I don’t know what the clips are, but this was the only youtube upload of this song. It’s Beneath the Dawn by Brave Saint Saturn. It’s a great song to meditate upon as we approach fathers’ day.
Currently, the way justice is routinely spoken of is about social fairness or government intervention or institutional transformation. I have no doubt that justice is often related to these concepts. But classically, justice was a personal virtue a habit of action and thought with reference to giving what is due to others. It is a personal virtue that is outwardly focused. Currently, I think justice is used to refer to a self-focused virtue to be demanded of external circumstances. When Fredrich Hayek talked about it in this video:
“Justice is an attribute of individual action. I can be just or unjust towards my fellow men. But the conception of a social justice; to expect from an impersonal process – which nobody can control – to bring about a just result is not only a meaningless conception, it’s completely impossible.”
I disagree with him about the idea that social justice is purely impossible. Societies can have institutional injustices (people organized around principles that lead to individual acts of injustice). His point is still powerful.
When Menander wrote about justice around the end of the third century, he described it like this:
“The parts of justice are piety, fair dealing and reverence: piety toward the gods, fair dealing towards men, reverence toward the departed. Piety to the gods consists of two elements: being god-loved and god-loving. The former means being loved by the gods and receiving many blessings from them, the latter consists of loving the gods and having a relationship of friendship with them.”
I’m most interested in the bold aspect.
I think that justice is rarely conceived of with reference to one’s ancestors or even with reference to one’s still living relatives. But I think that living in a way that is designed to learn from one’s predecessors in a positive way (and rejecting the bad) is a form of justice because one owes them the work of spreading their genes and building upon the progress they made.
A great example of this can be found in Aurelius’ meditations. In the first section he names the debts and lessons he’s learned from various great people in his life. The first four are family:
- MY GRANDFATHER VERUS
Character and self-control.
- MY FATHER (FROM MY OWN MEMORIES AND HIS REPUTATION)
Integrity and manliness.
- MY MOTHER
Her reverence for the divine, her generosity, her inability not only to do wrong but even to conceive of doing it. And the simple way she lived— not in the least like the rich.
- MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER
To avoid the public schools, to hire good private teachers, and to accept the resulting costs as money well-spent.
In my own life, to follow the exact examples above (except that I was blessed with many long lived grandfathers and great-grandfathers so I’ll collapse the lessons I’ve learned for the sake of not revealing information about my family tree, I’ve learned:
- MY GRANDFATHER
From my grandfather I learned several things. The first is don’t stop. If you have work to do, do it until you’re finished no matter how boring, trivial, or demeaning. Second, read widely and often. His bookshelf is filled with philosophy, law, archaeology, fiction, history, and how-to books. Third, to change the world, change where you’re from. Fourth, if you can fix it yourself, fix it. Fifth, control your mornings. Sixth, choose the higher standard (this is from a man who told me that Army boot camp was too easy and that it made him fat and lazy).
- MY FATHER
The first is be prepared. Know what you’re getting into before you go. Second, never blame others for your lot. Just own that you have to take responsibility and do it because nobody else will. Third, my dad taught me to respect the elderly. I still hold doors for them when I see them walking into restaurants. Fourth, to respect people who work for a living, I won’t even vote for politicians who haven’t worked in the free-market.
- MY MOTHER|
My mother taught me to approach problems with reason instead of emotions and to be generous.
- MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER
First, to make everyplace I go better than it was when I arrived. Second, to read between the lines. The rest of my family I think made fun of this idea, but the media is usually trying to get viewers not tell the truth and things are rarely as they seem. Every phenomena requires investigation.
What have you learned from your betters who’ve come before you? How can you do them justice?
 Menander Rhetor I.361.17-25 Link Here
 Aurelius, Marcus (2002-05-14). Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library) (Kindle Locations 811-816). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
In an exercise science class in my early college days, I had a professor try to tell me that since the triceps muscles functioned to extend the forearm, one only needed to do bicep curls to exercise the whole arm. Her reasoning was that lowering the weight extended the forearm, and thus exercised the triceps. She had taken a basic fact and misapplied it because she neglected to account for simple facts like gravity being the force that lowers the weight as the lifter slowly relaxes his biceps.
