Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Figment of His Imagination

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

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


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

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

Purple Eyes and Seas of Liquid Leaves

Patience, Hard Thing
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Historical Period Designations

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

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

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

And another example here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Late Day of Golden Fall

by Robert Bridges

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017


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

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

A painting by Rubens:

Peter Paul Rubens 138

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

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa September 2015-2a

Saturday, October 14, 2017

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

Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

Dashed Off XXII

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

the perlocutionary effect of a philosophical dialogue

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

liturgy as monumental history

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

'the grace of imitating the apostolic way of life'

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect understanding of sin requires union with God.

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

Guru Granth Sahib as lyrical philosophical contemplation

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

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

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

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

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

the Mass as linking public and private prayer

pro bono work as a common constituent of humanitarian traditions

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

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

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

the being-in-the-story aspect of reading

the three great philosophical contemplations: self, world, God

The generated intimates the ingenerable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

positions as methods for drawing conclusions

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

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

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

Anthony of Padua & concordantia as an exegetical principle

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

Utilitarianism is the theory of everything having a price.

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

imperfect duties as character-focused

Every constitutive principle implies regulative principles.

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

Genuinely practical reasoning may nonetheless be highly abstract.

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

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

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

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

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

Vice obscures.

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

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

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

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

Narrative retold tends toward stylization.

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

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

docilitas and active participation in the liturgy

natural : conventional :: necessary : contingent

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

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

passions, moods, interactions of moods (ambiences)

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

Computing machines operate as parts of interpretation loops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All per accidens causation requires a larger causal system.

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

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

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

moral sense of responsibility // musical investment

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

Music is motivating, in at least a vague way.

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

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

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

fiction : lying :: lending : usury

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

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

exemplar-occasion, exemplar-agent

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

Experimental design is planning using knowledge of causal dispositions.

deontic limitation as intrinsic to the notion of marriage

hidden decency as a narrative trope

Nietzsche on objectivity as intellectual castration.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Evening Note for Thursday, October 12

Thought for the Evening: Of the Logic of Imperatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Various Links of Interest

* Thony Christie discusses the logician Christine Ladd-Franklin.

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

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

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

Currently Reading

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