Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Psalm 39 Dixi Custodiam

1. I said I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with / my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked / is before me.  

2. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even / from the good; and my / sorrow was stirred. 3. My heart was hot within me, while I was still musing the / fire- burned: then spake / I with my tongue, 4. Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, / what it is; that I may / know how frail I am. 5. Behold, thou hast made my days as a handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. 6. Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not / who shall gather them. 7. And now, Lord, what / wait I for? my / hope is in thee. 8. Deliver me from all my trans- gressions: make me not the re- / proach of the foolish. 9. I was dumb, I opened / not my mouth; because thou didst it. 10. Remove thy stroke a- way from me: I am consumed by the / blow of thine hand. 11. When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like / a moth: surely every / man is vanity. 12. Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto / my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: 13. O spare me, that I may re- / cover my strength, before I go / hence, and be no more. 

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Intellectual Property Rights: A Defense

(The following is taken from some remarks I recently made on a Facebook friend's wall. For the sake of anonymity, I will refuse to mention that friend's name, unless I am told otherwise.)
Imagine the following cases: 

(1) A carpenter builds a shelf.
(2) A novelist writes a novel.
(3) A doctor devises a new pharmaceutical.
and, of course,
(4) A professor writes a paper on some esoteric topic.
Surely, it's at least plausible to think that the carpenter in (1) deserves both the recognition and the profits that he receives from building the shelf. If someone were to take the shelf from him and sell it, it seems the person who did this would be abusing the carpenter's right to the recognition and the profit from building the shelf. One might also say the same about the novelist and a novel. Surely, the novelist deserves both recognition and credit for his writing a certain novel that he writes. And anyone who prints copies of this novel and sells it without acknowledging the writer's first having written it and giving the writer some share of this profit it seems to commit an injustice against the writer. Or similarly, anyone who just makes minor changes to the text of the novel, prints it, and then sells it without acknowledging the author's first having written it and giving the author due credit for it seems to commit an injustice against the author.
                But what, then, makes this case any different from the case in which the carpenter builds a shelf? For it is the very *same* novel that is being sold in each and every case in which one prints one. It might be a different copy in each case, but why should that be relevant? And if the changes from the copy one illicitly makes and sells are minor or not significant, how does this make the case different from one in which someone just copies the novel word for word and then sells it without acknowledgment?
                And if what I've just said is right, it will be hard I think to distinguish the case of the novelist from that of the doctor. The product that the doctor devises is the very same or nearly the very same in every copy that is made and distributed. Perhaps one difference between the two is that the copies of the medicine the doctor makes are used up after every instance in which one uses them. But why should this be relevant for determining whether someone who makes copies of this medicine without acknowledging the doctor does or does not commit an injustice to the doctor in so making copies of it?
                And, of course, if these last two cases are good examples of cases in which someone has intellectual property rights, why would this be any different in the last case, in (4)? Perhaps one will say that no one has a copyright on the truth. And maybe this is true (no pun intended). But it is decidedly unclear what this means. Surely, no one has a copyright that they can claim over something just in virtue of its being true. But this doesn't mean that someone can't claim a copyright on a product that just *happens* to be true, and over which they assert a right in virtue of their having devised or written that product. I can, for example, claim ownership over a medicine that doesn't (very likely not to my knowledge) work or for a paper containing a theorem that is (again not to my knowledge) not right. And in this case, the medicine's not working and the theorem's not being right doesn't affect my ownership rights over either. But then why should the medicine's working and the theorem's being right remove my right from the product?
                But surely, one might protest, I don't have a right to the theorem itself, for surely neither I nor anyone has a right to ownership over anything of that sort, whatever it turns out that a theorem is. This I concede. But I never claimed that I or anyone should have such a right, nor do I think I've claimed anything that implies that I or anyone have such a right. What I have claimed is that, in the case of the theorem, I or anyone else who writes it have a claim of ownership over the paper itself.     
               For assume that one has ownership over a certain piece of intellectual property, i.e., a novel, a certain drug, or an academic paper. Now, the objection is that from:
(1) I have ownership over X,
it follows that:
(2) I have ownership over everything in X.
But from (2), we obtain an absurd result in certain situations, namely, that
(3) I have ownership over a mathematical theorem.
As I mentioned earlier, I readily concede that (3) is absurd, and if my view really implies (3), I should readily abandon it. But in response, I would point out that (2) does not follow from (1). For (2) implies that
(4) I have ownership over the word "London,"
because the word "London" appears in my novel or academic paper. Nor is there any reason that is given as to why someone who affirms (1) is actually committed to (2), i.e., no reason is given as to why someone who affirmed (1) would, in affirming (1), have to affirm (2). Here, perhaps the objector will try to reformulate the objection so to avoid this difficulty. Maybe one should reformulate (2) as
(2*) I have ownership over all the things in X that are represented by words in X.
But (2*) seems actually worse than (2). For (2*) implies that, rather than having ownership over just the word "London," I instead have ownership over London itself; for, clearly, the word "London" represents the entity or thing London, the city.
                Here, perhaps the objector will try to insist that if one does not affirm that (2) follows from (1), one will not be entitled to the claim that one deserves recognition for having first discovered the theorem that appears in one's academic paper. But I don't see why this is the case. If I have the right to the recognition of having written a certain paper, I a fortiori have the right to the recognition of anything new that I discovered and published in that paper. It is just not clear to me why someone would have to claim ownership over, say, a certain theorem in order to be recognized as having first discovered that theorem. And though I have property rights over the paper containing the theorem, it does not follow that I have rights over the theorem itself.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Christ the Good Shepherd

