Friday, May 20, 2016

Oakeshott on the Problem of Evil

Gustav Doré. "Dudley Street, Seven Dials." 1872.

"A human condition is but rarely recognized as one of totally unrelieved agony, a 'city of dreadful night'; but its commonly felt dissonances are disease, urgent wants unsatisfied, the pain of disappointed expectations, the suffering of frustrated purposes, the impositions of hostile circumstances, the sorrows of unwanted partings, burdens, ills, disasters, calamities of all sorts, and death itself, the emblem here of all such sufferings. These miseries are hardly less keenly felt or less deeply resented when they are recognized to be, in part, the consequences of the prudential folly of the sufferer than when they are taken to be totally unmerited misfortunes. They are not ills merely to those who suffer them; indeed, they are often more difficult to countenance in the fortunes of others than in one's own. Their incidence has no plausible relation to good or ill-doing, although they may be believed to represent the displeasure of gods of uncertain temper, to be warded off by appropriate observances in which a precarious pax deorum is preserved. And whatever immediate remedy may be found for particular occasions of suffering, or for whole classes of these ills, the dissonance remains: a suffering relieved is not a cancellation of its occurrence."

[On Human Conduct, Michael Oakeshott, 1975]

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Ill-fated Physician

"According to the court chronicles, Jean d'Ailleboust began his labors as King Henri's physician in 1593, when he was already quite an old man; it is unlikely that he was born later than 1518.

In 1594, he was ordered to examine Gabrielle d'Estrées, the king's mistress, who was feeling unwell. When the king inquired what ailed her, Jean d'Ailleboust bluntly said that she was pregnant. The king was furious, to say nothing of Mlle d'Estrées, but the elderly physician did not budge; he even had the effrontery to predict, much to the king's displeasure, the exact day the royal bastard would be born.

Very near the day he had predicted, on June 7, 1594, Gabrielle d'Estrées delivered a healthy boy, the future César de Vendôme. Jean d'Ailleboust did not have long to enjoy the victorious outcome of his dispute with his royal master; he himself died under highly mysterious circumstances on July 24 of the same year. According to the chronicles of Sully and d'Estoile, he was poisoned by the spiteful Gabrielle d'Estrées. The king grieved the death of his honest old physician and regretted that he had spoken harshly to him before."

[The Two-Headed Boy, Jan Bondeson, 2000]

Monday, May 9, 2016

Notes, February 10, 2016

-One of the major dichotomies in Aristotelian ethics is between the active and contemplative life. The active life is the life of the politician, the man-about-town, the Athenian gentleman, the small business-owner, the socialite, the local physician, the knight, the attorney, the parish priest.  Those who chose the active life include Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Johnson, my father, and Donald Trump.

The contemplative life is life of the ascetic, the scholar, the philosopher, the monk or nun, the mystic, the drug-abuser, the mathematician, the museum curator, the landscape painter. Contemplatives include the Desert Fathers, William Bronk, and John Milton.

Here is one argument for the superiority of the active life: It is less fragile. True contemplation can only arise in very unusual circumstances -- often only with the support of religion. Most contemplatives have a strong feeling of vocation. Indeed, a life of contemplation would be unbearable to someone who needs frequent conversation and activity. A life of contemplation often requires subsisting on the most limited resources and a belief in the unimportance of material things.