at far greater length than they do. She attributes to Attica the origin of grains (which has the problem that Attica is not a particularly great place to grow them!), which Athens freely shared, and gave them gods to be tutors and mentors.

(3) Aspasia denies what everyone else claims, that Athens is a democracy; instead she is an aristocracy supported by popular approval. Like Pericles she claims that Athens makes the wise rulers.

(4) She mentions in passing the same mythological exploits as Lysias. She does so in order to talk about deeds that have fallen in oblivion and that nobody talks about -- which turns out to be the always-mentioned topic of the Persian War!

(5) She skips the great Spartan feat of the Persian War, Thermopylae, in order to talk about Marathon; an egregious lapse given that she suggests that at Marathon Athens showed all the other Greeks that the Persians were not invincible.

(6) She falsely claims that the Battle of Tanagra in the First Peloponnesian War was indecisive -- while Athens fought well, it was a Spartan victory -- and claims that Athens was fighting for the freedom of Boeotians, whereas the Spartans were actually the ones fighting to preserve the freedom of the Boeotians from Athens.

(7) Athens held the Spartans at Sphacteria hostage and threatened to execute them if Sparta invaded, while also backing raids into Spartan territory; Aspasia claims instead that Athens gave them back and made peace.

(8) Aspasia claims that the Athenians "deemed that against their fellow Greeks it was right to wage war only up to the point of victory, and not to wreck the whole Greek community for the sake of a city's private grudge, but to wage war to the death against the barbarians" (242d), which is similar to claims made by Isocrates; she will show Athens doing the exact opposite by the end of the speech, forgiving the barbarians and trying to destroy Greek cities.

(9) The Oration underplays the disaster of the Syracusan expedition, as noted above, and claims, utterly implausibly, that not only the Athenians comported themselves with prudence (phronesis) and virtue (arete), but that they were praised even more by their enemies than their friends. But the claim (dubious, and certainly not Plato's own view, given his other allusions to the event) that Athens went to Sicily only to protect the freedom of Leontini is extant elsewhere, and probably was a common claim.

(10) The way the description of the end of the Peloponnesian War is structured, it makes it sound like Athens won the war, instead of lost, and then only had a civil war after peace. What's more it's described as nearly peaceful, due to "a firm friendship founded on community of race", happening almost entirely by misfortune, when it was in fact notoriously bloody.

(11) The Corinthian War (which, of course, occurred after Socrates' death) is misleadingly treated as if Athens's allies, including the Persians (who, contrary to the claims of the Oration, were not in any fear of Sparta and were simply practicing their usual policy of dividing the Greek cities), begged her for help, whereas it was instigated by Thebes with the support of Athens and expanded from there. But some of the other features of the war are technically correct, although described tendentiously, which makes me wonder if part of the point of the dialogue is to attack common Athenian views of the Corinthian War.

(12) Despite all this mendacity -- and I am sure I have not caught all of even the worst instances -- the moral drawn at the end when the audience is addressed with the lessons to learn from the history seems in itself to be more straight. It just doesn't seem to fit with any of what went before.

  Additional Remarks

* It has to be deliberate that Plato has Socrates attributing Pericles' Funeral Oration, which sums up the self-understanding of the Athenian Empire, to Aspasia, who was a foreigner from Miletus, particularly given that Socrates emphasizes that she was from Miletus at the end of this Oration. Perhaps the idea is that the Funeral Oration of Pericles is not a summary of the golden age of Athens; it is the summary of the un-Athenian aberrations, the deviations from Athenian tradition (notice how swiftly Pericles passes over Athenian history), by which she came within a hair's breadth of collapsing completely.

* Despite my emphasizing some of the falsehoods, it is worth keeping in mind that every single thing done in the Oration is the kind of thing regularly done in funeral orations of this kind: truncated histories, exaggerated claims, convenient omissions, passing off blame on others. Notice how often Socrates repeats the standard commonplace of epitaphioi that Athens always fights for the freedom of others, for instance: 239b, 242a, 242b, 244e, 245a.

* The Menexenus ends up being something like a black comedy on political manipulation, like the movie, Wag the Dog:


Quotations are from W. R. M. Lamb's translation at the Perseus Project.

Menexenus (Part I)

I've mentioned before that every single one of Plato's dialogues does something you would not expect if you only had the other dialogues; but some dialogues come with many more surprises than others. Menexenus is one of the weirdest and most puzzling dialogues in the Platonic canon -- perhaps the weirdest, although Clitophon gives it a run for the prize. It is subtitled "The Funeral Oration" and it is indeed the case that the bulk of the dialogue is taken up by an epitaphios or funeral oration. That's one oddity in the dialogue. Another is that the funeral oration is simply recited by Socrates and ascribed to Aspasia, for reasons that are somewhat unclear. Another oddity is that Socrates talks about things that happened after he died. Yet another oddity is that the history presented is sometimes truly fantastically wrong, in ways that cannot possibly be accidental. Scholars have been itching for a very long time to find a reason to regard it as inauthentic so as to make their lives simpler, but they have been stymied by Aristotle, who very clearly refers to the dialogue (under its subtitle), and while he doesn't say outright that it's Plato's, he treats it exactly as if it were. This is one of the strongest possible external evidences to authenticity; Aristotle, having spent twenty years in Plato's Academy, is not going to be wrong about the bare fact of whether Plato wrote a dialogue -- and if he is, it's not going to be in a way that someone thousands of years later could ever be in a position to establish. It has generally been treated as a minor dialogue, because scholars treat as minor works all the ones they find perplexing, but it was apparently fairly popular in antiquity. More recent explorations have suggested that Menexenus can be seen as a criticism of Pericles' famous Funeral Oration -- Aspasia, after all, was Pericles' companion, and the speech attributed to her seems to parody the kind of expansive rhetoric Athenians liked to hear about themselves. Moreover, Pericles' Funeral Oration is also mentioned in the dialogue; Socrates claims that it was also really composed by Aspasia.

Menexenus, then, may one day take its place as a significant source for understanding Plato's political philosophy -- if we get a grip on how it fits into that context. In the meantime, there's no consensus on how to interpret the dialogue, ,given its subtleties, serious interpretation of this work, even a preliminary interpretation, would certainly require a month of reading and comparing at least! We'll just have to approach the matter as tourists and see if we can catch a few of the interesting points.

You can read Menexenus online in English at the Perseus Project and in French at Wikisource.

The Background

The dialogue directly refers to Pericles' Funeral Oration. There are two other works that sometimes are thought to be in view: Lysias's Funeral Oration and Isocrates' Panegyricus (which is not technically a funeral oration but obviously is rhetorically related).

(1) Pericles' Funeral Oration. Pericles, as Thucydides presents him, begins by saying he would prefer that the law not require a eulogy for the war-dead, but simply recognize their deeds by the deed of the funeral itself; but as it is required by law, he will comply. He begins with the first ancestors, but passes briefly over them by saying there never was a time when they did not dwell on the land, in order to get to "our fathers", who added to their legacy, and to those who were assembled to hear the speech, who carried the improvements even further, "and have richly endowed our city with all things, so that she is sufficient for herself both in peace and war." He then passes over the deeds of martial glory of which funeral orations were usually composed, and talks of the glory of Athens:

Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors', but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition. There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbor if he does what he likes; we do not put on sour looks at him which, though harmless, are not pleasant. While we are thus unconstrained in our private business, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws, having a particular regard to those which are ordained for the protection of the injured as well as those unwritten laws which bring upon the transgressor of them the reprobation of the general sentiment.

Athens' military training is in many ways superior to those of her adversaries; she is open to the world; Athens seldom has difficulty overcoming its opponents; when those opponents defeat Athens, they do so only because Athens's attention is divided; Athens, unlike the rest of the world, thinks before acting; Athens is the school of Greece.

He then moves on briefly to praise of the dead: they were worthy of Athens. Then he speaks to those present:

Any one can discourse to you for ever about the advantages of a brave defense, which you know already. But instead of listening to him I would have you day by day fix your eyes upon the greatness of Athens, until you become filled with the love of her; and when you are impressed by the spectacle of her glory, reflect that this empire has been acquired by men who knew their duty and had the courage to do it, who in the hour of conflict had the fear of dishonor always present to them, and who, if ever they failed in an enterprise, would not allow their virtues to be lost to their country, but freely gave their lives to her as the fairest offering which they could present at her feast.

(2) Lysias' Funeral Oration. Lysias begins with the usual remark that words are insufficient to praise the deads of the dead, then moves on to discuss "the ancient ordeals of our ancestors". He gives a number of mythological episodes in which Athens rose to the occasion, then mentions that it was natural to them to do justice because they were born of the earth:

They were the first and the only people in that time to drive out the ruling classes of their state and to establish a democracy, believing the liberty of all to be the strongest bond of agreement; by sharing with each other the hopes born of their perils they had freedom of soul in, their civic life, and used law for honoring the good and punishing the evil. For they deemed that it was the way of wild beasts to be held subject to one another by force, but the duty of men to delimit justice by law, to convince by reason, and to serve these two in act by submitting to the sovereignty of law and the instruction of reason.

He then moves on to the Persian War, (briefly) the Peloponnesian War, and then finally the Corinthian War, and ends by calling them blessed.

(3) Isocrates' Panegyricus. Isocrates says, " I have come before you to give my counsels on the war against the barbarians and on concord among ourselves" and after some further discussion of what he is doing, goes on to argue that the Spartans and Athenians should unite against the barbarians. But while Athens can understand this policy, the Spartans have the false belief that they by right should lead. Thus Isocrates sets out to prove that Athens has claim to lead the Greeks as a whole. He notes the autochthony of Athens, its people sprung from the earth, and the fact that they were taught by Demeter herself how to use the fruits of the earth and received from her the Eleusinian Mysteries. He then discusses all the benefits that the Athenians have shared with the rest of the Greeks, including philosophy, and the ancient tradition of appealing to Athens for help. He discusses the Persian War. Thus "all men would acknowledge that our city has been the author of the greatest number of blessings, and that she should in fairness be entitled to the hegemony." He meets a number of possible objections, including the treatment of the Melians and the people of Scione, and dismisses them by pointing out that cities that stayed loyal did not have this problem, and, besides, Sparta is worse. He talks about Athenian enmity to the barbarians and argues for a united front against them.

The Characters
(in order of appearance)


Menexenus is also a character in Lysis and is present at the discussion in Phaedo. Not much seems to be known about him.

Aspasia is not technically in the dialogue, but as the epitaphios or funeral oration is attributed to her, she is a quasi-character in the discussion. Aspasia is the women in the Periclean Age of whom we know the most, but far from making her more understandable, it makes her much more of an enigma. She was almost certainly born in Miletus, and was (apparently) the daughter of Axiochus. She was the mistress of Pericles for about twenty years, and had a son, also named Pericles. She apparently was a common character in philosophical dialogues by Socrates' students -- Aeschines and Antisthenes both had dialogues named after her. We have a few fragments of Aeschines's dialogue; in one of the fragments Socrates argues that many women have been great history. In the most extended passage, preserved in Cicero's De inventione (1.51-53), Aspasia gives Xenophon and his wife marital advice. (This is certainly fictional; all evidence suggests that Xenophon married relatively late and well after he had left Athens, and probably after Aspasia had died. But you can read it in English here at section XXXI.) We don't know what Antisthenes' dialogue was like, but there's good evidence elsewhere to think that Antisthenes did not approve of Aspasia at all. She was often mocked in comedies, often with hints that she was the real cause of the Peloponnesian War (this is a joke in Aristophanes' Acharnians, for instance). The things that most fascinated her contemporaries -- her deviation from normal expectations for women, her access to power, her intelligence -- often do not lead into the things we most want to know about her. It is all indirect; she is one of the most talked-about people of the time, and yet we hardly know her.

