Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Over the Top

Check out this article by John Leo. Via Keith Burgess-Jackson who, as usual, has a passel of interesting posts for our edification and amusement. He appears to have ruffled a Canadian's feathers.

Comedians and Schadenfreude

I don’t think much of comedians, or at least those who are presently popular. Where would they be without the misfortunes of others? Where would they be without the Schadenfreude that they express and elicit in their audiences? To feel Schadenfreude is to take pleasure in the suffering of others. Schopenhauer rightly calls it diabolical, by contrast with envy, which is human all too human.

To get a cheap laugh, Dennis Miller recently showed a video clip of Fidel Castro falling flat on his face after stepping down from a dais. Now I’m no fan of dictator Fidel or his worker’s paradise, but he is some mother’s son, and no man is a demon. To gloat over an old man’s physical failing – isn’t there something morally dubious about that?

How the World is Like Chess

A wise saying about chess, often attributed to Goethe, but apocryphal for all I know, goes like this. "For a game it is too serious, and for seriousness too much of a game."

Something similar is true of the world. The world is is too real, too much with us, for us to detach ourselves from it easily; but it is too deficient in being to satisfy us. One cannot take it with utmost seriousness, and one cannot dismiss it as a mere game either. "For a game it is too serious, and for seriousness too much of a game."

Chess Quotations

See here for a nice collection.

Expert Tony Mantia of Dayton, Ohio is of Sicilian extraction. He once held a simultaneous demonstration. To his 1. e4, I played 1. ...e6, the French Defense. Mantia: "So you're trying to french me!" Vallicella: "I never french a Sicilian."

Who are the Oddballs?

We are regarded as odd people because we trouble our heads with the search for an intangible reality. But it never occurs to our critics that it is much more odd that they should go on living without pausing to inquire if there be any purpose in life at all.

Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, vol. II, The Quest (Burdett, NY: Larson Publications, 1986), p. 24.

Santayana on Philosophy

So long as philosophy is the free pursuit of wisdom, it arises wherever men of character and penetration, each with his special experience or hobby, looks about them in this world. That philosophers should be professors is an accident, and almost an anomaly. Free reflection about everything is a habit to be imitated, but not a subject to expound; and an original system, if the philosopher has one, is something dark, perilous, untested, and not ripe to be taught, nor is there much danger that anyone will learn it. The genuine philosopher -- as Royce liked to say, quoting the Upanishads -- wanders alone like the rhinoceros.

-- George Santayana, Character and Opinion in the United States (New York: Norton, 1967), p. 35.

A Thought for December

Remember when December's darkness is everywhere about you, that the world is really in every minutest point as full of life as in the most joyous morning you ever lived through; that the sun is whanging down, and the waves dancing, and the gulls skimming down at the mouth of the Amazon, for instance, as freshly as in the first morning of creation; and the hour is just as fit as any hour that ever was for a new gospel of cheer to be preached. (1868)

-- William James

From As William James Said: A Treasury of His Work, ed. Aldrich (New York: Vanguard Press, 1942), p. 58.

The Preponderance of the Positive

Why kvetch about the negative in one’s life when the positive preponderates? Let gratitude for life’s abundance smother petty resentments.

Reppert Almost Draws Petrosian

Bill: Here's a near draw of mine against a former world champion. (Grandmaster Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984) was the 9th World Chess Champion from 1963-1969.)

57. Kc6 would have drawn it for me.

The simultaneous exhibition was held in Phoenix. Victor Reppert - T. Petrosian [C18] French Defence, Winawer Variation, Simul, 1982

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Qc7 7.Qg4 f5 8.exf6 Nxf6 9.Qg3 Qxg3 10.hxg3 Nc6 11.Nf3 Ne4 12.Bd2 c4 13.Ng5 Nxd2 14.Kxd2 h6 15.Re1 0-0 16.Nh3 Rf6 17.Be2 Bd7 18.Bg4 Raf8 19.Nf4 g5 20.Nxd5 Rxf2+ 21.Re2 exd5 22.Bxd7 Kg7 23.Rb1 Nb8 24.Bg4 b6 25.Bf3 Rxe2+ 26.Kxe2 Nd7 27.Bxd5 Nf6 28.Bxc4 Ne4 29.Kd3 Nxg3 30.Re1 Nh5 31.Re7+ Kf6 32.Re6+ Kf5 33.Rxh6 Nf4+ 34.Kd2 Nxg2 35.Be6+ Kf4 36.Rh2 Nh4 37.Rf2+ Nf3+ 38.Ke2 g4 39.Bd5 Re8+ 40.Kd3 Re3+ 41.Kc4 g3 42.Rg2 Kg4 43.Bc6 Kh3 44.Bxf3 Rxf3 45.Rg1 g2 46.d5 Rf1 47.Rxg2 Kxg2 48.Kb5 Rb1+ 49.Kc6 Rc1 50.d6 Rxc2 51.d7 Rxc3+ 52.Kb7 Rd3 53.Kxa7 b5 54.Kb6 Rxd7 55.Kxb5 Rd1 56.a4 Rb1+ 57.Ka6 Kf3 58.a5 Ke4 59.Ka7 Kd5 60.a6 Kc6 61.Ka8 Kb6 62.a7 Ra1 0-1

Monday, November 29, 2004

Pratt and Properties and Pantheism Again

Jason Pratt writes:

. . . I normally try to avoid using the word 'properties' at all: I tend to link it to characteristics 'proper to' the object, usually in distinction from other objects. I wouldn't call having-created-Socrates a property of God. . .

BV: I see what you are saying. Terminology is a perennial problem in philosophy. But it is fairly standard to speak of essential versus accidental properties even though only the former are 'proper' to their possessors. A property is just a characteristic, a mark, a note (to use an old scholastic word), an attribute. An attribute is something one attributes to a thing. But my attributing it does not imply that the thing does not have it prior to my act of attribution. It is standard to speak of the divine attributes (omniscience, etc.); but those who speak in this way do not think of God as having these properties as a result of human acts of attribution.

Of course, people are free to use their terms as they see fit -- as long as they explain how they are using them. Too much divergence from standard usage, however, will impede understanding.

. . . if A and B had identical property sets, then they would be identical objects.

BV: This amounts to Leibniz's principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles. It is scarcely self-evident. Why could not there be two numerically distinct individuals that share all properties?

BV said: A pantheism worth discussing must be a doctrine that can accommodate theobvious (datanic!) difference between God and the physical universe.

JP responds: Having established (or at least asserted) any obvious (even datanic)_difference_ between God and the physical universe--why would we call the doctrine _pan_-theism? It doesn't look like a good use of the word.

BV: To me, the view that God just is the physical universe is not worth discussing -- except long enough to explain why it is not worth discussing. We don't need another word for the physical universe. Any theory worth discussing must accommodate the obvious difference between God and the physical universe. The question is not whether there is this difference, the question is how it is to be understood or articulated. A pantheist might say this: the physical universe is "a phase within the complete fact which is this ultimate individual entity [God]." (A. N. Whitehead, Religion in the Making, p. 67) That is, the the physical universe is included within the being of God. But that is not to say that the physical universe is identical to God.

BV said: But just off the top of my head: if God (Deus sive Natura) has infinitely many attributes, and the physical universe but one (namely, extension), then does that fact not suffice to distinguish God from the physical universe?

JP replies: I'd say yes (not that the physical universe has only one attribute, but that the proposal would entail distinguishing God from the physical universe). Consequently I would be denying pantheism, per se. Spinoza may not have been a classical theist, but if he held this (or a similar position) then he was being an incoherent pantheist.

BV: I am afraid I don't understand this. Why is Spinoza an "incoherent pantheist"? Because he does not adhere to a straw-man understanding of what a pantheist is supposed to be?

The reason I brought up Spinoza was to show how the obvious difference between God and the physical universe -- a difference that any theory must be able to accommodate -- can be accommodated. Spinoza does not identify God with the physical universe, but he also does not view the physical universe as a realm of substances distinct from the divine substance. Physical things are modes (in the attribute of extension) of the divine substance. But the divine substance is more than this system of modes because of all the other attributes of God.

Illtyd Trethowan and Blondel

Ross Parker writes to inform me of Illtyd Trethowan's Blondel connection. I found this article of Trethowan's online. It contains some discussion of Blondel.

Three Pillars of the West

According to the good baron over at Gates of Vienna, the three pillars of the West are civil society, the rule of law, and individual rights. See here, and then read the rest of his posts. Yes, this material will be on the final.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

On the Criteria of Philosophical Neglect

Clarke Goble over at Mormon Philosophy has taken up my question about neglected philosophers. He asks whether C. S. Peirce, one of his favorite philosophers, is neglected. That of course raises the question as to the criteria of philosophical neglect. How does one determine whether a given philosopher suffers from neglect? Are any criteria likely to be proposed irremediably subjective?

Presumably, what is at issue here is undeserved neglect. Fridugis (d. 834), who is known only for his Letter on Nothing and Darkness, arguably merits the very darkness he wrote about and in which he is now enshrouded -- until such time as I resurrect him for a brief blogospheric appearance.

