Monday, 31 December 2018

Modern Identity

I got a second hand copy of Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self; The Making of the Modern Identity ; €10 if you want to know. It’s a massive survey which includes history or the history of history. I jumped forward to the Victorian era and read that chapter. It establishes that doing good just for its own sake was not what motivated the anti-slavery movement nor was it a utilitarian calculation.

Gen: 1.27 - So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

You can’t work everything in so from the literary point of view he leaves out the Gissing - Orwell line of the atomised individual. Possibly an argument could be made for the William Godwin - Shelley - Byron nexus of individualistic anarchy fetching up in the present confusion of gender as a choice or an imposition. That would be post the 1989 publication of the book. How fast that moved.

The universal exercise of private judgement is a doctrine so unspeakably beautiful that the true politician will certainly feel infinite reluctance in admitting the idea of interfering with it. A principal object in the subsequent stages of enquiry will be to discuss the emergency of the cases that may be thought to demand this interference.
(from Political Justice by Godwin)

Losing votes perhaps?

Friday, 28 December 2018

Bosthoon Strangler

I remember the cartoon in the Dublin Opinion satirical magazine which ran from 1922 - 1968. It shows a large priest in a cassock bisected by a wide leather belt with a cane tucked into it. He is being addressed by a man in a pin striped suit. By his side is a small cowering boy. Caption: I want you to make a bosthoon out of my boy.
A bosthoon (Irish) is a churlish ignorant fellow.

In Ireland the bosthoon/sleeveen (sly, unctous individual) cross has become a smooth urbanite with bien pensant views on everything who regrets the necessity to de-platform those that are deemed scabrous. As I have written recently John Waters and his book Bring Back the Bad Roads have been getting this treatment. Now that state papers from 1938 have been entering the public domain John may be savouring the acid drop irony of Patrick Kavanagh’s tussle with Irish booksellers who he felt were not displaying his newly published The Green Fool in the windows of their shops. Favouring direct action he threatened to wreck the joint if this wasn’t rectified.
journal report

The Green Fool was pulled from Fred Hanna’s because of anti-Catholic sentiment and a possible libel against Oliver St John Gogarty (Buck Mulligan) which actually transpired. Other booksellers had placed the book within the shop but due to the urging of the Monaghan native gave him window space. Move over ‘Michelle’.

Napper Tandy observes: ‘Tis in the body of the jail, Waters would be if he tried that today. Keep the plus ca change baby.’

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Santa Santosha

Santosha and variants in Indian languages is translated as ‘very happy’ but it’s more subtle than that. Some see it as a way of deflecting the sense of gratitude and obligation that may come from doing something for someone or giving them something. You are happy that they are happy. Just that and no more. You have left aside your own ego and complaisance and you do not savour your good deed. It’s done, I’m gone and I’m glad you’re happy. It’s not even my benevolence. Jillelamudi Ama of Southern India regarded as an incarnation of Sri Raja Rajeswari used to feed anyone who came to her ashram saying ‘I am not feeding them, they are eating their own food’.

So we step aside and Santa gets the credit. ‘Very Happy’.

Wikipedia article:

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Five Christmas Profs and a Paradox in a Pear Tree

At this time of the year philosophers visit their own personal grotto in Flatland where the ‘Christmas Lie’ is impugned. Usually they slay the myth of the sleigh: brace yourself Virginia. In 2010 I I watched:
philosophy tv
on the theme of Xmas. Of the 5 profs only one had any sense of the supernatural aspect and he reserved himself to the notion of the feast as a spur to reflection. No doubt he could have said more but there is the tacit rule that we must stay within the bounds of the naturalistic. A couple of the others chose to reflect on the Xmas lie which might mean Santa or Sanctissimus and I now understand why the common run of philosophers prefer science fiction. It is the only way they can immerse themselves in myth. Roy Sorensen, well it's the way he tells them, sorites as recursion. Ho, ho; ho, hum. Professor Brennan presented theodicy as the legend of Uncle Theo. It's essentially the present you get every year in a new wrapping. If we look at God and what he gets up to without the nouministic empowerment of the scriptures we are left with a cosmic tyrant. He told this story effectively and well and of course within the schema of naturalistic explanation he is entirely correct. It is true after its own fashion but it is also true that there is a larger truth that is self confirming which becomes more established the more we turn our faces to it. I read elsewhere that "We have the intelligence and the scientific and technological knowledge to avoid or escape many natural disasters." This childlike faith that under the tree of science will be found the counter-balance to the evil and mayhem that is facilitated by science is misplaced. In the crib it is to be found. (Without prejudice to Balarama, Balakrishna etc)

