Sunday, September 24, 2017

Alexandre Dumas (and Auguste Maquet), The Three Musketeers


Opening Passage:

On the first Monday of April, 1625, the market town of Meung, birthplace of the author of the Roman de la Rose, seemed to be in as great a turmoil as if the Huguenots had come to turn it into a second La Rochelle. A number of townmen, seeing women running in the direction of the main street and hearing children shouting on doorsteps, hastened to put on their breatsplates, and, steadying their rather uncertain self-assurance with a musket or a halberd, made their way toward the inn, the Hötellerie du Franc Meunier, in front of which a noisy, dense, and curious through was growing larger by the minute. (p. 1)

Summary: The opening of the book, of course, is famous: D'Artagnan, a Gascon hoping to make his fortune and be a musketeer, comes to Paris and happens to get challenged to duels by Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, three of the King's musketeers; their attempt to duel gets interrupted by some of Cardinal Richilieu's guards, who attempt to arrest them. Together, they fight the Cardinal's guards, and, of course, inevitably become the closest of friends, and work together to try to help make each other's fortunes. And indeed, much of the charm of the book is in its depiction of male friendship; there is a reason why the phrase most remembered from the book is "one for all and all for one". The kind of loyalty in which you have your buddy's back regardless of the scrapes he gets you into -- as when d'Artagnan has to deal with the fact that a drunk and depressed Athos gambled away not only the horse d'Artagnan had given him, but d'Artagnan's horse, as well -- is admirable in itself.

Re-reading this after such a long time, a number of things jumped out at me, all of which I think contribute to the excellence of the work. The servants had a much more important part to play in the story than I had remember; rather than being background, as they usually would have been, they end up being important secondary characters in their own right. I had forgotten how the opposition between d'Artagnan and the man from Meung ended; a surprising end, but suitable for a book that puts so much emphasis on friendship between men. The work also unfolds very nicely -- it gets bigger and bigger as the tale goes on, and all very smoothly.

The humor, of course, is a major part of the work. I remember it being somewhat humorous, but in fact it is hilariously funny; entire stretches are joke after joke. What is more, they are jokes on our heroes themselves, some absurdity about them or their handling of a situation into which they have stumbled. They are well balanced, however -- they never descend merely into farce. This also is a strength. Because we laugh about the four friends, we see their faults, and they are often miles wide, but as it is never just a farce, they stand out as truly heroic nonetheless.

Milady, of course, also makes her contribution by being one of the great villains of literature. I had remembered the Felton episode as a rather minor one, almost a digression, but reading it this time around I see that it is actually essential. Up to that point we had only brief glimpses of Milady and her evil. We knew she was treacherous, murderous, manipulative. With the Felton episode, however, we get a sustained look at her, and learn that all of this understates the case. She is not a mere murderess and liar; she is a destroyer of souls. And because we have seen it firsthand, looked a little bit insider her head and seen her ruin a good man, we can accept the history of her wickedness that gradually unfolds from there, we can accept the sense of danger that the heroes have: we know it must be true, because we have seen her in action. What is more, as I noted, the book's stage is an ever-expanding one. But how do you get bigger than war between England and France? It is Milady who makes it possible, for with her we get a battle not of swords but of souls, and one that is, if not exactly between Heaven and Hell, or Good and Evil, yet nonetheless between good, if flawed, heroes and a villain who has no qualms about endangering the salvation of someone's soul if it will serve her petty and vindictive ends. There is no bigger stage for human life, and no background that could do more to bring into bright relief a story of friendship.

Favorite Passage:

His Eminence was standing, leaning against the fireplace, with at able between him and d'Artagnan.

"Monsieur d'Artagnan, you've been arrested on my order."

"So I was told, Monseigneur."

"Do you know why?"