Similarly, in the Christian life, we can easily misapply things. This is especially so in the case of the Bible’s language regarding Christian growth and God’s grace. For instance, some see the passages about justification by grace through faith is the ultimate or only expression of the Christian life. In so doing, they can actually believe/explain a version of faith that does not lead to good works or obedience in Christ.
On the other hand, some look at the passages in Scripture about spiritual growth and the need for obedience and see these as the ultimate or only expressions of the Christian life. The danger here is teaching that one is saved by one’s efforts and not God’s grace and the progress is always obvious and linear.
But one can see two aspects of the Christian life in Scripture. These aspects are often called the gospel/law, justification/sanctification/ and indicative/imperative distinctions. While I grasp all of those, I think that they can confuse certain issues. For instance, in Scripture the gospel includes commands, indicatives result from imperatives, and sanctification is not always about growth and obedience.
My preferred language is to distinguish the positional and progressive elements of the Christian life. I’m sure somebody came up with the language before me, but I haven’t seen it anywhere and it popped into my mind when I was teaching a class about the gospel/law and justification/sanctification distinction.
These are aspects of the Christian life concerning one’s identity in Christ. They are gifts of grace to be claimed as a certain possession by the faithful. Biblical examples include but are not limited to:
- Justification by faith (Romans 4:24-5:10)
- Adoption (Ephesians 1:3-23)
- Sanctification/being called saints (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:29-31)
- Being beloved by God (all over the Bible)
The importance of the positional aspects of the Christian life appears is that they give us individual and communal identity, they are dependent ultimately upon God, and they are not dependent upon our progress (justification by faith is true for anybody who has faith).
These are elements of the Christian life in which growth and progress can be made. The confusing thing is that sometimes the Bible uses the same words for progressive and positional categories (sanctification, grace, live like children of God, etc). Biblical examples include but are not limited to:
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. Being a son of God here is a designation based on character, not a declaration based on grace received through faith.
- Matthew 6:33 (seek first the kingdom of God and it’s righteousness). Righteousness is not a declaration but a virtue to be pursued.
- Hebrews 12:14 say to strive for the holiness/sanctification necessary to see the Lord.
- Abiding in God’s love (1 John 3, John 14-26)
The importance of these aspects of the Christian life is that they speak of the goals toward which faith strives. While one does not have to be a perfect peacemaker to be justified by faith, one should have a faith of the sort that will lead to peacemaking. These aspects of the Christian life also speak of how one experiences life with God and approaches true happiness and Christian virtue.
When one properly grasps the difference between these two modes of Christian discourse it becomes significantly easier to understand how one can be justified by faith but still be commanded to strive for “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).” The faith that justifies is faith that seeks holiness (the holiness doesn’t justify). Similarly, the state of justification is a hope and comfort specifically for those who live in faith.
A few months back, I requested a review copy of All that the Prophets have Declared (APD) from it’s editor Matthew Malcolm. He graciously sent me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
In the 1950s, C.H. Dodd said that the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old Testament, particularly in terms of the notion of fulfillment seems to”govern the early Christian interpretation of the gospel events.” Understandably, people interested in understanding the Bible and it’s gospel have studied the subject carefully.
In the case of this book, there are several authors. I typically give author background on reviews, but in this case, I’ll simply follow the bad, good, and conclusion pattern.
There are two problems in the book that are simply matters of formatting:
- The book uses endnotes. The worst example of a book doing this is Campbell’s “The Deliverance of God.” APD is much more brief, but do to the rigor of the book it still contains 67 pages of endnotes. That’s nearly 24% of the book. This means that almost every few sentences, if you want to know a source, etc, you’ve got to look in the back. I happen to know that publishers typically make these choices, but it still hurts the reading experience.
- There is no index. This is a minor quibble, but in a brief book that is clearly meant to be a scholarly resource, having an index of authors and Bible verses would make the book much more helpful to pastors or professors at small colleges.
The other problem is the problem with all such compilations. The essays are uneven. When I read the book, I made a point to avoid looking at author names. I was pleased to find that of my four favorite essays, 3 were by people with whose works I have read or with whom I am acquainted. None of the essays were bad, but some of them seemed to rehash old problems with which I was fairly familiar.