to be continued

Malebranche, Practical Knowledge, and Efficacy of Ideas (Part II)

Part I

Malebranche's Efficacious Ideas

I began this paper with two passages from Jolley pointing to puzzles that arise if we try to combine Malebranche's claim that ideas are efficacious with a position that views Malebranchean ideas as abstract entities or 'third realm' entities. Jolley is admirably clear about the matter, but he is certainly not alone in taking this view of Malebranche's ideas. Pyle, for instance, who tends to talk about Malebranche's ideas in terms of logical concepts, appears to see them as analogous to Fregean senses.[18] It cannot be denied that this view is an advance over any view that fails to recognize Malebranche's anti-psychologism about ideas, which is one reason for its attraction. When we combine it with the claim that ideas are efficacious, however, the puzzles noted by Jolley become quite severe. This is particular true given that Malebranche seems to think it obvious that ideas are efficacious:

It is certain that ideas are efficacious, since they act up on the mind and enlighten it, and since they make it happy or unhappy through the pleasant or unpleasant perceptions by which they affect it. (LO 232; OC 1:442)

Perhaps he fails to give us any developed analysis of his efficacy thesis precisely because he regards it as obvious. There is reason to suspect, however, that the puzzling character of the thesis has more to do with the assumption that ideas are abstract entities. Logical concepts, abstract entities, and the like are all philosophical notions that are primarily introduced in order to clarify speculative knowledge. The understanding of 'idea' presupposed by Malebranche (one deriving from the theory of ideas) treats ideas chiefly as units of practical knowledge.[19] It is not surprising that an account of Malebranche's theory of ideas will have difficulty making sense of the efficacy of ideas if it treats knowledge in a way that abstracts it from action.

This position has a number of features that impede attempts to identify Malebranche's ideas with what we might call abstract entities. For instance, the arguments for the vision-in-God thesis are also intended to be arguments that universal Reason is divine; because of his conclusion that universal Reason is divine, Malebranche has no hesitation in identifying Reason with the divine Word.[20] There is no sharp distinction between the efficacy of ideas, the efficacy of the divine substance, and the efficacy of the divine Word or universal Reason. Consider the full context of the above passage:

It is certain that ideas are efficacious, since they act upon the mind and enlighten it, and since they make it happy or unhappy through the pleasant or unpleasant perceptions by which they affect it. Now nothing can act immediately upon the mind unless it is superior to it--nothing but God alone; for only the Author of our being can change its modifications. All our ideas, therefore, must be located in the efficacious substance of the Divinity, which alone is intelligible or capable of enlightening us, because it alone can affect intelligences. (LO 232; OC 1:442)

Here we find an interesting set of identifications. The efficacy attributed to ideas is exactly the same as the efficacy attributed to the "efficacious substance of the divinity," which is exactly the same as that attributed to God as creator or "Author of our being."

Malebranche says elsewhere that we should not let our minds "be ignorant of Him from whom their enlightenment comes, the Reason to which they are essentially related" (LO 623; OC 3:146). This occurs in the context of his clarification of the claim that God alone can act on the soul; immediately before this he says that "He alone can illuminate it, affect it, modify it through the efficacy of His ideas." The same efficacy (in enlightening minds) that is attributed to God, divine ideas, and the divine substance is attributed to universal Reason. The efficacy attributed to the divine substance in passages like these is the same as that attributed to ideas; or, to put it another way, the efficacy ideas have is entirely due to their being, in their base reality, nothing other than the efficacious divine substance. Malebranche attributes efficacy to ideas because (1) they act on us by enlightening us and (2) they act on us by making us happy or unhappy. The only thing that can, properly speaking, do this, however, is the divine substance, because changing a thing's modifications (manières d'être) requires the ability to change its very being, an ability only God can have. The conclusion to the argument, then, is that the capacity of ideas to affect us is nothing other than God's capacity to affect us; for ideas to do what they do, they must be located in the efficacious substance of the Divinity. Talking about efficacy of ideas is just another way of saying, "It is God we see by a direct and immediate sight; only He can enlighten our mind with His own substance" (OC 1:449; cp. LO 236-237).

That efficacy in the divine is primarily a matter of the divine substance is something that has been recognized by Peppers-Bates; however, she goes on to argue:

[I]deas are not the kinds of thing that could initiate causal sequences: they do not possess a will, they do not individually possess an intellect, although in their totality they are identified with the divine Reason. Ideas are not substances in their own right.[21]

A bit later she also claims that an aspect of God, which does not possess a will or an intellect, cannot act.[22] Immediately afterward, however, she says that the human perception of limitations in, or aspects of, God does not establish any real, ontological divisions in God to which we might assign independent causal powers in the first place. I think this is quite right; an aspect of God (e.g., the divine ideas) cannot have independent causal power. However, that we are able to distinguish divine 'aspects' does not imply that there is a real division in God between entities, each of which has independent causal powers, because there is no reason to think these 'aspects' could not share the efficacy of the divine substance itself. Ideas are, to be sure, not substances simply speaking, but this is only because they are, as Cook has shown in discussing the ontological status of ideas, the divine substance itself considered in different ways.[23] Since Malebranche is clear that every idea is the divine substance (albeit as considered in a certain very limited light), and he is also clear that the divine substance is efficacious, there appears to be no good reason to deny that ideas are efficacious. Given Peppers-Bates's emphasis on the efficacy of the divine substance (an emphasis which she is quite right to have), it seems less implausible to think of ideas initiating causal sequences.

