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, May 30, 2010

By Nature Equal: Human Equality and the Natural Law, Lapse into Subjectivism

IN MUSHY LONERGANIANISM COONS AND BRENNAN finally find an ally in their quest for a philosophical support of the convention of human equality, a relation that they have defined as the self's capacity to make a commitment to moral self perfection by treating his neighbor in a manner that appears to him correct, keeping in mind the general requirement to seek for the objective lateral order. What frightens one as one proceeds through Coons and Brennan's work is that their supposed "fail safe" reference to the objective lateral moral order may, in fact, not be a reference to the objective lateral moral order at all, at least as traditional understood. In their Gollum-like effort to preserve their "precious" convention of human equality, they are willing to jettison any real objectivism in the objective, so that their insistence on an objective lateral moral order (which would seem to be a nod to traditionalists) is not really a nod to traditionalists at all, but a surreptitious wink to subjectivism, which is what they really seem to court. In the climax of their work By Nature Equal, it appears as if a true objective lateral moral order has been led blindfold to the Guillotine under the cries of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité." It turns out that Coons and Brennan are Kantians (or worse) in objective clothing. They are, in fact, philosophical Jacobins. In good Jacobin form, they avoid any real confrontation with an objective moral reality by lopping off its objective head, and fitting it with a subjective noggin, and then parading out the monstrous result as if they had achieved something revolutionary and unique. But all that's been achieved is a veritable monster. The "natural law" that Coons and Brennan rely upon is like Washington Irving's Headless Horseman, a subjective headless Hessian cavalryman with but an objective pumpkin as its head. This monster terrifies us as much as it terrified Ichabod Crane.

Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horsemen by William J. Wilgus (1819-53)

The incompatibility of the natural moral law to the convention of human equality is avoided "if moral achievement comes not to those whose free choices actually correspond to the external order of correct behaviors, but to those who try to achieve such correspondence," Coons and Brennan remind us. (p. 136) What "trying" really means is anyone's guess, because any effort at achieving it appears to be one fraught with despair, since, as it turns out, Coons and Brennan do not believe in such an objective lateral moral order at all! "The apparent antagonism to human equality might be eliminable, however, given a reinterpretation of the "objectivity" necessary to natural morality."

And how is this to be done? By jettisoning the "correspondence" notion of truth, that is, by getting rid of the objective lateral moral order altogether, and replacing it with a subjectivist moral order, all the while calling it objective. It all appears to be a not-so-clever ruse. Coons and Brennan plan to "re-conceive" objectivity so that is "no longer a 'correspondence' to the external world, but instead as the product of fidelity to an internally given moral order." (p. 137).

Their radical reinterpretation of the tradition is not of their own breeding, but comes from their devotion to the theological method of Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984), whose system must be viewed with suspicion as it led him to dissent the Church's teaching on artificial contraception as contained in Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, implying that somewhere, somehow Lonergan got it badly wrong. Lonergan despaired of any ability of the human mind to comprehend objective being or objective good (as traditionally understood as the correspondence of the mind to the external reality, veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus). So he escaped like any good Kantian would from the effort. He withdrew, much like a tortoise into its shell, or perhaps better, imploded, sort of like gravity and light into a black hole, into a subjective objectivity, or objective subjectivity, clearly confusing both dimensions of reality. The objective retracts into or collapses into the subjective, and, in all but name, objectivity becomes subjectivity.

(Criticism of the Lonerganian subjectivity is not to deny the deeply internal nature of the natural law. We have discussed this aspect of it repeatedly in our postings. It is perhaps most beautifully expressed in the Augustinian notion of the internus aeternus. See St. Augustine of Hippos: Confessions and the Eternal Law as the Internus Aeternus and following postings on that subject. But, like everything else, an emphasis of one truth at the exclusion of another is what's at hand here. The natural law, being really nothing but a participation in the Eternal Law, which is God Himself, is both extrinsic and intrinsic, both objective and subjective, transcendent and immanent. The natural law is our participation in the God above us, and the God within us. Lonergan, as apparently his disciples Coons and Brennan, seem to have emphasized the second dimension of reality, and in the process lost track of the first dimension of reality.)

