Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Flavianus Michael Malke

On August 29, Pope Francis beatified Flavyānus Mikhayil Melkī. Blessed Flavyanus was a Syriac Catholic bishop in what is now Turkey who was martyred in 1915. In those days, of course, the ruling power in the area was the Ottoman Empire, and it was a time when the Ottomans were cracking down rather severely on Eastern Catholics. In the 1895 Massacres of Diyarbakir, his mother was killed and his church and house burned to the ground. The primary focus of the massacres was to root out Armenian Christians, a small group of whom had rebelled against local tax collectors; but the pogrom quickly spread to attacks on their Syriac and Assyrian Christian neighbors. Some estimate that over 20,000 Syriac and Assyrian Christians were murdered in the massacres. Things only got worse from there; it was the beginning in earnest of the Armenian Genocide and the Assyrian Genocide throughout large portions of the Ottoman Empire.

In the summer of 1915 the persecution had begun to reach its height. Melki heard rumors that there would be a major crackdown in Gazarta, where he was bishop. He had been out and about helping various villages and churches, but on hearing the rumors he returned to Gazarta and refused to leave, despite the fact that a number of local Muslim leaders with whom he had good relations pleaded for him to do so. He and the Chaldean Catholic bishop, Philippe-Jacques Abraham, were arrested. On August 28, they were both given the choice to convert to Islam or be executed for their presumed treasons against the Ottoman Empire; when Abraham refused, he was killed. When Melki refused, he was beaten unconscious and then beheaded.

Michael Malke

Monday, August 31, 2015

Rosmini for August XXXI

Prudence is acquired with age: the young do not see how profound and cautious a thing prudence is, and they easily imagine themselves to be gifted with it. The old man can see farther than the youth; therefore have great respect for age. You may hold it for a safe rule that prudence consists rather in refraining from action than in acting, and that we seldom are sorry that we did not speak or act, but often that we did.
Letters 2571 [SC]

And that's a rap on Rosmini for August!

Dashed Off II

index, icon, & symbol as three ways in which Logos is imitable

one-good-reason stopping rules

proximate descriptions of feelings in the shape of arguments
the merely verisimilar and its function in argument

hope as guarantor of fidelity

The opposite of usury is love.

sacred vernaculars as treasures of the people

Grace is the personality of God in us.

the theology of grace a theology of the Presence


Each sacrament contributes to humility, instruction, and spiritual work in a distinct way.

Marriage is the one form of human society with a paradisial root; it is the one human tradition not found under the regime of original sin.

the three mysteries that structure the Church: moral virtue, theological virtue, the Incarnation

'Our Father': a bold humility!

Part of the task of a great playwright is to leave the right things unsaid.

Every proof presupposes a background.

"Hypocrisy, while it desires to captivate the eye, becomes itself captive to the eye." (Peter Chrysologus)

"Fasting without mercy is not truth but figure." (Chrysologus)

"Love makes the beloved the lover's form." (Aquinas, III Sent d27 q1 a1)

the exemplarity of prudence

hagiographical tradition
(1) to remember (I Macc 2)
(2) to praise (Sir 44-50)
(3) to see Wisdom in (Wis 10)
(4) to know as witnesses for salvation (Hb 11)

confirmation as the mother sacrament for catechism

sacraments as signs of desire to serve God with devotion

Balzac's "La Messe de l'athée" and symbolisms of friendship

the Creed as the structure of Christian prayer

We can measure things in endlessly many ways; but some of these are natural classifications.

appeals to authority as arguments for the presumptive // appeals to intuition

What equations say depends on things not in the equations.

Middlemarch as a study of shame

Note that most blind mathematicians work in geometry.

the garden of Eden as a symbol of original justice

boundary as "the first thing outside of which no part is to be found, and the first thing inside of which every part is to be found" (Metaphysics 1022a)
-> Note that incipit and desinit seem to split the two clauses up

six views of boundaries in connected space
(1) classical: a boundary is part or complement but not both
(2) paraconsistent (glutty): both part and complement
(3) paracomplete (gappy): neither part nor complement
(4) coincidence: one boundary that is part, one that is complement
(5) eliminativist: no actual boundary (boundary constructed by identification)
-> it seems clear that each of these is true of some things called boundaries

Our natural way of thinking of boundaries is directional, in terms of approach.

whether (judgment or quality)
what/which/who (term)
why/how (middle term of connected principle/principiate)
-> In English, quantity is discovered by whether + arbitrarily posited quantity

Imperative accounts of questions introduce operators (e.g., epistemic) but questions do not always involve any such operators.

questions & deduction with incomplete information

Quamvis operatio attribuatur hypostasi ut operanti, tamen attribuitur naturae ut operationis principio. (Aquinas, DV 20.1ad12)

tradition as a particular form of cultivating good sense

dogmatic definition as magisterial sign

Every extrinsic principle of certainty is reducible to intrinsic principles of certainty.

possibility of thought <-> thinkability of being

There are no one-issue suicides.

pretty dystopias

Sin of its own nature tends toward irrevocability.

micro-weaknesses in arguments

Through the gift of wisdom we are secure of God.

the systems structuring the Mystical Body
(1) sacramental
(2) doctrinal: (a) verbal (b) iconic
(3) penitential

Acedia is the enemy of every tradition.