As for Peirce, I do not consider him neglected. But Josiah Royce would go on my list. The Philosopher's Index for this date shows 141 entries (books, articles, reviews) for Peirce but only 99 for Royce. This fact provides some empirical substantiation for my judgment. By contrast, William James, the third of the heroes from America's philosophical Golden Age, received 602 entries.

The unfortunate Shadworth Hodgson, however, garned only one. An obscure article published in Man and World in 1973 argues that Hodgson had an influence on Husserl. You say you have never read any Hodgson? Tsk, tsk. But, to be honest, neither have I except for leafing through a multi-volumed work of his. So I am in no position to pronounce on the question as to whether or not Hodgson's oblivion is deserved.

A commenter on Goble's post made mention of Herbert Hochberg as a candidate for neglected philosopher status. Having read quite a bit of Hochberg, I can attest that he is a very good philosopher, so good in fact that I felt it necessary to take him to task in my PTE. Is he neglected? Judgments about contemporaries are harder to make. For one thing, one would have to go through the 60 or so Hochberg citations in the Philosopher's Index and separate those Hochberg submitted from those others writing about him submitted.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

John Ray on Post-Modernism and Moral Philosophy

I just discovered Dr. John Ray's article on PoMo here. It is studded with interesting links and penetrating observations. But there is one passage that I must comment on:

The British have always seen the purpose of philosophy as being to clarify and EXPLAIN whereas French philosophers (and France seems to be the prime source of postmodernism) from Descartes, through Sartre to Derrida have always seen being clever as the prime role of philosophy -- and they have generally equated being clever with an ability to CONFUSE any issue they touch on.

One wonders how British idealists such as F. H. Bradley would fit into this scheme, but that is not the main point I want to make. Although no one could accuse me of not doing my fair share of French bashing, the main point is that Dr. John is being far too unfair to the French. Descartes is an indisputably great philosopher as practically all philosophers, whether Anglospheric or Continental, would agree. (Consensus does not constitute truth, but it is a pretty good, albeit defeasible, indicator of it.) Descartes' purpose is not to show off and be clever in the Gallic manner. Nor could that be said about Malebranche, Pascal, Maine de Biran, Bergson, or Blondel. I would also insist that the early Sartre is well worth reading.

Ray is spot on when it comes to the PoMo crowd, but in his righteous zeal he overgeneralizes.

The Rosenberg File and the Goetz Case

My old alma mater finally caught up with me and put me on its mailing list despite my non-return of a form that was supposed to indicate my desire to be on such a list. The other day I received their quarterly publication which, like many such publications, drips with the standard liberal bias of academe. So I fired off this polite letter:

Dear Editor,

I read with interest Laurie Levenson's article, "Trials of the Century," in the Winter 2004-05 Vistas. In a sidebar on p. 19, mention was made of the Alger Hiss trials and the 1953 Rosenberg trial. Levenson opines that these trials "marked this nation's obsession with the threat of communism."

'Obsession' is an unfortunate word choice connoting as it does an unreasonable or delusional preoccupation. The communist threat was real indeed. We now know that Alger Hiss was a communist and that Julius Rosenberg was an atomic spy for the Soviet Union. On the Rosenberg case, the definitive work is Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton, The Rosenberg File, 2nd ed. (Yale University Press, 1997).


Dr. William F. Vallicella (A & S 1972)

By the way, that is how one writes a letter to an editor. Such letters should be pithy and polite. Pith and politeness are consistent with punch.

The full text of the legal journal article on which Levenson's article is based is available here.

To appreciate the extent of Levenson's liberal bias, consider what she has to say about the Bernard Goetz case: "Yet other trials forced our society to confront its hidden racism and fears as Bernard Goetz (1987) and vigilantism were put on trial -- and won."

Goetz was the 'subway gunman' who when attacked by a group of Black thugs armed with sharpened screwdrivers pulled a gun and defended himself. I would like to ask this dumb liberal law professor: Where is the racism in self-defense against a lethal threat? Race doesn't come into this at all -- yet our morally and intellectually obtuse liberal brings it in.

One sees from this how hopeless liberals are. They cannot see the situation as it was: a harmless nerd who, tired of being victimized (e.g., thrown through plate glass windows) took measures to defend himself. In their incomparable way, liberals cannot see that the fault lies not with some such abstraction as 'society,' nor with the one who defends himself against a lethal threat with lethal force, but with the perpetrators of the crime. Liberals just can't wrap their fuzzy minds around the notion of individual responsibility -- or they will not, out of moral perversity.

And notice Levenson's confusion of self-defense with vigilantism. This is typical of the Left; they misuse every key word they can get their hands on. I have given plenty of examples in previous posts, and will be giving plenty more.

The Goetz incident most likely would never have occurred had Rudy Giuliani been mayor of NYC in 1984. That is because Giuliani is a 'racist' and a 'fascist' (as Rosie O'Donnell once called him) who would have cleaned up the city then as he cleaned it up later on.

Reppert on Politics

Victor Reppert, author of C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea, writes in response to earlier comments of mine:

So, would you say that while Bush's intellectual deficiencies are a liability, they are not the sort of fatal liability they would be for someone aspiring to be, say, professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame?

BV: Yes.

But I think it's a fairly serious problem if the person who takes ultimate responsibility isn't the brains of the operation. It takes the brain-work behind the administration out of public scrutiny. Who are Bush's brains? Rove? Cheney? What are their conflicts of interest? I certainly would not say that you should always sellect the more intelligent candate over the less intelligent one. But I think you underestimate the liability incurred.

BV: I am aware of the liability incurred, but actual politics is always about making a concrete choice in a concrete situation among the available alternatives. It came down to choosing between an opportunistic flibertigibbet whose voting record puts him to the left of Ted Kennedy and a man who, although in many ways a mediocrity, is rooted in principles and possesses the courage to implement them.

It is also unfair to suggest that Bush has no brains of his own and must borrow those of Rove or Cheney. Bush's somewhat dopey demeanor and lack of linguistic facility hide a good deal of practical intelligence of the sort that is in short supply in the academic world.

Steadfast commitment to an ideology, as opposed to political pragmatism, is, I suppose, a virtue so long as you like the ideology. Do you think Clinton would have been a better President if he had been truer to leftist politics?

BV: Commitment to an ideology is like idealism: neither is unqualifiedly good; both are good only in the measure that the ideology or the ideals are correct.

Another Jab at Ladderman

Bussorah over at Wicked Thoughts takes another jab at Ladderman.

Liberal Arts and Liberal Education

A correspondent recommends this essay by Christopher Flannery.

Naturalism's Incapacity to Capture the Good Will

This is the title of a fine essay by Dallas Willard, Husserl scholar, Christian philosopher, and professor at the University of Southern California.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Mesa, Arizona 10 K Turkey Trot Race Results

Just so you can appreciate what a miserable plodder I have become, here are the results of yesterday's 10 K (6.2 mile) race. This, the 35th annual running of the race, drew the biggest turn-out ever. Out of 1, 815 finishers, 940 were male, and 875 female. In my category (Male 50-54), I finished in 59th place out of 70. My time was a 'blistering' 1:07:46. (But the large crowd slowed the departure!) Average time in my category: 57:45. (My personal best for the 10 K is around 53 minutes. I was in my best running shape in 1979 when I completed a half-marathon (13.1 miles) at a 7.5 minute/mile pace.)

In yesterday's race, I came in in 847th place out of 940 runners of the male persuasion. The fastest male finished in 33:03, the slowest in 1:43:55.

What's my problem?

(1) I run only once a week, albeit for two hours, to spare my joints. Biking and hiking on the other days.

(2) I suffer from a paucity of fast-twitch fibers. There is no substitute for talent, and some of us lack it. Don't let anyone tell you that you can do anything you set your mind to. That's liberal buncombe. On the other hand, don't let anyone tell you what you can't do. Verify your limits for yourself. Do the best with what you have. No one can demand more.

(3) I need to drop about 15 lbs which is not easy once you pass the half-century mark.

Neglected Philosophers

I have added to my sidebar a Neglected Philosophers category. It is unfortunate that a philosopher like Heidegger receives a vast amount of attention, and indeed more than he deserves, while a philosopher such as Wolfgang Cramer is scarcely read at all. I have German correspondents who have first heard of Cramer from me, an American. I admit to being part of the problem: I have half a dozen published articles on Heidegger, but not one on Cramer, or on Blondel, or on Brunner, or on Blanshard.

Derrida is another philosopher who has received an excess of attention. Why read him when you can read Blondel or Blanshard? Just because he has made a big splash and people are talking about him? Form your own opinion. Try this. Set a volume of Derrida side by side with a volume of Blanshard. Read a few pages back and forth. Then ask who you are more likely to learn something from.

Since the philosophers listed are neglected, it should come as no surprise that the websites recommended are not of the highest quality. You can’t blame me for that, or my wife either; you can blame it on the insularity and narrowmindendess of ‘institutionalized’ philosophers who run with the pack, hang with the herd, and are oh so concerned about being ‘respectable.’

The Trouble with Spell Checkers

Every time I type ‘bloggers,’ my Word Perfect spelling checker recommends ‘boogers,' a term that fits posts better than their authors.

