Monday, March 19, 2018

Appeal to the Stone

As I have previously noted, 'The theory of fallacies is merely partially systematized folklore; as one would expect from folklore, it is a weird brew of logical tidbits, practical advice, ethical admonition, historical detritus of exploded or doubtful theories, things people thought clever or neat at some point, and misunderstandings.' One of the interesting things about it is seeing how different fallacies -- or more often, pseudo-fallacies -- emerge into common discourse.

I recently came across an attribution of the fallacy of the 'appeal to the stone'. It's an interesting example of how these things are born. The original idea is well known:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."

Any Berkeley scholar will note that Boswell and Johnson seem to have misunderstood Berkeley's claim, although in a way that was usually done. (Thus Jonathan Swift, who was Berkeley's friend, is said to have played the practical joke of telling his servants to leave the door locked when Berkeley came to call, because the door was only in Berkeley's mind.) Berkeley, in fact, would arguably agree with Johnson on the key point. But it's not a fallacy to misunderstand a position. Moreover, given what Johnson thought he was refuting, one can simply see the action as a reason to regard the claim as wrong, and it's certainly not a fallacy to give such a reason.

Regardless, the 'appeal to the stone' gets its name from association with the story, whether the story exemplifies it or not. According to Wikipedia, "Argumentum ad lapidem (Latin: "appeal to the stone") is a logical fallacy that consists in dismissing a statement as absurd without giving proof of its absurdity." Considering bare dismissal without reasoning as a fallacy, which is an error of reasoning, is dubious already, but in any case it seems implausible to say that there are no absurdities that can be dismissed without proof. For instance, if I say "P & ~P", whatever P may be, there seems to be no problem with just dismissing the claim as absurd. 'Absurdity' is a classification term; classifications can have quirks or unexpected results, but some things will just be obviously the kind of thing for which you have the classification, 'absurdity', to begin with. There will be times when you can't get away with mere classification without proof -- although those will perhaps all be cases either of 'begging the question' or of just being wrong to begin with. Some classifications, however, have to be basic, and some things will indeed just be absurd. Now, to be sure, although the article is a bit obscure, it does seem at least to suggest that argumentum ad lapidem is a form of begging the question, in that it links it to 'proof by assertion', "where an unproved or disproved claim is asserted as true on no ground other than that of its truth having been asserted." In this way one could make some kind of sense of the fallacy attribution, and in a fruitful way, since petitio principii, unlike most fallacies, has a good account (Aristotle's). The case still would be complicated and uncertain however, since, as Aristotle noted, you can't beg questions with immediate principles, and the falsity of some absurdities is an immediate principle (as in the case of contradiction above).

Wikipedia's account is heavily based on Madsen Pirie's How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic, although it's clear from the Talk page that there has been some effort to make more sense of it. Pirie's discussion is interesting, in that it is based on the principle, "An argument or piece of evidence cannot be dismissed because it fails to conform to an existing opinion." This does not seem to be universally true, although there will indeed be cases where it would be foolish to dismiss an argument so easily. Much of the problem is that we do a lot of different things with arguments in a lot of different contexts. Some of those contexts will have presuppositions that need to be taken into account. It is not unreasonable to dismiss an argument against (say) the possibility of evolution in a class on evolution. If Pirie means 'opinion' in a broad sense, so that it includes things we think we know, then the principle is too broad: it would make it impossible to reject any argument at all. If Pirie means 'opinion' in a narrow sense, so that it excludes anything we actually know, it becomes more plausible for some cases, but, as I have noted, not for every kind of context. (It's interesting, incidentally, that one of Pirie's examples is no-platforming or shouting down a speaker on college campuses. This shows that Pirie's point is a more controversial one than you would gather from the Wikipedia article -- in the book Pirie is actually trying to present a particular picture of what rational discourse is, and each fallacy discussed identifies elements of that picture. Pirie is fairly explicit about this, and for this reason is explicitly generous about what counts as a 'fallacy'. But much of the picture is deliberately put forward in contrast to other conceptions of rational discourse, or at least other practices purporting to be rational discourse. This isn't a problem in Pirie's book, but it's noticeable that it vanishes entirely in the Wikipedia article. This phenomenon, of a set of claims from a very specific argumentative context continuing even after the context is dropped, is very common in the history of fallacies; I've discussed it here before, for example, with the case of false analogy.)