Faith is a virtue that is a power and achievement of God.

"The effect of Incarnation is in fact to spread radiance, and it is just for that reason that today there can still be witnesses of Christ, whose evidence has a value that is not only exemplary but strictly apologetic." (Gabriel Marcel)

"...conversion is the act by which man is called to become a witness." (Marcel)

"...the free variation of the world of experience leads to knowledge of its essential structure." (Edith Stein)

intersections of disease and moral weakness

free will, duty, present probation, future judgment, divine judge

-- look more closely at Anthony Collins's A Discourse of Free-Thinking on analogy and how Berkeley's Alciphron answers it; note too TVV 6 as summary -- the Euclid reference is particularly interesting

Molyneux's Problem & knowledge of God (cp. TVV 6)

"For we know our ideas; and therefore we know that one idea cannot be the cause of another. We know that our ideas of sense are not the cause of themselves. We know also that we do not cause them. Hence we know they must have some other efficient cause distinct from them and us." Berkeley TVV 13

Neither natural selection nor sexual selection are capable of reduplicative precision beyond the structure of the selection itself.

It is unsurprising that the vitalists conceived of a vital force analogous to physical forces, given that earlier generations of physicists conceived of physical forces on analogy with life.

The problem with thinking in terms of progress is that progress under conditions of easy accessibility is very different from progress under conditions of heavily impeded accessibility.

To consider: Extended periods of swift technological innovation are backed by empire.

-- look more closely at Berkeley's account of Newton's 3rd (DM 69-70)

Every sign of power, wisdom, or goodness in creation is a sign of power, wisdom, and goodness, even if it does not manifest each equally clearly.

3DHP was designed both to stand alone and to be a sort of bridge between PHK Part I and the lost & never published PHK Part II, and like PHK Part I is explicitly linked (in its 1st & 2nd ed. Preface) to NTV.

matter as object, as substrate, as cause, as instrument, as occasion

the sacrament of marriage as a pillar of social justice

covenant symbolisms in sacraments (oil, water, imposition, &c.)

Presuppositionalism treats everything like exegesis.

the implicit dialogue of juxtaposition in liturgy

juxtaposition of the ridiculous and the sublime in Menippean satire

genre classification // saint classification

Genre classification is an integration of multiple typological classifications.

politics as concerned with climates of virtue

mathematics as studying resemblances, contiguities, and constant conjunctions

entrelacement of argument (polyphony)

the Consolation & Lucian's Fugitivi

the principles or ends of Menippean satire (Double Indictment)
(1) to have philosophical discussion walk on common ground
(2) to give it a social presentability
(3) to enable it to gain the confidence of the audience by way of the comic

Wandering off topic while genuinely discussing it is very different from jumping off topic.

typological classifications based on real types vs typological classifications based on hypothetical types (the latter is a derivative form, since it involves blending or comparison of several real cases that ground the type)

The most irenic reading is not always the most charitable reading.

When confronted with something like an Austen novel, one is confronted with something that works extraordinarily beautifully, but saying, or even discovering, why it does so is no mean feat.

A complex number is a dilation with rotation.

vectors as ordered pairs of ordered pairs of integers

confirmation as the sacrament of Shekinah

"The Memra brings Israel night to God and sits on His throne receiving the prayers of Israel." Targ Yer to Deut iv.7

The only thing that makes Whitehead's philosophy a self-forming rather than sustained continuance account is the assumption of an intrinsic direction in time (cp. Ford's account of God as Active Future). Seen in reverse, it would exhibit a sustained rather than self-forming continuance.

forensic justification as crypto-Pelagianism

Meier's five authenticating 'criteria' and the corresponding defective cause one is trying to eliminate
(1) embarrassment: distortion to self-interest : requires accurate assessment of self-interest
(2) discontinuity (dissimilarity): contamination from other sources: requires accurate assessment of other sources
(3) multiple attestation: distortion in channel : requires ability to distinguish independence of channels
(4) coherence: sources of implausibility (think about this) : requires independnetly established facts and accurate assessment of fit with them
(5) rejection & execution: misinterpretation involving failure to adequate explanans to explanandum : requires correct assessment of explanandum

Not all questions are petitions. (Consider, for example, puzzled questions put to oneself.)

Part is relative to division.

topoi as ways of transforming one proposition into a different, not necessarily equivalent, proposition

Note that Buridan distinguishes three different kinds of numerical sameness, all of which can be genuinely called such.

lists, multisets, heaps, sequences

infinitesimals as decay rates (Wildberger)

The Notes of the Church are the notes of faith itself insofar as it is a confidelity.

