Monday, February 27, 2017

Preserving Civilization

It's what Benedictines do. This is splendid: The Monk Who Saves Manuscripts from ISIS.

As ISIS militants have destroyed countless artifacts, Stewart has attempted to counter them by working with Christian and Muslim communities in hotspots such as Iraq and Syria. He has trained local teams to photograph centuries-old books with the help of the non-profit organization he directs, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML). Based out of Saint John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota, HMML is dedicated to preserving endangered manuscripts on microfilm and in digital format. So far, it has managed to photograph more than 140,000 complete manuscripts, for a total of more than 50,000,000 handwritten pages, according to the organization’s website.

I especially like that they set things up so that the local communities are trained to do the actual handling of their own manuscripts.

Music on My Mind

Rajaton, "Onni". 'Onni' usually means 'luck' or 'good luck', but I think here it perhaps means something closer to 'happiness'. The primary image is of spring bursting through the melting snow; and the last lines mean something like, "Who fears happiness will leave has already lost it." But that comment would work with 'good fortune' as well.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fortnightly Book, February 26

The old saws are wrong, said the philosopher, which tell man to be forever humble before his own mortality. Rather he should strain his being to put on immortality, never to fall below the highest thing he knows.

Eileen Mary Challans, better known as Mary Renault, wrote a number of historical novels set in ancient Greece, but by far her favorite topic from ancient Greece seems to have been Alexander the Great; she wrote several novels in which he appears and a biography of him. She was well known for being very accurate about background, but critics have often thought that she was more partisan than accurate about Alexander. He is for her a sort of full representation of magnanimous man. And it is also the case that even when being more historical, she sometimes writes on the basis of the interesting controversial theory rather than the sure consensus. These are, I think, inevitably the kinds of choices you must make when dealing with historical novels.

Fire from Heaven, published in 1969, follows Alexander from infancy to the death of his father Philip, which, of course, leaves young Alexander on the verge of the course of action by which he will become 'the Great'. The Alexander here is a very Greek Alexander; Xenophontic, one might say, and thus my suspicion is that the novel can be read as a sort of Alexandropaedia. We shall see.

If you need a refresher on the overall life of Alexander, here is Iron Maiden condensing the highlights:

Iron Maiden, "Alexander the Great"

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone


Opening Passage: From the prologue, giving the backstory of the diamond:
I address these lines--written in India-- to my relatives in England.

My object is to explain the motive which has induced me to refuse the right hand of friendship to my cousin, John Herncastle.

Summary: In 1798, Napoleon landed in Egypt, and one of his goals was to disrupt the British possessions in India. He found a very willing ally to this end in Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the Kingdom of Msyore right in the heart of South India, who had been engaging in an ongoing struggle with the East India Company, and wanted to reclaim territory previously lost after a humiliating defeat in the Third Anglo-Mysore War. The result of Tipu's willingness to ally with France was inevitable, given British worries about the French: another war. And the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War was a brutal one. The British, allied with the Marathas Confederacy and the Hyderabad State, marched into Mysore and rolled over everything Mysore had; Tipu Sultan was besieged in his fortress of Srirangaptna, also known by its Anglicized name of Seringapatam. British artillery smashed through the walls, and Tipu Sultan himself was killed.

And, according to our story, in the looting of Seringapatam that followed a young and ruthless John Herncastle seized one of Tipu Sultan's treasures, the Moonstone, a fabulous yellow diamond, very large with a small flaw in the center. How Tipu Sultan had come to it, we do not know exactly, but it was after a long line of thefts and lootings already. The Moonstone had originally belonged to the people of Somnauth, which had been destroyed centuries before, and had been part of their religious devotion to the moon god; but generation after generation three priests charged with guarding the stone had followed it, unable to retrieve it because of the force of arms around it, and yet always watching. With the death of John Herncastle, who wills it to a relative, Rachel Verinder, India comes to England. But the thefts of the precious stone are not yet done.

