August 27, 2014
It is relatively easy to answer this question in a loose way, and we all know it pretty readily. If you want to be very loose in defining, you might just say “killing a person”. But we also all know that this isn’t really enough, that there is more needed to distinguish the act of murder from killing a person, because we all know that some instances of killing a person are not murder, and others are.
But before drawing out the details for that (or, according to some, obfuscating them), let’s take 2 moments to ask a prior question: what do we mean by “definition”?
Going all the way back to the beginnings of western philosophy, with Socrates and Plato in the “Meno”, we realize that when you define a general term, it isn’t just a matter of enumerating instances that fall in that category. The meaning of “virtue” is not “justice, and prudence, and courage, and honesty…” as Meno’s slave comes to see. The definition states the conceptual relationships of that notion “virtue”. If I come home and see a box of stuff in the hallway, I might say “what’s this”. The answer “it’s a collection of a knife, a stuffed animal, a yo-yo, a teapot, and 5 cloth napkins” might be true but not particularly helpful, for it doesn’t tell me what I want to understand. The answer “it’s the box of stuff going to the white elephant sale” provides the ratio under which the collection becomes intelligible as a collection. This is more what we mean by a definition.
August 22, 2014
I have a new post up at my personal blog on a currently popular attempted solution to the Canaanite slaughters based upon alleged hyperbole and Ancient Near Eastern idiom. The short version is that I don't think it works at all. I am not going to do the whole cut-and-paste to cross-post, but here is the link. Please feel free to comment in either location--either here or at Extra Thoughts. As so often happens, the post is already generating much discussion on Facebook after being up only a few hours. (Insert wry face symbol here.)
As I say there, I take no pleasure in knocking down someone else's argument meant to help fellow Christians, but I think in this case a little "friendly fire" is better than letting people go out thinking they have a solution, based on specialized scholarly knowledge, when in fact it does not work.
August 20, 2014
I've recently been re-reading Richard Adams's 1977 novel The Plague Dogs. My considered literary conclusion is that it is weak. The political agenda is too strident, and the book's insistence on telling much of the tale from the perspective of a dog character who suffers hallucinations and general mental confusion due to a laboratory experiment makes it often disconnected and unclear. Even the narrator indulges in liturgical, biblical, and literary free association to the point of babbling, which should have been squelched ruthlessly by an editor. If you want to read something by Adams, read Watership Down, which is excellent, or even Shardik, which has serious literary flaws but demonstrates talent and power. Adams's collection of folk tales, cum frame stories, The Unbroken Web, is also top-notch.
One really enjoyable thing about The Plague Dogs, besides the fact that it has a happy ending (I like happy endings), is Adams's detailed and affectionate portrayal of the people, places, and dialect of the Lake District of England. There is also one truly well-drawn character--the tod (fox).
August 18, 2014
We observed last year a fine country song, made popular by other artists, but written originally by Bob Dylan; and we further observed that this pattern is discernible across the latter’s entire career as a troubadour. His generosity with the dispersion of his songs, for arrangement and rearrangement by other singers and bands, contributes to the greatness of his art.
Well, he’s at again this year. NPR has the full story: Dylan’s representatives contacted the Nashville country act Old Crow Medicine Show (who first arranged, with noteworthy success, an obscure Dylan tune called “Wagon Wheel”) and offered them another piece of raw material for reworking.
Of the cryptic contact, says OCMS frontman Ketch Secor, the main thrust was clear: “Bob would like you to have this song; maybe you can do something with it.” The song was called, “Sweet Amarillo.”
With more than a little trepidation, he went to work. He didn’t even notify the other members of the band. “I tried to get to the heart of what Amarillo and Bob could be about; where those two iconic names meet. And so we set a young Bob, thumbin’ his way to Amarillo to rendezvous with a Mexican girl.”
Presently they had a workable demo, and sent the track to Dylan for review. The response was very positive: only a few adjustments necessary. “And so, we did exactly what Bob said, and the song just opened up.”
