Monday, 29 January 2018

The Pneumatic Gardener and The Genteel Tailor

Shirley Hibberd (1825 - 1890)
shirley hibberd wiki
could move with ease from the high flown to the homely. His book of reflections on nature, Brambles and Bay Leaves, could edify in a delightfully, virtually pneumatic, vapourous manner and his counsel to cottagers Profitable Gardening was practical and to the point.

"Dr. Cromwell, in his '^Philosophy of a Future Life/' urges that there are grounds for concluding that plants are possessed of a principle closely akin to intelligence. I know not how far knowledge may lead us in this direction; but I am sure if vegetation ever comes to be regarded as the depository of sentient powers, it will be pronounced first of all that grass can think. It is an emblem, too, of all that is good in life and hopeful in death. We cannot conceive of human happiness, except in connection with verdurous scenes; we cannot conjure up a vision of our heavenly home, without lavishly clothing it with greenness. The truth is, that the story of the grass is the story of the world. Ere the creatures of the flood and field existed, the earth brought forth grass and herbs, so that when the earth should 'bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping tiling,' they should find sustenance and enjoyment; and man, waking up from chaos at the will of the Omnipotent, should find himself in a home of greenness, with a soft carpet for his feet, a refreshing verdure to gladden his eye, and a living beauty to imbue his heart with holiness and peace. Well! upon the green turf he worshipped his God at sunrise, and upon the grassy ground he slept at nightfall; and when that greatest of his benedictions came—a companion to make complete the sweetness of his hours—it was on the green grass they walked together, singing hymns of joy, and mingling their affections with the happiness of the creatures."

Chapter X:
The Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)
Everyone grows cabbages, and everybody eats it; but my lady never hears the word, for all cabbages are “greens” in polite society. But plain people call things by their right names, and I, for one, rejoice in a cabbage, and like to call it cabbage, even when I dine with a retired tailor. Now a cabbage is a thing that most people think they can grow well, and generally speaking, good cabbages are very abundant; but cottagers, not looking upon it as a precarious or particularly choice crop, too often get careless, and where they take one ton of cabbage, a little extra pains would enable them to take two.
(from Profitable Gardening)

Impeccable punctuation, wouldn’t you say. The reference to the genteel tailor might be understandable due to their sitting cross-legged on a table at the window to do their work. This ‘asana’, as those of you who practice yoga will know, can lead to a species of ventriloquy. For this reason tailors kept by them old shirts whose seams they would rip in an absent minded manner.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Augustine and Monica proposed, God disposed

Reading Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo(2000) I was forcibly struck by the incident of Augustine’s putting away of his common-law wife and the retention of his son Adeodatus. It is an indication of how essentially decent people can be turned from goodness by culture and personal ambition. To add piquancy to that stew and a claim to exquisite moral sensitivity there is added essence of pear theft as a boy out of sheer badness. Brown, whose footnotes seem a Mylesian caricature of scholarship, offers as counterpoint the mere pagan administrator who kept as his sole wife a woman in a similar ‘second-rate marriage’. He was of course a rich man without any need for an advantageous alliance. God disposed of Augustine’s and Monica’s ambition by bringing ‘my son the professor’ back home to interminable wrangling with heretics.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Bergson on the Incapacity of Philosophy

Bergson writing on the incapacity of philosophy to inspire a universal morality:

Now, we have just the same impression when we compare, for example, the doctrine of the Stoics with Christian morality. The Stoics proclaimed themselves citizens of the world, and added that all men were brothers, having come from the same God. The words were almost the same; but they did not find the same echo, because they were not spoken with the same accent. The Stoics provided some very fine examples. If they did not succeed in drawing humanity after them, it is because Stoicism is essentially a philosophy. The philosopher who is so enamoured of this noble doctrine as to become wrapped up in it doubtless vitalizes it by translating it into practice; just so did Pygmalion's love breathe life into the statue once it was carven. But it is a far cry from this emotion to the enthusiasm which spreads from soul to soul, unceasingly, like a conflagration. Such an emotion may indeed develop into ideas which make up a doctrine, or even several different doctrines having no other resemblance between them than a kinship of the spirit; but it precedes the idea instead of following it. To find something of the kind in classical antiquity, we must not go to the Stoics, but rather to the man who inspired all the great philosophers of Greece without contributing any system, without having written anything, Socrates.
(from Two Sources of Morality and Religion

