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Vomit the Lukewarm
4/30/2004
 
America and Perennial Philosophy

Perennial philosophy is acutely aware of a question arising between the authority of reason (rightly understood) and other authorities. The "other authorities" are diverse: The gods of the regime (Socrates in The Apology); The State (Cicero, Aurelius); The Family (Socrates in Euthaphro); Popular Morality (Machiavelli); and of course, Revelation (Thomas Aquinas). Each of these figures recognized a question, and saw a certain need to give an answer.

Now the authority of reason is truth. If there are other authorities, the question arises, "is there an authority other than truth? Which seems a lot like asking "can a false thing be authoritative?"

Perennial philosophy belongs primarily to those who never contradicted the authority of truth over the mind. Such a denial and contradiction is really just a facile, flacid nihilism. So too is the assertion of "two truths", a doctrine claiming that something can be true in one system of thought and false in another. No strong refutation of these opinions is necessary. Neither can survive the principle of contradiction. Both fall by the same obvious, everyday and unshakeable knowledge that truth cannot contradict truth.

Nevertheless, some tension remains. The State does have a certain authority, right or wrong. Human reason can err. God can certainly seem to command things that seem wrong. "honor your father and mother" doesn't have a clear qualifier. We do need to give to Caesar what is his. Morons, depraved men, and kooks are not always forbidden from making laws and voting. The state occasionally can break up families. The Church can teach a doctrine which seems to our lights to be very difficult to accept.

The American race has gone farther than any other in resolving these tensions, and inasmuch as it has done this, it provides the greatest possibility for the rebirth and flourishing of perennial philosophy. Only two quotations are necessary to show this; the first is from the Federalist, which describes the American government as one set up so that "the reason of the government will control the passions of the people, and the reason of the people will control the passion of the government". And what is this Reason? It is one that acknowledges that "nature and nature's God" has made certain truths "self evident".

 
 
Epigram

Hegel's god is dead and gone.
and if he lived,
Non Serviam!
 
 
Who says America isn't a Race?

I eat in my car. I can recognize Billy Graham on sight. I don't burn down the capitol when an election doesn't go my way. I think handguns are cool (even if I wanted to ban them). I don't take international governments seriously (even if I like them). I've heard about the rapture. If I were on a sinking ship with agnostics, atheists, Methodists, and Catholics, we would still circle up and form a protestant prayer circle and take a vote about who got the liferaft. I don't grovel to the president, and if he wants to come in my house, he better ask me first. Someone in my family is a lawyer, or will be. I know someone on the Atkins diet. I don't hit women to keep them in line. All the single women I know make more money than I do. I drink, or have drunk, really shoddy beer- that I can buy after sundown. I don't speak a foreign language- or if I do, not very well. I shoot my guns at targets, not up in the air. If I want to blow someone up, I use a bomb with a timer, not one strapped to my body. I watch football. I'm never worried that there will be a "European Dr. J" playing on a basketball team. I don't watch "Baywatch". I've said "my rights are being violated" at least once before I was ten years old. I'm morally scrupulous about alcohol. I hate the guy who drives on the shoulder of the road to get past a line of cars, or who drives to the front, and expects to get let in. I can drive without killing people. I curse with profanity, not blasphemy. I don't laugh at cross-dressing humor. I'm taller than the immigrants I know. My last name doesn't mean anything. I've been in therapy, or I know someone who has (or whom I think needs it). I go to school for 21 years, and don't learn much of substance past the third grade. I've driven in a car for more than five hours more times than I can remember. I know the following organizations, AAA, NASA, MADD, UCLA, IRS. and a hundred more. I know where the nearest mall is. I can't tell the difference between most Europeans. I've seen several movies about Jesus.

And I refer to myself as "half Irish" or "a quarter Mexican" or "Full blooded German" or "Swedish and German" or "part Indian" or Italian and Scotch"....etc.
 
 
Question After A Speech By a Modern Theologian

"...and that is why these theologies fail; they do not appreciate that certain things are valid in one formal system of logic that are invalid in another system of logic."

Q: You spoke very logically tonight. What system of logic did you use?

A: Blah, blah, (something about the universe) blah, (something about relations, ontological inferences in syllogisms, the importance of relations...five minutes later, he's done) I'm looking at you, and you don't look satisfied.
 
