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.

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