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Well now, here’s the thing, my edition of Solar Bones by Mike McCormack has a serious spoiler on the back blurb of the Tramp published book. Like the tag line of Psycho 2 Norm’s back and guess what so’s his Mom. That’s fun. The curious thing however is that McCormack sanctioned the revelation feeling that, he says or is purported to say, that events may come on too sudden casting a backwards bewilderment on the book. I am, as you know a careful and immersive reader, so I was worried that I had missed a plot point. That would be easy to do given the rushing stream of consciousness babbling on. I don’t mind that, I was reared on it. Alienation from within the novel is bad enough, Trollope stop addressing me please, tell your story. From outside alienation in a pointless blurb is an artistic error which may have had a production reason for it. It’s a good book though. I will relate.

Stately plump Marcus Conway is rattling around in his empty house, his family being out. He recalls the events of the last few years as a husband, father and engineer and latterly nurse during his wife’s ‘crypto’ bout. Brown trout in the water, boil it hard and the thing we never thought would happen in Ireland buying water in flagons and tankers with water dispensing it. The voice of Marcus has a greater range than you might expect from standard issue civil engineer because he spent two years studying for the priesthood in Maynooth. There’s philosophy mixed in with stories of dealing with bosthoon politicians that vary from the smooth spin speak to shouting down the phone about construction that was faulty had to be certified because my re-election would be in trouble. Very true, photo ops with large scissors count and make a memory that nudges your numbers.

This is Marcus Conway’s song about Ireland in the 21st.Century. Excellent.Because I read it ‘in a printed book’ (Synge) I cannot give you an excerpt and in any case the typography would likely be altered. Beautifully produced book by Tramp press.

To alter a line of James Clarence Mangan’s A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century:

‘It was the time,
It was the clime,
Of John Francis Moylette of the Crubeen Cawm’
(crooked trotter i.e. bribe)

Mangan’s A Vision

I walked entranced
Through a land of Morn;
The sun, with wondrous excess of light,
Shone down and glanced
Over seas of corn
And lustrous gardens a-left and right
Even in the clime
Of resplendent Spain,
Beams no such sun upon such a land;
But it was the time,
’Twas in the reign,
Of Cahal Mór of the Wine-red Hand.

Anon stood nigh
By my side a man
Of princely aspect and port sublime.
Him queried I -
‘O, my Lord and Khan,
What clime is this, and what golden time?’
When he - ‘The clime
Is a clime to praise,
The clime is Erin’s, the green and bland;
And it is the time,
These be the days,
Of Cahal Mór of the Wine-red Hand!’

Then saw I thrones,
And circling fires,
And a Dome rose near me, as by a spell,
Whence flowed the tones
Of silver lyres,
And many voices in wreathed swell; 
And their thrilling chime
Fell on mine ears
As the heavenly hymn of an angel-band -
‘It is now the time,
These be the years,
Of Cahal Mór of the Wine-red Hand!’

I sought the hall,
And, behold! - a change
From light to darkness, from joy to woe!
King, nobles, all,
Looked aghast and strange;
The minstrel-group sate in dumbest show!
Had some great crime
Wrought this dread amaze,
This terror? None seemed to understand
’Twas then the time
We were in the days,
Of Cahal Mór of the Wine-red Hand.

