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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Contra Consequentialismum: Happiness and Basic Goods

“HUMAN LIFE IS MULTIFACETED, and human appetites diverse, so too the good for man, or happiness, has many aspects." Oderberg, 40-41. Oderberg, like any eudaimonistic moralist worth his salt, focuses on man's happiness, his flourishing, which he defines as the "tendency of a thing towards some action or operation for the securing of some good." Oderberg, 41. It may be that these goods, and their combination, are well-nigh infinite. But morality is principally focused not on the myriad subordinate goods and their even more myriad combinations. "[T]he primary concern of moral theory is the most general distinguishable features of human activity that make up human flourishing . . . and there is no reason to think this list should be infinite." Oderberg, 41. Thankfully, we can count these. Among the most important, what we may classify as fundamental goods necessary for our happiness, are:
  • Life in the biological and physiological sense is perhaps the most important since it is the foundational sine qua non of any other good. It is senseless to talk about the good of a corpse, or a dismembered fetus, or a euthanized senior. The fundamental good of life also includes a healthy and integrated existence, including psychological and spiritual health.
  • The pursuit of truth or the acquisition of knowledge. The knowledge in question includes the broad gamut of knowledge. Knowledge is not reserved for the academic in his ivory tower, but includes the farmer and his knowledge of the seasons and of his crops, and the whole slew of knowledge in between and beyond, including the most sublime knowledge relating to the supreme Truth, God. One of the more significant truths or knowledge is the true knowledge of the good. "Without knowledge of the good, the good life as a whole could not even begin to be lived." Oderberg, 42.
  • Man is as much a social animal as he is a rational animal. He binds himself in all sorts of groups. This general good may be broadly identified as the good of friendship, which would include friendship in the narrow sense as well as friendship "in the broader sense of social living, in particular living in a self-governing community, or perhaps state, whose sole purpose is to promote the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of its members." Oderberg, 43. To be happy, man must be expected to live life in a "perfect society" or "perfect community."*
  • Related to society, but distinct from it, and essential toward human flourishing is the good of the family. The family is the fundamental cell where other goods, such as life (procreation, sustenance) and knowledge (education) are naturally promoted, especially in the early years of human formation.
  • Work and play are are the yin and yang as it were of human endeavor. "[W]ork and play are but two aspects of a single component of the happy life and are plausibly distinguished from other goods, with work at its best a form of play and vice versa, although they both serve, of course, in the promotion of other goods such as life, knowledge, and friendship." Oderberg, 43.
  • The appreciation of beauty, both in nature and through art, seems to be something unique to man, and an essential feature of his happiness.
  • The happiness of man must include religious belief and practice. Even scientific man--who has purposefully stifled this desire through an erroneous philosophy in a sort of perverse spiritual anorexia nervosa--cannot rid himself of the sense of wonder. Even the materialist atheist Carl Sagan's "informed worship" is nothing other than the scientific man's religious desire peeping out from under the blanket of his materialistic philosophy as it were. When denied spiritual food, man's spiritual stomach grumbles. Naturally, religious belief and practice is tied to truth, and so happiness is obtained, not from any religious belief and practice, but from true or authentic religious belief and practice: orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Satanism, or the worship of Huitzilopochtli, to take extreme examples, may be said to be obviously unfulfilling. They do not lead to happiness, but to the misery of thoraxes without hearts, and brains without God.

No Happiness in Worshiping a False God

In our next posting, we will discuss Oderberg's view on virtues. But we should close by distinguishing between means and ends. Oderberg observes: "Every human good can be, and often is, used as an instrument [means] for the pursuit of some other good." Oderberg, 44. Some goods are purely instrumental, that is, purely means to another good (as, for example, properly, money should be). But though almost all goods can be instrumental goods, or means to another good, we must not use the basic or fundamental goods in this fashion. "[N]o basic good is solely instrumental in character." Oderberg, 44. This is a sort of categorical imperative.

If any of the basic, fundamental goods are "turned way from, rejected, or compromised in general, life goes badly for the person who does so. And often, though not always, if a good is turned away from, rejected, or compromised in a given instance or circumstance, life again is not lived well." Oderberg, 44-45. There is some play in the joints of human living, so it may be, and in practice one experiences, that one instance of turning away from, rejecting, or compromising a basic good won't make a man's bones come apart, or the whole world or all society fall apart. So a solitary man may visit a prostitute, engage in premarital sex, or look at some pornography and engage in self-abuse in violation of a basic good (which is evil enough), but society and the conjugal union and institution of the family will persist and survive such particular assault. But if society as a whole, or even in significant part, rejects the basic value of family life, and a substantial number of men engage in prostitution, premarital sex, and pornography and self-abuse, in assault of the value of family life, social life will go very badly indeed. A society may be able to tolerate a small number of atheists, but it is doubtful that a society of atheists will long survive. For both individual and society, there is a vast difference between sin and a life of sin, between sinning (which we all do) and living in sin (which not all of us do). The first is a wrongful act, the latter is a habit and prolonged.

When a man, or for that matter, a society, lives a life of sin, he heads, in his self-loathing and in his moral dissolution, toward sure self-destruction. In his walk in the darkness he progressively desensitizes himself to sin, and loses the sense of sin.

Lack of Happiness Reflected in Music

In the words of the imbalanced and unhappy Hank Williams, III's song "Life of Sin," where the misery of seeking wrong goods, and doing so habitually, reflects itself in both screaming lyric and a metallic, punkish, inharmonious musical grind:
Well I'm runnin' down the road about a hundred and five
Don't care if I live, I just wanna die
Searching for a gal who wants to keep me alive
Satan's in the backseat givin' me advice again
Livin' a life of sin.
To be in habitual sin, and not to care, and then not to even know that one is mired in it. The loss of the sense of sin. This is modern man's tragedy, for without the sense of sin he cannot be saved.**

We will not be happy until all the Hank Williams III's in the world learn to sing Gregorian Chant.
*As we have noted in the past, the term "perfect society" (societas perfecta or communitas perfecta) does not mean some kind of "utopia," but rather is a term of art meaning a group that is self-sufficient or independent in its realm and has all necessary resources and conditions required to achieve its purposes. For a discussion on the notion of a "perfect society," see our prior post St. Thomas Aquinas: Definition of Law, Authority. In discussing this point, Oderberg rightly criticizes Hegel's absolute inversion of the purpose of the state. Hegel states: "Man owes his entire existence to the state, and has his being within it alone. Whatever worth and spiritual reality he possesses are his solely by virtue of the state." (allen Wert, den der Mensch hat, alle geistige Wirklichkeit, er allein durch den Staat hat). "On the contrary," Oderberg points out, "man does not exist for the state--the state is not his extrinsic ultimate end. Rather the state exists for man, in order to enable him to flourish, and so is good for man." Oderberg, 43.
**Pius XII famously stated that "the sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin." Pope Pius XII, Radio Message to the U.S. National Catechetical Congress in Boston (October 26,1946): Discorsi e Radiomessaggi VIII (1946) 288. Pope John Paul II gave an extended reflection on this in his Reconciliatio et paenitentia, No. 18 [As a result of a typographical error, the Vatican text wrongfully attributes the statement to Pius XI, although the footnote reference shows the error]. Pope John Paul II observed how a recapture of the sense of sin by modern man is essential for curing modern man's ills.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Contra Consequentialismum: The Good

AΓΑΘΟΥ ΤΙΝΟΣ ΕΦΙΕΣΘΑΙ ΔΟΚΕΙ, all things tend toward good, Aristotle famously stated in the beginning of his Nicomachean Ethics (1094a). With the notion of the the "good" every ethical theory must begin. An understanding of the notion of the good as it pertains to man may be obtained through observation and common sense.

Starting with inanimate objects--a rock--the notion that things are going well or badly for the rock make little sense to us. It seems that inanimate objects have no appetite, no yearning for something, and so we cannot measure whether such appetite has been satisfied or not so as to determine whether it is going well or not for that rock.

This perception changes if we progress toward living things, starting with vegetative life. Let us take an simple organisms such as bacteria or larger organisms such as plants, a citrus tree, for example. We can observe that it makes sense to talk about things going well or badly for them. Bacteria, like our citrus tree, can thrive, flourish under certain conditions, and other conditions can be seriously impeding and bring about disease and death or cessation of their function. We encounter with these that there are certain principles or laws that govern their needs and assure their health so that they can reproduce and propagate more of their species. In most instances, we can easily detect whether a tree is flourishing or whether it is not.

Which is the healthy leaf?

Moving up the ladder of life, we come to animals, complex beings which enjoy locomotion, which feel pain and pleasure, which form social groupings, which seem to take a more active role vis-à-vis their environment. These animals, and their well-being, are also governed by laws or principles similar to the plant kingdom, but significantly more complex. The following of these laws of their nature assures that they flourish. Again, it is generally easy to distinguish an animal that is flourishing versus one that is diseased, unhealthy, or disabled.

Man appears to be distinguishable from other animals by reason of his rational nature. Despite the fact that man shares a significant world with the brute animals, it seems indisputable that he has some faculty--we call it reason--that sets him apart from all other living creatures. Among the animals, he is alone, he is unique. It is for this reason that Aristotle defined man as a rational animal, and animal whose uniqueness is his rational nature.

It would seem that just like all creatures have laws that must be followed if they are to flourish, to be well, that man would have such laws, and that such laws would govern both the nature that he shares with the vegetative and animal life below him as well as the nature that is uniquely his. The following of these laws assures that creature's wellness. Additionally, we note that any activity of man--playing the piano, weaving a rug, churning butter--can be done well or badly and aims toward some good.

We need not multiply examples, since the general principle is clear: everything that a person does, everything, aims at something deemed good or worthwhile, whether that good be intrinsic to the activity (performing it well) or extrinsic (for some other objective deemed good); and in nearly all cases, the good aimed at is a combination of both the intrinsic and the extrinsic.

Oderberg, 37-38.

We all do not play the piano or churn butter, but we all live life. In the art of life, in which all men partake, what is a life lived well? That question is answered by another: what is the good, intrinsic or extrinsic, toward which man's life, the rational animal's life, in particular the life of his reason, aims? For whether the good is achieved means whether we are living well.

Now the good "is a single property capable of definition as that which satisfies a thing's natural appetites, or that which fulfills a things nature." Oderberg, 37. What, then, is man's good, the ultimate good toward which his life aims? This good may be defined as "the living of the human life in all its fullness, that is, taking into account all the tendencies, capabilities, and characteristics (such as rationality and freedom) of the human being." Oderberg, 38. The answer to this question must consider all things, "because when we reason about living well we must take in the whole of what a person is and does, not simply this or that aspect." Oderberg, 39.