Notes on Blondel #1: Necessity of Action; Willing Will vs. Willed Will

Maurice Blondel was just a name to me until 28 May 1998 when, in a Mesa, Arizona used bookstore, I stumbled upon James M. Somerville’s Total Commitment: Blondel’s L’Action (Washington: Corpus Books, 1968). Somerville’s book, a delightful first-edition find for which I paid a paltry $5.00, is quite good, and I’ve read almost all of it. But it was just a few days ago that I began slogging through the tome on which the former is a commentary, namely, Blondel’s Action (1893): Essay on a Critique of Life and a Science of Practice, tr. O. Blanchette (University of Notre Dame Press, 1984). Herewith, a first batch of notes and critical/interpretive commentary. They are to be consumed cum grano salis: Blondel is a slippery Frenchman and I am not sure that I have quite grasped his terminology, methods, and intentions. So far I am up to p. xxx + 36. Numbers in parentheses refer to pages in the Blanchette translation.

Caveats to one side, Action appears to be a great work by a neglected philosopher. I know that I must work through the whole of it, for the good of my soul even if to the detriment of my eyes, blogging as I proceed. It appears to combine a fair degree of rigor with seriousness of intent. The opening line is magnificent: "Yes or no, does human life make sense, and does man have a destiny?" ( 3)

Action is a necessity, not a fact. (4) What Blondel means, I think, is that one must act. Even inaction is a mode of action, a privative mode of action. I am free to will this or that; I am not free to will not to will. I must will; it is my nature to be a willing being, a nature over which I have no control. To say that action is not a fact is to say that it is not a contingent fact.

I assume that Blondel is not confusing the conditional necessity of action given that there are actors (agents) with the absolute necessity of their being agents. There might not have been any (finite) agents; but given that there are agents as a matter of contingent fact, these agents have the property of being agents essentially. To put the point in’possible worlds’ jargon: I don’t exist in every metaphysically possible world, but in every such world in which I do exist, I act. Of course, this is not the way Blondel puts the point.

Question: Are action and will equivalent concepts for Blondel? It seems that I cannot act without willing to act (e.g., I cannot replace the brakepads on my mountain bike without willing to replace them). Is it also true that I cannot will without acting? What if my will to do X is thwarted and does not issue in a (physical) action? Is willing itself an action, a mental action?

There is a crucial distinction in Blondel between volonte voulante and volonte voulue, between willing will and willed will. So far, however, the distinction has not been explained adequately.

Perhaps the distinction is as follows. The willing will is the will that is not in my power. I can will this or that, but I cannot will not to will. I cannot will myself out of my nature as a willing being. The willing will is the will as necessary. The willed will, by contrast, is the will congealed in freely chosen objects of willing. The willed will is the will as free. Suppose I freely choose A over B (e.g., I choose to blog rather than work in the yard). By freely choosing A, I not only will A, I will my willing of A: I will that my willing will be specified by (congeal around) action A. Willing, as a form of consciousness, has a reflexive structure: to will X is simultaneously and en parergo (Aristotle), nebenbei (Brentano) to will one’s willing of X just as to be contemplatively aware of X is to be simultaneously aware of one’s awareness of X. Now Blondel hasn’t come out and said this so far, but I suspect something like this to be going on between the lines.

If this interpretation is right, it explains the curious phrase, ‘willed willing.’ One might think that when one wills to do X, it is X, or the being done of X, that is willed, and not the willing. But that is not quite accurate since it is not merely the being done of X that is willed but X’s being done by my doing. Thus while running that 10K yesterday, I had the standing will to finish the race without stopping or slowing down no matter how great the pain. What I willed was not merely my finishing the race without slowing down, but my finishing the race without slowing down precisely as a result of my doing/willing (as opposed to as a result of some external factor such as a huge tailwind).

Thus willing has a double aspect: it is a willing of something external to the agent, as one would expect from its being a mode of intentionality, but also a willing of itself as willing something external to the agent.

Best T-Shirt Spied During Yesterday's Turkey Trot

I ‘competed’ in a 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) race yesterday morning in Mesa, AZ. Before I passed her, I inspected a certain female runner’s posterior accoutrement. Her T-shirt read:

Been There
Done That
I ran into the lady later during the post-race schmoozing, and complimented her on her bloggable logo. But even if her husband weren ’t with her, I would not have commented on her inspirational backside.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Obscure Philosopher Beats Out Al Franken

My TLB rank today is #1873. I was amused to see that Al Franken's blog languishes in the 1874th position.

You know things can't be going well for liberals when an obscure academically unaffiliated metaphysician in the Sonoran desert cleans the clock of that clueless clown, Al 'Redundancy' Franken, of Lying Liars fame.

You say you want a link to Franken's blog? I could pull a Brian Leiter and churlishly refuse to provide it, but I don't want to sink to that level. In any case, Franken needs the traffic.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Moreland-Willard-Lotze Thesis on Being

J. P. Moreland is one of my favorite philosophers, and I have a very high regard for his teacher, Dallas Willard, as well. Here you will find a recently published article of mine which subjects their views on existence to close scrutiny besides tracing them back to their 19th century source in Rudolf Hermann Lotze. I view this article as an introduction my book A Paradigm Theory of Existence (Kluwer Philosophical Studies Series, 2002).

Money Obsession

One of the more philosophical forms it takes is the identification of money with the root of all evil. But ‘Money is the root of all evil’ is demonstrably false, as I argue here.

Two More Examples of Knee-Jerk Oppositionalism

I describe the phenomenon of what I call knee-jerk oppositionalism elsewhere. Herewith, two more examples.

1. The Islamic world calls us decadent. Many of us simply deny the charge. Better would be to admit it within the limits of its truth and then point out that our decadence is no justification for the wanton murder of 3,000 of our citizens. We should learn from, rather than merely dismiss, our enemies. They can be counted on to target us where we are weakest, and I don’t mean ‘target’ in a merely physical sense.

2. Libertarians typically argue for the legalization of drugs. The case the best of them make is worthy of respect. But when a conservative points out that drug legalization will lead to increased drug use, libertarians often go into knee-jerk oppositional mode: they deny the obvious point. They would be better advised to graciously admit the conservative point, and then argue that the price paid (increased drug use) is offset by the advantages gained (less drug-related crime, etc.) That would move the argument ot a higher, and of course more difficult, level.

To appreciate why drug legalization would lead to increased drug use, consider the following classes of people. (A) There are people who respect the law, and will abide by it because it is the law. Thus the illegality of drug use is sufficient to deter them from experimentation, and consequent addiction for some of them. Remove the illegality, and some of these people will give drugs a try. (B) There are people with no particular respect for the law as such, but fear the consequences of lawbreaking such as fines and imprisonment if they are caught. Remove the illegality, and with it the consequences, and some of these people will experiment. (C) There are people who are not deterred by respect for law or by fear of the consequences of breaking it, but by a healthy fear of the sorts of unreliable and dangerous people one must deal with in order to purchase drugs. They fear being ripped off or worse, or else they fear the social consequences of being seen associating with a certain class of people. (D) There are people for whom the main concern is their health. They worry about the quality and strength of illegal drugs, the dangers of overdosing, etc. Make drugs safe and legal, and these people will be tempted to try them.

Is it not clear that drug legalization would lead to increased usage, to more addiction, to more driving under the influence? To deny this is to be a knee-jerk oppositionalist. A libertarian who adopts this oppositionalist stance undercuts his own credibility.

Gambling Versus Investing in the Stock Market

One often hears it said that investing in the stock market is a form of gambling. Pure thoughtlessness. A crucial difference is that when one gambles one may win in the short term but one will almost certainly lose in the long term. The only exception to this is the professional gambler playing a game such as Blackjack in which the house edge is minimal. But with stock market investing, one may lose in the short term, but one will almost certainly win in the long run. The long run may not be your run, but why bet against yourself?

I am assuming, of course, that the investor is not a fool who puts all his money into a stock recommended by his uncle, or into the stock of the company for which he works, or into an insufficiently diversified portfolio of stocks. I am assuming that the investor posseses a modicum of common sense and does something conservative like investing SOME of his money available for investing in a vehicle such as an index mutual find pegged to a broad index such as the Wilshire 5000, the Russell 2000, or the S&P 500.

Caveat lector: Should you really be taking investment advice from a metaphysician?

From the Mail: Reppert on Bush

Victor Reppert writes:

I've had some reactions to some of your political discussions, but haven't had time to respond.

BV: I would like to hear them, especially if they are pithy and 'bloggable.'

One of them has to do with the question of whether it matters if Bush is stupid. Whatever one thinks of Bush's intelligence, it does seem clear that in his administration that intellectual heavy lifting is delegated to others. Is there a disadvantage to having someone other than the person in whose office the buck stops do most of the hard intellectual work that is needed to make the nation's policy decisions? How would you react to this way of posing the question?

BV: As I have said before, the president's job description includes being the Commander in Chief, not the Intellectual in Chief. So it does not bother me all that much that Bush lacks the sort of verbal intelligence that people like you and I so prize. Of course, it was embarrassing in the debates with Kerry to hear him pronounce mullah as moolah (money) and use the wacky plural, internets. As Garofalo has pointed out, listening to him speak off the top of his head is a bit like a parent's watching of a child in a school play: one nervously hopes the kid won't screw up too badly.

Nor does it bother me that Bush delegates to sharper and better informed heads.

