Monday, June 1, 2015

A Unified Account of Moral Action

One way of making the complicated relations in objects of action simpler to understand is to begin at the beginning, with “the first precept of law that good ought to be done and pursued and that evil ought to be avoided” and follow Aquinas’ lead that “all the other precepts of the law of nature are founded upon this principle.”[1]  The first way in which one principle may follow from another is by logic, so if practical reason chooses a means, thus making it a proximate end, the form of the reasoning itself has thus shown the Pauline principle that evil may not be done that good may come.[2]  If evil were done that good may come, evil would be a means to good, which would make it a proximate end and thus something pursued, a logical violation of the first precept.  The next level of analysis, the primary subject of the book under review, can be understood as a kind of metaphysical entailment.  To introduce the proper accident of evil into an action is to make it metaphysically impossible for it to be the good action, since good and evil acts differ in species,[3] so the proper accidents of both cannot be present.  Finally, consequences must be weighed, because an action cannot be indifferent even if it be indifferent in species,[4] as “not only are human beings good by being directed to the good; more profoundly, they exist for the sake of the good.”[5]

[1] Thomas Aquinas, “Prima Pars,” in Summa Theologiae, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso, accessed September 22, 2014, http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/summa-translation/TOC-part1.htm q 94, a 2, c.
[2] Romans 3:8.
[3] I-II, q18, a5, c.
[4] I-II, q18, a9, c.
[5] Steven J. Jensen, Good & Evil Actions: A Journey Through Saint Thomas Aquinas (Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 295.

When do Circumstances give Species to Acts?

Despite substantial difficulties with interpreting the texts of Aquinas on this point[1] (which Jensen earlier defended against Cajetan’s charge of inconsistency),[2] Jensen arrives at the following formula for when circumstances give species to acts:
Everything hinges, then, on the form that reason seeks to introduce into the materia circa quam.  Those aspects by which the material is able or unable to bear this form will give species to human actions.  All other aspects of the material will be circumstantial.[3] 
He then glosses the above as “[the circumstance] adds something pertaining to reason”[4] or when “[the circumstances] are the proper accidents of some new motive.”[5]  Only the last formulation, from the Summa Theologiae, is adequately precise:  a circumstance adds something pertaining to reason when it introduces a new form, we know it introduces a new form because the old form is unable to bear the form reason seeks to introduce, and we know the old form is unable to bear the new form (in the case where they are not simply contraries or contradictories) because it has proper accidents which are contradictions or contraries of the proper accidents of the old form.  Taking a chalice must be sacrilege as well as theft because consecrated objects are necessarily not reducible to their monetary value.  The Sabbath may be for man, but not by way of mammon.  

This approach to determining when circumstances give species is also relevant to the case of whether moving cargo off of a ship at sea to avoid sinking is the same act as putting the cargo into the sea.[6]  The issue is less that “some negation is involved” but, as Jensen notes, that the cargo becoming waterlogged or sinking is a further result of lightening the ship rather than a means.  Why, though, is becoming waterlogged and sinking not a “proper accident” of the act of jettisoning cargo from a ship at sea?  It certainly seems to follow with basically 100% certainty, much as shooting a man in the head with a magnum revolver or crushing the skull of a child in-utero lead to their deaths.  Aquinas defines a proper accident, however, as “non contingit quin proprium accidens praedicetur de subiecto,”[7] and while jettisoned cargo certainly becomes waterlogged and sinks, it doesn’t necessarily do so.  It certainly doesn’t become waterlogged and sink with the kind of necessary force involved in Aquinas’ examples of proper accidents, such as all natural numbers being even or odd, all rational creatures being risible, or all happy states being delightful.  The species of the action is thus determined by its intended ends, the chosen means to those ends, and the accidents those ends necessarily entail.  

If jettisoning cargo and self-defense are allowed, however, why not craniotomy?  The doctor does not, after all, intend the death of the child or harm to the child, and while resizing the child’s head in-utero by crushing it with forceps leads with moral certainty to the death of the child, the death is not itself the means to the end.  Unlike in the self-defense case, maiming the organ is not even a means to the end, because whereas in the self-defense case if the bullet passed through without damaging an organ the attacker would continue to pose a threat, in the craniotomy case if the skull somehow squished without being harmed that would be a cause of joy to all concerned, allowing the baby to be delivered alive.  Even if the maiming were somehow causally necessary, why should the circumstance of endangering innocent life give species, since maiming is not malum in se?  The answer is to be found in Jensen’s remarkably nuanced treatment of the way “things” are the objects of human acts, by their conception in reason.[8]  In the case of the jettisoned cargo, it is the same thing which the captain throws overboard to save his ship and would be happy to recover intact after the storm had passed.  In the case of the armed defender, the presumptive aggressor is stopped from being an aggressor whether he trips from the noise, is maimed but recovers in handcuffs, or is killed outright.  In the case of the consecrated chalice, however, the cup-as-invaluable is stolen, but the cup-as-valuable is fenced.  In the case of the craniotomy, the doctor begins by crushing the skull-as-organ, which is to say, crushing the baby, but ends by crushing the postmortem skull-as-calcium-aggregate.  His action, which he wishes to describe as “reducing the size of the baby’s head,”[9] turns out to only involve “the head” in an equivocal sense, since at the beginning it is not a thing in itself but a part of a baby, and at the end it is not a thing in itself but an aggregate of flesh and bone.  In killing the baby, he has changed the thing upon which he is acting, but the action as he wishes to describe it does not take stock of this fact, and thus cannot be a correct description.  The armed defendant, insofar as he attempts to act upon the entirety of the aggressor, which he is deputized to do by the aggressor’s presumptive guilt (thereby explaining the earlier condition), does not suffer from this difficulty.