        I am the good shepherd. I know my own- by which I mean, I love them - and my own know me. In plain words: those who love me are willing to follow me, for anyone who does not love the truth has not yet come to know it.
            My dear brethren, you have heard the test we pastors have to undergo. Turn now to consider how these words of our Lord imply a test for yourselves also. Ask yourselves whether you belong to his flock, whether you know him, whether the light of his truth shines in your minds. I assure you that it is not by faith that you will come to know him, but by love; not by mere conviction, but by action. John the evangelist is my authority for this statement. He tells us that anyone who claims to know God without keeping his commandments is a liar. 
            Consequently, the Lord immediately adds: As the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. Clearly he means that laying down his life for his sheep gives evidence of his knowledge of the Father and the Father's knowledge of him. In other words, by the love with which he dies for his sheep he shows how greatly he loves his Father. Again he says: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them; they follow me, and I give them eternal life. Shortly before this he had declared: If anyone enters the sheepfold through me he shall be saved; he shall go freely in and out and shall find good pasture. He will enter into a life of faith; from faith he will go out to vision, from belief to contemplation, and will graze in the good pastures of everlasting life.
            So our Lord's sheep will finally reach, their grazing ground where all who follow him in simplicity of heart will feed on the green pastures of eternity. These pastures are the spiritual joys of heaven. There the elect look upon the face of God with unclouded vision and feast at the banquet of life for ever more. Beloved brothers, let us set out for these pastures where we shall keep joyful festival with so many of our fellow citizens. May the thought of their happiness urge us on! Let us stir up our hearts, rekindle our faith, and long eagerly for what heaven has in store for us. To love thus is to be already on our way.
            No matter what obstacles we encounter, we must not allow them to turn us aside from the joy of that heavenly feast. Anyone who is determined to reach his destination is not deterred by the roughness of the road that leads to it. Nor must we allow the charm of success to seduce us, or we shall be like a foolish traveler who is so distracted by the pleasant meadows through which he is passing that he forgets where he is going.

-- St. Gregory the Great,  (Hom. on the Gospels: 14. 3-6: PL 76, 1129- 1130)

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Powers or Dispositions Accounts of Possibility: A Puzzle

