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, November 27, 2010

Being and Natural Law: Moral Obligation

AS WE DISCUSSED IN OUR PRIOR POST, man is determined, is under an intrinsic compulsion, to seek the universal good, but has freedom in choosing particular goods. In looking about him, man, who is but one analogate of the analogon of being and the analogon of the good, is himself but a particular good among particular goods. He observes, however, that there are some particular goods, some analogates of being, namely himself and his fellow men and women, that participate in being, and hence in the good, in a more remarkable way. In humans "being has a voice," and good is sought in freedom. In these analogates of being, being and good is capable of being intellected, appreciated, held inside, and shown outside, and communicated with in a more particular way. Being and good is intellectually present in one's self and in one's fellow men in a manner in which no other particular goods--animal, vegetable, or mineral, or other tangible or intangible good--participates. This awareness--that we ourselves and our fellow man with us are "intellectors of good," what Dr. Knasas referred to as the phenomenon of seeing men as "epiphanies of being"*--immediately imposes a sense of obligation, a constraint or felt necessity, that these particular goods ought to be treated in a manner differently than those particular goods that are not "intellectors of good," but merely participate passively, as it were, in the good.

Because being as the good is intellectually present in a human, a human is a special analogate of being as the good. In the human, being as the good burns more brightly than it does in analogates like animals, plants, and miners. . . . Does it not make a world of difference in our estimation of the human? Does not the fact of the heightened intellectual presence of being as the good in our fellows issue to our freedom a command of respect and solicitude? . . . . This command is the initial appearance of obligation, moral necessity.

The awareness that as "intellectors of being as good" we carry in ourselves this light of being in a special way is what imposes, then, the obligations to cherish ourselves, and the equal obligation to cherish the other. Love your neighbor as yourself becomes the fundamental norm. Love your fellow "intellector of being" as you love yourself inasmuch as you also are an "intellector of being." To strike at oneself--to commit suicide, engage in self-mutilation, abuse oneself--is immediately enjoined. To strike at others, to murder them or to assault them, to abuse them is likewise an apparent injunction. For any assault on the special presence of being in these particular goods we call humans is unseemly. This is the "grand fact" that is the source of moral "oughtness," that men are intellectors of being as the good, and that they deserve a greater solicitude and respect, that is a moral response, than those who do not participate in being and good in the same intimate way.

So to summarize: we have advanced, from the real, to the intellection of the real, to analogical thinking, to an awareness of being and the good--the ratio entis and the ratio boni--to the awareness of their equivalency, to an understanding of an intrinsic compulsory thirst for being and the good which manifests itself in an awareness that we have freedom to chose those particular goods about us, and in the exercise of that freedom we come to see that certain particular goods, namely ourselves and our fellow human beings, share in being as good, in the ratio entis and the ratio boni, in an especial way, and that this demands from us an obligatory response of respect, of solicitude, of care. From reality itself we have thus walked step by step to the threshold of moral obligation. From "is" we have come to "ought" via being and its equivalency with good through a path that Hume never sought to travel as he wallowed in his skepticism. The cause for oughtness is to be found then in reality itself, in the ratio entis and the ratio boni and the ratio veri, which is at the heart of all that is, all that is good, and all that is true, and in the fact that we as men participate in being, the good, and the true in a special way from the rest of the analogates of being.

With this background, Dr. Knasas delved into article 94, q. 2 of the IaIIae of St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae. In the moral quest, like in the intellectual quest, we have to begin from somewhere. There is not infinite regress in the journey: there has to be a place from where we take leave. These are the self-evident principles, the principia per se nota. As St. Thomas explains something is self-evident in two ways or modes. First, it may be self evident in itself (secundum se), or it may be self-evident in a subjective sense (quoad nos). In other words, a proposition may in fact be self-evident without someone knowing it or recognizing it. A man may not see the self-evident because he is unlearned (or badly educated).

The reason for this is that a self-evident principle exists when the predicate is contained in the notion of the subject, so that when I say X=Y is a self-evident principle, the Y is already contained in the X in some manner (without being merely tautological). We have, therefore, to know the definition of the subject, of X, before we can see the self-evident nature of the proposition. If we do not know the definition of the subject, of X, or if we do not know the meaning of Y, we will fail to see the self-evident nature of the proposition.

