Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Leisure to Be Dead

One of the pleasures of reading the old writers of the supernatural is that, even if a story doesn't wind up being as scary as you hoped, you will invariably be treated to some wonderful examples of style. This was the case in Ambrose Bierce's "A Jug of Sirup" (from Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce).

Bierce develops an entire story from one captivating turn of phrase: "... well within a month Mr. Deemer made it plain that he had not the leisure to be dead." The irony of the story is that Mr. Deemer does not have the leisure to be dead because he never had (or permitted himself) the leisure to be truly alive. In fact, his ghostly appearance is little different than his living appearance: In both cases, he is utterly absorbed in the clerical work of running his general store. The story has a comic element in the mob that storms the store when it becomes known that a specter is appearing within. No one paid much attention to Mr Deemer when he was alive; now that he's dead, people fight for the chance to get a glimpse of him, a glimpse that is indistinguishable from the thousands of glimpses they had of him while he was alive. The crowd has no time for the substantial appearance of an ordinary man; it is only when he is a shadow of his former self that he generates any interest. Why do men prefer the ethereal to the substantial? Perhaps this is a form of original sin, since to prefer evil to good is to prefer the less substantial to the more substantial.

The deadly sins kill supernatural life, so the man who succumbs to a sin like sloth (as Mr. Deemer has) is already dead in the only way that matters. When he finally dies a bodily death, his existence is not substantially changed; for him, perhaps, he does not even notice that he is dead. The story shows two forms of sloth: The man entirely immersed in the cares of the world (Luke 10:41-42), and the crowd captivated by the phenomenal at the expense of the enduring.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fixing What Isn't Broken

Enough with philosophy, let's talk about something important: The travesty that is the new packaging for Fig Newtons.

I've been eating Fig Newtons for more than forty years, and as anyone who knows me knows, there isn't much about food I'm passionate about other than Figgies. I am proud to be the inventor, as far as I know, of the excellent combination of Fig Newtons and Cheese. Anyway, Fig Newtons have had the same packaging for as long as I can remember, and there wasn't a thing wrong with it.

But I suppose the new MBAs at Nabisco needed to justify their existence by being "innovative", so they innovated a major backwards step in the Fig Newton experience. Why did they have to pick on my poor Figgies? Could they have at least thought a little before destroying the packaging?

The first time I saw the new packaging, I got a sick feeling in my stomach; the same feeling I got when I first encountered "fat-free" Fig Newtons. And just as my early-warning radar was right with respect to disgusting fat-free Figgies, so it was with the "improved" packaging. The stupid rip open, allegedly resealable top is too sticky and gloms onto my hand when I'm reaching for a cookie. The opening itself is too small, so I have the choice of either destroying several cookies to make room to reach the others, or ripping the packaging so the reseal is broken. The old Fig Newton "stacks" were handy to carry around; a stack was just the right size for a teenage snack (or a 40-year old snack, for that matter). The stack packaging could be manipulated with one hand, so you could handle the cookies and the TV remote at the same time. The packaging was about as efficient as possible since it barely took more space than the cookies themselves. Now I've got to deal with the decision of carrying around a handful of free-floating cookies or the entire monstrosity of packaging.

This is not progress.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Clive Cussler

I used to read Clive Cussler novels back in high school, and happened to see one of his latest, The Navigator (The Numa Files), while walking through the library the other day. So I checked it out to see how Cussler has stood up over thirty years. One Cussler pleasure I had forgotten was the occasional unintentional hilarity of sentences like this:

"The small-arms fire was constant but sporadic."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Logical vs Metaphysical Necessity

One of the problems I have with analytical philosophy is the tendency to fail to distinguish between logical and metaphysical necessity. Or, more precisely, it is to invert the priority of being and logic.

The Maverick Philosopher wrote a post the necessity of God that exemplifies this tendency.

The MP refers to "philosophers in the tradition of Anselm and Aquinas" who define God as a necessary being, and he takes them both to mean the same thing - logical necessity. But St. Thomas rejected Anselm's Ontological Argument precisely because he understood the necessity of God to be a metaphysical necessity, not a logical necessity.

Logical necessity refers to the relationships of the terms of propositions to each other. Thus a "logically possible world" is one that involves no propositional self-contradiction. No logically possible world can contain married bachelors, because bachelors are by definition not married. But there is no self-contradiction in supposing that a body can be at two different places at the same time; for example, that you could be in Boston and Binghamton simultaneously. That it is not possible for you to be in both Boston and Binghamton at the same time is a consequence of your incarnate nature; it is the nature of bodies as such that they occupy one and only one place. It is a metaphysical necessity. Thus "John is in Binghamton and in Boston" is logically possible, but metaphysically impossible.

When Thomists discuss the necessity of God, they mean that God is metaphysically necessary, not logically necessary. There is no logical contradiction involved in denying the existence of God. But it is to assert a metaphysical impossibility. The Thomistic arguments for God are all different ways of revealing this metaphysical necessity.