Saturday, June 04, 2016

Representation Eliminativism and Its Rivals

Robert Epstein recently stirred up some controversy in an Aeon essay arguing that the brain is not a computer -- indeed, that computationalist vocabulary applied to human beings is highly misleading. For instance, he argues, we do not store and retrieve information. Instead, our behaviors are refined under environmental pressures, and that is all there is to it. There is no representation of a song in your head; it's just that you've been conditioned by your prior actions and your environment to sing (or hum, or whistle) on certain kinds of occasions. To catch a ball, you don't have to do any elaborate representing of the situation; you just reach out and catch it, having built on your reflexes by whatever practice you've had.

This received criticism from a rather wide variety of different sources, arguing against particular arguments or the general position itself, insisting that we do, in fact, have representations. Much of this was not particularly interested; poorly conceived and often question-begging arguments, mostly. (Part of the problem is Epstein's attempt to put his argument in vague terms about computers, thus running afoul of the fact that theory of computation is very abstract and does not depend on a number of things he attributes to computers.) But what is more interesting is how similar many of the arguments on both sides are to arguments about free will.

Epstein is a representation eliminativist -- we have no representations in our brains, if we talk about 'representations in the brain' it is a loose way of speaking that doesn't actually explain anything, and a proper and complete account of our brains and behaviors would not require any such talk at all. It's just physics, and chemistry, and biology, and psychological conditioning, and nothing else is needed. This position is structurally analogous to hard determinism (free will is an illusion, etc.). Several of Epstein's arguments to this end have counterparts in arguments for hard determinism; to give just one example, the argument for the claim that all the information/representation talk is just "a story we tell to make sense of something we don’t actually understand" is easily recognizable as an analogue to arguments one finds for determinism. Likewise with the repeated insinuations that no one actually knows what these 'representations' really are. One also notes that Epstein's own position, based on conditioning and environmental determinations, could easily double as a determinist position without any significant change at all.

Many of Epstein's critics are representation compatibilists; they think it is all explained in terms of physics, etc., yes, but they think talk of representation, information, memory storage, or what have you is genuinely useful if not abused. The two do not exclude each other, and it's not wrong to use either. In both the representation and free will cases, the major arguments involve the idea that there is some important field that regularly requires appeal to these things in order to make sense of even basic behaviors. 'How else do you explain X?' is a common, if somewhat futile, tactic against the eliminativist, precisely because the eliminativist is usually concerned with eliminating a concept regarded as covering our ignorance -- he won't usually have an explanation, but it's often because he is denying anyone has an explanation in the sense demanded, and is criticizing people for trying to cover that up. But the other side -- that we seem perfectly well to explain things, at least to some extent, with this concept -- can have bite.

More rare on the ground, but also occasionally found in the comments boxes, are incompatibilists who accept the existence of representations -- i.e., they think representation, etc., is necessary because these things add something that physics, etc., can't get us. At least in this case, they tend to have sympathy with Epstein's incompatibilist arguments, but take representation and the like to be obvious on other grounds.

It's not surprising for the field to break up this way. A lot of philosophy of mind issues, and similar issues, naturally break along these lines -- not just representation and free will, but also beliefs, qualia, concepts, and, farther afield, design, all tend to raise analogous issues about explanation of how these things are constituted -- and approaches to explaining how things are constituted can be eliminativist, reductivist, or nonreductivist. What is more, representation and free will are closely linked; a number of historical arguments for free will are based on the kinds of representations we have or seem to have, and, as one can see from Epstein's own descriptions, the influence could easily go in the opposite direction, as well. What's mostly interesting in this case is finding it so clearly and cleanly delineated, in part because of Epstein's provocative way of putting it.

Contagious like the Measles

by Werner Eggerth

Contagious like the measles,
Inflaming like the mumps,
Is ever-ready Politics,
When it upon us jumps.
Its hydra-heads, don't touch them,
For fear they should increase
In numbers and in arguments,
And thus disturb your peace.

In building up of platforms,
It is a true expert,
And if a plank don't fit one way,
'Tis easy to invert.
Oft planks spiked down are rotten,
Fit only as pretense,
Yet jugglers walk them without dread
Nor fear the consequence.