It is an unfortunate reality that we can make mistakes about the good. In ordering the ensemble of goods to fashion the good, actual or seeming, we can make mistakes in our selection of one of the goods, mistaking an apparent good for an actual good, or we can make mistakes in balancing them, in hierarchizing then, in putting one good above the other, when it should be below another. Moreover, men, even if they know the good without mistake, are capable of working against it. "[I]t is possible--and common--for people to choose evil over good, and to do so knowingly." Oderberg, 39. However, "it is not possible for [men] to choose evil because it is evil." Oderberg, 39. In other words, they chose an evil because it is seen as having "a good aspect, real or apparent, as well as [in addition to] and evil one." Oderberg, 39. "[T]he ubiquitous and complex problem of weakness of will, a distinctively human phenomenon, exemplifies the activity of doing something bad for the sake of usually a short-term and transient satisfaction." Oderberg, 40.

Given all these factors, knowing the good in man's life, and whether he is living well, is consequently much harder to detect than whether the plant of a citrus tree is healthy or diseased. But this complex question is morality's bailiwick. "Morality . . . is concerned primarily with the study and elucidation of what is good and bad for human beings, and hence with what are good and bad actions, choices, and motives." Oderberg, 40.

Is there a monolithic--a single, one and complete--answer to the question amidst the "immense diversity of human endeavors, pursuits, choices, and so on"? Oderberg, 40. Does man have but one supreme end, or is he like Thomas Nagle's combination corkscrew and bottle-opener, a creature with more than one end, more than one use?

Is man a multi-faceted combo corkscrew bottle-opener?

Is man multi-purposed and therefore multi-ended and therefore multi-gooded? Ah, but the question is a false one because the entirety of man's variety and experience can be accommodated if the question is correctly framed.
The good is monolithic, both for all things to which goodness can be attributable at all, and for humans in particular, only in the sense that there is a single property, namely operating well or in according with a thing's nature. For human beings, this is simply living well as human beings. The property, however, consists in a complex of other properties that together mark out the distinctively human life. More precisely, it is happiness that is the good of man. ("Flourishing" is also an appropriate word.) . . . . It is happiness for which we all strive, which we all want from life (at least on rational reflection), and which consists in the well-lived life in which our appetites, capacities, and potentialities as human beings are satisfied in an harmonious, well-ordered way.
Oderberg, 40.

Happiness is thus the monolithic good of man. "Perhaps no more truistic thesis can be found in moral theory." Oderberg, 40.

But isn't this to trade one question for another? "What is man's good?" for "What is man's happiness?" It appears so.

So we must now ask, and try to answer, the question: What is it that makes man happy?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Contra Consquentialismum: Freedom and Responsibility

FREEDOM IS PRESUPPOSED BY MORALITY, as there cannot be any real good and evil, or certainly not any right or wrong, if the person acting is not free, if everything is determined. The concept of freedom is, however, frequently misunderstood. Freedom is not a power for choosing evil, and it is not a fundamental feature of freedom that the existence of evil follows from it. "[T]he fact that people choose [evil] is not be be admired as proof of human freedom." God, we may remember, is supremely free . . . and supremely good. The power to do evil is, at best, a "sign of freedom, but only in the sense in which disease is a sign of life." Oderberg, MT, 28. There is no decrease of freedom if people were only to choose good, any more than there would be a decrease in mathematical thinking if our mathematicians were always right. There is no increase of freedom because people do evil, any more than we advance mathematically when a larger portion of mathematicians get things wrong.

Further, in understanding freedom, a distinction ought to be made between physical and psychological (or even legal) freedom and moral freedom. It is obvious that we are "free" physically, psychologically, and even legally (in this country, to its everlasting shame) to kill an unborn fetus; however, we are in no regard morally free to do so since it is an inexcusable violation of the absolute right of life of the child. Moral freedom is a "species of rational freedom," and "one is ever morally free to do the right thing," and only the right thing. There is no moral freedom to do the wrong thing, only physical, psychological, or, depending on the positive law, legal freedom. But these latter "freedoms" are not freedom plain and simple.

Freedom's Often Misunderstood

Human moral freedom is influenced by a number of factors, individual (age, temperament, talent, etc.) and social (upbringing, the surrounding culture, fashions, public opinion, prevailing ideology, etc.). Freedom is also affected by prior choice.* Regardless of these influences--and they can have great effect on us--they do not fundamentally rob us of free will.

"That a person is essentially a free agent means that he is responsible for his actions; he answers (responds) for them . . . a person's actions are imputable to him." Oderberg, MT, 30. This, of course, means that a person is "liable to reward or punishment," sanction or desert, depending upon his actions.

Two essential components are required for a free act to subject us to moral responsibility: knowledge and voluntariness. Knowledge and voluntariness are the sine qua nons of moral freedom and responsibility in the exercise of that freedom.

A person is responsible for his action if and only if it is done knowingly and voluntarily; the complete absence of either or both of these elements destroys freedom and hence responsibility. A partial lack of either or both lessens or diminishes responsibility, but does not destroy it.

Oderberg, MT, 30.

Knowledge is the foundation of intention. "As Aristotle pointed out, one does not will what one does not know." Oderberg, 30.

The voluntariness need not be "presently occurring," it can be "virtual." We can make a choice, that, as it were, we carry with us throughout the day, though it may not be actively present with us at the time of the act, but it informs the act and gives it a moral character. "In such a case, we might call the intention or choice virtual, since the power (or virtue)" of the initial resolution lasts throughout the entire day until revoked or changed. If sufficiently repeated, such a virtual power can become habitual. "The habitual intention is, as it were, worn like a forgotten piece of jewelery, and is a sign of a certain attitude of mind." If the habitual intention relates to moral matters and to good, we call it a virtue. If the habitual intention relates to moral matters and to evil, we call it vice.

Both knowledge and voluntariness are not discrete categories. We are not dealing with either absolute knowledge or voluntariness (for there to be freedom, and hence an act to be praiseworthy or blameworthy) versus total absence of knowledge of voluntariness (for there to be total destruction of freedom, and hence no responsibility). There are shades of knowledge and shades of voluntariness. Both external (violence) and internal factors (extreme fear or other passion) and habit (good or bad) can affect these, and mitigate moral blame to a greater or lesser degree. "Thus moral praise and blame are not all-or-nothing matters--they are matters of degree." Oderberg, 31. Acts may be intentional, reckless, negligent, inadvertent, in absolute ignorance, and anything in between, and the external and internal factors that can affect them are myriad.** It becomes clear, therefore, that "morality is not just about individual actions, but about the character of the person who acts." Oderberg, 33.

The fact that blameworthiness or praiseworthiness is subject to degrees does not mean "that boundaries of right and wrong are somehow blurred and confused. It does not mean there are no clear limits that, if crossed, make the agent guilty of a wrong act pure and simple." Oderberg, 33. "In morality, then, there are certain base levels of conduct that make certain actions right or wrong whatever the circumstances."*** Oderberg, 33.

*A particularly poignant and extreme example of how prior choice may rob us of moral freedom arises from in vitro fertilization where, to improve success, multiple embryos are conceived in vitro and then some preserved by cryopreservation (freezing). These human beings, "orphans" held in animated state, in a limbo of man's own making, are forgotten by their parents and society. There is no way morally to dispose of this problem. We have painted ourselves in a moral corner; it is an insoluble dilemma. This is an instance where we have no moral freedom (other than do nothing) because of our prior evil choices: "All things considered, it needs to be recognized that the thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved. Therefore John Paul II made an “appeal to the conscience of the world’s scientific authorities and in particular to doctors, that the production of human embryos be halted, taking into account that there seems to be no morally licit solution regarding the human destiny of the thousands and thousands of ‘frozen’ embryos which are and remain the subjects of essential rights and should therefore be protected by law as human persons”. Dignitatis personae, no. 19 (Instruction on Certain Bioethical Question, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). What kind of society would put itself in such a moral quandary? What kind of society would turn a deaf ear to the Pope's plea?
**Though unmentioned by Oderberg, classical moral theology distinguishes between: (i) human acts, that is, deliberate free acts, acts with requisite knowledge and voluntariness, and acts of man, that is, acts performed either without sufficient deliberation, or lacking knowledge or free will. The latter category includes unconscious acts, involuntary acts, semi-deliberate acts (e.g., acts done while half asleep and in a state or torpor), and spontaneous acts done on impulse without reflection.
***Oderberg gives as examples murder, manslaughter, rape, child abuse, fraud. Oderberg, 33.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Contra Consequentialismum: Relativism's Unrelative

RELATIVISM IS THE MOST COMMON FORM of moral skepticism about us. Personal relativism insists that there is no such thing as moral truths that extend beyond what is true for the individual. Since morality is a matter of individual opinion, of sentiment, then morality is subjective, about feeling, at best. Relativism also comes in other forms. For example, it can extend beyond personal relativism to cultural or social relativism, providing that morality is a cultural or social norm, and not necessarily a personal norm. But in whatever form it may be found, individualistic or socialistic, fundamentally all forms of relativism share "the central dogma that moral propositions, instead of having objective truth--truth for all people in all places at all times--are true relative to one standard but not another." Oderberg, MT, 16. In other words, relativists are relative or standardless about all things but one, the relativism of relativism. Relativism is, for them, the only thing unrelative. The relativist believes in no absolute dogma but one: all morality is relative. It would seem that relativism is inconsistent with itself ab initio, from its foundation.

And so it it is.

The foundational inconsistency of the relativists ethic shows up in the conundrums they are easily forced into. For example: If all morality is relative, subjective, personal, it follows that that morality ought not to be imposed upon anyone else. In other words, there is no warrant for me to force my views upon you, and you to force your views upon me. Tolerance, therefore, is the mandatum novum, the new commandment for the relativist. But isn't this prime virtue of relativism, tolerance, then, following relativism's own assumption that all is relative, subjective, a matter of opinion? What, then, of the man whose personal belief is that tolerance is wrong, that he has the right to impose his belief system on whomever he sees fit, by physical or legal coercion, even torture and violence if necessary? (Folks like this aren't too hard to find: look at the ranks of Al Qaida or the advocates of homosexual marriage. These folks insist we should see things their way and use rather forceful means to insist.) Must the relativist be tolerant of the intolerant? To be consistent with his principles, the relativist must be tolerant of the intolerant. This is then a collapse into a moral nihilism, as it will allow for anything. Am I to be tolerant of a pedophile who believes that pedophilia is the only proper expression of human sexuality, and that he has the right to indoctrinate children to his manner of thinking? Most relativists will not extend their dogma so far.

If the relativist, however, decides to be intolerant of the intolerant, then the relativist has violated his own principle. Against his central tenet, he has adopted an objective, absolute, exceptionless truth which requires him to adopt an objective moral law: intolerance is exceptionlessly, absolutely evil. On what basis do they found this? The relativist remains mum to the question. There is no basis, given the relativist's assumptions, to justify the dogmatic assumption of this one, exceptional principle. As W. V. Quine, the American analytic philosopher and himself a philosophical relativist, has conceded in the context of cultural relativism: "He [the cultural relativist] cannot proclaim cultural relativism without rising above it, and he cannot rise above it without giving it up." Oderberg, MT, 20 (quoting W. V. Quine, "On Empirically Equivalent Systems in the Word," Erkenntnis 9 (1975), 328-28).

