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, November 26, 2010

Being and Natural Law: The Good or Ratio Boni

IS BEING GOOD? Some philosophers object to characterizing being as good. Their argument goes something like this. Since the analogon of being must include within it all of the analogates, their sameness and their dissimilarity, then it must also include their imperfections and defects. These latter also are within the great global transcendental analogical concept of being. Since the analogon of "being" contains the imperfections and defects in the analogates that compose it, it seems to follow that being cannot be good simpliciter. Being and good are not synonymous, it would appear.

But in fact this is not the case. The objection is based upon the failure to see that evil--imperfection, defects in the analogates--do not directly arise from being, but arise only indirectly. "Directly speaking only integral and whole analogates arise from being." The evil that arises occurs "later when these integral analogates accidentally clash." The clash between analogates--say the attack of a tiger on a man, the attack of one being upon another--is a clash within the level of the analogates. It is not a clash that reaches upwards, as it were, to the level of the analogon. It is a local dispute, not a universal dispute.* This same clash which occurs between analogates can also arise within an analogate. (The clash "within" an analogate within the analogon of being must also be understood to be a clash "between" analogates, analogates within an analogate, since our sensitive nature is an analogate of "being" and our intellectual nature is likewise an analogate of "being".) Therefore, the Pauline struggle between his natures** is a clash between analogates, and is not a clash that rises up, as it were, to the analogon and impugns the good of being.

What this means, then is that being and the good are equivalent. Being is identified with the good. The good is identified with being. There is no being that is not good qua being. There is no good that is not being. Not only is man an "intellector of being," but, because being and good are desirable, he is also a "willer of the good."

The identification of being with good provides the basis for moral obligation or moral necessity in Dr. Knasas's view. There is a three-linked chain between the identification of being with the good--the ratio entis = ratio boni--and the sense of moral obligation or felt necessity.

The first link is the intrinsic desire for the good that is engendered in us, and the expression of it, ordered or disordered, through particular goods. In choosing particular goods as expression of the intrinsic desire toward "the good," we also learn about freedom, our freedom to chose particular goods. Though we have have freedom to chose particular goods under the light of the good, we do not have the freedom, we remained determined, to chose, seek, and desire the universal good. We choose the particular good freely, though it is under the auspices as it were of the necessary choice for the universal good. The second link is therefore freedom to chose particular goods. All our choices as to particular goods are chosen under the aspect that they will somehow yield us "the good." All particular goods we desire and seek, even those that are chosen or sought in a disordered way and hence evil under the circumstances, are chosen as apparent or seeming goods under the in-built desire in us, a desire we cannot shed, for "the good." The third link will be the source of moral obligation, and that is the awareness that man shares, in a particularly forceful, superior, and unique way, in being and the good, that is, he is a sharer par excellence in these transcendentals. As a particular good, therefore, man is superior to all other particular goods, because he shares in a more noble way in being and in the good, since, contrary to all being and all good that is below man--the brute animals, vegetative life, and lesser things--man is both an "intellector of being" and a "willer of good." It is this dignity, the recognition of this dignity within us and others, that is the last link in the chain which takes us out of freedom in choosing particular goods, to the realm of moral obligation, to moral necessity, a necessity borne in freedom, that urges us to choose one particular good over another particular good as being right.

Going back to the first link in the chain of moral obligation, we may develop it as follows. The identification of being with good occurs in man as "an automatic abstraction of the intellect," one that "can go unnoticed and lurk in the depths of our conscious life." It is intrinsically in man, and we need not be philosophers implicitly to know that good and being are interchangeable. When confronting being as good, therefore, there is an "automatic rush of appetite," an "initial eruption of the will," an "engendered volitional dynamism," a desire for all being and all good, one that "is the source of all specifically human desire," which represents the human "heart's deepest longing."*** This implicit sense of being is why even the most unphilosophical of men would understand the first principle of speculative reason: the principle of contradiction--that something cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. This implicit sense of the good is also something that wells up in us, whether we are conscious of it or not, and so we can understand without being philosophical or introspective the first principle of practical reason--that one should do good and avoid evil. "By explicating being as a transcendental analogon, the philosopher merely explicates an abstractum that the intellect of every human person automatically takes from the real things presented by sensation." In other words, philosophers express the reality that is already impressed in all of us.

We necessarily tend, therefore, to the universal good--the good. Our hearts, our being is hardwired, as it were, to seek the good. But though, in fact because, the will tends invariably towards the universal good, it does not tend invariably toward particular goods. Hence, the fact that our will is determined to seek the universal good is what frees us in our choices of particular goods. The fact that we are forced to be on the road to being, the road to the good, is what allows us to visit the inns of particular goods on either side of the way.
Aquinas explains that since the will necessarily tends to the universal or perfect good, then before any particular or finite good, the will does not necessarily tend. . . . Poised before beings seen in the light of the good, the will is indeterminate or free. As individual goods, existing things can be will; but as individual goods, existing things need not be willed.
It is therefore the good that precedes our inclination to the good, and not vice versa. The good is not obtained from our inclinations. Our inclinations are a response to the reality of the good that precedes us, that is there before our inclinations. Our inclinations conform to the good.

From the universal desire for the universal good, to the awareness that this desire for the universal good allows us freedom in choosing the particular good, we come to the threshold of the basis for moral obligation. Moral obligation may be described as the moral necessity in the face of freedom in choosing particular goods, within the metaphysical necessity of choosing the universal good. From hard necessity into freedom back into a soft necessity. This is the manner in which the chain of moral obligation progresses. That last link in the chain will be the subject of our next blog posting.
*This raises interesting issues for theodicy, the existence of (and even definition of) evil, and the providence of God. Dr. Knasas only hinted at such things as quandoque or "sometime" evils, evils which must arise in a material world which cannot be perfectly arranged and where free radicals therefore exist. He also spoke about whether there is evil when a superior analogate clashes with an inferior analogate (man kills a tiger) or only when an inferior analogate clashes with a superior (tiger kills man). Analogously, the higher aspect of man (his soul) clashes with his lower aspect (passion), and there is no evil done when the higher overcomes the lower (reason overcomes passion). Evil only happens when the lower overcomes the higher (passion overcomes reason). What is God's role in all this? Does God permit such quandoque evils so that an antecedent good may be done? Does God allow such quandoque evils so that a consequent good may be derived from it? Obviously, these issues were beyond the purview of Dr. Knasas's lectures.
**"I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with me. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man: But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members. Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with the mind serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin." (Romans 7:21-25)
***When this "automatic rush of appetite," this "initial eruption of the will," this "engendered volitional dynamism," focuses on the particular instead of being or the good in general, dissatisfaction is invariably the result. Even when we choose a particular good well and our ordered desire is satiated, it is never fully satiated; it leaves a longing for more, a sense that "the good" has not been obtained. When we choose a particular good and our desire is disordered, the lack of satiation, this ennui, is even more apparent, as not only do we feel that we have not reached "the good," we sense that we have departed from the path to it, as such a fulfilled disordered desire leaves a bitter aftertaste.
What we thought would satisfy us leaves us wanting for more. What was the apple of our eye shrivels to one good among others. Do not these experiences indicate that fundamental to human consciousness is a grasp of perfect good against which things eventually proportion themselves as only particular goods?


  1. I appreciate your blog, but I find it VERY hard to read long texts (or any at all, actually) on a colored background. I'm not sure if you get recommendations like this, but I want to recommend you change it to a white blog with black text. It makes it easier on the reader.

  2. Thanks for your comments, and appreciate your recommendations. I'll consider it, but it may take some time to implement because any change in format affects some of the gadgets and special format that I have put into place, so it will require some work.