[1] Steven J. Jensen, Good & Evil Actions: A Journey Through Saint Thomas Aquinas (Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 114.
[2] Steven J. Jensen, “Do Circumstances Give Species?,” The Thomist 70, no. 1 (2006): 1–26.
[3] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 125.
[4] Ibid., 113 cf de Malo, 7, 4.
[5] Ibid., 114 cf I-II, q72, a9.
[6] Ibid., 99.
[7] In Post. An. I.10.157
[8] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 117–121.
[9] Ibid., 15.

Difficulties with Jensen's Account of Self-Defense: Why maiming is not malum in se

Jensen rejects most contemporary Thomstic accounts of self-defense because they attempt to place the harm to the aggressor, or particularly his death, outside the intention of the defender, which Jensen finds implausible and contrary to the relevant Thomistic texts.[1]  Instead he provides an account of self-defense as implicitly deputized state action, which he acknowledges is not found explicitly in the texts but he judges the most textually compatible means of saving our intuitions that deadly self-defense can be morally justified.[2]  While Jensen’s interpretation of St. Thomas is plausible enough, its ability to save our moral intuitions regarding self-defense seems less assured.  

Jensen sets the case as follows:  
To avoid certain confusions we will press the case to its farthest extreme by considering a situation in which merely injuring the assailant is not likely to stop him, so that the only plausible way to defend oneself is to fire the gun with a near certainty that the assailant will die (supposing that one has good enough aim).  Later, we will see that the same considerations apply to situations in which one fires the gun thinking that one will would (but not kill) the assailant.[3]
But why should this causal closeness of firing with death be at all relevant to the moral species?  The soldier blowing up a bridge is not committing the moral species of murdering a child playing on the bridge, even if it seems certain that the child will die when the bridge is blown up.  Only when “injuring the child…is one of the causes that brings about his goal” is the soldier so culpable.[4]  No matter the likelihood of death, however, some degree of injury from the gunshot would surely stop the assailant without causing his death, so the death of the assailant is not actually one of the causes (as conceived by reason) that brings about the goal, even if it is a highly likely concomitant effect of some of those causes and also an alternate cause.  Rhonheimer’s interpretation thus seems more plausible:
It entirely depends on what is going on in my heart, that is, whether I want the enemy soldier to be dead, or simply to stop his aggression and to win the battle.  Therefore, if as a soldier you do not want to be a murderer, you must care for wounded enemy soldiers.  This shows that the object of your acting—the intention involved in your action—obviously was not wanting them to be dead, not even in the moment of battle, even if killing them in the moment was the foreseeable and necessary physical outcome of violence proportionate to stop their aggression.[5]
While one might have reason to quibble with Rhonheimer’s construction of a soldier’s actions in wartime as a case of self-defense, the fact remains that showing solicitude for the wounded illustrates a desire not to kill even if death results in the vast majority of cases from the means chosen.  On the other hand, a defender who chooses not to call 911 after incapacitating his assailant with gunfire is a murderer, though perhaps a murderer possessed of some mitigating circumstances.

Much of the cast of Jensen’s approach to self-defense, therefore, relies on his claim that maiming is malum in se,[6] since it seems incontrovertible that the destruction of some part of a person is part of the causal chain (and thus the proximate intention) by which a defender stops an aggressor by means of a firearm.  Jensen here follows Thomas, who states that “Si ergo membrum sanum fuerit et in sua naturali dispositione consistens, non potest praecidi absque totius hominis detrimento”[7] which would be evil, making an exception only for the judicial case where sin has corrupted the person in a manner analogous to disease corrupting an organ.  Since consent cannot make a malum in se action licit, this poses a host of difficulties which go well beyond self-defense.  First, an operation to remove a diseased organ (an inflamed fallopian tube, say) requires cutting through healthy organs (skin and muscle, at minimum).  Certainly those organs aren’t intended to be completely destroyed (depending on how sharply ‘membrum’ is defined) but the same could be said of those organs damaged by a bullet in self-defense.  In both cases the destruction of the healthy organ is a means to the end; contra Long Jensen wants to maintain that the means is indeed a proximate end in itself,[8] and contra Rhonheimer Jensen wants to maintain that this proximate end in itself gives rise to a human act.[9] Thus the puzzle:  according to the strict reading of II-IIq65a1c of maiming a healthy organ as an act malum in se, while Aquinas’ example may work for a case of gangrene where the whole part of the body removed by the doctor is already less than healthy and naturally disposed, it does not work for the case of salpingectomy, which Jensen wishes to affirm as morally licit.[10] 

Jensen’s reading is too strict to conform with his own moral intuitions or those of the mainstream Catholic bioethics community.  His reading also fails for the case of Aron Ralston, who cut off his own (still healthy) arm to escape likely dehydration after being trapped by a rock,[11] in a microcosm of the fat spelunker case that Jensen judges obviously immoral.[12]  While Ralston has received plenty of criticism for his lack of prudence in entering the situation in which he became stuck, he does not seem to have received any for the supposedly malum in se action of cutting off his healthy arm for the further end of saving his life.  A third difficulty for this reading is that it would decisively prohibit kidney transplants from living donors, where a complete healthy organ is cut out for some further end, yet both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services affirm that “Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks incurred by the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient.”[13]  If Pope St. John Paul II, who promulgated both Veritatis Splendor and the Catechism  is not to be considered a proportionalist, then maiming must not be malum in se.

