Thursday, February 25, 2021

The newest foul ball by Bart Ehrman

I wasn't at all a fan of his previous book, on the history of Christian origins, giving it two stars and also pointing out specific problems and errors with it.

I'm going to beat the rush and tell you to not even bother with his latest book, "Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife." It has its own scholarly failings; in fact, per this two-star review, it's arguably not a scholarly history at all.

Bart Ehrman’s latest book is not a scholarly treatment of the history of concepts of the afterlife. Instead it’s a popular account of the history of the relatively simplistic account of the afterlife the author believes to be held by many Americans. … A lot of the book is then devoted to Ehrman’s personal theory that Jesus Christ and St. Paul believed in the annihilation instead of the eternal punishment of wicked souls. It’s rather idiosyncratic and based on a host of assumptions.

And, if he claims that JW-type annihilation was the default position of Judaism at the turn of the eras and the rise of Jesus, or at least the belief of Jesus and Paul, Ehrman the alleged agnostic is arguably also Ehrman the Freudian projectionist about some of his personal fears still inside, which in turn means we all need to be more skeptical of him otherwise.

Weirdly, "Tippling Philosopher" blogger Jonathan M.S. Pierce can pivot from writing blank checks to un-academic Jesus mythicists to giving guest post space to people who think Ehrman is on to something.

As I said there:

“But the punishment was not eternal.” 
Wrong, as others have noted, per Matthew 25:41 etc. 
The fire is “everlasting” and was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” 
“Hell as we know it (a little metaphysical humor there) was largely a construct developed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries by the church hierarchy after Jesus and Paul.” 
Wrong. It came in “intertestamental” times from Zoroastrianism. And, if Ehrman is making these claims, he’s wrong too. And, far from the first time. His last book before this, on the triumph of Xianity, got a two-star review from me. And, if he dismisses Zoroastrian influence because the first of its texts to mention such ideas came after the Jews returned from exile, he’s an idiot to ignore the Jews remaining in Babylon and communication between them and ones of Judea. 
One two star review of the book on Amazon nails it: 
This is merely Ehrman’s personal view, and it’s not scholarly.
Move along. 
You, too, Dana.

No, he's not on to anything.

And, speaking of that previous book?


The Triumph of Christianity: How a Small Band of Outcasts Conquered an EmpireThe Triumph of Christianity: How a Small Band of Outcasts Conquered an Empire by Bart D. Ehrman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Nice try in theory, falls well short in reality

This was a book tough to rate.

I generally like Ehrman. I generally think that mythicists unfairly belittie him, though I disagree with some specifics of his own supporting material offered for a historic Jesus.

The idea of the book isn’t new, but presented in popularizing form from a knowledgable New Testament scholar, promised to be good, possibly very good.

But, it fell short. Short enough in some ways that I took fairly detailed notes at chapter breaks.

Without explicitly saying so, Ehrman seems to indicate that Christian evangelism and Christian miracle-working both had modest-to-moderate boosts for the early decades of Christianity, but no more than that, and then it was primarily word-of-mouth, just like you and I buy a car or toothpaste today.

However …

First, the evangelism issue is nowhere near as simple as Ehrman paints.

First of all, we know that Christianity was NOT the only evangelistic religion of antiquity, contra what Ehrman implies, and even semi-directly says.

Ashoka’s Buddhist missionaries to the West went as far as Macedonia and Cyrenaica circa 200 BCE. Four hundred years later, Clement of Alexandria and other Christian fathers knew about ongoing Buddhist proselytizing. And, Will Durant even speculated it may have been an element in Christian missions. See more here.

Either Ehrman is surprisingly uninformed here, or else, Ehrman’s definition of antiquity is narrow. Neither speaks well for this book.

Also, per reading between the lines in Acts, and in some of Paul’s letters, and my take on J. Massyngberde Ford’s Anchor Bible volume on who wrote the original core of Revelation, we know that at least a few followers of John the Baptist evangelized.

Paul himself mentions Apollos and Peter, even talking about Peter getting paid to take his wife with him.

So, Ehrman has a foul ball here.

On the miracle working, whether real or not, Ehrman doesn’t mention that this was common outside Christianity. Indeed, Jewish charismatics such as Honi the Circle Drawer come to mind. Or Morton Smith’s “Jesus the Magician.” Or the name Simon Magus. Ehrman doesn’t go into a lot of depth here. He even mentions Apollonius of Tyana, the contemporary of Jesus, but never goes into detail about his own reported miracle-working.