In Politics, the dollar
Has weight, and doth convince,
And he who has the most of 'em
Needs not his words to mince.
They influence the voter,
As light the gnats doth charm,
Who, in their suicidal ways,
Into the fire swarm.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Dashed Off XI

natural law & the educative theory of punishment
educative vs. defensive theories of punishment

"nothing but truth can preserve consistency" (Paley)

'death of the author' as consumerist

laws as always implying accounts of happiness (i.e., what is good for human beings)

All true mercy begins with truth.

In ecclesial matters, it is always better to assume that you are preparing for some serious downturn, sooner or later.

(1) Law is not purely conventional. (cp Plato's Laws; Minos)
(2) Law and morality overlap. (Confucius, Aquinas, Plato, Aristotle)
(3) Law has a priority to human society. (Leo XIII, Cicero)

press, religious bodies, voluntary associations, and the whole body of citizens interacting as check & balance on government power

"The prophet only knows what he says; he does not understand if it is true." Epinomis 975c

Awe at the sublimity of the stars is the closest the pagan Platonists ever came to fear of the Lord.

All fine arts are concerned with intrinsic suitabilities.

Temperance is a virtue because it is possible to identify objective excess and defect.

That persuasion may be a product is one of the most corrosive ideas ever conceived.

three major axes of sexual life: piety relations between parent and child, friendship between partners, restraint and reason in sexual act and desire itself

Symbolic thinking arises naturally out of causal thinking.

mercy as a sign by which God is known
mercy as expressing the image of God

ascetic discipline in the cell of self-knowledge

Forms of skepticism that are irrational often arise from failure to think things through in a rational order.

genre as setting default ends and means for a work

the hagiographer as teaching assistant

A major part of mercy is simply having good will toward people doing good things, even if they are not the best things, or even if they are not wholly good enough for the circumstances.

In the saints we see that every character flaw -- obstinacy, tendency to anger, proneness to scheming, slipperiness, phlegmatic sluggishness, or what have you -- has some nondefective counterpart consistent with splendid character.

empiricism in the mode of autobiographical sincerity vs empiricism in the mode of ethnographical fidelity

the felt endeavor of matter qua object of senses

To measure presupposes causal forces, especially cohesion.

translocative identity
identity across doxastic and epistemic situations

contemplation of the prayers of others as a form of prayer

an argument against Bentham's attack on asceticism based on the idea that we should deny ourselves pleasure to avoid harming another even if our pleasure 'outweighs' their harm

beatitude as full participation in divine providence
(nature, reason, grace, and glory as levels of participation in divine providence)

dragons, unicorns, and the in-principle possibility of sublime animals (pace Kant)
- Kant, of course, would protest about confusing sublimity and monstrosity (das Ungeheure) in the case of dragons, and confusing sublimity and beauty with unicorns

the sublimity of mercy

Almost all, and perhaps all, consensus in physics reduces to:
(1) The mathematics at hand works in mathematical terms.
(2) It is relevant to the real world.
(3) Whatever its relevance, that relevance is constrained by such-and-such kind of evidence.
When there is dispute, it is almost all at the level of (3), although (2) sometimes pops up, and (1) is not unheard of in new fields of inquiry.

resistance to being ignored as a mark of truth.

(A) A sign is what represents another to a cognitive power.
(B) An instrument is what acts through the power of another.
(C) An occasion is that on account of which another may act.
(1) A sacrament may be an occasion of our sanctification (minor sacrament or sacramental) or an instrument of our sanctification (major sacrament).
(2) Every instrument of sanctification may also be an occasion of sanctification.
(3) Minor sacraments are occasions of sanctification, certified as such by God or the Church, that are not also in themselves instruments of sanctification.
(4) Minor sacraments are as infinite as the prayers and means of prayer available to the Church, and as multifaceted.
(5) 'Major sacrament' may be taken in a comprehensive sense to include all sacraments together, in which case there is one sacrament, which is formally Christ and materially the Church as His Mystical Body.
(6) 'Major sacrament' may be taken in the specific and most proper sense, in which case there are seven acts of the Church that involve in themselves instrumental causes of our sanctification and sensible signs of it: illumination, coronation, chrismation, ordination, reconciliation, consolation, and communion.
(7) Three of the major sacraments, those involving illumination, chrismation, and ordination, in themselves make the recipients themselves perpetual signs of Christ and who are thereby made capable of being themselves instruments of Christ; these are sacraments of character.