In a feat reminiscent of Descartes, Lonergan tries to find a foundation for thought that is not, as we would traditionally view it, objective. He locks himself up within himself, distrusts the senses, and tries to find some sort of foundation, a "rock" upon which to build." "The rock . . . is the subject." To his credit, perhaps, Lonergan is a bit more gregarious that Descartes. Descartes found only one friend within himself: thought: cogito ergo sum. Lonergan finds more friends within himself. Lonergan found an experiencing friend, an understanding friend, a judging friend, and a deciding friend. Descartes was father of modern rationalism, and rationalism has but one friend to talk to, reason. Lonergan is father of modern feelingism, and feelingism has many friends. According to Lonergan, these four operations--experiencing, understanding, judging, and deciding--find their unity. They are, in fact, "the unfolding of a single thrust, the eros of the human spirit." (p. 138, quoting Lonergan's Method in Theology). This unifying desire, this eros, asks questions, so experience asks: "What do I feel?" And understanding asks "What is it?" And judging asks, "Is it so?" And deciding asks "Ought I to do it?" This is a "self-assertive spontaneity that demands sufficient reason for all else but offers not justification for its demanding." (p. 183, quoting Lonergan's Insight.) According to Coons and Brennan: "It is rock." (p. 138)

Really? If this is the rock of human thought, then it sounds more like the rock of the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-8), which soon as it received the divine seed that had sprung up, the divine seed withered away, because the rock lacked any moisture. The Lonerganian rock lacks soil. It is sterile. It is an intellectual desert. No objective plant can or ever will grow on it.

In any event, in our efforts to answer these spontaneous questions welling up within us, we have to adhere to "transcendental precepts." "Be attentive, Be intelligent, Be reasonable, Be responsible." (p. 138, quoting Lonergan's Method.) These mantras, apparently, are supposed to take usher us into some objective, normative Nirvana.
With these precepts the dynamic desire of the human spirit "teaches" the subject that the point is not just autonomic experiencing, understanding, judging, and deciding. If the dynamic desire to know is to be satisfied, the subject must (1) experience attentively, (2) understand intelligently, (3) judge reasonably, and (4) decide responsibly.
(p. 138) (Coons and Brennan emphasize the adverbs, supposing that in so doing they add objectivity and philosophical gravitas to the process.) "Normativity thus emerges from within (!?) the subject." (p. 138) (emphasis added).
[It resides] at root in the native spontaneities and inevitabilities of our consciousness which assembles its own constituent parts and units them in a rounded whole in a manner we cannot set aside without, as it were, amputating our won [4] moral personality, [3] our own reasonableness, [2] our own intelligence, [1] our own sensitivity.
(p. 138-39, quoting Lonergan's Method.) "It is by adhering to the transcendental precepts that we achieve objectivity; that is, 'genuine objectivity is the fruit of authentic subjectivity.'" (quoting Lonergan's Method). Weakly, Coons and Brennan suggest that these "transcendental precepts" are the natural law. (p. 140).

Listen to the enormity: Contemplation of one's navel, so long as one contemplates one's navel in a responsibly and diligently navel-like contemplative way (what would be the adverbial form of contemplating one's navel so as to make sure we comply with the transcendental precepts that govern the contemplation of one's navel?) leads us to understand the Universe as it is out there! God in the omphalos? The Lonerganian method, we suppose, also allows us to understand the God who is immanent in the Universe out there and transcends the Universe out there. Oh, but I almost forgot, we also have to be willing always to change, so we can be fickly follow our fickle spontanaeities and inevitabilities, so long as we follow them followinglively, so that we discover the constantly changing "emergent probabilities." (p. 139) And here is finally Coons and Brennan's grand insight: "Emergent probability is the great equalizer of humankind." (p. 140, quoting Ted Dunne, Lonergan and Spirituality (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1985), 62.)
The question of whether people have the equal capacity to achieve objectivity in their moral judgments has been transmuted into the question of whether they have the same capacity to be authentic, and the answer seems to be yes. Moving the basis of ethics in from the external to the internal world dissolves the problem of "equal access." Once objectivity's norms are internal, everyone can know and satisfy them. The principle is not correspondence to the external but fidelity to the internally given transcendental precepts.
(p. 140). Coons and Brennan finally show their Lonerganian credentials:
So we conclude with Lonergan: Yes, there is a genuine order of obligation; yes, we must heeds its commands; no, we never get outside to check whether we have got its terms right. The most we can do is to make the search in the enthusiasm of the dynamic desire for the good that promotes us from one step to the next. Whatever self-perfection is possible lies in making this search; thus, though we cannot be certain, it is plausible that all persons are uniformly prepared to do what is necessary.
(p. 140) "Obtension is man's natural finality. Period." (p. 141). Period? Coons et Brennan locuti sunt, causa finita est?