4/29/2004
 
Books and Interpretation. an outline

(an obvious but under appreciated point)
A book can't explain what it means. If you ask it to explain itself, it will only say the same thing over and over and over again.

(an important inference)
Whenever a book makes a claim about anything more general than a particular thing, action, person, etc. It cannot explain whether this relatively more universal claim applies to this particular thing, action, person, case, etc.

(an application to a particular)
The Bible, the Koran, The Book of Mormon, The writings of the Vedas, The Gnostic Gospels, L. Ron Hubbard's Dianectics, etc. are all books.

(Another obvious point)
People can explain what they mean, and they are able to say whether a universal maxim applies in a particular case. They can also get this wrong.

 
4/28/2004
 
The Rule Behind the Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is an inference or conclusion from a more fundamental truth. The truth was best articulated by Lincoln:

"This is a world of compensations, and he who would be no slave must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and under a just God cannot long retain it."

If we say "slavery is good", whether by word or by action, we have no relief against those who would enslave us. If we say stealing is good, we have no recourse against those who steal from us. The measure that we measure out to to others will be meted out to us, heaping over and poured into our laps. To advocate anything- good or evil- by any means, is to put oneself under his own own judgment.

Whatever we do to others will be done to us. Our only choice is whether it will be what we would want them to do unto us.

(Note: this rule behind the Golden Rule can be futher traced back to the self-evident proposition that "All men are created equal". The kind of equality we have is made manifest in the Lincoln Quotation.)
 
4/27/2004
 
A Mediation On Literary Immortality

Homer has been translated into a thousand languages which did not exist even a thousand years after his poem was written.
 
 
Sophistry

A Sophist does not merely teach false doctrines- he also allies himself with the prevailing trends and opinions of a dominant culture. It is not enough to teach something false if the falsity is not approved of by some dominant culture (say, for example today if someone were to teach that the Jews were agents of wicked monkeys and space aliens at an American university, or if he said that George Bush is the ubermensch. These are false, but unapproved)

Sophistry is more than falsity, it is trendy falsity. It draws its power from the accepted but false opinions of a certain group of persons. It exploits what is worst in us, it coddles our own unreflective ignorance. Sophistry is so maddening not merely because it is false, but even more so because it is a falsity which is approved without question; unanimously and without thought.
 
4/25/2004
 
A Text That Proves A Thousand Points

Friendship consists in equality, so if women were not allowed to have many husbands... but men were allowed to have many wives, the friendship of the man and woman would not be free but rather like slavery. This is proved by experience; because where men have many wives, the wives are held like slaves.

(Thomas Aquinas, SCG, III, Cap. 124)
 
 
A Blind Side of Progressive Knowledge

Certain kinds of knowledge can be historically progressive: technological, practical, even speculative. What one generation learns can be passed on to the next, and added upon.

But the knowledge we learn by experience cannot be such. Inasmuch as it must be learned by experience, we cannot pass it on. We may write it down, but the words will mean nothing to those who do not have the experience. This kind of knowledge cannot progress beyond the length of the human life that learns it.

The idea that human beings continually grow in knowledge over history must be limited by this fact.

 
4/23/2004
 
Brief Conversation at Church Rummage Sale, Ten Years From Now
(scene: a large, fold out table topped with cardboard boxes. A sign taped on the front of the table reads "books" in Large, sharpie-written letters. Two very educated- looking types are browsing through the titles)

"Hey, The Da Vinci Code. Is this about Da Vinci?"

"I dunno. Read the Back."

"Hey, I think I... was this that..." (dull flicker of awareness; instantly fades)

(short, uninterested pause) "That what?"

"I don't know... (looks at the price) twenty cents... I don't know... Nah. (drops the book in the cardboard box indifferently) Are you going to get that little statue?"

"Yeah, I think I'll put it on my dashboard"

 
 
Eph. 5:3

To be aware of anything is to make it a part of your being. This is simply what awareness means. The knowledge of this fact is older than Aristotle, although he gives a very good articulation of it. Modern science has also shown through brain scans that brain has the same reaction to doing an action, or watching it performed.

Whatever we are thinking about, sense, or know is within us. This is not a metaphor.
 
