Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Emperor Karl

The 21st of October is the memorial for Blessed Charles I of Austria. After the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, he became the presumptive heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to which he succeeded in November 1916, in the midst of World War I. He began almost immediately to try to negotiate a peace settlement. Under pressure from Woodrow Wilson, who had put forward his Fourteen Points as the basis for a peace, Charles issued a decree turning his Empire into a confederation. Disputes among the different ethnic nations now given partial self-governance began to pull the Empire apart. They began to declare independence. With even Hungary severing union, and a challenge looming within Austria itself, Charles in November 1918 'relinquished participation' in all government matters. He very definitely did not abdicate, since he hoped that a change of winds in either Austria or Hungary might recall him to the throne, and he considered himself the rightful Emperor to his death -- but he gave up all political power. He attempted in 1921 to reclaim the throne of Hungary, but failed completely, and lived in relative poverty until his death in 1922 on the island of Madeira.

He has generally been regarded as a very weak emperor; but he has also been lauded for his sincere devotion to peace and common good.

Charles I of Austria

From Pope John Paul II's beatification homily:

The decisive task of Christians consists in seeking, recognizing and following God's will in all things. The Christian statesman, Charles of Austria, confronted this challenge every day. To his eyes, war appeared as "something appalling". Amid the tumult of the First World War, he strove to promote the peace initiative of my Predecessor, Benedict XV.

From the beginning, the Emperor Charles conceived of his office as a holy service to his people. His chief concern was to follow the Christian vocation to holiness also in his political actions. For this reason, his thoughts turned to social assistance. May he be an example for all of us, especially for those who have political responsibilities in Europe today!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Aftermath of Arginusae

If we only considered the battle itself, we might well consider the Battle of Arginusae in 406 BC to be a shining victory by Athens at a crucial moment in the Peloponnesian War. The Spartans had blockaded the main Athenian fleet at Mytilene. In order to rescue it, the Athenians had to throw together a fleet out of ships barely out of the shipyards, manned mostly by people with only limited naval experience. To make sure that they could man the ships, the Athenians even granted citizenship to thousands of slaves who were willing to sign on as rowers. Rather than put the relief fleet under a single general, eight generals -- Aristocrates, Aristogenes, Diomedon, Erasinides, Lysias, Pericles the Younger, Protomachus, and Thrasyllus -- were put in charge of it. They met the Spartan fleet under Callicratidas at dawn. The Spartan fleet was not quite as large as the Athenian fleet, but it was a more experienced one. However, the Athenians threw surprise after surprise against the Spartans. Each general took one-eighth of the fleet, which then functioned as an autonomous unit, responding dynamically to immediate local problems, but the fleet as a whole nonetheless worked together to achieve the major objectives. They used their slight advantage in numbers to outflank the Spartan fleet. The Spartans fought fiercely, but Callicratidas was killed in the course of the battle, and the Spartans fled, having lost almost three times as many ships as the Athenians. It was a great victory, if one only considers the battle itself.

However, as the Spartans took flight, the generals were faced with a difficult decision: Should they proceed immediately to destroy the remaining ships in the blockade of Mytilene, or should they stop and rescue the very many Athenians who were now at sea, their ships having been destroyed. They decided that the eight generals would proceed to Mytilene, leaving behind the trierarchs Thrasybulus and Theramenes to rescue the survivors. But a great storm came up, and both plans failed. When news of the failure to rescue the drowning sailors came to Athens, it touched off a political maelstrom. The Athenian Assembly began to rumble. By this point Thrasybulus and Theramenes had returned to Athens, and the generals assumed that they were the ones stirring up trouble, so they wrote the Assembly, blaming the two trierarchs and denouncing them. Thrasybulus and Theramenes were able to convince a significant number of people that this charge was unjust, however, so the anger of Athens turned toward the generals, who were deposed by the Assembly and recalled to Athens to stand trial. Two of the generals, Aristogenes and Protomachus, fled, but the rest, not understanding just how furious the citizens of Athens were, returned to the city.