It is manifest that Coons and Brennan's project to reconcile the natural law with their conventional human equality failed. Having identified the convention of human equality, they were unable to find allies in any recognized theory of the natural law, whether Stoic, Scholastic, neo-Scholastic, or contemporary (or as they called them "Common Sense," "Classic," or "Integration" theories of natural law). Instead, they had recourse to Lonergan's subjective mish mash, which not only shuns, but positively rejects man's ability to perceive the reality, since it defines reality not as correspondence of our minds with what is out there, but the correspondence of our minds with our own minds. This is a recipe for philosophical solipsism, and, ultimately, for sterility (remember the "rock"!)

The Alpenglow on a Real Mountain

It is perhaps this sterility in his intellectual method that led Lonergan to accept sterility in the conjugal act. There is, we may suppose, some relatedness between the two sterilities. In the conjugal act we must correspond to the other that is "out there" in an intimate act of communion. To say that there is no correspondence between self and other in the giving and sharing of each other in in the marital act is to condemn us to Onanism. Analogously, in the intellectual act, we must correspond our mind in an intimate act of communion with the world that exists, and not only the world that is within us, but the world (including persons and Persons) that is without us, that is what is Other than from us. There are, as Gerard Manley Hopkins says, "mountains of the mind," but these are not the only mountains. There are, though Lonergan did not see them, mountains out there. I know. I have climbed them. They have tired me. And I have seen the indescribable Alpenglow.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

By Nature Equal: Human Equality and the Natural Law, Last Possible Ally Fails

THERE WAS NO HOOK IN HEAVEN OR ON EARTH upon which moral philosophy could hang, nor any foundation in the world above or the world below upon which it could be built. So was Kant's view of things. The only source of morality for Kant was in the mind, pure reason, a reason distilled of most everything that man, at least while in his body, considers important in this life and, when dead, is sure to consider important in the next. Unguided by the natural desire for happiness (eudaemonism), or the lessons to be learned from a reality which was unknown and unknowable, or the yearnings of man toward heaven or lasting meaning, it was a morality of raw duty.

Kantian ethics took the world by storm, and, in a way, eventually even breached the redoubts of the natural law. Largely based on the work in moral theology of Catholic moral theologian Germain Grisez, the Oxonian (and Catholic) John Finnis promulgated a full and plenary theory of the natural law in his book Natural Law and Natural Rights. What is unusual about the theory of natural law that Finnis advances is that it is not based upon any teleological view of nature. Nor is it based upon a metaphysical realism. Yet despite these fundamental aspects of Thomistic theories of natural law that it lacks, it claims to be Thomistic in inspiration and heritage. (In an earlier posting, we discussed John Courtney Murray's view that a teleological view of nature and a realistic ontology are two fundamental requirements of a natural law theory. See The Four Requirements of a Classical Natural Law Theory.) Rather, it claims to advance a theory of objective morality without these ontological or epistemological suppositions. It accepts as a philosophical fait accompli the Humean critique that has come to be known as the "naturalistic fallacy." That supposed fallacy frequently heaved against the classic or traditional notion of natural law is that such theories are fallacious because one cannot argue from "is" to an "ought," from description to prescription, from fact to law.

John Finnis, Author of Natural Law and Natural Rights

Accepting as a given the Cartesian, Humean, Kantian philosophical presuppositions, these modern theories of natural law "locate[] the moral 'ought' somewhere between heaven and earth--in a reality at once familiar and obscure, the self-evident principles of practical reason." (p. 132) On the American side, the principal proponent of this new theory is the Princeton Professor, Robert P. George. The new natural law theory has been criticized as being Kantian in inspiration. One of the most articulate critics of it from the traditional side of things is Russell Hittinger. (See, e.g., his A Critique of the Natural Law Theory (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987). In any event, Coons and Brennan refer to these new theories of the natural law as "Integration" theories.

It is difficult to explain the Integration theory of natural law in a nutshell. But here it goes. Essentially, the new natural law theory eschews metaphysical or ontological suppositions. It starts with a list of self-evident pre-moral goods, usually numbered as seven: (1) life, (2) knowledge, (3), play, (4) aesthetic experience, (5) sociability (friendship), (6) practical reasonableness, and (7) religion (understood very broadly). These self-evident goods are incommensurable; that is, there is no way to prioritize them or hierarchize them in any normative sense. Practical reasonableness, itself a self-evident good, can only chose to emphasize some over others, but can never work against one in favor of another one. So the possible emphasis and combination of these goods in the effort at human flourishing is virtually infinite and so allows great freedom. These basic human goods are pre-moral. The "first principle of morality" is that in one's action regarding these goods, one must exercise practical reasonableness. (The use of practical reason is both a self-evident, pre-moral good, as well as the first principle of morality.) To act against practical reason in the selection of these self-evident goods is to step into immorality. In an effort to accommodate the proper mix among the fundamental goods, one should also strive for "integral human fulfillment." This assures that all the basis human goods receive at least some hearing. Coons and Brennan do not like this last requirement: they view it as "a theoretically unmotivated and unallowable ghost of moral theories past." They also believe it to "look surprisingly like the human nature of traditional natural law theories," or perhaps even like the "ideal Christian.") (p. 135) The reason Coons and Brennan distrust this last requirement is because it impinges upon their pet convention of human equality.
Integral human fulfillment may not lay down a detailed template of the perfecting human life, but its prescriptive patter of choices that is necessary to moral fulfillment raises doubts of the possibility of equality.
(p. 135). The proponents of the Integration natural law theories accept men as equal in dignity in the sense that they are subjects of human goods and as a result of the rational capacity for self-determination by the exercise of free choices. (p. 135) While Coons and Brennan would not disagree, they state, accurately enough, that this human dignity and so human equality is a single equality. A single equality is one that humans hold in possession and not in degree. The convention of human equality that Coon and Brennan, like a couple of Procrustean professors, seek to impose upon any theory of law, however, requires this fundamental human equality to be based upon a host property that involves a double equality, that is an equality of both possession and degree. (For more of this distinction between single and double equality, see By Nature Equal: How are Men Created Equal? Definitions.)
Persons are equal in dignity, George tells us, "as loci of human goods and of rational capacity for self-determination by free choices." Anyone with rationality enough to be self-determining and to realize the basic goods in his or her moral person is a locus of dignity. But as we have emphasized, rationality, and with it the knowledge necessary to appropriate the basic goods, varies among persons. All rational persons, then, are equal in possession of rationality, in their possession of the capacity to achieve human good, and their possession of human dignity; this, though, is merely a single equality, and George cannot plausibly claim that this meets the condition of a double relation founded on a uniform rational capacity to instantiate basic goods. If dignity hinges on the rational capacity to achieve basic goods, conventional human quality again fails.
(pp. 135-36) (quoting Robert P. George, Making Men Moral: Civil Liberties and Public Morality (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 39). So at the end of the day, Coons and Brennan do not find an ally in the Integral theories of natural law.

As Coons and Brennan ostracize themselves from Integration, Classic, and Common Sense theories of the natural law, their friends among the natural law school are getting smaller. Who are their friends? Lonerganians. Are Longerganians advocates of a natural law theory? That may be doubtful. These issues will be addressed in our next blog posting.