Two other ethical theories reject the objective nature of the ethical realm. For these two schools of thought, the "world of ought" does not exist, and so they are foundationally skeptical like the relativist. The first such theory is expressivism or emotivism. This theory of morality also hales from Hume, who in his Treatise on Human Nature (III.I.II) concluded: "Morality, therefore, is more properly felt than judged of." This thought was taken and ran with under the name emotivism by the likes of Ogden and Richards, A. J. Ayer, and C. L. Stevenson. The central core of these school of thought is that moral precepts are not really moral precepts at all, and certainly not descriptive of a fact of the moral realm, but rather expressions of deeply felt feelings of repugnance or attraction. So the statement, "Child abuse is wrong," is really nothing other than an expression of "Down with child abuse!" Affirmatively, the statement, "Promises ought to be kept," is really nothing but "Up with promise-keeping!" Oderberg, MT, 23. Moral statements are really nothing more than sophisticated "grunts and groans" of emotional satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Morality is nothing other than discussion about boos and discussion about hurrahs, and so it may also be regarded as the "Boo-Hurrah" moral theory.

Prescriptivism, another moral theory that denies the factual reality of the moral realm, promotes moral statements from "grunts and groans" to mere prescriptions, that is, to imperatives or commands. A prescriptivist would therefore take the statement "Child abuse is wrong" to mean "Do not be a child abuser," and the statement, "Promises ought to be kept," as "Do keep your promises." In other words, moral oughts are really nothing other than efforts than one person trying to command another person, but have no real objective foundation.

The problem with such theories as emotivism and prescriptivism is that they run afoul of how men think, and how they use moral statements, and so are not satisfactory theories of the moral life of man.* We naturally use moral statements as the basis for reasoning. If moral statements were, in fact merely statements of emotion or statements of command disguised in other form, we would not be able to use them this way.

Both expressivism and prescriptivism equate the assertion of a moral proposition with something other than the statement of a fact: in one case an expression of emotion, in the other a command. However, one can do more with moral propositions than assert them: one can use them in the context of other more complex propositions, so the moral proposition that is a component of the more complex one is not asserted at all.

Oderberg, MT, 24. In other words, we use moral statements in a manner that is inconsistent with them being expressions of emotion or statements of command. We use them as statements of moral fact.

So, for example, from the moral statement "Prostitution is wrong," I can also say, "If Prostitution is wrong, then so is living off the earnings of prostitution." Using a form of syllogistic reason,** I can then reason that since Prostitution is wrong it necessarily follows that it is wrong to live of its earnings. Such reasoning cannot take place if the statement "Prostitution is wrong" is an expression or emotion or of command because it queers the syllogism.*** The term "Prostitution is wrong" must mean the same thing in the statement "Prostitution is wrong" as it does in the second statement "If Prostitution is wrong, then . . . ." or we have a fallacy.

Under the expressivist view, the first statement ("Prostitution is wrong") is nothing other than the statement "Down with Prostitution!" So the syllogism becomes: "Down with Prostitution!" If "Down with prostitution!" then "Down with living off its earnings!" Therefore, "Down with living of the earnings of prostitution!" In the prescriptivist view, the first statement ("Prostitution is wrong") is equivalent to "Do not be a prostitute." So the syllogism becomes "Do not be a prostitute." If "Do not be a prostitute," then "Do not live of its earnings." Therefore, "Do not live off the earnings of prostitution."

But the statements: "If 'Down with prostitution!' then 'Down with living off its earnings!'" and "If 'Do not be a prostitute' then 'Do not live off the earnings of prostitution'" are meaningless. So: (i) either they are wrong about moral statements being mere statements of emotion or statements of command (in which case they are wrong), or (ii) they are right about moral statements being nothing other than statements of emotion or statements of command, in which case any moral reasoning is made meaningless an nonsensical (because you can't take a command or expression of emotion and make and "if . . . then . . . " statement out of it) (which means they are wrong), or (iii) they use terms equivocally (to avoid the problems associated with "if . . . then . . . statements) and are guilty of the fallacy of equivocation (in which case they are wrong). Quartum non datur. No matter what, the result is "expressivism and prescriptivism are false." Oderberg, 25.

The fact is that, in reasoning about things in the realm of action, we use moral statements as if they were statements of fact related to a moral realm. We do not use moral statements as if they were in reality mere statements of command or expressions of emotions likes and dislikes. The emotivist and the prescriptivist simply do not describe what really happens among men. They fail to explain reality, and, in Oderberg's view "'ditch' reality." Oderberg, 26.

The fact is, man uses moral statements in a manner, not as expressions of command or feeling, but as statements of fact, as indicative statements. They are stated as if they are "being asserted as true or false," they are expressed in a manner where they can be "agreed or disagreed with," they are used "as premises in arguments."
[A moral statement] has the same indicative or fact-stating form as 'Grass is green.' As such, it can serve as a free-standing premise in an argument, such as the first premise [in a syllogism], as well as being embedded within a compound proposition, such as the 'if . . . then . . . ' proposition which [may be] the second premise of . . . [an] argument. . . . It is these arguments that we perfectly well understand, and which we assess for validity . . . , but which, if prescriptivism or expressivism were true, would turn out to be incomprehensible at worst, or implausibly have to be deemed invalid at best.
Oderberg, 25-26. But the prescriptivist and emotivist or expressivist do more than screw with, or misinterpret, moral reasoning, that is moral syllogistic reasoning. They also denude moral statements, restrict them, really dehumanize them. Man is fundamentally moral, and to wrest his moral utterances from a factual moral realm, in which he lives and moves and has his being, and put them into the realm of mere emotion or command, is to dehumanize him. "Moral propositions are not always asserted: they are embedded in unasserted contexts like 'if . . then . . . ' statements, but they are also assumed, wondered about, entertained, and the like. In all such contexts, treating them as commands or expressions produces nonsense." Oderberg, MT, 26-27.

Oderberg is clear. It is not that command or emotion have no role in moral reasoning or moral reality. Moral propositions--which are propositions of moral fact--can be used, and frequently are found, in commands. They can be formulated into law. Violation of moral propositions can also elicit disgust, disdain, anger, sorrow. But the real world of morality is not in command and not in emotion, the real world behind command and emotion is what the emotivist and the prescriptivist miss.

Expressivism and prescriptivism err by reversing the true order of explanation: it is the truth and falsehood of moral statements that justify the having of certain emotional responses and the issuing of commands.

Oderberg, MT, 27. The moral reality justifies the command and the emotion. And not vice versa. It is not the command and the emotion that justify the moral reality. The moral reality exists irrespective of command (command can err: laws can be unjust or vicious). The moral reality exists irrespective of emotion ("If it feels good, do it!" is a moral abomination).
*Oderberg attributes this argument to Peter Geach, who derived it from the German philosopher Gottlob Frege. Oderberg cites to two of Geach's papers: "Ascriptivism," Philosophical Review 69 (1960), pp. 221-5, reprinted in Peter Geach, Logic Matters (Oxford: Blackwell, 1972), 250-54, and "Assertion," Philosophical Review 74 (1965), pp. 449-65.
**modus ponens: If A, then B; A; therefore, B.
***It results in the fallacy called the "fallacy of equivocation." In other words it ascribes the same meaning to an expression in two propositions that in fact mean two different things.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Contra Consequentialismum: Skeptical of Skepticism

SKEPTICISM ABOUT THE OBJECTIVE NATURE of good and evil, right and wrong--moral skepticism--runs rampant in the Western world. Advance the notion of objective right and wrong in any conversation, or insist on an absolute exceptionless rule, and people become unsettled, and they tune you off, even ridicule you as an obscurantist, since such a position seems to be contrary to the primary virtues of the day: open-mindedness, tolerance, pluralism, relativism. But moral theory--which concerns itself with right and wrong--would be a poor science indeed (and it claims to be a science, though obviously not an empirical or experimental science such as chemistry or sociology) if its subject matter--moral right and wrong--were so amorphous and shapeless, so unbased upon reality, as to have no objective, intelligible substance; or if its method, teachings, and expression were irreparably and fundamentally nothing but an expression of the proponent's subjective opinion. If morality is like poetry or like painting, then it is not a science, and it yields not knowledge, but is an art at best. If morality is based upon nothing else but subjective feeling, then it is analogous to the Eucharist being just a symbol, and not the Real Presence of Christ. "Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it," the writer Flannery O'Connor famously said. And if morality is not based upon objective reality, if there really is not an objective, real moral world, a moral realm "out there" or "within us," then to hell with morality! That's, of course, what relativists and moral skeptics basically say.

As an applied science, moral knowledge (not necessarily behavior) ought to progress or converge upon truth, advancing from relative ignorance, and there ought to be significant agreement among its adepts as to proper teaching. If it doesn't move towards greater knowledge and agreement, then its lack of progress or the lack of agreement ought to be able to be explained. That people generally disbelieve that moral knowledge has progressed or converges upon truths and its advocates have reached consensus is the result of a prevailing spirit of moral skepticism.

Moral skepticism denies the existence of objective right and wrong--which necessarily means it advances moral relativism: all moral thought is relative, there is no one single truth on the matter that all must hold with regard to the good and the right. Wrested away from modern biases, or perhaps better, ideologies, however, the case for an objective moral reality is very strong. And the case against moral skepticism is unanswerable, since, from an intellectual point of view, moral skepticism is intellectually baseless.* In other words, modernly, we have put ourselves in the shade of skepticism, and so are unable to appreciate the light of objective moral truths. Moderns are blinded by irrational bias; they are diseased with the cancer of skepticism and have made the foolish diagnosis that the cancer is the healthy tissue, and the healthy tissue is diseased.

Though moral knowledge is objectively-based, true knowledge, it would be wrong to expect it to be as precise as, geometry or chemistry. A "crucial point, one made by Aristotle" long ago, must be kept in mind by us moderns: "every science is only as precise as its subject matter allows." Oderberg, MT, 3. Moral theory, by its very nature, is therefore inexact, often, though not always, dealing with probable or approximate answers.** But being inexact is not equivalent to being unknowable. We ought not be misled by the inexactitude of moral knowledge:

There is an essential element of inexactitude in moral theory, corresponding to the elusiveness and unfathomability of man of the predicaments people find themselves in. It stems also from the mysterious depths of the human soul, with its often dimly understood thicket of motivations, desires, beliefs, and emotions. . . . The moral theories should minimize these where possible, but they cannot be eliminated and should indeed be welcomed as indicators that morality is about people, not machines.

Oderberg, MT, 4. Moral knowledge is also hampered by social influences, personal desires, prevailing ideology, in ways that the empirical sciences are not (though empirical sciences are not absolutely immune from these influences either).*** Moral knowledge, then, is knowledge about what is right and wrong, good and evil. It is applied or practical knowledge, that is, it tells us how we should act to do right and advance the good, to avoid doing wrong and so shun evil. It informs us how to be good humans. If one is a moral "realist," then morality is "real," and there is a "moral realm" which is real, true, objective, intelligible, and binding upon us.