4/21/2004
 
The Certain and The Articulate

When we sense something, our certainty is proportionate to the distinctness of the sensation. If I take my glasses off, the edges of things become fuzzier and less distinct. I am less certain of what particular things are in front of me. I have a harder time figuring out what is written on the chalkboard or what is written on the page. "Certainty" in this sense in directly proportional to "distinctness".

When we judge something with our intellect, however, this is not always the case. Sensation is limited to knowing particular things (no one sees "human nature" or "equality" walking down the street) but the intellect can know certain things which are of a different kind. Words like "something" or "nature" or "man" are not particular things- by which I mean that they can be said of many different things. The traditional name for something that can be said of many things is a universal. Universals differ from particulars very significantly because their certainty is in inverse proportion to their distictness.

Take for example me without my glasses. I may have no idea what the word is I'm reading, but I'm pretty sure that it's "a word" (a universal idea, for it can be said of many), and I'm even more certain that it's "something". Even if I couldn't tell if the mark on the board is a Smudge, or a stain, or a word, I'm still certain I can say "it's something". To rule out that it is an illusion, I could ask "is there something on the board?" if so, then I'm still left with the indistinct idea, which is nevertheless quite certain. If I wanted to, I could include in my idea of "something" even illusions, and then I would be absolutely certain I was seeing something. The more universal and indistinct our universals are, the more certain we are of them. That I see "something" (including illusions) is absolutely certain, that I see "something" (not including illusions) is slightly less certain, but still the first thing I could establish. That I see "a mark" is less certain than that I see something, but I still am entirely confident of it. That I see "a word" is something I am pretty sure of, since I can perhaps make out a few letters, and to say that I see "this particular word" (e.g. "Thales") is the least certain of all of these, though I can certainly come to know it.

Making this process more difficult is our tendency to use the same sound to talk about two different ideas. In the above example, the word "something" first was a group of things that included illusions, in the second sense, it did not include illusions. The word "something" had two meanings, neither of which were very articulate or distict, but both of which were certain (one more so than the other). This multiplication of a word to have different meanings and different degrees of certitude happens all the time, and it is one of the greatest things exploited by sophistry, and one of the greatest stumbling blocks to young philosophers. A young philosopher often thinks that because he has no distinct idea of something, he is uncertain about it. This is in one sense true, but "certainty" has more than one meaning. We cannot forget that universals are best known, and most certain, when they are indistinct and inarticulate. There might be one man out of ten million that can give a rigorous definition of "a man", but the universal which is defined is known to any ten-year old indistinctly and inarticulately- but nevertheless with total certitude. To ask "what exactly is the understanding a ten year old has of 'a man'" is to completely miss the point- his understanding isn't articulate, and it isn't exact. Nevertheless, the inarticulate understanding he has at ten years old is the measure of all understandings he has of men afterwards. Whatever offends this indistinct understanding should never be accepted as an account of "a man".

So it is also with words like "nature" or "beauty" or "justice". Our primitive and inarticulate grasps of these things are in one sense most certain, in another sense least perfect, but they are never wholly dispensable, and they stand as the ground for all our subsequent knowledge.

 
4/20/2004
 
The Argument from Evil

The argument from evil is the claim that God cannot exist because there is evil. The argument generally is not formed in quiet, reflective moments, but rather by someone living in the face of some particular kind of agony.

I have only lived this particular kind of agony once. In 1995, I was living with a married couple in Minneapolis, doing carpentry work around their house. They had three kids, the youngest being eighteen months. I loved the youngest one very dearly. He was the first child I ever related to in a mature, quasi-parental way. Everyone called me "uncle"- that endearment we apply to older men we have little or no blood relation to. (in the time of the new testament, I would have been called "father", and women of the same description would be called "mother". This beautiful fact is often missed by the wooden, anti-catholic exegesis certain commentators, going back to the time of Jerome)

Since I both worked and slept in the house, Uncle Shulamite spent a lot of time there. I got to know the family pretty well. The family was happily and piously Catholic, with none of the hang-ups or quirks that can attend pious people (scrupulous moralizing, morbid opinions about America, incessant and out of place chatter about religious things, etc.)

One day I was talking to the mother. She was telling me how happy she was that I was living with them, and she went on to add how she "explained it all to my mother" (the grandmother of the kids, that is)

"what did you have to explain?" I ask.

"Oh (and she said this totally innocuously) I just explained having another man living in the house"

"what about it?"