the Burial of Christ and the sacrament of unction

substance, cause, and system have to be understood in such a way that they can overlap

the nine choirs of angels and nine layers of sacrament (the common link is providence)

the juridical character of love for one's children

The ends of an art, craft, or skill are never set solely by the artist or artisan or technician.

character-building as micro-plotting

Platonic Forms as a postulate of rational discourse

Measuring devices measure only under a description.

transcendental affinity and signs of providence (cp. Berkeley)

Moral life is possible: freedom
Moral law has priority: God
Moral life may approach moral law: Immortality

external mind and the heirlooms of tradition
The historical pictorial ideas of St. Birgitta are richer and more fruitful than the abstractions of Hegel.

polytheism as incomplete pantheism

"God is the brave man's hope, not the coward's excuse." Plutarch

"The atheist believes there are no gods; the superstitious would have none, but is a believer against his will, and would be an infidel if he durst." Plutarch

vague identity of measurements

the importance of seeing the world hierarchically for scientific progress

Secrets kept too long can become diseases.

per se and per accidens progress in philosophy (and any intellectual field)

conjecture and refutation as presupposing appropriate classification

If the measure of translation is not constant (different), there is a cause of its inconstancy (difference).

We have a perpetual need to be brilliant in ways for which we ourselves, on our own, do not suffice.

the transintelligible: that known by other intelligibles working as signs

When physicists talk causally, what they usually mean are modal tense operators with respect to coordinate systems.

faith, hope, and love as liturgical virtues

It is love that provides the guarantee to hope.

the modern alienation of love-of-wisdom

Every doctrine in natural theology can be taken per modum cognitionis or per modum inclinationis.

the Dionysian's transfiguration of Platonism and Aquinas's transfiguration of Aristotle as culminating lines of development through the gifts of the Holy Spirit

anticipating the Beatific Vision through sacrament

vagueness as like particular quantity or Diamond

Whenever people say something is purely epistemic, ask why it is not the case that at least some other modalities work the same way.

'a is indeterminately identical to b' vs. 'it is indeterminate that a is identical to b'
vague identity vs vaguely-applying identity statements

To consider: Every contingency operator implies a particular kind of vagueness. And if this be so, would the reverse be true as well?

sublimity as a source of inquiry

regulative ideals as final causes

Natural necessities are linked to real definitions.

certain hope as like a memory of things to come

All articles of faith are also articles of hope, when taken as articulating that to which we are to be united.

marriage as a wealth-generating institution for society

Scientists achieve consensus in part by depreciating things on which consensus does not seem forthcoming.

the endless epicycles of naturalism

the cardinal virtues as porters to the palace of wisdom

Being is truth in the knower and goodness in the lover.

Grace grows by diffusion.

No great evil can properly be understood unless it is seen that the evil itself is already hell. Nor does it require revelation to figure this out; Plato recognizes something very much like this.

Almost every justification of punishment gives a potential ground for a doctrine of hell: deterrence, incapacitation, desert & equality. Even rehabilitation and education, while not grounding it, come in forms consistent with it.

Most denials of the doctrine of hell seem to be driven by an assumption that there is no divine positive law. Think about this.

Merely stipulated premises yield merely conditional conclusions.

quietism as interfering with complete homage to God

the problem of glibness in consequentialist reasoning

A government with a public education system cannot coherently be neutral on moral questions.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the lights by which to read and expound Scripture.

WE can only measure subjective change by reference to change in the external world; our sense of ourselves in time depends on our ability to take ourselves to be causally connected with what is not ourselves.

the Incarnation and the representation of moral law as both sublime and lovable

The perfection of moral law requires a moral providence.

It is clear that we have some power to distribute reward in proportion to virtue, some of the time.

Moral life is structured by the kind of trust found in hope.

There are some moral judgments a human being is not well-placed to make.

"in everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure." Chesterton

contingent laws of nature as effects
contingency in actuality as requiring reference to final causes

the long-term convergence of canonic and logic

The Eucharist is that to which all Catholic life tends, but presented only under sacramental sign.

analogy as essential to classification
artificial and natural analogy

burial of the dead as an act of hope

Tobit as an analysis of eleemosyne

Susannah and silent prayer
Susannah as type of Christ
Susannah and divine foreknowledge

Ritual requires setting things aside for a purpose.

To recite the Creed is to refresh oneself at the spring of one's baptism.