The structure of The Moonstone is in many ways an odd one; the actual strict puzzle-story at its center is not essential to the broader context, nor is the broader context essential to the (fairly interesting) puzzle-story beyond providing some obfuscation throughout and some partial resolution toward the end. The puzzle is not solved by any one person; the solution is not integral to the plot but episodic, so that the key to its solution within the story itself is getting the views of the right people at the right time. This actually fits very nicely with its multiperspectival approach to narrative -- we get eleven different narrators through different parts of the tale -- so there's nothing to complain about, but it very definitely is a novel structured by characters more than by the actual detective-puzzle at its heart, which mostly serves just to create miscommunication among the characters.

The real detective of The Moonstone is, in a sense, the reader; it is the reader who is the one person who is constantly throughout the story piecing together what must have happened and why on the basis of the different documents provided. This is done quite well, and, I suspect, is one of the reasons for the high praise for the novel throughout the years. No one character solves this detective story; no one character manages to put it all together. But the reader is in the position to do so, through the many twists of the story, and it is the fact that we ourselves are participants in trying to piece together the story that makes it work, even despite the fact that a few of the twists are a little strained and implausible in themselves.

Given the novel's setting, it inevitably touches on issues of both British imperialism and the class system. The class system causes one death and a lot of drama by the end of the story; the lower classes are very definitely not invisible or mere background in this tale. And Collins plays carefully off the exotic character of the Indian priests while at the same time conveying the general sense that their claim to the Moonstone is in some sense the right claim, despite the long centuries since their actual possession of it. When one considers that this was written ten years after the Sepoy Mutiny, the sympathy of the tale for the people of India is notable.

I also listened to both the Suspense and The Weird Circle adaptations of the tale. The two-part Suspense version (35 and 36 here) was less good than I was expecting; I think Peter Lawford was perhaps not the best casting choice for Franklin Blake here, particularly given that cutting The Moonstone down requires that Blake have a much larger role, in terms of proportion, than he does in the novel. The first part was thus slow-moving, although the second went much more swiftly. The Weird Circle single-episode version (67 here) was certainly much swifter. Unsurprisingly, Weird Circle plays up the supernatural legend of the Moonstone considerably more than either the novel or the Suspense version, to the point of committing to the truth of it, which Collins very carefully does not do. As such it turns the story, while still recognizable into a tale of Westerners messing with ancient powers they do not understand, which is a twist.

Both radio series end up cutting out the multiperspectival storytelling almost completely; this makes the stories easier to follow, but also much less rich. All in all, while the Weird Circle version was good and the Suspense version OK, this is not a story easily adaptable to radio. One reason I often do the radio adaptations when I can is that they bring out features of the original by their shifts. (The most dramatic so far has been Dracula, in which the radio adaptation, by cutting down on the communal character of the victory, made clear just how important to the original that communal character was, because tampering with it changes the tenor of the story considerably.) And I think what's brought out here is that the multiperspectival storytelling is not a mere means of structuring the novel; in some sense it is the novel, and the plot is just a way to thread it together. Take out the divergent perspectives and you have something very different. The story also becomes less funny; Betteredge and Miss Clack are humorous narrative voices whose absence is felt.

Favorite Passage:

I felt another pull at my coattails. Gooseberry had not done with me yet.

"Robbery!" whispered the boy, pointing, in high delight, to the empty box."

"You were told to wait downstairs," I said. "Go away!"

"And Murder!" added Gooseberry, pointing, with a keener relish still, to the man on the bed.

Recommendation: Recommended.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Two New Poem Drafts and a Poem Re-Draft

The fortnightly book should be out tomorrow; I want to give myself time to listen to the radio adaptations. I confess that the entire second poem grew out of a desire to use that most splendid of contractions, all'y'all'd've. I am unrepentant.

The Well

Amid the stones an ancient well stands;
druids, perhaps, once did their rites there,
or some fair nymph gave it sacred gifts.
Through long years men and women travel,
across barren lands, across the seas,
through forests deep and dark, wild wastes,
wholly that they may find the well
to cast their kingdoms into it.
One day you, as well, will seek it,
with all your heart's unwavering desire;
you, too, will cast inside your treasures.
Of all wells, it is the well most sought,
the unwishing well, which takes back a wish.