That being said, I am impressed by Bush's courage, his resoluteness, and his clarity about the geopolitical situation. Unlike Kerry, who is a Clinton-style opportunist out for high office for the sake of high office, Bush is grounded in sound principles and is willing to risk his career to see them implemented. One gets the impression that he wants high office to forward his agenda, whereas Kerry just wanted high office for the sake of the attendant perquisites. An indication of Bush's courage is the fact that has not merely touched, but grabbed hold of, the 'third rail of American politics,' namely the issue of Social Security reform.

It is also relevant to point out that someone can appear to lack intelligence while in fact possessing quite a lot of it. You will recall that Thomas Aquinas, no slouch of a philosopher, was known in his student years as the Dumb Ox.

Alan Colmes

Alan Colmes of Hannity and Colmes impressed me the other night. A liberal talking head was going on mindlessly comparing Bush to Hitler. Colmes quickly dissociated himself from her tripe and pointed out that such delusional rhetoric is not only wrong, but hurts the Democrat party.

I admire in Colmes his good-natured civility, but I also feel sorry for him. Such a nice guy with such a tough job: that of defending the indefensible.

The Joy of Knitting

Who is this Joy? This dispenser of purls of joyful somber wisdom. An American expat living in Italy who hides her identity behind an occasional linguistic infelicity? An Italian who writes excellent English? It doesn't matter. What matters are her penetrating posts. Try this one on for size. Then read the one right after it.

Habermas to the Rescue?

In an age of aggressive secularism, the Church -- mirabile dictu -- calls upon Juergen Habermas. I haven't studied Habermas with any intensity since 1973. Perhaps I need to take another look. There follows an excerpt (with emphases added by your humble correspondent) from an article recommended by Jeff Hodges:

Habermas says he is "enchanted by the seriousness and consistency" of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the opposite of the feeble thinking that pervades current theology:

"Thomas represents a spiritual figure who was able to prove his authenticity with his own resources. That contemporary religious leadership lacks an equally solid terrain seems to me an incontrovertible truth. In the general leveling of society by the media everything seems to lose seriousness, even institutionalized Christianity. But theology would lose its identity if it sought to uncouple itself from the dogmatic nucleus of religion, and thus from the religious language in which the community's practices of prayer, confession, and faith are made concrete."

On relations with other civilizations, Habermas maintains that "recognizing our Judaeo-Christian roots more clearly not only does not impair intercultural understanding, it is what makes it possible." He contests modern "unbridled subjectivity," which is destined to "clash against what is really absolute; that is, against the unconditional right of every creature to be respected in its bodiliness and recognized in its otherness, as 'an image of God'."

In commenting on "You shall have no gods but me," he writes: "From a philosophical point of view, the first commandment expresses that 'leap forward' on the cognitive level which granted man freedom of reflection, the strength to detach himself from vacillating immediacy, to emancipate himself from his generational shackles and the whims of mythical powers." On the relationship between theology and philosophy, he observes: "I don't resent it at all when I am accused of having inherited theological concepts. I am convinced that religious discourse contains within itself potentialities that have not yet been sufficiently explored by philosophy, insofar as they have not yet been translated into the language of public reason, which is presumed to be able to persuade anyone. Naturally, I am not talking about the neopagan project of those who want to 'build upon mythology.' Today, in the field of anti-rational postmodern criticism, these neopagan conceptual figures are back in fashion: a broad anti-Platonism carelessly spread by fashions inspired by late Heidegger and late Wittgenstein, in the sense of a definitive repudiation of the universalism that characterizes the premises of unconditional truth. I rebel against this regressive tendency of post-metaphysical thought."

BV: Ich auch, Juergen.

He cautions against the anti-human consequences of a relativism without theology: "The problem of how to bring salvation to those who suffer unjustly is perhaps the most important factor keeping discussion about God alive. If all the paradigms of seeing the world were equal, if the indifference so perversely widespread today took from the yes/no response of each individual's decision the seriousness that is proper to every claim of universal validity, then there must necessarily be the disappearance of the normative dimension that serves to identify the traits, seen as privations, of an unfortunate, deformed life unworthy of man."

And on the contribution of philosophy to the meeting between the Church and other religions, he says: "In the dialogical dispute among competing religious visions there is a need for that 'culture of recognition' which draws its principles from the secularized world of the universalism of reason and law. In this matter, it is thus the philosophical spirit which provides the concepts instrumental in the political clarification of theology. But the political philosophy capable of making this contribution bears the stamp of the idea of the Covenant no less than that of the Polis. Therefore this philosophy also hearkens back to a biblical heritage."

BV: The vitality of the West has been, and will continue to be, built upon the fruitful tension between Athens and Jerusalem, and the inanition of the Islamic world on the lack of any comparable tension.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Every Link an Invitation to Leave

You are invited to dinner. Upon arriving at the host’s house, you hear of Ramirez down the street and his mole poblano, of Sharma next door and her curry, and of Troiano’s osso bucco. Still hungry for burgers and brewski?

There is something to be said for spare linkage.

Civility and Distance

Some display more civility in writing than in person. With others, vice versa: They take distance and anonymity to sanction bad behavior.

Metaphysics and Foolishness

If you are a fool for writing metaphysics, then the anti-metaphysician is a fool for refuting it, and the ordinary schlep a fool for walking away from it without reasoned justification to lose himself in the trivialities of his personal life.

King Midas, The Philosopher, and the Blogger

Whatever King Midas touched turned to gold. The philosopher’s is an analogous alchemy: whatever he touches turns into a puzzle, a problem, a conundrum wrapped in a rhubarb and hidden in a mystery.1 You thought you knew what time was until the philosopher asked a few simple questions and made a distinction or two:

What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to someone who does ask me, I do not know. (Augustine, Confessions, Bk. 11, Ch. 14)

The blogger’s alchemy is different still: whatever he touches, or encounters in any way, is transmogrified into blogfodder. And when the philosopher is a blogger . . .


1To give credit where credit is true, the comparison of the philosopher's touch to that of King Midas is made by Wifrid Sellars in one of his published works.. But I can't remember where. In any case, my formulation somehow strikes me as more elegant than his.

The Filthy Lucre

It’s a wonderful thing. But so is toilet paper. Both are mere means to ends.

Mr. Ignoratio Elenchi

I once had a colleague to whom I gave the nickname, ‘Mr. Ignoratio Elenchi.’ Whenever I asserted p, he would take me to have asserted something either equivalent to, or implicative of, not-p, and then would launch into a longwinded refutation of not-p.

It is just as well that others do not know our nicknames for them. Or as Schopenhauer remarked in a similar vein: "If thoughts could kill, everybody would be dead."

Means Testing

What will happen if no reform of the Social Security system in the USA is undertaken?

Off the top of my head, there are four ways of dealing with the upcoming deficit: (1) Institute means testing; (2) Raise the current cap on the taxable amount of income from $87,900 to some higher figure; (3) Increase the rate of FICA taxation from the present 6.2%; (4) Raise the retirement age which is currently 65 and goes up from there depending on one’s age cohort.

(3) and (4) have obvious drawbacks, and (2) is unlikely to be implemented since it will be opposed strenuously by people with higher incomes and the political clout that money can buy. But what I want to comment on is (1), which is arguably the worst idea of the bunch.

Means testing is morally abhorrent for the simple reason that it punishes productive behavior. Suppose Jones has been forced to pay into the SS system all his life. His understanding all along has been that these monies are being set aside for his retirement. But Jones is cautious, self-reliant, responsible, and wishes to be no burden on others. He also appreciates the Ponzi-like characteristics of the SS system. So he funds various retirement vehicles (IRA’s, 401k’s and the like) to make sure that the old man he will turn into will be provided for. In doing this, he not only benefits his future self, he benefits others by aiding in capital formation, etc.

The government, however, seeing that Jones has lived responsibly and productively, and seeing that he does not need an SS check, decides to keep from him money that is rightfully his. That is plainly wrong. I don’t expect morally obtuse liberals to see the point here. But I’m not writing for them, but for people with moral sense.

It is as wrong for the government to penalize virtuous behavior as it is to promote vicious behavior.

The Bourgeois Burglar

I discovered via Technorati that the Bourgeois Burglar has added me to his blogroll. So I took a look at his site, and poked around in his archives. This post on Etienne Gilson, as well as this one on public education, I found particularly interesting.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Parable of the Tree and the House

A man planted a tree to shade his house from the desert sun. The tree, a palo verde, grew like a weed and was soon taller than the house. The house became envious, feeling diminished by the tree’s stature. The house said to the tree: "How dare you outstrip me, you who were once so puny! I towered above you, but you have made me small."

The tree replied to the house: "Why, Mr. House, do you begrudge me the natural unfolding of my potentiality, especially when I provide you with cooling shade? I have not made you small. It is not in my power to add or subtract one cubit from your stature. The change you have ‘undergone’ is a mere Cambridge change. You have gone from being taller than me to being shorter; but this implies no real change in you: all the real change is in me. What’s more, the real change in me accrues to your benefit. As I rise and spread my branches, you are sheltered and cooled. The real change in me causes a real change in you in respect of temperature."