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Modern Censorship/Censorshop in Ireland

In the market-place of ideas you can pass by the vendor of crepes, filthy foreign food, past the vendor of scented candles, eating the wax of which is an unrecognised cause of spontaneous combustion (flatulence near a naked flame) first noted in altar servers; the cheese stall with the smoked cannon rounds, a vile impertinence. There’s the sourdough bread. Ah yes. What though if the comptroller general of the licence issuing authority granting you space in the market were to ban your product? No more bread. No, no, no; wails of.

So it seems that this is what has happened to the Irish journalist John Waters whose new book that I reviewed recently is not being offered for sale by any of the major book retailers in Ireland.
give us back the bad roads by John Waters

Let me established a guideline for judgement here, a moral surveyors bench mark if you will. White supremacy and the conviction that abortion is a bad thing are not on the same contour. Recollect that Ireland has a population less that that of Boston and has a limited number of contiguous cultural villages. A word in the right quarter can work wonders. John has unquestionably annoyed some long armed media folk and politicians. You’d have to read the book to find out. I got mine online from the publishers Currach Press

These are not commercial decisions by Easons, Dubrays etc. Waters in the past has sold by the cartload. What we have here is not a failure to communicate. It’s the interdiction of communication and a return to the 1950‘s when Hemingway was banned, Joyce of course, and the products of the Olympia Press tout court. Is that what the new liberal SJw’s want? Pathetic puling colouring book artists who fear to draw outside the lines. Archbishop McQuaid: What was the colour of the buttons on his cassock? OMG

Monday, 17 December 2018

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

Hagar Shipley is the daughter of a self-made wealthy grocer in Western Canada in a bleak spot presided over by the stone angel on the hillside cemetery overlooking the town. This blank eyed symbol is over the grave of her mother who died giving birth to her. The father is a dominant, hard man that she takes after, her two brothers weaker and less intelligent fit only for the counter culture. Shop, I mean. She’s sent East for refinement to a school for young ladies. Now all she has to do is to be decorous and wait for a suitable marriage on which her father has the final say. From internal evidence the year of her birth was 1875 or so. The dominant strain in her temperament is firmness, a good trait that unless balanced by prudence leads to obduracy and spite. So it happens. Unable to show affection which can be read as dependence and weakness she resists her father’s attempts to find a suitable match and to spite him marries a widower 14 years older than her, a shiftless man by her father’s and her own striving standards. Possibly a unique event in modern literature is the description of her faking non-orgasm.

This book isn’t in the past but of the past, from the view on the hill of 91 years of age and a stone angel about to topple over. All the past is passing through her mind and her pride revived and celebrated as an antidote to her progressive defeat by A.D. Marvin and Doris her son and daughter-in-law look after her in their home and its wearing them down. She refuses to accept the offer of an old folks home and be the recipient of care which she needs. In between the present 1960‘s struggles with her son and the ghosts of the early 1900‘s the story of a life emerges that kept taking the wrong turns. There will be some insight but no hugs.

The writing is quite excellent and though a tray of madeleines could be binding the transitions are worked seamlessly. Here she is dancing with Bram her future husband:

We spun around the chalky floor, and I reveled in his fingernails with crescents of ingrown earth that never met a file. I fancied I heard in his laughter the bravery of battalions. I thought he looked a bearded Indian, so brown and beaked a face. The black hair thrusting from his chin was rough as thistles. The next instant, though, I imagined him rigged out in a suit of gray soft as a dove's breast-feathers.

