The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Monday, January 30, 2006

Socratic Dialogs

If you've ever wondered what the dialectical structure of the dialog with Euthyphro is or how to write a Socratic dialog from scratch, then you might go over to Logic and Inquiry and see.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone?

I thought I'd move this fragment of a comment from a discussion below to the top level, since I was happy with the way I put the point and it is worth discussing apart from the topic that originally generated the discussion.

No one beside Kant and his followers are suggesting "Limiting our research into God to the cognitive level." Our rational ability to go beyond mere sense experience to abstract truths via rational intuition is *one* of those transcendent things inside you. It is a check and balance on human fancy and enthusiasm, which, history demonstrates so clearly, can carry folks away on the wings of wish-fulfillment.

On my old website my icon was the ship--one of the most ancient of Christian icons. Here's an adaptation of something I read somewhere:

"A passionate person with out reason is like a ship without a rudder: tossed about on every wind and wave of doctrine. A person with reason but not passion is like a ship without a sail: sitting stagnant at port with no hope on the horizon."

The key is to harness the power of the wind--the pneuma, the spirit--while steering clear of our own personal Scyllae and Charibdes.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Longing to be Loosed from the Limits of Logic?

If you've ever wondered what I say to sophomores who question the applicability of logic I've posted it here. I put it in the philosophy blog because it's semi-technical, but it's still accessible to anyone interested.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Rush Rhees, Wittgenstein Scholar

Hey, check out this forthcoming book which is a collection of papers by the guy my library is named after. Cool.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Logic and Inquiry

Today the action's over at my class blog Logic and Inquiry.

Monday, January 23, 2006


One of my great philosophical heros--Mortimer Adler--led a massive research project to index the 54-volume Great Books of the Western World to 102 key "Great Ideas" (one was later added). The effort landed him on the cover of Time magazine (would that intellectual enthusiasm could still catch the attention of the Press). The index--called the Syntopicon--allows you to look up any one of the Great Ideas--Democracy, say--and see what has been said about it from Homer to Freud.

I'm reading a book manuscript the subject of which is *error*. It got me thinking about writing a little history of error. We don't often like to talk about our errors, but most major philosophers have mentioned it at some point. I can't think of many literary references, but I'm sure they're out there. If it were a popular book, it would be called _Oops! The Secret Life of Error_ if it were an unpopular book I'd call it _The Etiology of Error_.

Etymologically, the word comes from the Latin "ero, erare, eravi, eratus" which is sometimes translated "sin". I may never write that book, but it would be an interesting meditation to think about how humans are apt to make errors: to er is human after all. Today "error" conjures "mistake" which sounds more excusable than "sin". The reality, however, is that many of our mistakes are the result of negligence. I'm going to try to pay attention to my mistakes over the next week and see if I notice any patterns or common causes.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Czeslaw Milosz

I posted a nice Milosz poem over at X-Catholics. Some readers will be interested. (here)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Of Probability and Passion

We might read Hume as saying that the two are one. I don't often agree with Hume, so I want to note this. In his Treatise of Human Nature he says this:

Belief is thus "more an act of the sensitive, than of the cogitative part of
our natures", so that "all probable reasoning is nothing but a species of

I'll come at this from an etymological angle. I'm going from memory, so if I get something a little
wrong you can't heap too much blame on me. "Passion" comes from the Latin
deponent verb "patior" from which we get the English "patient" which conveys,
essentiallu, the idea of being "passive", which is itself, obviously, a cognate
of the same word. Thus Christ's passion is his suffering and death on the
Cross. We think of passion in much more erotic terms today, so I wanted to
clear that up. The idea behind Hume's dictum here is that our beliefs are
*impressed upon us* by the way the world is, in conjunction with our
psychological make up. This fits nicely with the term "convinced" which is
from the Latin "con" + "vincere" the root of the third word in the famous "Veni,
vidi, vici" or "I came, I saw, I conquered." Thus to be convinced is to be
completely conquered by our experience, the contents of which constitute our

I used to criticize and mock people who said things like "I feel that thus-and-such is so," but I gave that up when I realized the truth that Hume here puts so poignantly (and yes, I do mean "poignantly" for I found it distressing). I think Aristotle would have agreed with this even if, like me, he would have bristled at the forthright presentation, for he said often that demonstrative reasoning begins with premises that are gathered from experience, including intuition.