Most of the uses of 'appeal to the stone' or 'argumentum ad lapidem' as a fallacy label trace back to Pirie's book, either in this edition or in the earlier edition, which had the title, The Book of the Fallacy. But the term did not originate here. The earliest I've been able to trace it is to 1959, in Fearnside and Holthier's Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument; you can find it under section 39, 'Abandonment of Discussion', in the 'Diversions' section. Their comment is notable:

Johnson's refutation of Berkeley, a form of refusing to discuss the "absurd," is jestingly referred to by philosophers as the invention of a new fallacy, the appeal ad lapidem (to the stone).

We see here all the later elements of it -- and the explicit recognition that it is something of a joke fallacy. I suspect that their doing so is related to their treating in a discussion of fallacies while also recognizing in the same section that abandoning discussion is not the sort of thing that would ordinarily be considered a fallacy. In any case, this is not the first instance of a joke-fallacy insinuating its way onto serious lists of fallacies; the same thing happened with argumentum ad crumenam and argumentum ad baculum much earlier, as I've also noted before.

Aquinas for Lent XXIX repent is to deplore something one has done. Now it has been stated above (III:84:9) that sorrow or sadness is twofold. First, it denotes a passion of the sensitive appetite, and in this sense penance is not a virtue, but a passion. Secondly, it denotes an act of the will, and in this way it implies choice, and if this be right, it must, of necessity, be an act of virtue. For it is stated in Ethic. ii, 6 that virtue is a habit of choosing according to right reason. Now it belongs to right reason that one should grieve for a proper object of grief as one ought to grieve, and for an end for which one ought to grieve. And this is observed in the penance of which we are speaking now; since the penitent assumes a moderated grief for his past sins, with the intention of removing them. Hence it is evident that the penance of which we are speaking now, is either a virtue or the act of a virtue.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.85.1

Sunday, March 18, 2018

White in the Lily, and Red in the Rose

Today is the memorial of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Doctor of the Church, although of course the feast is liturgically superseded by Sunday. He was an irenic man, inclined to compromise to keep the peace, who had a career that was very much not irenic at all; he was deposed and banished about three times for not accepting Arianism, although in each case he was eventually restored, and he was one of the Conciliar Fathers of the First Council of Constantinople. From his Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 16.12

And why did He call the grace of the Spirit water? Because by water all things subsist; because water brings forth grass and living things; because the water of the showers comes down from heaven; because it comes down one in form, but works in many forms. For one fountain waters the whole of Paradise, and one and the same rain comes down upon all the world, yet it becomes white in the lily, and red in the rose, and purple in violets and hyacinths, and different and varied in each several kind: so it is one in the palm-tree, and another in the vine, and all in all things; and yet is one in nature, not diverse from itself; for the rain does not change itself, and come down first as one thing, then as another, but adapting itself to the constitution of each thing which receives it, it becomes to each what is suitable. Thus also the Holy Ghost, being one, and of one nature, and indivisible, divides to each His grace, according as He will: and as the dry tree, after partaking of water, puts forth shoots, so also the soul in sin, when it has been through repentance made worthy of the Holy Ghost, brings forth clusters of righteousness.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

There Is a Moment of Intense Delight

The Hill of Saint Patrick
by Sir Aubrey De Vere

There is a moment of intense delight
When, standing on the place of some great deed,
We mark where human intellect for right
Hath triumphed, as at bloodless Runnymede,
Or where the victim Spartan fell in fight,
Self sacrificed, that Hellas might be freed;
Beside the walls with Raffaelle's soul still bright;
Or Chatham's tomb, by Senate-kings decreed.
In such a mood, on this bold height, I stand,
Where first the holy pilgrim, Patrick, trod,
And as he gazed upon the glorious land,
Like Pisgah's Seer, stirred by the inward God,
With the deep weight of prophecy oppressed,
Stretched forth, and blessed the land:—and it was blessed!