Oh, I was the one, all right, tossing my black mane contemptuously, yet never certain the young men had really noticed. I knew my mind, no doubt, but the mind changed every minute, one instant feeling pleased with what I knew and who I was and where I lived, the next instant consigning the brick house to perdition and seeing the plain board town and the shack dwellings beyond our pale as though they'd been the beckoning illustrations in the book of Slavic fairy tales given me by an aunt, the enchanted houses with eyes, walking on their own splayed hen's feet, the czar's sons playing at peasants in coarse embroidered tunics, Housed and belted, the ashen girls drowning attractively in meres, crowned always with lilies, never with pigweed or slime.

Read this one. Canadians: bang it about a little, gently now; knock the chalk out of it.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Susan Wolf's Moral Saints and F.H. Bradley's Ethical Studies

When I read an essay on Moral Saints in aeon that begins:

‘I am glad,’ wrote the acclaimed American philosopher Susan Wolf, ‘that neither I nor those about whom I care most’ are ‘moral saints’.
aeon essay on wolf

I thought of the opening to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code

"Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."

I have to say that I had never heard of Susan Wolf so I thought 'maybe I’d better read the text itself’, upon which I discovered it was well cited and studied. It was published in 1982 when she was 30 which in philosopher years is young, toddlingly so.

moral saints

Some remarks:
Moral Saints seems pleonastic. Are there ‘immoral saints’? Presumably she means moral perfection and whether it is an ideal to be sought after and achieved by taking on heroic tasks to the absolute exclusion of everything else that is good in life. There is a recruiting tone of being the best you can be to this project. She rejects it and proffers an epicurean stance as though there was no other concept of a life well lived. What of the faithful fulfilling of the duties of your station in life? Doesn’t that sound very class ridden, Victorian Christianity. Try this:

Son of Kunti (Arjuna), a man should not abandon the work he was born into, even if it is faulty, for just as fire is wreathed in smoke all undertakings are attended by faults.

(B.G. 18:48)

F.H. Bradley in:
Ethical Studies
writes on My Station and Its Duties (essay 5). Strongly anti-individualist and anti-utilitarian he stresses the primitive given of being born into a community, finding your place in it adapting that place to your capacities, your Dharma. Excuse this long citation but Bradley requires it: (Bradley was also a mere 30 years old when he published Ethical Studies but then Victorians were born at the age of 10)

 He learns, or already perhaps has learned, to speak, and here he appropriates
the common heritage of his race; the tongue that he makes his own is his country's language, it is (or it should be) the same that others speak, and it carries into his mind the ideas and sentiments of the race (over this I need not stay), and stamps them in indelibly. He grows up in an atmosphere of example and general custom, his life widens out from one little world to other and higher worlds, and he apprehends through successive stations the whole in which he lives, and in which he has lived.Is he now to try and develop his "individuality," his self which is not the same as other selves? Where is it? What is it?Where can he find it? The soul within him is saturated, is filled, is qualified by, it has assimilated, has got its substance,has built itself up from, it is one and the same life with the universal life, and if he turns against this he turns against himself;if he thrusts it from him, he tears his own vitals; if he attacks it,he sets his weapon against his own heart. He has found his life in the life of the whole, he lives that in himself, "he is a pulse-beat of the whole system, and himself the whole system."

And furthermore:

Leaving out of sight the question of a society wider than the state, we must say that a man's life with its moral duties is in the main filled up by his station in that system of wholes which the state is, and that this, partly by its laws and institutions and still more by its spirit, gives him the life which he does live and ought to live. That objective institutions exist is of course an obvious fact; and it is a fact which every day is becoming plainer that these institutions are organic, and further,that they are moral.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Kathleen Nott's Original Sin (The Emperor's Clothes 1954)

You will have been told if you are on the conservative spectrum - ‘I am surprised at a person of your intelligence holding such views’. The imputation is that your apparent intelligence is merely the surface sheen of education and that beneath it all you are as thick as a short plank. This of course is a variant of the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy.