Good Advice

We 'scuse oursel's so o'ermuch,
"All'y'all'd've done it, too" 'n' such;
we take the easy way;
we ain't what we pretend we are,
'n'we're ne'er quite so distant-far
as when we think we're near.
"But ne'er fear; you're just as wrong" --
we'll make sure of it 'fore long,
'n' define a way you are!
For "you ain't better'n oursel's",
'n' if we're headin' to our hells,
we'll drag you with us, too.
But brother, God's no truck with pride,
'n' nary a hill's a place to hide
from comin' judgment day.
So when we think to point 'n' shriek,
let's remember the earth's made for the meek,
'n' be quiet a bit, 'n' still.

City Light and Darkness

Beneath the moon-sphere city lights
in foggy halos cast like stars
their asterisks upon the night
and make the concrete glow, and cars
in speed, unheeding moving scene
like blur upon the movie screen,
make motion, growling, headlights bright,
and slice their way through starlit night.

Beside the road, and unremarked,
a sidewalk-walker travels home,
with step on step through rushing dark
that he may shed his long-spent roam
like shoes on floors of well-lit rooms
and, reading, bunker from the gloom
until, now tired, a card to mark
his page, he thence to dreams embarks.

And weary now, with aching feet,
and all the world like to a dream,
I walk with steady march of beat
to final glimpse of homely gleam;
Of lights I see, what light can shine
upon my heart? They none are mine.
But yet I march without retreat
to window-shine and light most sweet.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Dashed Off V

Locke's four grounds for internal/external distinction
(1) causal reasoning about sense organs
(2) differences between sensations and memory
(3) differences between sensation and pleasure & pain
(4) testimonial assistance

Theology remits the errors of philosophy, integrates it into a greater body of truths, and transfigures it by use and association.

appropriate poetic expressions of rational arguments

Taking conscience seriously requires taking moral advice and moral education seriously.

The pope's full, supreme, and universal power of jurisdiction is a power whose end is the protection of the faith and the preservation of peace among the churches.

The philosophy of law in Marsilius of Padua's Defensor Pacis is quite clearly positivist.

law as cooperative assistance

The primary, essential, and efficient source of law is reason regarding common good.

A people legislating must consider not just their goods or wishes but also the true good of non-citizens among them.

As the good of the Church is a sacred good, the members of the Church have from that good a great authority to preserve and protect both it and their share in it, an authority which cannot be given limits except in light of that sacred good itself; and to the special guardians of that sacred good this authority must especially be attributed.

limits on papal power
(1) personal: baptismal, confirmational, ordinational
(2) official: patriarchal responsibility, unity and harmony of the churches
(3) divine: natural law, divine positive law, responsibility to Christ (stewardship)

Note Marsilius's attack on the Peter-Rome connection & his argument that Paul was the first bishop of Rome.

Note Ockham's argument for participation of women in general councils. (It follows pretty straightforwardly from his assumption that general councils are simply representative bodies.)

The authority of an ecumenical council is sacramental in its root.

"One of the greatest difficulties confronting a government which has entered on a wrong track is to retrace its steps and once more strike the right road." Ludwig von Pastor

One should fight on the fronts valuable to oneself, not taking the enemy's tastes as one's measure of a worthwhile fight.

By cultivating the incipient goodnesses of human nature, one may attain to good character. Good character begins to take from; taking form, it manifests itself; manifesting itself, it becomes splendid; being splendid, others are moved by it as the beloved moves the lover; moving others, it transforms them and enriches their lives. This enrichment of others is only found in the completion of good character. Good character is not merely the completing of one's nature; by means of it others are aided in becoming complete.

