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

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

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

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

Friday, 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment