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.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

There is No Morality in Mathematics and Machines

ARISTOTLE FAMOUSLY DISTINGUISHED BETWEEN WHAT IS JUST by nature and what is just by convention or human law. Aristotle does this most notably in his Nicomachean Ethics (1134b), where he distinguishes between τὸ δίκαιον φυσικόν (to dikaion physikon) and τὸ δίκαιον νομικόν (to dikaion nomikon), natural justice and legal or conventional justice. With this Aristotelian distinction, we are introduced to the notion of "nature," physis, and what it all might mean in the context of natural justice and natural law. For Aristotle, the notion of justice broadly extends itself across both moral and non-moral spheres: it is a sense of fittingness or adjustment to a norm, both in what we today would call the physical order and in the moral order. Simon, 42. The Aristotelian and Thomistic notion of nature also encompasses both moral and non-moral spheres. It is a mistake to rend the Aristotelian "nature" into two separate worlds or orders: moral and physical. Though these may be distinguishable, they are not entirely separate in Aristotle's or for that matter St. Thomas Aquinas's mind. Separating these two worlds was, in large part, the error of Descartes and the result was the dualism he introduced between mind, the place where morals govern, and matter, the place where physical laws govern. And that dualism between mind and matter, soul and body, has only been intensified by the idealism of Kant because the latter stressed the noumenal over the phenomenal world, even suggesting we are incapable of knowing the phenomenal world. Aristotle's notion of nature is encompassing:
Nature, in the physics of Aristotle, signifies entity, essence, whatness, quiddity with a constitutional relation to action, operation, movement, growth, development. A nature is a way of being which does not possess its state of accomplishment instantly but which is designed to reach it through a progression.
Simon, 42-43 (citing Phys. 192b and Met. 1014b).

There are no natures in mathematics or geometry. "[I]n the modern as well as the ancient conception, a mathematical entity is not a nature." Simon, 43. Entirely absent from mathematical concepts is the notion of growth: The mathematical concept, whatever it is called, "does not grow; it is what it is by definition, by construction, instantly." Without growth, without development, without potentiality striving to actuality, imperfection or inchoateness striving toward perfection or completion, there is no nature in the Aristotelian sense. Where there is no nature in the Aristotelian sense, there is no morality, for morality, at a minimum, requires a becoming, even if that becoming is governed our reason and our freely-willed choices. This becoming is not a becoming without sense, toward an arbitrary or subjective goal, but a becoming toward a perfection that is one's own by virtue of his nature, his essence. Plant a mathematical point in soil, and it will not yield a line. Water a line all you want, and you will never get a triangle. But plant an acorn in soil and water it, and you will likely get an oak tree. Fertilize a human ovum and you will have a man. The acorn, like man, like everything in between, has a nature; the line or the point does not. This is even true for God who has a nature, although his nature, being immaterial, does not develop, as his being is his own existence, and he has no potentiality requiring any development, but is all act, all perfection. But even with regard to God, his nature is beyond mathematics. ∞ ≠ אהיה אשר אהיה.


In Yves Simon's view, three qualities distinguish the Aristotelian notion of created nature: plurality or diversity, teleology, and a certain relation between beginning and end. Simon, 45.

Plurality. Created nature is not one, but many. This is the notion of plurality. The nature of Aristotle rejects the Parmenidian notion that variety and plurality in the world are illusions, and that all things are, in reality, one. We are all not one big organism; the cosmos is made up of a plurality of organisms, each with its own particular nature. Aristotle would reject the Cartesian notion that there are, in reality, but two natures: one of extension, being physical, mechanistic, unconscious, governed by mathematical laws, and one (which is not really in any sense a nature in a traditional sense) without extension, being intellectual, conscious, governed by moral, or at least intellectual, laws. To deny the plurality of natures leads to absurdity as Aristotle pointed out in his Physics: it leads to the conclusion that there is no real difference between the good and the not good. In fact, the view that "all things are one," is really the same as saying that "they are nothing." Simon, 46 (quoting Phys. 185b19).