"If life is in us, then so is evidence of God." John Calvin
"Faith by itself cannot please Him, since without love of neighbor there is no faith." Calvin
"The greatest victory of God took place when Christ, having overcome sin, conquered death, and put Satan to flight, was lifted up to heaven in majesty, that he might reign gloriously over the Church." Calvin

Hume's account of equality is an account of measurement.

What counts as sufficient reason varies according to domain.

The truth of necessary and contingency propositions all together finds its sufficient reason in what is.

Physicalism, if true, would be a claim about accounts of the world, and only indirectly about the world at all.

Nonreductive naturalisms based on first-person perspective inevitably have the same general structure as idealism.

the PSR is based on the convertibility of being and intelligibility
reasons as intelligible actualities

"All revolutions began by being abstract." Chesterton
"The great human dogma, then, is that the wind moves the trees. The great human heresy is that the trees move the wind." Chesterton

Roses of Blue Coral

The Absence of the Muse
by Clark Ashton Smith

O Muse, where loiterest thou? In any land
Of Saturn, lit with moons and nenuphars?
Or in what high metropolis of Mars—
Hearing the gongs of dire, occult command,
And bugles blown from strand to unknown strand
Of continents embattled in old wars
That primal kings began? Or on the bars
Of ebbing seas in Venus, from the sand
Of shattered nacre with a thousand hues,
Dost pluck the blossoms of the purple wrack
And roses of blue coral for thy hair?
Or, flown beyond the roaring Zodiac,
Translatest thou the tale of earthly news
And earthly songs to singers of Altair?

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Maronite Year LI

Sacred Heart is, of course, a Latin devotion. The devotion is quite old, going back at least to the twelfth century, but the feast itself first began to be celebrated in the seventeenth century, due to the popularity of the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and the active work of St. John Eudes. Bl. Pius IX established it as a universal feast on the Latin calendar in 1856, after it had been allowed on local calendars in for several centuries. The origin of the Maronite feast occurs within this period, as it was made a holy day of obligation for the Maronite church in the late eighteenth century by Patriarch Joseph IV Estephan. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus had spread from the Latin Church to the Maronite Church in small trickles, but these trickles became a flood through the rise of a very controversial figure in modern Maronite history, Hindiyya al-'Ujaimi, a nun who had visions. She became widely regarded in Lebanon, and actively pushed for the Sacred Heart devotion. A divisive figure, she was supported (or at times at least not opposed) by much of the Maronite hierarchy, including several Patriarchs, but eventually condemned by Rome. But the devotion she had spread so widely did not cease to exist. The feast is no longer a holy day of obligation, and is not marked out with any special liturgical fanfare, but it is still celebrated, and it is not difficult to find Sacred Heart devotion in Maronite parishes.

Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Galatians 1:11-17; Matthew 11:25-30

The gospel comes from the heart of Christ,
which is the heart of the holy Church.
The Father trusts all in the hands of His Son;
no one knows the Son save the Father,
and no one the Father save the Son
and those who come to know Him in and through the Son,
sharing as one the heart of the Son.

Our Lord, in Your love hear our prayers.
We, Your servants, beg You for mercy,
we who through Your grace have been raised to friendship,
for when we had fallen, You raised us,
and though we had been lost, You saved us,
for though we had wandered, we knocked at Your door,
and You answered in lovingkindness.

Not according to our stubbornness,
nor our disobedience, O Lord,
but according to our repentance view us,
that our turning might be a model,
shining to others, a sign of hope.
We, O Christ, have been sealed with Your holy Name,
stamped on our hearts with water and oil.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Justin Martyr

Today is the feast of St. Justin Martyr, who could be considered a kind of patron saint for this weblog. Over the years, I've noted about his Middle Platonism, his quotation of Plato's Timaeus, his account of philosophical disagreements, the irony of his martyrdom under Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic philosopher, by accusations from Crescens, the Cynic philosopher. But it might perhaps be worthwhile to consider martyrdom itself. Justin's Second Apology can be read as a discussion of martyrdom and its rationality.

The Stoics and Cynics, you might recall, seem to have taken the Christians to be zealots eager to die because they had excited their imaginations with fantastic stories. It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that Justin responds by emphasizing the ways in which both Stoic philosophers and their philosophical heroes insisted on dying when the matter was forced upon them:

And those of the Stoic school--since, so far as their moral teaching went, they were admirable, as were also the poets in some particulars, on account of the seed of reason [the Logos] implanted in every race of men-- were, we know, hated and put to death,--Heraclitus for instance, and, among those of our own time, Musonius and others. For, as we intimated, the devils have always effected, that all those who anyhow live a reasonable and earnest life and shun vice, be hated.

Contrary to the Cynic accusation, he argues, Christians do not rush toward their deaths; but death is a debt every human being must pay, and Christians, understanding the true nature of the world, give thanks when they pay that debt. This fearlessness in the face of death shows forth the true value of virtue, and, Justin notes, led to his own conversion:

For I myself, too, when I was delighting in the doctrines of Plato, and heard the Christians slandered, and saw them fearless of death, and of all other things which are counted fearful, perceived that it was impossible that they could be living in wickedness and pleasure. For what sensual or intemperate man, or who that counts it good to feast on human flesh, could welcome death that he might be deprived of his enjoyments, and would not rather continue always the present life, and attempt to escape the observation of the rulers; and much less would he denounce himself when the consequence would be death?...For I myself, when I discovered the wicked disguise which the evil spirits had thrown around the divine doctrines of the Christians, to turn aside others from joining them, laughed both at those who framed these falsehoods, and at the disguise itself, and at popular opinion; and I confess that I both boast and with all my strength strive to be found a Christian; not because the teachings of Plato are different from those of Christ, but because they are not in all respects similar, as neither are those of the others, Stoics, and poets, and historians.

Who does not have the faith of the martyrs, does not have the faith.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Quick Trip to Italy, Miscellanea V

Rome: Forum

More pictures of Trajan's Forum:

The Forum Augustum, as seen from across the street:

Looking down into and over Caesar's Forum:

And looking out at the archeological area:

And looking over at the Coliseum:

to be continued

Monday, May 30, 2016

Duty of Moral Culture

It is very important for us to teach that we can possess virtues, only by being virtuous; and that to have been virtuous is not necessarily to be so:—-—that Virtue in general, and every virtue in particular, is a living thing, which is only while it grows :---that the current of Duty must flow from a perennial spring of right thoughts and affections and desires, of which no words can reach the bottom. And since we can act, not only upon external things, and upon other persons, but also upon ourselves, we have here, too, a sphere of duty. We have it for our business to form within ourselves these springs of duty; or at least, if it is not ours to form them, we have to draw them forth, to encourage their flow, to carry their clearness further and further into the depths of our minds and hearts. We have to cultivate Virtues, as well as to perform Duties :—-—to become, and to be, as well as to do. It is this recognition of the Duty of Moral Culture, which will prevent our Virtue from being stagnant. We are not only to try to be benevolent and just and true and pure; but always to be more benevolent, more just, more true, more pure; to carry these qualities deeper and deeper into our hearts, so that they may more and more give their colour to our intentions, desires and affections. Thus only can we save our Morality from being of that rigid and contracted kind, which the expanding heart of man cannot bear ;-—of that stationary and finite extent, which the progressive soul of man soon leaves behind.

William Whewell, Lectures on Systematic Morality, Lecture V

1964 Heritage Press Book Ballot

I've decided to postpone the next Fortnightly Book until next weekend, since this is the beginning of what looks like might be a fairly busy summer term. But in one of the books that I was considering, George du Maurier's Peter Ibbetson, I found tucked away a book ballot dated 15 January 1964. The Heritage Club issued one book a month, with each series beginning in June. The series that began in 1964, for instance, was the 29th. To do that, of course, the Directors had to select twelve books several months beforehand; and to guarantee that the books were popular choices, they would send out a set of ballots to some of their subscribed members. In the first ballot, members would nominate works; on the basis of those nominations, the Directors would create a second ballot (eliminating works still in copyright or repeats and adding their own), and send those out to a different set of members. What was tucked away in Peter Ibbetson was the second ballot, sent to my grandfather and never filled out. There are 48 works on the list. I include them below. The Heritage Press works I have are bolded.