I again walked forth,
But lo! the sky
Showed fleckt with blood, and an alien sun
Glared from the north,
And there stood on high,
Amid his shorn beams, a skeleton!
It was by the stream
Of the castled Maine,
One Autumn eve, in the Teuton’s land,
That I dreamed this dream
Of the time and reign
Of Cahal Mór of the Wine-red Hand!

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Jump on the Hawaii bus

If Hawaii were like a bus in an accident that passerbys jump on to make a fraudulent claim what beauteous compo that would be. I foresee millions in payout for genuine distress. Hiding in a storm drain with your child thinking that your hour/15 mins. has come, ultimate P.T.S.D. The strange thing is the silence of the blogosphere. No one wants to talk about how a retaliatory launch might have crisped the planet and how easily that could have happened. The doomsday clock is now 2 1/2 mins. to midnight.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Pascal's Wager and the Way of Epistemic Humility

The problem with Pascal’s wager is that it is a wager, and so the stakes are fixed in advance. Betting is about winning some value you are already aware of, not learning that there is something new out there to be valued. If you set out to acquire beliefs without learning, you are cheating: gaining epistemic ground without doing epistemic work. By contrast, in the cases of aspirational faith, coming to believe that, e.g., we will still be friends on Monday, is part and parcel of a bigger project of learning to become a different kind of person. The project is intellectual, involving a change in beliefs, but it is not only intellectual — and its intellectual character is inseparable from its affective and motivational character.

Pascal may have been making a related point to the effect that the mind does not have a monopoly on wisdom when he famously declared that “the heart has its reasons which reason does not know”. But that sentiment, however beautifully expressed, leaves the crucial questions unanswered. Because suppose that Pascal is right, and someone’s heart has reasons that her reasons does not know. Do things have to stay that way? Couldn’t her reason learn those reasons? And wouldn’t that, in turn, be her heart’s opportunity to grow?
(Agnes Callard writing in The Stone N.Y.T.)

Such is her summing up in a nicely thoughtful and pleasant essay. Pascal’s Wager contains an irony that is missed by the non-believer namely the notion that a prudential option is possible in the matter of faith.

In the Year of Grace 1654,
Monday, the 23rd of November
Feast of St. Clement, Pope and Martyr,
and others in the Martyrology.
Vigil of St. Chrysogonus, Martyr, and others.
From about half past ten in the evening
until about half past twelve,
God of Abraham,
God of Isaac,
God of Jacob
Not of the philosophers and scholars.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
God of Jesus-Christ,
Deum meum et Deum vestrum.
(“My God and Your God,” John 20:17)
” Your God will be my God ”
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything,
except God.
He is to be found only by the ways
taught in the Gospel.
Greatness of the human soul.
“Righteous Father, the world has not known Thee,
but I have known Thee.
Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of Joy,
I have separated myself from Him
Dereliquerunt me fontem aquae vivae
(They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters,” Jer. 2:13)
” My God, wilt Thou leave me? ”
Let me not be separated from him eternally .
This is the eternal life,
that they might know Thee,
the only true God,
and the one whom Thou has sent, Jesus Christ ”
I have separated myself from Him:
I have fled from Him, denied Him, crucified Him.
Let me never be separated from Him.
We keep hold of Him only by the ways
taught in the Gospel.
Renunciation. total and sweet
Submission. total and sweet
Total submission to Jesus-Christ
and to my director
Eternally in joy
for a day’s training on earth.
Non obliviscar sermones tuos.
(“I will not forget Thy words,” Psalm 118:16)
(written on parchment found sown inside his coat after his death)

Following on from “the heart has its reasons....

277 The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know…
278 It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by reason.
279 Faith is a gift of God; do not believe that we said it was a gift of reasoning…

Does this sound like a man with a prudential option plan or a man who would mock the notion of a safe bet? There are no epistemic grounds for that leap. What you must do is say to yourself ‘I don’t know and there is no way that I can know by my own power’. A partial emptying of your need for regimental rationalism is to associate with believers.

Can I call this the way of epistemic humility?