David Hume, Empirical Philosopher and Advocate of the "Natural Fallacy"

The modern penchant toward rejecting moral realism and instead adopting a moral skepticism is largely the result of the "empiricist tradition in philosophy." Oderberg, MT, 9. One of the most significant sources of modern moral skepticism is the critique of moral knowledge resulting from the fact-value distinction (also called the naturalistic fallacy, "is/ought" distinction, or Hume's guillotine).
The distinction finds its classic statement in the philosophy of David Hume: He famously remarked: 'In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked that the author . . . makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual . . . propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not.'
Oderberg, MT, 9 (quoting Hume's Treatise on Human Nature, III.I.I). The fact-value distinction states that it is logically wrong to jump from fact (is) to obligation or value (ought). Since moral matters involve obligations and duties (oughts and ought nots), they cannot be based on fact. (ises or is nots). And so they must be based upon something else, choose your poison: perhaps feeling, tastes, emotions, in any event, something other than fact. Since facts are the only objective reality (and the only basis for sciences, narrowly understood empirically) it follows, Hume insists, that morality is not about objective reality. So teaches Hume, and the whole Western world seemed to have swallowed Hume's pill. Ingemuit totus orbis, et Humeanum se esse miratus est. The modern world groaned and has found itself Humean. Has swallowing Hume's pill been wise or foolish?

Foolish. Foolish because the advocates of the fact-value distinction have put themselves on the horns of a dilemma which reflects the absurdity of their main philosophical tenet regarding the moral world. The dilemma comes from their understanding of "fact." They have to define "fact" to exclude "ethical facts," but in doing so they simply beg the question, that is, avoid the confrontation of the "ethical realist"** who insists that there are such things as "ethical facts." So how can they argue with the ethical realist to prove that the Humean position that all there are is empirical fact is the assumption to make? "If the skeptic about moral facts wants to use the notion of a fact to cast doubt on [moral] realism, then, he must not rely on a conception that the moral realist does not share in the first place." There are no givens shared by the Humeans and the non-Humeans from which argument between them can be based. So where does the Humean go to establish his argument?

Humeans in fact, are doom to fail based upon their presuppositions. There is no empirical "fact" that exists to which the Humeans can point to that "ethical facts" do not exist. Where, in the concrete reality they say is the entirety of reality, is the fact that says there is no such thing as an ethical realm? To argue that empirical facts are the entirety of reality, and that moral or ethical facts are not facts, the Humeans must leave the empirical world of empirical facts, thus disproving their insistence that all there are are empirical facts. The Humeans, in other words, are in the predicament of having to prove (from empirical fact alone) the proposition that "one ought not to believe in ethical facts, but only in empirical facts," but to argue such a proposition they violate their basic assumption by having to depart the world of empirical facts. In other words, there is no way for them to prove, given their assumptions, that there are no such things as "ethical facts." They can only endeavor to prove their assumption by violating it. Their fundamental oughtness that all there is is isness cannot be proved from the fundamental assumption that all there is is isness. Hence their dilemma.

Empirically, Reason Why One Gives Alms Doesn't Exist

There is, however, more. The Humean assumption that only empirical facts exist poses real problems, as it excludes a whole demimonde of facts we routinely accept as description of reality. "[T]he distinction [between fact and value] does imply an unbridgeable conceptual gap between facts and values--but the cost of forging it, for the Humean, is that he loses his grip on reality." Oderberg, MT, 13. In his insistence on empirical reality, the Humean loses out on the reality of things like human intent, or human assessment. The Humean, sort of like Oedipus but for less noble reasons, blinds himself, gouges out his eyes, and then suggests he sees better than the rest of folks. He is Aesop's fox without a tail, arguing to his fellows that tails are cumbersome extremities. Therefore, Hume can empirically equate the sapling growing up and overtaking its parent tree robbing it of the sun, to a son being ungrateful or even a son killing his father. For a Humean, the "relations are the same." Both descriptions of the event, from an empirical point of view, are identical in the Humean world looked at with gouged-out eyes. Empiricism cannot distinguish the obvious difference between the two. The Humean cannot distinguish between the man who gives alms in charity and the man who gives alms in vanity: empirically, they are both doing the same thing: putting money in the poor box. The Humean world clearly involves "a radically impoverished apprehension of reality; not [only] an impoverished conception of morality, but of what exactly is going on." Oderberg, MT, 14. It is a Humean trait to describe abortion as the "termination of pregnancy," instead of murder. It is a Humean trait to describe lies as "misstatements" or being "economical with the truth." The world of reality extends far beyond the Humean world of empirical fact:

With a more complete appreciation of reality, there will still be a distinction between facts and values; there will still be a way of describing the world that only pays attention, say, to microphysics, to chemistry, to the movements of particles, to the interaction of objects, to pure cause an effect, and so on. But these descriptions will only capture a segment of reality, one which has a definite but limited place in ethical theory.

Oderberg, MT, 15. In other words, the moral realist can accept empiricism while yet recognizing that there is an entire reality outside of it; the moral realist can see (he has not gouged out his intellectual eyes like the Humean Oedipus, though he may see enough figuratively to pluck one of his eyes out so that he does not get cast into Hell if that eye causes him to sin, cf. Matt. 5:29; 18:9; Mark 9:47). The moral realists can see that empiricism, while valuable in its sphere, fails to describe the entirety of reality. Empiricism can only describe a part, a small part, and perhaps the least important part of the cosmos. It is wholly blind to the pearls of great price which are seen in the moral realm.
*Since true philosophical and moral knowledge (e.g., the existence of God, the existence of objective moral truth) is based upon certain self-evident principles, which cannot be certainly proved, as by definition self-evident principles cannot be proved; however, with enough patience and effort, any thought that rejects such self-evident principles can be shown to be certainly false, baseless, or lead to absurdity.
**Hence the fight among probabilists, probabliorists, and equiprobabilists.
***See Mark Walker, ed., Science and Ideology: A Comparative History (New York: Routledge, 2003).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Contra Consequentialismum: Introduction

IN THIS NEXT SERIES OF BLOG POSTINGS, we shall look at the moral theory of consquentialism or utilitarianism, a teleological ethic which probably, in its various varietals, is the ascendant, prevailing moral theory in the West. Consequentialism is a theory of morality that is at odds with the natural law and with virtue-based ethics.* Its only viable competitor in the secular world is perhaps some sort of Kantianism or deontological (duty-based) ethic, although the natural law and virtue-based ethics are making a sort of comeback perhaps because of the felt inadequacies of the other theories. Consequentialism or utilitarianism finds its modern beginnings in the thought of the likes of James Mill (1773–1836), Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Though the consequentialist moral theory has roots in the early 19th century, it has developed from its primitive beginnings as a result of attacks from its critics, and is alive and well and finds such modern exponents even propagandists such as the Australian moral philosopher and animal rights activist Peter Singer (1946 - )

In writing this series, we will be relying heavily on the two works of David S. Oderberg, Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach"The doctrine of the sanctity of human life has come under merciless attack in recent years, and is the first principle that most applied ethicists seek to undermine. Without it, there is no traditional morality."
--David S. Oderberg
and its companion volume, Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach.*

David Oderberg, an Australian with a PhD from Oxford, is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading, in the United Kingdom. He is the author of a number of articles regarding metaphysics, ethics, philosophical logic and other subjects. His metaphysics is Aristotelian, and his morality is based upon traditional concepts of natural law.

Professor Oderberg realizes that, contemporaneously, his is the minority report, but he also realizes that, viewed historically, his is the theory with the better pedigree. Viewed historically, the consequentialist theory, and the moral skepticism and relativism and rejection of human nature as a standard that comes with it, is a moral upstart, a moral parvenu, the new kid on the block. Neither of these facts, or course, establish the veracity or lack of veracity of either theory, but the fact that the traditional morality has been held by so many for so long gives one some psychological assurance that perhaps there is more to it than meets the eyes of moderns who scoff at it and its supporters.

David S. Oderberg, Professor of Philosophy at Reading University

[E]ven if the bulk of moral philosophers find the conclusions I reach unpalatable, disagreeable, absurd, anachronistic, barbaric, bizarre, or just plain wrong, I console myself with the following thought: that every single one of the major positions I defend was believed by the vast majority of human beings in Western society for thousands of years, right up until some time in the 1960s, when the Western Cultural Revolution took place. (I do not speak of the non-Western societies, which even today subscribe to most or all of the views defended here.)

Oderberg, MT, viii. We shall follow the structure of Oderberg's Moral Theory. He first addresses the issue of skepticism and the skeptical prejudices that color, or perhaps better blind, the majority of men in Western societies, and which makes them believe that morality is purely subjective and without objective basis. Then he addresses the principal foundations of traditional morality. Following that, he addresses some of principles of the rival schools, specifically contractualism and consequentialism. Finally, he focuses on the moral principle of the sanctity of human life, a principle that "has come under merciless attack in recent years, and is the first principle that most applied ethicists seek to undermine. Without it, there is no traditional morality." Oderberg, MT, x.

These works of Oderberg are unapologetically anti-consequentialist. In his words, they "concentrate on [consquentialism's] incompatibility with the basic demands of rights and of justice (due primarily to its 'maximising' and calculative nature), and hence its fundamentally inhuman character." Oderberg, MT, x. His arguments for traditional morality and against consequentialism are based upon reason alone. In fact, it is impossible for me to tell from these two works alone, what his religious confession is, or if he even has one.*** While his positions are largely consistent with the moral doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, they seem to be based on, or at least argued from, foundations that are entirely areligious, principally upon Aristotelian principles.

*In fact, not only is it unreasonable, as we will endeavor to argue, it is unfaithful to the Church's teaching. It has reared its ugly face in modified form in Catholic circles under the name "Proportionalism." Cf. Pope John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, Nos. 75-76: ". . . This "teleologism", as a method for discovering the moral norm, can thus be called--according to terminology and approaches imported from different currents of thought--"consequentialism" or "proportionalism". The former claims to draw the criteria of the rightness of a given way of acting solely from a calculation of foreseeable consequences deriving from a given choice. The latter, by weighing the various values and goods being sought, focuses rather on the proportion acknowledged between the good and bad effects of that choice, with a view to the 'greater good' or 'lesser evil' actually possible in a particular situation. The teleological ethical theories (proportionalism, consequentialism), while acknowledging that moral values are indicated by reason and by Revelation, maintain that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular kinds of behaviour which would be in conflict, in every circumstance and in every culture, with those values. . . . Even when grave matter is concerned, these precepts should be considered as operative norms which are always relative and open to exceptions. . . . These theories can gain a certain persuasive force from their affinity to the scientific mentality, which is rightly concerned with ordering technical and economic activities on the basis of a calculation of resources and profits, procedures and their effects. . . . Such theories however are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behavior contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition." [N.B. The "teologism" referred to by John Paul II should not be confused with the teleology that is part and parcel of the traditional natural law doctrine. The "teologism" here refers to the end or consequences of the act as the determinant of its morality, whereas the teology in the natural law theory refers to the final end or intrinsic end of a nature.]
**David S. Oderberg, Moral Theory: A Non-Consquentialist Approach (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000) (herein "MT") and Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach(Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000) (herein "AE").
***The only clue is in the selection of cover art, The Adoration of the Magi (by Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi) for MT and The Massacre of the Innocents (by Fran Angelico) for AE.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Résumé of Rights

AT THE END OF HIS REFLECTIONS on the theory of natural law and its application to the moral, political, and economic problems that confront modern man, Maritain provides us with a résumé of those rights, natural, based upon the ius gentium, or advised by positive law or the circumstances of the time. It is important to note that not all of these are natural rights. It is also important to understand this within the entire context of Maritain's teaching on natural law, natural rights, and justice. In this post, we will list those rights using, as far as possible, the words of Maritain.

