Thursday, February 09, 2017

Ethics: Natural Law vs. Voluntarism

In Beauty in the Word, Stratford Caldecott argues that there are two main branches of ethics, the natural law tradition and the voluntarist tradition. The natural law tradition, which one could also call virtue ethics, was promoted by realists like Aristotle and Aquinas. The voluntarist tradition comes out ot the nomialists, such as Ockham, and involves an emphasis on commandments.

The natural law tradition is interested in what it is good to be and "freedom for," while the voluntarist tradition is interested in what it is good to do and "freedom from." Caldecott argues that
The second tradition leads in the modern period to a split between 'deontological' ethics (ethics of duty, as in Immanuel Kant's philosophy) and 'teleological' or consequentialist ethics (ethics of goal, as in Jeremy Bentham and J.S. Mill), which supposes that we choose either on the basis of obligations and rules that determine what is right and wrong, or on the basis of what will bring about the greatest happiness of the greatest number. (152)
There is further an "ethics of authenticity developed in reaction to them by Nietzsche, the Existentialists, and analytic philosophers" (152) that is quite important for many people today.

Each of these results in a different kind of freedom. Under the natural law tradition, there is "freedom for excellence," while for the voluntarist tradition, there is the "freedom of indifference."

It is quite interesting that nominalism gave rise to voluntarism, which split into Kant's "it doesn't matter what the outcome, so long as you had good intentions," and the utilitarian "it doesn't matter what way you get there, so long as the goal is reached." We see both of these at play today, in people who argue that what matters is their good intentions, not the fact that everything went to hell, and in people who think that it's perfectly find to use force (of government) to achieve your goals, so long as those goals are noble. What is perhaps most notable is that these people are almost inevitable the same people.

One of the problems with the volunarist tradition is that it sort of leaves the question of who is coming up with the rules, and why, and what makes them inherently good (how would you know?), in the first case, and how do you know that your goals are good in the latter. The latter argues for "the most happiness," but whose happiness? There was a time in the U.S. when most people would have been made much happier if there weren't any gays around. There are societies today in which that is the case. These goals shift and change over time and from culture to culture. We are rightly appalled at many things considered perfectly normal in the past, but which if realized at the time would have made many people happy.

There is also a bit of a contradiction in the idea of "freedom of indifference" and having goals. Why would you try to reach a goal about which you are indifferent? Should we be indifferent to happiness? To the rules? Doesn't indifference to the rules undermine duty?

At the same time, there is certainly something to be said for the freedom of indifference. It is probably because of this freedom of indifference toward women, gays, and minorities that led to the various liberation movements for those groups. It's not that people were indifferent to their plight, but rather that they realized that if they had the same rights and were equal under the law, that it didn't really affect them one way or another. If women being able to vote or minorities being able to eat or sit where they wanted to didn't harm you, why oppose those things?

For classical liberals and libertarians, this is an attractive proposal. It boils down to "I don't care what you do, so long as it doesn't harm me." Combine it with an ethics of authenticity, and you have pretty much an understanding of identity politics and the liberation movements.

However, none of these branches of ethics are even remotely useful for education. If the point of education is to learn, and the point of learning is to achieve excellence, then it seems that virtue ethics rather than voluntarist ethics are in order.

Consider Caldecott's example:
There is a certain freedom in being able to bash at random on a piano, but a higher freedom that comes from submitting to the discipline that yields the ability to play music---similarly with the discipline that enables us to use language meaningfully and be understood by others, and something similar applies in the moral realm to the virtues. (153)
Who has more freedom, the person who doesn't know the rules of playing the piano (which can only be gained through guided practice), or the person who does? The person who does, who knows the rules of playing the piano, has the freedom to produce many more sets of sounds from it than is the person who doesn't know the rules. The latter's efforts will mostly all sound exactly the same.

The same is true of poets and painters. Not knowing the full set of techniques means you have very little freedom as a painter or a poet. The free verse poet who only ever wrote in free verse and only ever was taught free verse is far more restricted than is the person who knows how to compose a sonnet, a madrigal, and a roundelay. Indeed, the latter will be able to compose far superior free verse poems as well.

The key to excellence in these things, including moral excellence, is achieving Aristotle's golden mean between the two extremes in vice. Just as courage is the golden mean between cowardice and rashness, a great painter composes in a golden mean between throwing paints randomly at a canvas and paint-by-number.  (Coincidentally, those who think Jackson Pollock was an example of the former is completely ignorant of his actual methods of composition.)

