Wednesday, July 1, 2009

One thought about Rik's paper

I wanted to comment on Rik's great paper. I think I disagree, but I really like his project. I'll put my challenge this way. Consider two cases. The first is the case of the paralyzed person who nonetheless can commemorate in a way that is what we were calling "parasitic" upon the more dominant examples. (Say a paralyzed person prays the Rosary without actually fingering the beads). Here we have a person who commemorates the mysteries simply through the acquiring of certain mental and brain states. Now take the case of a Carthaginian Christian who was not discovered in the Decian persecution. After the fallout, the person claims that she would have succumbed to persecution had she only been found out (though in fact she was not found out). This seems to be a claim of being in the state of conditionally willing the commemoration of the Roman gods (and some of their actions, whatever those might have been taken to be). Are the states of the paralyzed person and the Carthaginian all that different? Clearly there's a kind of conditional state for the paralyzed person, too. ("I would be saying the 'Glory Be' between the first and second decades right now if only I were able to move my fingers"). The most obvious difference between the paralyzed person and the Carthaginian is that the paralyzed person wants to commemorate in the full physical sense, but the Carthaginian does not want to commemorate in the full physical sense. Nonetheless, they both are in a kind of counterfactual state like the following: "If circumstances c were actual, I would will to commmemorate in the full physical sense." So why does the first case count as commemoration (even if it is parasitic on more full-blooded examples) while the second case (of the Carthaginian) does not? Rik may have an answer to this, I'm just interested to hear what it might be.

1 comment:

  1. The difference seems to be that the paralyzed person isn't _merely_ in that counterfactual state, but is actually in a state that captures important elements of commemoration.

    I'm not sure if this comparison will hold up, but let's see. Imagine P suffers from the vice of lust. But P willingly undergoes an operation to remove the most significant physical contributor to the lust. (Let's leave the details of that operation out of the discussion...) Subsequent to the operation, he really suffers very little from this vice. But he has not replaced the vice with any virtue. He can surely assert the counterfactual, if he's faced with a provocative situation, "if I hadn't had that operation, I'd... But as it is, I'd rather just read a book." I think it's safe to say there's no _merit_ in his not performing whatever act is implied by that elipsis. But I wouldn't be inclined to say he's sinned. He perhaps can't help the occurence on the thought. But he doesn't dwell on it, or in other ways attempt to prolong it or whatever.

    Now imagine Q, who is impotent, but who still suffers terribly from lustful thoughts. When faced with a provocative situation, he might think "if only I weren't impotent, I'd.... And then I'd.... and after that..." and while away quite some time in forming considerations of this kind. In this case, there's clearly sin.

    I want to say that the paralyzed prayer is like the impotent lustful person, while the Carthaginian is like the unlustful person. Not that the paralyzed person is committing sins, of course. But, rather, that he really _wants_ to perform the commemoration. He wishes it were so, he desires that it were possible. (I'd actually be inclined myself to say that he does perform a completely full-blooded commemoration without moving any part of his body, but let that pass for the sake of discussion.) The Carthaginian doesn't at all desire to commemorate the emperor. He recognizes that he lacks the gift of fortitute, and that consequently he would, if the situation were different than it actually is, perform the commemoration. But he doesn't want to perform it.

    In other words, just as it is sinful to entertain lustful thoughts, so it can be commemorative to entertain commemorative thoughts. But those who would entertain lustful thoughts (if things were different), but who actually don't entertain them, don't sin. Neither do those who would perform commemorative acts (if things were different) but who nevertheless don't perform them, don't commemorate.