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.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Between Necessity and Contingency

THERE CAN BE NO REAL MORAL LAW if all is determined, if all is a matter of necessity, of ineluctable, pre-programmed fate, moira (μοῖρα). Nor can there be any natural law if all is a matter of contingency, of chance; in its most radical form, chaos (χάος). The natural law presupposes that there is a certain thread of determinism arising out of the divine plan in creation, the existence of stable natures or essences, an order of reason (ratio ordinis) that manifested itself in the creation of the world and that governs its continuing existence. However, the natural law also presupposes that there is contingency in the world; that not all is determined, and there is a plurality of causes, and, in fact, moral freedom in at least part of creation that is man. Thus the natural law hovers in between metaphysical theories of pure necessity and pure contingency, holding that we are not dealing with a situation of either/or, but a situation of both/and.

An underlying metaphysics of pure determinism is incompatible with the natural law, at least in its moral aspects. If all is fated, determined, there is no moral law since there is no responsibility that may be assigned to the subject whether he or she obey it or disobey it. It matters not whether that fate is as a result of ineluctable cosmic laws or as a result of arbitrary whim of playful gods. The adverse relationship between determinism and natural law is both historical and logical. As Julius Stone wrote in his Human Law and Human Justice,
It is clear that the concept of "natural law" emerged in Greek philosophy concurrently and in entanglement with the notions of justice, representing still another expression of the rational endeavour to overcome the irrationalism of early myths. In these myths Moira, who personified inscrutable destiny, allotted to each man a destiny which, be it happy or unhappy, merited or unmerited, he must accept. "Justice" lay first in the inscrutable will of the gods, so that fate impenetrable to the rational understanding took its relentless course. As speculative hope, and then conviction, created a cosmology in which the appearance of chaos and discord were drawn aside to reveal a cosmic order and rationality, so too with human nature and human duties.
Julius Stone, Human Law and Human Justice (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965), 14.

Modern determinism is not assigned to the whim and caprice of gods or the part and parceling of the fates and the cutting of the threads of life. Modernly, determinism seems to be predicated on a mechanistic, Darwinistic, or materialistic, view of the cosmos, perhaps a life precoded in the genome, an ideology of historical dialectical materialism, or perhaps even the imposition of disordered chaos. Less likely now, but more likely in the past, determinism was based upon a philosophically monistic view of the universe. Thus the pantheism of the Stoics and of Spinoza lend themselves to a form of determinism. If there is only one overarching cause in the world, there is no room for freedom, for contingency; without some contingency, there is no room for the free obedience to the reasoned order of existence, that is, no room for free obedience to the natural law.

Yves Simon states the problem between contingency and necessity in the language of causality. When causality is looked at, any pretense at a monistic view of the world--where one cause that fully and necessarily explains all--becomes palpably implausible.
If there were only one cause at work in this world, there would be no independent causal lines and no possibility of interference. . . . When this problem is stated in terms of causal relations, it becomes particularly clear that the pluralistic answer is inescapable.
Simon, 55. Simon gives the example of a kernel of corn. The plurality of causes that either come together to allow a kernel of corn to grow into a plant or that can cause interference in its development is apparent:

The plurality of causes means the causes "can interfere with each other, and a contingent event takes place at the point of interference." Simon, 55. Thus, it is an inescapable conclusion, unless we are captured in the throes of ideology, that multiple causes exist, and that contingency therefore exists. The existence of contingency is significant for the area of the natural law.
If the plurality of causes and their interference are real, contingency is equally real, and the part it plays in the world, both physical and moral, may be huge.
Simon, 55-56. Accordingly, the full grown corn plant, like any fully-developed species of God's creation, should give us pause at the interaction of necessity and contingency, of law and freedom, of a plurality of causes all under the regency of the Providence of God. In a way, a fully formed plant is a plant that has overcome contingencies to reach a perfection. Analogously, a human who has managed to overcome the contingencies that would detract him from his end is a saint.

In a world of of pure determinism, pure necessity, there would be no room for a moral natural law. Thus contingency is a requirement for there to be a natural law.

However, the other extreme, in a world of pure contingency, pure indeterminancy, likewise any possibility of natural moral law is excluded.
No natural law would be conceivable in a world of all-embracing indeterminacy, in a world from which all determinate natures would be excluded . . .
Simon, 57. Wallowing in the world of indeterminacy, we find the skeptics, who disclaim the ability to measure, to comprehend any normative rules or norms, any universal natures. In the world of essences, the advocates of indeterminacy are the existentialists, skeptics of essence, disbelievers in universals. At least existentialists in their more radical forms refuse to acknowledge the determinacy which, although not robbing of freedom, does in both material and moral worlds, bind us to a universal to which we are answerable.

In short, one who says the world is all of necessity is a liar, as is he who says that the world is all contingency. The one who speaks the truth will hold necessity in one hand and contingency in the other. In such a world, the natural law mediates between necessity and contingency.

No comments:

Post a Comment