Heed well this parable, my brothers and sisters. When your neighbor outstrips you in health and wealth, in virtue and vigor, in blog posts or the length of his curriculum vitae – hate him not. For his successes, which are real changes in him, need induce no real changes in you. His advance diminishes you not one iota. Indeed, his real changes work to your benefit. You will not have to tend him in sickness, nor loan him money; your tax dollars will not be used to subsidize his dissoluteness; the more hits his weblog receives, the more you will receive; and the longer his CV, the better and more helpful a colleague he is likely to be.

Thus spoke the Sage of the Superstitions.

A Common Misunderstanding of So-Called Cambridge Changes

There are philosophers who think that so-called ‘Cambridge’ changes and real changes are mutually exclusive. Thus they think that if a change is Cambridge, then it is not real. This is a mistake. Real changes are a proper subset of Cambridge changes.

Consider an example. Hillary gets wind of some tomcat behavior on the part of Bill and goes from a state of equanimity to that lamp-throwing fury the Bard spoke about. ("Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!"). Bill, on the other hand, as the object of Hillary’s fury, also changes: at one time he has the property of being well thought of by Hillary, and the contradictory property at a later time.

Common to both the real change (in Hillary) and the relational change (in Bill) is the following: X changes iff there are distinct times, t1 and t2, and a property P such that X exemplifies P at t1 and ~P at t2, or vice versa. Change thus defined is Cambridge change. The terminology is from Peter Geach:

The great Cambridge philosophical works published in the early years of this [the 20th] century, like Russell’s The Principles of Mathematics and McTaggart’s Nature of Existence, explained change as simply a matter of contradictory attributes’ holding good of individuals at different times. Clearly any change logically implies a ‘Cambridge’ change, but the converse is surely not true. . . . (Logic Matters, University of California Press, 1980, p. 321.)
In sum, every (alterational) change is a Cambridge change, but only some of the latter are real changes. The rest are mere Cambridge changes. It is therefore a mistake to think that Cambridge and real changes form mutually exclusives classes. What one could correctly say, however, is that mere Cambridge changes and real changes form mutually exclusive classes.

But what about existential (as opposed to alterational) change, as when a thing comes into existence, or passes out of existence? Are such changes real changes in the things that pass in and out of existence? Are they merely Cambridge changes? Or neither? Treatment of this hairy topic is best postponed.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Strauss on Reading and Writing

From Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing:

It is a general observation that people write as they read. As a rule, careful writers are careful readers and vice versa. A careful writer wants to be read carefully. He cannot know what it means to be read carefully but by having done careful reading himself. Reading precedes writing. We read before we write. We learn to write by reading. A man learns to write well by reading well good books, by reading most carefully books which are most carefully written.

Quoted from Edwin Curley, Behind the Geometrical Method: A Reading of Spinoza's Ethics (Princeton University Press, 1988), p. ii.

Hodges' Letter to Brian Leiter

Had Jeff Hodges told me that he was intending to write to Brian Leiter, I would have advised him not to waste his time. Jeff seems not to appreciate what status-obsessed elitists of Leiter's sort are like, and, not being a philosopher, Jeff has probably never heard of Leiter himself. The best rule for dealing with such people is to ignore them. The policy is similar to what ought to be one's e-mail policy: delete obnoxious and offensive e-mail as soon as its properties become apparent. Don't even read it. The wise cybernaut, like the seasoned hiker, gives all venomous critters a wide berth.

Dear Professor Leiter,

Greetings. I am assuming that you are the "Leiter" who referred to Bill Vallicella in this post:

In keeping with my general policy of not linking to noxious mediocrities--who, experience has shown, crave any attention--I am just going to quote a posting that is interesting not because of who said it (though he purports to be a philosopher), but because of what it reveals about the right-wing mindset (it resonates with rhetoric one hears from Andrew Sullivan,Christopher Hitchens and others of that slimy ilk). The author was reacting (badly, it appears) to my reference to Bush & co. as fascist theocrats.
And this:

(Just a sidenote on "stupidity," for the amusement of my philosophy readers: the author of the posting discussed above professes, elsewhere on his site, to the following philosophical views: "My philosophical position may be described as onto-theological personalism: I defend the view that individual persons form an irreducible and ultimate ontological category, and that within this category self-subsistent existence is the prime person. This is the theme that unifies my seemingly disparate investigations." Unity at any cost, it appears.)

If you did not write these things, then pardon the intrusion. Let me assume that you did write them, however, and on that assumption I suggest that you do some more reading on Vallicella's philosophical website.

I make this suggestion because you appear to have philosophical interests, and a bit of reading would perhaps dissuade you from your view of Vallicella as one of the "noxious mediocrities" who only seek attention. You will find that he not only "purports to be a philosopher," he is actually a very good one.Metaphysics might not be to your tastes, but you'll quickly see that Vallicella is hardly one exhibiting"stupidity" in his profession of his "philosophical views." You certainly owe it to your "philosophy readers" to link to Vallicella's website and allow them to reach their own conclusions.

BV adds: You're a great friend Jeff, but I have to say you exhibit naivete in this last paragraph. You need to find out more about Leiter in particular, and the worst sort of analytic philosopher in general. Do a Google search on 'Leiter Buck' and 'Leiter Drezner' and then follow the links. As for the second point, go here. I became aware of Leiter's attack via this post.

Best Regards,

Jeffery Hodges
Korea University

P.S. I'm sending one copy of this to Vallicella. I'm pretty sure that he didn't know you when he wrote the post that you referred to, but you two might as well get acquainted.

BV: That won't happen, and I'm glad it won't.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Pratt on Pantheism

Jason Pratt comments on yesterday's long post on pantheism. Jason tells me that he loves posts like this, suggesting perhaps that he prefers philosoblogging to politblogging.

I presented the following argument of Robert Oakes, albeit in my own words:

1. Every contingent being is necessarily such that it is existentially dependent on God at each moment of its existence.

2. If anything X is necessarily such that it is dependent on something Y at each moment of its existence, then X is a mode (aspect, modification) of Y.


3. Every contingent being is a mode (aspect, modification) of God, which amounts to pantheism.

Jason accepts the validity of the argument and the truth of premise (1). But then he comments:

Premise 2 needs a bit of polishing . . .Intersystem dependencies of effect could be set up within an eternal universe where the X is not only a modification of Y, e.g. an electron X at each moment of its existence _might_ be dependent on proton Y for its orbit around proton Y without X being a mode/aspect/modification of the proton. Both X and Y in this case would be dependent for their _existence_ on (at least) natural system Z, however.

BV: First off, the argument above is not my argument but Oakes'. I am out to refute premise (2), not polish it. My overall purpose is to rebut Oakes' attempt at showing that classical theism collapses into pantheism. As for Pratt's example, I am not sure it tells against (2). To say that the electron is dependent on the proton for its orbit is not to say the former is dependent on the latter for its existence -- and its existential dependency that is at issue.

Earlier you presented two positions: "Whether or not God exists, the divine nature [or perhaps we should say 'character' or 'properties'] excludes the possibility of God's being a system of physical objects" and "If pantheism is to be worth discussing, it must somehow allow for a difference of some kind between God and the cosmos."

BV: The divine nature could be thought of as the conjunction of the divine attributes, where a divine attribute is an essential (as opposed to accidental) property of God. 'Character' or 'properties' seems ill-advised since these would encompass relational properties that are accidental to God. Consider the property of having created Socrates. This relational property is merely accidental to God: He might not have had this property. Indeed, the nonrelational property of having created something or other is also accidental to God.

By these, you have essentially denied every tenet of positive pantheism of which I am aware (and also, in passing between these points, have denied what I call negative pantheism). At which point I am wondering why youwould bother to call any result of these denials 'pantheism' at all. If, for instance, C-cosmos exists; and if C is dependent on the continuousaction of G-God; but C is excluded from _being_ G; then even if C is a modification of G, why would we say this entails _pan_-theism?It couldn't be pantheism in the sense of 'all is God': for C is excluded from _being_ God.

BV: I simply don't understand what Pratt is saying here. There is no point in discussing pantheism unless it is an (epistemically) possibly true doctrine. If it is an absurdity, why discuss it? I think my original explanations of the (A) and (B) senses of 'pantheism' make this quite clear. A pantheism worth discussing must be a doctrine that can accommodate the obvious (datanic!) difference between God and the physical universe. Spinoza, for example, can accommodate it -- but I have no desire to segue into Spinoza exegesis. But just off the top of my head: if God (Deus sive Natura) has infinitely many attributes, and the physical universe but one (namely, extension), then does that fact not suffice to distinguish God from the physical universe? And yet Spinoza is not a classical theist. No classical theist (Aquinas e.g.) would hold that finite contingent particulars such your humble correspondent and the keyboard he is belaboring are modes of the one substance, God. What the classical theist will say is that, in addition to the infinite substance, God, there is a plurality of finite substances which -- somehow -- are totally dependent on divine action at each moment for their existence. That 'somehow' is where the problem is located. How is divine conservation consistent with the substantiality of creatures -- especially if a substance is defined as anything metaphysically capable of independent existence?

[. . .]

In any event, if I claim (which I do) that the evident system of Nature exists; that it is not-God; and that it necessarily exists by dependence on God's continuous action; then I am saying pantheism per se is false , even if I go on to conclude (which I do) that Nature is a modification of God. . . .