I, for my part, am not in the least surprised at Kathleen Nott in her book Emperor’s Clothes (1954) carrying the banner of the Church of Reason like St. Joan of Arc against the perfidious neo-scholastics. And who were they? Graham Greene, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers amongst others and all of them bemused by the doctrine of Original Sin. She writes:

The writers whom I discuss and whom I call neo-scholastic, because they are reverting, at various speeds and from various directions, to a pre-scientific philosophy, try to do just this. Chief among the dogmas which they try to import into our intellectual outlook is the dogma of Original Sin, which is certainly the psychological foundation of Christian orthodoxy. This dogma implies, not that we do not or are unwilling to use our reasoning powers upon our own natures, but that we are incapable of doing so.

In another swingeing blow at ‘original sin’ she states:

The disparagement of scientific method, and the refusal to admit that its applicability is potentially unlimited, express themselves among those who are not yet wholly convinced by dogma in general statements of the type—"Our moral progress has not kept pace with our material progress"; and among those who have become converted, in statements about Original Sin. The belief in Original Sin, the belief that human beings are born essentially 'bad' and cannot become 'good', except through supernatural assistance, generally implies in practice that we cannot become better by knowing more about ourselves and about the nature which we share with others.

She frequently reverts to the subject, tirelessly:

All dogma, in fact, including, and especially, the dogma of Original Sin, divorces us from real and natural morality, which can only be taught us by personal and individual love, generally experienced early and unconsciously. If we cannot learn out morality from that reality, we shall learn it from another: hate.

An initial faint grasp of the scope of the doctrine gives way to journalistic distortions. What is the doctrine of Original Sin when it’s at home? The Maynooth Catechism put out in 1951 has a succinct definition:

Because of Adam’s sin, we are born without sanctifying grace, our intellect is darkened, our will is weakened, our passions incline us to evil, and we are subject to suffering and death.

In 1954, nine years after the disruption caused by the pleasantries of the Third Reich you would have thought that the sense of a propensity to evil that could overtake a whole nation might make the suffix Q.E.D. after that definition seem a given. No, no, it was the Prussian father or mother or inflation or something, anything; oh, make a cup of tea.

Nott studied philosophy at Oxford taking her degree in 1929 so the bright ‘vorpel’ blade of verification smites right fiercely. (Oh Vienna, it means nothing to me, this means nothing to me: Ultravox)

 Thought that is concerned only with truth and is confident of its capacity for verification, for instance a scientific theory soundly based on investigation of observable facts, looks on criticism as an aid to development, a welcome corrective. In the Albigensian Crusades and in the Inquisition, the Church, we lament to recall, 'defended' its dogmas only too vigorously. 

That could have been written yesterday. Did the gates of ‘Vienna’ withstand the neo-scholastic horde? Basically they died off. In 1957 Harold Macmillan told the British - “You’ve never had it so so good”. Then came the 60‘s and so on and so forth.

No Kathleen, I’m not surprised at a woman of your intelligence espousing scientistic doctrines and shabby distortions of your opponents views. That maybe is a sin but it’s not original.

The Emperor's Clothes

Saturday, 8 December 2018


I saw this in the Heaps of Links side bar on Daily Nous:

Central European University is moving from Budapest to Vienna — owing to the Hungarian government’s Hungarian government refusing to let it continue to offer U.S. degree programs

The pure eidos of Hungarian Government is seen here drawing into coherence and firm outline the flickering shadows of Hungarian gov. as normally manifest.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Nihilist Catuskoti Logic

Graham Priest’s essay in Aeon on Buddhist catuskoti (4 cornered) logic displays the generation of paradox by a mathematization of reality. catusknot

Zeno’s paradox is a type of this. Motion is an unbroken flow not a progression through a series of point instants though viewing it as such may be useful mathematically even if physically that is not the case. Trying to justify the flouting of the principle of non-contradiction by esoteric logics shows a similar confusion. Consider the observation: ‘there is less toothpaste in the tube than there was last week’. That could be true, it could be false, it could be neither true nor false if the tube was switched. The fourth corner of both true and false represents a doomed method of discovery. It is absurd.