Aquinas for Lent XXVIII

...the proper and direct cause of sin is to be considered on the part of the adherence to a mutable good; in which respect every sinful act proceeds from inordinate desire for some temporal good. Now the fact that anyone desires a temporal good inordinately, is due to the fact that he loves himself inordinately; for to wish anyone some good is to love him. Therefore it is evident that inordinate love of self is the cause of every sin.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2-1.77.4

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dashed Off V

1. logical constraint
2. intentional content
3. communicative means
4. physical constraint

provable as 'admitting of proof', i.e., proof is possible vs. provable as 'one can (actually) construct a proof for it' vs provable as 'is proven'

1. from a constraint
2. of a subject in a context
3. under an authority
4. over something subordinate
5. to options
6. for an end

the analogies of Christian liturgy and Christian moral life (the reflection of the sacraments in Christian morality)

Some words of art are precisifying and others are summarizing; they work very differently.

An image is apt to be a sign, but is not necessarily a sign.

The material disposition of philosophy is not separable from actual human life. This material disposition has potentially that which is actually unified in an ordered totality in the ideal disposition of philosophy. The material disposition of philosophy, however, receives these things with difficulty because it relies on the senses as a crutch, and therefore expresses these things not as an ordered system but as a diffuse meander. To the extent that this meander is ordered, it involves receiving by means of gradation, one thing through another and for the sake of another. In receiving that which the ideal disposition unifies, the material disposition is completed or perfected by conceptualization, or discovery, and formation of positions. In doing this there is a sort of unity between the material disposition and the ideal disposition, but it is impossible for them ever to be the same: there is always knowledge eluding philosophy as practiced, and the manner in which the material disposition is completed guarantees that it cannot integrates what it receives in the way it is unified in the ideal disposition.

Models are analogies, not definitions.

'Converting to a religion' is primarily a matter of social reasoning. When it is based in philosophical argument, it is in fact a matter of the natural social path given that argument and other context.

relics as an expression of the communion of saints (cp. the Martyrdom of Polycarp)
2 Kg 13:21, Acts 19;12, and relics

analysis of 'intuitions' by productive cause (power), objective cause (that to which the power tends), formal cause (actual kind of exercise), instrumental cause (means by which object is presented to power)
- this allows one to consider possible defective causation in each case

Our sense of objectivity is a feeling of dependence, of wishing, and not being able to accomplish our wish, or at least the hypothetical of this (if I wished otherwise, I could not accomplish it).

2 Tim 1:18 and prayer for the dead (note that Onesiphorus is not greeted either at the beginning or the end of the letter, only his household; all description of Onesphorus is in the past tense -- Also note that what Paul does say about him is pretty typical of what one might say about the dead -- praying for his household and recalling the good he has done)

Voting is a form of petition.

swiftness, acuity, and sensitivity of understanding

Skill, as such, does not reflect.

sets as inquiry-results
To say that there is a set is to say that a particular collecting is logically possible.

present tense as a kind of overlap

squares of opposition
inside, inside not, not inside not, not inside
outside, outside not, not outside not, not outside
into, into not, not into not, not into
out of, out of not, not out of not, not out of
intrinsic, intrinsic not, not intrinsic not, not intrinsic
extrinsic, extrinsic not, not extrinsic not, not extrinsic

"No one functions so independently of another that even the lowliest part does not have some relation to the Head to which it is connected." Leo I

People want to have virtue without having fortitude, and there is no such thing.

Rational politics consists chiefly, although, to be sure, not solely, in living a reasonable life.

the natural right to emergency hospitality

"since land everywhere offers the possibility of supporting a large number of people, the sovereignty of the State, although it must be respected, cannot be exaggerated to the point that access to this land is, for inadequate or unjustified reasons, denied to needy and decent people from other nations, provided, of course, that the public weal, considered very carefully, does not forbid this." Exsul Familia

The integrity of elections requires upholding the character of the election as a good-faith negotiation; that requires entering it with a good faith willingness to abide by it.

As sweet may become dull without ceasing to be sweet, so pleasant may pall without ceasing to be pleasant. There is at least a shadow region of mingled weariness and pleasure.

the shadow of reason in the passions

Latour's modes of being as kinds or spheres of meaning

Progress without practicality is a contradiction in terms.

Ghosts of wickedness linger long in human cultures.

To understand what it means to say that marriage is a contract requires understanding that contracts can be sacred things.

Lack of tradition is sterility of culture.

"The Vocabulary of Virtues and Vices is a constant moral Lesson; perpetually operating to bring each man's moral sentiments into agreement with the general judgment of men." Whewell

Inference to the best explanation is necessarily causal (the 'explanation' part).

positive laws as a precondition for large-scale joint moral action

transcendentals as homoiomerous

Protestantism oscillates wildly between a 'platonism' and a 'nominalism' of grace.

There is a natural abstraction in the progress of a field in which it goes from being about X and its properties to including structures of X and X-properties. Thus mathematics goes from quantity to higher-order structures that illuminate quantity, jurisprudence from law to legal systems, and so forth. The danger is that the root may be forgotten as the field just begins talking about itself; but the progression is natural and the benefits potentially good.

HoP as the study of systems of philosophy, qua systems and the networks of influence

voting as counting-like vs voting as temperature-like (i.e., treating it as an extensive vs as an intensive measure)

alternation of ratios in concept formation:
if a:b::c:d, and I have a concept R such that R(a:b) = R(c:d), then I can form a concept S such that S(a:c)=S(b:d)

a mereology of part-taking

act & potency -> same & different, and parr & whole -> structure

the material cause of law as the whole body of the people (Robert Gahl, Jr.)

Nothing on earth consoles so well as good sense.

"a Contract to speak the Truth is implied in the use of Language" Whewell

authority of infallibility vs authority of doctrinal providence (Billot)

tyranny of rule vs tyranny of usurpation

passive resistance vs passive obedience

the importance of the quieter and more sober part of society to its governance

Campaigning decisions are not made on the basis of validity of votes but on the basis of accessibility of votes.

Scripture & Apostolic Succession of churches as the two instruments for conservation of Tradition
- the two mutually conserve each otehr

suppressio veri & suggestio falsi in jokes

The 'morality of Common Sense' concerns dispositions more than particular actions. But it also often deals with dispositions indirectly, in terms of what we are comfortable or uneasy with, etc.

As it is impossible to obtain exact precision in promising, there is always a region of negotiation involved in determining what promises require.

Every argument in a sense draws upon the whole system of logical principles.

Every government in a democratic society promises the moon but only delivers what it can afford.

Matters of faith may be rationally suggested by a reason that cannot prove them.

[Box : possibilities][Box : place-times][Box : red](not black)

Reasoning about impossibilities is a sort of mirroring or inversion of reasoning about necessities.

If there is legitimacy in the notion of stakeholder, it should apply in all cases of possession of private property.

preconditional, essential, consequential, and incidental Box

Voting is a context in which not supporting is almost as significant as actively supporting.

Every artistic object has an internal logic of design (even if it is a bad logic of design).

journalistic reporting as classifications of circumstances

running gag vs surprise gag

As philosophical positions increase so do objections.

(1) sensation with guarantor
(2) sensation with causal inference
(3) inference to medium
(4) transcendental precondition

Our experience of the world does not indicate that it is infinite in space or in time, nor does it indicate any definite boundaries in space and time.

the world as medium of action, as medium of communication
the world as object(s), as medium, as active power(s)
the world as intelligible object, as sensible object, as object of physical action

3 problems with Sidgwick's handling of 'common sense morality'
(1) inadequate distinction of disposition-duty & action-duty
(2) inadequate distinction between uncertainty arising from principle & uncertainty arising from that to which it is applied
(3) inadequate distinction between specific virtues and general properties of virtue

Aquinas for Lent XXVII

At the present time we cannot know how great God's love for us is: this is because the good things that God will give us exceed our longings and desires, and so cannot be found in our heart: "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, that God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor 2:9).

[Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapters 13-21, Larcher & Weisheipl, trs. The Catholic University of America Press (Washington, DC: 2010) p. 191.]

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Five Poem Drafts

The first two are based on Ossian, the last one on Ahikar and Proverbs.


Star, night's companion,
whose face rises, brilliant,
from the sunset-clouds,
whose majestic steps press down
on the firmament blue,
what do you see below?
The stormwinds of the day are still,
the evening gnats, on light wings,
fill the heaven-silence with their buzz.
Brilliant star,
what do you see below?
But I already I see you
settling with smile on horizon's edge.
Farewell, farewell, silent star!

you dwell on hero-covered land.
Sing at times the glory of the dead;
may their shades rejoice around you.

