Monday, 12 June 2017

Toomas Karmo: Remarks in Lieu of Analytical Philosophy

Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his  grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: There was enough time to write out the  necessary points to reasonable length. 

Revision history:

  • 20170613T1322Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo (running now almost 11 hours behind schedule) finished converting the point-form outline into full-sentences prose. He reserved the right to make small, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, ... . 
  • 20170613T0001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo had time only to write a point-form outline, itself a little rougher than such an outline would ideally be.. He hoped over the coming 4 hours to convert it into full-sentences prose.]

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity to generate HTML that gets formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets"  (CSS) which on all ordinary Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect CSS problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

Having made some modest progress over the last weeks in my dauntingly large analytical-philosophy writing project, I am now forced to take a one-week break. I shall be digressing tonight, in two postings separate from the present posting, into the David Dunlap Observatory and Park (DDO&P) heritage-conservation case. 

My digression will raise tricky questions of Catholic morality. How can I avoid on the one hand a retreat into cowardice, and on the other hand an impetuous recklessness, with offences against charity? As I try to steer the correct middle path, I reflect on five theological sources of encouragement. The first two of my five are distinctively monastic. The last (with its reference to a 2017-06-12 morning liturgy) is once again to a degree monasticism-anchored. 

Catholic convert Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) has a delicious title for one of his books (a historical novel, which I have not read, on the - to Catholics - perennially pleasant theme of persecuted Catholics) - Come Rack! Come Rope! Well, Gentle Reader, I do not know whether you and I necessarily share Fr Benson's enthusiasm for vociferous confessors and blood-drenched martyrs. But I for one do, like many in the uneasily drifting post-Vatican II world, gravitate instinctively toward virtually all things monastic. So, if not Come Rack! Come Rope!, then at least "Come Liturgy! Come Accurate Latin! Come Beekeeping! Hail, O Practical Masonry! Come Bookbinding, over Stout Cords in Dark Goatskin!"

(1) First is a comedic YouTube video perhaps directed in the first instance toward monastics, but in fact recommending all Catholics - whether within the cloister or out in the world - to not take themselves too seriously. The video is from YouTube user "Stift Heiligenkreuz", from 2011-09-30, to a duration of 06:55, under the title "5 good reasons to become a Cistercian monk - The Monastic Channel - 30.09.2011". In my corner of the Web, this clip is viewable as

(2) Second comes the example of what I might perhaps hope to make some day my "favourite monastery", Pluscarden in the Scottish highlands ( Here is Liturgy, with much Accurate Latin.

- Well, accurate at least in syntax. The Church as a general rule does depart mildly from professional-classicist norms in its Latin phonetics, with a mildly distressing propensity to pronounce "gloria in excelsis" (correctly "gloria in eks-KELL-seess" as the mildly Italianate "gloria in eks-CHELL-seess", "Regina Coeli" (correctly "reh-GHEE-nah KOI-lee") as the mildly Italianate "re-DZHEE-nah TCHEI-lee", and so on. The classical pagan Roman élite would have mocked this, as they are on record for mocking an emperor with a Punic accent, and for mocking - things never change, be they in Rome or in London - a proto-Cockney bumpkin who kept omitting or misusing his H-sounds.

And if we do not at Pluscarden stumble across Bookbinding over Stout Cords in Dark Goatskin, we do at least find some Beekeeping, and truckload upon truckload of Practical Masonry.

These Pluscarden hopes I entertain in part for reasons of geography. As I have already once or twice or a few times remarked on this blog, I hope to move to Estonia in 2018, thereby putting an end to my immediate family's postwar upheavals (which saw Mum and Dad fleeing for their 1940s lives through Germany, Denmark, and Sweden to Canada; Dad's parents and sister living from the 1940s onward in Yorkshire; Dad's aunt and cousin eventually returning, under Khrushchev or some such, to Estonia from their (1941-06-14?) Siberian deportation; and my half-sister, born in Estonia in 1942, fearing Siberian deportation, although fortunately never having to endure it.

Estonia often thinks of itself as facing west - thinking rather strongly so in Tallinn's prewar diplomacy (our Republic set itself the aim of cultivating a special Tallinn-Stockholm link, rather as postwar London kept aiming for a "Special Relationship" with Washington), and thinking just as strongly so in this new millennium (with Estonia's 2004-03-29 NATO accession and its 2004-05-01 EU accession). What lies across the waves is Scandinavia. The easternmost Swedish island lies just a little to the west of Estonia's largest island outpost, Saaremaa. Over the land horizon, to the west of Sweden, lies in turn what has since 1905 been a separate sovereign Scandinavian state, Norway.

Scotland for its part looks not only south (as is inevitable) but also east - to the very Scandinavia which lies to our west. However far east the Scottish cultural gaze might these days care to venture, it has in the past assuredly crossed the modest expanse of tidewater separating Scotland from Norway. I must some day continue what I have already in part read, namely From this Web page I already in the evening of 2017-06-12, on cursory inspection, draw the welcome information that a Viking longship might in favourable conditions have been expected to cross from Norway's Hordaland County to Shetland in a scant 24 hours.

In Pluscarden, then, is a monastery geographically closer to Estonia than many of the monasteries on the Continent. Further (as the well-constructed explains), it is happy to institute oblate-novice links with such Catholic laity as might prove capable of visiting.