Voodoo is a kind of economics of spirit-related symbolisms.

sanctuary arguments

three elements of tradition-reception: learn, accept, appropriate

Christ's circumcision is a precondition of our baptism.

monistic: anything in the universe is the universe itself and not a proper part of the universe
pluralistic: anything in the universe is a proper part of the universe and not the universe itself.
glutty: anything in the universe is both the universe itself and a proper part of the universe.
gappy: anything in the universe is neither the universe itself nor a proper part of the universe.


distributive and commutative justice in marriage

indefinite proofs, i.e., proofs whose conclusions may or may not be completely general

unciton & evangelistic consolation

simplicity of concept vs simplicity of operations in mathematics

the cultivation of manners, morals, & piety

Authority is rooted in responsibility.

irony as itself an argument based on incongruity

The methods of analytic philosophy could only ever give approximations.

"This world is a system of invisible things visibly manifested." Maistre

The communion of bishops is a material ecumenical council.

The weapons against heresy are prayer, patience, and instruction.

"a proverb is a brief statement containing some profound science." (Ramon Llull)
"If there were no God the Son, no creature could be a child of God."
"Who gives nothing is not alive."
"One act of virtue is sustained in another."
"One virtue fortifies another virtue."
"God grants one good prayer through another."
"A prayer is worth more than an excuse."
"Minor dignity exists for the sake of major dignity."
"Patience is the refuge of virtues."
"Lawfulness is an image of compassion."
"Vice is the privation of the habit of seeing God."

understanding: beginning and ending :: knoweldge : consistency & inconsistency

To deny and to doubt each involve appeal to the norm of truth.

hierarchy as a defense of the dignity of persons

development of doctrine by transposition of key

Each Gift of the Spirit has both an individual and a communal face.

the Magisterium of the Church as structured by the Gifts of the Spirit

the clerical hierarchy as the trellis with which the vines of charism are hung and grow

to work for the reform of civilization

Law is powerless without conscience.

Rational belief depends not on comprehension but an evidence; this is shown in every intellectual field.

congruity of coordinate evidences

There are many things the bare possibility of which carries moral significance. The bare possibility that you will die tonight is a reason not to let the sun go down on your anger; the bare possibility that all things may be taken from you is a reason to be grateful for what you have. The bare possibility of a future life is a reason to consider how to prepare for it.

Note that Descartes' account of God as self-cause takes Him to be efficient cause not strictly but by extending the concept of sufficient cause to the limit.

the cogito as establishing the existence of a capacity for understanding principles as self-evident (i.e., intellect)

the sacramental/iconic character of miracles

civilization as divine revelation (Whately)

deism -> pantheism -> atheism

MacIntyre's After Virtue as a reflection on A Canticle for Leibowitz

lines of utility, lines of pleasantness, and lines of excellence in traditions

Faith is Tradition working in us.

Each human being is part of the common good of mankind.

Hope is the destroyer of the boredom that attempts to acedia.

'Critique' in academia could often be replaced with 'will to power'.

pietas as structuring tradition
the gift of piety as guarding tradition

We locate things relative to parts.

Drama naturally tends more to polyphony than the novel; the novelist must handle polyphony like the painter depth.

Kant is right about examples to the extent that examples carry no necessities of the sort he wants, being counsel-like rather than obligation-like.

platonistic vs. aristotelian accounts of genre

What is good, is good with respect to divine will as primary standard; what is true, with respect to divine intellect; what is possible, with respect to divine power.

Since the miracles of Jesus were messianic signs, they signify also the works of those ministers woh are stamped with the character of Christ's messianic ministry in Confirmation.

Liturgy as the first teaching of bishops.

Having a view that seems vaguely like a heresy to someone is not having a heretical view; it isn't even possible to have a view that doesn't seem like some possible heresies, because heresy mimics orthodoxy (and, indeed, sometimes by imitation).

Newton's definitions directly imply that impressed forces are acting on matter as measurable, so as to change its measured swiftness, density, or volume.

design and directional series of improbabilities

invariants across divergent points of view

charity as the root of self-discovery

The structure of reasoning is analogous to the structure of hope.
divine love: simple apprehension::faith:judgment::hope:reasoning

Analogy and classifications often work in similar ways.
finding natural analogies through the confluence of artificial analogies
using one analogical inference to confirm another
bare analogies vs. affinity analogies

analyzing ethical approaches and positions by looking at the ceremonies and rituals that would be their objective correlates

"Every error...is camouflaged or mistaken truth...." Rosmini

Neither the world nor the flesh like being put to the question.

resemblance as aptness of symbolism

To mistreat animals, when deliberate, is something like stealing from the common good of human beings. In addition, to love God is to love that which He has created in some appropriate way.

accidents as indicators of substance

The correct & unqualified answer to the question, "What is it?" when asked of that which the sensible accidents of the consecrated elements indicate, is "The Body and Blood of Christ."

Baber's account of the Eucharist is more plausible as an account of sacramentalia.

consecration as making to represent accessible grace or holiness

presence as direct accessibility

The exemplar character of charity connects it with truth.

Presence is always a causal notion; we see this even in the theory of the external world or of other minds.

interlocking argument arcs

The doctrine of purgatory is the recognition that we require not merely repentance but proportional repentance.

"The essence of melodrama is that it appeals to the moral sense in a highly simplified state, just as farce appeals to the sense of humour in a highly simplified state." Chesterton

Vividness of language requires not merely flame in the poet but also tinder in the reader.

The only time you should not use cliche in poetry is when you have reason to think that you can make the point in a better way than what everyone else thinks is an obviously good way.

the 'genotype' and 'phenotype' of argument

emotions as a probabilistic assessment & reasoning system

transcendental ego as self qua indicated/signified

what-it-is vs. sensible indicators of what it is

To measure is to assume truths about the actual and the potential and use them to relate one thing to another.

Augustine uses reading aloud as an example for time-consciousness; this is fitting because reading aloud is structured temporally and nothing can be written so as to rule out this temporal structure of reading aloud.

Note that instead of 'argument from authority is the weakest' it is really 'the locus from authority is weakest' (1.1.8obj2) -- Aquinas is referring to Boethius' account of the otpics. The topos of autohrity is the weakest topos. This is reflected in the response, 1.1.8ad2

(1) An action without being is a contradiction
(2) A happening is an action
(3) In a happening that is a beginning to exist, that which begins to exist cannot be the being of the action
(4) Therefore there must be for every happening that is a beginning to exist some being other than that which begins to exist.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Power of a Voter

This is quite funny:

A mistake by representatives of the Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District means a sales tax increase the district needs to thrive will require approval by a single University of Missouri student.

On Feb. 28, Jen Henderson, 23, became the sole registered voter living within the community improvement district, or CID, meaning she is the only person who would vote on a half-cent sales tax increase for the district.

Basically what happened is that the business owners wanted capital improvements in the area, and to avoid taking it out of property assessment, they needed a small sales tax increase; so they worked with the local government to create a special Community Improvement District. By state law, in such a district registered voters vote on tax increases, but if there are no registered voters, the property owners vote on it. So the idea was to create a CID with no registered voters -- residences in the area were left out of the rigged-up district. But the University-owned property in the area was not. Henderson happens to live on the University-owned property where she is the overnight attendant caretaker for a guest house, and she registered as a voter at that address -- thus becoming the one and only person who has the legal right to vote on the tax increase and completely blocking the attempt of the property owners in the CID to become the ones to decide the matter.

The property owners tried to convince her to unregister, but when Henderson looked into the matter she decided that the plan seemed dishonest and manipulative (and unregistering one's vote is generally not a straightforward process, in any case). The matter doesn't have to be put to a vote, so the masterminds behind the scheme have the choice of either foregoing the election, in which case they have to pay capital improvement debts some other way, or putting it to a vote, in which case Henderson is the one who makes the decision.

Fortnightly Books, August 30

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was a man of extraordinary literary style, high ideals, dark humor, nasty temper, and a remarkable lack of what is called moral fiber. In 1930 he converted to Catholicism, and remained vehemently Catholic for the rest of his life; he never pretended to be other than a horrible person, but always insisted that he would be much worse without the moderating influence of the Church.

The fortnightly books provide a dual perspective on this bad-Catholic life; the first will be a first-time read and the second is a re-read. With Edmund Campion: A Life, published in 1934, we get the high ideal, the heroism of the Catholic faith. It is popular biography; it is not a novelization and sets out to capture the historical essentials, but it is also not intended to be a work of rigorous historical scholarship. It was very controversial when it was published because it is unapologetically pro-Catholic, without much sympathy for the Protestant opponents of Campion at all; but it was praised for its excellent literary style and won Waugh the Hawthornden Prize given for literary excellence by authors forty and under. The proceeds of the work were donated to help rebuild Campion Hall in Oxford. The work is divided into four parts, each capturing an aspect of Campion's greatness: The Scholar, The Priest, The Hero, and The Martyr.

On the other side is Waugh's most famous work, Brideshead Revisited, a novel about Catholics who have nothing of Campion's excellence. Indeed, the major theme of the work is that divine grace is given even to horrible people and can do remarkable and surprising things to them. As he told a movie studio:

Grace is not confined to the happy, prosperous and conventionally virtuous. There is no stereotyped religious habit of life, as may be seen from the vastly dissimilar characters of the canonised saints. God has a separate plan for each individual by which he or she may find salvation. The story of Brideshead Revisited seeks to show the working of several such plans in the lives of a single family....