Nagarjuna 2nd. Century is the most notable proponent of this logic. Without naming him Sankaracarya 8th. C. declares:

II.i.32: As for the view of the absolute nihilist, no attempt is made for its refutation since it is opposed to all means of valid knowledge. for human behaviour, conforming as it does to all right means of valid knowledge, cannot be denied so long as a different order of reality is not realized, for unless there is an exception the general rule prevails.
II.i.33: To be brief, from every point of view that this Buddhist doctrine may be examined for finding out some justification, it breaks down like a well sunk in sand, and we do not find any the least logic here.
(from Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya)

Saturday, 1 December 2018

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

A short review might read - Scobie was a very Roman Catholic. Those who had read the book would know what was meant. A snatch of Beatles here - ‘having read the book, I’d like to turn you on’, or not, maybe because I can’t make up my mind about it. Years ago I read it for the first time so the collapse of Scobie was a Greek fate or the unfolding of a moral mechanism. He was headed there, here’s the map and the road to Hell is clearly signposted. Does Greene have the moral nous and the depth of abandonment to his intuitions to surprise himself? Perhaps, as detractors have held, he is moving about big pieces on the board, the counters of novelettish Catholicism. Is The Heart of the Matter water I can walk on?
Something in me doubts and I sink.

First of all as they would say in the time of the novel ‘let me put you in the picture’. It is 1940, the location an unnamed colonial capital in West Africa actually Freetown, Sierra Leone. Greene was there in 42/3 as an M.I.5 agent with a cover role in the police. His prefatory note says that any resemblance to people he might have known during his tour is purely coincidental. Fiction, you know. Yes, quite. Scobie is an assistant police commissioner, a man of absolute probity, resisting all attempts to corrupt him by the wily Syrian trader Yusef. In Greeneland mentioning this acts like a shot of gophers in a cowboy picture as the stagecoach attempts to evade the injuns. Scobie has a wife Louise, a bit of a pill, who’s going mad in the vile climate. Long term residents are all slightly yellow like the Simpsons from the anti-malarial medicine atabrine. Conjugal felicity appears to be absent, too frightfully sweat-making. Their only child, a girl, died 3 years before and it seems grieving is in a suspended incomplete state. A photo of her in a first communion outfit with veil is on the dressing table amidst the pots. This is the crystallizing image, the ‘eidos’ of the book. Near its centre as an example of ironic authorial congruence the title is mentioned:

What an absurd thing it was to expect happiness in a world so full of misery.He had cut down his own needs to a minimum, photographs were put away in drawers, the dead were put out of mind: a razor-strop, a pair of rusty handcuffs for decoration. But one still has one's eyes, he thought, one's ears. Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, evil—or else an absolute ignorance.
Outside the rest-house he stopped again. The lights inside would have given an extraordinary impression of peace if one hadn't known,just as the stars on this clear night gave also an impression of remoteness, security, freedom. If one knew, he wondered, the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets? if one reached what they called the heart of the matter?

Scobie is in his role as assistant commissioner of police assisting the transfer of people who were in a ship sunk by a German submarine and put on boats to drift for 40 days. One of them is a child whose mother is dead and she is herself soon to die. While the nurse is absent he is sent to sit with her:

When he looked at the child, he saw a white communion veil over her head: it was a trick of the light on the mosquito net and a trick of his own mind. He put his head in his hands and wouldn't look. He had been in Africa when his own child died. He had always thanked God that he had missed that. It seemed after all that one never really missed a thing. To be a human being one had to drink the cup. If one were lucky on one day, or cowardly on another, it was presented on a third occasion. He prayed silently into his hands, "O God, don't let anything happen before Mrs. Bowles comes back." 

There is the argument from evil which is so impressive for those without faith or for the convert Scobie who ‘turned’ as the Irish say on marriage to Louise. What’s missing I think in his faith is the belief in the devil until right at the end when he must finally acknowledge him as his master. Until then ‘poor devils’ is colloquial for colonials and natives both. Screwtape was right, not admitting the existence of the sulphurous gentleman gives him a free hand.

It’s a good novel even if theologically incorrect and with unlikely elements. He had a great ‘filmic’ capacity, there is that graphic storyboard effect of which he was a master. Read it; it will make you think, reflect and perhaps pray.