The essays try to bridge the gap between hermeneutics and historical work and the faith and practice of the church. This is important. If I weren’t a Christian, I would still find the Bible interesting, but in depth scholarship on it seems nearly pointless unless it is meant to have practical results for believers (if one were an atheist, debunking the Bible’s claims would be practical).
The other good aspects below are insights or good qualities from several of the essays:
In the essay on Galatians, Mark Seifrid observed, correctly, that the focus in Galatians is not on Jesus’ obedience (as in Philippians), but on the salvific quality of the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation (107).
In the essay on Prayer, two insights are given about the nature of prayer in Acts 4 that are meant to carry weight for the believer today. Prayer should be informed by the Biblical story in the Old and New Testament and then that narrative must be owned by those who pray so that they can adopt a biblical mindset regarding their place in history (79).
Roland Deines argued, very well for two ideas (one of which he mistakenly calls an assumption despite the fact that he structures the essay around demonstrating it…making it an inference (42)) that Jesus was expert in his use of Scripture as a member of a culture that was deeply informed by the OT and that Jesus is portrayed in the gospels as claiming to be the Lord of Scripture (42). He speculates at the end of his essay on the ways in which Jesus may have come about his deep knowledge of Scripture (64-70). These speculations are helpful because many do not consider that Jesus learned, was literate, or went through any sort of creative process of Biblical interpretation or sat under any mentors. He also raises the question of whether or not the gospel authors are portraying Jesus as having supernatural knowledge of Scripture. He simply comes away saying that any such discussion must be nuanced but take into account that the Bible portrays Jesus as preexistent. I think that this interesting avenue should have been pursued further, so I wish he hadn’t even mentioned it!
Malcolm’s concluding essay The Appropriation of Scripture in the Emergence of Christianity concludes with similar thoughts to those articulated by C.D. Dodd so long ago, “But the New Testament itself avers that it was Jesus Christ Himself who first directed the minds of His followers to certain parts of the scriptures as those in which they might find illumination upon the meaning of His mission and destiny.” Malcolm similarly concludes that the New Testament writers are “following the lead of Jesus himself” in their reading of Scripture (206). The volume, I think helped to demonstrate this fact.
I would recommend purchasing this book two groups: Students in seminary who have already taken Biblical introductory courses but want to understand this topic more fully and to pastors who find the topic interesting. But because it is an introduction to the topic for people with academic training, I would only recommend that a layperson check it out from a library to avoid buying a volume that may not be particularly enthralling or helpful. Students on the doctoral level or academic professors will likely be able to get the book through ILL or by means of asking their library to purchase it if they are at large schools. This is good for the authors because it is inexpensive enough for people at small schools to buy it themselves and it is useful enough that libraries will likely purchase it.
There are two modes of public discourse that deal with syllogisms:
- Rhetoric – the art of persuasion
- Dialectic – the art of discovering/explaining what must or may be true or false based upon facts and reasoning.
The thing about these that is important to remember is that dialectic is not always effective when used as rhetoric. Many people have no patience for examining things as they are. But rhetoric can use the skills of dialectic to appeal to those who enjoy feeling smart but do not, perhaps, understand how logic works or who do not understand the facts of the case. One may look at the relationship between rhetoric and dialectic thus:
- Pure dialectic – Exact discourse using facts and logic (think math lectures)
- Truthful Rhetoric – Rhetoric that appeals to emotions while being backed up by careful research or absolute truth.
- False-Dialectic – Attempted dialectic that the wielder does not realize is actually rhetoric.
- Sophistry – the intentional use of emotional rhetoric to convince people to act/feel/believe without reference to the truth.
There are three modes of persuasive rhetoric:
Meant to persuade people to act.
Meant to convict or defend people based on their deeds.
Used to raise support for and adherence to group values. In other words, it is meant to inspire or please the hearers. A secondary use is to portray a person, group, or idea as honorable or shameful.
You’ll find it useful to be able to distinguish between each type of rhetoric (note: many authors cannot even do this).