"No, Monseigneur, because there's only one thing I could have been arrested for, and you don't yet know about it." (pp. 538-539)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Music on My Mind

Ngọc Lan, "Niệm Khúc Cuối". A very popular love song. Like a lot of older Vietnamese songs, it has a nice almost-French sound to it without sounding derivative.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Dashed Off XX

A sustained assault on Kant's philosophy of religion in this batch of dashed off notes.

if A:B::C:D
(1) B:A::D:C (invertendo)
(2) A:C::B:D (alternando)
(3) A:A-B::C:C-D (dividendo)
(4) A+B:B::C+D:D (componendo)
- (3) & (4) seem to require that the analogy operate within a classification

"The Spirit is the teacher; Scripture is the doctrine which He teaches us." Turretin

the marks that the teaching of the Church is divine
(1) origin
(2) duration
(3) instruments and amanuenses
(4) adjuncts (martyrs)
(5) the sublimity of its mysteries, holiness of its doctrine, and excellence of its examples
(6) style and beauty
(7) internal coherence
(8) end
(9) effects (the gates of hell cannot stand against it)
These marks do not shine out equally in everything the Church does, but considered corporately as a whole.
- This, of course, is taking Turretin on Scripture and applying it to the Church; and lest anyone cry foul at that, note that Turretin quite clearly takes the tradition conversion of the world argument about the Church and applies it to Scripture, and that there are signs he does this in other ways.

the Mencian shoots taken to the cosmic limit

the Syriac 'Book of Women': Judith, Tobit, Esther, Ruth

the gaze of contemplative love between spouses

The almost inevitable flaw in almost every neopagan movement is treating gods as something in which one may dabble.

"Crime is an exacting, inflexible master, against which no one can be strong unless he rebels completely." Manzoni

Some become Catholic from a drive for solidary integrity, some from luring holiness that calls to them, some (like myself) from a mind or will tending to universality, some by intervention of providence or from a direct call.

Who cannot care of the things of the past cannot be trusted with the things of the future.

"Truth is essentially coexistent with the gods, as light is coexistent with the Sun." Iamblichus

The life of Christ is the plot of holy liturgy.

awe as an act of faith

Even in mere bathing we do not merely put water on ourselves: we throw off worry, care, trouble; we make a break in time; we start anew.

our body's physical response to the sublime
- note that this is where the old terror theories come closest to getting things right

conserved quantities & necessity ab alio
conserved quantities // necessary truths // necessary goods (Chastek)

poem as perfect sensible speech (Baumgarten)
poetry as tending toward ideas that are clear and confused (the clarity is a unity of variety)

Christ's Session // Mary's Intercession

beauty of measure, beauty of kind, beauty of tendency

The papacy is not an indelible character but an office with a function, and its authority depends in part on the fulfillment of that function.

Conceptual clarification is a kind of unification.

Hayek's knowledge argument and imperial government

Analects 12:11 -- "Jun jun, chen chen, fu fu, zi zi."

xin & rectification of names (xin combines the person radical and the character for speech)

Good politics is in great measure about rational classification.

Notations encapsulate methods.

Every indelible character gives the capacity to act in some way in the person of Christ, but only the presbyterate and the episcopacy do so in precisely the way Christ is Head of the Church.

our capacity to recognize the sublime in nature as a sign of the union of mind and body

the oscillation of good philosophy between solitary reflection and collaboration

experimentalist, populist, and classicalist axes in language change

the nation as analogized panhellenizing

the major legitimate ends of money-making: support of self and family, productive effects that are needed, self-discipline, and almsgiving

"Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice." Chesterton

generalize, specialize, analogize, aporeticize

the Golden Rule and beautiful action

the importance of timeline-building in HoP
timeline + communication geography -> diffusion of ideas (contiguity and resemblance in tracing influences)

Kantian philosophy of religion is fundamentally anti-Incarnational.

By means of grace we become means of grace.

There is no way to advance from virtue to grace; there are ways to advance from grace to virtue.

Misperception of X is not a failure to perceive X. Likewise, miscommunication is not a failure to receive testimony.

truth-validating vs truth-suggesting cognitions

impressional, semiotic, and comparative aspects of perception

Faith comes by hearing because what is heard is analogous to what is believed.