Given the difficulties with treating maiming as malum in se, what are the alternatives?  Jensen could yield to Rhonheimer’s claim that cutting the skin in surgery is not a human act, or to Long’s that it has an intrinsic teleology, but his arguments against these positions are strong.  A better approach would be to make use of openings in the Thomistic text to treat maiming differently, much as Jensen already does with the deputization argument.  A start might be made by noting that in II-IIq65a1, Thomas is arguing against those who believe maiming to never be lawful, and provides the counterexample of maiming for explicitly judicial purposes.  While that may pass even a very strict standard, as Thomas establishes, that need not imply that such a standard is optimal with regard to cases envisioned neither by Thomas nor his objectors.  Indeed the replies to objections open up this strategy.   Replies one and two make reference to the common good and the good of the man, respectively, as ends to which the particular nature or member are subjected, and without reference to any defect of the member.  The third reply provides an even more explicit criterion:  “membrum non est praecidendum propter corporalem salutem totius nisi quando aliter toti subveniri non potest.”[14] This solves the salpingectomy case explicitly, and while it must be extended to solve the live-kidney-donor and self-defense cases, by making bodily integrity only a proportionate good it provides the ground for that solution.  The presumption in both cases is that the health of the kidney-recipient and the defender may not be saved by means other than maiming.  

The need for consent to maiming in the case of the kidney donor but not in the case of the assailant can be explained in that the latter is either not in a rational state of mind or is already making a choice to forfeit the common good, but in either case has already shown his inability to recognize and respond to the common good in consent.  To Jensen’s credit, however, the likelihood of death is not totally irrelevant.  As the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services put it, “The transplantation of organs from living donors is morally permissible when such a donation will not sacrifice or seriously impair any essential bodily function”[15] and the Catechism notes that “it is furthermore morally inadmissible directly to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.”[16]  This restriction makes sense in light of II-II, q65, a1, ad2 where Thomas orders the part to the whole of the person, but why would the same not be true of deadly force in self-defense, triggering the broader common good argument of ad1?  In parallel, if maiming is not malum in se, and the blowing up of the bridge is a proportionate common good, why may the soldier not fire to maim the child so as to trigger the detonator and blow up the bridge?  The answer is that insofar as each person is a complete instance of the common good,[17] maiming that endangers life requires some (even prima facie) judgment of guilt,[18] which in turn can only be made by a public authority or one deputized as such,[19] for it to be proportional to the life of another.   The reason for this will become clearer in the next section, because this is a circumstance which gives a species.

[1] Steven J. Jensen, Good & Evil Actions: A Journey Through Saint Thomas Aquinas (Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 52–66.
[2] Ibid., 219–221.
[3] Ibid., 52–53.
[4] Ibid., 86.
[5] Martin Rhonheimer, The Perspective of the Acting Person: Essays in the Renewal of Thomistic Moral Philosophy, ed. William F. Murphy (Catholic University of America Press, 2008), 88.
[6] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 62–63.
[7] II-II, q65, a1, corpus.
[8] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 46–48.
[9] Ibid., 88.
[10] Ibid., 211.
[11] Michael Brick, “Climber Still Seeks Larger Meaning in His Epic Escape,” The New York Times, March 31, 2009, sec. Sports / Other Sports,http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/sports/othersports/01ralston.html.
[12] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 68.
[13] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (New York: Image, 2003), para. 2296; United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 5th ed. (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2009), para. 30.
[14] II-II, q65, a1, ad3.
[15] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, para. 30.
[16] Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 2296.
[17] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 155.
[18] Ibid., 221.
[19] Ibid., 64–66.

Is Jensen a Moderate Physicalist or a Moderate Abelardian?

In Good and Evil Actions, Jensen’s dialectical middle course seems closer to Abelardianism than in previous and later works.   In a 1997 article he wrote “physicalism is the view that the exterior action has a moral character in itself, by the very nature of its physical features, and that acts of the will receive their good or evil from the exterior action…I hope to show that Aquinas was a physicalist.”[1]  By the end of that article Jensen took the position that this is only true of the exterior action “as conceived” which he calls “moderate physicalism” because it is not controlled by the will,[2] but of course the exterior action “as conceived” is not exactly exterior or physical, either.  In this work, however, he criticizes physicalism because it “provides little guidance for identifying the proper order of actions; we are left to our own intuitions of the natural orders of actions, which is to say that the account has not helped us to identify the species of actions”[3] without referring to that view as “extreme physicalism.”  Jensen also undercuts some of the motivation for physicalism by joining Finnis against Long in the argument that for Aquinas the end-intention of the interior act of the will regards the means, understood as proximate ends,[4]  thus giving the Abelardians a way to reject actions involving immoral means.  In Jensen’s understanding, the middle course will not approach too closely to the physicalist shore.