For instance, Christians often use epideictic rhetoric that is designed to inspire deeper commitment to Christ amongst believers to share the gospel with outsiders.
Similarly, in political races, people might have a tendency to read articles that are designed to increase loyalty to an already accepted candidate and mistake the article for a sound piece of truthful deliberative rhetoric (meant to convince people to vote for so-and-so) and then use this same rhetoric to talk to friends who buy into a different platform. Both people might be using rhetoric meant to inspire the committed of their camp to greater devotion and invective meant to shame those in the camp who are thinking of leaving against one another. This will quite literally have the effect cementing each person deeper in the opposing camp.
If you want to test, for instance, what type of rhetoric you use and where it is on “truthful rhetoric to sophistry” scale that you might ask these questions:
- Pure Dialectic
- Am I considering evidence contrary to my conclusion and fitting my conclusion to this evidence or explaining the evidence in a way that allows it to still stand?
- Am I doing/teaching a programing language or mathematical proof?
- Truthful Rhetoric
- If I play fast and loose with my language for purposes of appeal, are my premises defensible if I qualify and explain them?
- Is my emotional appeal intentionally based upon aiming at the feelings that the facts should result in rather than the feelings that are expedient for my purposes?
- Am I willing to make my evidence available for examination by other parties, even if for rhetorical purposes, I leave it out?
- Am I simply repeating what somebody else said without having investigated the facts or followed the logic myself?
- Is there no potential counter evidence to my conclusions?
- Am I using emotional buzz words whose referent is hard to pin down?
- Could the premises in my argument be just as easily applied to another point of view?
- Do I actually believe my premises, dilemmas, and so-on?
- Do I feel shocked that somebody reasonable disagrees with me?
It’s hard to do this by accident.
Now for the types of rhetoric. Beware, this is where you’ve got to be brutally honest with yourself. If you’re claiming to attempt to persuade people to act, but you keep answering “yes” to epideictic style questions, it is likely that you’re using rhetoric meant to inspire people with whom you already agree. Similarly, if you’re using shaming tactics to convince people of facts, then you’re trying to use epideictic or deliberative rhetoric for judicial purposes. This may be effective, but it takes true/false out of the debate. It turns you into a sophist at best and a jerk at worst:
- Do I want people to act in a certain way?
- Am I appealing to moral principle or future consequences?
- Am I arguing from principles to which my audience ascribes to practical conclusions which I think are good?
- Am I referencing testimonial evidence about the past?
- Am I referencing physical evidence?
- Am I referencing character/trait evidence of the persons or artifacts involved?
- Am I making assertions without reference to evidence?
- Am I making claims which I know people like me will applaud?
- Am I saying things meant to make people not like me seem shameful?
- Am I trying to make an individual/group/idea look, not guilty or innocent, true or false, good or bad, but shameful or honorable?
Now, the reason all of this is important is that you want to know how to be a morally good rhetorician and you need defense against the dark arts. Here are some good reasons to have an instinct for what a piece of rhetoric is attempting and then the types of rhetoric being used or the types of rhetoric to use to avoid being disgusting (see how I used a shame word):
- Epideictic appeals can effectively manipulate emotions enough to get you or I to act in a way that does not align with our principles by an intentionally murky appeal to them. This happens in drug advertisements.
- Epideictic appeals, which feel so effective because of the nature of the language used, can be done sophistically without reference to any truth value at all. When I’ve been a character witness, I was appalled that this form of rhetoric was used by the prosecutor when the nature of the apparently shameful deed was precisely what was in question.
- Many times, in the case of persuading others concerning what is true or false, people will still appeal to the utility of believing this or that thing. While I think that utility is a good tool to persuade people to consider your case, utility does not determine truth. “Of course God is real. You don’t want to go to hell do you?”
- Judicial style rhetoric, because it requires arguments concerning probability, time, and cause/effect is very susceptible to sophistry because when reasoning to the best explanation of the facts, one might have a tendency to theorize before all the facts come in. Such a theory can prejudice one’s interpretation of new evidence. In the legal system, this is especially interesting because one could be in the position of trying to cast doubt upon the guilt of a truly guilty person or reason to the explanation that somebody is indeed guilty when they are not. Jurors who are not trained in careful reasoning may have a difficult time interpreting evidence well. Learning to use this rhetoric with a strong dialectic background and learning to interpret it is very important for justice (see how I’m using deliberative rhetoric to convince you to study dialectic?). Note: I know of at least three lawyers who semiregularly read this stuff. Am I off base?
