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, July 30, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 6: Free Will

BEFORE CARDINAL MERCIER ADDRESSES THE ISSUE of the natural moral order (which is subordination of the human act to its natural, ultimate end), he must address another issue: the freedom of the will. The very existence of a moral order, as distinguished from a physical order, "rests on the presupposition that there is liberty in the subject." [225(23)] It is immediately apparent that if we have no more say in our behavior than a rock does to the law of gravity, then there is no such thing as a moral order: all order would be determined, and man would not be free. Without freedom, without choice, there is no basis for talking about oughts and ought nots; we would only talk about ises and is nots.

As a minimum condition of freedom or liberty of will, there can be no strict determination or compulsion either externally or internally, at least in the matter of choosing particular goods. We have to have the ability to assent or to dissent from an act in regard to particular goods. "Moral liberty," Mercier continues, "is the faculty of choice between different objects in their relation to the end of rational nature." [225-25(24)] We can attest to this moral freedom, we are conscious of it. Mercier insists, consistent with St. Thomas, that "[t]he universal good exercises an irresistible determining action upon us, since it corresponds adequately with the capacity of our will." (emphasis added) (Similarly, the speculative intellect is ordered to the true, though in particulars it may believe falsehoods under erroneous guise of being true.) Though we are free to chose particular goods, they are always willed under guise of being goods, because our will cannot choose but what appears to us to be our good. The will is necessarily ordered to the good. However in the area of particulars it is not so necessarily determined.
[W]ith particular goods [they are not irresistibly determined]. These may be willed; for they are means towards the attainment of the whole good (summum bonum) and on this account are real goods. They need not be willed, since they are not the good.
[225(25)] An act of free will involves judgment on the part of the intellect, and desire on the part of the will. Though these are spiritual faculties, they are not uninfluenced by the sensitive faculties. Not only can the will take command and act through the sensitive faculties, but, particularly when there is a loss of integrity in man, the sensitive faculties can influence, even overpower, the spiritual faculties of the will and intellect. We know this from experience. There are those who have no real command of their speculative or practical intellects or their will (the mentally deranged, the unconscious). There are others that while not mentally impeded are yet "incapable of resisting solicitations to evil," for example, sociopaths or psychopaths. But these exceptions do not disprove the rule; they are simply exceptions to it.

Ordinarily, "the [antecedent as opposed to consequent] passions or lower emotional states and exterior material agents do not generally do more than weaken moral liberty." [226(27)] "Sometimes their action [of the antecedent passions] is the same direction as that of the will, sometimes in opposition to it." [226(27)] While passions both frustrate or encourage the will in certain directions, we are conscious of the ability to override most of these antecedent passions. It is only infrequently that the antecedent passions are of such compulsion that they rob us of free will. We can almost always exert our will over the passions. Sometimes their current helps us; sometimes their current hinders us; but even if it hinders us, we can still generally paddle upstream:
We may exert [control over the passions] in different ways. Either indirectly, by diverting the soul's activity, through change of thought, through applying the will to other objections, even through exciting other passions. Or direct, by the will directly acting on the passions, to strengthen them or to repress them, at leas to a certain extent. Or yet by a third way, perhaps the most effectual: by conjuring up in the imagination some appropriate object and retaining the sensitive appetite under its influence until the new passion neutralizes what reason would have us combat.
We experience ourselves as the driver of a chariot with some control, some will, over the horses of passion under our reins. Our will is perceived in most instances as being the pilot. The Humean notion that the intellect is but the slave of passions is not our common experience.

Mercier sets forth some general rules regarding the will:
  • No agent, not even God, "can exercise violence in the strict sense of a human will." Violence can be done to our body, but no spirit, not even God, can violate the inner sanctum where free will lies.

  • No external agent, God alone excepted, can have a "necessitating influence" over the more particular determinations of the will.

  • The sensitive appetite influences the will directly and indirectly (by, for example, creating such a disturbance that they affect the intellect, upon which the will relies).

  • Material agents act remotely upon our will because they have to act through our sensitive appetite, which then acts upon our will. External material agents (say, a hamburger) do not act upon the will directly, they must act through our sensitive faculties or appetites (our sense of smell, which makes our mouth water with desire and so solicits the will's consent to eat it).
Mercier concludes with a summary:
We see, then, that between the fully free act--in the carrying out of which man has a clear view of the morality of his conduct and has complete control of his will--and the act entirely lacking responsibility and freedom, there are possible many intermediate states, in which the senses and the reason, the passions and the spiritual faculty of the will, each strive for their share in the determination of our activity.
[228(28)] Most of the time, in the continuum of free will that confronts us in each decision, we are neither white or black but in various shades of gray. That's why judging the internal forum requires extreme delicacy. Indeed, even the best of us have trouble knowing ourselves. To know others is, for a finite being without the ability to witness the inside of another agent except several steps removed, fraught with problems. That is the basis, undoubtedly, of the divine injunction: Nolite iudicare ut non iudicemini. "Judge not lest you be judged." (Matt. 7:1). We can judge external, objective wrongs, and we can state the principles of morality, and we can opine on the inner state of a man and have good grounds for doing so (e.g., we can say with the highest of probability, moral certainty in fact, that someone who participated directly in the genocide of the Jews in the Holocaust would not have been blind to the fact that what he was doing was wrong, and if he was, he would have to have been guilty of an antecedent and culpable squelching of his conscience), but any definitive judgment on the heart of man and his subjective guilt before God is simply outside our competency.

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