ALMAYER'S FOLLY by Joseph Conrad
DAVID COPPERFIELD by Charles Dickens
DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA by Alexis de Tocqueville
DR. FAUSTUS by Christopher Marlowe
DON QUIXOTE by Miguel de Cervantes
DROLL STORIES by Honoré de Balzac
EMMA by Jane Austen
A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway
GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell
THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
HARD TIMES by Charles Dickens
THE JUNGLE by Upton Sinclair
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK by Alexandre Dumas
THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE by Robert Louis Stevenson
THE PATHFINDERS by James Fenimore Cooper
POOR RICHARD'S ALMANACK by Benjamin Franklin
SONS AND LOVERS by D. H. Lawrence
THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA by Friedrich Nietzsche
WALDEN, OR LIFE IN THE WOODS by Henry David Thoreau
THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins

All Heritage Press books on my shelf will eventually be Fortnightly Books; so far about one in every four has been Heritage Press. Of the bolded ones above, I have already done the Stevenson (Introduction, Review), the Shaw (Introduction, Review), and the Goethe (Introduction, Review).

In the spirit of ballots, I thought I would ask if anyone has a preference among the above for the next Fortnightly Book? That is out of the bolded above, minus the three already done but adding Peter Ibbetson, are there any preferences? If there's a clear favorite, I'll do that one next. If there's a spread, I'll pick one from the recommendations, and it might be possible to get a couple of others in during the next few months. I intend this summer to do Tristram Shandy, at least one Umberto Eco novel, and Volume 3 of the Arabian Nights, which is probably most of the summer, but I could always reserve a few for early fall term.

The deadline for recommendations is Saturday the fourth.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed


Opening Passage:

That branch of the lake of Como which extends southwards between two unbroken chains of mountains, and is all gulfs and bays as the mountains advance and recede, narrows down at one point, between a promontory on one side and a wide shore on the other, into the form of a river; and the bridge which lines the two banks seems to emphasize this transformation even more, and to mark the point at which the lake ends and the Adda begins, only to become a lake once more where the banks draw farther apart again, letting the water broaden out and expand into new creeks and bays. (p. 7)

Summary: The Betrothed takes place in the Duchy of Milan (and parts in the Republic of Venice) in 1628 and the following years. It is a time of war as the great powers of Europe use northern Italy as a chessboard in their power struggles. It is also a time of thuggery, as local nobles hired bravi to be guards, enforcers, and assassins. Amidst it all, Renzo and Lucia are two young people intending on marriage; but their parish priest, Don Abbondio, a timid man, has been threatened by Don Rodrigo's bravi if he marries them. Don Rodrigo has set his eye on Lucia. They eventually have to flee.

Lucia and her mother Agnese end up arranging to hide Lucia in the convent under the protection of Gertrude; since Gertrude is a princess from an important family, even if Don Rodrigo discovered Lucia's location, it would make him hesitate to move against her. Renzo ends up in Milan at exactly the wrong time; the city is undergoing bread riots due to price controls. (One of the interesting things about the book is how much it is about economics, and, in particular, the ills caused by centralized economic planning.) He ends up in the middle of one of the riots and by naivete manages to get blamed for the whole thing. He is forced to flee to his cousin in Bergamo, in Venetian territory.

Don Rodrigo in the meantime makes an appeal to a local warlord, referred to in the text only as l'Innominato, the Unnamed. Through the latter's intervention, Gertrude is blackmailed and Lucia is kidnapped. Despite the way it seems, this ends up being the beginning of the reversal of the misfortunes of Renzo and Lucia. There are still more troubles ahead, but the arrival of Federigo Borromeo, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, in the village nearby will begin the chain of events that eventually leads to the triumph of Lucia and Renzo.

This is very much a character-focused book. The plot is deliberately episodic in the style of (say) Sir Walter Scott, in which events meander here and there but we learn a lot about our main characters. The book also has quite a few digressions in which we learn about minor characters. I don't think there's any named character for whom we do not get at least some background. Because of this, the characters are all very vivid and distinctive. As with any Scott-style narrative, events move quickly, and despite the digressions don't ever bog you down.

The sheer variety of means and devices that Manzoni uses to tell his story, and uses well, is extraordinary. The most famous passage of the book, for instance, is the Addio ai monti at the end of Chapter 8, which opens:

Farewell, mountains springing from waters and rising to the sky; rugged peaks, failiar to any man who has grown up in your midst, and impressed upon his mind as clearly as the features of his nearest and dearest; torrents whose varying tones he can pick out as easily as the voices of his family; villages scattered white over the slopes, like herds of grazing sheep; farewell! How sadly steps he who was reared among you, as he draws away!...