BV: This is simply to ignore Oakes' argument. And until Pratt tells us what he means by 'pantheism,' there is simply no deciding whether some doctrine is or entails pantheism. Oakes is certainly right that there is a serious problem in distinguishing classical theism from pantheism. This problem cannot be solved by defining pantheism as an absurd position that no one holds. No one (to be precise: no competent philosopher) holds that the physical universe is identical to God. Ceratinly Spinioza does not hold that. Who does?

Conversion Utility

Clark Goble advises:

Just a hint I discovered that was helpful when posting stuff from my email client into my blog. A lot of extended characters (e.g. the curly quotes instead of the flat ones) don't display properly when pasted in, due to differences in character sets. If you first past them to this site and convert them, it'll generate correct HTML so that they will display right.

It'll also convert properly Greek and other character sets.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Kierkegaard for Grownups

Here is a fine essay.

Principles of Jewish Buddhism

I first discovered Wicked Thoughts yesterday morning when the proprietor of the site, one Bussorah Merchant, e-mailed me to inform me of the antics of a character he calls Ladderman. Yesterday evening, I took another gander at Merchant's site and read a good chunk of the humor posts until the laughing thereby elicited induced serious concern about the integrity of my stomach wall. See here for a sample (of the humor, not my stomach wall). I now have a rich source of data for that article I always wanted to write on the philosophy of humor.

Creatio ex Deo and Pantheism

CAUTION: You are about to enter a hard-core metaphysics zone. Thinking hats required. Long post up ahead. Skimmers are advised to set scrolling to warp speed.

Prefatory Note: I have learned much about pantheism from the articles and correspondence of Robert Oakes, who is retired from teaching, but not from philosophy. Bob, however, displays dangerous neo-Luddite tendencies which make it difficult for me to coax him out into the bracing crosscurrents of the blogosphere. He is still stuck at the e-mail stage: no web presence, no articles on-line, let alone a weblog. But I’ll try to get him to join our discussions, for his good as much as for ours.

The following post draws mainly upon Robert Oakes, "Does Traditional Theism Entail Pantheism?" American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 1 (January 1983), pp. 105-112. Reprinted in Tom Morris, ed. The Concept of God (Oxford U. Press, 1987).

One question prompted by Anthony Flood’s critique of my post on essence/existence composition is this: Does my construal of creatio ex nihilo in terms of creatio ex Deo commit me to pantheism? If so, how does that comport with my avowed onto-theological personalism?

The logically first question concerns just what pantheism is and is not. I’ll begin with what it is not.

A. Pantheism worth discussing is not the view that God (G) is identical to the physical universe (U). For that would amount to saying that God does not exist. Whether or not God exists, the divine nature excludes the possibility of God’s being a system of physical objects. The reduction of G to U thus amounts to the elimination of G. Therefore, the use of ‘God’ to refer to U is simply an egregious misuse of the term ‘God,’ a misuse on a par with Tillich’s misuse of ‘God’ to refer to one’s ultimate concern.

B. What of the opposite reduction of U to G? This is also a type of pantheism not worth discussing: it implies that God exists but the physical universe does not. For it is self-evident that the physical universe cannot exist unless it is in some sense distinct from G. After all, G is immutable whereas U is mutable; hence, by what McTaggart calls the Discernibility of the Diverse (the logical contrapositive of the Indiscernibility of Identicals), U cannot be identical to G if both exist.

C. If pantheism is to be worth discussing, it must somehow allow for a difference of some kind between God and the cosmos. It must steer a middle course between a strict identity of G and U and a type of difference that would render them ‘indifferent’ to each other, i.e., a type of radical difference that would allow the possibility of U existing without G existing. A viable pantheism must therefore avoid three positions: (1) God is world-identical; (2) The world is God-identical; (3) God and the world are externally related in the sense that either could exist without the other.

One way to satisfy these requirements is by saying, Spinozistically, that created entities are modes of God, or as Oakes says, "aspects or modifications" of God. (p. 106 et passim) For if x is a mode (aspect, modification) of y, then x is not identical to y, y is not identical to x, and x and y are not merely externally related.

It is important to realize that classical theism must also satisfy the requirements, (1)-(3). In particular, classical theism must deny that U can exist without G. For it is a central tenet of classical theism that God is not merely a cause of the inception of the universe, but a cause of its continuance as well. God is not merely a deistic 'starter-upper,' but a moment by moment conserver. How exactly creatio originans and creatio continuans fit together involves problems some of which I discuss here. But there can be no doubt that for classical theism as it is found in Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Berkeley and others, creation in the full sense involves both notions.

Now given the fact just mentioned, how are we to distinguish classical theism (CT) from pantheism in the (C)-sense, the only sense in play here? Does (CT) perhaps entail pantheism? (To say that p entails q is to say that, necessarily, if p is true, then q is true. Equivalently, it is to say that it is impossible that p be true, and q false.)

You will notice that the doctrine of conservation ‘shortens’ the ‘ontological distance’ between creator and creatures. It implies that at each moment divine activity is required to keep the creature from lapsing into nonbeing. The point is not merely that God as a contingent matter of fact conserves creatures moment by moment, but that creatures are necessarily such that they are conserved moment by moment by divine activity. This suggests that the very being of creatures is their being-conserved moment by moment, which in turn gives rise to the following worry: How then can creatures retain any ontological independence?

Drawing on Oakes, the following Argument from Conservation can be mounted for the thesis that classical theism entails pantheism (but of course not pantheism in the absurd (A) or (B) senses). (The argument is in Oakes, but the reconstruction is mine.)

1. Every contingent being is necessarily such that it is existentially dependent on God at each moment of its existence.

2. If anything X is necessarily such that it is dependent on something Y at each moment of its existence, then X is a mode (aspect, modification) of Y.


3. Every contingent being is a mode (aspect, modification) of God, which amounts to pantheism.

The validity (formal correctness) of this argument is not in question, and premise (1) merely states the conservation doctrine, an essential subdoctrine of classical theism. So the soundness of the argument rides on premise (2).

Premise (2) fits some cases very well. A wrinkle in a carpet satisfies both the antecedent and the consequent of (2). Same holds for the dance and the dancer. Suppose Little Eva is doing the Locomotion ("C’mon baby, do the Loco-mo-shun . . ..) There is the dance-type and its various actual and possible tokens. Little Eva’s gyrations at time t constitute one of these tokens such that the token in question could not possibly exist except as an aspect or modification of Little Eva at t. Similarly for felt pleasures and felt pains. The esse of a pain just is its percipi: a pain cannot exist except as perceived. Pains and the like are therefore plausibly construed as aspects or modifications of perceivers. Finally, it is plausibly maintained that a particular thinking, believing, imagining, is an aspect or modification of a thinker or a believer or an imaginer.

But now consider an object imagined as opposed to the act of imagining it. I mean an object that does not exist apart from its being imagined, a purely intentional object. (A rich vein of gold at the base of Weaver’s Needle; a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater.) Said object does not exist on its own, but only as the accusative of an act (or acts) of imagining. Now while it makes sense to say that the act (the occurrent episode) of imagining is an aspect or modification of an imaginer, it does not make much sense to say this of the intentional object (the accusative) of the act. Indeed, we cannot even say that the intentional object is an aspect or modification of the act trained upon it. Why not?

Note that if x is an aspect or modification of y, then x cannot exist without y, but y can exist without x. (A carpet wrinkle cannot exist without the carpet of which it is the wrinkle, but the carpet can surely exist without that, or any, wrinkle.) By contrast, if x is the intentional object of act y, then x cannot exist without y, AND y cannot exist without x. An imagining cannot exist except as the imagining of a definite object, and that object, qua intentional object, cannot exist without the act. I conclude from this difference that the intentional object cannot be an aspect or modification of the act. It is not a property of the act, but its object or intentum. A fortiori, it cannot be an aspect or modification of the subject of the act, the imaginer in the case of an act of imagining.

We therefore have a class of counterexamples to premise (2) above. The Argument from Conservation therefore fails, and classical theism does not collapse into pantheism – or at least not for the reason that Oakes provided in the article under discussion.

So far, then, I cannot, pace Flood, see that I am committed to pantheism in any of the three senses lately distinguished.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

How to Implement Question-Fetishism in LISP

It's all explained here.

Do Europeans Care About Their Culture?

Keith Burgess-Jackson hits the nail on the head once more. Be sure to click on the embedded link. And then ask yourself: Are Americans so stupid that they will follow Europe's example and let themselves be overrun by people who don't share their values?

Wicked Thoughts

I have yet to receive an e-mail from the Flying Dutchman, but a message arrived this morning from Bussorah Merchant. In the subject-line: "You have been attacked by a lawyer," and then in the body:

And here is my defence of you.

And then cryptically: "You might want to ask a Law blogger to link as I am sure few lawyers read my blog or yours."



Enjoy the humor on B's blog, and make sure you read both of his responses to a character he calls Ladderman.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

From the Mail: On Continental Philosophy

Bill Honsberger, doctoral candidate at University of Denver, writes:

Dear Bill,

I have recently discovered your website and have enjoyed it very much. I read today your posts on Continental thought, see here, and was enjoying the fact that you are one of the few analytics who have endured the reading of Derrida, Deleuze and the rest of the Frenchies.