As part of its development of this theme, it is also a sort of argument that the Catholic Church has an immense power over those who have been Catholic, even when highly attenuated and operating under conditions of advanced decay and apparent failure; in his metaphor, they are like fish on a line, and however they swim away it can often take just "a twitch upon the string" to pull them back.

I don't know how well these two will mesh, but they should be interesting to compare and contrast. And perhaps there is a link between the two in the recognition that the ways of grace are not the ways of human society. As he says bitingly of his contrast between Tobie Matthew and Edmund Campion in the earlier book:

Tobie Matthew died full of honours in 1628. There, but for the Grace of God, went Edmund Campion.

Rosmini for August XXX

One of the most favourable dispositions for advancing in perfection is to lay great stress even on small failings. When the soul is convinced that every defect in the moral order is a great evil, greater than any physical evil, it never thinks itself too severely punished or sufficiently humbled for its faults. This feeling, as noble as it is true, has always been conspicuous in the saints.
Letters 5337 [SC]

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Great Scott!

I knew that someone would have made a YouTube video of it....

Doc Brown says 'Great Scott!' because, of course, it is an epithet in Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, which is a classic time travel story; Twain uses it because A Connecticut Yankee is partly poking fun at the popular novels of Sir Walter Scott and his imitators.

Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe


Opening Passage:

In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster. The remains of this extensive wood are still to be seen at the noble seats of Wentworth, of Warncliffe Park, and around Rotherham. Here haunted of yore the fabulous Dragon of Wantley; here were fought many of the most desperate battles during the Civil Wars of the Roses; and here also flourished in ancient times those bands of gallant outlaws, whose deeds have been rendered so popular in English song.

Summary: I confess that I was expecting this novel to be a slow-build novel; a lot of nineteenth-century novels start out slowly dropping pieces into place until they pick up momentum on their own. But Ivanhoe is a very fast-moving novel from the beginning. A hundred pages in, we're at a tournament, very vividly described; two hundred pages in, we have had a kidnapping and are preparing to storm a castle; three hundred pages in, we have a fitting death, also vividly described; four hundred pages in, we are fearing for Rebecca in the perilous hands of the Templars. We get Saxons and Normans, Templars and Jews, Robin Hood and Richard the Lion-Hearted.

Not only is the pace fast, but the characterization is quite vivid -- none of the characters are merely generic. Even the villains are so vividly expressed that one can understand what they are doing and why. And, of course, in at least one case -- Rebecca the Jewess -- the characterization is so vivid that she is perhaps one of the best-written heroines of the nineteenth-century, lively and intelligent, gentle yet courageous. She steals every scene she's in, and the show overall.

The subtitle of the book is A Romance, and one of the interesting things about the work was how Scott adapts and modifies common conventions and tropes of medieval romances to the new style of the novel. We still get romantic polyphony, although not so riotously as one would get in Ariosto, jumping back and forth in place and sometimes time. We get something of the any-and-everything mix of romances, in which around the next tree some legendary figure might leap out of a sudden, and the swift movement between the comic and the terrible. The novel also shares with romances the guilelessness about 'big reveals' -- they are there, as they often are with romances, but they are not actually set up to be surprises to the reader. The acute reader can recognize very easily who King Richard is very shortly after he actually shows up; and then we follow him for quite a considerable amount of time before he is actually revealed as Richard. The revelation is given some weight, but it's simple and straightforward. Because of it, it avoids the clunky failed surprises or dubious twists of so many novelistic 'big reveals', and knowing how it turns out does not make the revelation any worse. Romances aren't out to give you innovations, although they do (and Ivanhoe certainly does), but to give you a tale. The classic romance is very much more a storytelling genre than the modern novel is.

At the same time, however, Scott's work is a novel in romance dress, not a romance proper, or even (as it pretends to be) a romance novelized. One sign of this is the tendency to give us much more of the internal thought and imagination of the characters than we would get in a romance. Perhaps the most obvious indicator that we are really getting a novel is the distance placed between the reader and the romantic elements. The novel covers its romantic elements by attributing them to a medieval chronicler. This is certainly what a romance would do, but the romance would simply take the chronicler as an authority and pass things on under its authority, while the novel looks at the chronicler's work with an antiquarian interest. And despite the immensely sympathetic narration and description, it places its characters and events under exactly the same interests. It's a different world, fascinating but not ours: we live in a time in which morals have progressed and things are done differently, and while the history is 'romanticized', the only things actually held up for admiration are some virtues and natural religion, not the most romanticized elements. (It is, of course, an error to think that romanticizing something means looking at it with rose-colored glasses.) These characters all partake something of what the novel says about Richard -- they are meteors, bright and shining across the sky, but they are not what makes our society. The novel insists on this.