Jolley has a very clever argument suggesting that Malebranche's occasionalism commits him to a position that contradicts his claim that ideas are efficacious:

According to Malebranche's central argument for occasionalism, true causality implies a necessary connection between a cause and its efect, and it is Malebranche's contention that there is such a necessary connection only between the will of God and its upshot. For Malebranche the occasionalist, then, God is the only genuine cause by virtue of having an omnipotent will, not by virtue of being the region of ideas. Thus the theory of efficacious ideas could be convicted of something like a category mistake.[24]

On first glance this seems correct. After arguing that we cannot find any necessary connection between created things and effects, Malebranche goes on to note that we do find such a connection between the divine will and effects:

But when one thinks about the idea of God, i.e., of an infinitely perfect and consequently all-powerful being, one knows there is such a connection between His will and the motion of all bodies, that it is impossible to conceive that He wills a body to be moved and that this body not be moved. We must therefore say that only His will can move bodies if we wish to state things as we conceive them and not as we sense them. (LO 448; OC 2:313)

At one point in the argument Malebranche does provide a description of a true cause that might be taken for a definition:

A true cause as I understand it is one such that the mind perceives a necessary connection between it and its effect. Now the mind perceives a necessary connection only between the will of an infinitely perfect being and its effects. (LO 450)

I think, however, that reading this as a definition of 'true cause' is a mistake. And it seems that the conclusion suggested by Jolley, that God is the only genuine cause only by virtue of having an omnipotent will, would only follow from Malebranche's claims if the contrastive case were other divine attributes. That is, to draw this conclusion from the argument, we must assume that Malebranche intends to attribute efficacy to the divine will rather than to some other divine attribute. However, the contrastive case in this context is not other divine attributes but created wills. He has just finished denying that any created will has the relevant necessary connection to its effects; in the above passage, he is merely pointing out that the divine will (as opposed to any created will) does have this connection. Further, both before and after this passage Malebranche lists God's enlightenment of minds as one of the reasons He alone is true cause. Such enlightenment is usually associated with ideas, not the will specifically, in the Oratorian's thought. Thus there is at least some suggestion in this very argument that other divine attributes beside the will may be said to be efficacious, and nothing about the argument requires that we attribute efficacy exclusively to the divine will.

One of the reasons I think we tend to find plausible objections like those we have just seen in Peppers-Bates and Jolley, is that we tend to associate will and efficacy. However, it is clear that Malebranche does not. There is an entire class of wills that are not efficacious at all, namely, those of creatures. The divine will is efficacious not because it is a will but because it is divine, and what makes the divine will efficacious is that it is identifiable with the divine substance.[25] The divine will, in other words, is efficacious because this follows from its being the will of infinite perfect being. Ideas, however, are also identifiable with the divine substance. An idea is the divine substance insofar as it is represented in the divine self-image (i.e., divine Reason) as participable by creatures of a certain sort. Divine ideas could be called efficacious for the same reason the divine will is: they are divine. Therefore the fact that divine ideas are distinguished from the divine will does not provide an adequate reason for rejecting the efficacy of divine ideas.

We have seen, then, that there is no difference between the efficacy of the divine substance and the efficacy of the divine ideas; that there is no difference between the efficacy of ideas and the efficacy of universal Reason (the divine Word); and that there appears to be nothing about the argument for the efficacy of God's will that eliminates the possibility of divine ideas being efficacious. Ideas are efficacious for us because they are universal Reason, which is God's complete self-representation in divine self-knowledge. Malebranche's theory of ideas requires that they be God's substance insofar as God is able to create the world and knows this in His self-representation. What we see when we see the idea of X is just divine Reason itself in its representing of X. Since Malebranche identifies divine Reason with the divine Word, Reason is not so much a third realm as an agent. It is not surprising, then, that Malebranche opens the Tenth Elucidation, on the nature of ideas, with a discussion of Reason. The world of ideas is simply Reason in its activity of representing things God could make; this does not cause problems for Reason's being efficacious, but presupposes it.

Likewise, the two claims, that Reason is a divine person and that ideas are seen in God, cannot really conflict with each other in the way suggested by the second puzzle noted at the beginning of this paper. The latter claim is a way of specifying the former claim. When Malebranche insists that God is the Intelligible World or public space of minds, he is not being inconsistent in also saying that the Intelligible World is causally active; the agency of God qua Reason is the basis for the belief that God is the Intelligible World.

There is, as noted before, a major difference between an account of divine ideas like that found in Aquinas and the account found in Malebranche. Whereas Aquinas insists that the theory of ideas and the theory of the divine Word, although closely related, are distinct, Malebranche makes the theory of ideas little more than a subsidiary part of his theory of the divine Word (i.e., universal Reason), and takes discussion of divine ideas simply to be a way of discussing the divine Word. This difference can be clarified by drawing an analogy to another conclusion (correct, I think) drawn by Jolley. In The Light of the Soul, he attempts to construct one possible train of thought Malebranche might have followed to arrive at the claim that ideas are efficacious. He notes that Malebranche is (borrowing a term from Bennett) a "causal rationalist" in that he seems to assimilate causal relations to logical relations. If this is true, we can go part of the way toward the claim that ideas are efficacious by starting with Malebranche's insistence that ideas are prior to perceptions:

Suppose that this means that ideas are logically prior to perceptions; the existence of a perception is logically dependent on the existence of an idea....[G]iven Malebranche's causal rationalism, the thesis that perceptions are logically dependent on ideas becomes the thesis that perceptions are causally dependent on ideas. It is true that this result may not be as strong as the thesis Malebranche intends to assert; for our argument establishes only that ideas are causally necessary conditions of perceptions; it does not establish that they are causally sufficient.[26]

