Chess and Practical Reason

I watch chess videos on the internet.  Yes, that makes me a super-nerd.  But it also gives me a great example for explaining STA’s account of practical reasoning!  See, it’s the medieval philosophy interest that saves me from being a real nerd…

Ahem.

When you watch certain chess instructors online, they are teaching a class at a chess center.  Sometimes they have just a few players in attendance, other times many.  The instructor will play through a game to teach a key theme or idea of chess.

Often in the course of these lectures the instructor will pause at a critical moment in the game and ask the students to answer basic chess questions.  How do you assess this position?  What are the advantages and disadvantages for each side?  Most importantly, what is your plan?

There’s a funny moment in a lot of these classes where the students will shout out things like, “d5!” or “Nf3!”  The GM instructor will laugh to himself a little and say, “No, I’m not talking about a move.  What do we want to do here?  What do we want to accomplish?”

While watching one of these videos where the students continued to give moves instead of plans, I realized we could map this perfectly to the account of practical reason given by Aquinas in ST I-II Q11-17.  These kids (some quite a bit older than mere kids) were thinking in terms of moves instead of plans or, to put it another way, means instead of ends.

Actually they were thinking in terms of means with no end, which is pure gibberish.  A means can only exist as the thing that moves me from where I am to the end I want to reach.  Sure, in a game of chess you could name every legal move on the board and eventually, accidentally, hit upon the “right” move.  But what is it that makes it the right move? Continue reading Chess and Practical Reason

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Orlando Furioso: Regnative Prudence

The most outlandish and wonderful tale in Orlando Furioso, in my opinion, is Gryphon At The Gates.  It also has an important lesson on the virtues of the king.

First, a recap of dark hilarity:

The naive Gryphon travels to Damascus in the company of his “true love” Origilla and her “brother” Martano.  The reality of course is that Origilla is a promiscuous harpy and Martano is her feckless lover; when Gryphon crosses paths with them quite by accident and wonders why his “sick” love is not resting in Constantinople, the deplorable duo concoct an outlandish fabrication that the naive super-knight happily accepts.

At Damascus Martano foolishly decides to participate in King Norandino’s tournament of thanksgiving.  After he humiliates himself and, by extension, his companions, Gryphon takes the field to make amends.  He obliterates Norandino’s champions one and all, nearly killing some in the process in his zeal to restore the honor lost by Martano.  All are in awe of this mighty white knight, but Gryphon returns to his lodging and promptly falls asleep.

While he slumbers, Martano steals his armor and presents himself, Origilla at his side, at the victory banquet as the champion of the event.  When Gryphon arrives to set the record straight, the nobles of Damascus, thinking him the cowardly Martano, jeer at him. Norandino orders him arrested, beaten, and thrown in prison for daring to steal the honors of a great knight. Continue reading Orlando Furioso: Regnative Prudence