Jacques Maritain

Rights of the International Order
  • The right of each State, large or small, to freedom and respect for its autonomy.
  • The right to the respecting of solemn oaths and the sanctity of treaties.
  • The right to peaceful development (a right which, being valid for all, requires for its development the establishment of an international community having juridical power, and the development of federative forms of organization).
Rights of the Human Person as Such
  • The right to existence.
  • The right to personal liberty or the right to conduct one's own life as master of oneself and of one's acts, responsible for them before God and the law of the community.
  • The right to the pursuit of the perfection of rational and moral human life.
  • The right to the pursuit of eternal life along the path which conscience has recognized as the path indicated by God.
  • The right of the Church and other religious families to the free exercise of their spiritual activity.
  • The right of pursuing a religious vocation; the freedom of religious orders and groups.
  • The right to marry according to one's choice and to raise a family, which will in its turn be assured of the liberties due it.
  • The right of the family society to respect for its constitution, which is based on natural law, and not on the law of the State, and which fundamentally involves the morality of the human being.
  • The right to keep one's body whole.
  • The right to property.
  • The right of every human being to be treated as a person, and not as a thing.
Rights of the Civic Person
  • The right of every citizen to participate actively in political life, and in particular the right of equal suffrage for all.
  • The right of the people to establish the Constitution of the State and to determine for themselves their form of government.
  • The right of association, limited only by the juridically recognized necessities of the common good, and in particular the right to form political parties or political schools.
  • The right of free investigation and discussion (freedom of expression).
  • The right to political equality, and the equal right of every citizen to his security and his liberties within the State.
  • The equal right of every one to the guarantees of an independent judiciary power.
  • Equal possibility of admission to public employment and free access to the various professions.*
Rights of the Social Person, and More Particularly of the Working Person
  • The right freely to choose his work.
  • The right freely to form vocational groups or trade-unions.
  • The right of the worker to be considered socially as an adult.
  • The right of economic groups (trade-unions and working communities) and other social groups to freedom and autonomy.
  • The right to a just wage.
  • The right to work.
  • Wherever and associative system can be substituted for the wage system, the right to joint ownership and joint management of the enterprise and to the "worker's title."
  • The right to relief, unemployment insurance, sick benefits, and social security.
  • The right to have a part, free of charge, depending on the possibilities of the community, in the elementary goods, both material and spiritual, of civilization.
Maritain, 96-98.

*The text has a misprint on page 98, stating "venous" instead of "various."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Rights of Labor, Part 2

WORK MUST BE MORAL, and so the moral life governs the life of work. Ultimately, therefore, the "political sphere," whose principal organ is the State, has competence over the common good, and thus "possesses authority over the economic sphere." Maritain, 91.

The political life and organization of the State affect the common life of human persons and their direction towards a common task, which assumes the strength, peace and harmony of the social body, and which must aim at the conquest of freedom and the establishment of a brotherly city as its supreme ideal; they are of an order superior to the life and organization of economic groups.

Maritain, 91. The common good is, of course, much broader than merely the economic well-being of the human person. Man is more than homo economicus. The common good of man must consider moral, intellectual, and spiritual well-being. So neither moneyed interests, nor "trade-unions, economic institutions, vocational bodies," should direct the political life of a nation, although it goes without saying that they ought to "play a consultative role." Maritain, 92.

There is a danger of economic totalitarianism, socialism, and this is a danger, an unwelcome development that Maritain seeks to avoid. Socialism as it has come down to us is a "totalitarian principle," that entails perversion. Maritain seeks to avoid "the methods of dialectic conflict and paralyzing irresponsibility" of the past. Maritain, 92, 93. Instead of these ways of doing things, Maritain advocates a "pluralist principle." Maritain, 92. The fact is that we need each other and we need each other's ideas and views. What ought to inform the public authority should be as broad, as expansive as possible, so that public authority is not aligned with the interests of any one group, whether they be capital or labor, or anythings else:
[W]e may count upon [the pluralist principle] for a reasonable solution of the school problem and the problem of the harmonious dwelling together of various spiritual families, with their specific moral conceptions, in the bosom of the temporal community. In the economic order it lays the foundation not only for the autonomy of groups and associations . . . but also for the diversity of regime of organization which is suitable to the various typical structures of economic life, in particular, to the structure of industrial economy and to those of agricultural economy.
Maritain, 92.

Maritain closes his reflections on the rights of the working person with a reflection on bondage of one man to another, a bondage which may be legal, economic, or moral. Maritain advances the notion of a fundamental, that is natural and absolute, right of liberty:

[O]ne of the fundamental rights . . . [is] the right of every human being to personal liberty, or the right to direct his own life as his own master, responsible before God and the law of the community. Such a right is a natural right, but it concerns so profoundly the radical aspirations of the person and the dynamism which they entail that all of human history would not be too long for it to develop completely.

Maritain, 93.

This natural right, of course, "implies the condemnation of slavery and forced labor." Maritain, 93. Awareness of this natural right, and the condemnation of slavery and forced labor it implied, was, of course, slow in developing:
[T]he greatest thinkers of Antiquity had not dreamed of condemning slavery, and the medieval theologians considered only slavery in its absolute form as opposed to natural law, where the body and the life of the slave and his primary human rights, like the freedom to marry, are at the mercy of the master.
Maritain, 93. The reasons behind mankind's inability to perceive this arose from the material and technical conditions and "obstacles suffered by spiritual energies in collectively life," which "grievously, and in the manner of a punishment, thwart the normal development of the fundamental right in question." Maritain, 93. In short, it was the result of blindness associated with the Fall of man, with his original sin, which impeded him from seeing the truth.

Of course, bondage and slavery can be more than chattel slavery or and indentured servitude. Bondage or servitude is not always as stark as that. The chains may not be of iron, but of another element, even intangible, such as those involved with serfdom or with the proletariat, "and still other forms." The natural right in question opposes any "form of authority of one man over another in which the one who is directed is not directed towards the common good by the official charged with this duty, but is at the service of the particular good of the one who is doing the directing." Maritain, 93-94. This sort of more subtle servitude may be detected by the fact that the relationship results in "alienating [one person's] activity and giving over to another the benefit (the fruit of his activity) which should rightly be his." Maritain, 94. In other words, "becoming to that extent the organ of another person." Maritain, 94.

With regard to natural law, absolute bondage thus appears as opposed to natural law considered in its primary requirements, and the other more or less attenuated forms of servitude as opposed to natural law considered in its more or less secondary requirements or yearnings, and in the dynamism which it enfolds. This dynamism will be fully gratified only when every form of servitude shall have disappeared--under the "new heavens" of the resurrection.

Maritain, 94. This, of course, means mankind will be working on this for a long, long time, "as human history approaches its term," that is, until Christ's second coming and the end of human history as we know it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Rights of Labor, Part 1

LABOR, WORK, ECONOMICS, the activity of homo economicus, man the worker, are the last areas that Maritain explores in the book we have been reviewing, Natural Law: Reflections on Theory and Practice. It is clear that this area of the human endeavor has been the subject of human thought in a particularly focused way since the Industrial Revolution, by both secularists and the Church. As both the nation and the world have progressed economically, so also must moral reflection advance. The economic life must not leave the moral life behind. They advance together. For this reason, we have seen the social doctrine, particularly in the area of social and economic matters, of the Church bloom from the issuance by Leo XIII of Rerum novarum in 1891 (Rerum novarum means "Of new things"), to the point that a rather bulky Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church could be published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004.

Labor, work is fundamental to the human person. To a certain extent, as a result of social and historical factors, the laborer, the worker has reached a sort of social adulthood. "The principle phenomenon . . . which emerged in the nineteenth century is the consciousness of self (prise de conscience), achieved by the working person and the working community." Maritain, 86. Maritain sees this self-consciousness, this self-awareness as a sort of moral advance, a "historic gain in the consciousness of the dignity of work and of the worker, of the dignity of the human person in the worker as such." Maritain, 87.

While affecting economic life and the temporal order, this advance is primarily of a spiritual and moral order, and that is what gives it its importance. It is the grasp of consciousness of an offended and humiliated human dignity and of the mission of the working world in modern history. It signifies the ascension towards liberty and personality, taken in the inner reality and their social expression, of a community of persons . . . the community of manual work, the community of human persons charged with this labour.

Maritain, 86-87. The proletariat has come of age, has taken its rightful place among the gods, and is aware, as others have become aware, of its newly-found dignity and place in the banquet of the common good. It wants its share of the ambrosia. Like all changes, this development has been unsettling and, like most things in the world of men, it may be found to have both good and bad elements, positive and negative faces. In confronting this Janus-faced development, Maritain chooses to focus on the smiling, positive developments. The fact is: it happened. What may we learn from it? What part of this historical development is good and should be promoted as a lasting gain?

Janus, the Roman God of Doorways

As a result of this advance, various rights may be said to have been more clearly learned or need to be more clearly learned:
  • The right to a just wage, "for a man's work is not a piece of merchandise subject to the mere law of supply and demand."
  • The right to work, which means "the right of every one to find work which will afford a living for himself and his family."
  • The freedom to organize, to form trade-unions, "free to confederate as they see fit."
  • The "right to strike," the "natural weapon" of the worker, limited by needs arising out of "national emergency," which Maritain sees as nothing other than a corollary to the freedom of association. Neither the State nor economic powers are allowed to disarm the worker, though in emergencies, when the common good demands it, its exercise may be prohibited.
For Maritain, these rights are related to the awareness of work's own dignity, the dignity of the human person engaged in work, and the awareness that the worker "stands before his employer in a relationship of justice and as an adult person, not as a child or as a servant." Maritain, 89. This relationship, and the awareness of the rights that come with it, however, is founded on a "moral datum." Maritain, 89. If this is forgotten, then trade-unionism could, "in its turn, run the risk of becoming tyranny." The relationship between capital and labor, then, must be built upon justice, and not power. And this is true whether one looks at the power that labor, if gathered together in unions, has over capital, or the power that capital has over labor.

For all Maritain's solicitude for the laborer, he ought not to be misunderstood. He is not a socialist, and indeed warns against a socialist solution, what he calls a "temptation which arises from old socialist concepts," to the problem between capital and labor. He advocates against a "planned economy," against "collectivization," for a decentralizing solution that is "associative," comes from "producers and consumers from the bottom up," and allows for a greater share of labor in management responsibilities and in the success of the venture.