BV: Actually, the moniker, 'Maverick Philosopher,' apart from an element of self-romanticizing schtick, is supposed to convey that I toe no party line, and bear no brand, neither that of the Continentals nor that of the analysts. That being said, I suppose I am broadly analytic in my approach: I try to be clear and rigorous; I am often explicitly logical, holding close argument to be essential to good philosophy, and taking pains to make sure arguments and counterarguments are clearly presented rather than merely suggested or alluded to; I am attentive to language and the ways in which it can lead and mislead our thinking; I am more problem-oriented rather than text-oriented; and a few others besides.

On the four points just mentioned, it would be easy to show how people like Derrida represent the exactly opposite position.

I am at the dissertation stage of my doctoral program at the University of Denver and it has been such a struggle, not to argue with the premises offered, but to figure out what they heck these people are saying!!! My own philosophical background was entirely Analytic (grad level at the University of Nebraska and the University of Colorado) and I had no preparation at all for what I was going to run into. I have never even heard of Husserl until I got to DU, let alone all of his "children".

BV: I think it is important not to mix the early Continentals, who are outstanding philosophers, with the later ones who are often shoddy. Brentano, Meinong, and Husserl -- not to mention the lesser lights -- are philosophers of very high rank indeed. It says something about narrowly analytic philosophers that they don't know anything about these thinkers beyond a few cliches. (A really good analyst like Roderick Chisholm is of course a shining exception. See his Brentano and Meinong Studies, Brentano and Intrinsic Value, and other works.)

Heidegger is a transitional figure. There is much of value in him. Although he starts off wissenschaftlich, and is still that way in Sein und Zeit (1927), he ends up going off the deep end. (I'm brushing in very broad strokes.) But even his later work is fascinating and, I find, fairly comprehensible. I recently discovered that an early Heidegger article of mine is on-line here.

The early Sartre of Transcendence of the Ego, Being and Nothingness and other works is well worth reading and studying. The better analytic philosophers like P. Butchvarov are well aware of this.

But by the time we get to Derrida, the rot is deep and wide. It's a tale of decline from serious, rigorous work to name-dropping, out-of-control historicism, playful nihilism, wordplays parading as arguments, linguistic jackoffskyism, and much other crapola besides.

My first quarter at DU I was told by my advisor (hard core Pomo thinker Carl Rashke) to take Levinas. The endorsement that came was that Levinas was opposing both Heidegger and Derrida. I figured I had found a friend just from that endorsement. It took most of the quarter to try and even understand the language, the "cadence" of the language and all the rest. I kept asking my prof what the heck did we just read? It was like I had descended onto Mars and I had no clue.

Actually, I like Levinas. He's a serious man. There are some solid insights in Totality and Infinity. He scores some critical hits against Heidegger. You can't expect to understand Levinas cold. You have to warm up with the later Husserl and Heidegger, not to mention Hegel and Rosenzweig, et al. It takes time. Similarly, you can't expect to understand contemporary analytic philosophy of language if you haven't spent some time breaking your head against Frege and Russell.

Gradually I learned the doublespeak, and I appreciate your comments on "learning the idioms". Totality and Infinity was so hard to read, but then I took Heidegger and had to apologize to Levinas. Sophistry as a tradition.

BV: I think you are being unfair. Neither Heidegger nor Levinas are sophists. Derrida may be a sophist, but arguably Daniel Dennett is one as well. Anyone who holds that there is no intrinsic intentionality, that all intentionality is a matter of ascription -- when ascription is itself an intentional state -- is teetering on the brink of incoherence. He can't see it though, because of his scientistic commitments.

Oh well. My website is www.havenministry.com. If you are really bored, you can see some of my philosophical papers forged in the midst of the Pomo zoo. I also appreciated your link to the analytic bloodsport column. I just forwarded the link to my philosophy of religion friend/prof at Denver Seminary. An excellent reminder for up and coming young bloods.
God bless and keep up the "work"/leisurely contemplation.

Bill Honsberger

From the Mail: On Gambling

Steve Thomas writes:

. . . I've been suspect of gambling for a while, on the first count, after reading of William Wilberforce's desire to stop the lottery as the second task on his list after the abolition of slavery in his country, and secondly, after seeing the lines of people waiting to get lottery tickets at a convenience store across from an old apartment of ours. Of course, there are lines of people for other things which I find perfectly harmless and even good, but droves of people waiting to spend their hard-earned dollars on, not aproduct nor an investment (like a business), but on a mere chance without other substance to it, "strikes me" as an industry bent on exploiting the citizenry. . . .

. . . I would be grateful if you would spell out your reasons against gambling in more detail, if doing so is convenient to you.

BV: I say why I am opposed to state-run lotteries here. As for gambling in general, I would say that it is a waste of time and money, contributes to dissolute behavior, and encourages irrationality. Even liberals appear to take a dim view of it, at least when it is convenient, as witness this remark of Frank Rich: "William Bennett's name is now as synonymous with Las Vegas as silicone." (NYT, 14 NOV 04, Section 2, p. 8, col. 1) I won't provide a link because an elaborate sign-in is required requesting all sorts of info, and the NYT is not worth it anyway. Rich's column in particular is pure crapola. Somebody ought to take it apart piece by piece.)

To ward off a (friendly) attack from
Bill Keezer, let me qualify the above remark. I mean it to apply to most people who gamble. I don't deny that a disciplined man like Keezer, who seeks respite from close analytic work, can profit (emotionally if not monetarily) from a bit of gambling. It's like strong drink: some people can handle it. But for others it's the devil in liquid form.

It's not an encouraging sign that casinos are springing up like mushrooms across the land, especially when the savings rate is as low as it is.

Should gambling be made illegal? I would say no. For one thing, criminalization would constitute a violation of individual liberty. Second, gambling would simply move underground with more crime a likely upshot.

State lotteries, however, ought to be eliminated. The state should not be in the business of promoting stupid and harmful behavior. To play a lottery is to voluntarily impose a tax on one's own stupidity. Here's my advice to the people who play lotteries. Quit the lottery, give up smoking, and stop buying newspapers. That should free up about $5 per day. Now take the $150 saved per month and apply it to your mortgage, thereby saving thousands and thousands of dollars in interest over the life of loan. But of course, anybody stupid enough to tax their own stupidity is unlikely to have a mortgage or the discipline to pay it down. . . .

Sudduth's Weblog

Michael Sudduth writes:

Hey Bill,

Thanks for writing back and adding me to your site. I learned of your site via Keith Burgess-Jackson. I've just recently moved into the blogging arena. My blog is located here.

I intend to move them to another blogging site in the future. I don't like the set up on myspace.com, though I did get a lot of traffic from people, mainly college students. I may go with two sites. I don't know. I haven't worked on my philosophy of religion site in awhile. I'm in the process of finishing a book for Cornell UniversityPress on natural theology. (BTW, I enjoyed your five uses of argument essay. The different uses of argument plays an important role in my book).

BV: I receive a lot of friendly e-mail from people like Sudduth who have blogs or other websites but give no indication of the fact in their initial communiques. Why hide your light under a bushel? If you've gone to the trouble of setting up a weblog or other website, you may as well promote it.

Cricket Anyone?

Amit Varma, a journalist in India, was one of about five readers who generously sprang to my assistance when I revealed my ignorance of HTML. He writes:

Hi Bill

Glad to be of service. I do have a a blog, as it happens, but it is on cricket, a sport I'm not sure you'd be following. In case you're still interested, here it is.

I plan to start a general blog as well, soon, and I'll send you the link when I begin it.

BV: Please do.

I have a keen amateur's interest in philosophy, and I'm glad I discovered your blog. I enjoyed your post titled "You Don't Believe What You are Saying!"The tendencies of lefties that you refer to are extremely familiar in India as well, where I live. It is, I suppose, a common defensive human tendency: "When you can't counter the argument, attack the person making it." There is often no other recourse for a follower of a dubious ideology, which lefties by definition are. As a journalist in a country where being 'liberal' - in the recent American sense, not the classical one - is fashionable, I often find myself at the receiving end of it all the time. It corrupts our political discourse.

A further observation on the formatting of your right panel: you will notice that there are two kinds of bullets used in that panel, the grey ones besides 'weblog and website links', and the black ones besides 'contemporary philosophers'. I viewed source [If you have IE, click on View --> Source] and found that the difference in your template is that the clusters with the grey bullets have left-angle-bracket-ul-right-angle-bracket before it and left-angle-bracket-forward-slash-ul- right-angle-bracket at the end, as you'll see in your template. So if you wish to make all the bullets grey, you will just need to add those to the relevant clusters (and not to each link, mind you). Similarly, if you wish to make all them black, you'll have to remove that coding from the clusters that have them. If you compare those clusters in your template, the coding differences will be apparent.


BV: Thanks, Amit. The beauty of the blogosphere is that it makes so much intelligence so readily available. On my monitor, however, all the bullets appear in black. That's not to say that my coding job is correct. I probably just got lucky.

Monday, November 15, 2004

"You Don't Believe What You are Saying!"