Despite Jensen’s review of Rhonheimer’s 2012 book as “laid upon some not-so-Thomistic foundations, culminating in questionable, perhaps even dangerous, conclusions,”[5] in this work he ends up siding with Rhonheimer more often than not.  Of twenty substantive citations,[6] twelve are marks of wholehearted agreement,[7] two are ambiguous (regarding teleology)[8] and three of the disagreements are specific to the act of theft.[9]  Jensen does have substantive and important disagreements with Rhonheimer over the line between acts of a human and human acts,[10] whether appeals to intention in specifying acts are infinitely regressive,[11]and whether circumstances can ever give species,[12] all of which continue in his 2012 article.  With regard to Stephen Long, however, the physicalist to whom Jensen is most indebted, these ratios are nearly reversed:  eleven negative citations on core issues,[13] five more regarding the particular problem of self-defense,[14] and only eight positive citations.[15]  Either the dialectical middle course is closer to the Abelardian (“In place of physical actions, they provided mental intentions.  Rather than human goods depending upon our physical human nature, they presented human goods immediately grasped by a practical reason that could do without teleology.”[16]) than the physicalist shore, or Martin Rhonheimer’s stress of “a material element that enters into our actions and our moral judgments”[17] must be fairly substantial.   Jensen’s position remains largely what he called “moderate physicalism” in his earlier taxonomy, but that approach seems to have more in common with contemporary Abelardians than it does with contemporary physicalists.

[1] Steven John Jensen, “A Defense of Physicalism,” The Thomist 61, no. 3 (1997): 377.
[2] Ibid., 402.
[3] Steven J. Jensen, Good & Evil Actions: A Journey Through Saint Thomas Aquinas (Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 33.
[4] Ibid., 46–52.
[5] Steven J Jensen, “Thomistic Perspectives?,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 86, no. 1 (February 10, 2012): 135.
[6] Jensen, Good & Evil Actions, 323.
[7] Ibid., 38n39, 40n42, 41n46, 70, 84n11, 91, 123n90, 125, 126n96, 240–241, 255n24, 265n30.
[8] Ibid., 237–238, 246n20.
[9] Ibid., 184n7, 283n4, 285n6.
[10] Ibid., 88.
[11] Ibid., 80–82.
[12] Ibid., 117–121.
[13] Ibid., 32–33, 46, 48, 49n11, 51, 118n72, 158n32, 265n30, 266–267, 268n36, 272.
[14] Ibid., 56, 58n31, 64n45, 188n18, 218–221.
[15] Ibid., 29, 60n37, 99n41, 102, 152n26, 171n49, 215, 224n76.
[16] Ibid., 4.
[17] Ibid.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Religious Names

As the vocation director for our province explains:
Taking a religious name when a young man enters religious life is part of the tradition of the Order of Preachers that goes back to the time of St. Dominic. 
If you've been wondering about my own name of "Thomas-Martin" it is after my patrons Thomas Aquinas and Martin de Porres, both canonized Dominican Friars recently profiled on our foundation website, with images taken from our church of St. Dominic in Washington, DC:


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Conference Audio

Since it's audio posting day and my academia.edu page makes them hard to find, here are pointers to the lectures for which Lonergan Resource is kindly hosting the audio.  Sorry I haven't put the work in to sync the slides with the audio.

1.  The Diagram is More Important than is Ordinarily Believed (full paper) given at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles for the West Coast Methods Institute 2011.



2.  The Aesthetic Pattern of Experience in Susan Sontag and Bernard Lonergan (full paper) given at Marquette University for Lonergan on the Edge 2011.



3.  From Practical Reason to Natural Law: A Lonergan-Rhonheimer Dialectic (coursepack) given at Marquette University for Lonergan on the Edge 2012.




St. Benedict Joseph Labre: Tramping with the Cross

As part of the Dominican student brothers' Lenten series The Cross and Consecrated Life, I gave a talk on St. Benedict Joseph Labre entitled Tramping with the Cross, and the audio is now up on Dominicana Audio's Soundcloud page, where you can also listen to the other talks in the series and/or snippets from our albums of Dominican chant.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Cocktails: A Taxonomy for the Perplexed

Cocktails are delicious works of art, but like other arts they have a vocabulary all their own and often inconsistently applied.  Bartenders presumably understand this vocabulary from the inside, by intensive memorization and experimentation, but many of us would just like to better understand how various drinks are related, as an aid to memory or discovery.  I don't claim any expertise in this area and I won't cite any sources, as this is just my overlay on Wikipedia, and not intended to convey precision or universality, but I will define my terms as I go, and I will attempt not to claim any more precision than I can offer.

First, a word on varieties of ethanol for human consumption.  If the base substance to be fermented has more than 10% simple sugars, then it is a must and can be directly fermented, yielding wine.  If the base substance has less than 10% simple sugars, then its carbohydrates must be converted to simple sugars by malting (germinating) and/or mashing (cooking) before yeast can grow.  Yeast dies at roughly a 15% alcohol concentration (30 proof), so higher values must be achieved by distillation after fermentation.  The flavor of the resultant fluid is dependent on the original fermented mixture, any flavors added after fermentation and before distillation, and any flavors added after distillation.  If the original mixture was a must, and is thus a wine once fermented, the distilled product is a brandy.  If the original mixture was a mash, then the fermented product is, broadly speaking, whisky.  So all distilled alcohols are either brandies or whiskeys.  Their more specific names are the result of particular ingredients, flavorings, process details, brands, or regional appellations.  Many of these are strictly governed by law and custom, and as with other taxa governed by law and custom, idiosyncrasy is the rule.  Recipes are generally trade secrets and ingredients unlisted, so for labels without strict government regulation, taxa are generally more evocative than explanatory.