The temptation . . . is that of granting primacy to economic technique, and by the same token of tending to entrust everything to the power of the State, administrator of the welfare of all, and to its scientific and bureaucratic machinery; which obviously, whether we will or no, leads in the direction of a totalitarianism with a technocratic base.

Maritain, 90. Maritain, then, suggests we re-think the matter of association in the area of business. "When I speak of the associative form of industrial ownership, I am thinking of an association of persons . . . entirely different from the associations of capital which the idea of joint ownership might suggest under the present regime."* Maritain, 90-91. Why can't the capital/labor division be less stark, more blended? Aren't innovative associations--something other than the inherited corporations, where the worker has an interest in the venture (what Maritain calls the "worker's title")--something available to us? Must we think in the historical investment and business patterns thrust upon us by another age? One should think not.**

*Cf. Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate, No. 46:
When we consider the issues involved in the relationship between business and ethics, as well as the evolution currently taking place in methods of production, it would appear that the traditionally valid distinction between profit-based companies and non-profit organizations can no longer do full justice to reality, or offer practical direction for the future. In recent decades a broad intermediate area has emerged between the two types of enterprise. It is made up of traditional companies which nonetheless subscribe to social aid agreements in support of underdeveloped countries, charitable foundations associated with individual companies, groups of companies oriented towards social welfare, and the diversified world of the so-called “civil economy” and the “economy of communion”. This is not merely a matter of a “third sector”, but of a broad new composite reality embracing the private and public spheres, one which does not exclude profit, but instead considers it a means for achieving human and social ends. Whether such companies distribute dividends or not, whether their juridical structure corresponds to one or other of the established forms, becomes secondary in relation to their willingness to view profit as a means of achieving the goal of a more humane market and society. It is to be hoped that these new kinds of enterprise will succeed in finding a suitable juridical and fiscal structure in every country. Without prejudice to the importance and the economic and social benefits of the more traditional forms of business, they steer the system towards a clearer and more complete assumption of duties on the part of economic subjects. And not only that. The very plurality of institutional forms of business gives rise to a market which is not only more civilized but also more competitive.
**There is a negative to the "worker's title" notion. If the worker shares in the benefits of the venture, then he also shares in the risk of the venture, including the risk of loss.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Compliance with the Natural Law Essential for Salvation

CARDINAL DESIGNATE ARCHBISHOP EMERITUS of St. Louis, Raymond Burke, gave the following speech at the closing of the Human Life International V World Prayer Congress for Life. Given on October 9, 2010, at the Istituto Patristico "Augustinianum" in Rome, it is a marvelous synopsis of the Church's teaching on the natural moral law.

The text of Archbishop's text is re-printed below. To see Archbishop Burke give his speech, you can click on the picture below to access the link at wherein a video of speech is made available.

Archbishop Raymond Burke


It is clear that we are presently experiencing a period of intense and critical struggle in the advancement of the culture of life in the world. Many governments and international organizations openly and aggressively follow a secularist, anti-life and anti-family agenda. Even though religious language may be used and the name of God invoked, programs and policies are proposed for the people without respect for God and His Law, in the words of the Venerable Pope John Paul II, "as if God did not exist" (Pope John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, "On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World," 30 December 1988, no. 34).

Now more than ever, the world needs the consistent witness to the truth, expressed in the Sacred Scriptures and in Tradition, which is the condition of the possibility of a culture which respects fully the gift of human life and its origin in procreation, that is, in the cooperation of man and woman with God through the conjugal union and through education in the home which they have formed by marriage.

In his Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate, "On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth," given on June 29th of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI teaches us that the development for which God has created man is achieved through the establishment of the culture of life:
Hence charity and truth confront us with an altogether new and creative challenge, one that is certainly vast and complex. It is about broadening the scope of reason and making it capable of knowing and directing these powerful new forces [in the development of peoples], animating them within the perspective of that "civilization of love" whose seed God has planted in every people, in every culture (Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate, "On Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth," 29 June 2009, no. 33).
Our tireless promotion of the culture of life, in accord with the truth announced in the Magisterium of the Church, in fact, responds to the deepest longing in every man, and in every society. It anticipates and prepares "a new heaven and a new earth," which Our Lord Jesus Christ will inaugurate at His Final Coming (Rv 21:1).

Fundamental Presuppositions

A first fundamental presupposition of my presentation is the truth that the struggle against total secularization, which is, by definition, opposed to human life and to the family, is full of hope. It is, by no means, futile, that is, ultimately destined to failure. The fundamental presupposition is the victory of life, which Our Lord Jesus Christ, has already won.

Christ animates the Church in time with the grace of His victory over sin and death, until the victory reaches its consummation, at His Final Coming, in the Heavenly Jerusalem. Notwithstanding the grave situation, in our world, of the attack on innocent and defenseless human life and on the integrity of marriage as the union of man and woman in a bond of lifelong, faithful and procreative love, there remains a strong voice in defense of our littlest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters, without boundary or exception, and of the truth about the marital union as it was constituted by God at the Creation. The Christian voice, the voice of Christ, transmitted by the Apostles, remains strong in our world. The voice of men and women of good will, who recognize and obey the law of God written upon their hearts, remains strong in our world.

Living in a totally secularized culture, we must open our eyes to see that many recognize the human bankruptcy of our culture and are looking with hope to the Church for the inspiration and strength to claim anew the God-fearing and Christian foundations of every human society. God has created us to choose life; God the Son Incarnate has won the victory of life for us, the victory over sin and everlasting death (cf. Dt 30:19; Jn 10:10). We, therefore, must never give up in the struggle to advance a culture founded on the choice of life, which God has written upon our hearts, and the victory of life, which Christ has won in our human nature. In fact, we witness every day the commitment of God-fearing brothers and sisters who advance the cause of life and the family in their homes, in their local communities, in their homelands, and in the world.

A second fundamental presupposition of my presentation is the essential relationship of the respect for human life and the respect for the integrity of marriage and the family. The attack on the innocent and defenseless life of the unborn has its origin in an erroneous view of human sexuality, which attempts to eliminate, by mechanical or chemical means, the essentially procreative nature of the conjugal act. The error maintains that the artificially altered conjugal act retains its integrity. The claim is that the act remains unitive or loving, even though the procreative nature of the act has been radically violated. In fact, it is not unitive, for one or both of the partners withholds an essential part of the gift of self, which is the essence of the conjugal union. The so-called "contraceptive mentality" is essentially anti-life. Many forms of so-called contraception are, in fact, abortifacient, that is, they destroy, at its beginning, a life which has already been conceived.

The manipulation of the conjugal act, as the Servant of God Pope Paul VI prophetically observed, has led to many forms of violence to marriage and family life (cf. Pope Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, "On the Proper Regulation of the Propagation of Offspring," 25 July 1968, no. 17). Through the spread of the contraceptive mentality, especially among the young, human sexuality is no longer seen as the gift of God, which draws a man and a woman together, in a bond of lifelong and faithful love, crowned by the gift of new human life, but, rather, as a tool for personal gratification. Once sexual union is no longer seen to be, by its very nature, procreative, human sexuality is abused in ways that are profoundly harmful and indeed destructive of individuals and of society itself. One has only to think of the devastation which is daily wrought in our world by the multi­million dollar industry of pornography. Essential to the advancement of the culture of life is the proclamation of the truth about the conjugal union, in its fullness, and the correction of the contraceptive thinking which fears life, which fears procreation.

It is instructive to note that Pope Benedict XVI, in his Encyclical Letter on the Church's social doctrine, makes special reference to Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae, underscoring its importance "for delineating the fully human meaning of the development that the Church proposes" (Caritas in veritate, no. 15). Pope Benedict XVI makes clear that the teaching in Humanae vitae was not simply a matter of "individual morality," declaring:
Humanae vitae indicates the strong links between life ethics and social ethics, ushering in a new area of magisterial teaching that has gradually been articulated in a series of documents, most recently John Paul II's Encyclical Evangelium vitae (Caritas in veritate, no. 15).
His Holiness reminds us of the essential part which a right understanding of our sexuality has in true human development.

In treating the whole question of procreation, he underscores the critical nature of the right understanding of human sexuality, marriage and the family. He declares:
The Church, in her concern for man's authentic development, urges him to have full respect for human values in the exercise of his sexuality. It cannot be reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment, nor can sex education be reduced to technical instruction aimed solely at protecting the interested parties from possible disease or the "risk" of procreation. This would be to impoverish and disregard the deeper meaning of sexuality, a meaning which needs to be acknowledged and responsibly appropriated not only by individuals but also by the community (Caritas in veritate, no. 44).
The respect for the integrity of the conjugal act is essential to the advancement of the culture of life. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, it is necessary "once more to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person" (Caritas in veritate, no. 44). Correspondingly, he notes that "States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character" (Caritas in veritate, no. 44).

The Magisterium and the Promotion of the Culture of Life

The relationship of the Magisterium to our eternal salvation lies at the very foundation of our life in Christ. In a world which prizes, above all else, individualism and self-determination, the Christian is easily tempted to view the Magisterium in relationship to his individualism and self-pursuit. In other words, he is tempted to relativize the authority of the Magisterium. The phenomenon today is popularly known as “cafeteria Catholicism.”

The service of the Bishop, as true shepherd of the flock, is essential, indeed irreplaceable. The Venerable Pope John Paul II, in his Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores gregis, “On the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World,” promulgated on October 16, 2003, the twenty-fifth anniversary of his election to the See of Saint Peter, recalled the Rite of Ordination of a Bishop and, specifically, the imposition of the Book of the Gospels “on the head of the Bishop-elect,” during the Prayer of Consecration, which contains the form of the Sacrament, observing:
This gesture indicates, on the one hand, that the Word embraces and watches over the Bishop’s ministry and, on the other, that the Bishop’s life is to be completely submitted to the Word of God in his daily commitment of preaching the Gospel in all patience and sound doctrine (cf. 2 Tim. 4) (Pope John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores gregis, “On the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World,” 16 October 2003, n. 28).
A bit earlier in the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, he stressed that “the proclamation of Christ always takes first place and that the Bishop is the first preacher of the Gospel by his words and by the witness of his life.” He then reminded Bishops to “be aware of the challenges of the present hour and have the courage to face them” (n. 26).

The entire content of our faith, what Saint Paul in his First and Second Letters to Timothy calls the deposit of faith, is found in Sacred Scripture and Tradition (1 Tm 6:20; and 2 Tm 1:12-14). The faith, in its integrity, has been entrusted to the Church by Christ through the ministry of the Apostles. The deposit of faith is the teaching of the Apostles and the living of that teaching in the life of prayer and the sacramental life, and the witness of the teaching in the moral life. The foundation is the sound doctrine which finds its highest expression in the Sacraments, above all the Holy Eucharist, and which is witnessed in the holiness of life of the believer (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 84).

The responsibility for the deposit of the faith and its transmission in every age belongs “to the living teaching office of the Church alone” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, “On Divine Revelation,” 18 November 1965, n. 10). The “living teaching office” or Magisterium of the Church, exercised by the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops in communion with him, has its authority from our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has conferred upon the Apostles, with Peter as their Head, and their successors, the Bishops, with the Successor of Peter, as their head, the authority to teach authentically (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 85).