(Update. This thread isn't new. Ehrman started this thread a dozen years earlier, in "Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene." Thie idea there is: Christians did miracles. They reflect pagan stories of the gods (like Zeus and Hermes visiting Baucis and Philemon. {A deconstructionist critic would aay, hey, Ovid put this in Tyana, where Appolonius was from, and Paul wrote a letter to a Philemon, and would go from there.] Pagan miracles of the present, like the aforesaid Apollonius, don’t get mentioned. Nor do Jewish miracles.)

So, if Christian miracles were more powerful than Jewish, Greek philosophical, or pagan religious ones, why? They were all common. Ehrman doesn't discuss why Xn magic was considered more powerful, whether it had a big effect on recruiting or not.

It’s true that no ancient author writes an unbiased account of this in detail. But Ehrman, while noting that no actual such miracles likely happened, doesn’t explain why Christians were perceived to be (as he would seemingly have us believe) better miracle-workers or magicians.

And, if evangelism were as low as Ehrman thinks it was after Paul, and pagans and philosophers did magic, too, then why was word-of-mouth as successful as Ehrman thinks it was? Word of mouth 2,000 yrs ago presumably was based on testimonials just as much as today.

Reality is that, with people like Polycarp, or Clement of Rome, their letters to other churches were surely part of an ongoing program not just of church maintenance but church planting and spreading. Look at the pseudo-Pauline letter to “Ephesians.” Originally a circular letter, it probably was written in similar spirit.

And, the third failing, a partial one.

I agree with Ehrman that many of the details of Rodney Stark’s projected growth rates of Christianity don’t withstand scrutiny.

However, even though Decius’ persecution wasn’t specifically against Christianity, Diocletian’s was. In a sort of analogy, American whites will start to flee suburban neighborhoods and even whole communities when an influx of minority population, and above all, African-American population, hits a certain percentage, usually around 10 percent.

Ehrman doesn’t ask if a similar phenomenon were in play here. If it was, his believed population percentage of Christians, empire-wide, was too low at the time of Diocletian to be such a trigger. Now, the persecutions were carried out most commonly in the eastern half of the empire, and we have some fairly good indications Christianity was stronger there.

Nonetheless, Ehrman doesn’t follow up.

A fourth partial failing, in my opinion?

Ehrman seems to believe Christianity was not just majority-gentile, but strongly so, by circa 100 CE.

Yet, he fails to mention the “desynagoging” that happened circa 100 CE, per John. If this really did happen, it undercuts Ehrman’s thesis. If it didn’t, he should have offered a bit of exegesis on John here to explain this.

Despite John speaking bluntly of “the Jews,” I think something did happen.

Finally, Ehrman makes a partial version of the same error Stark does on population growth, and it’s connected to his overlooking or ignoring Buddhist evangelism.

He focuses on growth within the Roman Empire.

Armenia became officially Christian in 301 CE, nearly a century before Theodosius so proclaimed Rome. Various kingdoms that today make up Georgia became officially Christian before that time. Ulfilias proselityzed Goths, presumably with some Goths previously Christian, before Theodosius. Legends of Thomas Christians aside, there were Christians in India before this time. Ditto for ancient Nubia, beyond Rome’s Nile frontier.

In critiquing and criticizing Stark, I have noted all of this and said that at least 10 percent of Christians at the time of Constantine were outside imperial borders.

And, of course, by the period that closes Ehrman’s book, Christianity had not swept “the world.”

Finishing up this last section of the notes as I got ready to post this led me to take Ehrman down from three to two stars. Several three-star readers seemed too kind in their detailed reviews.

Ehrman – and his agent who suggested this – should either have committed to an additional 20-30 pages and more rigor, or else suggested this as a series of magazine essays only, or similar.

View all my reviews

==

So, other than when he's wrongly gang-attacked by mythicists, I have little sympathy for Ehrman any more. This is only worsened by the cult he has, which in turn is worsened IMO by him having a paid blogsite, with his Substack-length ramblings on a site that's his own — not Substack, not Medium or Patreon before that, but his own paywalled website.

He's a semi-guru with a cult who's making a killing off of it.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Contra Julian Baggini, on Hume, two wrongs don't make a right or justify a Platonic noble lie

Although already refuted by my piece on David Hume as racist, and refuted on presentism?

Julian Baggini goes in the tank for Hume. Undercutting him?

And? Undercutting even more Sir Tom Devine, the present-day Scottish historian he cites, claiming there was no push for abolition in Scotland in 1762, the time of his sugar plantation intervention, which he claims is in a "purported" letter?

In history we teach our students not to indulge in the intellectual sin of anachronistic judgement, i.e. never to impose the values of today on those of the past. In 1762, the year of David Hume’s reported letter on the plantations, there is no evidence that any groups in Scotland opposed chattel slavery in the colonies. The surge of abolitionism and widespread horror at man’s inhumanity to his fellow man only came later. In that sense, Hume was a man of his time, no better and no worse than any other Scot at the time.