Teleology. "Wherever there is nature," in the Aristotelian sense, "there is direction toward a state of accomplishment," there is a teleology. Simon, 47. There is what Aristotle calls a final cause. Mathematical concepts are denuded of any nature. They have no final cause. What is the purpose of a circle? What is the circle's reason for existence? What does a circle do to obtain fulfillment? This is where the Cartesian world, which displaced the Aristotelian world, has had such significant effect on the natural law and on moral thinking. It represents the great philosophical vowel shift, the epistemological turn, virtually an intellectual and moral fall. "I do not accept in my physics [i.e., understanding of an already separated nature] any principles that are not accepted in mathematics." Simon, 48 (quoting Descartes, Meditations VI, Principles).

It is no coincidence that Descartes was unable to come up with anything other than a provisional ethic.

Nature, from Descartes forward, was to be largely considered something of extension, matter operating with Cartesian space and its three dimensions--x, y, z--governed by mathematical laws. And where mathematics takes precedence, there is no real Aristotelian nature, and it follows there is no final cause or end, and without an end, there is no manner of saying whether one is conforming to it or not conforming to it. In short, Cartesian nature is amoral.
The reason why teleological notions are held suspicious by the scientific mind are numerous. One of the most profound is . . . there are no natures and no final causes in mathematics. . . . It goes without saying that there cannot be such a thing as natural law in a thoroughly mechanistic universe.
Simon, 49-50.

Since morality cannot be found in the modern notion of mechanistic nature, it has to be found in the mind. And so morality becomes a matter of ideals, of values, of will or of pure and disembodied reason, and not of natural law. All of a sudden, morality is not really part of who we are, that is our nature, but is imposed upon us by some extrinsic, perhaps even arbitrary, command or some distilled reason. Descartes made the material stuff of which we are made subject to mathematical law. Kant, as we have seen, later made our mind subject to an ethic as unwavering as a mathematical law. Between Descartes and Kant, both our bodies and our souls have been entrapped in mathematical cages. Descartes first trapped our body. Kant then trapped our souls. It is time for rebellion. The natural law will once again set us free.

What a world is this that Descartes wrought! Philosophically speaking, there is no difference in the brain of Descartes between an oak tree and a corn plant; indeed, there is no difference between either of these two, and the physical body of man. All is extension governed by ineluctable, amoral mathematical laws.
For Descartes, to say that the oak tree and the oak plant are natures different from each other is philosophically nonsensical. Such language is adequate in the art of farming and in the art of forestry but not in philosophy. An oak tree is an arrangement of extension, and a corn plant is another arrangement also of extension. And one-half of man--though not the better one--belongs to space just as certainly as a corn plant or an oak tree.
Simon, 49. In Descartes' view, consciousness and extension are parallel worlds, with different laws. We are dealing with two alternative realities. Man is therefore split into two. For Descartes, a theology or philosophy of the body is nonsense. Since the body is but extension, only mathematics or geometry is necessary for an understanding of the body, and this whether the body we are dealing with is corn, an oak tree, a dog, or a human body.

Now, what happens when you divide man into two, one part governed by the mathematical laws that govern machines, and another part, the mind, independent of the former? One falls from philosophical realism to a form of idealism, and ideals and not law begin to govern the life of the mind. So moral law turns ever-so-subtly into moral value. "When mechanism is associated with idealism, as it is in Descartes and most modern philosophers--again, whether outspokenly or not--we have values instead of natural laws." Simon, 50. Values are products of mind trapped in body, not products of a unified man of body and soul.
[W]hen we hear today of moral values, esthetic values, social values, political values, spiritual values, etc., we know where these come from. They come from the mind, they come from outside the things, they are not embodied in entities, in nature.
Simon, 51.