MrsD noted that Thackeray wrote a satirical extension of the book, Rebecca and Rowena: A Romance upon a Romance, so I read that, as well. Whereas Ivanhoe itself is a novel in romance dress, Thackeray's work does not, despite its lying subtitle, have anything of romance whatsoever. Thackeray builds on a key concession Scott himself makes toward the end of the novel:

She glided from the apartment, leaving Rowena surprised as if a vision had passed before her. The fair Saxon related the singular conference to her husband, on whose mind it made a deep impression. He lived long and happily with Rowena, for they were attached to each other by the bonds of early affection, and they loved each other the more, from the recollection of the obstacles which had impeded their union. Yet it would be enquiring too curiously to ask, whether the recollection of Rebecca's beauty and magnanimity did not recur to his mind more frequently than the fair descendant of Alfred might altogether have approved.

This is already a novelistic rather than a romantic trope, and Thackeray presses it for all the comic value it can have. He also takes full advantage of another passage:

"I forgive you, Sir Knight," said Rowena, "as a Christian."

"That means," said Wamba, "that she does not forgive him at all."

"But I can never forgive the misery and desolation your madness has occasioned," continued Rowena.

Wamba's crack is funny enough; it is given a sharper edge by the fact that Rowena goes on to show that it is not merely a wisecrack. We find another example of something that might occur in a romance given a sharply novelistic twist.

But Thackeray is also, I think, poking fun of readers more than he is poking fun at the novel. Not a few readers of the work, I imagine, have thought that Ivanhoe would have been better served by marrying the sympathetic Rebecca than the proud Rowena. But the suggestion is rather absurd; as Scott himself points out, Rebecca is a Jew and Ivanhoe a Christian knight -- and we went through this kind of story in the novel. Rebecca would not throw honor away and betray her religion for Ivanhoe any more than she did for Bois-Gilbert, even if it were more tempting, and Ivanhoe would never throw honor away and elope with her precisely because he is not Bois-Gilbert. Moreover, Rowena's pride is not a negative attribute in the context of the story; Rebecca shows herself more proud than Rowena actually is, although in admirable ways -- the primary difference is that Rebecca has never been as sheltered as Rowena. And Ivanhoe has been working the entire novel for Rowena, and Rowena herself is in love with Ivanhoe. In a romance, or even a novel yielding to romantic conventions, you do not bat an eye at the most extraordinary things along the road, but the road is going somewhere and you keep the destination in view.

What Thackeray shows is the absurdity of what happens when you sacrifice romance to a novelistic flexibility in the interest of forcing an ending -- and the fact that Thackeray borrows more than a few tropes from nineteenth-century novels in the course of forcing it is surely a mocking comment on the absurdity of those novels. But Thackeray's tale recognizes, as Scott himself does, that the feeling can still remain, and can, whether it makes for a reasonable story or not, be a crucial part of the experience of reading a novel. The impossibility, the absurdity, of Ivanhoe and Rebecca ever marrying can be felt as a loss, and perhaps it is, like the impossibility and absurdity of being young forever. Because of that, the what-if inevitably remains, as part of the taste of the story.

Favorite Passage:

"There is yet one chance of life left to me," said Rebecca, "even by your own fierce laws. Life has been miserable—miserable, at least, of late—but I will not cast away the gift of God, while he affords me the means of defending it. I deny this charge—I maintain my innocence, and I declare the falsehood of this accusation—I challenge the privilege of trial by combat, and will appear by my champion."

"And who, Rebecca," replied the Grand Master, "will lay lance in rest for a sorceress? who will be the champion of a Jewess?"

"God will raise me up a champion," said Rebecca—"It cannot be that in merry England—the hospitable, the generous, the free, where so many are ready to peril their lives for honour, there will not be found one to fight for justice. But it is enough that I challenge the trial by combat—there lies my gage."

She took her embroidered glove from her hand, and flung it down before the Grand Master with an air of mingled simplicity and dignity, which excited universal surprise and admiration.

Recommendation: Great Scott! Of course it's Highly Recommended.

Rosmini for August XXIX

Christ, loving all men, and rendering all men lovable in Him, has made them all neighbours. Thus the commandment of the law of Moses has received a new meaning, for it is no less true of the old law than of the new, that man is bound to love his neighbour. However, there is this difference; under the old dispensation the love of one's neighbour had not strength enough to extend itself beyond the nation, whereas in the new law love receives from the grace of Christ and the work of redemption wings strong enough to bear it through the whole world.
Sermons p. 123 [SC]

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Mencius, Book VI

Book VI.A (Gaozi I)

Book VI is perhaps the book of the Mengzi that has had the most scholarly focus; it relates Master Meng's views to a number of longstanding debates in Chinese philosophy and therefore plays an important role in understanding how his claims fit into context.