Scotland was part of the UK, and was so for Hume's entire live. In addition, by this time, Hume had lived in London, and on the continent. (Amazing how the "world" of Enlightenment letters & ideas can be so selective.) Abolition was a happening thing in England; James Oglethorpe founded Georgia to be slavery-free, and for humanitarian reasons, before the original version of Hume's footnote.

And, Beattie and his mentor Thomas Reid? SCOT! 

AND? He's arguably wrong about "no evidence that any groups ..." Per that "happening thing" link from Wiki (which has a footnote, so shut up):

Some of the first freedom suits, court cases in Britain to challenge the legality of slavery, took place in Scotland in 1755 and 1769. The cases were Montgomery v. Sheddan (1755) and Spens v. Dalrymple (1769). Each of the slaves had been baptised in Scotland and challenged the legality of slavery. They set the precedent of legal procedure in British courts that would later lead to success for the plaintiffs. In these cases, deaths of the plaintiff and defendant, respectively, brought an end to the action before a court decision could be rendered.[8]

Also, per the same link, John Wesley, who created this organized group called "Methodism," started writing against slavery on moral grounds two years before Hume died. 

More here on those freedom suits and related issues. More at this link. Both of them mention three freedom suits, not two. The second link mentions how individual Scots helped fugitive slaves. I would suspect that there was at least word-of-mouth organizational effort behind this.

Both links also have more information about the profitability of slave trading and island plantation ownership to individual Scots and to Scotland as a whole. Given that Hume, in some ways a precursor to Adam Smith on modern economics, wrote a lot about economic issues, I suspect he knew all of this himself.

Related to this, Baggini wants to make "presentism" a non-absolute descriptor. I reject that. Even if I accepted that the idea of presentism, empirically, should be defined in majoritarian terms, per the logical side, specifically, psychological logic, I would reject his claim that the minority side in 1700s Scotland was so small that we can essentially ignore it.

I am tired of this. I've already told Baggini on Twitter that I'm going to do a new post. Basically, I see things like this as a version of Platonic noble lies, based on ideas that cancel culture or whatever is so evil all tools in opposition to it are fair game.

As for the British involved with the tower's de-naming not calling out China more? Two wrongs don't make a right. And, he either knows that, or if he doesn't, he's pretty appalling as a philosopher. The modern world would call this whataboutism or something.

That said, trying to do a Robert Wright on Jesus, in a book he wrote last year, and find that Jesus' calls to "renounce one's self" have secular value when removed from Jesus' metaphyics, makes me think he is at least in the vicinity of appalling.

==

And, per a discussion on MeWe, sorry, but this DOES, if not detract from Hume's (or Kant's, Locke's or Voltaire's) work in general, at a minimum, it brings it under heightened scrutiny. I'm sorry that it doesn't for you.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

New insights on Camus

A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for MeaningA Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning by Robert Zaretsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very, very insightful work on the life and thought of Albert Camus, which opened my eyes to several things.

First, as far as his life, other than knowing he was a pied-noir, that his father died when he was very young, that he was tuburcular, that he died young himself (but was NOT assassinated by the KGB!) and that he was a notorious womanizer, I knew nothing.

The details of his childhood explain that last element of his adulthood to some degree, perhaps, as well as one long-used intellectual tool of his.

Camus' father was called to the active duty at the start of World War I and killed in battle in 1914. Camus was a year old. At the time his dad was called up, his dad's mom took in Albert, his older brother, and their mom.

Camus' mom was deaf. Per Zaretsky, a few people said she could speak before her husband was killed and only went mute afterward; most say she was a life-long mute. Anyway, she was a mute. So was her uncle by marriage, her mother-in-law's brother, who also was in grandma Camus' house.

Meanwhile, grandma was illiterate. And, after Albert was old enough to read, Zaretsky says she took him to the movie theater in Algiers. In the 1920s, silent movies reigned, of course, and in France and possessions, as well as in the US, they usually had subtitles describing the action.

And, illiterate grandma told Albert to read them to her — ignoring, of course, all the other patrons in the theater telling him to shut up.

So, Camus grew up in a world of silence, either silent people or people calling for silence. And, that's the biographical backstory, I think, to his use of silence on the Algerian civil war.

Related to that, Zaretsky notes Camus was misquoted by Le Monde, deliberately, in his statement on his mother and justice.

He actually said:

"People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If THAT is justice, then I prefer my mother."

And, who could argue with that?

I also think this is where Camus' womanizing comes from. A mother deaf and silent to him, a grandmother seemingly using him and manipulating him, and him looking for connection. BUT ... when a woman got too close — and SOUNDED too close — off he went. Zaretsky doesn't make that connection, but it makes sense to me.

