Friday, February 27, 2015

Descartes’ “indivisibility” argument

In the sixth of his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes writes:

[T]here is a vast difference between mind and body, in respect that body, from its nature, is always divisible, and that mind is entirely indivisible.  For in truth, when I consider the mind, that is, when I consider myself in so far only as I am a thinking thing, I can distinguish in myself no parts, but I very clearly discern that I am somewhat absolutely one and entire; and although the whole mind seems to be united to the whole body, yet, when a foot, an arm, or any other part is cut off, I am conscious that nothing has been taken from my mind; nor can the faculties of willing, perceiving, conceiving, etc., properly be called its parts, for it is the same mind that is exercised [all entire] in willing, in perceiving, and in conceiving, etc.  But quite the opposite holds in corporeal or extended things; for I cannot imagine any one of them [how small soever it may be], which I cannot easily sunder in thought, and which, therefore, I do not know to be divisible.  This would be sufficient to teach me that the mind or soul of man is entirely different from the body, if I had not already been apprised of it on other grounds.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Braving the web

The 10th Annual Thomistic Seminar for graduate students in philosophy and related disciplines, sponsored by The Witherspoon Institute, will be held from August 2 - 8, 2015 in Princeton, NJ.  The theme is “Aquinas and Contemporary Ethics,” and faculty include John Haldane, Sarah Broadie, and Candace Vogler.  Applications are due March 16.  More details here.

Does academic freedom still exist at Marquette University?  The case of political science professor John McAdams, as reported by The Atlantic, Crisis magazine, and Slate

The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus is the subject of a new biography by Randy Boyagoda.  Review at National Review, and podcast of an interview with Boyagoda at Ricochet.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Augustine and Heraclitus on the present moment

On the subject of time and our awareness of it, Augustine says the following in The Confessions:

But how does this future, which does not yet exist, diminish or become consumed?  Or how does the past, which now has no being, grow, unless there are three processes in the mind which in this is the active agent?  For the mind expects and attends and remembers, so that what it expects passes through what has its attention to what it remembers…

Suppose I am about to recite a psalm which I know.  Before I begin, my expectation is directed towards the whole.  But when I have begun, the verses from it which I take into the past become the object of my memory.  The life of this act of mine is stretched two ways, into my memory because of the words I have already said and into my expectation because of those which I am about to say.  But my attention is on what is present: by that the future is transferred to become the past. (Confessions 11.28.37-38, Chadwick translation; an older translation is available online here)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Accept no imitations

Given that he’s just become a movie star, Alan Turing’s classic paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” seems an apt topic for a blog post.  It is in this paper that Turing sets out his famous “Imitation Game,” which has since come to be known as the Turing Test.  The basic idea is as follows: Suppose a human interrogator converses via a keyboard and monitor with two participants, one a human being and one a machine, each of whom is in a different room.  The interrogator’s job is to figure out which is which.  Could the machine be programmed in such a way that the interrogator could not determine from the conversation which is the human being and which the machine?  Turing proposed this as a useful stand-in for the question “Can machines think?”  And in his view, a “Yes” answer to the former question is as good as a “Yes” answer to the latter.

Friday, February 6, 2015

What’s the deal with sex? Part II

In a previous post I identified three aspects of sex which manifestly give it a special moral significance: It is the means by which new human beings are made; it is the means by which we are physiologically and psychologically completed qua men and women; and it is that area of human life in which the animal side of our nature most relentlessly fights against the rational side of our nature.  When natural law theorists and moral theologians talk about the procreative and unitive functions of sex, what they have in mind are the first two of these aspects.  The basic idea of traditional natural law theory where sex is concerned is that since the good for us is determined by the natural ends of our faculties, it cannot be good for us to use our sexual faculties in a way that positively frustrates its procreative and unitive ends.  The third morally significant aspect of sex, which is that the unique intensity of sexual pleasure can lead us to act irrationally, is perhaps less often discussed these days.  So let’s talk about that.