Education, qua education, absolutely requires virtue ethics as a foundation. Teachers cannot be indifferent to their students, and students cannot be indifferent to what they need to learn. Good intentions are hardly enough (though that seems to be what underlies all education in the U.S. today), and an education based on the idea of student authenticity is laughable (what if they are "authentically" lazy, ignorant, and illiterate?). An education designed to meet certain goals (other than the goal of creating free minds) will fail students precisely because the world is changing so quickly that whatever they are taught will be out of date by the time they try to get a job.

This isn't to say that there aren't times when one approach to ethics isn't better than another. Sometimes the best you can do is have good intentions (but you ought to learn and not make that mistake over and over and over, because then I have to question those good intentions). Sometimes you have to be true to yourself (but that self will necessarily change over time, and most particularly if you become more educated). And a system that brings about the greatest happiness for the greatest number most of the time is probably the better system to have, in general (meaning, a pluralist system founded in freedom, where everyone is free to pursue their own happiness). But let's face it, if you fully embrace virtue ethics, then you will be better able to align intentions with goals and you will learn to become who you are, as you continue to grow and become a better version of who you are.

For my money, education ought to be founded in teaching virtue ethics. Without that foundation, there can be no excellence in outcomes. Each person, privately, ought to embrace virtue ethics and individually behave based on those virtues. But socially, we shouldn't impose on others, meaning we ought to basically treat them "indifferently," meaning to live and let live, so long as I and others aren't harmed. Personally virtuous people who publicly leave people alone, who find the freedom to be while also enjoying the freedom from the forced imposition of others, will create the most virtuous society overall.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Beauty in the Word -- Poesis and Education

"All human beings desire to know the truth, to know reality. There are many who wish to deceive others, but few who want to be deceived (and therefore enslaved)" (8-9).

"Attention is desire; it is the desire for light, for truth, for understanding, for possession" (30).

"we learn because we love" (31).

"In Greek mythology, the goddess 'Memory' (Mnemosyne) is the offspring of the primordial Mother and Father; that is, Earth (Gaia) and Sky (Uranus). She is responsible for the naming of things, and is the mother by Zeus of the nine Muses, who inspire literature and all the arts, from poetry to astronomy. Memory, then, is the mother both of language and of civilization. This is what gives us our link between Remembering and language" (36).

"the earliest stage of education is not simply the learning of words, of names, of vocabulary, but the learning of how to name. This is the art that the poet re-learns, and so it can best be taught by teaching the power of poetry, and of poesis in general---both by learning and by doing" (43).

"The power of naming is related to the power of seeing; of seeing into the realities, the essences of things, and invoking those essences by an act of will---and therefore of interpretation" (43).

"The formal study of the history of words and their meanings is called etymology (from etymon or etymos, 'true sense' and logos, 'word' or 'speech'). The student of language is called a 'philologist,' a lover of the logos. Etymology is important, if we want to find the springs and furnaces where words are forged, and understand why they are so important to our humanity. We must travel this path as lovers ('amateurs') of the Word and of words, because all things reveal themselves more truly to the eyes of love" (44-45)

"Whenever we return home we are remembering. There is no home without memory to make it so; there is only a place like any other. Even an orphan raised on the streets remembers a face, a shelter, which represents whee he comes from. My 'home' may have been brutal, the memories of it may make me cringe with fear, but it cannot ever be fully left behind, unless I can replace it with something other and better. All through life we are seeking a place where we can be at home, where we can truly belong. If we cannot remember that experience of belonging, then we are forced to remember something that defines it by contrast. Either way, it is memory that defines our journey.

"It is not just as individuals that we need a home. The collective memory of the society to which we belong has the name 'tradition.' We cannot be truly 'at home' without one. The word derives from trans- 'over' and dare 'to give.' In every society or civilization, a process takes place that can be called a 'handing over' of the stories, the knowledge, the accumulated wisdom of one generation to the next. It is the process that makes each new generation into a source of wisdom for the one that follows---and it takes place generally within the family. What is handed over is a 'gift.' It is not simply a bundle of property whose title deed is being transferred to the next generation. Rather, it carries within it something of the giver. Its transmission is an act of love. Thus the gift of tradition involves and transforms the interiority of both the giver and the recipient" (45).

"The 'spirit of tradition' is an essential element of education. It is the spirit in which the transmission of culture takes place" (46).