We know almost nothing about the philosopher Gaozi who is Mencius's first interlocutor; he is mentioned favorably in passing in II.A.2, and other than that almost all of our knowledge of him comes from VI.A itself. One of the major disputes in Confucian philosophy has always been the goodness or badness of human nature (renxing) -- Mengzi takes a fairly strong stand arguing that human beings are naturally good, Xunzi famously takes an opposing stand that they are not. Master Gao seems to want to advocate a third position, in which human nature is neutral. Thus he compares human nature to willow wood and morality to carved cups and bowls (VI.A.1); he also compares human nature to whirling water and says that human nature will go where there is an outlet (VI.A.2). The reason for this view is that he takes human nature to be what is itself innate (VI.A.3), like desire for food and sex (VI.A.4). Mencius thinks is a defective understanding of what a nature (xing) is in the first place; the thriving of a thing is natural to it, and thriving is neither neutral nor merely innate like desire for food and sex. We have seen the basic idea already in Mencius's account of the sprouts of moral life:

The heart of compassion is possessed by all men alike; likewise the heart of shame, the heart of respect, and the heart of right and wrong. The heart of compassion pertains to benevolence, the heart of shame to dutifulness, the heart of respect to the observance of rites, and the heart of right and wrong to wisdom. Benevolence, dutifulness, observance of rites, and wisdom are not welded on to me from the outside; they are in me originally. (VI.A.6)

This thriving, however, is affected by cultivation as well, just as the growth of a plant is affected by cultivation (VI.A.7; VI.A.8; VI.A.9). Learning involves seeking our own hearts when we stray from them (VI.A.11); the difficult thing is that when we do so, we lose our sense to recognize that we are straying in the first place (VI.A.12). Cultivating our nature requires having a right sense of priorities, and recognizing, for instance, that there are more important things than food and drink (VI.A.14) or that things conducive to virtue are higher honors, endowed by Heaven, than any human honor (VI.A.15; VI.A.16).

VI.A.15 is an important passage for understanding the key Mencian idea of solicitude (si). If our nature is good, what makes one man greater than another? Some parts of us are of greater importance than other parts (cp. VI.A.14). Those who cultivate their greater parts more become greater. Eyes and ears see and hear, but they do not care (si), they do not pay attention. The office of the heart is to attend. One only becomes great by caring enough to concentrate on greater things. (This is, incidentally, a point of potential contact with Aristotelian virtue ethics, since the proper act of prudence is solicitude, alert attention to what is to be done, which at least has an affinity to what Mencius means by si.)

Book VI.B (Gaozi II)

In VI.B.1 Mencius continues the line of argument developed in VI.A by claiming that rites (li) are more important than food or sex. The objection, however, is that if we were starving we would certainly choose food rather than rights. Master Meng is unimpressed with the objection, however. If you only measure sticks by where their ends end up, it is easy to treat them as all equal; but in reality you need to know the base as well as the tip. If you rig situations so that relatively unimportant parts of human nature have, in the cirumstances, a greater than usual importance, this does not tell you whether they are actually more important than other things: "In saying that gold is heavier than feathers, surely one is not referring to the amount of gold in a clasp and a whole cartload of feathers?"

In VI.B.4, Mencius talks with another philosopher, Song Keng, who was a pacifist. Mencius finds him going to try to stop the hostilities between Qin and Chu by going to talk to the king of Chu to argue that war is unprofitable, and, if that does not work, doing the same with the king of Qin. Mencius likes the goal, but regards the means as defective: appeals to what is profitable or useful or beneficial are themselves problematic. Societies are held together by people regarding something as higher than their own benefit; they cannot be preserved by treating benefit as the essential thing. Song Keng would do better to pursue his goal on moral grounds.

Mencius reflects in VI.B.15 on the fact that a large number of great men came from difficult backgrounds:

...Heaven, when it is about to place a great burden on a man, always first tests his resolution, exhausts his frame and makes him suffer starvation and hardship, frustrates his efforts so as to shake him from his mental lassitude, toughen his nature and make good his deficiencies.

Human beings generally learn best from adversity; they are more likely to use their ingenuity if faced with difficult problems; they need a threat hanging over their heads to avoid degeneration: "...we survive in adversity and perish in ease and comfort."

to be continued

Rosmini for August XXVIII


St. Augustine reprehends three classes of people for their ignorance: firstly, those who imagine they know, and yet do not know; secondly, those who are conscious of their ignorance but do not seek knowledge in the right way; thirdly, those who are conscious of their ignorance, yet will not seek knowledge at all.
Treatise on Moral Conscience p. 256 [SC]

Aristotle, Plot, and Baen Books

An interesting bit from an old interview with Toni Weisskopf, editor and publisher of Baen Books, describing Baen's method of pairing established writers with newer ones in collaborations:

Part of what led to the company's doing so many collaborations was Jim thinking about how we could grow our younger authors (people like Elizabeth Moon) and get them up to the level of shipping that they deserved, faster than just by publishing a book a year. He remembered what Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle had done in their collaborations, and he thought he could reproduce their method and have a similar system work for our younger writers, paired with established older writers who didn't necessarily have time to write all the plots they wanted to write. We started out with David Drake, who plots like no one else -- he doesn't think it's hard! For him, it's like putting on his shoes in the morning. I'm not a writer myself, but I've met plenty of writers who say, 'I'd cut off my left foot to plot like he does.'