                On dispositional accounts of possibility, for ◊P at t to be true is just for something to have the power to bring it about, at t, that P (i.e., that ◊P just in case something has the power to bring it about, at t, that P). As Brian Leftow notes in his God and Necessity (note: while I disagree with Leftow was to *why* dispositional account of possibility go wrong, I should note that I do agree with him *that,* in fact, there is some difficulty with them, the point of which I bring up so not to misrepresent Leftow's own view) (pg. 68), which is the inspiration for my present discussion and from which I here partly borrow, such an account does not require that anything cause it that P if it just happens that P (for it doesn't require that causes that make it that ◊P actually bring it about that P). But if there neither is nor has been such a power, ~◊~P.
                Since □P just in case ~◊~P, any P that just happens (i.e., without being caused to happen) will also turn out necessary. But, now departing from Leftow's own criticism of powers accounts, this seems odd to me. For surely actually P → ◊P (i.e., actually P only if possibly P). But ◊P at t is true just in case it is also true that something has the power to bring it about, at t, that P. And so it follows that ◊P → something has the power to bring it about that P. But, recall, the assumption was that there is not anything that either has or has had such a power. And if this is true, it will just be false that ◊P.
                But assume for the sake of argument that something does have such a power or that there has been something that has had such a power. Then it will be true, however, that there is not anything that causes it at t that P and that something has the power to bring it about, at t, that P. And while not contradictory perhaps, the conjunction of these two claims seems odd. 
                For then, or so it will seem, the fact that something has the power to bring it about (at t) that P has no connection with the fact that actually P (at t). And thus it's hard to see how the fact that something has the power to bring it about, at t, that P explains the possibility of P at t. But then, on the dispositional account of possibility, there is nothing that explains that ◊P at t. But this is inconsistent with the claim that ◊P at t just in case something has the power to bring it about, at t, that P. So a dispositional account of possibility is true only if 'it just happens that P' is impossible, which is a problem. For it is difficult to say what it would not be possible. (Considering that this account is one that I'm currently interested in, I actually hope what I say here is wrong. But it also isn't easy for me to see how it can be true.)

Thursday, 18 April 2013

John Duns Scotus: Hylomorphism and Pluralism about Substantial Forms

        Famously, Duns Scotus, like most medieval scholastic theologians following after Thomas Aquinas, argue that for an individual animal substance to subsist, such a substance requires two substantial forms -- a bodily form (for the body) and an animating form (its soul). The living animal that results from this combination will thereby have two substantial (i.e., essential) forms. This proposal, however, is open to the following objection, developed some years earlier by Aquinas. If the point of positing a substantial form in an individual substance is to explain the *unity* of that substance, i.e., what gathers together and shapes its matter into numerically one individual of a specific kind, it will now be (at best) difficult to give an adequate account for why one should regard the combination of the individual animals matter + its first form + its second form as a *single* substance. So, in the absence of such an explanatory principle, why some combinations of form/matter entities form substances and others do not will remain (at best) mysterious.
       In an attempt to answer this objection, Scotus suggests that a material substance is a unity if and only if the it has at least one property that its various parts or constituents lack. In consequence, Scotus concludes, following Aristotle, that acts of sensation require the right sort of body (i.e, matter + bodily form of the right type) and soul, the union of which allows the processing of sense data. Scotus also argues that the soul alone is insufficient for being alive; that is, he thinks animal life requires both a body and a soul, such that, when the two are combined, the composite that they form is itself alive.
        But Scotus' principle, I submit, is open to objection. For on the present criterion, it seems a heap of rocks will count as a substantial unity. (Recall, once more, that for Scotus, a material substance counts as a unity, as one *thing*, if and only if it has at least one property that none of its parts alone could have.) For surely, one might argue, the heap has the property 'being a heap' -- a property that none of the rocks taken individually are said to have. My instinct here is that Scotus' Aristotelian hylomorphism would not permit him to countenance such a consequence.
        But in case anyone has doubts, one could simply pile on a piece of wood to the heap, and, according to Scotus' criterion, this heap + the piece of wood would seem to count as a substantial unity (whether it would still count as a 'heap' or not might be open to question -- but that it counted as an assortment of entities that, on Scotus' definition, collectively make up a unified thing, seems beyond question). But this seems clearly wrong. For even if one insisted on calling the heap a 'thing', it would be far-fetched to call it a *unified* thing. It is certainly not unified in the sense in which a living organism, say, is unified.
        Nor would it do to argue that a heap is not a single thing (even though taking such a position is something that Aristotelians in general would also seem to affirm) but merely an aggregate. For the very thing one wants to know is what makes it true that a given aggregate or assortment of entities make up a substantial unity and not a mere heap. That is, why, on Scotus' definition, should one count [one form + another form + a certain hunk of prime matter] as making up a unity, a unified thing, while not counting a rock heap as such a unity? 
       But perhaps the defender of Scotus' definition will deny that there is such a property as 'being a heap.' Perhaps instead such a critic will argue that a heap comes into being from the merely extrinsic properties that all the rocks in the heap collectively share. Here, of course, if one insists that the properties in question are extrinsic, one can consistently deny that the rocks in the heap constitute a single, unified entity. But by 'extrinsic,' one had better not mean merely 'relational.'
       For clearly, it seems, the components or parts of *any* substantial unity that includes any two constitutive entities will be such that its components, when joined, relate to each other in such a way that is necessary for their composing the substantial unity in question. For example, the relation that an animal's body bears to its soul is one of such a constitutive unity -- and an animal exists only if these two constituents are related to each other in just the right way. And clearly this such relationship does not and should not count as extrinsic; for, if the two entities are related only by extrinsic properties, it is very difficult to see how they could possibly constitute or make up a single substantial unity.
        So, here, Scotus will want to insist that the relations that obtain between the rocks in the heap are merely extrinsic, while those between, say, an animal's body and its soul is not. But, one can I think safely conclude, two or more entities make up a substantial unity only if they relate to a third entity -- i.e., the *thing* or individual substance which they collectively make up or constitute. (For, if one of these properties is extrinsic, it is again difficult to see how it could be included among the features or components of a single substantial unity.) And moreover: all these relational properties such entities share are intrinsic only if there is some property which belongs to the whole -- and for which these components are parts -- and which does not belong to any of the components taken individually.
        But which relations count as intrinsic and which count as extrinsic depends on one's already having sharply drawn boundaries or criteria for which groupings of entities count as unified substances and which do not. In particular, such groupings will be determined by either (a) intrinsic-only, (b) extrinsic-only, or perhaps (c) partly intrinsic and partly extrinsic sets of relational properties. (That is, for (c), there will be some groupings that include an arbitrary number n of entities such that some of these entities are related to each other intrinsically and others are related to each other extrinsically.) Here, only the groupings that fall under (a) will count as substantial unities or unified substances. But here is the difficulty: Scotus' definition gives no criteria by which to determine which groupings fall under (a) as opposed to either (b) or (c).
        And clearly, I think, it will not do to protest that only *things* can be substances. For if we have no criteria for what counts as a substantial unity, we have no criteria for what counts as a substance. And if something is a thing only if it is a substance, a claim which Scotus certainly accepts, it follows that without criteria for what counts as a substantial unity, we have no criteria for what counts as a thing. Hence, one has good grounds for rejecting that definition and continuing to press the charge that positing more than one substantial form in an individual substance makes it difficult to explain that substance's intrinsic unity.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