""by speaking of Memory or Remembering we are really speaking of the foundations of attention, of the integration of the personality, and of the road to contemplation. We are also speaking of 'conscience.' Remembering is the gathering together of the self in the light of consciousness" (51)

 "As we move from individual words to the construction of sentences we have begun the making of narrative, of stories; and stories, like names, reveal the meaning and relationship of things to ourselves. The anamnesis of culture and tradition is largely dependent on our ability to remember and build upon stories that come down to us. These stories are the vehicles of meaning" (52).

"To be enchanted by story is to be granted a deeper insight into reality" (53)

"Our experience of the world is full of meaning from the moment we begin to connect our experiences with each other by remembering and comparing and imagining. Words are the tokens of images, and it is as such that they mediate human interpretation and thought. We unveil the meaning of the world to ourselves by comparing one thing with another, by getting the 'measure' (logos) of it, by seeing one ting as 'like' or 'unlike' another, and so by learning to dwell in the mysterious space that is formed between them. The human soul, we might say, is this intermediate reality, this 'interworld' of meanings and connections" (57).

It is in the Imagination that language and the Muses are born from Memory in the house of tradition. The first lesson of our revised 'Trivium' is therefore the vital importance of crafts, drama and dance, poetry and storytelling, as a foundation for independent and critical thought.Though doing and making, through poesis, the house of the soul is built. The grammar of language, however, rests on a deeper foundation still. It rests on music. Music is the wordless language on which poetry---the purest and most concentrated form of speech----is built. Poetry is made of images, similes, metaphors, analogies; but what holds these elements together and makes them live is fundamentally musical in nature" (57-8). a play of mathematics, coherent patterns of number and shape in time and space, expressed in rhythm and timbre, tone and pitch. It is the closest most of us get to seeing and feeling the beauty of mathematics" (58).

"the restoration of Grammar as one of the three elements of a restored Trivium must include not only the revival of memory and the discipline of learning by heart (enlarging the heart in the process), but the cultivation of imagination and a poetic or musical vision of the interconnectedness of all things. It is a harmony that cries out to be discovered and appreciated, repaying with joy the effort to reveal and understand it, and making us 'beautiful within'" (59).

one of the tasks of the teacher "is to ground Thinking in Remembering, or Logic in Grammar, and to overcome the false Nominalism of our age with the spirit of contemplation" (80).

"thinking is dialogical before it is logical" (80)

"because thinking is dialogical, the best way to encourage it is by dialogue, debate, conversation. This is where the dialectical method, beginning with the Socratic elenchus in the early Platonic writings---a conversation designed to expose error---comes into its own. Plato's dialogues may seem at times to be rather artificial and unconvincing; nevertheless, it can be a wonderful exercise to adapt them for performance with children as a way of stimulating them imaginatively to search for truth. Truth is not a quarry that can easily be pursued without the help of others, because our own thoughts have a tendency to run in circles" (81).

"learning, which is the expansion of the self, takes place in community. I am not referring only to the refinement of logical thought, which despite its importance is only a special case of thought in general, rendered more precise and coherent by the Principle of Contradiction, the Principle of Identity and Difference, and the Principle of the Excluded Middle, the details of which can be pursued elsewhere. The development of thinking also involves the refinement of imagination and feeling" (81).

"The expansion of the self, we might say, requires the development of empathy and courtesy---empathy in order to be able to see another's point of view, and courtesy to act as though one were not the center of the world" (81).

"To know the truth we must first attend to reality. We must interpret reality. We must have names for things. We must 'remember Being.' And in fact Being itself is the first 'community' to which we belong: 'being' is itself a form of communion. That community comprises past, present, and future, to which  we have access through memory, consciousness, and imagination. Initiation into a cultural and social tradition through education is the way in which we participate to the fullest in this community of being" (83-4).

"education is about the communication of values, or meaningful information, and of wisdom and of tradition, between persons and across generations" (84)

"real human communication is only possible in the context of love, without which the self can neither be given in an act of speech (we describe someone as 'not meaning a word of it'), nor received in an act of sympathetic hearing (we accuse someone of 'not listening to what I was saying'). In fact every person has an interior life that cannot be divulged except by deliberately 'opening up' the heart, and allowing the life that is within it to flow through words and gestures into the other person" (85).

"Human speech flows from within, but if it is to serve the truth it cannot simply express what is within, and nothing else. Thought is an attempt to know; that is, a marriage of the self with reality; while speech is an attempt to bring about a meeting of selves, a communion in that marriage. Human speech and thought need to correspond with the order of the cosmos, the order of love" (85).