At first the generals looked like they might have a chance. There was initial sympathy to the idea that the unexpected storm was entirely the problem. However, it just so happened that the festival of Apaturia, a very family-focused festival, came up, and the opponents of the generals were able to stir up the anguish of those who had lost loved ones. When next the Assembly met, Callixeinus proposed a motion in the Assembly to decide the guilt or innocence of the generals by straight vote, without trial. It was opposed by Euryptolemus, a cousin of Alcibiades, on the grounds that it was illegal. It was a brave thing to do, and led to a crisis within the Assembly itself. As Xenophon says in his Hellenica (1.7.12-15):

And some of the people applauded this act, but the greater number cried out that it was monstrous if the people were to be prevented from doing whatever they wished. Indeed, when Lyciscus thereupon moved that these men also should be judged by the very same vote as the generals, unless they withdrew the summons, the mob broke out again with shouts of approval, and they were compelled to withdraw the summonses. Furthermore, when some of the Prytanes refused to put the question to the vote in violation of the law, Callixeinus again mounted the platform and urged the same charge against them; and the crowd cried out to summon to court those who refused. Then the Prytanes, stricken with fear, agreed to put the question,—all of them except Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus; and he said that in no case would he act except in accordance with the law.

The Prytanes were the people chosen by lottery to preside over the procedures of the Assembly, and it just so happened that on that day, of all days, the philosopher Socrates was chosen by lot to be one of them. As Xenopho, says, he refused to put it to the vote, even in the face of a furious Assembly. Socrates' refusal gave Euryptolemus some room to maneuver, and he stood up and gave the best speech of his life, arguing passionately for a different resolution, in which each general would be tried separately. It was passed. Then one of Callixeinus' allies put in a formal objection as to the legality of Euryptolemus's resolution and a second vote was taken, this time defeating it. The Athenian Assembly declared the generals guilty and condemned them to death.

After some time, a number of Athenians regretted the decision of the Assembly, so they started bringing to trial those who had argued in favor of the summary judgment on the generals. Callixeinus and his allies fled.

Arginusae, unsurprisingly, plays a fairly important role in Socratic dialogues. Plato himself uses it at least twice as an example of how Socrates stood for justice regardless of popular opinion. It is found in the Apology, where Socrates gives it as an example showing his willingness to put justice over his own life:

And listen to what happened to me, that you may be convinced that I would never yield to any one, if that was wrong, through fear of death, but would die rather than yield. The tale I am going to tell you is ordinary and commonplace, but true. I, men of Athens, never held any other office in the state, but I was a senator; and it happened that my tribe held the presidency when you wished to judge collectively, not severally, the ten generals who had failed to gather up the slain after the naval battle; this was illegal, as you all agreed afterwards. At that time I was the only one of the prytanes who opposed doing anything contrary to the laws, and although the orators were ready to impeach and arrest me, and though you urged them with shouts to do so, I thought I must run the risk to the end with law and justice on my side, rather than join with you when your wishes were unjust, through fear of imprisonment or death. (32a-c)

We find it again mentioned in the Gorgias. While he is arguing with Polus, Polus says that Socrates will see that he is refuted if he will just ask the other people present whether they agree with what he says. Socrates replies that he's not the kind to curry public opinion:

Polus, I am not one of your statesmen: indeed, last year, when I was elected a member of the Council, and, as my tribe held the Presidency, I had to put a question to the vote, I got laughed at for not understanding the procedure. So do not call upon me again to take the votes of the company now; but if, as I said this moment, you have no better disproof than those, hand the work over to me in my turn, and try the sort of refutation that I think the case requires. For I know how to produce one witness in support of my statements, and that is the man himself with whom I find myself arguing; the many I dismiss: there is also one whose vote I know how to take, whilst to the multitude I have not a word to say.

This is an interesting passage, because it implicitly carries a theme running throughout the Gorgias, that Socrates' philosophical approach is closely tied to his pursuit of justice: Socrates arguing against the orators and their account of justice is like Socrates refusing to follow public opinion rather than law in the aftermath of Arginusae. In both ways he stands for justice and is unafraid of social pressure or threats in doing so in both cases.