It's to Euclid, though, that I'll go for the best illustration. Consider the transitive property of equality: If A=B and B=C then A=C (the Greek runs literally something like this: "equals of equals are equal"). What could be more rational than that? However, it rests upon a mere feeling doesn't it. How would you defend the principle? True, there are no counterexamples, but it's quite controversial to convert that into positive evidence (and the argument depends heavily on a *much* more complicated set of theorems than the transitive property itself). When you consider the transtive property, it just feels right: you either see it or you don't.

Is black a color and can it be shiny?

If such questions intrigue you, check out the definitions on my course page here.

Humility: First Virtue of Philosophers

From an email from a student yesterday:

Prof. Dougherty
In light of our discussion in class today regarding the "brightness" of
the color black, I was "moved" to try to find a definition of the word
"bright" as it relates to color. However, I have found that the argument I
was struggling with, at first, is very different from the conclusion that I
have ultimately come to question.
[Trent Dougherty] Ah yes, so common. This is why being *humble* is the first virtue of a philosopher: we are often led by logic to conclusions we considered closed.

And yes, I purposefully let out the alliteration.

Black may not be aptly described as bright, but some of my students are!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Humpty Dumpty

Today in my Logic and Inquiry class I talked about how language is public property, like a park. I include the story of Humpty Dumpty from Through the Looking class. You can read it here:

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Recent Advice

I recently got this question from a friend of a friend:
Hello, Trent,

XXXXXX gave me your name as someone who might be able to give me some good reading references. I'm a doctoral student in YYYYYY at ZZZZZZ. One of our courses introduced us to the functional/positivist, social constructionist and post-modern (and their multiple iterations) paradigms. I'd like to read more about the them from a theological perspective. Specifically, how would Catholic Christians view the world? And other questions I don't even know how to ask, or more accurately, other questions I'm sure I have, but need to read more to know what questions to ask...Hmmmmm
Any suggestions?

Here's my reply:

XXXXXX gave me your name as someone who might be able to give me some good reading references. I'm a doc student in communication at Mizzou.
[Trent Dougherty] XXXXX’s awesome. Glad to help.

One of our courses introduced us to the functional/positivist, social constructionist and post-modern (and their multiple iterations) paradigms. I'd like to read more about the them from a theological perspective. Specifically, how would Catholic Christians view the world?

[Trent Dougherty] That’s pretty broad. I just read a passage from Chesterton where he says that all –isms take some one facet of Catholic Truth and try to make it the whole picture. Only the Catholic worldview can piece all these partial truths together into a coherent mosaic.

By far the best expression of the breadth and coherence of the Catholic worldview is the Catechism. Seriously, it’s just fantastic! Some other great reads would be Peter Kreeft’s book Fundamentals of the Faith. Also, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity is very hard to beat. A Catholic would have to add the Magisterium of the Church to his Mere Christianity, but he faithfully represents the foundation.

And other questions I don't even know how to ask, or more accurately, other questions I'm sure I have, but need to read more to know what questions to ask...Hmmmmm

[Trent Dougherty] I think if you look at Kreeft’s or Lewis’s books it will spur your thoughts on and help organize them, helping you get more concrete on the questions you want to pursue first. There’s really no better place to start than with those books.

Please keep in touch.


Monday, January 16, 2006

More on Defining a Christian

Here, I asked how we should define a Christian. I've got a little update. Sometimes I'll trace a word through the dictionary to see where that leads me. If I've got the time I'll used the OED of course, but for now I just used my little desktop dictionary. I don't have time to narrate the whole thing, but consider this tail:

Christian: A religious person who believes Jesus is the Christ
religious: Concerned with sacred matters or religion or the church
concern: Something that interests you because it is important or affects you
important: Of great significance or value
value (v): Hold dear, Regard highly; think much of, Place a value on
value (n): The quality (positive or negative) that renders something desirable

I find it highly interesting that the trail led right to desire. I've said for years that this was the key concept in what made some one a Christian as well as what made Christian faith rational. I think it's a nice counterpoise to the cognitivist position rejected in the early post. A Christian can share all of this beliefs with a demon, but not her desires. Being a Christian, then, is more a matter of the heart than the head.

Acts of Faith Are, Strictly Speaking, Irrational

There are lots of things I would do differently were I *certain* that God--under the Christian description--exists. Or at least I would if I were rational and my higher-order desires were regnant. It is not, I think, rationally appropriate for very many people to be *certain* that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob exists (in the sequel I'll drop the proviso, but it should be understood as being in force). The caveat is reserved for persons with especial religious experiences. The rest of us are subject to ambiguous evidence. Where in that vague middle ground the appropriate rational confidence lies depends on one's particular perspective--to what evidence they are privy and to what principles of evidence they subscribe. My own range of confidence varies for the most part between 40% and 90% (like Olympic judges, I have omitted the extrema--the times when either proposition seems perfectly evident to me).