(3) How can any list of Happy Catholic Things - even one that confers a certain Cistercians-and-Benedictines pride of place on monastics - omit Pope Saint John XXIII? Of the various Pope John stories, it suffices tonight to retail one. I could take, e.g., the singularly sunny tale of his relations, as Papal Nuncio, with a prima facie overcast official, the approximately-1948 Soviet Ambassador to France. But instead I choose, writing tonight quickly and from memory (while still confident of my facts) John's prison visit:

It is Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, or some day very close to those two. Good Pope John, surrounded by a bevy of monsignori, or solemn such - that entire bevy surely schooled in the stiff proprieties of the previous pontificate - is visiting prisoners in some part of Rome. Well, says Good Pope John, my cousin (or was it his brother?) did do some time, for poaching. Everybody apart from (I think and hope) the Holy Father himself - the prisoners in their degrading striped pajamas, and I think also the normally prim bevy of prelates - is blubbering in Mediterranean spontaneity, tears flowing freely in their joyous realization that their Pope cares even for outcasts. 

(4) Similar to John XXIII is Pope Francis. In the case of Francis, it suffices to remark in a general way on the utility of YouTube. Look, folks, for stuff on the man with the prodigiously deformed face who gets the pontifical hug. Or look for the child who upstages the Holy Father by climbing onto the pontifical platform, in full glare of the world's television cameras, with the Holy Father clearly not minding the upstaging. Or simply reflect on how this contemporary public figure, unlike others at his level of lofty prominence, eschews the teleprompter, reading in humble 1960s style from a humble sheaf of papers at the microphone - while remaining sufficiently at ease to depart even from his handheld sheaf as occasion may suggest it, I suspect thereupon speaking, at least some of the time, authentically ex tempore.

(5) Worried about this week's blogging duties, with their temptation to uncharitable composition, I was buoyed up by a prayer toward the end of the 2017-06-12 Laudes Matitutinae. The (official?) English translation, as one saw it on, was flowery, in a self-consciously archaic way. The Latin, on the other hand, was fine in its unadorned sobriety. I first quote it, then write out my own (correctly unflorid) translation:

Dómine Deus omnípotens, qui ad princípium huius diéi nos perveníre fecísti, tua nos hódie salva virtúte, ut in hac die ad nullum declinémus peccátum, sed semper ad tuam iustítiam faciéndam nostra procédant elóquia, dirigántur cogitatiónes et ópera.

Lord God almighty, who has made us reach the beginning of this day: keep us safe through Your strength today, so that we may on this day fall into no sin - with our utterances always proceeding, our thoughts and deeds always directed, to serving Your justice.

Such talk, or rather prayer, of justice leads me to one final point - again of an inspirational character, but this time not overtly theological. 

Our local (Town of Richmond Hill) library proves unexpectedly fertile. Already on this blog I have reported learning, within that modest-seeming municipal institution rather than on some eminent university campus, of Munkres's Topology. Now I want to report that the most inspiring modern passages I have ever found on any aspect of Rome I have lately found in that same local library. I have been working from a discussion of Roman law in Chapter 4 of Michael Grant's The Climax of Rome (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968; people here in Richmond Hill can seek for that 300-page hardcover upon my returning it this month, by going to call number 937.06 Gra, in our Main Branch reading room). Grant brings out the permanent value of Roman jurisprudence in a way that might now make all of us - not me alone, but also my various readers this week, including possibly even Town Council - want to treat our politics with toga-clad dignity.

Here is how Michael Grant introduces his topic: Roman Law is the supreme expression of Roman rational organization and order. Applying the laws as each instance arose, according to recorded precedents and with a keen eye for the practical needs and circumstances of daily life, the jurists gradually built a systematic structure, founded upon a blend of scientific thinking and common sense (pp. 77-78).

Here is his verdict on the greatest of the Roman jurists, Aemilius Papinianus (142-212): Independent, unafraid of changing his mind, he produced solutions that are original, closely reasoned and of unequalled precision. A little more given to generalisation than his contemporaries, he allowed full scope to equity, ethics and humanity. Papinian possessed a critical and judicial rather than a fertile mind, and his criticisms are deliberate, unprejudiced and moderate; he applied the law responsibly and with the surest instinct. There is elegance in the almost archaic, lapidary terseness of his style, which unerringly and without parade relates the facts to the legal principle involved, and brings out the essential point and only that (p. 79). 

- On Papinianus, or Papinian, you-know-what adds at that third-year law students in antiquity were called "Papinistae", meaning "they that are worthy to study Papinian": it was evidently a little like one's being at last found worthy, in today's physics schools, of putting tensors into one's electromagnetics, or of advancing from the humble univariate "Ordinary Differential Equation" for simple harmonic (springy-boing-boing) motion to Partial Differential Equations, as in the leakage of heat through bounding surfaces. 

Finally, here is what Michael Grant has to say by way of a summing-up, with reference to later legal scholarship in Byzantium: Through this preservation of their work in the Digest, the lawyer-prefects of Septimius and his successors have exercised more far-reaching influence upon the world than any other Latin writers, without excepting even Virgil, Cicero or Ovid. For when Justinian's Code was rediscovered in twelfth-century Italy and utilised by Irnerius for his teaching at Bologna, it became the principal support of popes and emperors and men of affairs, and a major factor in the intellectual reawakening of Europe: the universalist dreams of Caracalla and Diocletian had almost been fulfilled after a thousand years' delay. The writings of the Severan jurists, embodied in the Digest, were now the lingua franca of the law, and these abundant practical solutions and clear and rational distinctions fascinated the most gifted men of the day. And so the legal methods and conclusions of Septimius's time became patterns for future ages. Until a century ago, they still dominated large areas, through their direct and indirect descendants. Even today, as in the past two millennia, they still provide, through direct and indirect descendants, much of the method and framework by which the law adapts itself to successive generations and forms of government (p. 81).

[This is the end of the current blog posting.] 

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