"Mathematical truths, as soon as we realise them, are seen to be necessary, and we seem to have known them always." Pringle-Pattison

triputisamvit (Prabhakara Mimamsa): each cognition manifests subject, object, and itself

means of knowledge combining with things other than means of knowledge to function in new ways

signs as working like middle terms

Princess Elisabeth's famous set of objections is concerned more with the limits of Cartesian physics than with mind/body union.

(A) pervasion of sign and signified -- Box(s-o)
(B) presence of thing that is sign -- T(t-s)

We may practically employ the ideas of effects of grace by not erring in a certain way -- that is, it is not a matter of doing nothing but a matter of doing only what does not presuppose the adequacy of one's own power or independence of God. It is manifestly obvious that we may have practically employable negative rules of this sort. And we may cognize these effects theoretically by causation, remotion, and eminence, because it is illegitimate to restrict causal reasoning arbitrarily.

Every regulative principle implies constitutive principles.

One may simply adapt Kant's moral postulation of God's existence to a moral postulation of the occasional happening of miracles, i.e., one may argue that it is rational on basis of moral reason to hope that miracles will be done to make it possible to follow the moral law (either individually, or communally a la Cohen). It requires no more than recognizing that God has freedom as well as we, and that to postulate reconciliation of the moral and the physical, as Kant does, is as much to postulate that events can occur for moral reasons as well as physical. This suffices for at least a Babbage-style account of miracles.

The laws of virtue ground all juridical laws.

Kant's 'church' is literally a church without creeds, without hierarchy, without distinctiveness; it is a ghost of a church.

Fulfilling one's duties to oneself and others requires distinctive service to God, both to express symbolically the meaning of these duties and to communicate and even share this meaning with others.

As sons do not relate to their fathers in terms of pure moral duty, which is rather what one would expect of new servants, but instead do so on the basis of historical contingencies shared with their father, so a free, filial faith must be a historical faith.

If holy tradition is a 'leading-string', it is necessary yet; for compared to what we should be, we are not adults, but merely children, however quickly we have grown, and however much we preen ourselves on having grown.

Without shared profession and discipline, human beings inevitably begin to treat morality as purely subjective.

The phenomenon participates the noumenon.

the logic of sweepings clauses & analogy vs available classification

frozen accidents and spandrels in the history of philosophy

By 'information' people often mean nothing more than 'specification of effect'.

apostolic succession
(1) sacramental (of person)
(2) jurisdictional (of see)

similarity as indistinguishability at some level of precision

Chatterjees ordering of priority among the pramanas: perception, memory, nonperception, inference, comparison, testimony, postulation

Social justice means nothing unless it is justice with others.

that exemplar causation in the wide sense implies the existence of exemplar cuases in the strict sense (i.e. productive ideas)

Even for natural reason, standing in the stead of another in matters of virtue is a common thing; for instance, it is common in both good parenting and good marriage. It does, to be sure, require conditions, for parents do not answer for children or spouses for each other in every case; but it does occur.

Confucian five relations as cases of vicariousness

Need is sometimes insight, or the beginning of it, in the same sense that attention is.

Reason must always go further in understanding, or it betrays itself.

To do one's duty properly requires cultivation of an admiration for virtuous actions, especially when they go beyond duty.

miracles as models of artistic creation

artistic inspiration as intuitive schema for grace
the sense of something working through one in one's free act

Timaeus as an account of artisanship

A humanity pleasing to God must be an artistic, or at least productive, as well as ethical humanity.

the principles of mediation and vicariousness in artistic creation

All artistic creation is a surplus over merit.

Salvation cannot be merely moral; it must be sublime, exalting those who receive it.

The Election of Israel is a precondition for understanding the marks of the Church.