Xenophon in the Memorabilia uses it as an example of Socratic piety. Socrates took his oath so seriously that he would not deviate from what it required:

[W]hen he was on the Council and had taken the counsellor's oath by which he bound himself to give counsel in accordance with the laws, it fell to his lot to preside in the Assembly when the people wanted to condemn Thrasyllus and Erasinides and their colleagues to death by a single vote. That was illegal, and he refused the motion in spite of popular rancour and the threats of many powerful persons. It was more to him that he should keep his oath than that he should humour the people in an unjust demand and shield himself from threats. For, like most men, indeed, he believed that the gods are heedful of mankind, but with an important difference; for whereas they do not believe in the omniscience of the gods, Socrates thought that they know all things, our words and deeds and secret purposes; that they are present everywhere, and grant signs to men of all that concerns man. (1.1.18-19)

As Xenophon notes, Socrates' behavior in the Assembly was common knowledge, so, he concludes, the Athenian jury that condemned him to death should have known better than to think he was impious.

We also find the Arginusae episode playing a role in the spurious dialogue Axiochus, usually thought to have been written in the late Hellenistic period. In that dialogue, Socrates is out walking when he comes across Clinias, son of Axiochus, who was Alcibiades' uncle. Axiochus, it turns out, is on his deathbed and is distraught, so Clinias asks Socrates to come and comfort him. This Socrates does. In the course of the discussion, Socrates talks about the futility of professions, and uses the Arginusae episode as an example. According to the dialogue, Axiochus was one of those who supported Euryptolemus in the Assembly (unsurprisingly, since they would have been related). When Socrates remarks on the basis of the story that politics is not a pleasant trade, Axiochus agrees, and says that he has refused to participate in politics ever since. The use of the story in this dialogue is not straightforward, but part of the idea seems to be to emphasize that true consolation in life derives from virtue and piety, not from superficial things like political success.

Thus the Aftermath of Arginusae plays a definite and important role in constructing the Image of Socrates, and in giving future generations an example of a philosopher standing for justice even in the face of popular pressure.


Quotations are from the translations at the Perseus Project.

Hushed Woods, Dumb Caves, and Many a Soundless Mere

A Sleepless Night
by Alfred Austin

Within the hollow silence of the night
I lay awake and listened. I could hear
Planet with punctual planet chiming clear,
And unto star star cadencing aright.
Nor these alone: cloistered from deafening sight,
All things that are made music to my ear:
Hushed woods, dumb caves, and many a soundless mere,
With Arctic mains in rigid sleep locked tight.
But ever with this chant from shore and sea,
From singing constellation, humming thought,
And Life through Time's stops blowing variously,
A melancholy undertone was wrought;
And from its boundless prison-house I caught
The awful wail of lone Eternity.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Action and Conviction

Now, two things belong to the fulfillment of our duties: action and conviction. Action accomplishes what duty demands, and conviction causes that that action to proceed from the proper source, that is, from pure motives.

Hence actions and convictions belong to the perfection of man, and society should, as far as possible, take care of both by collective efforts, that is, it should direct the actions of its members toward the common good, and cause convictions which lead to these actions. The one is the government, the other the education of societal man. To both man is led by reasons; to actions by reasons that motivate the will, and to convictions by reasons that persuade by their truth. Society should therefore establish both through public institutions in such a way that they will be in accord with the common good.

Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, Allan Arkush, tr., Brandeis University Press (Waltham, MA: 1983) p. 40. He goes on to argue that the two major kinds of public institution that do this are the state and the church/synagogue/mosque.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Links of Note

* 168th Philosophers' Carnival

* Sci Phi Journal

* Dale Van Kley has a critical review of Jonathan Israel's series on the Radical Enlightenment.

* Newly discovered cave art in Indonesia changes the timeline for human beings engaging in art; the cave art goes back as far as the earliest cave art previously known, in Spain and Southern France. Finding it about the same time so far apart strongly suggests that the practice may go back thousands of years farther than previously thought.

* Sister Doris Engelhard, Europe's last brewmaster nun

* Corey Robin discusses Kantianism in Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem, as well as the question of whether Arendt saw Eichmann testify.

* Stephen Read on why medieval logic matters.

* Gregory Fried discusses Heidegger's Black Notebooks.

* Elissa at "WIT" discusses charges of modern-day Jansenism. As she notes, the use of the label is often rather detached from what the Jansenists actually were, as well as from what the Jansenists were specifically condemned for.

* Clare Coffey, Duty and Delight

* Distractify colorizes 52 old black and white photos.