Sun of Justice

O you who roll on high,
round like ancestral shield,
O divine sun, where are the rays?
Whence springs eternal light?
In majestic beauty you advance.
The stars vanish in the firmament;
the moon, pale, cold, hides in western waves.
You alone endure, O sun!
Who could match you in your course?
The moon wanders in the heavens:
you alone are ever the same,
constantly rejoicing in shining splendor.
Thunder may roll, lightning fly,
but from clouds you burst forth in beauty,
laughing at the tempest.

The Fire-lit Firmament

The fire-lit firmament,
azure field,
is lightly swept with dust of cloud.
The moon has slept but rises now,
an orb of snow,
hanging low
with silvern shine
between mountains steep and sheer.
The winds are winding
through old ways,
mountain passes
thick with grasses
still wet from lately fallen rain,
a fleeting shower
that kissed each flower
and, faithless friend,
was swept by wind,
was off as swiftly as it came,
nothing left to be the same.

Neyat Sor

Above stirring foam,
undaunted by storm,
gale-winds defying,
great spires rising
with crystal gleam;
glowing like snow,
the high castle stands,
praying to heaven.

Courtier's Handbook

Lend your hear that you may hear,
your heart to understand:
casket truths inside yourself
and answers will rise to mouth.
Thirtyfold is cleverness
to make the naïf wise,
that they might speak right answers.
Rob not the wretched,
burden not the weak;
the crime is weighed in the end.
Work not with the unsettled soul,
lest you yourself be overturned.
Do not trouble the age-old bounds.
Focus on the reward that is given,
and do not hound for more.
Do not take praise deceitfully
for in the end it is nothing.
Hare not after money;
ill-gains devour the gainer
and fly beyond reach like a bird.
Be not greedy after gain,
or you will spew it forth.
Do not trouble enduring bounds;
beware the Lord of All.

Aquinas for Lent XXVI

The accumulation of temporal goods contrary to justice is always a mortal sin. And so Hab. 2:6 says: "Woe to those who pile up things not their own." Likewise, the accumulation of temporal goods, even if not contrary to justice, is a mortal sin if one makes them one's end.

[Thomas Aquinas, On Evil, Regan, tr., Oxford University Press (Oxford: 2003) p. 395.]

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Voyages Extraordinaires #23: Le Rayon vert




One after another these names re-echoed through the hall of Helensburgh; it was the way the brothers Sam and Sib had of summoning their housekeeper.

But just now these diminutives had no more power of bringing forth the worthy dame than if her masters had bestowed on her her rightful title.

It was Partridge the factor, who, with his hat in his hand, made his appearance at the hall-door.

Addressing the two goodnatured-looking gentlemen seated in the embrasure of a bow-window in the front of the house, he said,—

“You were calling Dame Bess, masters, but she is not in the house.”

“Where is she, then, Partridge?”

“She has gone out with Miss Campbell for a walk in the park.”

A considerably underappreciated tale, Le Rayon vert, or The Green Ray, is a tale of poetry and love on the western coast of Scotland. Verne was enthusiastic about Scotland; he like to yacht, and visited Scotland several times in his life. Part of his interest was that geography was one of the loves of his life, and Scotland, with its many unusual features, variety of islands, and untamed coasts with picturesque ruins spoke to that part of him completely. We tend to think of Verne as a science fiction writer, and he did deliberately pursue that aspect of his fiction, but many of his tales are, first and foremost, geographical stories: it's the 'geographical' part that usually gives us the voyages in the Voyages Extraordinaires. Part of his interest was that he was part Scottish himself, through an ancestor who had been an archer in the service of King Louis XI, and from an early age had an enthusiasm for Scottish literature, which he read in French translation -- Sir Walter Scott and Ossian, in particular, his love of which comes through on practically every page of The Green Ray.

The Green Ray tells the story of the Melville brothers, Sam and Sib, and their niece and ward, Helena Campbell, on whom they dote. She is of the age to marry, and they have in mind an excellent candidate, Aristobulus Ursiclos; but Helena, being of romantic temperament, has read about the Green Ray, a flash of green light that sometimes appears just as the sun passes the horizon at sea when the sky is clear, and, it is rumored, the viewer of that phenomenon will find his or heart's desire. She insists that she will marry no one until she has seen the Green Ray (although one wonders how much is enthusiasm for the Green Ray and how much of it is reluctance to marry Aristobulus). So off her uncles take her to Oban, in an adventure attempting to find a proper viewing point for the Green Ray. In the course of the story -- which should be read with a map of western Scotland -- Verne satirizes those who would attempt to disparage poetic, artistic, and even just whimsical approaches to the phenomena of nature in the person of Aristobulus Ursiclos, who is a devoted natural historian. Aristobulus's enthusiasm for science is in fact, as we begin to see clearly over the course of the tale, a form of narcissism; it is a way of being self-absorbed. Of course, Helena herself borders on self-absorption throughout -- she has been practically spoiled by her doting uncles -- and her pursuit of the Green Ray could very well have tended in that direction; but as she tours the western coast and islands of Scotland, she will learn to rise above the self-absorption. And in that way she will indeed find her heart's desire.

(Those who are interested in Verne's connection with Scotland might be interested in Ian B. Thompson, "Jules Verne, Geography and Nineteenth Century Scotland".)

Çatalhöyük and Other Complications

I have been reading with some interest various news items that have been trickling out about a major archeological scandal. James Mellaart (1925-2012) was one of the world's greatest experts in prehistoric Anatolia, making a major splash in archeology with his discovery of a Neolithic site, Çatalhöyük, in Turkey. It revolutionized the field, and, more than that, the exciting discoveries to come out of the site made Çatalhöyük a fairly significant tourist site -- not a minor thing in an academic discipline whose funding is as closely tied to public interest as archeology's is. One of the things Mellaart argued was that the 9000-year-old settlement was matriarchal and had a Mother Goddess religion, because there were a lot of female figurines in goddess-like portrayals. This was called into question with more careful study in the 2000s, when it became clear that, while a lot of figurines were being uncovered, they were almost all animals, and very rarely women, and nothing about the few female figurines really suggested any major religious character. What is more, the evidence of social status that kept being turned up did not indicate any significant difference between men and women -- if Çatalhöyük was matriarchal, or for that matter patriarchal, it was not showing up in the evidence. The difference between Mellaart's claim and the increasingly clear disposition of the evidence was treated as march of science -- the techniques were better, the work far more extensive, speculations had been proven wrong by new evidence.

But Mellaart had an interesting way of showing up around controversy. For instance, Mellaart began publishing about some interesting pots that he had discovered, and people started noticing pots like them showing up in various venues for the sale of antiquities, for thousands of dollars. It began to be thought that the pots were leaking from the archeological site -- always a potential problem -- but there was no reason to attribute it to Mellaart himself. Analysis eventually indicated that the pots were in fact forgeries, so even the suggestion that the site was leaking was dismissed.

But there were others. The most notorious of these was the Dorak Treasure scandal. Mellaart's version of the story was that he met a young woman named Anna Papastrati on a train from Istanbul to Izmir who was wearing an unusual item of jewelry. He asked her about it and discovered that her family were antiquities collectors; on learning that he was an archeologist, she invited him to her house to show him the collection, but, she said, photographs were not allowed -- if he wanted photographs, he would have to wait. So Mellaart sketched a number of pieces in the collection over a few days, and then left. He later got a letter from Papastrati giving him permission to publish his sketches. He did so. The Turkish authorities, who keep an eye on this sort of thing, were angered that he had not properly informed them of this discovery and began to investigate. The investigation discovered that there was no house at the address Mellaart had on file for Papastrati. The Turkish government naturally drew the conclusion that the collection had been illegally smuggled out of Turkey. The theft of Turkish antiquities is something that the Turkish public is very sensitive about, and the whole thing blew up, so that he was banned from Turkey. His career in the field apparently broken, he nonetheless made a persuasive case to the British that he was just unfortunate, and perhaps a bit foolish in going public about something before he had dotted all the i's. He got a job as a lecturer in London, where he was very popular with the students, who often found him inspiring. He wrote bestselling books in archeology, and received a number of important awards and recognitions for his archeological work. He had a reputation for being a brilliant man who, perhaps, had a bit of a tendency to jump to conclusions, but whose work was nonetheless groundbreaking and valuable.