Despite two very impressive rearrangements, they have never actually spoken to Dylan himself. “It just makes sense: the enigma, the mercurial figure that is Bob Dylan; that’s how Bob co-writes.”
The opening stanza exudes the Dylanesque, but the feel of the song is all OCMS:
Well the world’s greatest wonder, from what I can tell
Is how a cowgirl like you would ever look my way.
I was blinded by glory with a half-written story
And the songs spilling out off of every page.
There are many things to lament in this country. The fecundity and richness of our folk music, from the Appalachians to the Rockies and beyond, is not one them.
August 17, 2014
There is proposed here and there and pretty much all over in conservative circles an analogy between the authority of the patriarch of a family and the authority of the leader of a polity. I think it is easy to show that there are points of connection, points of similarity. What I am asking here is whether the similarity is more than just that of analogy, that it is in fact the SAME thing at root. Is the top leader of a polity, (the executive, assuming there is one) actually the same thing as patriarch-writ-large?
I don’t have an off-the-shelf answer that is complete and developed. I know that I tend to doubt it. My initial inclination is to fuss and pick at that analogy and test it for points of difference. Maybe, upon doing so, we could establish that the possible points of difference are not differences in kind, just degree. Or maybe not.
Some obvious things that look like points of difference: the history of western civilization as a distinct civilization is deeply bound up in the rise of the Greek city-state and Greek culture. The Greeks viewed their city, their civilization, their superiority over the barbarians as being found PRECISELY in having a polity rather than a clan / tribal nature. The very thing that they named as what distinguished them from others was their polity. So, from at least 2600 years ago and forward, to be political meant to be different from familial. The very society that gave us the word and concept of the polis and politics distinguished them from family connections. And one conclusion that one might draw from this is that either they were right, or the very notion of the polity and the political as distinct is wrong – we shouldn’t even have a different word or concept for the political.
August 10, 2014
“We are in a war of a peculiar nature. It is not with an ordinary community, which is hostile or friendly as passion or interest may veer about; not with a State which makes war through wantonness, and abandons it through lassitude. We are at war with a system, which, by its essence, is inimical to all other Governments, and which makes peace or war, as peace or war may best contribute to their subversion. It is with an armed doctrine that we are at war.”
So Edmund Burke wrote near the end of his days, describing the marching modern spirit that animated Jacobin France — a spirit which has plagued us ever since. Burke went on to identify the enemy with an energetic precision. First, it was Revolutionary France, the Regicide commonwealth, “which lays it down as a fixed law of nature, and fundamental right of man, that all government, not being a democracy, is an usurpation.” Second, it was Jacobinism, “the revolt of the enterprising talents of a country against its property,” or “private men form[ing] themselves into associations for the purpose of destroying the pre-existing laws and institutions of their country.” Finally, it was Atheism, or irreligion.
These three forces, present throughout Christendom in isolation for centuries, had finally united under one power, and in one State. It was against this power that Burke set himself with all the power and subtlety of his ample mind.
This image of an armed doctrine appears as in contrast. It is not an armed clan, or an armed banditry, or an armed mob, though it will make use of all these. It is far less localized, and far less human. It combines the brute practicality of a guillotine with the ghostly abstraction of the loftiest Marxist conjectures. A good précis may be discerned in the career of John Reed.
We might say that the French Revolution was the culmination of a brewing revolt: the break-up of Christian Europe and the dawn of the Modern Age. When we look backwards across history through the prism of the twentieth century — in particular through the prism of Revolution, so central to the twentieth century — we begin to see this previous revolution in France, to which the Communists and a hundred other mad malcontents harkened back, in a more sinister light. The armed doctrines were indeed on the march, and we have not heard the last of them.