Some principles are so obvious that they are self-evident to all. These are propositiones quarum termini sunt omnibus noti, propositions whose terms everyone recognizes as self-evident. There are, of course, a handful of such self-evident propositions which are often restatements or necessary corollaries of others, including the principle of being or existence ("being is"), the principle of identity ("whatever is, is"), the principle of excluded middle ("something either is or is not, but not both," or "there is no middle ground between being and non-being"), the principle of non-contradiction ("nothing can be both true and false at the same time and in the same respect," or "being as necessarily contradictory to non-being"), the principle of difference ("that which is is not that which is not, and that which is not cannot be identified with that which is"), the principle of sufficient reason ("everything which is possesses a sufficient reason for its existence"), the principle of causality ("non-being cannot cause being" or "nothing comes from nothing"), the principle efficient causality ("every effect must have a cause"), the principle of finality ("every agent acts for an end"), and so forth. As examples of these universally-held self-evident principles, St. Thomas cites two of Euclid's five principles or common notions ("things equal to one another and the same are equal to one another") and ("every whole is greater than its part").

There is a certain order in which we grasp these universally self-evident principles, as if one foot goes before the other. We first apprehend being, that transcendental--the analogon whose analogates includes all things. And from this we take the second step that being is not equivalent to non-being, and from here all other of the universally self-evident principles of the speculative or theoretical intellect are based. From here we start walking syllogistically.

What occurs with the speculative or theoretical intellect--which seeks being as truth--occurs in an analogous fashion in the practical intellect--which seeks being as the good and is directed to action. With the practical intellect we first apprehend that transcendental the good, and this leads to that second step which is that good is that which all things seek after. And from this comes the first precept of law: good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided (bonum est faciendum et prosequendum, et malum vitandum). This principle, that good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided, is the foundation upon which the natural law rests. In contrast with the first principle of speculative reason, the first principle of practical reason is a command, an imperative: good ought to be done, should be done, must be done. From here, analogous to the speculative intellect, we begin our syllogistic journey into the realm of morality and ethics.

The need for such self-evident principles of speculative reason and of practical reason are obvious:

[T]o avoid debilitating infinite regress [in thought], we come to the realization that we know some reasons not because they are themselves demonstrated but because they are just obviously true.

The self-evident principles, however, are not given us a priori. The self-evident principles themselves are built upon reality, a reality which impresses itself upon our mind through the senses. These principles are obtained by man a posteriori, though they exist in reality which is a priori to us. These principles are objectively outside of us in the real, and through the senses and our process of intellection and apprehension of being we grasp them as being part of the real. This is fundamental to the realist view, and it is what distinguishes the self-evident principles in Thomistic realism from the self-evident principles arising out of the positivism of someone like A. J. Ayer**:
[I]n back of self-evident propositions as a basis for reasoning lies the previously noted*** capacity of the intellect to apprehend commonalities in the real things provided by sensation. . . . For [A. J.] Ayer, self-evident propositions do not express the way reality is. They express only how we want our words to be used. In other words, behind a self-evident proposition, Ayer does not see an intellectual insight into the real, but [rather he sees] a human decision that is basically arbitrary.
Dr. Knasas explored the link between the first principle of speculative reason and the first principle of practical reason. The first principles have an intimate relationship to their respective analagons. The first principle of speculative reason is based upon the "steadfastness" nature of being. That "steadfastness" is communicated to each analogate of the analogon of being. Our perception of this leads to the first principle of speculative reason: being is being, and excludes non-being: a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.

There is a similar intimate relationship between the first principle of practical reason and its respective analogon, the good (bonum). Instead of "steadfastness," which is the central feature of being, we have "desirability" as the central aspect of the good. This "desirability" is what fees the first principle of practical reason: good ought to be done, and its opposite avoided. There is thus an intimate relationship between the characteristic feature of the analogon and the respective first principle.

As an aside, St. Thomas does not equate being with the good in article 94 of the IaIIae of the Summa Theologiae. But the equivalency is found elsewhere in the Summa, specifically in Ia, q. 5, arts. 1-3. St. Thomas is forthright: Every being, as being, is good (ens, inquantum est ens, est bonum) (Iª q. 5 a. 3 co.)

The issue is not so neat, however. For a principle to be self-evident, the predicate must in some manner exist in the subject. If the first principle of practical reason is that good ought to be done and its opposite avoided, how is it that the "oughtness" is contained in the notion of the "good"? Oughtness is not compulsion. Oughtness is not untrammeled freedom. Oughtness is obligation within freedom.