Modern Biblical scholarship has, through its history, been an investigation of hypotheses. Some of these have not been unreasonable; but the problem is that there are always more hypotheses.

the Shema as making a claim on moral disposition

(1) the nobility of many hermits, monks, and consecrated virgins
(2) the freedoms granted by celibacy, if given the right context
(3) the miracles of the saints as pedagogical
(4) the ecclesiastical hierarchy as a limit on despots
(5) the often political nature of schism
(6) the quasi-hieratic nature of the Byzantine empire and the ways this aspect helped to preserve it
(7) the constant attempt of secular powers to manipulate the Church for their own ends, e.g., the Avignon papacy
(8) the role of the papacy in negotiations of peace
(9) the benefits arising from the Church even despite the sins of its members

faith giving rise to productive, and not merely practical, works
faith-informed genius and taste

"Taste alone brings harmony into society, because it fosters harmony in the individual." Schiller

the subtle truths in the twilight of obscure ideas

festivity as an appropriate manifestation of hope

church buildings as mirrors of the whole circumambient world

"Once there is religion, it must necessarily also be social." Schleiermacher

'Spirituality without religion' is for disembodied spirits; the ghost of a religion, suitable for ghosts.

ritual as mediating intuition and conception

religion exponentiated
the divine image exponentiated

Intellectual consistency requires a purity of discipline academia does not easily accommodate.

One often finds that a single perhaps is implausible whereas a system of perhapses, at least given the right connection to some evidence, is quite plausible. A story often makes more sense to us than a fragment.

communicating the value of virtue without mere virtue-signaling (i.e., without trying to convince people that one has the virtue by a peacockish display)

Purely formal sciences are heavily dependent on analogical reasoning (for extension, consilience, etc.).

measurement as a method for classifying, where tehre are preestablished mathematical relationships within the scheme of classification
- measurements leading to classifications seem to work by specifying more general relations already in play

Thursday, September 21, 2017


One of my pet peeves is people misusing the word 'encounter' in theological and religious contexts. 'Encounter' in English means one of two things:

(1) A casual meeting, usually brief and usually by chance
(2) A direct hostile interaction between disputants or enemy forces

If you are focused on 'encounter with Jesus', your standards are too low. What people mean when they such things is not 'encounter' but friendship or charity or love. If you mean that, say that.

The problem has become worse recently because Pope Francis likes to talk about encuentro and it gets translated by 'encounter', which in this context is a false cognate; the Pope uses the Spanish word to indicate deliberate acts of solidarity, which is not what the word 'encounter' describes (and by experience talking with people, I am very certain is not what is conveyed to most English speakers by that word, since they can tell from context that it is supposed to be more than a casual meeting but they have no idea what). Deliberate acts of solidarity. That is what the English translations should convey.

ADDED LATER: Incidentally, if you want to translate encuentro as literally as possible, 'finding' is infinitely better than 'encounter'. Not 'encounter with Jesus' -- finding Jesus. Not 'encounter with your neighbor' -- finding your neighbor. Better than that, 'going out and finding', both sides of which the Pope often explicitly emphasizes. Encuentro used of persons is still capable of being stronger and more active than 'finding', but the gap is far less, because 'finding' is a much stronger and more active word than 'encounter'.

Blackstone on Pursuit of Happiness

As therefore the creator is a being, not only of infinite power, and wisdom, but also of infinite goodness, he has been pleased so to contrive the constitution and frame of humanity, that we should want no other prompter to inquire after and pursue the rule of right, but only our own self-love, that universal principle of action. For he has so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained but by observing the former; and, if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter. In consequence of which mutual connection of justice and human felicity, he has not perplexed the law of nature with a multitude of abstracted rules and precepts, referring merely to the fitness or unfitness of things, as some have vainly surmised; but has graciously reduced the rule of obedience to this one paternal precept, "that man should pursue his own true and substantial happiness." This is the foundation of what we call ethics, or natural law.

Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book I, Part I, Section II.

