Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Doctor Justice names the penguins

[Prefatory remarks:
In this space, we intend, favente deo, to begin a quest of world-historical import:  the Naming of the Penguins.   The project is to appear in installments.  To prepare yourselves, read (or re-read),  L’Ile des pingouins, by Anatole France.]

(1) We read in Scripture, how that Adam did name the beasts:

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field ..

Appellavitque Adam nominibus suis cuncta animantia

Further research reveals, however, that our Original Parent did not name each beast individually, but only by kind:   Behold, these are the lions, these the lambs;  these the hawks and kites and crows … 
Thus, much work remains to be done.  And as a linear descendant of Adam (on my mother’s side -- father’s too, in fact), I feel it is incumbent to me to take up this cross.

Where to begin?   Well, more numerous than all the beasts of the field, are the Penguins, of pure repute:

Accordingly, all the penguins of Antarctica have lined up single-file, and are passing patiently beneath my hand, as I sain each one, and give each one its name before God.

“Fluffy; Chubby; Tumtums; Blackie; Whitey; Roly-poly; Poly-Roly …”

As of press-time, Dr Justice has individually named eighty thousand penguins; just five million more to go.

(2)  [Update, 28 April 2017]

Five hundred thousand and counting:

“….  Fishsnitcher, Egghuddler, Iceberg Bertie, Lollybop,
 Antarctic Archie, Austrobird,  Gus the Glacier Guy, Snowmelt…”

Te baptizo, Nitide !

(3)  Philosophical interlude;  for there is more at stake here than Biblical fulfilment.

The problem of the reality of Universals, or Natural Kinds, goes back to the ancient Greeks, and has been a live topic for philosophers all through the Middle Ages (under the rubrics of Realism vs. Nominalism), down to the present day (by which time the enriched apparatus of set theory and quantification  were lending additional spice to the debate).  The Nominalist denies the real, discourse-independent existence of these abstract demi-entities, these being, for him, a mere conversational convenience, a façon de parler, with no ontological standing.  Thus, for such thinkers, there is not really any such thing as Penguinhood, or Penguinkind, or Penguinity, but only the individual penguins themselves;  namely: ….

And here he falls silent;  for he has no names for all these many, many penguins.  In fact, many a Nominalist  can scarcely tell one penguin from another.  -- Singeing in defeat, ears burning, the Nominalist slinks from the stoa in humiliation,
while the Realist (tall, serene, admired by maidens) stands with folded arms.

But that were a victory cheaply won;  we disdain such “victory by forfeit”.   No, our support for Universals lies deeper than that;  and with stout spirit, we shall give hostages to our adversaries, and name the little featherballs ourselves.

   “….Bunchkins,  Slippyswimmer, Bellyboggan,  Sprinx…”

For all his carping at universals,
Occam himself never managed to name
so much as a single penguin.

(4)  Patiently, patiently, the penguins file by, each in its turn, to receive the unimagined, the unimaginable blessing.

They always do look as though they have been waiting for something, some thing they know not what, from the beginning of incalculable antarctic time, as they huddle together, helplessly, against the blizzards, the knifing winds.

And now, at last, some thing, some one  has come, attending to them, dispensing they know not quite what, but which they receive with stoic acceptance, and perhaps -- who knows -- the beginnings of a glimmering of understanding.

“…Lumpy, Stumpy,

     Dumpy, Frumpy,

  Immortal Diamond…”

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