The Christian in charity honors both his nature an the grace that joins him to Christ. He achieves breadth and greatness of scope;he achieves subtlety and intensive precision. He attains to the sublime and splendid, and pursues the mean that endures. He draws from the old and learns the new, and devoted to mercy he esteems the liturgy. Given authority, he is not proud; under authority he is not seditious. Where the Christian faith prevails, he is rewarded; where it is persecuted, he endures. Although gentle as a dove, he is as cunning as a serpent.
For he is joined to Christ, and in Christ all grace is perfect. Through the grace of Christ he is able to set all social relations in order, to establish the human virtues, and know the first and fundamental things. On what else does he need to rely?
The excellence of charity does not cease; never ceasing, it endures; ever enduring, it pours forth as light; radiating as light, it extends far; extending far, it diffuses everywhere; diffusing everywhere, it is sublime and splendid. Because it is self-diffusive, it encompasses all things. Because it is sublime and splendid, it protects all things. Because it is far-extending and ever-enduring, it perfects all things. In its diffusiveness it equals the whole visible universe; in its sublimity and splendor, it equals the whole invisible world. Far-extending and ever-enduring, it is infinite. From its nature it radiates as light without showiness, it moves without moving, it perfects without effort. The Christian way can be expressed wholly in this word, charity, for the Christian way is Christ Himself, and Christ is broad, deep, sublime, splendid, far-extending, and ever-enduring. Great indeed is He! Abundantly, He produces and sustains all things. In His greatness He reaches Heaven. The requirements of goodness are endless; only in Him can they be achieved
The Christian in charity, wishing himself to be established in God, establishes others, and, wishing heavenly glory for himself, works for the heavenly glory of others. He learns widely, but is guided by liturgy and sacrament. Who does this will not turn his back on Christ the Way. He is neither anxious nor fearful, for in him is nothing wrong, and he is not a person of one virtue.

the cheng of transfigured nature, the cheng appropriate to grace

the relation of Christian as minister to Christ as King; as child of God to God the Father; as younger sibling to Christ as Firstborn; to Christ as friend to friend; of the Church as Bride of Christ to Christ as Groom

foundation, vocation, perfection

the virtual mortality of all human action

Combining the Silver Rule with our responsibilities to and under God yields the Golden Rule.

tradition as a kind of counsel

part of how matrimony functions as a school of charity is that it trains one to see others as sacred signs

In filial piety as children of God and fraternal respect toward our Christian brothers and sisters we learn to practice charity; the Christian in charity cares for these things.

To practice charity requires repentance and sacrament.

Butler's natural providence & Locke's comments on pleasure and pain

evidential tendency // function
as regular historical association // etiological
as probabilistic // survival-enhancement
as role in rational system // causal role

philosophical systematizing // architecture as art of organizing design solutions
(obviously it's not surprising that architectonic philosophy is analogous to architecture, but it's worthwhile to think about the analogy in terms of various philosophical accounts of architecture)

x is a part of y since t
x is a part of y until t

diagrams as analogies

The Initiated receive the robe of glory (Hoosoyo for Sundays of Epiphany; Maronite Rite of Chrismation) which is itself the robe of glory of the Church (Qolo for the Commons of Prophets, the Just, and Confessors).

scale-differences between analogues
field-of-inquiry-differences between analogues

the credible marvelous as a subject of poetry

Doxastic logic as usually developed is better interpreted as being about belief norms than about beliefs.

'temporal logic' for inward/outward; upward downward
'above' as some T in that which is covered by Box-up; 'below' as some T in all that covered by Box-down
in: boundary + inward
inward, outward boundary, contact, upward, downward, leftward, rightward

Shehtman & Goldblatt: the modal logic for relativistic spacetime is S4.2, i.e., S4 with confluence [Diamond][Box] -> [Box][Diamond].

Evidence suggests what ought to be the case.

justified true belief // permitted satisfied desire

analogy vs. representation of analogue by analogue

temperance & moral neatness/messiness

impartial spectator & the moral picturesque

neatness/messiness of argument

the morally gratifying and the morally beautiful

neatness and messiness of means to ends
fit of means to ends

isomorphism, contact, dependence

charity working in us, charity linking persons, charity unifying communities

causation, remotion, & eminence in each sacrament (sacrament as instrument, as beyond nature, as inexhaustible mystery)

natural filiation, adopted filiation, metaphorical filiation

asceticism : remotion :: devotion : eminence

the sympathy-like tending and approximation to that which exceeds what we can sympathize with

human ultra-sociality
note that this is not something merely in hand; it is something arising from the human ability to develop institutions and customs that over great lengths of time can be linked to other institutions & customs in new ways with new features

Market exchange depends on informal practices and customs -- for trust, reputation, customs of available quick solutions to common problems -- these affect transaction costs and the kinds of transaction even available.