Natural law theories can diverge from each other in a number of ways, and one of them is what they take to be the fundamental precept. Aquinas, of course, because he takes the fundamental precept to be to reasoning about obligation what the principle of noncontradiction is to theoretical reasoning, holds that it is "Good is to be done and sought, bad to be avoided" when it is applied to the common good of the human race. Suarez follows him in this, although I'm inclined to think he has a narrower understanding of it -- he qualifies it by saying that good should be understood as honestas and the bad as turpitude, which is maybe a way of saying with Aquinas that we get the precept when we apply the principle to common good in particular, but I'm not really sure. Scotus, if I don't misunderstand him, takes the first precept to be "God (as infinite good) is to be loved". Blackstone's "Man should pursue his own true and substantial happiness" is a very different one. It need not be said that all parties would in fact agree with all of these as truths; Aquinas holds that God should be loved, and Scotus that good is to be done and sought, and both that our true and substantial happiness is to be pursued. But recognizing these as true and recognizing them as law are different things (as Aquinas makes quite clear), and you get a rather different view depending on which of these you take as the root precept.

Reading this passage in context, it seems undeniable that Jefferson's use in the Declaration of Independence is ultimately from Blackstone. Jefferson himself does not seem to have liked Blackstone very much at all, but there are too many similarities to be accidental. It's sometimes said to have been an indirect influence; Jefferson is thought to have been influenced by the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was written up by George Mason. This influence is pretty obvious if you look at the first article of the Virginia Declaration. But I'm not sure this completely closes the lid; there are other echoes in the Declaration suggestive of Blackstone, so maybe it's not all through Mason. I don't know.

ADDED LATER: I should have also remarked on Blackstone's rejection of moral rationalism -- the "abstracted rules and precepts, referring merely to the fitness or unfitness of things". This is an approach to ethics that begins with Malebranche; Hume, complaining about it in the footnote for Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Section III, Part II, calls it an "abstract theory of morals".

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Clifford's Sea Captain

In his Ethics of Belief, W. K. Clifford gives his famous example of the negligent sea captain:

A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant-ship. He knew that she was old, and not overwell built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him at great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance-money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.

Clifford from this draws the conclusion that we would recognize the ship captain as responsible for the deaths of those who died and that, in particular, we would say that "the sincerity of his conviction can in no wise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him."

The example is often quoted or alluded to in discussions of the ethics of belief, due to Clifford; but always uncritically, I think. More careful reasoners should pause here, because Clifford's ethical analysis is just obviously bad. First, like everything in the essay, the condemnation is stated in an exaggerated manner; on most ethical theories we could not say "that he was verily guilty of the death of those men" without qualification. Negligent omission, even egregiously culpable negligent omission, does not work like deliberate commission, and does not interact with guilt in the same way. Further, Clifford is playing a rhetorical game in his parting shot at the sea captain; told that someone "got his insurance-money...and told no tales", we would usually take this to suggest that the matter was in fact more deliberate than the sea captain's actions are actually presented as being -- that, in fact, he was at least half-angling toward the insurance money to begin with, particularly given the prior emphasis on expense. But what Clifford needs for his argument is really a clean case -- someone believing badly without the additional unsavory suggestion of things like greed. He needs a sea captain who is, as he previously said, genuinely benevolent, and whose only flaw is this. Otherwise you get cross-interference that blunts the usefulness of the example for the purpose of showing that there are obligations of belief in particular, and not just obligations not to be greedy.

Worse, the ship captain's belief is simply irrelevant here. The sea captain's sincerity of belief does not help him, to be sure, but it is not because "he had no right to believe", but because the belief in question doesn't matter. We condemn the sea captain not because he believed badly; we condemn the sea captain because, given his doubts, he had responsibilities regardless. Likewise, this is why it doesn't matter whether his belief turns out to be right or not: not because he had no right to belief, but because his responsibilities didn't depend on that belief at all. His responsibilities are based on the warning-flags that had been raised; it didn't matter what he in fact believed about the ship.