Around the same time, I was reading Aristotle's Poetics and realized there's a philosophical underpinning for this method of creating fiction. I recommend The Poetics for anyone who is doubtful about this way of doing things. It's similar to the way the Great Masters worked, the painters in the Renaissance. They would create the outline of the painting, their apprentices would fill in the details, and then the masters would come back and make the finishing touches that made it a brilliant painting. This is the same way that our 'arranged marriage' collaborations work (though not all the marriages are arranged; some of the writers come to us as 'couples' already). David Weber and Steve White's first novels were collaborations, for instance.

The specific aspect of the method that finds a philosophical underpinning in Aristotle is not the collaboration but the structure of it. Aristotle holds that the events of a tragedy consist plot and episodes. Tragedy, according to Aristotle, is an imitation, a mimesis, of action and life, and therefore it is primarily governed by its plot, which is the ordering of its actions. Plot is the soul of a tragedy, and exercises its proper functions when it is unified, complete, and plausible. This plot, as Aristotle understands it, is not the whole story of the work; it is the structural framework of the whole, consisting of the essential turns of fortune (the Greek word for such a turn of fortune is a catastrophe, an overturning). One also requires episodes. An episode is literally a parenthetic narrative, whatever happens to occur between the choral commentaries that structure a Greek tragedy; it is what goes with the plot without being the plot. Aristotle illustrates the point humorously in a very famous comment about the Odyssey:

A certain man is absent from home for many years; he is jealously watched by Poseidon, and left desolate. Meanwhile his home is in a wretched plight--suitors are wasting his substance and plotting against his son. At length, tempest-tost, he himself arrives; he makes certain persons acquainted with him; he attacks the suitors with his own hand, and is himself preserved while he destroys them. This is the essence of the plot; the rest is episode.

The compression here is deliberate; on Aristotle's account the Odyssey has very little plot. It's an epic, and epics because of their length are more episode-heavy than tragedies; but the Odyssey is also more episodic than most epics. Much of what you find in the Odyssey is not actually required for the major turns of fortune in the story that is the Odyssey itself, and could be broken up into little independent stories and scenes that need have nothing to do with coming home to Ithaca. This is fine for an epic; a tragedy structured like this would have what Aristotle calls an episodic plot, which he regards as defective. Amateurs write such plots because they are weak at plotting, and those with experience only write them to please the actors: acting itself is almost purely episodic in nature, because it is the episodes, not the plot, that let the actors show their skill. (This is why highly visual media of our day -- television, movies -- are so big on character arcs. Character arcs are pseudo-plots consisting of contrasting episodic representations of character in incidental relation to the real plot; acting is very well suited to this, as Aristotle recognized, but our visual media are much more intensely actor-focused than Greek drama was.)

Because of this, Aristotle's recommendation for poets is that they write their tragedies beginning with the plot, then assign names to the characters, then fill it in with episodes that are interesting and relevant to the plot. Aristotle doesn't envisage this as collaborative, but the Baen method is, as Weisskopf suggests, Aristotle's method, just with a division of labor.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rosmini for August XXVII


You are indeed privileged, destined as you are to lead to God so many of our little ones dear to our Lord. If the crime of scandalizing one of these children is denounced by Christ in such terrible words, surely there must be proportionate merit and ground of hope in caring for them and teaching them.
Letters 571 [SC]

[St. Jose de Calasanz was a controversial educator of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, who advocated free education for all children. He founded the Clerks Regular of the Pious Schools, also known as the Piarists. In the modern Ordinary Form calendar his memorial is August 25 rather than August 27 as it was when the Spiritual Calendar was published (it is still August 27 in the Extraordinary Form calendar).]

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

And I Am Sometimes Proud and Sometimes Meek

by Christina Rossetti

The irresponsive silence of the land,
The irresponsive sounding of the sea,
Speak both one message of one sense to me:--
Aloof, aloof, we stand aloof, so stand
Thou too aloof, bound with the flawless band
Of inner solitude; we bind not thee;
But who from thy self-chain shall set thee free?
What heart shall touch thy heart? What hand thy hand?
And I am sometimes proud and sometimes meek,
And sometimes I remember days of old
When fellowship seem'd not so far to seek,
And all the world and I seem'd much less cold,
And at the rainbow's foot lay surely gold,
And hope felt strong, and life itself not weak.

Rosmini for August XXVI

I advise you not to be too harsh with yourself, but to humble yourself continually with great gentleness and sweetness. Be persuaded of your own nothingness, and then you will not be surprised at the assaults of your passions.
Letters 2777 [SC]