Strong rule of law blocks the effects of people inclined to disrupt social connections.

Commonplaces as forms of relevance.

The Church on earth is actively and spiritually linked to the Church that has passed through death by two great works of charity: intercession and purgatorial suffrage.

doing good works for the dead
doing good works in the name of the dead
doing good works with the dead

'I am a worm, and no man': I am cut off from the things required to live a human life of reason and friendship and the like' I am reduced to devoting everything to preservation of the body, which I am powerless to guarantee or even make likely, to attending only to surviving this very moment, and the next, and the next, until I fail.

possibility, relevance, probability

Different ethical approaches loosely converge because they all have to be developed by reason.

The entire Part IV of Book I of Hume's Treatise can be tollensed into an argument that cogitative-imaginative accounts of mind do not suffice, that there is need of an intellect capable of abstracting in order to account for human life and reason.

facets of tradition
(1) memorative
(2) recollective
(3) experiential
(4) anticipatory
(5) divinatory

Poisonous Pestilential & Most Fatal

It behoves all men to consider whether that intelligence & piety and virtue in the great body of the people, upon which we have all acknowledged our whole security to depend, has not failed our expectations & disappointed all our hopes. We in this age are more unfortunate in one respect than the ancient gentiles. Among them the philosophers were divided into numerous sects—the folowers of Socrates of Plato of Pythagoras & of Zeno as well as of Epicurus. All the former had a mixture of good morals, manly virtues & true opinions among their errors & all of them served to counterpoise & counteract the poisonous pestilential & most fatal doctrine of Epicurus. The portico for example produced men like the Catoes, Cicero, Seneca, Brutus, Epictetus and others who were saints in comparison of Caesar and Anthony. But our modern philosophers are all the low grovelling disciples of Epicurus: Not one Stoick no Platonician among them. Where then are we going! Are we all to become Epicuri de grege porci?

John Adams to John Rogers, 6 February 1801. Pinning down what people mean by 'Epicurean' in the modern period is not an easy task, but Adams is likely thinking especially of Thomas Jefferson and his supporters, to whom he had just lost an election. In a different letter to Benjamin Rush, he identifies what he probably has in mind as the problem with Epicureanism: "banishing all Ideas of God, or Gods, of future Rewards and Punishments and of moral Government or Providence in the Universe, every Man may get into an habit of taking pleasure in ever Thing".

The emphasis in the letter to Rush on moral providence sounds Butler-esque, which led me to ask whether Adams had studied Butler, and, indeed, it turns out that he read Butler quite closely in college in 1756, since his diary for that year explicitly mentions his reading and is full of comments on matters related to themes in Butler and Richard Bentley. And Abigail Adams occasionally refers to Butler, as well, and recommends him to her son Charles. (Incidentally, an odd feature of the references for these online letters is that whenever Butler is referred to, the footnotes point to the Analogy. But outside the 1756 references, the references made by the Adamses are usually to the Fifteen Sermons.)

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Today is the feast of St. Polycarp, Martyr. We don't know the precise year of his death; some sources put it at 166/7, others at 156/7; the latter fits some other bits of evidence about his age at death and people he knew a little better than the former, so most people go with that. Irenaeus met him in person when younger, and tells us that he was converted by the Apostles, and knew John in particular. Polycarp also corresponded with Ignatius of Antioch. The letter of the Smyrnaeans on the story of his martyrdom is one of the earliest surviving testimonies of Christian martyrdom outside the New Testament.

From his letter to the Philippians, Chapter 12:

For I am confident that you are well versed in the Scriptures, and from you nothing is hid; but to me this is not granted. Only, as it is said in these Scriptures, "Be ye angry and sin not," and "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." Blessed is the man who remembers this, and I believe that it is so with you. Now may God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the "eternal Priest" himself, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, build you up in faith and truth, and in all gentleness, and without wrath, and in patience, and in longsuffering, and endurance, and purity, and may he give you lot and part with his saints, and to us with you, and to all under heaven who shall believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his "Father who raised him from the dead." "Pray for all the saints. Pray also for the Emperors," and for potentates, and princes, and for "those who persecute you and hate you," and for "the enemies of the Cross" that "your fruit may be manifest among all men, that you may be perfected" in him.