"You cannot communicate a truth that has not changed you" (86).

"Ethics concerns what we should do or not do, and how we should behave" (86).

"What I am is decided by my actions. What I do with my body not only reveals but determines who I am; it creates my destiny" (87)

"the best way to communicate morality is not through endless dry lists of what should and should not be done, but . . . through the imagination---through stories, drama, and living examples capable of engaging the will and the emotions and thus inspiring us to be better people. A morality, an ethos, must be embodied; it must be lived by a human being, before it can be understood or communicated. It is expressed in the virtues that are the powers by which we build character, and with the fruits of those virtues" (87)

"an ethics of virtue--of acting not just in order to bring about certain results, but of acting in order to correspond to the Good, which is not at all the same thing. In fact we can go further, and say, I am what I do to others. This connects us with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (89).

Rhetoric "is not a set of techniques to impress (oratory, eloquence), nor a means of manipulating the will and emotions of others (sophistry, advertising), but rather a way of liberating the freedom of others by showing them the truth in a form they can understand" (92).

"the most intense experience of language" involves "music, imagery, and connotation" (93)

"Rhythm or meter is a mathematical structure, a structure of repetition and variation. It creates a shape in time, a dynamic flowing movement that carries the mind along with it. If prose lacks rhythm, it leaves us behind. Our attention is too easily diverted from the direction in which the author intends us to move. Something similar is true of all art, from music through to architecture and even painting, which, though seemingly static, requires us to move our attention through time in order to absorb it. (A painting that can be appreciated entirely at a single glance, without leaving something further to explore, is probably not a very good painting.)" (94)

Rhetoric is "related to poetry, dance, and song. We might even conclude that the best way to teach it is in close connection with these. In other words, an ability to communicate in words will grow with a sense of rhythm, timing, melody, and physical grace. But why should we ever have thought otherwise? Communication in the fullest sense must involve the whole person, that is body, soul, and spirit, with imagination and intellect in harmony. Rhetoric cannot be kept entirely separate from any other subject, least of all those which cultivate our sense of beaut. The interconnectedness of things---their mutual indwelling and transparency--is the condition of communication" (95).

Education should involve storytelling, music, exploration, painting and drawing, and dance, drama, and sport (113).

"The education of the imagination is the education of the heart" (114).

"Through the choice of stories the children can be introduced to history as well as traditional fairy tales, myths, and classic tales, as well as being encouraged to develop narrative skills of their own and to develop the confidence to speak in a group. Stories can be illustrated or acted out, creating links with the other areas of the curriculum. This is also the best way to draw children into the learning of language, and indeed languages" (114).

"the theme of Music can be connected to Story or Exploration or Dance, and it can be taught historically or with reference to religion. Sounds and patterns of sounds can be analyzed into simple numbers and shapes, thus introducing the children to mathematics by the back door. By exploring the relationship between music and lyrics in popular songs, a range of literary skills can be developed" (114)

"explore the local neighborhood or the geography of the wider world, outer space using actual telescopes or the images available from Hubble and NASA, different cultures using story and music, the world of the very small through microscopes and magnifying glasses, abstract patterns through the construction of simple geometric figures, or the worlds of the past" (114) -- that is, all of these can be framed as exploring.

"everything is connected to everything else, and so we should not be afraid of the particular interests or obsessions of the children---follow one interest, however narrow it appears, and it will open up one subject after another, making each in turn appear 'interesting' for the first time" (115).

"Arts and crafts provide an obvious opportunity to explore, express, and interiorize what is being  learnt each day, to develop particular skills based on the coordination of hand and eye, and to refine the ability to observe the world around" (115).

"symbols, metaphors, and analogies help to connect everything together" (115).

education should not neglect movement--dance, drama, sports, the martial arts--"Here music and storytelling, as well as the arts and crafts, and social skills such as a capacity for teamwork, all have an important part to play" (116)

"The links between music, dance, sport, and acting are obvious."

"Dramatic productions developed in class are an opportunity to bring together the whole range of educational elements in a single activity involving teamwork" (116).

"The keys to meaning are form, gestalt, beauty, interiority, relationship, radiance, and purpose. An education for meaning begins with the perception of form. Education should open our eyes to the meaning and beauty of the cosmos. In the search for beauty as well as truth, the arts and sciences can be reunited in the common enterprise of civilization" (117).