August 8, 2014
My specialty is not philosophy of religion but rather epistemology. No doubt the following argument has already been made by someone or other in the history of philosophy, but it may be useful to someone else precisely because it refrains from some of the more (to my mind) esoteric concepts in the philosophy of religion. This argument will make no use of phrases like "no distinction between essence and existence" or "metaphysically simple." Whether the concepts are there under some other guise I leave for the reader to judge, but the idea is that the argument will be accessible to those, including myself, who don't find some of those Thomistic notions helpful. It will become fairly clear that this argument owes a bit more to Platonism than to Aristotelianism.
So here goes:
August 6, 2014
There are two tendencies in talking about freedom that, it seems to me, need to be resisted. The first is an attempt to make absolutely sweeping pronouncements to the effect that people should be free to do everything of type x. Those always have to be qualified. Hence, it is simply false that people should be free to practice any religion, because the obvious examples of infant sacrifice, suicide bombing, and child temple prostitution come up. It won't work, either, to say that people should be free to do anything except to commit force and fraud, because "taking your baby home from the hospital and non-violently leaving him to starve in a closet" is a fairly easy counterexample, as are many others.
A tempting reaction to the first set of sweeping statements, however, is also incorrect, and that is to say that we should be free only to do what is right.
Now, that is wrong, too, and to show it, I present the ugly tie test: Suppose that my neighbor is standing in his driveway, minding his own business, drinking a mug of coffee before going to work. I happen to be outside doing a little gardening, and I notice that his tie seems to me to be the ugliest tie I have ever seen. Being an unpleasant person, I'm not content with merely thinking this privately. Instead, I call over to him, "Hey, Joe, that's the ugliest tie I have ever seen. Did you think you were gonna impress the boss with that tie?" And I laugh and go inside.
If I do that, am I pursuing the right? Of course not. I was being a jerk.
August 1, 2014
You just can't make this stuff up. Scotland has passed and is beginning to implement a law which assigns every child in Scotland from birth to age eighteen a "named person," selected by the government, whose job it is to "promote, support, or safeguard the wellbeing" of the child. Parents will not have a choice about whether or not to accept the assignment of an outside government busybody to their children. Some proponents of the law claim that "Families are not required to accept advice" from the named person.
Pardon me if I consider that to be patently disingenuous. We are talking here about a massive invasion of privacy in which an outside person is assigned, without parents' consent, to monitor their child and make on-going recommendations for the child's "well-being." There is not the slightest doubt that parents who refuse to take the advice of these state social workers will face probable repercussions. The very assignment of the "named person" implies that someone else needs to be looking over the parents' shoulders, knowing all sorts of information about the family and the children's upbringing, and making recommendations. That the parents could simply blow these off without the slightest worry about further problems is a ludicrous idea. (Home education leaders in Scotland say that they are already seeing problems, though no details are given.)
July 31, 2014
This is a follow-up to this post. To some extent it will be repetitive of what was in that post, and I beg the reader's indulgence for that repetition. But the argument I am answering has surfaced yet again (never mind where), and it just has so many things wrong with it that I have decided to take another whack at it, in the hopes of unconfusing anybody else who has been confused by it.
The argument goes roughly like this. (No, I'm not precisely quoting anyone. I am paraphrasing.)
Suppose that God revealed himself by a sign or wonder, such as by speaking from the heavens, by raising Jesus from the dead, or even by putting some words into an unlikely place, such as writing "Yahweh alone is God" in the stars or in the cell. Such an event would not be taken by an atheist to be from God. The atheist would decide that both he and everyone reporting the event to him were massively hallucinating rather than conclude that the event was really evidence of the existence of God. Hence, signs and wonders can be evidence of the activity of God only to those who already believe on other grounds that God exists. Therefore, they do not constitute independent evidence that God exists. Therefore, we shouldn't make arguments first to atheists from signs and wonders. Instead, we should convince them first that God exists by arguments such as philosophical arguments from natural theology.
Let me try to break down a few of the many things wrong with this argument.