A commentator by the name of Joe Sobran has stolen my thunder. I was about to comment on a practice I am finding increasingly irritating. Person A (often a conservative) states his position and person B (usually a liberal or a leftist) says something like: 'You don't even believe that yourself!' The hard leftist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now used this line against John Fund in a recent debate held in Greenwich Village and televised by C-Span. There was nothing in Fund's mien or manner to suggest that he was anything but sincere in his asseverations. But that didn't stop Goodman. Another person who does this is Noam Chomsky. Tune into Free Speech TV and you'll get plenty of Chomsky and ample opportunity to verify my assertion.

Lefties, who confuse the world with their view of world, often cannot comprehend how anyone can sincerely disagree with them. Part of the problem is their lust to psychologize and sociologize. Incapable of taking things at face value, they attempt to smoke out personal motives and class interests.

Read Sobran's piece here. Link courtesy of Tony Flood.

More Linguistic Mischief

‘Disenfranchise’ and ‘unilateral’ are two words the misuse of which by libs and lefties I have already excoriated. Anent the latter, just yesterday Maureen Dowd, in a talk to the Miami International Book Fair, (mis)used ‘unilateral’ to refer to U.S. operations in Iraq. I fail to see how the efforts of a 30 member coalition can be called ‘unilateral.’ What she really wants to say is that the operations in question do not bear the U.N. stamp of approval. Then why doesn’t she say that?

Say what you mean, mean what you say, and then give your arguments. Don’t try to win by verbal sleight of hand. Intelligent people see right through verbal obfuscation, whether you call it ‘framing’ or whatever. And then you look either dumb or dishonest.

Today I introduce a new example: ‘one-party system.’ Some of our lib-leftie brethren are now misusing this word, the meaning of which is quite plain, to refer to the post-election power apportionment. The Republicans won the presidency as well as picking up seats in the Senate (5) and the House of Representatives (4) thereby further solidifying the Republican majorities in those chambers.

So how does a language-hijacking liberal describe the situation? One-party system. Do I really need to point out the stupidity of this? Apparently I do. If there is a majority party and a minority party, then you have two – count ‘em – two parties. If you hanker after a one-party system, pay a visit to Fidel down in his island paradise.

But I hear an objection coming: Republicans do the same thing! Do they? Off the top of my head, I can only think of one example, namely referring to the estate tax as a ‘death tax.’ ‘Estate tax’ is the right term for the simple reason that it is not a tax on dying, but a tax on the transfer of assets on the occasion of the asset-owner’s death when the value of said assets exceeds a certain amount.

If anyone has other examples, I will consider them.

But I don’t accept Paul Krugman’s example given in his talk at the Miami Book Fair. He was complaining about conservatives and libertarians who speak of reforming rather than privatizing Social Security. Where is the linguistic abuse here? A partial privatization and gradual phase-out of the current system constitute a much-needed reform of the system. There is no abuse of language here but merely the avoidance of a word that scares some people.
And why does it scare them? Because of continual liberal misrepresentations: the mean Republicans are going take away your Social Security; they are going to force you to put it all in risky stock market investments, and so on.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Contemporary Philosophers

I have made an addition to my sidebar: a list of contemporary philosophers. I will add more as time goes by. Two of the seven philosophers added today are independent scholars, and the rest are 'institutionalized,' though one of them only partially so. Two are emeriti and one is beginning his career. Both theists and atheists are represented.

It ought to go without saying that I link to people with whom I disagree as well as to people with whom I agree. Part of what I am about is the promotion of independent thought about ultimates. I am open to much, but not all. Toleration has its limits.

As you can see, my HTML coding skills leave something to be desired. How did those extra bullets get in there?

Recalling Old Flames on Their Birthdays

I suspect I am not the only one who celebrates the birthdays of long lost lovers. Today is C.H.'s birthday. I think of her fondly, though it's going on a quarter of century since I last saw her. Numerous are the times I've put the Google bot on her case, but she has dropped out of sight.

I'm sure I give her more thought than she deserves, and more thought than she ever gave me. I was in love with her once and wanted to marry her, but she didn't want me when I wanted her. One time, before the end of a class, I handed her a note with the Goethe line, from Faust, "Verweile doch, du bist so schoen!" (Stay a while, you are so beautiful). A memory arises of being in her Brandeis graduate student apartment reading her copy of P.F. Strawson's Bounds of Sense while she cooked dinner.

Enjoy your birthday, C., wherever you are. I think of you with affection, but also take satisfaction in the thought that I had the good sense to bide my time and wait for the right one to come along.


An enthymeme is a truncated argument in which either one of the premises, or the conclusion, is left unstated. Some examples:

Since McAuliffe is a Democrat, he is mendacious. This is an argument whose validity requires the tacit premise, ‘All Democrats are mendacious’ a proposition that is clearly false. This argument is an enthymeme since it is left to the consumer of the argument to supply the tacit (major) premise.

Since all Democrats are mendacious, McAuliffe is mendacious. This is an argument whose validity requires the tacit (minor) premise, ‘McAuliffe is a Democrat.’

Democrats are mendacious, and McAuliff is a Democrat. Here the consumer is invited to supply the conclusion, ‘McAuliffe is mendacious.’

Capital punishment is wrong because it involves killing a human being. When we supply the tacit premise, without which the argument is invalid, we see that the argument is unsound, precisely because of the falsity of the premise that must be supplied: ‘All killing of human beings is wrong.’ The counterexamples to this are obvious: killing in self-defense, and killing in just wars.

(A sound argument is a deductive argument whose form is valid and whose premises are true. An unsound argument is therefore either (i) one whose form is invalid, or (ii) has one or more false premises, or both (i) and (ii)).

Careful thinkers and writers either avoid enthymemes or else use them sparingly: they argue explicitly, laying all of their assumptions on the table, so that both they and their readers can see if the arguments are cogent. In the capital punishment example, the lack of cogency springs to the eye once the argument is set forth explicitly.

The worst kind of enthymeme is what I will call, tongue-in-cheek, the liberal enthymeme. This is the ultimate in argumentative truncation. Ask a liberal why he opposes the war in Iraq and you may receive in response a one word reply: Abu Ghraib or Halliburton. You inquire, ‘What about Halliburton’? You either get no response, or a repetition of the word. The lovely Mona Charen had to put up with such a liberal caller the other morning on C-Span’s Washington Journal.

Krugman, Bennett, and Hypocrisy

Did you catch Paul Krugman’s address to the Miami International Book Fair on C-Span 2 yesterday? It would take many a post to shovel through the load of rubbish he presented, and even then I would be only half done.

For the moment, a comment on how he and so many liberals and leftists (mis)use the word ‘hypocrisy.’

A hypocrite is not someone who advocates high ideals but falls short of them from time to time. Otherwise all of us who advocate high ideals would be hypocrites. A hypocrite is someone who pays lip service to high standards but makes little or no attempt at exemplifying them himself.

Once this simple distinction is understood, it is easy to see that Bill Bennett’s wasting of large sums of money on the slot machines – a practice he has given up – did not make him a hypocrite. Gambling is neither illegal nor (if you can afford it) immoral. But doesn’t Bennett preach such virtues as self-restraint? Yes indeed, and he is on balance a self-restrained and disciplined man. One does not lose weight, give up smoking, and write as many books as he has by being dissolute. He practices what he preaches – it’s just that, like most of us, he is far from perfect.

Or as I like to say, "Every man has his wobble."

Gambling is suboptimal behavior and I take a dim view of it. (And for the state to promote it via lotteries, see here, is outrageous.) But to call Bennett a hypocrite, as Krugman did at the end of his talk, shows that he doesn’t understand the concept. But nowadays very few people can think correctly in moral categories.

Questions for further pondering: Isn’t there someone morally worse than the hypocrite, namely, the person who advocates no ideals or else low ideals? Why do libs and lefties have such a hard time with the advocacy of high standards of behavior? What is the psychology of this? Adolescent rebelliousness? A fixation on the untenable Marxist notion that ‘bourgeois morality’ is ideological in nature, an illusion to be unmasked and a set of prejudices that serve only to camouflage class interests?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

How Philosophers Should Greet One Another

Der Gruss der Philosophen unter einander sollte sein: "Lass Dir Zeit!"

This is how philosophers should greet each other: "Take your time!"

-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value (University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 80.

A similar thought is to be found in Franz Brentano, though I have forgotten where he says this:

Wer eilt, bewegt sich nicht auf dem Boden der Wissenschaft.

One who hurries is not proceeding on a scientific basis.

Philosophy as a Blood Sport

I have an ongoing series of posts critical of Continental philosophy. See #1, #2, #3, #4, #5. But I don't mean to spare analytic philosophers, among whom are some of the nastiest SOBs you would ever (not) want to meet. This essay by Norman Swartz will give you some idea of what I am talking about. Be sure to have a look at the rest of Swartz's site while you're there.

Michael Sudduth, Philosopher of Religion

This came over the transom this morning from Michael Sudduth:

Hey Bill,

I recently started reading your blogs. It's good to read fellow philosophers who have their conceptual heads fastened well. Keep up the interesting and insightful blogs.Thanks.


BV: Be sure and visit Dr. Sudduth's site. He has most impressive credentials and a number of articles and other materials online, including a page devoted to Alvin Plantinga's work. I will install a standing link to Sudduth's site on my sidebar.