Beginning, Middle, End. "The opposition of beginning and end is relevant in all consideration of nature," Yves Simon states. Simon, 51. What does this mean? It means that when we are dealing with nature we are dealing with something that develops, that has a beginning, a terminus a quo, and an end, a terminus ad quem, and a continuum of development in between the two points. Thus nature may refer to the beginning, in opposition to the end. Or it may refer to the end, in opposition to the beginning. Or it may mean the process between beginning and end, ab ovo usque ad mala, from the egg of the to the apples, from the apéritif to the digestif. Thus the natural law may be considerably affected by this opposition of beginning and end.

In the case of a creature as complex as man, who develops not only individually but also within society, the natural law is operative in a primitive society with primitive social institutions, and is also present in the civilized society with developed conventions and institutions, the latter of which have their basis in this developmental aspect of man's nature. That is to say, the natural law recognizes that, in man, the state of primitive, incipient nature will be supplemented by man's arts and crafts, his sciences and technique, his traditions and his customs, his institutions and beliefs. Thus, at least in man, the "the condition that nature is striving toward is not brought about by nature alone but requires such causes as understanding, crafts, sciences, and above all good will and wisdom." In some sense, there is opposition between nature and convention. In another sense, nature expects to be supplemented by convention, since it is part of man's nature to make for himself conventions. Does this create a certain ambiguity in the use of "nature" in the context of man? Sure it does.

All the dynamism of nature would be missed if our language did not remind us of the relation between the initial and the terminal, the rudimentary and the accomplished, the natural in the sense of that which is just given by nature antecedently to knowledge, craft, and wisdom, and the natural as that which implies the works of intelligence, experience, good will, wisdom, society.

Simon, 53. The primitive of Rousseau is not any more "natural," than the periwigged gentleman of 17th century France. It is expected that man will develop, and developed man is no less in his "natural" state than undeveloped man. Nature anticipates and encompasses this development. What is native, most primitive, most savage is not necessarily any more natural than that which is developed, more complex, or most refined. Man in his alleged "state of nature" should not be pitted against man in his "state of civilization," because it is part of man's nature to live in a civilized state.

1 comment:

  1. W Lindsay WheelerJuly 8, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    What you are talking here in this thread is not the Natural Moral Law. Teleology, plurality, and a relation between beginning and end, are the Laws of Nature! Yves Simon is then applying the Laws of Nature to the Natural Moral Law.

    I find it hard to understand where Catholics who despise the Laws of Nature, who don't know them, are quite happy to confuse the subject by bringing them up here in the Natural Moral Law. Nowhere does Catholics talk of the Laws of Nature but Aristotle is. Yves Simon quotes Aristotle who is using the Laws of Nature but I would think that Yves Simon doesn't have a clue on the Laws of Nature and call them such.

    Where are "The Laws of Nature" in Catholicism?

    Here Aristotle is using the Laws of Nature in the definition of Justice or Righteousness. The earth teaches teleology. The earth teaches plurality. The earth teaches a relation between beginning and end. This is NOT the Natural Moral Law but the Laws of Nature being used to develop the Natural Moral Law.

    How can Catholics know the Natural Moral Law without the Laws of Nature?

    -----------------

    Second. Aristotle said, "To treat unequal things as equal is Adikia (not righteousness, is UNrighteous)". Now, if some men are born slaves as Aristotle remarks, how is "human dignity" thwarting the Nature of a thing and all humans are treated equally? The Natural Moral Law can not teach "human dignity" that teaches slavery is wrong! For if the nature is slavelike, then that person MUST be treated like a slave!

    In politics, a slavelike character will vote for slavery. Is not the Law of Nature that Like produces like? Then if slavelike people, thru human dignity, are given the "right to vote", then, they will vote for a totalitarian government! Like produces like. Slavelike people are to be treated humanely but not equally.

    All men are not created equal. Are not all men have a Human nature but then also a racial nature? They have two natures? Is that not also true in the Spiritual realm?...is there not the "natural" man of St. Paul, and the born-again believer in Christ? If there are not TWO separate spiritual natures of man, in the Law of Nature of macrocosm/microcosm, are there not two physical natures of man? One of the genus and one of the specie? One is that human and the other racial?

    If the Natural Moral Law is concerned with "nature", can the Natural Moral Law neglect the racial character of men?

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