If "the good" in the first principle of practical reason is understood as the transcendental good, then it does not seem to lead to moral obligation. The reason for this is that one is not free to reject the transcendental good. The will, as we mentioned earlier in this posting, is captured in "automatic rush of appetite," an "initial eruption of the will," an "engendered volitional dynamism," as so compelled to seek the good. "There is no moral necessity here because there is no freedom." There is no moral necessity because there is necessity pure and simple. "The will acts automatically." Obviously this cannot be the source of the first principle of practical reason: there cannot be any "oughtness" if one is compelled and there is no freedom.

On the other hand, if "the good" in the first principle of practical reason is understood as particular goods--that is the analogates of the analogon "the good" as instantiated all its diversity and particularity--then there is similarly no moral obligation, although for exactly the opposite reason. Here, there is nothing to distinguish between one particular good and another. There is nothing but absolute freedom, and no oughtness that might impinge upon our arbitrary freedom. We are, as it were, in a Baskin Robbins free to choose whatever we will, and de gustibus non est disputandum. We are outside the realm of ought.

So where is it between "necessary volition" (a curious oxymoron) and "raw freedom" that we find oughtness? Here we have to go back to Thomistic epistemology. We have to go back to things. The question we must ask is: "In what things do we perceive the good so that the obligation arises?" It is in those things that are "intellectors and willers of the good."

Among all the analogates of the good, intellectors and willers have the analogon in an especially intense manner. Before such instances we are free undoubtedly, but we are also morally constrained. In humans, the ratio boni burns more brightly that it does in other instances . . . Can that fact leave us unconstrained?

Man stands midway between "the good" simpliciter, transcendentally, and "the good" in its most diverse particularity. Man shares in the particular, but man also touches, incarnates in a manner of speaking the universal good in a unique way. There is a spark of "the good" in him that is found in no other particular good, and so, like the man whom we confront who straddles the universal and the particular, we straddle between absolute freedom and absolute determinism. Right smack dab in the middle is the compulsion in freedom, the oughtness in liberty, that is the very definition of morality. So when we say that good ought to be done and evil avoided, the "good" in that first principle "is the ratio boni as specifically in the human instance."

All this discussion seems esoteric, hardly the type of thinking that the typical man-on-the-street engages in. But what we have described is a process that is virtually automatic and natural in us, so naturally do we engage in it that it is virtually "hidden in the human psyche," though it produces "conscious effects." The reality of the process that is dissected by the philosopher is evidenced by shadowy notions of our dignity, by the fellow-feeling we have for our fellow man, by our ability to visualize ourselves apart from the world and yet realize that somehow "human relations run by special rules," special rules that are part of reality, a reality of which we are part, which we have not made, but which we discover.

The source of these "half-conscious realization about special rules and human relations" is what St. Thomas Aquinas calls "synderesis." For Aquinas, synderesis is the habitual possession of the first principles of practical reason. But this habitual possession is not something a priori, but like all Thomistic thought it is based upon his a posteriori epistemology. The ratio entis as well as the ratio boni result from abstraction derived from sensible things, from our contact with reality. The natural law, the moral law, is something that is in some way external to us, outside of us, and beyond us, which impresses upon us through the senses, and which, through our habitual possession of by synderesis, becomes most internalized so that it also becomes our law. There is a fit between the law outside and the law inside, and the law outside, which is real, informs the law inside us, which is an accurate and correct reflection or copy as it were of what is outside us. The natural moral law is unquestionably real. To reject the natural moral law is to fall into the abyss of the unreal.

*There is an interesting overlap between this concept of seeing men as "epiphanies of being" and W. H. Auden's "epiphany" that he described in his poem "Law Like Love" and "A Summer Night." See "Law Like Love" The Timid Analogy. What W. H. Auden described poetically, Dr. Knasas has sought to explain philosophically.
**Alfred Jules Ayer (1910-1989), a British philosopher associated with the British humanist movement, who advanced logical positivism in such books as Language, Truth, and Logic (1936) and The Problem of Knowledge (1956).
***Dr. Knasas adverts to the epistemological or metaphysical basis of our knowledge, which we discussed in our postings on his lectures entitled Being and Natural Law: Tarantulas and other Nightmares, Being and Natural Law: The Bent Twig and Epistemology, and Being and Natural law: On Vilnius and Kaunas and Koufax and Mays.

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