What is more, if we look at the timeline here, we find that it is poorly suited for Clifford's ultimate point. The timeline is as follows:

(1) The shipowner is preparing to send the ship, knowing that it is old, flawed, and often in need of repair.
(2) He has doubts that the ship is not seaworthy.
(3) He thinks that perhaps he has an obligation to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted.
(4) He tries to talk himself out of this and tries to dismiss some of his worries.
(5) He comes to have a sincere and comfortable conviction that the vessel is seaworthy.
(6) He sends the ship off with light heart and benevolent wishes.

The first thing to note is that the sea captain starts out believing that he might have an obligation, and then actively tries to talk himself out of that until he succeeds at (5). This is important because his actual obligation as a sea captain begins at (2), at which point he still suspects there might be a problem. All that the rest of the case shows, as far as the ethics of it, is that (3)-(6) don't affect this obligation at all -- he still has the same obligation throughout. Further, the real problem with the sea captain's final belief is not that he fails to believe in accordance with the evidence; it is that, thinking he had an obligation, one he actually had, he deliberately tried to convince himself that he didn't. This is where the appearance of the case being one of 'ethics of belief' comes from; it is the unethical nature of the motivation on which he is trying to convince himself not to believe what he does. But this is not about the belief; this is about trying to give yourself a belief with a motivation that is already and independently unethical.

And if we needed another reason to be skeptical of this commonly repeated case, the case is poorly suited just in itself for showing that Clifford's principle (it is wrong to believe on insufficient evidence) is true, because very little evidence is actually mentioned -- the ship is old, not all that well built, and has needed repairs before, and, on the other side, that she has gone safely through a lot of voyages and weathered a lot of storms. Everything else is just referred to as doubt and suspicion. Evidence doesn't play much of a role at all in our assessment of the moral situation -- indeed, once the sea captain has significant doubts, he already has at least some responsibility to double-check and take precautionary steps, even if he's nervously overreading the evidence and a more reasonable assessment of the ship would judge it to be just fine.

Thus the belief, as such, is irrelevant to the moral judgment; the evidence is not given much of a role in the scenario; and the ethical features of the scenario are not strongly tied to either. It's just a poor case.

A Moment's Monument

The Sonnet
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A sonnet is a moment's monument, —
Memorial from the soul's eternity
To one dead, deathless hour. Look that it be,
Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,
Of its own arduous fullness reverent;
Carve it in ivory or in ebony,
As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see
Its flowering crest impearled and orient.

A sonnet is a coin: its face reveals
The soul, — its converse to what Power 'tis due, —
Whether for tribute to the august appeals
Of Life, or dower in Love's high retinue,
It serve; or, 'mid the dark wharf's cavernous breath,
In Charon's palm it pay the toll to Death.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Neuroscience and the Microprocessor

A very interesting paper: Eric Jonas & Konrad Paul Kording, Could a Neuroscientist Understand a Microprocessor? (PDF).

Neuroscience is held back by the fact that it is hard to evaluate if a conclusion is correct; the complexity of the systems under study and their experimental inaccessability make the assessment of algorithmic and data analytic technqiues challenging at best. We thus argue for testing approaches using known artifacts, where the correct interpretation is known. Here we present a microprocessor platform as one such test case. We find that many approaches in neuroscience, when used naïvely, fall short of producing a meaningful understanding.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Lady Mary Shepherd Philosophy Salon

I recently came across a blog by Liba Kaucky called The Lady Mary Shepherd Philosophy Salon, which is devoted to discussion of Shepherd's philosophy. Definitely worth checking out if you are interested in various aspects of Shepherd's work.

Poetry and Prose

Freedom is fullness, especially fullness of life; and a full vessel is more rounded and complete than an empty one, and not less so. To vary Browning's phrase, we find in prose the broken arcs, in poetry the perfect round. Prose is not the freedom of poetry; rather prose is the fragments of poetry. Prose, at least in the prosaic sense, is poetry interrupted, held up and cut off from its course; the chariot of Phoebus stopped by a block in the Strand. But when it begins to move again at all, I think we shall find certain old-fashioned things move with it, such as repetition and even measure, rhythm and even rhyme.

G. K. Chesterton, "The Slavery of Free Verse", Fancies Versus Fads.