Zaretsky DOES divide Camus' literary output into two periods, plus implies the start of a third, before his death. And, he confines Camus' well-known absurdism to just the first period. (He's not alone in this framework, by any means; Wikipedia discusses it.)

That first period is exemplified by The Myth of Sisyphus and The Stranger. Sisyphus is of course the icon of absurdism.

Part two focuses on rebellion. The Rebel and various essays, most centered on the image of Prometheus, are key. Camus sees both Prometheus AND Zeus as having both innocent and sinful sides in their battle.

Looking at these two periods separately, Zaretsky says that Camus had moved beyond absurdism. He doesn't say Camus rejected it, unlike Hume rejecting the Treatise. It was nothing Camus was afraid of. He simply thought that rebellion, or beyond rebellion, the difference between rebellion and revolt, was "the issue" of the post-World War II world.

He does note that near the end of his first period through his second period, Camus read more on Nietzsche, though ultimately rejecting his nihilism. Apropos Camus, Zaretsky notes Nietzsche was silent after his 1889 horse-hugging then institutionalization.

While not claiming that Camus' last years, possibly represented by The Fall and the posthumously published The First Man, represent a third phase of Camus' thought, Zaretsky does leave that door open. He notes that the "mistress suicide" scene from The Fall is seen by many as quasi-autobiographical, and The First Man of course is.

That said, the book's not perfect. It could have used a bit more coverage about The Fall (The First Man gets more) and The Plague as well as The Rebel in Camus' second period.

But this is still a very good look at Camus and all in just 200 pages of paperback-sized body copy.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Diverse types of diversity are lacking

 I had said here, at the start of the year, that I planned to do an occasional second weekly post that would likely run on Saturdays. Said posts will be about, to coin a phrase, personal applied or experiential philosophy. I've already posted one and now this, my second, which takes a personal philosophical and psychological view of employers' search for "diversity candidates."

Shortly before Christmas, I applied for an editorial writer position with a large regional seven-day daily newspaper. I easily met most the experience criteria (other than maybe a relative lack of video experience, but that, for an editorial page?), but it had one other stipulation: 

A hard push for diversity candidates.

I responded that I was a white male, but that I had two types of diversity that should be valued on an editorial page today.

Specifically, to quote from my cover letter:

I have to confess that I’m a white male, so I can’t delivery that kind of diversity.

Please note the boldface, though. Diversity goes beyond race and sex.

For example? I’m a third-party voter. I exited the “duopoly” at the start of this century on presidential voting. And, that’s a diversity directly relevant to your editorial page.

I’m also a secularist. That’s a diversity directly relevant to some First Amendment editorials.

And, there you are.

So, what diversity issues are important, not just for that position, but for a lot of professional level hirings.

The bigger picture, as a leftist, is that there's yet other diversities. A Black woman (let's say that's who Josh hired) might have come from a much richer family than I did — let's say, a family to help her get a master's in journalism (a degree about as overrated as an Ed.D.) from Columbia or something. So, income diversity is yet another diversity. (I grew up poor at times, as in, dear old dad could have applied for food stamps and gotten them. But, no small-town conservative Lutheran pastor worth his salt and self-image protection was going to do that.)

I have disagreed with leftists like Doug Henwood who claim that issue of race almost always reduce to issues of class. But I do think there's a fairly large Venn diagram overlap.

In addition, there's yet other diversities than secularism, income level and political alignment that might be appropriate, beyond race and sex, for various positions. I mean, if this newspaper, in Texas, had said Spanish-language ability, that would be understandable.

Age-based diversity is another one, of course. Assuming that only kids are "with it" on social media is part of ageism ... practiced by the managerial class at many media sites.

I'm not about to become a post-Bakke conservative. But, my ox has been gored. (The newspaper readvertised the position, and upped the title, presumably because they didn't get enough good diversity candidates, or more likely, since such candidates can write their own job tickets, they didn't get diversity candidates willing to take the original pay level.) 

But, until we move more firmly in terms of income being considered a diversity issue, at a minimum, my gored oxness will bellow louder.


Thursday, February 04, 2021

Hume, racism and bigotry, and rank hypocrisy

Per my presentism blog post and my post about James' Harris' 2015 bio of David Hume, he was a racist. But, how bad of a racist was he? After all, he reportedly opposed slavery, did he not?

Well, we're going to take more of a look at that.

First, in "Of National Characters," where Hume's now-infamous footnote about "The Negros" occurs, he engages in extensive ethnic and nation-state stereotypes of many people. (It includes some at least mildly anti-semitic items among those.)