Now what of these lots of things I said I'd be doing if I were certain that God existed? Should I be doing them? The properly pastoral answer seems to be "yes"? I am called to perfect holiness and obedience to the Gospel. This seems to be in conflict with a standard conception of rationality--one which I endorse. According to (a very abbreviated version of) this conception of rationality an act is rational only if it maximizes expected utility. The latter is calculated very simply as the product of my degree of expectation and the desirability of the outcome. Sometimes this is called "instrumental rationality" or "economic rationality", but I don't think those are very flattering terms. One worry that needs to be dispelled is that this kind of rationality would lead to extreme caution or kill spontaneity. That's simply a fallacy: one might find spontaneity quite desirable and thus spontaneous behavior would be quite rational. In fact thinking rationally is as likely to lead one to greater fun as less: people often avoid fun behavior because of the small risk of serious but not devastating danger. "Let's ride our bikes down that hill." "No. It's too dangerous." "The probability is quite low that you'll, say, break your hand off, and that wouldn't be as bad as a life devoid of fun, so the rational thing to do is to take the plunge." QED

But I digress. Let us take it as an axiom of Christian Discipleship that I ought to strive to do what I truly believe I would do were I certain that God exists and free from irrational or sinful barriers. I think the latter description represents a kind of regulative ideal (though it may need some tightening up upon scrutiny). But, strictly speaking, such actions will be irrational given that I'm *not* certain that God exists. There seem to be four general types of response to this line of thought: 1. Embrace it; 2. Reject the standard notion of rationality; 3. Find a flaw in the reasoning; 4. Find a way "around" the conclusion.

I'm hesitant to embrace the conclusion, yet I can find no flaw in the reasoning, so that leaves me two choices. It is a very pious-sounding strategy to advert to a "deeper" rationality or go postmodern as our friends in the "Reformed" tradition have such a wont to do these days, but I don't think that's fruitful. In fact, as long as this "deeper" notion of rationality doesn't entail the standard notion, then it will still imply that acts of faith are irrational in the ordinary sense and that's just to embrace the conclusion. Wrapping the problem in some larger cloak of mystery does not make the problem go away.

My own attempted evasion does, however, sound enough like the pious strategy that I could probably get by with foisting it upon people as a version of it. It is generally acknowledged that there are times when long-run or all-thing-considered rationality requires short-run apparent irrationality. I'm currently working on adapting a case from Fred Feldman's _Doing the Best You Can_ to articulate the response I have in mind. I'll post it as soon as I get it worked out.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Chesterton on Post-Conversion Adventure

In other words, the convert does not in the least abandon investigation or even adventure. He does not think he knows everything, nor has he lost curiosity about the things he does not know. But experience has taught him that he will find nearly everything somewhere inside that estate and that a very large number of people are finding next to nothing outside it. For the estate is not only a formal garden or an ordered farm; there is plenty of hunting and fishing on it, and, as the phrase goes, very good sport.

From Chapter Four of his _The Catholic Church and Conversion_.

How do we define a Christian?

I was thinking again recently about a question that arose at a Society of Christian Philosophers
meeting last Fall. One plenary speaker raised the
issue--I forget the context--of whether Jesus was a Christian by currently
common conceptions. The talk was fairly fragmented, but I was led to
reflect on a couple of things (one was whether robot's could become Christians,
perhaps I'll blog on that too) as a result and this was one of them. I'd
had some discussion on this once in High School, so it was fun to think about it

Assume we want Jesus to satisfy the predicate "is a Christian" (I'm inclined
to think we should, but I can see reasons for denying this). What seems to
follow quickly is the No Cognitive Definition Thesis:

NCD No definition of what it is to be a Christian which appeals only
to cognitive states of the subject will be adequate.

Cognitivist definitions run quickly into the Demon Problem stated by James:
"You believe that God is one? Good. So do the demons!" Even if
you don't believe there are such things as literal demons a good definition of
"Christian" should be such as to rule out (evil) demons in the worlds in which
they exist. But it seems that any creed (construed propositionally) could
be endorsed by Lucifer himself (the caveat is intended to address both the
potentially extra-propositional commitment inherent in creeds and the use of
indexicals--like "was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate").
How then to define "Christian?"

