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

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

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

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

Saturday, 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?

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