Mellaart continued to do important general research, and soon contacted colleagues about having come into possession of a text by a French archeologist sketching part of an extended hieroglyphic inscription in the Luwian language which had since been destroyed. He told them that he didn't know the language and so needed help translating; and it was indeed an interesting find. There was some caution, given Mellaart's reputation for getting ahead of himself and the inevitable worry that it could be a forgery. But it was difficult to see how there could be any forgery here, since no one could have done it except an expert in Luwian. Mellaart could neither read nor write the language, and Luwian hieroglyphics were a very difficult and esoteric field that had only slowly been deciphered. Mellaart didn't actually do any of the interpretive work and analysis; that was done by others, so he wasn't even getting the primary credit for it. What is more, Mellaart seemed to have followed proper procedure here; he claimed to have been working on it since the 50s, and the preliminary work had been done by a team of scholars, which included only respectable experts. He hadn't rushed to publication. It created a significant controversy between those who were inclined to accept it (in which case it shed crucially valuable light on Philistine culture) and those who were more skeptical, given that everyone was working on copies of an inscription that no longer existed, from a man who had not always exercised due caution. And occasionally someone would note that Mellaart's not having rushed to publication had a disadvantage -- all the scholars from the preliminary research team had died, except for Mellaart himself.

When Mellaart died in 2012, he left a request to the colleagues he had been working with to see to the publication of certain materials related to the Luwian hieroglyphs that he had not been able to get into proper shape. They agreed, but there some complications and the materials they had were not quite adequate to what they needed, so after some rigmarole they got access to his complete papers. And the world came crashing down.

James Mellaart was an expert on Luwian hieroglyphics. He didn't just have an acquaintance with it; he had clearly studied it very, very closely, and knew the language well. He had been lying in saying that he didn't know it. It's remarkably clever, really. Nobody expects an academic to claim ignorance of a matter in which they have expertise -- and certainly no academic would expect it from another academic. The puzzle that had spoken for the authenticity of the find -- that there was no one who could have done a forgery like that -- fell apart. You can read an old interview from poor Dr. Woudhuizen, one of the people Mellaart had contacted about the inscription, defending Mellaart and the find, and it all depends on Mellaart not knowing Luwian hieroglyphics. Another layer of cunning: he set up honest researchers to give the work an air of authenticity. And a third: nobody expects a forger to forego the benefit of his forgery, but Mellaart had set it all up so that most of the forgery would become available after he died.

Nor was that all. They found what seemed to be rough drafts of the inscription, as well as significant numbers of what seem very much to be draft copies on slate of some the murals from Çatalhöyük on which Mellaart had published. And in a sense that's even worse: a blatant forgery is a personal wrongdoing, but it can be pinpointed and excised. But the evidence that Mellaart was engaged in forgery means that half a century of major archeological work is potentially contaminated. Nobody knows what was legitimate and what was not. Mellaart got away with his late forgeries because of his brilliant early work. But when did it all start? And he got away with it, too, because he was a brilliant man who genuinely knew the field from first-hand research. Where is the line between his genuine work and his forgery? Beyond some minor points that have panned out independently in other research, nobody knows -- a serious issue in a field like archeology that constantly deals with a lack of evidence, so that every distinctive bit of evidence is immensely precious. It all has to be ripped up. And, too, while research has often corrected Mellaart's speculations, it has sometimes confirmed them -- but how much of that confirmation in reality is partly based on evidence from Mellaart himself? It all has to be looked at again.

Two news items that are particularly good at giving the background:


Queensland Times

Aquinas for Lent XXV

The faithful must be strong through charity, for love is as strong as death (Song 8:6); hence, it is symbolized by a pillar of fire capable of consuming everything: therefore, they received a burning pillar of fire for a guide on the unknown journey (Wis 18:3). As fire makes the surroundings visible, puts metals to the test, and destroys what can burn, so charity enlightens human actions, examines one's motives, and exterminates all vices.

[Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letters of Saint Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine (Lander, WY: 2012) p. 178. From the commentary on Ephesians.]

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

From the Moon to the Earth

Isaac Todhunter in his biography of Whewell notes that among Whewell's papers there was a story, in four parts, although each part seems unfinished. The story is what we would call a science fiction story, and describes a man who has come to Earth from the Moon on a meteoric rock. Todhunter, alas, does not give us the whole story, but he does give us an outline, as well as a brief passage from the second part and the whole of the third part. The story outline is, more or less:

I. The narrator recounts his longstanding desire to communicate with inhabitants from another world, and discusses the facts that have led some people to think that Venus, Mars, or the Moon might be inhabited. To get from the Earth to the Moon would require a projectile, and would immediately run into the problem of the immense acceleration required. But to get from the Moon to the Earth is not such a formidable problem. Thus the narrator has an interest in meteorites.

II. This brings him into contact with a mineralogist, Edward Daniel Clarke, whose lectures put him on the trail of a large mass of meteoric iron in Siberia. On the way there, he meets up with a strange man in Pekin (modern day Beijing), named Mono, who is also interested in meteorites. The proceed together to Siberia, and in the course of their journey have a discussion about what the sky would look like to someone viewing it from the Moon.

III. Mono reveals that he is in fact from the Moon; he came to Earth looking for his brother, who, being of the daring sort, had first made the attempt to travel from the Moon to the Earth. The narrator wonders if Mono is crazy.

IV. Further questioning by the narrator elicits more explanation from Mono. They agree to go together to Peru in the hope of finding there some evidence of what happened to Mono's brother.

That the story was never finished is one of the misfortunes of philosophy, I think; what Todhunter gives of it is interesting, if somewhat digressive. And you get really nice passages like this, when Mono describes the history of the Moon-men, who live on the side of the Moon facing away from the Earth, as they discover the Earth:

It was an ancestor of my own, named Tisiri, who had the privilege of making this discovery, the greatest event in our lunar history, and I think, the greatest and most striking scientific discovery ever made by any inhabitant of the solar system....You may try to conceive my ancestor's feelings when, climbing the last ridge of the boundary mountains, he saw resting, as it seemed, upon the mountains of the opposite horizon this vast luminous orb: for it so happened that at that time the earth was at full, as you say of the moon: that is, her whole disk was enlightened. Tisiri, in his travels which he wrote and which we possess in our family, gives vent to his feelings in the most rapturous language. 'I saw,' he says, 'that mysterious center which we had long felt, as an invisible power, shaping and controlling the movements of our planet, expanded before my eyes into a vast luminous orb, vying in splendour with the sun and far larger than he. Considering how vast an influence this orb exerts upon our world I was disposed to fall down and worship it, but better thoughts prevailed, and I knelt down and thanked him who made both it and our planet, for having permitted me to see it, first of moon-men, and to disclose its existence to my fellow creatures.'

The story clearly draws on the Plurality of Worlds debate, which was raging at the time throughout the learned world: Are there inhabitants on the other planets in the solar system? The Yes answer had become overwhelming popular, being explicitly advocated in a number of public works and having a certain plausibility due to analogy and certain religious considerations. Whewell had contributed to this debate in 1853 with his work, originally anonymous, The Plurality of Worlds (he added the dialogue in 1854); it became an instant hit, widely published and widely attacked. In that work he essentially rips apart the case made by proponents of the idea of inhabitants on other worlds, systematically showing that it was based on speculation, not evidence and that, indeed, most of the evidence pointed the other way and that the evidence that did not was not sufficient to establish even any probabilities. But he seems to have also been interested in human fascination with the idea of otherworldly inhabitants, which he notes is a recurring idea.

Aquinas for Lent XXIV

...there are many works in the world which are good to men but not good to God since they are not done aright. Prov. 14:12: There is a way which seemeth just to a man: but the ends therefore lead to death. Eccles. 8:10: I saw the wicked buried: who also when they were yet living were in the holy place, and were praised in the city as men of just works. But this is manifested by right faith when it attains its reward from God, Who does not remunerate except right things.

[Thomas Aquinas, Commentaries on St. Paul's Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, Baer, tr. St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN: 2007) p. 200. This is from the commentary on Philemon.]