First, I should say that, inspired by a comment I vaguely recalled in
Swinburne's _Faith and Reason_, I tried to resist this conclusion by attempting
to find some way of representing putative non-propositional content
propositionally. I wasn't happy with the results.

It also seems problematic to define a Christian in terms of any kind of
success. For example if we defined thusly

SCD A Christian is one who follows Christ's teachings

then there aren't many Christians! One option is to go vague:

VCD A Christian is someone who generally follows Christ's teachings.

But I think this is fraught with problems. My favored approach is to
move to the level of intentions:

ICD A Christian is one who is committed to following Christ's

I think this meets the desideratum of making Christ satisfy "Christian" and
places the emphasis on internal rather than external factors without completely
leaving out the external (such commitment is stipulated to entail a disposition
to act in the right way). This definition inherits general problems with
dispositional definitions, but I'm not really worried about that. This definition leaves out out Hebrew Patriarchs and Pious Pagans, but
we can introduce separate terms--"Anonymous Christian", "Honorary Christian"--to
handle these cases. One problem I see is the indeterminacy of "Christ's
teachings". As a Catholic, I'm not as worried about this part, since the Magisterium
will make that fairly determinate, though Protestants of some stripes will have
to worry about whether it includes, say, Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses.

The bottom line is that I don't think the holding of any set of beliefs
entails that one is a Christian. Whether being a Christian entails that
one has any particular set of beliefs, and if so what they are, is a separate,
and difficult, matter. I don't think this thesis should be very
controversial, but I think the point is perhaps under emphasized among Christian
intellectuals. Furthermore, stating that having certain beliefs does not
constitute being a Christian is not to say what *is* sufficient. I've
attempted to do that with ICD.

Friday, January 13, 2006

First Time as Faculty

Well this is the first time I've officially been listed as college faculty. It's kind of nice, since this is such a nice little college. My course web page may be of interest to some readers. The course description link captures well the idea of the class.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"Skiing" is a wierd word.

But it's a fun thing to do. And that's what I'm doing this week, so bloggage will be low. We're in a cabin that had dialup (I had to *dismantle* the phone to get a cord), but it's not evern "good" dialup. It's the first time the girls have done lift-served downhill and they were pros in a matter of hours.

If I get a chance, though, I'm going to log some more thoughts on birthrates of Eastern Europe vs. Western europe based on a phone conversation with The Ziggurat.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Why do I read Commonweal?

I probably shouldn't, but it's like a car wreck: you don't really want to look, but you can't help yourself.

But in the November issue I was disappointed to see Daniel Callahan pour vitriol on George Weigel and make some really troubling remarks. He treats the issue of the population implosion with a recklessness that is out of step with his sometimes thoughtful treatments of bioethics (though he is so utterly committed to 60's-ism he exempts the unlimited abortion license, which he helped to grant). He had previously responded with a letter to the editor to this article by George Weigel in First Things, which was pretty calm, other than repeating his constant refrain that birthrates are so low in Eastern Europe because of the transition from communism to a market economy (I think that's probably true but for opposite reasons: he blames free-market economy, I blame communism [Isn't his view refuted by the fact that the biggest and freest (what a strange word, but it *is* a word) free market economy in the world--the US--has the highest birth-rate of any industrialized democracy?]), but given free reign in the leftist Commonweal he let it all hang out.

Anyway, that's not the point, the point is that he has this to say in response to the question whether he would have six kids again (he was once Roman Catholic). "If we could recreate the culture of those years, turning the clock back, we might be prepared to do it all over again--though perhaps settling for a more prudent number, say four or five children" (p. 16). I wonder what his 6th child thinks of that? Seriously, just imagine you're little Danny Jr. and you're reading Pop's latest article and he states that he'd rather you'd not existed. I don't think it's reasonable to balk at that interpretation. How else can one interpret this: he literally says that if he could turn back the clock he would not have had the last child. But I think I know what my problem is, for my family is the most important thing in my life and Mr. Callahan just doesn't go in for such homely sentimentalism, declaring: "I have never been one of those people who say that 'my family is the most important thing in my life'" (p. 16).

I think it was the poet Frank August (Father of five children) who once said that if someone complained about his profligacy he'd line his kids up and say: "Which one would you get rid of? Where would you draw the line?" Where indeed.