"Oh (and she said this also totally off the cuff, but it was a solid fact to her) Oh, My mother and I Would never leave the kids alone with a man"

"Really, why?"

I was expecting some punch-line here like "men never clean anything well", or some lamentable fact of male/baby incompetence, like we never remember what to do when babies cry, or we tend to take young children out to smash stuff and shoot off fireworks, or we tell them terrifying stories that give them nightmares. My uncles would do all this, and my mother would worry herself to death everytime. This woman's answer, however, came totally out of the blue:

"No, men are more likely to be child molesters, that's why I never leave my kids with any man but their father"

I don't remember how long it took for her remark to sink in. I remember being alone in the dining room and thinking about all the times in the last few months where I could have very easily watched the kids for her to help her out, yet she would always go to extreme and awkward lengths to make sure this wouldn't happen. She would call up female sitters even though I was done working and could help out. She would take the older kids with her on errands when she could have gotten much more done alone. Whenever I offered to watch the kids, the remark would thud off her as though she didn't even hear the suggestion. The facts started adding up, and I grew nauseous with confusion and despair. She had spent the last six months treating me as a potential child molester. I walked out in the yard with a pick-ax and started digging the foundations for a porch.

I did not hate the woman. I would have had an easier time dealing with the situation if I did start hating her. But I didn't see the remark as being irrational or odious. It was simply a side of maternal and feminine love. I held this love dear. The absolute devotion and protectiveness of a mother is something that I value to the core of my being. Maternal love is in a very real way the crown jewel of human existence, and if human persons wanted to justify their existence they could do no more, and no better, than to point to a mother with her baby and be silent.

That, however, was precisely the problem. To hate motherhood is to hate the universe a fortiori. But if being a mother meant to treat me as though I were a child molester, then...

My heart went black. Everything around me was sullied and started unraveling. The universe seemed like and irrational and very malevolent place. "Look at this! Motherhood! Do you like it? You know what it thinks of you? huh? It thinks you want to #$%* young boys! HAHAHAHAHA!"

I stood there in the back yard, swinging my pick-ax in confusion and disgust; and I was filled with unspeakable loathing. To hell with the universe. Not even Satan could be responsible for this farce. No One is in charge of this alien, ugly, irrational sewer of a world.

I don't remember how long it took for the next thing to happen. It may have happened immediately after I started questioning God, or perhaps it took a moment. All I remember is standing in the sunlight and hearing a voice inside me say "everything which is moving is being moved by another." The rest of the premises and arguments fell into place.

-------------------------------------------------


Unnecessary, Scientific Post Script: Do what you will with this story. But always keep in mind that if someone diminishes the importance of rational argument in dealing with the problem of evil, they deprive us all of the very thing that has saved at least one man- myself. There are many who find theology dry, and they think it destroys mystery. All this means is that theology is not their thing. The Summa means something very different to those of us who were saved through it.
 
4/17/2004
 
My First Attempt at a Troubadour Poem

After sun has run its course away
and horizon parts its goodbye kiss to day
and after stars have tumbled from their height
and blanch from vision given by the night-

Or after spring buds bloom to summer fruit
and ripen in the fall that follows suit-
and after winter's night and sunless day
have passed again to long blue skies from grey-

Always after these comes something new
and new things grow where once the old things grew.

But yet my love, with scorn for time-wrought chains,
stands above its passing and remains.

 
4/16/2004
 
On A Goal To Be Sought When Refuting Perversion.

There are many good intentioned and intelligent people who argue against sexual perversion. These arguments are necessary, but they are incomplete. It is not enough to refute evil, you must have an idea of the positive good you are working for. Let me submit that the goal is to make our society more sexual.

Perversion may be particularly widespread, but the idea we have of sex is blunt and shallow. Sex for us is so hopelessly about doing it, it is in the popular imagination little more than a mechanical activity. Who could write a poem using sex as a metaphor? How shallow does a culture have to be to think that sodomy is like procreating is like self-abuse is like pederasty is like fornicating is like dating...etc.? How absurd does a people have to get to not realize the absurdity of wrapping a phallus in a rubber bag? How blunt are we that we see no problem in women neutering themselves like dogs? How pathetic does one have to be to treat sex as something best watched on TV? We could have eros, mystery, ecstasy, life. Instead we have jug jug jug jug. We use our powerful media to spread a message far and wide, but the message is deep as a puddle. I've had far more deep and meaningful moments of mystery from playing frisbee with a dog.