What It Is Not

That the thing perceived, I replied, is not the same as the thing not perceived, I grant; but I do not discover any answer to our question in such a statement; it is not yet clear to me what we are to think that thing not-perceived to be; all I have been shown by your argument is that it is not anything material; and I do not yet know the fitting name for it. I wanted especially to know what it is, not what it is not.

We do learn, she replied, much about many things by this very same method, inasmuch as, in the very act of saying a thing is not so and so, we by implication interpret the very nature of the thing in question. For instance, when we say a guileless, we indicate a good man; when we say unmanly, we have expressed that a man is a coward; and it is possible to suggest a great many things in like fashion, wherein we either convey the idea of goodness by the negation of badness , or vice versâ. Well, then, if one thinks so with regard to the matter now before us, one will not fail to gain a proper conception of it. The question is—What are we to think of Mind in its very essence? Now granted that the inquirer has had his doubts set at rest as to the existence of the thing in question, owing to the activities which it displays to us, and only wants to know what it is, he will have adequately discovered it by being told that it is not that which our senses perceive, neither a colour, nor a form, nor a hardness, nor a weight, nor a quantity, nor a cubic dimension, nor a point, nor anything else perceptible in matter; supposing, that is, that there does exist a something beyond all these.

St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Macrina the Younger in Gregory of Nyssa's On the Soul and the Resurrection.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

But the Dawning of that Light

Reflections Upon “Butler’s Analogy of Religion.”
by Rosa Emma Salamon

There as a likeness in all natural things,
A strict analogy, which clearly brings
Religion, and all nature to agree;
The veil withdrawn—I now distinctly see.
If first we trace each diff’rent stage of life,
We prove a future peace from present strife,
Death, no destruction of the moral power,
Which oft is brightest in our latest hour,
And even a change of nature, or pure soul,
Still leaves the active mind without control.
The body is the instrument alone,
The soul is all that we can call our own.
What though we cease to live, thought does not cease,
But bursts the prison doors at death’s release;
Waits but that moment to enlarge, expand,
Commence new life in death, eternal! grand!
And if in search of happiness we miss,
The fault is ours, not God’s, who formed for bliss,
Left us in part free will to choose our way,
Thereby our faith and patience to essay.
And it may be His holy, blessed will,
That we, the creatures of His matchless skill,
Should act accordingly to nature’s plan,
Which lies beyond our present power to scan.
To our weak sense, no doubt some actions lie
As if they lacked his moral scrutiny;
No step we take, no act so small soe’er,
But wisdom infinite, with wondrous care
Has governed, for some latent good, an end
To which His purpose wise will ever tend.
And thus remorse may be the shadow sent,
Forewarning of a future punishment;
And feelings pure, with conscience void of guile,
May be the type of Heaven’s approving smile.
And so in early youth we should begin
To shut out all the avenues of sin;
Nor this alone, but let not pass in vain
Those moments which will ne’er return again;
But like the bee, who robs the unconscious flower,
Let us enrich our minds each fleeting hour.
Nor let us e’er distrust, or be dismayed,
Be fear and hope in equal balance weighed;
Else in presumptuous gale we may be tossed,
Or down the low abyss in darkness lost.
’Tis true we cannot clearly now perceive
God’s government, all goodness to achieve;
But we are blind, the world obstructs our sight,
For this is but the dawning of that light,
The noonday is in Heaven, where we shall see,
And comprehend, what now seems mystery.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Two Poem Re-Drafts

In the Dark and Dead of Night

In the dark and dead of night
I feel your glory still inside;
through the sorrow and the pain
I see your rainbow in the rain;
and as the wind moves through the leaves
your Holy Spirit moves through me:
though darkness draws each day to close
your light shines on the blooded rose.

In all death, in dark despair,
I turn around and you are there;
through the shadows in my soul
your glory shines undimmed and whole;
and as the wind moves through the leaves
your Holy Spirit moves through me:
though harm should come, and threat of war,
salvation's hope still lies in store.

In the storm that rises high,
like lightning bursts your Presence nigh;
through the wilderness and fight
you, the pole star, give your light;
and as the wind moves through the leaves
your Holy Spirit moves through me:
though trouble strikes and I must roam
and death will come, you draw me home.