Second, in reaction to a 1770 book by James Beattie, he changes the original footnote, which also slurred American Indians, to focus just on blacks.

Third, given the footnote, and the essay, were originally written in the early 1750s, I venture Hume had never seen an African in person. He'd briefly been in Paris, then to Vienna and Turin; neither the Hapsburgs nor the House of Savoy were major slaving countries. And, he'd surely never seen an American Indian, either.

AND? Hume undercuts any alleged scientific support for his own racism with this from that essay:

“The manners of a people change very considerably from one age to another.” 

The whole essay is not long, but given how known the footnote is, treating it in two pages is insufficient. Worse yet, Harris treats the footnote — only in a footnote! And, it gets yet worse from there.

First, in that footnote, Harris never actually addresses Hume’s racism. Second, he claims that Hume’s posthumous sharpening of the footnote was NOT in response to Beattie.

I simply find this untenable. I know WHY he claims that. To admit otherwise would be to question Hume’s own claim to not respond to his critics.

I can’t find a full version of Aaron Garrett’s piece cited, for free, online. But, Harris himself doesn’t give a summary of WHY he thinks Garrett has refuted Immerwahr’s claim that Hume WAS responding to Beattie. I do have this link to a free page, which gives an intro to Garrett's thought, here. He raises the anti-slavery claim to try to defend Hume, as well as Hume's comment that climate does NOT seem to affect national characteristics. But, see below.

While correlation does not necessarily imply causation, Beattie’s attack on Hume’s racism was the only attack we know of in Hume’s lifetime that was publicly maed. In addition, the fact that Beattie offered empirical evidence of culture, civilization etc on behalf of several specific American Indian groups, but not on behalf of Blacks, further sharpens the idea that Hume WAS responding to Beattie.

Also, on Hume allegedly being anti-slavery, which makes his racism more a head-scratcher? First, Harris DOES note that, per a letter to Francis Seymour Conway, 1766, he appeared to be acting as a broker for the sale of plantations in Grenada. Shades of Locke! And, if Garrett didn't know that, it undercuts him. If Garrett did know that, and ignored it, it undercuts him.

Counter this, some may cite “Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations (1752, 1777) “ I would grant this as a partial though not total defense. He talks about the “American colonies” still having slavery … while ignoring the British Caribbean islands. And, his revision of that original footnote made it worse, by making it into specifically anti-Black racism.

Second, some of Hume’s alleged “anti-slavery” comments actually come off as stuff similar to what Stephen Douglas said about slavery’s potential in the High Plains and the West — simply utilitarian claims about where (or in Hume’s case, for how much longer as well as where) slavery would prosper. Douglas otherwise had no moral problems with slavery and Hume, to me, at best shows moral diffidence.

But, his doing so undercuts the whole legend of le bon David, which is a key thesis of Harris.

AND, it gets worse YET. Per the New York Review of Books’ review:

“As he acknowledges, readers who are primarily interested in Hume’s life should start with the biography by a late American scholar, Ernest Campbell Mossner, which was first published in 1954. Mossner’s life of Hume is suffused with an affection for its subject that, according to Harris, sometimes obstructs a “properly dispassionate” examination of the facts.”

Rather, in this instance, it is Harris who appears to have exactly such an affection for Hume that obstructs examination of the facts.

The reality is, as noted above, that “Of National Characters” is nothing more than a slapdash assembly of stereotypes of prejudice and bigotry. And, Hume, the supposed grand supporter of the science of experiment, palmed this all off. In reality, seeing something like this, written at the tail end of the first set of essays, and not revised later, should rather lead us to question many other claims of Hume’s about human nature. They may turn out to be right. Or they may not. 

In other words, we should refer to a Herbert Spencer phrase, beloved in preaching but rarely in practice, by Alcoholics Anonymous:

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.

That's exactly what Hume did. 

Besides, re that footnote itself? In the body of the essay, he talks about how easy it is to get Negros drunk and take advantage of them.

Now, the footnote, post-Beattie version:

I Am apt to suspect the negroes to be naturally inferior to the whites. There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences. On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the whites, such as the ancient Germans, the present Tartars, have still something eminent about them, in their valour, form of government, or some other particular. Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men. Not to mention our colonies, there are Negroe slaves dispersed all over Europe, of whom none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity; though low people, without education, will start up amongst us, and distinguish themselves in every profession. In Jamaica, indeed, they talk of one negroe as a man of parts and learning; but it is likely he is admired for slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.

There you go.

And, here's the broader pro-white background of the original version of the footnote, pre-Beattie:

I am apt to suspect the negroes and in general all other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites.

There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences.

This makes things worse, in some ways.

First, it shows how Hume sharpened his racism to be anti-Black.