If you want the best and deepest accounts of sex, read the devotional and mystical works of medieval monks and nuns. Read the troubadours. Read La Vita Nuova . Read the Bible too, as opposed to imagining what it says. These texts show us the goal we must have in refuting perversion.
When a popular poet can exclaim, in all purity of heart: "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your lovemaking 's better than wine!" then we know we've made it.
 
4/15/2004
 
Polygamy and Numbers

William Tucker's argument against polygamy deserves to be mentioned, because it shows how certain modern ways of looking at moral problems are very helpful to moral philosophy. Polygamy is famously difficult to argue against on purely philosophical grounds (St. Thomas grounds his argument on revealed theology; sc. "Christ only has one Bride"). However, from the point of view of a social scientist, the immorality of polygamy is far easier to see.

Roughly the same number of men and women are born each year. If 10% of marriages are polygamous, then at least 25% of the remaining non-polygamous men will not be able to get married. This 25% of men constitute 10% of the total population. Does anyone want a tenth of their population to be an artificially created class of disgruntled bachelors who know that they will never get a woman? A young man hanging out with his friends will find of necessity that at least one in four of his friends has no hope of finding a woman. These men with no hope will naturally gravitate toward one another, they will all be humiliated together, and together seeking any way to prove their manhood. How do you suppose they will prove their manhood when they cannot do it by becoming fathers?

Pick an answer:
a.) Through violence
b.) Though extremely ascetic religious extremism
c.) Through an extreme use of prostitutes, hashish, and by living a childish, immature life.
d.) All of the above.
 
4/12/2004
 
Philosophical Paradoxes

Philosophical paradoxes are questions that must be answered "in a way yes, and in a way no".
They are meant to teach the fundamental disposition necessary for philosophy (or any precise knowledge): seldom affirm or deny outright- always distinguish. The master of these paradoxes is Ronald Richard.

A few examples:

"Is the sun visible?", "Is darkness visible?" "Is sensation corporeal?" "Is God in the world?" "does prime matter exist?" "is Toyota spelled with one consonant?" "does the word "boot" have one vowel?" "Is 1 a number?... are 0 or pi numbers?" "Do american conservatives value the things of the past?" "should I give money to the poor?" "is knowledge better than love?" "Is tolerance good?" "should I love wicked people?" "is the federal government more important than the state or local government?"

You may notice that these paradoxes tend to turn on the meaning of one or two key words "in" or "exist" or "one" or "number" "to the poor" "good" "better than"... etc.

You can never meditate on these sorts of things enough. Anyone remember more? (keep them concise).
 
4/10/2004
 
Good Friday and The Cosmos:
or, one thing that can be said about Good Friday, even apart from the more important truth of redemption.

(For the background on this, read Neoteronous, the post and discussion on temporal existence)

To exist in time means to have the successive possession of existence. Nothing with a body exists "all at once", but rather its existence is continually repeated over time. If we ask, "is the man I am now the same as the man I was ten minutes ago"? The answer is in a way yes, and in a way no. In one sense, they are manifestly the same, otherwise we could never say "I was_____". But in another sense, they are not exactly the same. Where is the man who "woke up this morning", precisely inasmuch as he is the man who woke up? This exact being has disappeared- as soon as my feet hit the floor, he became another being lost in the past tense. The man who woke up in one sense is writing now, in another sense he is just as much in oblivion as Caesar or Socrates. Time marches on, and takes everything with it.

Time is a reality in the cosmos, yet there is another thing just as real: memory. In time, the cosmos is always passing away, but in memory, the universe is always present. Memory is well defined as The power of making the past present as the past . This is to say, when I remember that I woke up, I not only make the past to exist in the present, but I can know that it is the past. When I think about having woken up, I don't think "I am waking up now". Moreover, this power of memory is necessary even to talk about, or have an intelligible sensation of the universe. If we did not remember the things presented to us through sensation, we could not even speak. The world would appear to us as a flux which we would never have time to learn. Without memory we would have no knowledge of what the universe is, nor could we even say the words "universe" or "time".

