Saturday, July 30, 2005

Meta or Meta?

Peter Leithart has a post about method.

Jean-Luc Marion points out that "method" comes from the Greek meta+hodos, and explains why phenomenology is not methodological: "The method does not run ahead of the phenomenon, by fore-seeing it, pre-dicting it, and pro-ducing it, in order to await it from the outset at the end of the path (meta-hodos) onto which it has just barely set forth." Conversely, philosophy influenced by Descartes is governed by method, which means that all its conclusions were determined at the outset. Methodological philosophy (and its cousin prolegomenal theology) knows from the beginning where it is headed; it immanentizes the eschaton.

Apart from coming near to the etymological fallacy, it seems that Marion (and perhaps Leithart) have left out of consideration the multiple meanings of the Greek word meta. Marion's analysis indicates that he thinks meta means "after"; this is the meaning of the preposition in the title of Aristotle's Metaphysics: the work Metaphysics is so named because in the traditional Aristotelian corpus it was placed after the work Physics.

The problem with Marion's clever point is that meta can also mean "with." (When paired with the accusative case, meta means after; paired with the genitive case, it means with.) Given our common-sense notion of method, it seems more likely that meta means with, so that meta + hodos = "with a way." The ancient (Homeric) meaning of method is "pursuit." To this is added, by the philosophers, especially Plato, the meaning of a principled way of proceeding. (Note that hodos means way or path.) The point of method is not that it determines or knows everything ahead of time (and so can wait at the end of the path (of experience?) but that it provides us an organized (to mix in some Latin) way of moving through the world.

Leithart says that "philosophy influenced by Descartes is governed by method, which means that all its conclusions were determined at the outset." If I understand aright, he means that philosophy influenced by Descartes is deterministic in the sense that the principles (or, conclusions) of that philosophy are set down in stone by the method. But for Descartes especially (and maybe Leithart does not include Descartes in those "influenced by Descartes"), method is the harmonious way of moving through the rational structure of the universe in order to discover the truths about the universe. It is harmonious because it requires the "methodist" to take what the world gives and not invent or tear the world. It is necessary because it is the only way that we can be sure that our conclusions are true. A careful reader of the Meditations will, I think, realize that Descartes's insistence on following the method is for just that purpose.

Aside: for some reason (perhaps it's Gilson?), Descartes is the whipping boy for many people today. Most of those who beat him show only a surface familiarity with him. Further, Leithart's association of method with Descartes is not completely accurate. After all, method is from the Greek methodos, which figures prominently in, among other ancient works, Plato's Sophist and Statesman.

Leithart then says that "Methodological philosophy (and its cousin prolegomenal theology) knows from the beginning where it is headed," which is false. Presuming it's safe to substitute "methodological philosophers" for "methodological philosophy," it seems that Leithart has mixed ontology with epistemology. It is precisely because we do not know what the conclusions are that we must adhere to some method. Without method, according to Descartes, we have no way of knowing what the world is like. We might as well make it up as we go along.

Now, I am not saying that phenomenologists like Husserl (or Marion) make it up as they go along. But they do have a method; it just might not be the Cartesian one.

Slightly related point: I have a friend who once had a bumper sticker with an allusion to the quotation (to which Leithart refers in his last sentence) from Eric Voegelin: "Thou shalt not immanentize the eschaton." (Actually, the quotation from Voegelin is "When the attempt is made, first merely in principle, to immanentize the transcendent eschaton (in the Christian sense of the term), then everything follows from the logic of the approach, right down to the historical fact as the answer to the meaning of self-interpreting existence" [Faith and Political Philosophy, p. 73].) It seems that Voegelin's point is also related to some kind of fixity ("everything follows from the logic of the approach"), but I don't know Voegelin at all and so can't say anything about that.

The White Path

The Burglar has had this site on the Burgling list for quite some time now, but I wanted to further recommend perusing it. As usual, I discover a site about a month or more after the illlustrious Burglar, only to realize that it has been on the blogroll for ages. My web-surfing is indeed amateur.

Mustafa Akyol is a Muslim who lives in Istanbul, and travels around Europe and occassionally the US for speaking engagements. He seems to be generally committed to Islam's incorporation with the ideals of the free-market of ideas and commerce in the West as far as can be accomplished without comprimising important doctrinal positions. I was directed to him by a comment from Phil Johnson, which I read in this month's Touchstone.