Vodka is whisky "in the Russian style," perhaps at one time connoting some potatoes in the mash, but now basically means whisky made cheaply, which is to say first distilled to a very high proof and/or heavily filtered (meaning the quality of the mash is less relevant, since the distillate is nearly pure alcohol with almost no flavor) and then bottled with very little aging, so that flavoring agents must be dissolved directly into the alcohol rather than slowly leached.  Southern Comfort is basically traditional American vodka.  More traditional whiskeys are distilled to a lower percentage, allowing residual flavors from the mash, and aged which allows flavors to leach into the whisky from the wood and previous contents (usually wine) of the barrel, and some of the whisky (the "angel's share") evaporates each year, lessening the amount of water added at bottling.  Naturally the losses, inventory costs, and demand invariance of this process add substantially to the costs.  Gin is from this perspective halfway between traditional whisky and vodka in that the flavoring agents (traditionally juniper with other botanicals) are added after fermentation but before distillation.  This process yields a cheaper product than traditional whiskeys, because cheaper mash can be used and aging avoided, but it requires more accurate distillation control than vodkas because the aromatics must be distilled with the ethanol.  Bourbon is whisky with a mostly-corn mash, and tequila is basically whisky with a mostly-agave mash.

Rum is distillate of fermented molasses, which is boiled down sugar cane.  It's nearer to brandy in that sugar cane contains sufficient sugar to ferment directly, so the cooking is just for the physical concentration of the sugar, but this does lend a taste partly reminiscent of a mash.

A liqueur is a distillate produced by any of the above methods with a much sweeter and fruitier than alcoholic flavor.  There may be no brightline between orange vodka and triple sec, but the latter traditionally carries fruit flavors from fermentation and distillation as well as infusion, and is thicker and sweeter.  Bitters, meanwhile, are similar in process to liqueurs, but with bitter and botanical (often gentian) rather than sweet and fruity in flavor.  Vermouth is both a liqueur and a bitter.  Liqueurs, bitters, and vermouth can all be drunk neat as semi-medicinal digestifs, but are more popular in cocktails.  Juices are relatively newer additions to mass-market cocktails due to their need for refrigeration; traditional non-alcoholic sweeteners are simple syrup (just reduced sugar water, with a high enough sugar content to slow spoilage) and grenadine (reduced pomegranate syrup).  Shaking is a way to chill drinks quickly without watering them down or mechanical refrigeration, and is necessary for incorporation of thick or poorly soluble mixers, but is often frowned on for more expensive distillates because it introduces air bubbles which sharpen their alcoholic flavor (called "bruising").

So just what is a cocktail?  Originally, a blend of at least one distilled alcohol, at least one bitters, and at least one other ingredient, in contrast to a shot (neat), rocks/lowball (alcohol with just ice or water), or a highball (alcohol with soda water).  The original cocktail is now called, without irony, the old fashioned, a blend of whisky, bitters, and simple syrup.    As a modifier of mixed drinks, as of wines, dry is simply opposed to sweet.  Beyond the old fashioned, the most classic cocktails are the Martini, of gin and vermouth, and the Manhattan, of whiskey (usually rye) and vermouth.  These already raise a definitional problem, in that they are drinks of two ingredients, but remember that vermouth is both a liqueur and a bitter.  The Negroni is a Manhattan with bitters beyond the vermouth.  Substitution of the primary distillate is typically indicated by preface (e.g. vodka martini) whereas substitution of a liqueur (triple sec is the most common) and bitters for the vermouth results in a new cocktail, of which there are innumerable varieties, e.g. the Brooklyn, with whisky, vermouth, cherry liqueur and bitters. Grenadine is also frequently indicated as a sweetener, especially for tropical-themed drinks.  If mint is used as the "bitter" botanical, the drink is a julep.  Use of a cream or cream liqueur as the sweetener makes an especially large difference to the flavor and texture of the drink, and is sometimes combined with coffee as the bitter flavor, as in a White Russian, Black Russian, Mudslide, etc.  A cocktail with egg in addition to the cream is an egg nog.

A mixed drink made with sour instead of bitter flavors is, equally straightforwardly, a sour.  Traditional sours, beyond the obvious whiskey sour, include the sidecar (brandy), margarita (tequila), daiquiri (rum), last word (gin), jack rose (apple brandy), and kamikaze (vodka).  If you layer rather than mix your sour, that's a -Sunrise.  Makers of sours frequently choose citrus liqueurs in replacement, addition, or partial replacement of the citrus and simple syrup, especially in drinks where a strong citrus element is desired without watering down, with triple sec being the most common.  Creams and cream liqueurs can't normally be used in sours (because they'll curdle) but the alcohol and acid can "cook" an egg white if properly prepared, which is sometimes used to give a creamy texture and dairy flavor.  The egg without the sour is a flip, which has gone out of fashion over health concerns.  Sours sometimes have bitters as well, as in Planter's Punch (dark rum daiquiri with bitters).  A punch, technically speaking, is just a large-scale sour, which can mean anything with over two shots of liquor, sometimes with the mixer scaled up as well.