Time and memory are contrary realities in the universe. The first continually makes thing pass into the past, the second continually makes things present. Time belongs to all things inasmuch as they are corporeal, but memory belongs to things inasmuch as they are incorporeal, for memory is manifestly a kind of knowledge (sensible) and every act of knowledge is, as such, incorporeal. (there is a certain incorporeality even in sensation: when I see my hat, the actual bodily hat does not enter my eyeball).

Now every act of memory is an incorporeal act of knowledge. But knowledge allows the knower to have something internally for himself, which makes him able to act for himself. But to act for oneself is to be alive. And so memory is one of the manifestations of life, and moreover of the highest kind of life, namely the life of a knower.

In knowledge, and through memory, life overcomes time Yet we must not view life or time as extrinsic to the universe, for both are in the universe. Through Life, the cosmos overcomes its own passing away in time. Through all animals, and more perfectly in the animal "man", the whole universe makes itself present to itself.

This overcoming is a qualified overcoming since in cannot, obviously, make the actual things in the past entirely present without qualification. Past things must always be things that have passed.

Yet the desire of life will always seek this final overcoming of time. For the existence of things as a perfect present is more perfect than the existence of things always passing away. Being is better than non-being. All things desire perfection.

But this perfection cannot be given by the cosmos. If something exists in time, then it cannot overcome time, or get beyond it, any more than it can get beyond itself. Yet Life itself demands this transcendence, this getting beyond. But it cannot look for this transcendence within the universe, but rather it must look to that which is above the universe if it has any hope for transcendence, or getting beyond.

And yet, if the transcendence did not happen in the universe then how could the universe transcend its own existence? If the universe cannot transcend its own existence, then its desire to do so through life would be in vain. Therefore the transcendence of the universe requires that he who is higher than the universe, become part of the universe, and that through his life, life achieves the final overcoming of time. Through his life, all things reach perfection, and all things, even bodlily things, participate in the transcendence of imperfect existence.

Yet more is necessary. It would not be enough for he who is above the universe to enter the universe. If He who entered were to leave, then the universe would lose its perfection of transcending time through life. The body that was taken by he who is above the universe must continue to be present in the universe throughout time.

And yet even this would not be enough. The Very body must continue to make present at least one moment in time. This moment is the moment which makes the final overcoming of time by life. It is the moment or time which is not taken away by the passing of time. It is the time that is forever present, the moment that shall not pass away. It gives to some one time the property which time could never have for itself- unending subsistence. All who look at this moment can say, "this now is then, that then is now".

Good Friday is that time. Hallelujah.
 
4/08/2004
 
Love and Melancholy

Melancholy has fallen out of use as a psychological term. This is tragic, since nature has not stopped making melancholics.

Melancholics do everything slowly, and are moved by everything deeply. They tend to walk slowly, eat slowly, speak slowly, write slowly, pay bills slowly, commit to anything slowly, drive slowly... you get the point. They also, for better and worse, get moved by everything deeply. When speaking to others, they cannot look at them. The other would affect them too much, and they would forget what they are saying. They are also silent for long periods, only to break the silence with some interminable soliloquy. They also tend to see meaning in everything- which leads them to alternate between acting as charming as St. Francis, and being as annoying as a slow-plodding call- in guest on AM radio. Melancholics have spent their entire lives being called "weird", and this word, when wielded against them, makes them think the whole world is a farce. "Weird" will suddenly cause everything in the melancholics world to fade. Even the air around them will seem to recede into the disappearing walls.

Which brings us to love. Love makes everyone crazy anyway, but the melancholic becomes insufferable. It would take the charity of a saint to avoid slapping a teenage melancholic in love. I have known this condition to lessen in certain twenty and thirtysomething melancholics, but not often, and not by much. Very often, the condition remains the same, but they don't vocalize it as much (for fear of someone using the word "weird" or a cognate against them). Melancholics have only one fear about love: that no one will love them as much as they love. Whether they are right in assuming that they are deep lovers is beside the point- we're talking about internal dispositions. Melancholics are right that they feel love more intensely, but they often fail to notice that they aren't doing anything about it. They tend to stupidly think that love should just happen, as though beloveds were all mind readers, or some such ridiculous thing. What melancholics interpret as "lack of interest" is usually the normal reactions of other people who don't know that someone is deeply in love with them. They tend to tell their friends that "men are insensitive" or "women are stupid". Their point is, at face value, a mere stereotype- but it is also not what they are trying to say. It doesn't matter what men or women are in general, because no one can be in love with men or women in general- even though the melancholic tries.