Someday, I'm going to do a short film based on this snippet.
[Setting is two well-dressed if eccentric-looking individuals conversing in a coffee shop.]
"So what do you make of recent reports that hypersubjective quantum theory has just had its most dramatic experimental support to date with the detection of the so-called 'monads'?"
"Well, it just shows that the the march of scientific progress can't be broken as long as there are mysteries to be solved."
[A voice breaks in from off screen.] "Ha! Physicalism triumphs again!"
[Camera pans out to reveal two well-dressed if eccentric-looking individuals in a coffee shop watching a TV screen with an interview show on it.]"What's 'physicalism'?"
"It was a name that replaced 'materialism' in the early 20th Century, since even early versions of Quantum Theory pretty much trashed the concept of matter. So the idea switched from a focus on 'stuff' to a focus on the thesis that the world only contains 'physical' forces or particles. Physicalism is the thesis that the world only contains what physics says it contains."
"Hmmm. We talked about materialism in a History of Philosophy class I had, but I thought it had been refuted by quantum theories since they brought subjectivity into their physical theory and then eventually with hypersubjective quantum theory actually made conscious minds the basis of the whole theory."
"Right, but that's the whole point! Physics has triumphed!"
"Um, what?"
"Now there is no hope for dualisms, minds have been tamed by being made part of physics. This is the final triumph of physicalism: there's now no hope for any spooky entities outside of what physics says there is. Philosophers of the 20th Century knew this all along, it just took the physicists a while to catch up."
"But didn't dualists believe in minds all along?"
"Well, technically, but...well, for the wrong reasons. And there was no connection to physics."
"Why were their reasons 'wrong'? Why did they believe in minds?"
"They gave these specious arguments saying that non-physical entities were required to explain consciousness and free will and intentionality."
"But isn't offering explanations for data the 'scientific method'?"
"Well, yes, technically, but there was no connection with physics. It wasn't a part of physics at that time."
"What does that matter as long as they were right? It sounds to me more like physics has caught up with the so-called 'dualists'."
"I don't think that's a very scientific way to think about it, but I'm going to get some more latte."-----

This is based on an actual growing trend in how to "save" materialism.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Catholic View of the Gospel

I got an email today from a staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ, the organization I worked with for several years. Several (half a dozen) of my colleagues and I converted and that raised quite a stir (especially since the Campus Director became a radical Calvinist and left the organization to found a Presbyterian fellowship).

This question was in that email:
Have a few questions for you. Just curious, really. I'm wondering how you and
some of your other buddies view the Gospel now. How would you describe the
Gospel or share your faith with someone? How would you encourage someone to
follow Jesus now?

Here's most of my reply.

In short, my picture of the Gospel and method of sharing it is *exactly* the same. We must distinguish between what Pope John XXIII—who convoked the Second Vatican Council—call the “deposit of faith” and the “philosophical and theological elaborations thereof.” This is essentially the same distinction Lewis makes in “The Perfect Penitent” in _Mere Christianity_ between the *doctrine* and the *theory*. “The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it does this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work….Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works” (signature edition, p.54). So I’d still say that the Gospel is essentially that because of Jesus we may have peace with God. If we follow the Son, the Father will accept us. Since I never for a moment bought into the penal substitution theory of the atonement, my *theory* of the atonement hasn’t changed either. On the contrary, one reason I became Catholic is that I thought the Church promoted the correct theory of the atonement. If you want a clear exposition of the paschal model with exemplarist and satisfacgtionist overtones see Richard Swinburne’s “The Christian Scheme of Salvation” and Eleonore Stumpe’s “Aquinas on Atonement” in Tom Morris’s _Philosophy and the Christian Faith_. Swinburne’s view is expanded upon in his _Responsibility and Atonement_. Finally, there is Stumpe’s “Atonement and Justification", in Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, edited by Ronalda Feenstra and Cornelius Plantinga. There’s also an essay by Quinn in Stumpe’s Reasoned Faith as well defending Abelard. He criticizes the original Thomistic theory, but the theory can easily be modified to accept an Abelardian twist. I think Swinburne’s picture is the most complete. These are the contemporary sources which shaped my theory of the atonement and reading them was a big part of becoming Catholic for me.Finally, I share the gospel in exactly the same way as well: I invite people to consider the claims of Christ. Now as then I give people Peter Kreeft’s _Between Heaven and Hell_ (or now perhaps now is The Journey) and try to engage them on who Jesus was/is. In short, it was the Gospel that lead me to the Church, so coming to the Church entailed no change in my understanding of the Gospel.