Or in the Italian:

Addio, monti sorgenti dall'acque, ed elevati al cielo cime inuguali, note a chi è cresciuto tra voi, e impresse nella sua mente, non meno che l'aspetto de' suoi più familiari; torrenti, de' quali distingue lo scroscio, come il suono delle voci domestiche; ville sparse e biancheggianti sul pendìo, come branchi di pecore pascenti; addio! Quanto è tristo il passo di chi, cresciuto tra voi, se ne allontana!...

Most of the book is not in this high-toned poetic prose, but its place here, at this moment in the story, takes an already excellent bit of writing and gives it great power. Manzoni uses many other devices to tell his story. The novel has a framing device -- the narrator claims to be modernizing an old chronicle -- and comments on it throughout the work. There are historical discursions and footnotes. There are ironic comments about human nature and earnest sermons. There are close, intense descriptions and descriptions that are purely suggestive. There are characters that are treated in idealized terms and characters that are comic relief. There are many interwoven themes. The prose swoops high and then low again. This is a virtuoso work, in terms of the techniques of writing.

To make your day even more awesome, here is the Italian group Oblivion giving their comic performance of "I Promessi Sposi in Dieci Minuti" (The Betrothed in Ten Minutes):

Some of the events represented:

0:20 The opening of the book
0:57 Don Rodrigo's bravi intimidate Don Abbondio
2:32 Renzo arrives to finish up the arrangements for the marriage
3:36 Renzo and Lucia discuss what to do
6:16 Renzo gets involved in the Milanese riots
6:45 Gertrude's story
7:11 Lucia is kidnapped
7:32 Lucia vows to give up marriage if the Virgin will save her
7:34 Lucia meets the Unnamed
8:06 Federico Borromeo enters the story
8:29 The plague begins
9:20 Renzo and Lucia meet up again

Favorite Passage:

As soon as she was alone with her mother she told her all about it; but Agnese, with her greater experience, solved all her doubts, and cleared up the whole mystery in a few words.

'Don't be surprised,' said she. 'When you've known the world as long as I have, you'll realize these things aren't to be wondered at. All the gentry are a bit crazy. The best thing to do is to let 'em talk as they want, particularly if one needs them. Just look as if you're listening to them seriously, as if they were talking sense. You heard how she shouted at me, as if I'd said something silly? I didn't let it bother me. They're all like that....' (p. 170)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; this is an excellent book.

Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed, Colquhoun, tr., Everyman's Library (New York: 2013).

Maronite Year L

In the Season of Pentecost under the current Maronite calendar, there are two alternating weeks A and B; every week A has the same liturgy and every week B has the same liturgy, with only the readings changing. (Of course, in the Maronite Qurbono, the anaphora also changes, since they have so many, but this is according to the preferences of the priest.) Week A is organized thematically:

Sunday: Resurrection
Monday: Angels
Tuesday: Righteous and Just, and Confessors
Wednesday: Virgin Mary
Thursday: Twelve Apostles
Friday: Martyrs
Saturday: Faithful Departed

These serve as the liturgies for commemorations throughout the year, so that, for instance, if a priest celebrates the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, he uses the Thursday of Week A of the Season of Pentecost. The Season of Pentecost, in other words, diffuses throughout the year.

The readings of the Season of Pentecost all emphasize the Holy Spirit and the mission of the Church. It used to be the case that they heavily emphasized the book of Revelation as a book about the Church, but the currently used cycle of readings draws heavily from Paul's letters to the Corinthians.

Third Sunday of Pentecost
1 Corinthians 2:1-10; John 14:21-27

Through the blessings of Your resurrection,
through this day, O Lord,
grant us times of peace,
grant us periods of tranquility.
May we praise Your name
with heavenly hosts,
giving You glory now and forever!

Not mere rhetoric but Christ crucified;
not philosophy,
but Christ crucified;
not brash confidence, but distrust of self,
not persuasive words
born of human minds,
but only God's power and God's wisdom.

Jesus is the Truth, the Way, and the Life;
none reach the Father
except through the Son;
who has seen the Son has seen the Father.
Who has faith in God
must have faith in Him,
and by sacraments they will do great things.

No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart thought
the things He has done;
praise the Lord of Lords,
for His lovingkindness endures always.
He has done wonders,
His love does not die,
and His great mercy endures forever.

To You, Christ, is glory due this Sunday,
and all of our lives,
for You descended,
and by Your descent You saved us from death.
By resurrection
You brought boundless joy,
enlightening all with Your salvation.