Suppose two persons, one having an ear for music, and the other totally destitute of it, were both listening to a symphony; the former would consider himself warranted in confidently expecting the continuation of harmony, while the latter would be in no way surprised by a sudden change into the most barbarous and clashing dissonance. And, in like manner, the most constant experience of undeviating regularity in the course of nature up to this time, would be no ground whatever for expecting its continuance, except to those who should perceive something of itself more admirable in order than in disorder, in harmonious government of the whole than in the chance and random dispersion of parts.

W. G. Ward, The Ideal of a Christian Church, p. 506. This is a very interesting idea -- that recognizing laws of nature at all requires a certain kind of cultivated good taste, a developed sense of the orderliness of the world, so to speak.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Evening Note for Wednesday, February 22

Thought for the Evening

'Fitch's Knowability Paradox', which derives from some common assumptions about knowledge is usually summarized in the predicate calculus as:

∀p(p → ◊Kp) ⊢ ∀p(p → Kp)

This is usually summarized in much the way the SEP article by Brogaard and Salerno on the paradox does: "It tells us that if any truth can be known then every truth is in fact known." Hence the 'knowability'.

However, this way of summarizing it introduces more confusion than it should, because ◊Kp does not mean 'p is knowable' in the way we usually mean knowable. It means 'it is possible that that p is known'. This doesn't undo the paradox -- that if it is possible that a truth is known, that truth is known, which is not something one would immediately expect. But 'knowable' in ordinary discourse doesn't mean 'it is possible that it is known'; it means 'it can be known' or even 'it can come to be known', neither of which would usually be understood as saying the same thing as 'it is possible that it is in fact known'. What the paradox actually says is that, if you accept some very common things people believe about knowledge, then if there is any proposition that has the feature that when it is true, it is possible that it is known, then it must be the case that when it is true, it is indeed known. This is very different from the usual summary. As I once noted on this blog (so long ago in ancient days of yore that I was still in graduate school):

I already said that the result is usually put in terms of knowability: KP [i.e., the left hand side above] is usually read, "If p is true, it is knowable." I translated differently, as you can see. This is because I think "knowable" is a very bad translation of the double operator, ◊K. To see this, think about what we really mean when we say the following two things:

This is knowable: The sky is blue.
It is possible that this is known: The sky is blue.

The two are not equivalent, and for good reason. The English word 'knowable' in all but a very small handful of uses hides a third operator, a temporal operator -- an incipit, to be exact:

This can come to be known (can begin to be known): The sky is blue.

So when I say that some claim is knowable, I usually don't mean that it is possible that it is known; I mean that it is possible that it could come to be known. So I think there's reason to stay away from the added complications that are introduced by the word 'knowable'. Using 'knowable' makes it sound even more paradoxical; but (1) it doesn't need to be made to sound more paradoxical; and (2) it is misleading.

(An incipit operator is an operator that tells us that something begins to be; incipit [it begins] and desinit [it ends] were modal operators that medieval logicians studied quite a bit but people nowadays not so much.)

This is not to say that the use of 'knowable' in this context is illegitimate; you can see why someone might use knowable to mean ◊K -- after all, K is knowledge and ◊ is possibility, so 'knowable' could be used to mean 'it is possible that it is known'. Possibly one could even find occasional conversational cases in which it is. But it's not usually. And one can tell from summaries that even philosophers regularly slip from the strictly correct, 'it is possible that it is known', to 'it can be known', and even 'it can come to be known'; you can tell this from their colloquial descriptions of what they think their results show. But these are different modalities from ◊K.

Mixing any modalities is very, very tricky; but ◊ and K, possibility and knowledge, are especially so, and it is often difficult to keep straight about how we are to understand them, and about the rules of inference we are using. In real life, when we are talking about knowledge, we are usually in fact talking about coming to know or having come to know; but the standard epistemic logic just talks about being known. There are lots of ways the difference can throw off interpretations.