Aridity and Consolation

I walked one day, a wanderer amid the trees,
singing out a song, the sun now hid from view
but hot the air, no whisper in the leaves
nor breeze to blow like balm to heal heat's wounds.
Then came I on a course that cut through stone,
once water-widened as it wandered home,
now dry with dust, undamp, like ancient bone,
yet remembering moisture, mists of long ago.

It seemed I saw then in this silent wood
a phoenix, fireborn, that flew from bough to bough,
seeking the stream long slain by drought of old.
Coming to the course, it cried so soft and low
angels could but weep and echo it in dreams;
my hearing had hardly found its heaven in those strains
when the phoenix died by that drought-devoured stream
and lightly fell, finished, its fire stripped of glow.

Then, highing like a herald, a hind of silver-white
bounded up with bitter haste, pursued by baying hounds,
It vaulted, forceful-valiant, like silver moon in light,
leaping beneath the laurel, whose leaves were on it crowned.
It was taken by the dogs, it died and knew no more,
and, broken in its bone, its blood on forest floor,
it sank like sunset, thrice solemn in its woe,
a late moon: once alive, it at last was overthrown.

Then I wept. From my eyes the water fled in grief;
it bore the salt of sorrow, the sadness of my pain,
in rivers overflowing ruined, rained upon the leaves,
as mightily I mourned that the marvels I had seen
should die their death, no dawn at all in sight.
Overcome, I cried at the coming of the night.
With breath embittered, I broke with sob and sigh:
my ache, a yearning to recover, alone remained.

But wait! one whisper whistled in the trees,
rose and rushed and roared with living force;
a wave, as in war an army like the seas
will arm and rise, did water again the course,
a pouring-out with power like thundering clouds of rain;
from furthest foreign-land some fountain broke again,
as though the God of glory with grace, or even whim,
compassionate for the creek, created a new source.

First there broke a flood; then flame did burst to light
as, fire all around it, the phoenix winged in gold
rose in ruddy glory with rays that blinded sight,
winging up to heaven, the highest of high roads,
scion of the sun, with shining in its wings,
so holy in its egress as to humble we who sin,
bring penitent to prayer, spark seraphim to sing,
more radiant its rising than sunlight red and bold.

Blood slowly dripped to pools from the dying hind.
With flood and flame it mingled, was forcefully imbued
with volumes of flowing fire, embracing as in kind
the conquered carcass and, covering it with blood,
woke it to new life, washed all weariness away,
and death undid, as night undone by day.
Then, leaping into life, litheful in its play,
the hind, silver flash, sped, shot, through primal wood.

The flood, I saw, was faith; the phoenix charity;
the hind was hope, the herald of new life;
and I saw with seeing vision and flux of ecstasy
that saved souls are sundered, made to die,
brought to solemn burial to be born anew.
Hearts grow old and ancient; to awful death they go,
but then a cycle starts, like this shadow of the true:
our hearts, renewed with life, leap to taste the light.


Today is the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church. The transverberation or ecstasy, one of the most famous episodes from her Life (Chapter XXIX.16-17):

I saw an angel close by me, on my left side, in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see, unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. It was our Lord's will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it.

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

Bernini, of course, has a famous sculpture of it:

Santa teresa di bernini 03

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gradually but Steadily Advancing Approximation

We would, therefore, for our parts, remit to God and the future all properly unconditional and absolute knowledge. For, irrespectively of the delusive phantom of a pretended mathematical method and rigor of demonstration, which is both fundamentally false, and, moreover, totally inapplicable to the present sphere of inquiry, such an absolute science, merely as claiming to be positive, trenches ultimately on omniscience. We therefore prefer modestly to acquiesce in pretensions more suitable to man's position in the world. If, therefore, we confine ourselves within the prescribed limits, and are content with a gradually but steadily advancing approximation to perfect truth, as it is in God, we shall soon find that even within these boundaries a legitimate idea of science may be set up and advanced.

Friedrich von Schlegel, Philosophy of Language, p. 487. He is contrasting what he calls the Socratic and the Spinozist ideas of philosophy; Schlegel upholds the Socratic idea, which he characterizes as 'gradual approximation to eternal truth', and criticizes the view he sees as usually found in modern philosophers (especially, although not exclusively, German ones) that claims absolute knowledge through rigid application of system.