Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, May 28, 2010

By Nature Equal: Human Equality and the Natural Law, Coons and Brennan vs. Suarez

CONTINUING THEIR HOSTILITY to the traditional theories of the natural law caused by the theories incompatibility with their notion of the convention of human equality, Coons and Brennan take on the natural law theory of the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), a giant in the history of the natural law. Although they classify Suarez's theory of the natural law as found in his De Legibus a "Classic" theory to distinguish it from the "Common Sense" theory, they ultimately conflate the two. "If we squint just a little, Suarez's notion of natural law reduces to an academicized form of Common Sense." Its biggest crimes are, apparently, that it refers to nature, to the need to conform to it, and to the divine sanction in nature that such implies. Yet, "[o]pening wide our eyes," they suggest that by the time of Suarez, belief in philosophical realism had been lost, and the world was nominalist and voluntarist. "Where once there were real things, now there is language. Gone is the empiricality of Common Sense, and in its stead looms a labyrinth of propositions." (p. 130) To make up for the lack of substances caused by philosophical nominalism, Coons and Brennan state that the advocates of natural law added the additional component of God's will.

For the sake of analysis of Coons and Brennan's work, we may accept their curious assessment of Suarez's work as "legist," "modernist," nominalist, and voluntarist, and the source, the "modern charter," of "embarassing" Latin "manuals" of moral theology, though much can be against that characterization of Suarez and moral theologians prior to their darling Lonergan. (Both Suarez and Lonergan deserve separate treatment, but this post is not the place for it.)

Francisco Suarez

Coons and Brennan find rather quickly that Suarez's theory of natural law will not lend support to the convention of human equality they have identified. The reason is Suarez's insistence that obedience to the objective component of the natural moral law is a requisite to real advance in the moral life. Put simply, Suarez advances that obvious principle that, supposing two persons have equal good intent, that person is better off whose behavior conforms to the objective moral law than that person whose behavior, as a result of invincible ignorance, does not conform to the objective moral law. "The content of the natural law, correctly perceived, is necessary for the perfection or felicity of human nature." (p. 131) It is this objective aspect of the Suarezian theory that is at odds with the convention of human equality as Coons and Brennan have defined it because it puts a premium on knowledge and places a real disvalue on ignorance. For Coons and Brennan the convention of human equality requires that knowledge of the objective moral law be immaterial to the moral goodness of the actor. This is part of their angelic or "chelidonic" notion of goodness, which have discussed in yesterday's posting. See By Nature Equal: Human Equality and the Natural Law, Coons and Brennan's Chelidonic or Angelic Ethic. "Unless governed by the precepts of the natural law," Suarez maintains to the chagrin of Coons and Brennan, "human conduct lacks 'rectitude.' The subject who fails to do the natural law stands imperfect, his potential unfulfilled." (p. 132)

This Suarezian insistence that, in the real world, among men, within the temporal, sublunary sphere, that a man, regardless of his inner sincerity, is better off, more complete, and living life more in accord with God's will and plan if he acts in accord with the objective content of the natural moral law, and thus is better off with a knowledge of all its details, is anathema to Coons and Brennan. It presents for them an intolerable assault upon the convention of human equality.
More complex that Common Sense natural law, the Classic version is at one with it in rejecting fulfillment by good intention--even by the specific good intention to seek the content of the Suarezian rules of conduct. The wrong choice never produces moral goodness in the actor. Hence the savant with his or her superior grasp of details will have the easier access to self perfection. This is descriptive inequality.
(p. 132) After reaching this conclusion, Coons and Brennan look at the modern theory of natural law advanced by Grisez, Finnis, and George, among others (what they label the "Integration" theories). Although they have more tolerance for this theory, they ultimately will reject its compatibility with the convention of human equality. They insist that the convention of human equality disdains objective knowledge of the content of the natural moral law as a principle of individual perfection, that the individual's sincerity, good will, and active seeking of that objective knowledge is both necessary and sufficient for that individual's moral perfection. Ultimately, they come to the conclusion that even the Integration theories lend no support to the convention of human equality.

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