Without getting into the question of casual rationalism, we seem to find ourselves in a similar situation if we proceed only on our recognition that Malebranche's ideas are divine ideas. We saw above when discussing why the intellect, as well as the will, can be a cause of existence by noting that, despite the fact that we do not have a problem with the will being a cause, it is actually in much the same situation as the intellect. The conclusion of that discussion was that intellect and will alike, when alone, are causally necessary, not causally sufficient, conditions for the effect. Effects presuppose both. Malebranche's occasionalism, however, seems to demand that we only regard as efficacious what is causally sufficient. It would appear, then, that even when we recognize ideas as elements of practical knowledge that we do not get the efficacy thesis, but a much weaker thesis: Divine ideas are a contributing factor (but not necessarily the sole contributing factor) for certain effects.[27]

One way one might try to reach the stronger efficacy thesis is suggested by Aquinas's somewhat brief reference to divine simplicity in the passage from ST 1.14.8 that was previously quoted ("His being is His understanding"). We drew our conclusions about the roles of intellect and will in practical knowledge from the example of an artisan making an artifact. However, this can only be an analogy, for at least one very good reason: God is simple, and the distinctions we make among God's various attributes are purely conceptual. Distinctions between them have more to do with the way we think than with God's nature. If 'divine intellect' and 'divine will' are just two different ways of conceptualizing one thing, then that to which each refers has to be efficacious.

This would fit very nicely with Malebranche's claims that divine substance is efficacious. It is unclear, however, that he ever appeals to simplicity in this way. Indeed, he rarely appeals to divine simplicity at all. Instead, he moves directly from talking about divine ideas to talking about universal Reason. This suggests a more truly Malebranchean way of supporting the stronger thesis. Divine ideas just are universal Reason insofar as He represents creatures; and universal Reason, being the divine Word, is a divine agent. This somewhat eccentric move eliminates any need to clarify how ideas can be causally sufficient; ideas themselves just are a person that, being consubstantial with God, is able to exercise divine efficacy. Malebranche's modification of the divine ideas tradition strengthens the tendency to treat ideas as efficacious.

We began with puzzles about the proper way to interpret Malebranche's claim that ideas are efficacious. Malebranche appears to consider this an obvious truth. Commentators, however, have had some difficulty with it. To find a way of interpreting Malebranche's theory of ideas that would make the claim less puzzling,w e began looking at the fact that an idea in an account of divine ideas (to which Malebranche explicitly appeals) would be an element of practical knowledge rather than speculative knowledge. Understood this way, they can be regarded as causative (to use Aquinas's term) or efficacious. However, in Malebranche's theory of ideas, the reasons for attributing this efficacy to ideas is strengthened by the fact that he lacks the careful distinction between Word and idea that is found in Aquinas. The efficacy of the idea is the efficacy of Reason, and Reason is understood to be a divine agent, the divine Word. It is a peculiar view, but interpreting Malebranche in this way clarifies why he himself did not find the efficacy thesis puzzling. Given his willingness to identify Reason with the Word, there would be little reason for him to hesitate at the thought of taking ideas to be efficacious.


[18] See, for example, Malebranche, 88-89.

[19] Malebranche does sometimes appeal to Descartes's account of ideas, and we might consider this an exception. However, this is a case of the exception proving the rule, for Descartes himself claims that he chose the word 'idea' because of its role in accounts of divine practical knowledge (AT VII, 181; CSM 2:127-128). This etymology does not (at least on the surface) appear to play any central role in Descartes's discussion of ideas. In a sense, Malebranche just takes this connection between the original meaning of 'idea' and Descartes's adaptation of it more seriously than Descartes does.

[20] Nor can we assume that this is just a throw-away identification. As Jasper Reid has argued with regard to intelligible extension ("Malebranche on Intelligible Extension," British Journal for the History of Philosophy 11 (2003) 581-608), the identification does real work in Malebranche's discussion of Reason.

[21] Peppers-Bates, "Does Malebranche Need Efficacious Ideas?" Journal of the History of Philosophy (2005) 91.

[22] Peppers-Bates, "Does Malebranche Need Efficacious Ideas?" 95.

[23] Cook, "The Ontological Status of Malebranchean Ideas," Journal of the History of Philosophy (1998) 525-544.

[24] Jolley, "Berkeley, Malebranche, and Vision in God," 542.

[25] We hae already seen a passage in which Malebranche explicitly attributes efficacy to the substance as such -- namely, the argument previously noted that is based on the claim that ideas are efficacious!

[26] Jolley, The Light of the Soul, 77.

[27] While I will suggest that one can find general reasons for attributing the stronger claim to Malebranche, there is a possibility, not often recognized in the literature, that when Malebranche is talking specifically about the efficacy of ideas, that Malebranche should be taken in the weaker sense. There is another theological tradition in which Malebranche clearly has an interest that may have a role to play, namely, the theology of grace. 'Efficacious grace' is a pre-existing technical term, one that Malebranche regularly uses in his own discussions of grace. For instance, he states explicitly that the laws of grace are efficacious in the second discourse of the Traité de la nature et de la grâce. Malebranche is not committed to a strong sense of efficacy here; he is simply using the common vocabulary for talking about grace. Malebranche holds that there are two forms of grace: light and sentiment. We have seen these two before, since Malebranche's argument for the vision in God based on the efficacy of ideas appeals to the ability off ideas to enlighten us and instill pleasant and unpleasant perceptions. Does it not seem very plausible that Malebranche is framing his argument in the terms with which he talks about grace, so that the latter should be taken as determinative for his meaning? Determining the precise implications of this, however, is difficult; the possible connection between efficacious ideas and efficacious grace is surprisingly unexplored in Malebranche scholarship.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Malebranche, Practical Knowledge, and Efficacy of Ideas (Part I)

The following is a paper I started a few years back and never could quite get into a properly publishable form -- and, I think, it will likely never get there. But it does collect together some key ideas about how to interpret the philosophical positions of Malebranche, so I put it here.

