Reading

Monday, 10-14-2019

 

How much do we read?  I suppose the answer depend on what one means by reading.  Much of what we call by that name is barely the same activity.  We say we have no time for real reading.  But we seem to have plenty of time for snack prose.

Unlike the older forms of prose, which encourage patience and thoughtfulness, snack prose encourages hastiness in thought and expression.  It also promotes a higher emotional temperature and lower ideational content.  No wonder there are so many insults on Twitter:  The median tweet is 34 characters.  That’s enough for what is flatteringly termed a “thought,” but not for an argument.

Interestingly, snack prose begins to set the style of prose in general.  Smaller bites.  Shorter paragraphs.  Gnomic sentences.

Just look at the ones in this post.

At the personal level, there is a solution, for anyone who cares enough to implement it:  Read more.

And turn all that other junk off.

 

Limerick

Thursday, 10-10-2019

 

On a cold summer day in the morning

Edward’s teacher gave Ed a grave warning.

“Read humbly, my boy,

“Learning’s not just a toy,

“For you can’t learn from what you are scorning.”

 

Spontaneous Homicide

Monday, 10-07-2019

 

From time to time someone argues that abortion couldn’t be against the natural law, because sometimes during the course of gestation spontaneous abortions occur.

Here is the difference.  In one case, the unborn child dies because something goes dreadfully wrong during the natural process of development.  In the other, he dies because someone kills him.

The two kinds of death are not comparable.  A miscarriage should no more be called a “spontaneous abortion” than the death of a grown man from a heart attack should be called a “spontaneous homicide.”

Related:

Posts about abortion

History’s Highest Function

Monday, 09-30-2019

 

“This I regard as history’s highest function,” says the Roman historian Tacitus, “to let no worthy action be uncommemorated, and to hold out the reprobation of posterity as a terror to evil words and deeds.”

Curious.  Today we tend to think that the commemoration of virtuous deeds and the condemnation of wicked ones is suitable, perhaps, for teaching children about the founders of the country (and perhaps not even then), but not to be taken seriously by adults.  History for grown-up people isn’t about unscientific things like virtue and vice, we say, but about causes and effects, about what makes things happen.

But whatever Tacitus may have got wrong about the history of his own people, he understood that virtue and vice are real causal factors in affairs.  Vicious persons behave differently than virtuous ones, and although there are various ways, such as checks and balances, to protect some approximation of the common good even with less virtue than we wish that we had, there is no way to get by without any.

Thus to leave virtues and vices out of the picture is not more grown-up and scientific, but less.

Math and Morality

Monday, 09-23-2019

 

For it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits.  --  Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

How is morality like and unlike mathematics?

Alike:  In both math and morality, there are right and wrong answers.

Alike:  Everyone knows something about both math and morality.

Alike:  Both math and morality employ reasoning to find out more.

Unlike:  In math the mind uses calculation a great deal, but in ethics it makes greater use of good judgment -- that was Aristotle’s point.

Alike:  However, in both math and morality, mastery is best judged by those who have achieved it.

Because of the one unlike, superficial people tend to forget the four alikes.  They think there are no right or wrong answers in morality, that everyone is in the dark about right and wrong, that reasoning has nothing to do with it, and that no one may dare judge whether anyone is better at it than anyone else.

 

Thanks for Telling Me

Wednesday, 09-18-2019

 

From a young scholar:

I keep your How to Be Full and Exact post open on my smartphone.  Now that I've settled into my first academic job, I should really work on practicing more of your suggestions!

 

Reply:

You would find it hard to believe how absurdly pleased that makes this humble blogger.

 

Old Reliable

Monday, 09-16-2019

 

Reliably supporting a cause is not the same thing as being consistent.  Case in point:  Old reliable Richard Dawkins, who has been writing for years about how meaningless everything is, but who can’t keep his own claims straight.

Dawkins writes, “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

Yet he expresses another of his characteristic themes when he writes, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose,” and when, to the same effect, he declares, “The illusion of purpose is so powerful that biologists themselves use the assumption of good design as a working tool.”

So one of the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, is the appearance of design.  Yes, of course.  Now that this has been explained, it all makes perfect sense.

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Quotations taken from Dawkins’ books River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life and The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design.