But if you want to understand more about this, hear a production of Twelfth Night

(If you are not familiar with the play, Orsino has an unrequited love for a woman named Olivia. Viola has dressed up as a man, and has ended up being a trusted confidant of Orsino. Viola is also deeply in love with Orsino.)


VIOLA
Say that some lady, as perhaps there is,
Hath for your love a great a pang of heart
As you have for Olivia: you cannot love her;
You tell her so; must she not then be answer'd?

DUKE ORSINO
There is no woman's sides
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
As love doth give my heart; no woman's heart
So big, to hold so much; they lack retention
Alas, their love may be call'd appetite,
No motion of the liver, but the palate,
That suffer surfeit, cloyment and revolt;
But mine is all as hungry as the sea,
And can digest as much: make no compare
Between that love a woman can bear me
And that I owe Olivia.

VIOLA
Ay, but I know--

DUKE ORSINO
What dost thou know?

VIOLA
Too well what love women to men may owe:
In faith, they are as true of heart as we.
My father had a daughter loved a man,
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.

DUKE ORSINO
And what's her history?

VIOLA
A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
We men may say more, swear more: but indeed
Our shows are more than will; for still we prove
Much in our vows, but little in our love.

DUKE ORSINO
But died thy sister of her love, my boy?

VIOLA
I am all the daughters of my father's house,
And all the brothers too: and yet I know not.
Sir, shall I to this lady?
--------

This, to Melancholics, is heavenly.
 
4/06/2004
 
On the Self- Evidence of the Axioms of a Any Society

1) If all men were not in some sense equal, we could not call them "all men"
2) The nature that is equal in man cannot, inasmuch as it is equal, have diverse functions or diverse ends. Let these precise functions and ends be called "happiness".
3) The functions and ends can also be viewed from the power of the equal nature to achieve the equal end, and these powers, inasmuch as they are from equal natures, are equal. Let these powers be called "liberty"
4) The functions and ends can also be viewed from the standpoint of the existent thing who has those ends (a man), and there is , by axiom one, an equality among these existences. Let this existence be called "life".

Everything depends on the "what" posited for axiom one. If we posit man as rational, or something with a per se relation to reason (child of God, moral being) then we get a free society. If we posit man merely as something that has no per se relation to reason (to be a part, to be a relation, to be a member of a race) then the ideas following have so little value that they bear no resemblance to life, liberty, and happiness.
 
4/05/2004
 
Virtue and Love of Others.

Some virtues require the love for others simply in order to exist. The social virtues are examples of this.

But there is also a sense in which every virtue requires the love of others (the genitive is left intentionally ambiguous)

I know of no one who was able to reform his life without the help of friendship or erotic love. Lonely people never tend to do much of anything, still less do they do anything to benefit their own lives. By "lonely people" I mean those who feel that no one cares about them. Whether anyone in fact cares for them is beside the point- what is formal to loneliness is the internal appraisal one has of whether or not they are loved.

It is possible for the lonely to live decent lives, but to be virtuous is too much to expect from them. Just as a starving person so concerned with living, that he can't be fully expected to think about living well, so too the lonely person has a real sort of starvation, one that makes living well too much to think about. The lonely person also has no one to serve as a check against temptation. They feel that no one cares about them, and so if they think about doing wrong, they can say to themselves (quite literally) "who cares?" The Lonely are also so desperate for human contact that they will grasp at anything possible. But who expects to find a virtuous person, or even one who will help us to be good, if his only standard for human contact is "I'll take anything I can get"? Lonely people are also very disposed to the sort of evils which are most corrosive of free choice and clearness of mind: drug use and unchastity.

It is important to notice that loneliness is not always caused by the same circumstances in different people. Just as the same meal will cause some people to put on more weight than others, the same circumstances will lead some to loneliness, and not others. While the desire for the love of others is as universal and pressing as the desire for food, still, the desire is not as intense in one person as in another. At one extreme, there are people who can go a few days without being around others, and what interaction they get need not always be affectionate. On another extreme, I know people who go insane without constant interaction, and it must be personal and affectionate. The standard for what makes someone lonely exists between certain limits.