This was all brought to mind thinking about Rutten's modal-epistemic argument for God's existence (PDF), which Red brought up in comments here a couple weeks back:

1. For all p, if p is unknowable, then p is necessarily false (first premise; the principle),
2. The proposition ‘God does not exist’ is necessarily unknowable (second premise),
3. Therefore, ‘God does not exist’ is necessarily false (from both premises)
4. Therefore, necessarily, God exists (conclusion; from (3)).

If someone is going to evaluate this, they have to be clear about what 'unknowable' means. Does it mean ~◊K, i.e,. 'it is not possible that it is known'? Does it mean 'it is impossible to come to know it'? Does it mean 'it is not such that it can be known'? And so forth. And it gets a bit worse, because (2) talks about 'necessarily unknowable'. So if we were to interpret 'knowable' as it would usually be interpreted in common conversation, we might have a whole string of at least 4 modal operators in one proposition: (1) it is necessary that (2) one cannot (3) begin (4) to know p. That's not necessarily how it would have to be understood; but you can see how it would be important to keep straight on exactly how you do understand it.

All of this is just interpretive; it doesn't directly give us a line on how to evaluate either Fitch's Paradox or Rutten's modal-epistemic argument. But it's good to avoid making such evaluation harder than it needs to be.

Links of Note

* Joseph Millum, The Foundation of the Child's Right to an Open Future. I discussed this topic here. Millum's is a good, and very thorough discussion of some problems with the notion.

* Tristan Haze, The Resurgence of Metaphysics as a Notational Convenience. I'm very interested, of course, in accounts of how philosophical scenes get transformed, how ideas transmogrify, and the like. This hypothesis for the rise of analytic metaphysics makes considerable amount of sense, and is probably true.

* Ellen Carmichael, Lafayette's America, on America's French Founding Father.

Currently Reading

Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth
Mary Beard, SPQR
Lois McMaster Bujold, Cryoburn
Jean Beathke Elshtain, Sovereignty: God, State, and Self
Dietrich von Hildebrand, My Battle Against Hitler

Cathedra Petri

Rom, Vatikan, Petersdom, Cathedra Petri (Bernini) 4

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Jerome's Virgin

Besides being a memorial for St. Robert Southwell, Martyr, it is also a memorial for St. Pietro Damiani, Doctor of the Church, and perhaps the most important theologian associated with the Gregorian Reform of the eleventh century. He is most famous today for his De divina omnipotentia, in which he considers what was historically called Jerome's Virgin and comes up with a controversial answer.

Jerome in one of his letters (Ad Eustochiam) advises a young woman to guard her virginity because it cannot be restored if lost, and he goes so far as to say that even God cannot restore a virgin. This letter came up in a discussion St. Peter Damian had with Benedictine monks at the monastery of Monte Cassino, and the abbot proposed a line of reasoning for saying that it was true, which required saying that God cannot do it because He does not will to do it. St. Peter wants to disagree with this. Obviously we do not want to go around saying that God can't do anything He doesn't will; that would mean, for instance, that God cannot make it rain today because He did not make it rain. This guts omnipotence of all force, and God ends up not being able to do anything that He does not actually do.

If we accept this, though, it introduces a complication in understanding Jerome's claim. St. Peter notes that obviously the claim cannot mean that God cannot undo any physical changes associated with loss of virginity; and likewise it cannot mean that God cannot by forgiveness and grace restored any purity associated with virginity. So the only thing the claim can mean is that God cannot make a non-virgin a virgin. Or on a more general level, since the asymmetry between virginity and nonvirginity is due to change through time: God cannot make the past not be the past. St. Peter denies that this is obviously true: God can, perhaps, make the past not be the past. Our assumption that God cannot (if we have that assumption) is like the abbot's idea that God cannot do something He does not.

Obviously it's the case that we must maintain the principle of noncontradiction. Damiani has occasionally been accused of throwing over noncontradiction, but this is quite clearly a misreading of his claims. But omnipotence requires that God omnia possit, can do all, in some sense of the term. We can make sense of saying that God can do all without also committing ourselves to the claim that God can do contradictions -- contradictions don't usually fall under 'all'. But what is the contradiction in claiming that God can make the past not to be the past? We can't do that, since we only have power over the future. But why can't divine omnipotence have power over the past as well as the future? We often talk about the necessity of the past -- but what is the actual necessity? We often say the past cannot be changed -- but by that we mean that our limited natural powers cannot do it, and what makes it so that unlimited divine power cannot?