"A metaphorical word or phrase carried us from something to something else by suggesting a likeness or analogy. All of poetry and most of language is based upon this power of suggestion. It is the key to the discovery of meaning" and to the interconnectedness of things (121).

"It is the imagination that interprets, that gives meaning to the world, by 'joining the dots,' discovering the otherwise invisible connections between things, events, and qualities. Its ancient Greek patron is Hermes, or Mercury, the messenger of the gods and inventor of fire. Thus to discover meaning is to connect, to travel from one thing to another, or to go on a journey. But to go on a hike without landmarks or direction, or on a sea voyage without said, sextant, compass, or map, is the same as being lost, or wandering aimlessly, a victim to every wind that blows" (122).

Great stories each reveal "an aspect of what it is to be truly human, not in a moralistic way by spelling out the rules and regulations of right behavior, but in a way that educates the imagination of the reader to see patterns linking characters, decisions, and events in the real world. It is a way not just of communicating the rules, but showing how the rules work and perhaps even why they work. However fantastic and unreal the landscapes in which these stories unfold, however untrue to life they may be in a factual sense, they are true in the deeper meaning of the word, in that they reflect the way things really are. They open our eyes to look not merely at the surface of things, but at their form" (123).

"it make sense to regard reading stories aloud to one's children the archetypal act of the Trivium. One is simultaneously remembering a tradition, revealing the Logos, and (by voice, inflection, and gesture) dramatizing a story to communicate that meaning 'heart to heart'" (123).

"We desire the truth because it is beautiful, it draws us towards it. In fact, to be drawn towards something, to desire it, is part of what we mean by calling it 'beautiful.'
"Here is the paradox. We may be drawn to truth by beauty, but truth is beautiful to us because it's true. The beauty of anything lies in its truth. I don't mean, of course, that every truth we discover must be beautiful in the superficial sense of being pretty. There are plenty of ugly truths" (133). But those truths have to be taken in the wider, more complex, contexts.

"Arithmetic requires us to pursue order through time, since numbers accumulate successively when we perform the operation of counting. Music involves appreciation of these temporal patterns and the relationships between them.It depends on our ability to perceive a mathematical form that is spread out through time (the time it takes for a symphony or a song to unfold). Geometry involves the perception of forms that are spread through space as well as time, hence its foundational relationship to Astronomy, which concerns the geometrical relationships of the heavenly bodies---the world of 'light.' Music is the study of ratios and proportions, and Astronomy of shapes in motion" (141).

"The good is that which is, at any given moment, appropriate, sitting, and right in relation to the objective situation. Consciousness is the ability to recognize what is good and translate it into action. But conscience is the ability to recognize what is fixed and ready-made; it has to grow and develop as we open ourselves to life and allow ourselves to be taught" (142).

"Dialectic needs Grammar, and Logic needs Analogy, which is at the foundation of poetry, theology, and science. Things are never unrelated or completely unlike other things---the world is analogous through and through" (151).

"Our experience of beauty liberates or expands us beyond the boundaries of the self. The encounter with it arouses the desire to unite ourselves with it in order to become 'more' than we are. At the same time, it may strike us as 'more than we deserve' or more than we have a right to expect" (156).

"The memory of being, the pursuit of truth, the eloquence of the heart, and the musical mathematics of the cosmos and the soul, are the essence of the seven liberal arts" (159).

"It is beauty that moves us to love the one, the true, and the good, not for her sake but for theirs" (159-160).

*from Caldecott, Stratford. 2012. Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education. Tacoma, WA: Angelico Press

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Meaningful Words in a Text Proven to Have Fractal Distribution

In my dissertation, Evolutionary Aesthetics, I had a chapter titled "Introduction to the Fractal Distribution of Words in a Text." Because of my lack of technical skill and institutional support, I didn't pursue that line of research (I instead pursued spontaneous order theory, where I was getting positive feedback on my research), but the idea is always in my mind.

Today I found a paper proving my thesis: "The Fractal Patterns of Words in a Text: A Method for Automatic Keyword Extraction." In it they describe a method for finding keywords based on their fractal pattern. However, they do this in nonfiction works, while I did mine in a work of fiction. But both of us were searching for meaningful words in each text. And indeed it seems that meaningful words do have a fractal distribution within a text, while "filler" words are randomly distributed.

The Fractal Patterns of Words in a Text: A Method for Automatic Keyword Extraction