One of the many puzzles currently of interest to scholars studying Malebranche is the problem of the efficacy of ideas.[1] Jolley summarizes this in a tidy way:

Perhaps the most puzzling of Malebranche's claims bout ideas is that they have causal properties; ideas have the power to cause perceptions in finite minds. But if ideas are third realm entities, it is hard to see how they can have causal properties of any sort. It is true that ideas are located in God, and God is traditionally thought of as causally active; but if God is causally active, it is surely not qua region of ideas.[2]

He highlights a related problem when discussing the problem of the ontological status of ideas:

For if ideas are identified with the substance of God, then the infinite, uncreated res cogitans of Descartes' metaphysics is converted into an abstract entity or perhaps the realm of abstract ideas....[A]nd apart from the problem of philosophical inconsistency, it also generates theological difficulties; it is fundamentally at odds with the orthodox Christian conception of God as a personal being who watches over us and cares for us.[3]

We have, then, two problems that derive from thinking of Malebranche's ideas as 'third realm' or abstract entities. They both gain their plausibility from the fact that ideas as Malebranche understands them certainly do some of the things that 'third realm' or abstract entities are supposed to do. In what follows, however, I will suggest that a different view of the problem arises when we take seriously Malebranche's insistence that ideas are divine ideas in the natural-theological sense.[4] In this context ideas are an artisan's knowledge of things that can be produced, and they are intimately involved in the production of those things. His account of ideas should be taken to have more in common with this than with what we ordinarily think of as 'third realm' or abstract entities.

Divine Ideas as Practical Knowledge

It is immediately clear that the key feature of Malebranche's theory of ideas is the identification of our ideas with divine ideas; this identification is just the thesis that we see all things in God. It is also clear, however, that Malebranche already has a notion of what a divine idea is. This notion is laid out most clearly in some of Malebranche's later works. In the 1696 Preface to the Dialogues on Metaphysics and on Religion, he appeals to a number of texts by Augustine and Aquinas in order to support his account of ideas. For instance, Malebranche links his own accoutn of ideas to principles he finds in Augustine's LXXXIII Questions (q. xlvi): ideas are importat because "without them one cannot be wise"; they are eternal and immutable; they are the exemplars or archetypes of creatures; they are not separate from the divine essence (as a Platonic world of ideas) but are in God; the multiplicity of ideas does not contradict the doctrine of divine simplicity (OC 12:11). He appeals to similar principles occurring in Aquinas's discussions.[5] By 1696, at least, Malebranche saw himself to be defending an account of ideas that merges with a traditional theology of divine ideas, such as we find in Aquinas's development of Augustine. In light of htis, I suggest that it might be useful to examine Aquinas's theology of divine ideas, as a reasonably accessible account of the traditional understanding of divine ideas, and one with which Malebranche himself was familiar, if we want to shed light on Malebranche's claims that ideas are efficacious.

Aquinas has a number of passages in which he appears to attribute causal efficacy to God' knowledge. For instance, in De Veritate (q. 2, art. 14), discussing whether God's knowledge is the cause of created things, he insists that it is. In a later discussion, he explicitly says that ideas in the divine mind create or produce things (DV q. 3, art. 1 ad 5). We find similar claims in the Summa Theologiae:

It must be said that God's knowledge is the cause of things. For the knowledge of God is related to all created things as the knowledge of the artificer is to the artifact. (ST 1.14.8)

There is some uncertainty about how these claims should be interpreted. Elders has argued that we should take them at face value. On this interpretation, God's knowledge is "creative knowledge."[6] As Elders summarizes the position, God's knowledge is causal knowledge so that God knows things because he makes them.[7] Sump has argued for a different interpretation. As she characterizes Elders's interpretation, it involves one of two claims:

(1) God knows everything that he knows in virtue of his knowledge's being the efficient cause of what he knows;

(2) God knows everything both temporal and actual that he knows in virtue of his konwledge's being the efficient cause of this part of what he knows. [8]

(1) is much stronger than (2). However, as Stump points out, even (2) is too strong; it cannot explain what Aquinas says about God's knowledge of evil, for instance. She suggests that the plausibility for these stronger claims rests on two further assumptions:

(A) The causation which God's knowledge has is efficient causation;

(B) What is effected by the causation of the divine cognition includs all actions, events, and states of affairs in the world.[9]

(B) is irrelevant to our purposes; we simply want to know whether any of God's knowledge is (in any reasonably straightforward sense) efficacious.

Stump's claim is that when Aquinas speaks of God's knowledge as causative, he means that God's knowledge is a formal cause, not an efficient cause. To this end she emphasizes passages in which Aquinas identifies ideas as forms and exemplars (we have already noted some of the passages in which Aquinas does so). From this she concludes that ideas must be formal causes: the pattern a builder has in mind as he begins to build a house is the formal cause of the house, not an efficient cause.[10]

It is clearly true that ideas are exemplars and forms. What is less clear is whether Stump's argument shows that God's knowledge is not effectively causative. An exemplar cause is not an intrinsic cause but an extrinsic cause, since the divine idea of a body is not the constitutive form of that body, but the pattern on which it is made. As Aquinas says, they are formae aliarum, praeter ipsas res existentes: the forms of all things, existing apart from the things themselves. This last qualification, separate existence, should not be ignored. When we identify divine ideas as forms and exemplars, we need to ask a further question: How are they related to the (separate) things of which they are exemplars? When we consider this question, we find reason to say that Thomas's view makes God's knowledge in some sense efficacious. One place where I think this becomes very clear is the discussion of divine ideas in De Veritate.

At various times in De Veritate, Aquinas appears to attribute to divine ideas the characteristics of formal, final, and efficient causes. As we have noted, he is very clear that divine ideas are formal causes (DV q. 3, art. 1). In the same place, he says that a divine idea "has in a certain way the nature of an end," giving this as a reason for rejecting the Platonic claim that ideas are separate from God. It is also in this same article that he makes the claim, noted above, that ideas in the divine mind create and produce things (DV q. 3, art. 1 ad 5). While there is no doubt that ideas are exemplar causes, it seems plausible to suggest that Aquinas thinks divine ideas are 'in a certain way' efficient causes, just as we have seen that he thinks they are 'in a certain way' final causes.[11] This argument presupposes a particular conception of practical knowledge, which it will be worthwhile to examine.