A couple of tidbits from this mornings read, and there are many more interesting looking posts I have yet to peruse like "In Defense of Mary the Virgin" and "Hating America Turkish Style -- This too shall pass" and The Parliament of this World's Religions and the Axis of Theism. Anyway, they all look interesting.

From Intelligent Decline, Revisited

"Actually it is members of the Darwinian camp who employ arguments from ignorance: "We don't know how this evolved, but it must have been somehow" is the kind of answer they give to many complex questions such as the origin of life, biochemical systems, genetic code or the animal phyla. What we find curious is why they ardently presume that every unsolved puzzle will definitely be solved through a materialistic explanation. The only reason is "an a priori commitment to materialism," as the arch-Darwinist Richard Lewontin famously acknowledged a few years ago."

See also, Akyol's Testimony to the Kansas State Education Board
"Most Darwinists have the opposite motive, which are non-theistic worldviews like secular humanism and atheism, which are all driven by the philosophy of Naturalism, also called materialism. And this is all fine; people on both sides of the debate might have motives derived from their philosophical convictions. The problem starts when they seek to impose those beliefs on the institutions of science and government so that their non-theistic worldviews will become the official state ideology. I think this is the current situation in American biology textbooks. Materialism has dominated them and does not allow other views to have a fair share, although it clearly lacks full scientific support."

Perhaps most bracing is "Bolshevism in a Headdress: Islamic fundamentalism has more to do with the hatred of the West than with faith"

Europe has turned out to be a perfect petri dish for growing Islamic radicalism. Muslim communities there consist mostly of poor immigrants living in closed communities. Such a social situation is fertile ground for radicalism, and disenchanted European Muslims have easily been recruited by radical groups. Antoine Sfeir, a French scholar studying Islamic radicalism in Europe, characterizes it as "a kind of combat against the rich and powerful by the poor men of the planet." Oliver Roy, another French expert on Islamic movements, notes, "To convert to Islam today is a way for a European rebel to find a cause; it has little to do with theology." Not surprisingly, Lionel Dumont, an Algerian-born French national suspected of links to al-Qaeda, said that he joined Islam because "the Muslims are the only ones to fight the system."

This fight against "the system" links Islamic radicalism to the Marxist-Leninist radicalism that preceded it. Marxism had a considerable influence on Islamic radicals like Sayyid Qutb, Sayyid Mawdudi, and Ali Shariati--architect of the Iranian Revolution. Shariati thought that Islam presented a better ideology and system than Marxism-Leninism for Muslims to topple the "imperialists."

It is thus not surprising to see ex-Marxists join the ranks of Islamic radicals. A compelling example is the recent "conversion" to Islam of Carlos the Jackal, the notorious Marxist terrorist now imprisoned in France. From his prison cell he has penned a book titled Revolutionary Islam. This brand of Islam, he argues, "attacks the ruling classes in order to achieve a more equitable redistribution of wealth" and is the only "transnational force capable of standing up to the enslavement of nations."

Here is my theory, and no its not very original. A-thiestic materialism has had its day. It has had a stranglehold on Western political, philosophical and scientific thought, but there is enough of a growing mass of intelligent, reasonable, educated people who have "tasted and seen and touched" and are tired of being ridiculed with "exclusivist rhetoric" (to turn a Berkeley phrase onto its head) into silence. Athiestic materialism will always be tolerated, but in a couple of decades people like Mustafa, and the current supporters of the ID movement will have won the day, and will themselves be in the position to be judged on their (our) ability to tolerate in the open marketplace of ideas. Advance the Day, I say.

Friday, July 29, 2005

When Disney Was Cool

From the CD insert "Brubeck on Columbia"

"... the 1957 album 'Dave Digs Disney' proved the jazz-worthiness of 'Some day my Prince will come,' 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'When You Wish Upon a Star.'

'That album came from Iola [Dave's wife] buying the yellow plastic 78's of Disney music for the kids,' Brubeck noted. 'We always had a turntable on the road, and the kids were always playing those tunes. We grew to love them, and Paul [Desmond - Sax] loved them too.'"

I'm going to have to check out this record. If anyone has heard it and has a review, drop me a line.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Michael Yon

I've added Michael Yon's blog to the blogroll. He's an independent "reporter" in Iraq. Read his blog for real information on Iraq, not the regurgitated cable and network "news." For some background on Yon, read his interview with Glenn Reynolds.

Other recent additions to the blogroll include Rogue Classicism and Novum Testamentum. If you've got a blog you think I should add, please e-mail me, and I'll take a look.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Living Martyrdom

I used to listen to talk radio all the time when I was commuting everyday to Los Angeles. My two favorite shows quickly became Dennis Prager and Hugh Hewitt partly because they are thoughtful men with good ideas about politics, but mostly because I appreciated the parts of their shows that did not have to do with politics, but with living and culture. Hugh has movie segments, wine segments, literature segments, and Prager has, among other things, the Happiness Hour on Fridays, which I think is one of the most interesting and meaningful mass media events around.

This morning his show happened to coincide with my (late) drive to work, and he started with the basic idea that taking time on a daily basis to make sure that some of your "happiness" needs are met is essential. His negative example of this was that "martyrs" (and I understood him to mean relational martyrs, rather than people who are willing to die for the sake of faith or ideology) are, inside, angry people. Sooner or later (usually sooner) their apparent martyrdom will explode in selfish rage.

At first this seemed somehow wrong, but Prager is a wise man and so I usually try to hear him out with benefit of the doubt: once again he was right. I think of the times in my own marriage when I have tried to go weeks of "sacrificing in love", giving the appearance of denying my own desires to always take care of those of my wife/family. I would make the bed in the morning, put away everyone's laundry, wash dishes, vacuum spontaneously, etc., etc..

It always became obvious to me after a couple of days or a week that this behavior was actually the most selfish, juvenile way to go about things. For one thing, my wife immediately knows every time that I am not happy doing these things. If I'm stomping through the house collecting laundry, I'm not helping anyone and wouldn't they just rather I let there be too much dirty laundry for today and instead spend (non grumpy) time with them? Secondly, if I did not confront myself before I self-inflicted martyrdom to the point of explosion, the anger would always come out as a "Why aren't YOU doing this sort of sacrifice for ME?!?" My supposed absolute gift of my time and energy was a most selfish act because I was doing it with the (not always conscious) expectation that I receive the same or like treatment. Thats the way marriage is supposed to be, right--total selflessness?

One of Prager's constant points is that taking care to be happy is at root unselfish because it relieves pressure from others, it actually makes them happy (who doesn't become more happy when a genuinely happy (not giggly or silly) person is around), and gives us the reserves to truly sacrifice when that sacrifice is actually and desperately needed. It is worth the strain (I am slowly learning) to say, "Honey, I need to spend an hour reading tonight." "Can we go have a cup of coffee, and just sit and relax and not say anything?" "I need to just get outdoors and play a game really hard for a couple hours." These can all seem selfish if they are done at a time when something of "higher value" is in conflict. There is also the obvious danger of self-indulgence.

But after thinking about this today, I have come to the conclusion (and I have done this before, but not as bluntly) that in marriage and family relationships where we have claims on each others use of time, it is essential to ask "What do you need to do each day (or just today) to be happy?" I think in Christian circles, and especially evangelical ones, there is the idea spread that "Jesus is our happiness or joy." "I am happy each day just knowing that Jesus loves me." This may actually work in practical application for some people, but I have never met them: it may be theologically true, but practically it does not happen just because we say it is so. If it does work for you, please pray for me.

If living a forced martyrdom is then bad, how can we tie the Christian life or repentance and sanctification (all of which the church fathers say is bloodless martyrdom) into the overall picture? Acknowledging that one has needs for happiness is not selfish, but honest and actually humiliating. "I'm sorry, but I just can't be happy for you, despite how much I love you, unless I can have some time for X." It is an acknowledgement of our true state, our actual needs, which is at the heart of spirituality, for true martyrdom comes from acknowledging our state of dependence upon the grace of God, Jesus Christ. Further, as Aristotle would tell us, happiness is not simply a fulfillment of desires. Even as one does that-which-can-make-them-happy, they must intentionally focus on becoming happy during that time, or the result will soon stop being achieved. We are come full circle: the work of being happy is done not because it is the fulfillment of all our desires, but for the sake of those who will be affected by us.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Hobbitual Side of Life

The Burglar has been posting his daily thoughts at a rate like never before and it has convinced me that I no longer have any good excuses to not post. I have recently proved the resurrection of the dead by taking up the practice of daily journalling, and perhaps the energy expended there is the reason for a lack of blogging enthusiasm (not to mention the new baby, who is infinitely more adorable than computers).