The Roman Pontiff and the Bishops are servants of Christ and of His holy Word. The Magisterium “teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully” (Dei Verbum, n. 10). The Roman Pontiff and the Bishops in communion with him teach only what is contained in the deposit of faith as divinely revealed truth (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 86).

The Magisterium, in obedience to Christ and by the power of the particular grace of the Holy Spirit, interprets the Word of God, contained in the Sacred Scriptures and Tradition, in matters of both faith and morals. The Roman Pontiff and the Bishops in communion with him define the dogmas of the faith, that is, the truths contained in the deposit of faith and “truths having a necessary connection with these” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 88).

With regard to morals, the Magisterium presents faithfully the Decalogue and the requirements of the life of the virtues. The teaching office would fail in its God-given mission, if it did not apply the living Tradition to the circumstances of daily life in Christ. The Venerable Pope John Paul II exhorted Bishops to exercise the Magisterium regarding the moral life with these words:
The rules that the Church sets forth reflect the divine Commandments, which find their crown and synthesis in the Gospel command of love. The end to which every divine rule tends is the greater good of human beings. ... Nor must we forget that the Ten Commandments have a firm foundation in human nature itself, and thus the goods which they defend have universal validity. This is particularly true of goods such as human life, which must be defended from conception until its end in natural death; the freedom of individuals and of nations, social justice and the structures needed to achieve it. (Pastores gregis, n. 29).
In a culture beset by what our Holy Father, in his homily on the morning of the beginning of the conclave in which he was elected Successor of Saint Peter, called the “dictatorship of relativism,” the Bishop, as Chief Teacher of the faith and morals in the Diocese, carries an especially heavy and constant burden in providing the sound teaching which safeguards and promotes the good of all the faithful, especially those who cannot take care of or defend themselves (“dittatura del relativiso”: “Initium Conclavis,” Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 97 [2005], p. 687).

Catechesis is a most fundamental responsibility which the Bishop exercises on behalf of the good of the faithful entrusted to his care, ultimately, of their eternal salvation. Pope John Paul II reminded Bishops that they fulfill their responsibility by the first proclamation of the faith, or kerygma, “which is always needed for bringing about the obedience of faith, but is all the more urgent today, in times marked by indifference and by religious ignorance on the part of many Christians” (Pastores gregis, n. 29). United to the kerygma is the catechesis of those who have embraced the faith and strive to be obedient to the faith. Pope John Paul II declared: “It is therefore the duty of every Bishop to give real priority in his particular Church to active and effective catechesis. He must demonstrate his personal concern through direct interventions aimed at promoting and preserving an authentic passion for catechesis” (Pastores gregis, n. 29).

As Pope John Paul II reminded the Bishops, in the just-quoted exhortation, the Magisterium includes also the precepts of the natural law written by God upon the human heart, the requirements of conduct inherent in man’s very nature and in the order of the world, God’s creation. Obedience to the demands of the natural law is necessary for salvation, and, therefore, the teaching of the natural law is within the authority of the Magisterium and part of its solemn responsibility. “In recalling the prescriptions of the natural law, the Magisterium of the Church exercises an essential part of its prophetic office of proclaiming to men who they truly are and reminding them of what they should be before God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2036). When Bishops and faithful obediently submit themselves in mind and heart to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the perennial truth of the faith shines forth in the whole Church for the building up of the Body of Christ and the transformation of the world.

The response of both Bishop and the faithful to the exercise of the teaching authority of Christ is obedience, for they recognize in the truths proclaimed, regarding faith and morals, the infallible guide to their salvation in Christ Who said to His Apostles: “He who hears you, hears Me” (Lk 10:16). The words of our Lord are unmistakable in their meaning for us.

Obedience to the Magisterium is a virtue and is attained through the practice of such obedience. When the shepherds of the flock are obedient to the Magisterium, entrusted to their exercise, then the members of the flock grow in obedience and proceed, with Christ, along the way of salvation. If the shepherd is not obedient, the flock easily gives way to confusion and error. The shepherd must be especially attentive to the assaults of Satan who knows that, if he can strike the shepherd, the work of scattering the flock will be made easy (cf. Zec 13:7).

In his Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio, “On the Relationship between Faith and Reason,” the Venerable Pope John Paul II reminded us that the Magisterium is bound strictly to Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, while, at the same time, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are handed on from one generation to the next through the obedience to the Magisterium. Pope John Paul II declared:
The “supreme rule of her faith” derives from the unity which the Spirit has created between Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church in a reciprocity which means that none of the three can survive without the others (Fides et ratio, n. 55).
The faith is living. The faith is received through the action of the Holy Spirit dwelling within the soul, and it is expressed by the purifying and strengthening action of the Holy Spirit Who inspires man to put the faith into practice.

The disposition of mind and heart to believe all that God has revealed to us and to do all that He asks of us is the obedience of faith. The obedience of faith is the fitting response to the revelation of God, which has its fullness in Our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Heb 11:8). Obedience to the Magisterium, the guardian and teacher of the faith, is the fundamental disposition of the baptized and confirmed Catholic (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 142-143).

The Blessed Virgin Mary lived perfectly the obedience of faith. At the Visitation, Elizabeth, her cousin, described Mary’s identity as Mother of the Redeemer with the words: “Blessed is she who believed that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45). Mary’s response to the announcement of the Archangel Gabriel expressed perfectly the disposition of total obedience, which marked her soul: “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:37-38). Mary’s response is the model of our daily response to God’s will in our lives, which the Church’s Magisterium teaches to us. The last words of our Blessed Mother, recorded in the Gospel, are the summary of her maternal instruction to us. When the wine stewards at the Wedding Feast of Cana approached her, seeking her help, she directed them to the Son of God, her Son, with the counsel: “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5). Obeying her maternal counsel, the wine stewards witnessed the first miracle during the public ministry of Jesus.

Faith is, first of all, “personal adherence of man to God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 150). When we believe all that God has revealed to us, we place all our trust in Him, in His Providence. Such trust can be placed in God alone. Faith in God the Father and total trust in His promises is clearly faith in Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, and in the Holy Spirit Who dwells with us always in the Church (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 151-152). Our Lord Jesus Christ makes us one with Him in doing all that the Father asks of us by pouring forth into our souls the sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit: the grace of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to know God’s will and to do it with courage. The sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit produces in our souls a sevenfold disposition which may be described as the obedience of faith.

The moral life flows from our faith in God. It is the “obedience of faith” in action. The first tablet of the Ten Commandments governs our right relationship with God, which makes possible our right relationship with others and the world, governed by the second tablet. When we fail morally, we also fail in faith (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 2087-2088). I often recall the words of a sage professor of Canon Law, who taught me the Church’s discipline regarding clerics. More than once, he told the class: “Where there are problems of chastity, there are problems of obedience.” Our rebellion against the moral truth is a rebellion against God and all that He teaches us.

Challenges to the Obedience to the Magisterium

Obedience to the Magisterium is difficult for man in every age. The practice of the “obedience of faith” is difficult to master. The difficulty comes both from within us and from outside of us. We suffer the effects of the sin of our First Parents, which fundamentally was a sin of prideful disobedience, of rebellion against God’s will. The grace of the Holy Spirit, poured forth into our soul through Baptism, strengthened and increased in our soul through Confirmation, and nourished within our soul through the Holy Eucharist, alone helps us to overcome our inherited tendency to rebellion and disobedience.

From outside of us, Satan never rests in proposing to us the same temptation which he proposed to our First Parents, the temptation to act as if God did not exist, to act as if we are gods. The world around us, the culture in which we live, to the degree that it is has succumbed to Satan’s deceptions, is a source of strong temptation for us. Our culture, in fact, has been described as “godless” both by the Venerable Pope John Paul II and by Pope Benedict XVI. Our culture teaches us to act as if God did not exist. At the same time, it teaches a radical individualism and self-interest which lead us away from the love of God and from the love of one another.

Often the lack of obedience to the Magisterium is not total but selective. Our culture teaches us to believe what is convenient and to reject what is difficult for us or challenges us. Thus, we can easily fall into “cafeteria Catholicism,” a practice of the faith, which picks and chooses what part of the deposit of faith to believe and practice. A most tragic example of the lack of obedience of faith, also on the part of certain Bishops, was the response of many to the Encyclical Letter Humanae vitae of Pope Paul VI, published on July 25, 1968. The confusion which resulted has led many Catholics into habits of sin in what pertains to the procreation and education of human life.

The lack of integrity in obeying the Magisterium is also seen in the hypocrisy of Catholics who claim to be practicing their faith but who refuse to apply the truth of the faith in their exercise of politics, medicine, business and the other human endeavors. These Catholics claim to hold “personally” to the truth of the faith, for example, regarding the inviolability of innocent and defenseless human life, while, in the political arena or in the practice of medicine, they cooperate in the attack on our unborn brothers and sisters, or on our brothers and sisters who have grown weak under the burden of years, of illness, or of special needs. Their disobedience pertains not to some truth particular to the life of the Church, that is, not to some confessional matter, but to the truth of the divine natural law written on every human heart and, therefore, to be obeyed by all men.

The obedience of faith obliges us in all situations of life, also in situations in which it is most difficult to do what God asks of us. Ultimately, the obedience of faith could require martyrdom. In his Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor, “Regarding Certain Fundamental Questions of the Church’s Moral Teaching” of August 6, 1993, the Venerable Pope John Paul II taught us that there can be no compromise in the obedience to the moral teaching of the Magisterium:
“Even in the most difficult situations man must respect the norm of morality so that he can be obedient to God’s holy commandments and consistent with his own dignity as a person. Certainly, maintaining a harmony between freedom and truth occasionally demands uncommon sacrifices, and must be won at a high price: it can even involve martyrdom” (n. 102a).

The Magisterium and Public Life

Regarding the Magisterium and public life, there has developed in many places the false notion that the Christian or any person of faith, in order to be a true citizen of his nation, must bracket his faith life from his public life. According to such a notion, one ends up with Christians, for example, who claim personally to be faithful members of the Church and, therefore, to hold to the demands of the natural moral law, while they sustain and support the right to violate the moral law in its most fundamental tenets. We find self-professed Catholics, for example, who sustain and support the right of a woman to procure the death of the infant in her womb, or the right of two persons of the same sex to the recognition which the State gives to a man and a woman who have entered into marriage. It is not possible to be a practicing Catholic and to conduct oneself publicly in this manner.

While the Church does not propose the imposition of purely confessional practices on the general population, it must foster the teaching and upholding of the moral law, common to all men, which is at the heart of every true religion. What kind of government would require that its citizens and political leaders act without reference to the fundamental requirements of the moral law?

While true religion teaches the natural moral law, the observance of the moral law is not a confessional practice. It is rather a response to what is inscribed in the depths of every human heart. Religious faith plainly articulates the natural moral law, enabling men of faith to recognize more readily what their own human nature and the nature of things demand of them, and to conform their lives to the truth which they recognize. For that reason, governments, in the past, have acknowledged the importance of religious faith for the life of the nation. The laws of many nations, in fact, aimed to protect the teaching and practice of religious faith for the sake of the common good.