Second, per Immerwahr, quoted in the piece, it shows the deliberateness of Hume's racism, contra Harris, who claimed it was only something minor.

Third, contra some of his defenders, it would at least leave Hume open to the charge of polygenesis. See Spencer's quote, above. And, yes, I've heard the claim that Hume didn't believe in that.

These people claim that Hume rejects polygenetics in the revised version. Does he? Remember, this comment: "Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men," is in both versions. At a minimum, it undermines the claim that Hume thought Black inferiority was primarily a matter of cultural environment.

Third, did Hume make the Chinese into "Yellow Aryans"? Or reject them entirely? And, India?  Answer: He ignores them.

Fourth, "Populousness of Ancient Nations," in claiming modern economies, unlike ancient Rome, weren't dependent on slavery, ignores American tobacco (cotton not yet a big deal) and Caribbean sugar in British island colonies — including at plantations whose sale Hume helped broker.

Finally, from that same piece, there's this bit, with Hume either doubling down on anti-Spencerian willful ignorance, or else entering the realm of public relations agent for Grenadine planters:

What else is there to say?

This.

It is computed in the West Indies, that a stock of slaves grow worse five per cent. every year, unless new slaves be bought to recruit them. They are not able to keep up their number, even in those warm countries, where cloaths and provisions are so easily got. How much more must this happen in European countries, and in or near great cities? I shall add, that, from the experience of our planters, slavery is as little advantageous to the master as to the slave, wherever hired servants can be procured. A man is obliged to cloath and feed his slave; and he does no more for his servant: The price of the first purchase is, therefore, so much loss to him: not to mention, that the fear of punishment will never draw so much labour from a slave, as the dread of being turned off and not getting another service, will from a freeman.

First, Hume the economist knows that when a "manufacturer" has an inexhaustible supply of "feedstock" for the "manufacturing process," it will be abused. Just.Like.This. So, they accept a 5 percent loss and await the next slave ship. They're not TRYING to keep them up more.

Second, hired servants can leave abusive jobs. (Theoretically; in economic downturns, maybe they can't.)

Third, slaveowners aren't obliged to ADEQUATELY feed and cloathe slaves.

Fourth, from the background of the whole piece, which talks about slavery in antiquity? It was more barbarous in some ways. But, manumission was easier, and it wasn't based on racism.

I'll add that this paper by Glen Doris has — in some ways — a broadly similar critique of "Populousness of Ancient Nations" and is very worth a read. Doris also says that defenders of Hume try to make this essay do work it just wasn't designed to do.

At this point — since Hume understood economics almost as well as friend Adam Smith — we're in the territory of rank hypocrisy.

I'll end there, noting that Harris is lucky, between deliberate overlooking by bracketing, and related items, that I didn't two-star him, rather than three-star.

And, per that "broader" link, I'm sure we could find rank hypocrisy along with racism in Locke, Kant, Voltaire, etc.

That said, Hume — and his footnote — still have defenders, like this piece here, from a person who is a Black Yale philosophy grad student. Johnson claims that Hume was writing "before racism existed as a concept."

Tosh.

Per Emmanuel Eze, the real question is: If Hume was not a racist, why did he feel compelled to keep in the footnote, and even sharpen it? (Eze also notes that Beattie criticized other parts and aspects of "Of National Characters." Indeed:

The fact that it survived Hume's multiple revisions and remained part of the Essays and was publicly defended from criticisms invites one not to dismiss this lengthy addition as marginal to Hume's thought but rather to determine why he might have felt it needed to be added in the first place, revised, and critically defended in what is now its definitive version. Relevant specific questions would be: why, of all other possible places (I have in mind, for example, a comparable essay "Of the populousness of ancient nations"), was the footnote added here?

Unfortunately, the free look truncates there. But given that I have also referenced "Populousness," these are all good questions.

Related? Immerwahr, mentioned above, talked about Hume's "philosophical racism," and Eze and other respondents said, why say "philosophical"? Indeed, to me, this comes off as "casual racism," including placing it in a footnote. Hume comes off as unconsciously asserting that surely no intellectual could disagree with this. (See famous names above.) Then, along comes this pipsqueak Beattie ...

Hume's "Populousness" must be faulted in another way which further illustrates his rank hypocrisy.

Hume claims in it that modern (for him) Europe was superior to ancient Rome and Greece because they had chattel slavery and Europe did not. This of course ignores the British (and French) Caribbean sugar island slave plantations, which, as Harris reminded us, Hume knew about personally from trying to broker the sale of some of them! Or, from his time in London, seeing plantation owners sit in Parliament! The French and British economies were very dependent on this. Remember, Napoleon tried to reconquer Haiti, and he did reimpose slavery elsewhere in the French Caribbean. Before that, after the Seven Years War, France let Britain have Canada as long as it could keep all of its sugar islands.