Damiani's primary point in all of this is that when you are talking about omnipotence, you should never say "can't" lightly. If you cannot identify an actual contradiction, you don't have grounds for saying God can't do it. Going around saying that God can't do this, or that God can't do that, is a form of recklessness. As it happens, though, he thinks that in the case of Jerome's Virgin (and, more broadly, undoing the past) we can, in fact, identify a contradiction: it involves claiming that what God wills God also does not will. It's not the case that God can't do it because He does not will to do it; it's that it can't be done because it requires both willing and not willing it. (This is analogous to, but not quite the same as, what will be St. Anselm's slightly later and more widely popular response to the same problem, which argued for a distinction between antecedent and consequent necessity.)

You can read St. Peter Damian's De divina omnipotentia online in Spade's translation (PDF)

[ADDED LATER: Fixed a very confusing sentence that seemed to contradict everything else because it was originally in a different context.]

Man's Soul of Endless Beauty Image Is

Today is the feast of St. Robert Southwell, Martyr and poet. Under Queen Elizabeth I, he was tortured and then executed at Tyburn on 21 February 1595, and canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. Two of his poems:

Scorn Not the Least
by St. Robert Southwell

Where wards are weak and foes encount'ring strong,
Where mightier do assault than do defend,
The feebler part puts up enforcèd wrong,
And silent sees that speech could not amend.
Yet higher powers must think, though they repine,
When sun is set, the little stars will shine.

While pike doth range the seely tench doth fly,
And crouch in privy creeks with smaller fish;
Yet pikes are caught when little fish go by,
These fleet afloat while those do fill the dish.
There is a time even for the worm to creep,
And suck the dew while all her foes do sleep.

The merlin cannot ever soar on high,
Nor greedy greyhound still pursue the chase;
The tender lark will find a time to fly,
And fearful hare to run a quiet race:
He that high growth on cedars did bestow,
Gave also lowly mushrumps leave to grow.

In Aman's pomp poor Mardocheus wept,
Yet God did turn his fate upon his foe;
The lazar pined while Dives' feast was kept,
Yet he to heaven, to Hell did Dives go.
We trample grass, and prize the flowers of May,
Yet grass is green when flowers do fade away.

Look Home
by St. Robert Southwell

Retirëd thoughts enjoy their own delights,
As beauty doth in self-beholding eye ;
Man's mind a mirror is of heavenly sights,
A brief wherein all marvels summëd lie,
Of fairest forms and sweetest shapes the store,
Most graceful all, yet thought may grace them more.

The mind a creature is, yet can create,
To nature's patterns adding higher skill ;
Of finest works with better could the state
If force of wit had equal power of will.
Device of man in working hath no end,
What thought can think, another thought can mend.

Man's soul of endless beauty image is,
Drawn by the work of endless skill and might ;
This skillful might gave many sparks of bliss
And, to discern this bliss, a native light ;
To frame God's image as his worths required
His might, his skill, his word and will conspired.

All that he had his image should present,
All that it should present it could afford,
To that he could afford his will was bent,
His will was followed with performing word.
Let this suffice, by this conceive the rest,—
He should, he could, he would, he did, the best.

Experience and Evaluation

...a person destitute of taste for music will consider any attempt to explain, in methodical language, the toto-coelo difference in kind between the effect caused on the mind respectively by Beethoven’s and Rossini’s music, as over-subtlety, or over-imaginativeness, or the two united. Just so, any one who has not lived in the habit of hourly regulating his conduct by a regard to the rule of right, will be blind to the most essential distinctions of morality, and will consider the attempt to explain them sophistry, and the habit of acting on them dishonestly. And thus it will happen, that the wisest and most sagacious Saint would be considered by the world at large, if they have not deep faith in Catholic Christianity, to unite no small degree of littleness of spirit, nay, of positive moral obliquity, with his undeniable genius, greatness, and power of mind. Nor would it be difficult, were it worth while, to draw a similar picture, in the case where his sphere is that of abstract speculation, not of practical action.

W. G. Ward, The Ideal of a Christian Church, p. 272.