In any case, a couple days ago I ran into a vocabulary lapse in the English language and decided to remedy it. Of course, there very may well be a word that already covers this perceived hole, and I am simply unaware. Miro: what is the adjectival form of "hobby"?

I have a hobby of collecting baseball cards. Collecting baseball cards is a _______ activity? My first instinct was that hobby and habit are related, but that does not seem to be the case. Hobby has a slightly confusing entymology (see here and here, but it is certainely not related to habit. So, here is my solution, by association.

I have a habit of smoking.
Smoking is a habitual activity.
I have a hobby of collecting cards.
Collecting cards is a hobbitual activity.

This word is very pleasing to me, especially because of the Middle-Earth resonance (which I could expound upon at length, but will refrain myself, you are welcome). I think that hobbits should be understood as very "hobbitual" beings, for they partake of almost every activity in a very hobbitual way, from gardening to smoking, etc.

I actually think that this vocabulary lack says something about our culture. The reference to habitual(ly) immediately jumps into the negative connotations of something that is habitual, ie. addictive compulsive behavior. Why do we not talk about repetitive behavior in a positive light? Even when someone says, "I run habitually" there is the idea inherent that they have forced themselves into an addiction, and we immediately wait for the explanation: "Oh, I need to lose weight," "It calms me down" [Smoker!], or we sometimes accept the "I need to get away from the house" -- but still a compulsive activity.

I would further maintain (confirmed by a random conversation overheard last night) that any devotion to God is viewed, by the populace at large, to be just such an activity. I resent this because it is entirely improper. There are certainely behaviors that are habitual: constant smoking, brushing teeth, shots of liquor before bed, the way you tie your tie; but they are either the worst of addictions or they are mundane. There needs to be a word in common use that conveys those hobbitual activities of life: those activites that we repeatedly choose to do because we enjoy them as they are.

A further entymological point is the original meaning of the word "habit", now only used to refer to monastic garb. (And here I go off a little bit) Since our friend Charlie Marks has blessed us, the philosophical idea of clothes "habituating" us into our various social categories has taken over the concept of what a habit can do, and has given it those inherent negative implications. Further, it has made us afraid of "habituating" activities, most especially religious education or devotion, and Sayers-ian classical education. I maintain that the human will by nature is not automaton, and the fact that repetitive activity is something that is inherent to all humans is not something to be demonized, but celebrated in its right application. Nor should those bodies who take into account hobbitual man be demonized for their correct anthropology.

I propose a non-violent revolution. Use "hobbitual" with your friends and co-workers. Resurrect the hobbitual side of habits, and today freely and guiltlessly choose a repetitive activity that forms your soul and that you enjoy..

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

More Fishing Thoughts

For background, see here and here.

I missed the note in Lamb's translation of the Ion on the use of an ox horn in fishing. He says, "the nature of this device is still in dispute. Plutarch (De sollertia animal. 977) supports Aristotle's view that the horn acted as a sheath to protect the line from being bitten through by the fish."

The quotation in the Ion is from the Iliad 24.80: "Down sped she to the depths like a plummet of lead, the which, set upon the horn of an ox of the field, goeth down bearing death to the ravenous fishes" (trans. Murray). The word Murray translates as "plummet of lead" is molu/bdaina, which means a piece of lead and not, in case you were wondering (I was), something like a spear.

To review my interest in ancient fishing practices, in the Sophist, the visitor and Theaetetus agree to call the fishing done during the day by the name of "hooking" since all the fishing that is done during the day uses hooks. But that's strange, because people fish with nets during the day, and nets don't have hooks. So I am still wondering (1) what exactly fishing at night (with torches) looked like and (2) why the distinction between fishing at night and fishing during the day is where it is.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Sayre Gives It Another Try

Recall my earlier quandary about the night fishing described in Plato's Sophist. I examined a possible explanation from Kenneth Sayre's Plato's Late Ontology. Here is another explanation from his earlier book Plato's Analytic Method.

It is essential to specify that the angler strikes his prey from below, for example, to distinguish him from the net -- or spear -- fisherman; and if we assume angling without bait, daylight appears essential to enable the angler to see the fish he is attempting to hook. (143)

In a footnote to this sentence, Sayre states:

As described, in angling "a hook is used, and the fish is not struck in any chance part of his body, as he is with the spear, but only about the head and mouth . . ." (220E-221A). This suggests that Plato is thinking of a mode of fishing in which the prey is not induced to take the hook within its mouth.

Notice that this is a different explanation than his later one in Plato's Late Ontology. Maybe he found this explanation unsatisfying? I do.

First, I am suspicious that Plato has in mind fishing without bait. If there are any anglers reading this blog, I would appreciate any insight about the likelihood that one would angle without bait. Do the fish swim up to the hook out of curiosity?

Second, I don't see what about 220e-221a indicates that the fish is not induced to take the hook in his mouth. If one were trying to hook without bait, it seems one could try to hook the fish just about anywhere. I take it that the phrase "about the head and mouth" (peri\ th\n kefalh\n kai\ to\ sto/ma) is to specify which part of the head needs to be hooked. Would the angler hook him in the eye?

So the placement of a distinction between night fishing and day fishing in the account of the angler still puzzles me.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Pinsky on Dante and Computers

From the Atlantic Monthly a while back (subscription required):

Question: Edward Hirsch, in a review of your Inferno in The New Yorker, describes terza rima and says the effect is like "moving through a series of interpenetrating rooms . . . or going down a set of winding stairs." Is there any connection between the spiraling form of Dante's poem and the way computers appeal to our imaginations?

Pinsky: I think so: there is the elegance and compression of something systematic or technical; and then there is the wildness or variation of our feelings -- a grid, and a flow -- that is the essence of terza rima, and in a way the essence of the many swirls and dips and abundance that flow from the binary guts of computing.

All Quiet in the Apartment Complex

It's been quieter than usual in the apartment complex today. There's usually a good amount of screaming kids, but not today. I wonder if they're all inside reading the new Harry Potter. That'd be at least one reason to thank Rowling.

On an unrelated note, I saw The Fantastic Four with the Bourgeois Wife on Friday. My expectations weren't high, but I was still a bit disappointed, especially with the final fight scene. For a final fight scene in a superhero movie, it was too brief.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Seen on a T-shirt Today

"Feminist chicks dig me."

Friday, July 08, 2005

Fishing at Night

In the Sophist (220), the visitor from Elea and Theaetetus try to come up with a kind of definition of what an angler is. To do this they use the method of division, which is nothing more than taking a class of things and then dividing it in two by some criterion. For example, they divide hunting into hunting of land animals and hunting of swimming animals. Then they divide hunting of swimming animals into fishing and fowling. Then they divide fishing into fishing by netting and fishing by striking (with a spear or hook).

At this point in the division they make what seems to me to be a curious division. They divide fishing by striking (which includes both angling and spearing, since the spears (tridents) have hooks on them) into fishing at night and fishing during day. This division seems out of place. Why didn't it come prior to the division into fishing with hooks and fishing with nets. Can't both of them be done either at night or in the day?

Kenneth Sayre offers a suggestion about this division. "To the modern fisherman [this is] an unfamiliar form of angling, undoubtedly. A quotation from Homer at Ion 538d removes the puzzlement of why angling must be performed in daylight" (Plato's Late Ontology, 308n40).

Here's the quotation from Homer in the Ion: "And she passed to the bottom like a lead sinker which, set on a horn from an ox of the field, goes in haste to bring mischief among the ravenous fishes" (trans. Lamb). From what I can gather from this quotation, a fisherman would probably cut a small hole in the tip of an ox horn, put a line through the hole, attach a lead sinker to the end of the line, drop the horn in the water, and when a fish swam into the horn, he would pull the horn out of the water with the fish trapped in the horn. Clearly, this could be best (or only) done during the day since the fisherman would need to be able to see the fish swimming into the horn.

If this is correct, then Sayre's explanation cannot be right because, Theaetetus and the visitor having gone with the daytime division, the visitor clearly states that the kind of angling they're considering is "done with a hook" and hooks not "just any part of the fish's body but always [its] head" (220e-221a, trans. White). This description does not fit the one given in the Ion, and I remain puzzled both about what nocturnal fishing in ancient Greece was like and the placement in the Sophist of the daytime/nighttime division.

One completely unrelated point: when I was writing this I noticed that it was natural to write the phrase "fishing at night," but when I started to write the corresponding phrase "fishing at day" I noticed it didn't sound right. So I changed it to "fishing during day." I could also have said "fishing in day." Curious that modern English will allow "at night" but not "at day."