Again, this is not just hypocrisy. This is RANK hypocrisy.

==

Update: Julian Baggini goes in the tank for Hume. Undercutting him?

And? Undercutting even more Sir Tom Devine, the present-day Scottish historian he cites, claiming there was no push for abolition in Scotland in 1762, the time of his sugar plantation intervention, which he claims is in a "purported" letter?

In history we teach our students not to indulge in the intellectual sin of anachronistic judgement, i.e. never to impose the values of today on those of the past. In 1762, the year of David Hume’s reported letter on the plantations, there is no evidence that any groups in Scotland opposed chattel slavery in the colonies. The surge of abolitionism and widespread horror at man’s inhumanity to his fellow man only came later. In that sense, Hume was a man of his time, no better and no worse than any other Scot at the time.

Scotland was part of the UK, and was so for Hume's entire live. In addition, by this time, Hume had lived in London, and on the continent. (Amazing how the "world" of Enlightenment letters & ideas can be so selective.) Abolition was a happening thing in England; James Oglethorpe founded Georgia to be slavery-free, and for humanitarian reasons, before the original version of Hume's footnote.

And, Beattie and his mentor Thomas Reid? SCOT! 

AND? He's arguably wrong about "no evidence that any groups ..." Per that "happening thing" link from Wiki (which has a footnote, so shut up):

Some of the first freedom suits, court cases in Britain to challenge the legality of slavery, took place in Scotland in 1755 and 1769. The cases were Montgomery v. Sheddan (1755) and Spens v. Dalrymple (1769). Each of the slaves had been baptised in Scotland and challenged the legality of slavery. They set the precedent of legal procedure in British courts that would later lead to success for the plaintiffs. In these cases, deaths of the plaintiff and defendant, respectively, brought an end to the action before a court decision could be rendered.[8]

Also, per the same link, John Wesley, who created this organized group called "Methodism," started writing against slavery on moral grounds two years before Hume died.

I am tired of this. I've already told Baggini on Twitter that I'm going to do a new post. Basically, I see things like this as a version of Platonic noble lies, based on ideas that cancel culture or whatever is so evil all tools in opposition to it are fair game.

As for the British involved with the tower's de-naming not calling out China more? Two wrongs don't make a right.

==

And, per a discussion on MeWe, sorry, but this DOES, if not detract from Hume's (or Kant's, Locke's or Voltaire's) work in general, at a minimum, it brings it under heightened scrutiny. I'm sorry that it doesn't for you.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Top blogging of 2020

Rankings are as of Sunday, Jan. 3. As I normally post once a week, and never more than twice a week, as this is not my primary blog, and I've already got material lined up for here, I pushed this back a couple of weeks. Not all are from this past year; they're simply the most popular of that time.

No. 1? People like to talk about the Antichrist and his/its "mark of the beast." Problem: Revelation never uses the word "Antichrist." Nor does it talk about "the man of lawlessness." So what's the diff between them, if any? I explored that in December 2019, just in time for Christmas then.

No. 2? Plato, meet Dr. Anthony Fauci. The hero of "The Resistance" in trying to keep federal government discussion of coronavirus control science-based, Fauci told a Platonic noble lie last March about not wearing masks, then doubled down on the alleged necessity of that last summer. I took him to the ethics woodshed and gave him a huge spanking. (He has since admitted engaging in a SECOND noble lie, this one over the percentage of Americans who need either vaccination or previous contraction of the disease to provide "herd immunity.")

No. 3? Sharon Hill in late 2018 said she was no longer a Skeptics™ card carrier. But, she didn't repent of her previous Brian Dunning fangrrlism. I tackled all of that.

No. 4? Speaking of Brian Dunning, this 2010 post, originally untitled, somehow went viral early last year and I eventually titled it as "Libertarian pseudoskeptical pseudoscience." Brian Dunning, the gift that never stops giving.

No. 5? Hobby Lobby-connected Museum of the Bible officially admitted last year it had bought a peck of forged Dead Sea Scrolls. Left to clean up the mess? Old seminary classmate of mine Jeff Kloha; I blogged about the work he faces, the possible pressures to play along with Hobby Lobby on some things, his wrongness on some exegetical and text-critical statements related to the DSS, and more. Read away.

No. 6? What do GIFs have to do with David Hume? More than you might think, as I discussed here last year.

No. 7? Beware the Ides of March and Indo-European cognates! This was a fun one to write, talking about Caesar as would-be rex, the German Reich and more.