A fizz is the marriage of a highball and a sour (i.e. a sour with soda water).  The most famous is the Tom Collins (gin fizz).  A Tom Collins with egg is a Ramos (which takes ten minutes to make properly), and with champagne instead of the soda water it's a French 75.  A whiskey fizz is a hari kari, and a rum julep fizz is a mojito.  A fizz with multiple liquours is a -Tea; a fizz without any sweet to counterbalance the sour is a rickey.

In time, a highball came to mean any straightforward drink of alcohol and one substantial mixer, served in something nearly a water glass (to accentuate the vertical bubbling and/or accommodate the volume of the weak mixer), whereas a cocktail came to be any drink of three or more ingredients, served in a conical glass (more appropriate in volume to the stronger drink and said to prevent de-emulsification).  Whether a sour was a highball or a cocktail depended on whether it was made in a cheap bar (from pre-made mixer, and weak) or an expensive one (by combining fresh citrus juice and simple syrup, and in lower proportion to the alcohol).  This system probably makes a good deal of sense for pricing purposes given the obvious contrasts in ingredients and bartender time, but does little to classify flavor profiles.

With further development, highballs came to be understood as any drink served in a highball glass (including drinks like Planter's Punch and Long Island Iced Tea that are strong and complex), and cocktails as those suited to a cocktail glass, even if you're just calling gin on the rocks a Martini.  From the perspective of the recipient, the glass is perhaps a clearer indicator than the ingredients (do people who order vodka martinis extra dry even realize they're just getting chilled vodka?), but it's obviously even less helpful as an aid to memory or discovery of mixed drinks you like.  Even more confusingly, the Martini at some point lent its name to the cocktail glass, becoming a Martini glass (and thus anything mixed into it as a -tini) and the Tom Collins at some point lent its name to the highball glass, such that any carbonated highball can be a -Collins.  Margaritas are generally served in coupe glasses (invented for cheap sparkling wine) because they offer a more generous rim for salting, and so now any mixed drink served in a broad rather than tall or conical glass is a -rita.  Even the shot, as a single pour, has been redefined by its glass, such that a mixed drink in a shot glass (like a B52) is a shooter.  Old Fashioneds, because they were invented before the cocktail glass, are frequently served in lowball/rocks glasses, which are now often called Old Fashioned glasses.  In short, it's useful to know the names of various pieces of glassware (though beware those who insist on more differentiation than actually exists) and it's useful to categorize mixed drinks, but be careful not to confuse the overlapping terminology.

With the advent of refrigeration, affordable juice cocktails came into style, served as -tini's to foodies, frozen -rita's in chains, and premixed highballs in cheap bars.  They provide strong flavors which cover poor alcohol (or the taste of alcohol at all for those less accustomed) and simplify mixing by providing acid, sugar, and flavor in a single ingredient.  These include the Cosmopolitan (vodka sour with cranberry juice), Screwdriver (vodka sour with orange juice)(and indeed any alcohol mixed with orange juice as a -Driver), Singapore Sling (gin sour with pineapple juice), Bronx (Manhattan with orange juice), Queens (Manhattan with pineapple juice), strawberry daiquiri, pina colada (daiquiri with pineapple juice and cream of coconut), and Bloody Mary (vodka sour with tomato juice and pepper bitters).  Stronger drinks use liqueurs in partial replacement of the juice (and citrus to avoid over-sweetening).

Let me know in the comments if you think I've mis-stated anything or didn't cover a topic you'd like to read about.

UPDATE:  It's also worth checking out tips for how to order a drink, and what various drinks mean socially (warning:  not-PG) in addition to their flavor profile.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What is Non-Dualism?

I am a beginner in Eastern philosophy, but I recently purchased Milton Scarborough's Comparative Theories of Nonduality: The Search for a Middle Way and David Loy's Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy, both of which attempt to bring the Eastern and Western traditions into dialog.  This entry, hopefully the first in a series of reflections on these works, focuses on the question of what  nondualism means in Scarborough's first chapter "Western Dualism and Buddhist Nondualism."

The author begins with racism as an example of dualism ("Dualism Observed"), and ends with an account of the Buddha's journey from the lap of luxury through strict asceticism to the Middle Way ("Buddhist Nondualism and the Middle Way"), thereby framing the importance of nondualism in ethical terms.  Positions bordering on dualism are dangerous, even if not strictly erroneous:
binary oppositions and even binary distinctions have become the objects of criticism; such binaries are not, it turns out, utterly innocent. For one thing, they are a first step, a necessary one, toward dualism. This fact alone is not sufficient cause to reject them, but perhaps it should send up a red flag of warning.  Moreover, despite being essential to reflection, distinctions are dangerous because of the variety of ways in which they can mislead us into distorting our experience of reality.
This is consistent with an ethical focus, whereby activities not wrong in themselves can still be troubling if they make us more likely to commit wrongs. "More important for the purposes of this volume, however, is the notion of a metaphysical middle way, which is expressed in the Buddha’s doctrines of no-self (Anatman), impermanence (anicca), and dependent co-origination (pratityasamutpada)."  So while the impact may be ethical, the underlying question of the volume is metaphysical.  So what are the possible Western formulations of the insights underlying nondualism?

Is Non-Dualism Non-Sense?
One strong sense of non-dualism would be conceptual non-dualism, the claim that all distinctions are meaningless.  Like verificationism, this seems self-refuting, because it presumes a distinction between the meaningful and the meaningless.  Scarborough rejects this sense of non-dualism and its consequent problems, however: "It is important to state that mere difference, opposition, polar opposition, or even contradiction, however, still do not in the strictest sense constitute dualism."