At the Lamb's High Feast

A (I think) beautiful Easter Hymn on this, the Third Sunday of Easter:

At the Lamb's High Feast

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing,
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierc├Ęd side;
Praise we Him, whose love divine
Gives His sacred blood for wine,
Gives His body for the feast,
Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.

Where the Paschal blood is poured,
Death’s dark angel sheathes his sword;
Israel’s hosts triumphant go
Through the wave that drowns the foe.
Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,
Paschal Victim, paschal Bread;
With sincerity and love
Eat we Manna from above.

Mighty Victim from the sky,
Hell’s fierce powers beneath Thee lie;
Thou hast conquered in the fight,
Thou hast brought us life and light;
Now no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
Thou hast opened Paradise,
And in Thee Thy saints shall rise.

Paschal triumph, Easter joy,
Only sin can this destroy;
From sin’s death do Thou set free
Souls reborn, O Lord, in Thee.
Hymns of glory and of praise,
Father, to Thee we raise;
Risen Lord, all praise to Thee,
Ever with the Spirit be.

Judith Jarvis Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion": Some Critical Points

           In her 1971 essay, Judith Jarvis Thomson offers a series of analogies in defense of the permissibility of abortion for women in some cases. The most elaborate and perhaps well developed analogy she relies on involves a violinist for whom Thomson urges the reader to imagine she has been hooked up to, the point of which is that the violinist depends on the reader for his continual survival for the next nine months. The persuasiveness of the analogy hinges on the alleged comparison between this specific case and the general moral criteria relevant for judging the (moral) permissibility of having an abortion. In very short summary, and with the risk of oversimplifying Thomson's argument, Thomson argues that just as the violinist does not have the right against the reader to demand nine months of the reader's time and use of the reader's body, so, too does the fetus lack a right against a woman pregnant with that fetus for the woman not to remove the fetus from her body for the nine months duration in which the fetus depends on the woman for its survival. Here, I will mostly concede for the sake of argument that Thomson's analogy is successful -- that is, I will concede it except for one particular weak point which I believe needs much further argument.
           To her credit, Thomson seems to recognize the weak point I have in mind. But I think she seems to underestimate the extent to which it threatens her argument. And this point in question is that one might challenge the effectiveness of Thomson's violinist analogy on the basis that what is important here is not merely the fact that the fetus is a person, but that it is a person for whom the woman contemplating abortion has a special kind of responsibility for issuing from the fact that she is its mother. (Here, following Thomson's own "for the sake of argument" concession, I will just assume that human personhood begins at conception and that therefore the fetus in question is a person.)
           In response to this potential query, Thomson argues that parents do not have a "special responsibility" for a person of the sort required in the question of abortion, unless they have assumed it. Here, in her own words,