In his Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us:
The Christian religion and other religions can offer their contribution to development only if God has a place in the public realm, specifically in regard to its cultural, social, economic, and particularly its political dimensions. The Church's social doctrine came into being in order to claim "citizenship status" for the Christian religion. Denying the right to profess one's religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development.... Reason always stands in need of being purified by faith: this also holds true for political reason, which must not consider itself omnipotent. For its part, religion always needs to be purified by reason in order to show its authentically human face. Any breach in this dialogue comes only at an enormous price to human development (Caritas in veritate, no. 56).
In the present situation of our world, the Christian faith has a critical responsibility to articulate clearly the natural moral law and its demands.

Under the constant influence of a rationalist and secularist philosophy which makes man, instead of God, the ultimate measure of what is right and good, many have become confused about the most basic truths, for example, the inviolable dignity of innocent human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, and the integrity of marriage between one man and one woman as the first and irreplaceable cell of the life of society. If Christians fail to articulate and uphold the natural moral law, then they fail in the fundamental duty of patriotism, of loving their country by serving the common good.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the universal natural moral law "provides a sound basis for all cultural, religious and political dialogue, and it ensures that the multi-faceted pluralism of cultural diversity does not detach itself from the common quest for truth, goodness and God" (Caritas in veritate, no. 59). Referring to the fundamental moral defect of our culture, that is, "a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human," Pope Benedict XVI declares: "God reveals man to himself; reason and faith work hand in hand to demonstrate to us what is good, provided we want to see it; the natural law, in which creative Reason shines forth, reveals our greatness, but also our wretchedness insofar as we fail to recognize the call to moral truth" (Caritas in veritate, no. 75).

The Scandal of Disobedience to the Magisterium

Recognizing the responsibility of Christians and of all men of good will to enunciate and uphold the natural moral law, we also recognize the scandal which is given when Christians fail to uphold the moral law in public life. When those who profess to be Christian, at the same time, favor and promote policies and laws which permit the destruction of innocent and defenseless human life, and which violate the integrity of marriage and the family, then citizens, in general, are confused and led into error about the basic tenets of the moral law. In our time, there is a great hesitation to speak about scandal, as if, in some way, it is only a phenomenon among persons of small or unenlightened mind, and, therefore, a tool of such persons to condemn others rashly and wrongly.

Certainly, there is such a thing as pharisaical scandal, that is, a malicious interpretation of the morally good or, at least, morally indifferent actions of another. The term comes from the supposed scandal which Our Lord Jesus caused to the Pharisees by, for instance, healing the man born blind on the Sabbath (cf. Jn 9:13-34).

But there is also true scandal, that is, the leading of others, by our words, actions and failures to act, into confusion and error, and, therefore, into sin. Our Lord was unequivocal in his condemnation of those who would confuse or lead others into sin by their actions and their failures to act. In teaching His disciples about temptations, He declared:
Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin (Lk 17:1-2).
It is clear that Our Lord taught as a primary responsibility, with the gravest of consequences, the avoidance of scandal, namely, of any act or failure to act which could lead another into sin. Our Lord's words are nothing less than vehement.

To ignore the fact that Catholics in public life, for example, who persistently violate the moral law regarding the inviolability of innocent human life or the integrity of the marital union, lead many into confusion or even error regarding the most fundamental teachings of the moral law, in fact, contributes to the confusion and error, redounding to the gravest harm to our brothers and sisters, and, therefore, to the whole nation. The perennial discipline of the Church, for that reason among other reasons, has prohibited the giving of Holy Communion and the granting of a Church funeral to those who persist, after admonition, in the grave violation of the moral law (Code of Canon Law, cann. 915; and 1184, § 1, 31).

It is said that these disciplines which the Church has consistently observed down the centuries presume to pass a judgment on the eternal salvation of a soul, which judgment belongs to God alone, and, therefore, they should be abandoned. On the contrary, these disciplines are not a judgment on the eternal salvation of the soul in question. They are simply the acknowledgment of an objective truth, namely, that the public actions of the soul are in grave violation of the moral law, to his own grave harm and to the grave harm of all who are confused or led into error by his actions. The Church confides every soul to the mercy of God, which is great beyond all our imagining, but that does not excuse her from proclaiming the truth of the moral law, also by applying her age-old disciplines, for the sake of the salvation of all.

When a person has publicly espoused and cooperated in gravely sinful acts, leading many into confusion and error about fundamental questions of respect for human life and the integrity of marriage and the family, his repentance of such actions must also be public. The person in question bears a heavy responsibility for the grave scandal which he has caused. The responsibility is especially heavy for political leaders. The repair of such scandal begins with the public acknowledgment of his own error and the public declaration of his adherence to the moral law. The soul which recognizes the gravity of what he has done will, in fact, understand immediately the need to make public reparation.

If there has always been the danger of giving scandal to others by public and seriously sinful actions or failures to act, that danger is heightened in our own time. Because of the confusion about the moral law, which is found in public discourse, in general, and is even embodied in laws and judicial pronouncements, the Christian is held to an even higher standard of clarity in enunciating and upholding the moral law.

It is particularly insidious that our society which is so profoundly confused about the most basic goods also believes that scandal is a thing of the past. One sees the hand of the Father of Lies at work in the disregard for the situation of scandal or in the ridicule and even censure of those who experience scandal. Teaching about the relationship of human ecology to environmental ecology, Pope Benedict XVI underscores a contradiction in "the overall moral tenor of society," which leads us and especially our youth into serious confusion and error:

If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology.

It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other (Caritas in veritate, no. 51).

One of the ironies of the present situation is that the person who experiences scandal at the gravely sinful public actions of a fellow Catholic is accused of a lack of charity and of causing division within the unity of the Church. In a society whose thinking is governed by the "dictatorship of relativism" and in which political correctness and human respect are the ultimate criteria of what is to be done and what is to be avoided, the notion of leading someone into moral error makes little sense. What causes wonderment in such a society is the fact that someone fails to observe political correctness and, thereby, seems to be disruptive of the so-called peace of society.

Lying or failing to tell the truth, however, is never a sign of charity. A unity which is not founded on the truth of the moral law is not the unity of the Church. The Church's unity is founded on speaking the truth with love. The person who experiences scandal at public actions of Catholics, which are gravely contrary to the moral law, not only does not destroy unity but invites the Church to repair what is clearly a serious breach in Her life. Were he not to experience scandal at the public support of attacks on human life and the family, his conscience would be uninformed or dulled about the most sacred realities.

The Common Good and the Promotion of the Culture of Life

Finally, in advancing the culture of life, we must be clear about the objective meaning of the common good. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council described the common good as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily" (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, "On the Church in the Modern World," 7 December 1965, no. 26). The fulfillment of individuals and societies is not some subjective determination by those, for example, who are in power. It is the fulfillment which is written in the very nature of man, in nature itself. It is the fulfillment for which God has created us and our world, not the fulfillment which, at any given time, we may find attractive or useful. It is interesting to note that the English word, fulfillment, translates the Latin word, perfectio, that is, the perfection of the individual or group, according to man's proper nature and end.

In advancing the culture of life, we must be clear about the objective nature of the common good and of the perfection which it makes possible. Not everyone who uses the term, common good, understands its true meaning. A well-known European Catholic theologian, commenting on the Commencement Address of United States President Barack Obama at Notre Dame University on May 17th of 2009, declared:
In fact, the speech to the University of Notre Dame seems strewn with references taken from the Christian tradition. There is, for example, an expression which frequently returns, "a common ground," which corresponds to a fundamental concept of the social teaching of the Church, that of the common good (Georges Cottier, O.P., "La politica, la morale e il peccato originale," 30Giorni, 2009, no. 5, p. 33).
The common good refers to an objective perfection which is not defined by common agreement among some of us. The common good is defined by creation itself as it has come from the hand of the Creator. Not only does the notion of common ground not correspond to the reality of the common good, it can well be antithetical to it, for instance, should there be common agreement in society to accept as good for society what is, in reality, always and everywhere evil.

In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, the common good "is the good of 'all of us', made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society" (Caritas in veritate, no. 7). The common good corresponds "to the real needs of our neighbors"; it is an act of charity which each Christian is to exercise "in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis" (Caritas in veritate, no. 7). Pope Benedict XVI consoles and urges us onward in seeking the common good:
God's love calls us to move beyond the limited and the ephemeral, it gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all, even if this cannot be achieved immediately and if what we are able to achieve, alongside political authorities and those working in the field of economics, is always less than we might wish. God gives us the strength to fight and to suffer for love of the common good, because he is our All, our greatest hope (Caritas in veritate, no. 78).


Let us, obedient to the Magisterium, engage with new enthusiasm and new energy in the struggle to advance the culture of life in our world. The struggle is fierce, and the contrary forces are many and clever. But the victory has already been won, and the Victor never fails to accompany us in the struggle, for he is faithful to His promise to us: "[A]nd lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20).

The obedience to the Magisterium is alone the way to participate in the victory of eternal life, and the service of the Bishops is irreplaceable in leading us all to an ever purer and stronger obedience. There is no other way to salvation than hearing God’s Word and putting it into practice with all our being. We know that, if we speak the truth and live the truth, Who is Christ the Lord of heaven and earth, we will foster a culture of life in our world, a culture in which the common good is safeguarded and fostered for all, without boundary or exception.

The Letter to the Hebrews which teaches us, in a particular way, the “obedience of faith” reminds us that our Lord Himself “learned obedience from what He suffered” and thus became the source of eternal life, of eternal salvation, for us all. We ask for the obedience of Christ each time we pray to God the Father in the words which our Savior Himself taught to us: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church, commenting on these words of the Lord’s Prayer, assures us that we, inspired by prayer, Christ’s prayer in us, can do what is impossible for us, on our own, but becomes possible for us in Christ, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from His glorious pierced Heart:
How much more reason have we sinful creatures to learn obedience – we who in Him have become children of adoption. We ask our Father to unite our will to His Son’s, in order to fulfill His will, His plan of salvation for the life of the world. We are radically incapable of this, but united with Jesus and with the power of His Holy Spirit, we can surrender our will to Him and decide to choose what His Son has always chosen: to do what is pleasing to the Father (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2825).
Let us confide ourselves and our world to the prayers of the Mother of God. Through her ceaseless maternal care, she will not fail to bring us and our world to the truth, to her Divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. I conclude by making my own the prayer with which Pope Benedict XVI concluded his Encyclical Letter Caritas in veritate:
May the Virgin Mary proclaimed Mother of the Church by Paul VI and honored by Christians as the Mirror of Justice and the Queen of Peace protect us and obtain for us, through her heavenly intercession, the strength, hope and joy necessary to continue to dedicate ourselves with generosity to the task of bringing about "the development of the whole man and of all men" (Caritas in veritate, no. 79).

+ Raymond Leo Burke
Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Louis
Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura