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

And The Rock Was Christ

Brethren, let not your instruments of music rest in your work: sing one to another songs of Sion. Readily have ye heard; the more readily do what you have heard, if you wish not to be willows of Babylon fed by its streams, and bringing no fruit. But sigh for the everlasting Jerusalem: whither your hope goes before, let your life follow; there we shall be with Christ. Christ now is our Head; now He rules us from above; in that city He will fold us to Himself; we shall be equal to the Angels of God. We should not dare to imagine this of ourselves, did not the Truth promise it. This then desire, brethren, this day and night think on. Howsoever the world shine happily on you, presume not, parley not willingly with your lusts. Is it a grown-up enemy? Let it be slain upon the Rock. Is it a little enemy? Let it be dashed against the Rock. Slay the grown-up ones on the Rock, and dash the little ones against the Rock. Let the Rock conquer. Be built upon the Rock, if you desire not to be swept away either by the stream, or the winds, or the rain. If you wish to be armed against temptations in this world, let longing for the everlasting Jerusalem grow and be strengthened in your hearts. Your captivity will pass away, your happiness will come; the last enemy shall be destroyed, and we shall triumph with our King, without death.

–St. Augustine, Ennarrationes in Psalmos, 136

Conversational Pelagianism

Last year I had the good fortune to accidentally end up teaching Pelagianism to my Third Formers.  Like many accidents in teaching, it worked out very well and I think I’ll repeat the lesson this year.

As the academic year came to a close I realized I had a timing problem.  With only 3 or 4 class days left, I did not have time to teach my usual close-out lesson on the basic moral content of the Gospel.  Typically I take 5 or 6 class days to go through the Sermon on the Mount and the basic Pauline exhortations so that my students will have some idea what Catholicism is about outside of their primary source of information, the TV and the internet.

Since I was short on time, I let my students choose their final lesson.  I could teach a shortened version of my Sermon on the Mount material, or I could teach any topic they wanted me to tackle.  Any at all!  I have a lot of theological hobbies and many had come up over the course of the year without us having a chance to do more than touch upon them.  New astronomy?  Church history myth-busting?  Thorny scriptural interpretations?  Philosophy of science, the nature of numbers?

Most students were indifferent but the active voters lobbied for “cool-sounding heresies.”  I’d already covered the most famous ones–you can’t teach Trinity without talking about Arius, for example–and in fact I’d already covered Pelagianism indirectly.  It’s quite astonishing just how much of the basic Catholic catechism is influenced by a repudiation of Pelagianism and the later battles over the same topic (*cough* Protestantism *cough*).  But when I suggested Pelagianism they jumped, with one of them slyly asking me if I’d ever heard the tragedy of Darth Pelagius the Wise (that’s a Star Wars joke, for my non-nerd audience).  Topic settled!

So how do you teach Pelagianism to 9th-graders?  I’m glad you asked! Continue reading Conversational Pelagianism

Orlando Innamorato Outline

I’ve been entertaining myself reading a high-quality amateur translation of Orlando Innamorato.  That blog is highly recommended if you are interested in the medieval romances, plus it’s a hundred times more attractive than mine.  Tons of source material!

Reading the precursor poem to Orlando Furioso has greatly assisted my understanding of the story arcs of the characters.  I thought here I’d just sketch the basic events of the poem in slightly more detail than one can find at weak sources like wikipedia.

This will probably become a permanent page on my sidebar at some point.  Too useful! Continue reading Orlando Innamorato Outline

Timing in Orlando Furioso

When does anything happen in Orlando Furioso?

In terms of setting, there’s really no answer to that question.  Charlemagne is the emperor of Europe…so after 800 AD?  But it’s before Roland dies at Roncevaux, so it’s before 778 AD…except of course for the amazing anachronisms with technology and the trans-historical alliance of Moors, Turks, Saracens, and Arabs.

Ok, so it’s all times and never.  But what about the internal chronology of the poem? Continue reading Timing in Orlando Furioso

Septuagint

A few months back I went down a rabbit hole studying all the different ways to talk about swords and spears in the Old Testament (in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek).  It was a fun research project but it touched upon a much more fundamental problem when talking about the Old Testament.  Rather than write a long introduction to an already long survey, I let the draft languish.

This is that long introduction.

(Warning: much of what follows is a gross simplification of a complicated scholarly field.  I know no shame and I’m not consulting sources from my old training.) Continue reading Septuagint

Orlando Furioso Cast of Characters: Gradasso

Cantos II (Atlantes Tower), IV (Rescued), XII (Magical Villa), XXII (Released), XXVII (Tournament of Grievances), XXX (Durindana), XXXI (Rinaldo), XXXIII (Duel), XL (Lampedusa Plan), XLI (Trial on Lampedusa), LXII (Slain)

King of Sericane

Magical horse Alfana

Classical Type: ?

Coat of Arms: ?

TL;DR: Chief Villain of Previous Poem Held in Stasis Until the Final Battle

Summary Continue reading Orlando Furioso Cast of Characters: Gradasso