"... if a set of parents do not try to prevent pregnancy, do not obtain an abortion, and then at the time of birth of the child do not put it up for adoption, but rather take it home with them, then they have assumed responsibility for it, they have given it rights, and they cannot now withdraw support from it at the cost of its life because they now find it difficult to go on providing for it (Thomson, 395)."

Presumably, Thomson means to suggest that the parents give to the child certain rights which the child did not have prior to this decision. But what rights does she mean here? For surely the child will have a general right to life, even if this right is not inviolable or unconditional. And surely the parents have some special responsibility to the child just in virtue of their biological tie to it? But this is precisely the point Thomson denies. For

"[if] they have taken all reasonable precautions against having a child, they do not simply by virtue of their biological relationship to the child who comes into existence have a special responsibility for it. They may wish to assume responsibility for it, or they may not wish to (Thomson, 395)." 

Here, one might ask, does Thomson mean to say that the parents have no rights they owe to the child just in virtue of their biological tie, or does she mean the more modest claim that "the parents have no rights they owe to the child by virtue of which they would have the duty to preserve the child's life regardless of personal cost or risk"?
          Presumably, she would mean only the former; for the latter appears pretty clearly ad hoc, as does any slightly weakened version of the latter -- such as "the parents have no rights they owe to the child by virtue of which they would have the duty to preserve the child's life regardless of significant personal cost or risk." I say it is ad hoc because there is no reason that Thomson has given as to why parents should lack just these specific responsibilities for their (biological) children, i.e., why just these specific responsibilities are to be excluded, while having other rights they owe to them in virtue of this relationship.
         But it is not because the parents have a biological relationship to the child (qua biological relationship) that, according to Thomson, they don't have any duties to the child. Rather, it is because the parents do not otherwise have a choice over whether they enter into such a rights-giving relationship. And, so Thomson argues, they do not have such duties to the child unless they willingly decide to enter into a relationship with the child, some consequences of which are that the parents now have a duty to try to preserve the child's life.
         Whether this last principle is a good one, however, depends on the further assumption that one has any duties to another only if one voluntarily enters into a "rights-giving" relationship with another. That is, one has duties for another only if one agrees to take on the responsibilities that would imply these sorts of rights to another. (For either this criteria for someone's owing rights to another applies to all cases which involve one party owing the other rights or it does not. If it does, we have the principle in question. If it does not, what reason is there for excluding some cases in which one party owes the other rights while including others?) But this principle is obviously quite implausible. For example, it is clearly false that someone has a right against me not to harm him only if I freely enter into it. For surely this individual has this right against me whether I consent to it or acknowledge it or not. But, then, it is false that one has duties to another only if one voluntarily enters into a rights-giving relationship with this other person.
         And if 'parents have no rights they owe to their child just in virtue of their biological tie to that child' is true only if 'one has duties to another only if one voluntarily enters into a rights-giving relationship with this other person' is true, one must conclude that the former principle if false. Moreover, if the moderate principles we have examined are unacceptable because they are ad hoc, Thomson must either propose some other moderate principle that is not ad hoc (which I do not believe looks very promising) or concede that the parents owe specific rights to their children just in virtue of their biological tie to them. And if there is no moderate principle that Thomson can muster, she must concede that such a right from parents to children extends to either (at best) the duty to try to protect their biological children from harm even at significant personal risk or sacrifice or (at worst) the duty to try to protect their biological children from harm regardless of the personal risk or sacrifice involved. 

*The citation is from Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion," in Today's Moral Issues: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Daniel Bonevac. (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1999).