Is Non-Dualism (Physicalist) Monism?
Scarborough follows that denial with the affirmation that
For both the West and Asia, dualism consists of a dichotomy in which the paired terms, concepts, or things have a static substance or fixed essence...Substance is an unchanging, underlying, metaphysical reality in which the qualities or attributes of a thing inhere. A fixed essence consists of changeless attributes, qualities, or meanings that are essential to the nature or identity of a concept or thing. Contradictions or dichotomies with substances or fixed essences are dualisms.
This might be interpreted, especially in light of his reference that "Descartes’s metaphysical dualism of mind and body consists of 'thinking substance' and 'extended substance'" to mean mere substance monism, or physicalism.  As I've pointed out, however, there are problems with simultaneously holding to physicalism and common-sense distinctions of physical objects.  Insofar as these distinctions are physical, this doesn't necessarily reduce non-dualism to non-sense, but it would vitiate Scarborough's claim that "mere distinctions and the binary terms that usually express them are helpful. They demarcate semantic domains, enabling us to be discriminating."  Indeed, he even grants the retorsion argument:
Such distinctions make us intelligent and civilized, give us increased clarity and control, defuse arguments, ease our journey in myriad ways, and even delight us. For both philosophy and other modes of thinking, they are the coin of the realm, the air thought breathes, the energy that propels it forward.They are the indispensable tools for acknowledging boundaries and the ticket price for entry into intelligible reflection or discourse. They are not to be abandoned or disparaged. Indeed, they cannot be abandoned because they are unavoidable. If we think about the matter realistically, utter silence is not an option.
Furthermore, while supervenience physicalism is certainly substance monism, the distinction between that which supervenes and that which is supervened upon would itself seem to be the kind of dichotomy essential to identity of things that non-dualists wish to reject.

Is Non-Dualism Idealism?
Of course there's another substance monism available besides physicalism, namely pure idealism.  Indeed Westerners often characterize Buddhism in just this way.  An idealist reading of nondualism, however, seems incompatible with Scarborough's worry that "despite being essential to reflection,
distinctions are dangerous because of the variety of ways in which they can mislead us into distorting our experience of reality."  He gives three reasons why this is so:

One rather common and simple way they can mislead us is by prompting us to draw boundaries too narrowly and precisely...A guidebook depicted Arkansas as a woodland state dotted with lakes; Oklahoma was said to be a plains state. Yet as we drove across the state line from Arkansas into Oklahoma, the woods did not vanish, the land did not flatten out...Only after continuing for 75 miles or so into Oklahoma did the landscape, which had changed imperceptibly slowly, suddenly appear different. “Woodland” and “plains,” to be sure, are not altogether wrong. In a rough-and-ready way they are helpfully descriptive, yet compared to the actual terrain, they are clearly simplifications.  
A second way binary distinctions distort is by numerical simplification...Consider sex, for example. It is usually described by a binary opposition that has become a full-blown dualism...we have believed that there are but two sexes, male and female. But why merely two? Is it because there are two kinds of chromosomes (XX and XY) involved in the genetic determination of sex? Yet the dualism of the sexes preceded our knowledge of chromosomes... 
There is a third distortion, one that characterizes dualism in particular. To speak of an essence or substance that is fixed, permanent, or eternal is to deny time and change. Perhaps during the era of Parmenides and Heraclitus it was possible to point to the flowing water of a river as an example of change and to a mountain as an example of the unchanging. At least as late as Newton one could still speak of the “fixed stars.” Edmund Halley, a contemporary of Newton, was the first to understand that even the so-called fixed stars move. Until Charles Lyell, geologists did not understand that rocks were still being laid down by water and also that due to ice, wind, sand, and water were being altered by erosion. Until Charles Darwin, biology continued to speak of fixed species. Until the arrival of the Big Bang theory, astronomers and other physicists could speak of fixed physical laws. Nowadays, we talk of “natural history.” We understand all of these former fixities as flowing; stasis is merely what moves relatively more slowly than other things. If there is something absolutely eternal or fixed, it is beyond perception. At best, such concepts survive largely as “limiting concepts.”

How can an idealist worry about simplifications relative to the actual terrain or the potency of nature discovered in perception?  These passages sound too realist for even the weak idealism of Rorty's liberal pragmatic irony, let alone the strong idealism of Hegel or Berkeley traditionally associated with Buddhism.  As Scarborough says with regard to Hegel, idealism "for all of its genius, does not fit all situations."

Is Non-Dualism Aristotelianism?
You might be tempted to dismiss this as the nuttiest theory you've ever heard, but hear me out.  First, while Aristotelianism might speak of multiple substances, underlying metaphysical realities with fixed essences, they aren't opposed realms, or contradictories.  The method of division is not a method of opposition, as species are understood together in their shared genus.  Change is attended to rather than denied, and distinctions are drawn carefully from perception, avoiding overreach.  Aristotle's anthropology seems resilient to

the seemingly endless pendulum swings of Western culture, what I term the “zigzag effect.” Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza, for example, established a rationalist epistemology that affirmed the power of unaided reason to arrive at clear and certain knowledge by means of innate ideas, deduction, intellectual intuition, or a priori categories.  This was the zig. Locke, Berkeley, and Hume launched a contrary movement that emphasized the role of sense data generated, in most cases, by causal relations with an external, physical world. Here was the zag. Both movements were overstatements, lacking descriptive sensitivity and nuance.

Furthermore, Scarborough links non-dualism with the Buddhist Middle Way:  "Food is neither to be rejected nor pursued gluttonously but ingested as medicine. Neither extreme asceticism nor lavish living eliminates ego; both strengthen it."  That certainly sounds very similar to Aristotle's golden mean.  And in metaphysics, also, both Aristotle and the Buddha would apparently affirm a contingently existing (neither astitta nor nastitta) self (namarupa) made up of proper parts (skandhas), making choices with multiple causes.  They might differ over the temporal directedness of causality, but that would seem to pale next to their commonalities.

Is Non-Dualism Phenomenology?
Without discarding the Aristotelian parallels, it's also worth considering whether nondualism might be well understood as a branch of phenomenology (especially as there are Aristotelian branches of phenomenology, like transcendental Thomism).  As Scarborough notes:

Such a metaphysical middle way also implies an epistemological middle way. If the self is constituted in and by a web of causal relations, it is not independent of the world. Thus, while there can be a subject-object distinction, there can be no subject-object dualism. The absence of an inner-outer, subject-object gap to be inexplicably crossed means that the necessity of complete skepticism is ruled out.

That certainly sounds an awful lot like, say, the phenomenology of Cassirer or what is sometimes described as Lonergan's non-dualism.  It's not clear, however, why Scarborough jumps from the rejection of naive realism to the rejection of certainty:

On the other hand, since knowledge is based on the self’s experience as part of the web of interacting events, absolutely certain knowledge is rejected as well. The self cannot step outside the web in order to view it as an object arrayed with utter clarity before either the eye or the mind’s eye.

There's no real argument there, especially since Scarborough's treatment of Nagarjuna on interdependence sounds suspiciously like Lonergan's account of explanatory knowing (which gives rise to ontological pluralism rather than dualism):

On the other hand, if asked to define “present,” we would almost certainly do one of two things: (1) supply a synonym for “present” or (2) offer a definition that includes a reference, tacit or explicit, to “future” and/or “past.” In the first case, one might say that the present is “now” or “this very moment,” which may not be helpful because those terms themselves may need to be defined. In the more likely second case, one might say, “The present is what comes after the past and before the future.” Nagarjuna’s tactic is to focus on the second case, pointing out that the meaning of any one of the three terms is dependent on the meaning of the other two. Consequently, the terms are interdependent. Viewing the words as interdependent leads to viewing the three concepts of time and then the three realities of time as interdependent,

It's clear why metaphysics must be interdependent in order to make sense of our experience, but it's not clear why this means it must be destabilizing, unless the fixed essences are understood to be those of naive realism.  Lonergan's notion of the empirical residue also seems consonant with Nagarjuna's account of emptiness, since while it's not real (it has no immanent intelligibility to be verified) it is nonetheless the ground of the real.  It remains unclear to me whether the Two Truths are better understood as an idealism (transcendence of the conventional world) or as critical realism (acceptance of the conventional world as contingently known).  Much of Scarborough's account, which is unfortunately too long to quote, makes the latter seem plausible even if it is ambiguous.  The difficulty with ascribing non-dualism as critical realism comes in with his account of attachment:
What concerned Nagarjuna is that if people became bound to the doctrine of emptiness, then liberation would elude them. After all, clinging to views is itself a form of clinging (tanha), the principal cause of suffering, according to the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths). Clinging to “right view” (Buddhist teaching that leads to awakening) itself binds one to suffering. The ultimate meaning of emptiness, then, is the cessation of clinging to any views at all, even Buddhist ones.
That's presumably the perspective underlying Scarborough's critique of Kant and his medieval forbears:

Kant’s attempt at a synthesis of the two positions, based as it was on the oppositions of a priori vs. a posteriori, phenomenal vs. noumenal, form vs. content, and theoretical reason vs. practical reason was no more satisfactory than the long disintegrated and overly simple “medieval synthesis” of revealed theology with natural theology and faith with reason. There was merely the substitution of one set of oppositions for another, a sleight of thought that brought but a temporary and illusory relief. The real culprit, the intellectual habit of reliance on simple binary oppositions, was left unidentified and, thus,
“allowed” to perpetuate its deleterious effects.
But what's the real objection here?  Is it just that the claims are too simple, which the critical realist would affirm in the case of Kant and also in the case of predominant naive realist readings of the medieval synthesis?  If the claim is stronger than that, why doesn't it destabilize Nagarjuna's language beyond any capacity for meaning?  Scarborough critiques Derrida, saying that deconstruction is predicated on opposition, but couldn't Derrida return the favor here?  Or is the claim again about contingency, that what privileges Nagarjuna over Kant is the understanding that knowledge comes from emptiness and will itself be transcended?  If so, the transcendental Thomists are on the same page, as "All that I [Thomas] have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me" (A Taste of Water : Christianity through Taoist-Buddhist Eyes by Chwen Jiuan Agnes Lee and Thomas G. Hand).  “Not being able to do the work of the angels in choir, we can at least write about them,” but we should not become so attached to such writing as to not joyously join the angels in choir.  It's difficult to understand what stronger claim for contingency against essences could be made without either reverting to naive realism or giving up on meaning itself.