Monday, 8 January 2018

The Two Sources of Morality and Religion by Henri Bergson

I tend towards Bergsonism which is an alert attention to his thought whether it seems inscrutable, as it often does, or not. Bergsonianism I take to be a willingness to co-opt a slice or two into one’s own loaf. I’m not sure that any of the modern Bergsonianisms have much use for his last major work The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. A citation will hint why which is odd because there is no major conflict with evolutionary ethics/ethology at present fashionable.

We have been searching for pure obligation. To find it we have had to reduce morality to its simplest expression. The advantage of this has been to indicate in what obligation consisted; the disadvantage, to narrow down morality enormously. Not indeed because that part of it which we have left on one side is not obligatory: is there such a thing as a duty which is not compulsory? But it is conceivable that, starting from a primitive basis of obligation pure and simple, such as we have just defined, this obligation should radiate, expand, and even come to be absorbed into something that transfigures it. Let us now see what complete morality would be like. We shall use the same method and once more proceed, not downwards as up to now but upwards, to the extreme limit.
In all times there have arisen exceptional men, incarnating this morality. Before the saints of Christianity, mankind had known the sages of Greece, the prophets of Israel, the Arhats of Buddhism, and others besides. It is to them that men have always turned for that complete morality which we had best call absolute morality. And this very fact is at once characteristic and instructive; this very fact suggests to us the existence of a difference of kind and not merely one of degree between the morality with which we have been dealing up to now and that we are about to study, between the maximum and the minimum, between the two extremes. Whereas the former is all the more unalloyed and perfect precisely in proportion as it is the more readily reduced to impersonal formulae, the second, in order to be fully itself, must be incarnate in a privileged person who becomes an example. The generality of the one consists in the universal acceptance of a law, that of the other in a common imitation of a model.
Why is it, then, that saints have their imitators, and why do the great moral leaders draw the masses after them? They ask nothing, and yet they receive. They have no need to exhort; their mere existence suffices. For such is precisely the nature of this other morality. Whereas natural obligation is a pressure or a propulsive force, complete and perfect morality has the effect of an appeal.
Only those who have come into touch with a great moral personality have fully realized the  nature of this appeal.

The primitive morality of which he speaks is the in group tribal morality of the closed society. This is a fundamental virtually instinctual promptness to align oneself with the good of the group. Bergson’s delineates the impossibility of moving to the open religious moral schema without the powerful spiritual magnetism of the avatar.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Brain Bypass

Is it possible to achieve a brain bypass? In the view of Bergson the brain is the organ of action keeping us focused on the present moment and its main purpose is to exclude all that is not salient. The depressive is like the Rorschach test subject that kept finding sexual themes in the blot patterns.
- My, said the psychiatrist, you have a dirty mind.
- What about you showing me all those dirty pictures?

The depressive finds a note of gloom and fatality in the present moment and all his acts are tainted with it. The point of the cone (Bergson’s image) is like a funnel drawing down the pollution of the past. Can a mind move away from that dismal fixation? In the Jungian way as in Yeats and in Eastern iconography; the possibility exists to move further out on the cone towards the larger considerations of the Anima Mundi. Meditation can bypass the tiresome engrams deep rutted in the brain. Allow the world to ‘fall through’ the archetypal psychic centres of the body known as the chakras. Feel the world via the heart. Link the breath with a positive aspiration.

And a happy New Year.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Telling All

We all have psychological burdens to bear. The notion that their weight is lessened by sharing them with the world at large is naive and may quite seriously add to the load. In the philosophy blogs which I frequent I have lately noticed that people are revealing the fact of debilitating depression or a deep sadness which is not warranted by the facts of their lives. This is not a prudent strategy and it will most certainly damage the careers of aspirant academics. That is how the world is. Thinking otherwise is a function of your disorder. Reserve your revelations to the persons who love you and to your counselors. Others may guess from your funny gait but its none of their business.