Some people, however, are lonely regardless of how much interaction they get. This happens for two different reasons, which may or may not be in the same person. The first happens when a person demands more than anyone can give, and so they are dissatisfied with anything they get, and feel that "no one really cares about me". The second happens when a person finds themselves so loathsome that they feel it would be a contradiction for anyone to care about them. In my (narrow) experience, this second case often results from abuse suffered in childhood, but my experience is far from authoritative.

More on this later, perhaps.








 
4/03/2004
 
Tyranny and Pleasure

Tyranny connotes the rule of desire over reason. It follows from a group that has lived for awhile according to its passions, and is trying to deal with the rising storm clouds of total anarchy. Such a group desires to control the effects of its passions, without having any reason to.

Such a rule is, obviously, unstable. It makes no difference if this rule is the rule of one man over himself, or the rule of some group over another group.

There are many reasons why tyrannies have brief lives, but it is worthwhile to mention one: tyranny is not pleasant by nature. Whatever its payoffs may be, whether to the tyrant or to the tyrannized (the tyrannized are not wholly bereft of compensations, often they do think they have a sort of peace) tyranny always runs against the grain of the natural pleasure we take in knowing the reasons for doing something. In forcing man to accept the rule of desire over reason, you force him to do something even more unnatural than forcing him to walk with his hands. Walking with hands might be an occasional novelty, and an interesting parlor trick, but to force people to do it all the time is absurd, infuriating, and painful. It is for reasons like this that one can make the case that the tyrant lives the least pleasant life of anyone, for he uses everything in his power to live the most naturally painful, absurd, and constricting life.

The locus classicus for this argument is Plato's Gorgias, most especially the conversation with Polus. This was the first work of philosophy I remember loving, and it is always pleasant to give it a read.
 
4/01/2004
 
My Second Dactylic Hexameter

I wrote this in a class I was trying to ignore. Earlier, I had read the troubadours.
(for an explanation of dactylic hexameter, see my post on Monday, March 22)

Spring and My Wanting.

You, my breath and firm beating of blood, because you are now remote/
I am bled, drained cold.
Leaves in spring do not want more that clocks would cease-/
Staying in times where seasons give life through heat and sun to green/
leaves and buds,
more than now I wish that you might be here, revealed.
 
 
Strunk and White

Whenever someone asks me how to teach composition, I tell them to have their students memorize the principles in the second chapter of Strunk and White, and be able to account for what each principle means. The reasonable response to my advice is "how can you be so rigid?! Won't this cause my students to lose their individuality?"

There are two responses to this.

The first comes by pointing out that the principles in S+W are universally found in all great authors. Even though my composition skills are not particularly well formed, nevertheless I owe S+W a great debt, for though them I have a greater appreciation of the material and formal causes of great literature. No one fears that their principles will lead to some lockstep conformity after he realizes that the principles are observed by Shakespeare, Dante, Hugo, Dostoevsky, Borges, Joyce...etc. Do any of these men loose their individuality through sharing certain common principles?

The second response is more universal, and it strikes at the root of the objection. Human beings chafe under laws, because every law is imposed from some extrinsic authority. What we really fear in all laws is that they will diminish us as selves, because they are imposed extrinsicly. This opinion has more than a grain of truth to it, but it is ultimately wrong.

The most useful account of law is given by Thomas More: the law is a road, which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen walks in safety. we could add to this "and he receives all the benefits of citizenship". Man by nature has many different "citizenships", he is usually a member of a political regime, he is always a member of the universe, and he is called to be a citizen of the heavenly city. Taking it down a notch, I contend that Strunk and White are the road, which, so long as he keeps to it, a "citizen" (of the group of good writers) walks in safety, and receives all the benefits of being in such a group. The rules of S+W come directly from the great writers themselves; it is these writers themselves that show us the good road.

Good Laws are not "restrictive" in any normal sense of the term, just as a road is not restrictive because it only leads in one direction, and does not let us drive outside the lines. I don't say I'm "restricted" to the 210 if I want to get to Pasadena.

Laws Take their name from being the best way to walk, so as to receive all the benefits of something, and to avoid all the problems that come from not following the road.

Got to cut this off.
 
Traditio aut Vanitas

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