First, this argument wrongly assumes that something cannot constitute independent reason to believe something I already believe. That isn't true. Suppose that I get ten e-mails that appear to be from my friend Jeff. Regardless of what order the e-mails come in, each one provides some independent reason to believe that Jeff exists. It is not as though, once I already believe it, the new e-mails no longer provide independent reason for believing in his existence. That probability just gets higher and higher as I receive additional e-mails. It's true that I'm more prone to conclude that a new e-mail is from Jeff if I already believe that Jeff really exists and isn't a spam-bot, but it doesn't follow that the additional e-mails are doing no work to support the proposition, "Jeff exists" simply because they happen to come later in the series. In fact, they obviously do provide additional reason to believe that Jeff exists, a reason that has its own force.
Second, this argument, consistently applied, would have made it impossible for the revelation of Yahweh to "get off the ground" with the people of Israel, because it would always have required previous evidence for Yahweh's existence before His self-revelation could get started. What we find in Scripture is that God revealed Himself to His people by signs and wonders from the outset. They didn't require or receive a philosophical prolegomenon. Rather, God was the God who brought them up out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage. God made the bush burn. God told Moses to make it clear to the people that he was truly a messenger by giving Moses the power to do signs and wonders. If it were never possible to take signs and wonders to be from God if one didn't have a philosophical prolegomenon, then the specific revelation of Yahweh could never have happened.
This has a parallel in human relationships. Take the example above concerning e-mails. If I always had to have previous evidence that Jeff exists before accepting any e-mail as being from Jeff, the correspondence couldn't get started. I would be justified in dismissing the first e-mail as possibly being from a spam-bot or being a hallucination because I was previously a "Jeff agnostic" or "Jeff skeptic" and didn't know about Jeff's existence. Jeff's revelation of himself to me could never get off the ground.
July 28, 2014
Well, not the WHOLE constitution, just one part of it.
The part that enshrined 5,000 years of historical understanding of what marriage is. The one that says gays can marry on the exact same grounds that anyone else can: someone of the opposite sex and who is not a close relative. The one that says you won't get state approval for doing acts that make it illegal for you to donate blood.
I have a question for our pro-gay defenders: what is sexual orientation?
If a man is sexually attracted to women with blond hair, is that an orientation?
If a man is sexually attracted to women who have tattoos, is that an orientation?
If a man is attracted to girls who are 6, is that an orientation?
If a man is attracted to female canines, is that an orientation?
If a man is attracted to girls who are dead, is that an orientation?
If a man is attracted to 72 different virgins, is that an orientation?
Should we issue marriage licenses for the last 4 categories?
If a man wants to marry a man not because he is attracted to him at all, but solely to get the social advantages of marital status and no other purpose, should the state grant that marriage? What if he wants to marry a woman in a coma whose family approves? What if he wants to marry his dog, who wagged its tail when he "popped the question" - should the state grant marriage in that case? What if he wants to marry his house, or the EIffel Tower (don't laugh, there are several people convinced the Eiffel Tower is in love with them). Should the state agree to those marriages? What if all of the shareholders of GE decide to get married - and then apply for a single "family insurance plan" from Obamacare? Should the state agree to that marriage?
July 24, 2014
According to this article in The Independent, Meriam Ibrahim has arrived safely in Italy following an anxious month spent in the American embassy in Khartoum. The Italians brought her to safety about a plane owned by the Roman authorities. Concerning the plight of this courageous woman, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi apparently had this to say:
"If there is no European reaction we cannot feel worthy to call ourselves 'Europe.'"
I had begun to lose hope that we would hear such a statement from a European head of state in my lifetime. I know next to nothing about Mr. Renzi, of course, but he is to be commended for his act of mercy, and his public acknowledgement of the injustice that was done to Mrs. Ibrahim.
From this point forward, we might say that no news is good news where Ibrahim and her family are concerned. They will live in hiding for the remainder of their lives, no doubt, but this will be the least of the crosses she has been asked to bear.
This sickening story from Calgary illustrates a problem for the rule of law in countries with large Muslim enclaves. Over the years, France and other countries with such enclaves have seen repeated rioting and a failure to control such rioting. Tiberge at Galliawatch chronicles some of what is going on along these lines in France right now.
No one can say that the Muslim "demonstrators" in Calgary confined themselves "merely" to destroying property and burning cars, if there were anything "mere" about that. They targeted and beat up helpless people who dared to come out and disagree with them politically. That whole "free exchange of ideas" thing is pretty much lost on die-hard Muslims when it comes to topics about which they feel passionate.
Most disgraceful of all, the police apparently blamed the victims. One beating victim recounts being told by a policeman that he caused his own attack by turning up at an anti-Israel rally with the counter-demonstration symbol of an Israeli flag.
The press joined in, telling one young woman who was beaten that her physical "pose" in a photo showing her talking with the anti-Israel protesters before they attacked her en masse was "confrontational."
July 21, 2014
In case you haven’t read or heard the news, the city where Jonah preached God to the heathens and where Christ has been worshipped for centuries has seen the last of its Christians flee rather than take their chances with the evil forces of the jihad:
By 1 p.m. on Friday almost every Christian in Mosul had heard the Sunni militants’ message — they had until noon Saturday to leave the city…A YouTube video shows ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] taking sledgehammers to the tomb of Jonah, something that was also confirmed by Mr. Hikmat. The militants also removed the cross from St. Ephrem’s Cathedral, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox archdiocese in Mosul, and put up the black ISIS flag in its place. They also destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary, according to Ghazwan Ilyas, the head of the Chaldean Culture Society in Mosul, who spoke by telephone on Thursday from Mosul but seemed to have left on Friday.
“They did not destroy the churches, but they killed us when they removed the cross, this is death for us,” he said.
Of course, the jihadis were “generous” enough to suggest that Christians could stay in Mosul (modern day Nineveh) as long as they “accept Islam” or “pay extra taxes to Islamic Sharia courts”. What if you are a Christian and you refuse to give in to such unjust demands? Well, ISIS has an answer ready for you: “death by the sword.”
July 16, 2014
Two recent stories highlight the fact that the homosexual rights movement is and always has been a zero-sum game. To the extent that the movement achieves its goals, moral traditionalists lose. There is not a compromise point where moral traditionalists can keep some reasonable ability to hold their beliefs and live according to them but where homosexual rights activists also achieve their goals.
The first story is from Robert P. George and Breitbart. Chase Bank has put on its "voluntary" (cough cough) employee survey a question that asks employees to check "any of the following that apply to you," and one of the options is to identify themselves as "an LGBT ally." So if they don't check that one, then they are saying that they don't identify themselves as such an ally. Contrary to initial reports from the bank, employees state categorically that the survey is not anonymous; their employee ID number goes on it. So those who miss that opportunity to identify themselves as "LGBT allies" will be able to be identified by their employer.
It was mildly interesting to me that the first talking-point the left tried on this one was bald denial. With no evidence whatsoever, they implied that Professor George or his informant(s) were making the whole thing up out of whole cloth, that no such question had ever been asked on a survey at Chase Bank. Then Breitbart got hold of what purports to be an actual photo of the question! I don't know what the new talking-point is, but I'll make some predictions:
1) A few on the left will continue to deny the whole thing, claiming or insinuating that Breitbart is putting forward a forgery.
2) Others will shift to saying that the employees are lying when they say that the survey was not anonymous. They will also imply that the employees are lying about the pressure they are under to fill it out. It's voluntary, darn it, voluntary. So shut up!
3) And finally, I predict that some will simply say that, after all, if you aren't willing to identify yourself as an "ally" of the homosexual and transgender movements, you're a bigot and deserve to be punished anyway.
Nor are these mutually exclusive. I expect some on the left to move from one to the other.