No. 8? More problems for reincarnationists. I'm not a Gnu Atheist, but things that catch my eye that slap down either Western or Eastern religions on fundamental issues will start me to blogging. This one had two parts. First, per Thomas Nagel's famous piece, how could a reincarnated human soul, if it moved a ways "downward," map onto a bat? Second, what's with this idea of "progress" in reincarnation in general, and how its devotees define when a new life is progress and when it is regress?

No. 9? Me comparing my path with that of another Lutheran become atheist, Ed Suominen. An old one from 2013, updated last year.

No. 10? Inspired in part by two Jewish philosophers, the well-known Walter Kaufmann and online correspondent Dan Kaufman, I took their thought — and that of many others — of claiming that Christianity is all about orthodoxy while other religions, and above all, Judaism, are all about orthopraxis, to stern task. Just ain't so, I said.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Mossner: Hume the Human

The Life of David Hume

The Life of David Hume by Ernest Campbell Mossner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great book on Hume the human. But, because Mossner has so little, relatively, on specific philosophical stances and ideas of Hume, that's the primary reason it doesn't get a fifth star. 

NOTE: This is an extended version of my Goodreads view, with some additional comparison's to the Harris "intellectual biography," whose review, also extended, I posted a week ago.

And now, a few thoughts on Mossner.

First, on style, he comes off at times as more British than American!

Second, he perhaps goes too much into Hume’s family history.

Third, he does disagree with James Harris and his 2015 on some elements, notably re the Treatise.

First, per Hume’s writing to Hutcheson re his reaction to the Treatise? Let us quote, via Mossner: “And tho I am much more ambitious of being esteem’d a Friend to Virtue, than a Writer of Taste; yet I must always carry the latter in my Eye, otherwise I must ever despair of being serviceable to Virtue.”

Well, later, Hume, by the time of his essays, had decided that for reasons of money and other things, his bread was better buttered on the side of a writer of taste, and that his rejection of the Treatise was in fact "the manner not the matter."

Specific to this, at the end of the 1730s and beyond, is the issue of "young Hume" vs "old Hume," whether there was a separation, and whether or not "old Hume" rejected "young Hume" of the Treatise. Mossner, contra both Harris and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in what I think reflects a larger shift in interpretation, says there WAS a split. Call me an old fuddy-duddy of Hume studies or whatever, but I think he's right and Hume's own words confirm that.

Mossner misses a follow-up here, and I think it may be deliberate. (In general, contra Harris' claim that Mossner had too much affection for Hume, despite the drier style of the "intellectual biography," if anything, Harris appears blinded by his own over-affection at times.) If indeed the rejection of the Treatise was the matter not the manner, what does that say about Hume's later "spinning" of the issue?

Mossner, re Hume and the Edinburgh professorship, again differs strongly with Harris. He notes that Hume really wanted it, up to the end, that his comments after not getting it amount to sour grapes, and he should have known better.

Mossner also deals better with at least one particular aspect of Hume the historian, vis-à-vis his delay in publishing the essay “On the Protestant Succession,” than does Harris He goes into more detail about the ’45 and how it entwined itself with Scottish friends. He notes that Kames, for example, went radio silence at this time.

Mossner has a lot on the personal side on his time in France as both Lord Hertford’s personal secretary then as official embassy secretary. Lots on his relationship with Mme de Boufflers. Doesn’t indicate whether it was consecrated or not. But, in this area, and from here through to Hume's deathbed, he is humanized.

Also, has lots from letters to or about Hume, even if we have few of Hume’s own.

Re Beattie, he does not discuss Hume’s racism at all, let alone his revision of his footnote in “Of National Characteristics” in apparent direct response to Beattie. Claims Beattie wrote his book with emotion-laden appeal precisely to try to get under Hume’s skin. Shades of “Treatise” level passions! Overall, I think he gives Beattie too thin of treatment here.

On Hume’s dying, has more on his insistence that the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion would be published, somehow or another, especially after Adam Smith seemed tentative. (Eventually, the Plan B was what had to be carried out, as Hume’s namesake nephew was the publisher.) And, befitting a biography of Hume the human, he describes Hume’s dying days, and Hume’s equanimity, in full detail.

But, because Mossner doesn't discuss racism (or the boatload of other stereotypes of alleged national and ethnic natures in Of National Characteristics), he doesn't discuss whether or not Hume's equanimity would extend to any non-White he met in person.

Yes, Mossner wrote in 1954. And his 1980 revised, pre-desktop publishing programs, is nothing more than appendixed notes at the end of the original. Nonetheless, racism was front and center in America by then and an appendixed note could have been slipped in.

Boswell comes off a ghoul, not only visiting the dying Hume to suss him out, but the dead Hume’s funeral.

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