Practical Knowledge

After noting that practical knowledge is called practical because it is directed to a work (of some kind), Aquinas distinguishes this form of knowledge into two kinds. In actually practical knowledge, the form that the artisan has in mind is actually directed to the work; in habitually and virtually practical knowledge, the form, while able to be directed to the work, is not actually so directed.[12] God has both kinds of practical knowledge:

Since his knowledge causes things, He knows some things by ordaining by a decree of His will that they be at a certain time, and of these he has actual practical knowledge. Moreover, He knows other things He does not at any time intend to make, for He knows those things which are not, have not been, and never will be. Of these things He has actual knowledge; not actually practical, however, but merely virtually practical. (DV q. 3, art. 3)[13]

In light of this distinction between types of practical knowledge, it can be seen that one possible argument against the view that God's knowledge is efficacious fails. One of Stump's arguments that the common interpretation fails is that it cannot account for God's knowledge of 'things that are not'. This is true if we understand the common interpretation to be claiming that God knows only what he actually causes. Stump is entirely correct that this cannot be right; Aquinas himself denies that God's knowledge of evil is causative (DV q. 3, art. 3), and her argument is certainly a salutary warning about the dangers of incautious claims. On a less restrictive account like the one suggested here, God knows the exercise of His causal power as part of a more general knowledge of His causal power itself. As Aquinas notes, we have to allow for practical knowledge of things that might exist even though they do not, e.g., a builder's practical knowledge of a house he could make but never does. God's knowledge of creatures that do not exist but could is necessarily a form of causal knowledge; the only way God can know anything about such creatures is to know what He could make. When He actually makes creatures, this adds an additional kind of causal knowledge beyond the more general background knowledge.[14]

At this point it may be useful to consider a possible objection. Aquinas is very clear that knowledge as such is not efficacious. Two passages in particular are worth noting:

Knowledge, inasmuch as it is knowledge, is not called an active cause...form is not a principle of acting save by mediation of a power...from knowledge never proceeds an effect save by mediation of a will...the things known by God proceed from His knowledge by way of His will and by way of secondary causes. (DV q. 2, art. 14)

A natural form, inasmuch as it is the form dwelling in that to which it gives being, is not called a principle of action, but only with regard to its having an inclination to the effect. And similarly the intelligible form is not called a principle of action with regard to its being in the intellect, unless there is adjoined to it an inclination to the effect, which is by the will. (ST 1.14.8)

Upon reading passages like this, someone might say that, whatever Aquinas's actual view, he cannot consistently regard God's knowledge as efficacious in itself. If an effect never arises from knowledge save through the mediation of the will, the really effective cause must be the divine will.

An answer to this objection is suggested by Aquinas's example of the artisan and the artifact. Imagine yourself to be a painter (artisan) painting a canvas (the painted canvas being the artifact). This activity is intentional; it is an expression of will. However, it is not an expression of will alone. Even the mere intent to paint involves not merely will but an intellect that knows and believes things relevant to painting, e.g., what painting is and what sort of things might be painted. Without this the will could not be efficacious. An effect must be linked to its cause in some way in order to be identifiable as the effect of this cause. Something about the painter must make it possible to say that the painter is efficacious, not merely simpliciter, but also qua painter. In other words, in an intentional and deliberate act of painting, linking the painting (effect) to the painter's will (cause) requires that we be able to postulate some content to the will that makes it a will to paint. It is difficult to see what else could give the will this content except the intellect. If it is the intellect that gives the content, the will is not efficacious on its own; rather, it is only efficacious insofar as the intellect has given it an object.[16]

That Aquinas has something like this account in mind when discussing causative knowledge is suggested by what Aquinas immediately goes on to say after the second passage quoted above:

For since the intelligible form is related to opposites (since the same knowledge is of opposites) it would not produce a determinate effect unless it were determined to one by appetite, as is said in Metaph. IX. And it is manifest that God causes things by His intellect, since His being is His understanding. Hence it is necessary that His knowledge be the cause of things insofar as it has the will conjoined to it. Hence God's knowledge, insofar as it is cause of things, is customarily called the knowledge of approbation. (ST 1.14.8)

In other words, the fact that knowledge is not efficacious on its own is not an impediment to its being considered a cause insofar as it is conjoined with the will. This is not surprising. For any particular effect, the will is not efficacious on its own either, since it does not operate blindly; it is a cause insofar as it is conjoined with the intellect. The will is not sufficient for producing a given effect unless the intellect presents it with that effect as an object; it is only a necessary condition for the actual production of an effect. Therefore, an effect is traced back not to one or the other but to the two together, and each can be considered a causal principle. Each is, in fact, a causally necessary condition. This is particularly true in God's case, since, as Aquinas notes in the above passage, divine simplicity make sit even harder to say that only the divine will is efficacious. God makes everything He makes by means of the divine will; but it is also true that He makes all things by means of His intellect.

In the next section I will suggest that Malebranche has an account of ideas in which ideas are a kind of practical knowledge in something like the sense I have suggested in Aquinas's case. Malebranche's account, however, is complicated by his tendency to run together discussion of divine Reason (understood hypostatically as the divine Word, the second person of the Trinity) and discussion of divine ideas. It is worth a moment of our time, then, to pause and look very briefly at what the relation between idea and Word is in Aquinas's account.

Aquinas accepts the statement from the prologue of the Gospel of John that all things God made were made through the Word (Logos) of God, and understands "the Word" in the standard way to refer to the second person of the Trinity. The claim that all things made were made through the Word allows for a connection between the theory of divine ideas and the theory of the Divine Word, since, as Thomas describes it, "in 'Word' is implied the operative idea of what God makes" (ST 1.34.3). These operative ideas of what God makes are instances of what he elsewhere calls the likenesses of things in the Word:

Just as the likenesses of things in the Word are the causes of the existing of things, so also they are the causes of knowing what is, insofar as they are impressed into intellectual minds, thus causing them to be able to know things. Hence, just as these likenesses are called life because they are principles of existing, so are they also called light because they are principles of knowing. (DV q. 4, art.8 ad 4)

These likenesses int he Word, in other words, cause any given created thing both to exist and to be known. Aquinas denies, of course, that in our present life the divine ideas are direct objects of knowledge; but he insists that we know all things through them in a way analogous to the way we see things by the sun (ST 1.84.5).[17] Going further into detail with this would require delving into his theory of participation, which I will forego here. However, this does seem clear enough: divine ideas in the divine Word are both "principles of existing" and "principles of knowing".

Despite the connections between the theory of ideas and the theory of the Word, Aquinas thinks we need to draw a sharp distinction between the two. In De Veritate Aquinas considers two arguments that conflate divine ideas with the Word. To the first he replies:

A word differs from an idea, of 'idea' names an exemplary cause absolutely, but the 'Word' of a creature in God names an exemplary form drawn from something else, and thus 'idea' in God pertains to the essence, but 'Word', to a person. (DV q. 4, art. 4 ad 4)

Aquinas's chief concern here is to prevent a conflation of natural theology and revealed theology. Ideas, a matter of natural theology, simply identify the forms in God's mind that He contemplates in His creation of the world. Since God is simple, these forms are just the divine essence considered in different lights. However, a Christian, reflecting on the first few verses of the Gospel of John, will discover that God makes things through the Logos, which is to say, the Word or Reason. Thomas wants to shut down the temptation to conflate ideas and the Word; he recognizes that the terms 'idea' and 'Word' both suggest exemplary causality, but notes that they are used in radically different ways. The ideas are the divine essence; but the Word is a divine person possessing that essence.

In the response that follows, Thomas identifies another difference between an idea and the Word: ideas express creatures directly, and are therefore many; the Word, expressing creatures only as a consequence of expressing God, is one. The same point is found in the Summa Theologiae:

The noun 'idea' is principally imposed to signify relation to creatures; and therefore it is applied plurally to God and is not said personally. But the noun 'word' is principally imposed to signify relation to the speaker, and thereafter to creatures inasmuch as God by understanding Himself understands all creatures. For this reason there is only one Word in God, and it is personal. (ST 1.34.3 ad 4)

We shall see that this distinction between idea and Word is much stronger than the one found in Malebranche's account. On that account, while ideas are many and the Word is one, this is because each idea is the Word itself considered insofar as it is able to be imitated in one particular way. This shift in emphasis has the result of strengthening Malebranche's claim that ideas are efficacious.

Part II


[1] Discussion of this problem in modern scholarship begins with Robinet, Système et existence dans l'oeuvre de Malebranche, 259-284. See Alquié (Le Cartésianisme de Malebranche, 208-212) and Gueroult (Malebranche, vol. 1, 110-111) for other influential discussions.

[2] Jolley, The Light of the Soul, 76 (cp. 111). See also Jolley, "Berkeley, Malebranche, and Vision in God," Journal of the History of Philosophy (1996), 542, and Pyle, Malebranche, 88.

[3] Jolley, The Light of the Soul, 79.

[4] One important issue involved in Malebranche's identification of ideas with divine ideas that this paper will not discuss at all is the thorny issue of whether he is (contrary to his intention) committed to saying that we see the divine essence. Connell, The Vision in God, 243-253 (see also 308-314) has a good discussion of this and related issues arising from Malebranche's melding of Cartesianism, Augustinianism, and Scholasticism.

[5] See also LO 229, 319, 625.

[6] Elders, The Philosophical Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, 234.

[7] Elders, The Philosophical Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, 238.

[8] Stump, Aquinas, 179. I am not convinced that Elders is committed to anything as strong as (1). Stump's description of Elders's position makes it sound as if Elders were giving a general account of divine knowledge in saying that God's knowledge is causal. Elders, however, argues that God's knowledge is causative in a section where he is explicitly discussing God's knowledge of things other than Himself.

[9] Stump, Aquinas, 179.

[10] Stump, Aquinas, 180.

[11] This is further suggested, at least as a possibility for interpretation, both by the use of the passage from Aristotle's Physics found in the sed contra for this article ("the three causes coincide in one, namely, the efficient, final, and formal causes") and the account of what a divine idea is in the main body: "It must be a form which something imitates due to the intention of an agent who predetermines the end himself."

[12] Aaron Martin has a good discussion of this in "Reckoning with Ross: Possibles, Divine Ideas, and Virtual Practical Knowledge," Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 78 (2004) 193-208.

[13] For a discussion of this, see Boland, Ideas in God According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, 252.

[14] This line of reasoning is similar to that given in one of the sed contra arguments raised when Aquinas considers whether God knows things that are not:

A cause does not depend on its effect. But the idea is the cause of the being of the thing. Therefore, it does not depend on the being of the thing in any way. Therefore, there can be ideas of those things that are not, have not been, and never will be. (DV q. 3, art. 6 s.c. 2)

Thus, the causative character of the idea does not depend on its actually making the effect exist. As Aquinas says in the responses to the objections, "even though God may never will to produce into being in any way those things whose ideas He possesses, He wills to be able to produce them and to have the knowledge for producing them" (DV q. 3, art. 6 ad 3) and "those ideas re not ordered by divine knowledge to the production of something made according to them, but rather to this, that something can be produced according to them" (DV q. 3, art. 6 ad 4).

[16] Cf. Elders, The Philosophical Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, 234.

[17] See also Aquinas's discussion, in ST 1.88.3, of whether God is the first object we know.