One of the lost virtues for modern man is art. In a previous, post I argued that know-how is crucial for man’s happiness. This is not just a claim made by ancient philosophers (which would make it worth entertaining anyway), but studies have demonstrated today that having beliefs about personal abilities improve one’s subjective sense of well-being. Based on the fact that art is a virtue and virtue leads to happiness, I suspect that what follows will be helpful.
The Skill Stack
In his entertaining book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams puts forward two things:
- The moist robot hypothesis: we’re basically moist robots and therefore we can reprogram ourselves.
- The idea of a skill set/stack: a set of skills that exponentially grows your opportunities for success.
This intrigued me. I like learning new things and one of the best compliments I’d ever received was, “He’s a machine.”
Scott recommends his own skill set and explains how to attain those skills in his book. I’ll leave that to him to teach you. But I want to reflect further on the idea.
The most famous meeting in literature: Holmes and Watson, led to this assessment of Holmes’ skills by his near genius companion:
- Knowledge of Literature – nil.
- Knowledge of Philosophy – nil.
- Knowledge of Astronomy – nil.
- Knowledge of Politics – Feeble.
- Knowledge of Botany – Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
- Knowledge of Geology – Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks, has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
- Knowledge of Chemistry – Profound.
- Knowledge of Anatomy – Accurate, but unsystematic.
- Knowledge of Sensational Literature – Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
- Plays the violin well.
- Is an expert singlestick player, boxer and swordsman.
- Has a good practical knowledge of British law.
After making this list, Watson mused:
When I had got so far in my list I threw it into the fire in despair. “If I can only find what the fellow is driving at by reconciling all these accomplishments, and discovering a calling which needs them all,” I said to myself, “I may as well give up the attempt at once.”
Adams’ concept of a skill set (which everybody knows about, but he rather hypnotically combined it with the robot hypothesis and some knowingly bogus math), is fun to use here.
If you asked yourself these two questions, what would the result be?
- If I had a roommate who found my habits bizarre, what would the list of skills I possess be?
- If I had my dream career, what would that list of skills be?
If you want, take the time to write this down.
Observe the difference between these two lists.
Now for another couple of questions:
- If I looked unbiasedly at my skills (not degrees, previous jobs, or recommendations), how successful and happy do I think I would be?
- What do I think my job, the state of my home, and my level of social intrigue would be?
Personally, I think I would be a software developer or a teacher. I do both of these things, they both make me happy. Not sure what other people would deduce from my skill set.
If you aren’t as happy as you want to be, could it be that you have very little in the way of persistent success and skill? And remember, art is a virtue. One can be a terrible person and be very skilled at things. But one cannot be a good person while being dullard with respect to gaining skill. The virtues go together, to be slack in one is, eventually, to be slack in all.
 Mariatumasjan Andranikspörrle, Matthias Strobel, “Be Yourself, Believe in Yourself, and Be Happy: Self-Efficacy as a Mediator between Personality Factors and Subjective Well-Being,” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 52, no. 1 (February 2011): 43–48 and Deborah M. Flynn and Stephanie Macleod, “Determinants of Happiness in Undergraduate University Students,” College Student Journal 49, no. 3 (Fall 2015): 452.
 Adams, Scott (2013-10-22). How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life (p. 96). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, “When I speak to young people on the topic of success, as I often do, I tell them there’s a formula for it. You can manipulate your odds of success by how you choose to fill out the variables in the formula. The formula, roughly speaking, is that every skill you acquire doubles your chances of success.”
 Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet, 16-17
 If one finds this offensive think it through. Let’s say you become slack at work because parenting exhausts you and you get fired and now cannot care for your children. This sucks, but doing poor work on another’s time clock is rude or unjust. Similarly, let’s say you stay static at work because parenting exhausts you. You’re probably (hopefully) gaining skill as a parent. Therefore, you are growing in the virtue that pertains to parenting.