Friday, May 28, 2010

By Nature Equal: Human Equality and the Natural Law, Coons and Brennan vs. Suarez

CONTINUING THEIR HOSTILITY to the traditional theories of the natural law caused by the theories incompatibility with their notion of the convention of human equality, Coons and Brennan take on the natural law theory of the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), a giant in the history of the natural law. Although they classify Suarez's theory of the natural law as found in his De Legibus a "Classic" theory to distinguish it from the "Common Sense" theory, they ultimately conflate the two. "If we squint just a little, Suarez's notion of natural law reduces to an academicized form of Common Sense." Its biggest crimes are, apparently, that it refers to nature, to the need to conform to it, and to the divine sanction in nature that such implies. Yet, "[o]pening wide our eyes," they suggest that by the time of Suarez, belief in philosophical realism had been lost, and the world was nominalist and voluntarist. "Where once there were real things, now there is language. Gone is the empiricality of Common Sense, and in its stead looms a labyrinth of propositions." (p. 130) To make up for the lack of substances caused by philosophical nominalism, Coons and Brennan state that the advocates of natural law added the additional component of God's will.

For the sake of analysis of Coons and Brennan's work, we may accept their curious assessment of Suarez's work as "legist," "modernist," nominalist, and voluntarist, and the source, the "modern charter," of "embarassing" Latin "manuals" of moral theology, though much can be against that characterization of Suarez and moral theologians prior to their darling Lonergan. (Both Suarez and Lonergan deserve separate treatment, but this post is not the place for it.)

Francisco Suarez

Coons and Brennan find rather quickly that Suarez's theory of natural law will not lend support to the convention of human equality they have identified. The reason is Suarez's insistence that obedience to the objective component of the natural moral law is a requisite to real advance in the moral life. Put simply, Suarez advances that obvious principle that, supposing two persons have equal good intent, that person is better off whose behavior conforms to the objective moral law than that person whose behavior, as a result of invincible ignorance, does not conform to the objective moral law. "The content of the natural law, correctly perceived, is necessary for the perfection or felicity of human nature." (p. 131) It is this objective aspect of the Suarezian theory that is at odds with the convention of human equality as Coons and Brennan have defined it because it puts a premium on knowledge and places a real disvalue on ignorance. For Coons and Brennan the convention of human equality requires that knowledge of the objective moral law be immaterial to the moral goodness of the actor. This is part of their angelic or "chelidonic" notion of goodness, which have discussed in yesterday's posting. See By Nature Equal: Human Equality and the Natural Law, Coons and Brennan's Chelidonic or Angelic Ethic. "Unless governed by the precepts of the natural law," Suarez maintains to the chagrin of Coons and Brennan, "human conduct lacks 'rectitude.' The subject who fails to do the natural law stands imperfect, his potential unfulfilled." (p. 132)

This Suarezian insistence that, in the real world, among men, within the temporal, sublunary sphere, that a man, regardless of his inner sincerity, is better off, more complete, and living life more in accord with God's will and plan if he acts in accord with the objective content of the natural moral law, and thus is better off with a knowledge of all its details, is anathema to Coons and Brennan. It presents for them an intolerable assault upon the convention of human equality.
More complex that Common Sense natural law, the Classic version is at one with it in rejecting fulfillment by good intention--even by the specific good intention to seek the content of the Suarezian rules of conduct. The wrong choice never produces moral goodness in the actor. Hence the savant with his or her superior grasp of details will have the easier access to self perfection. This is descriptive inequality.
(p. 132) After reaching this conclusion, Coons and Brennan look at the modern theory of natural law advanced by Grisez, Finnis, and George, among others (what they label the "Integration" theories). Although they have more tolerance for this theory, they ultimately will reject its compatibility with the convention of human equality. They insist that the convention of human equality disdains objective knowledge of the content of the natural moral law as a principle of individual perfection, that the individual's sincerity, good will, and active seeking of that objective knowledge is both necessary and sufficient for that individual's moral perfection. Ultimately, they come to the conclusion that even the Integration theories lend no support to the convention of human equality.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

By Nature Equal: Human Equality and the Natural Law, Coons and Brennan's Chelidonic or Angelic Ethic

THERE IS NO THEORY OF NATURAL LAW that is relativistic. All varietals of the natural law have espoused the claim that there is a moral order that is outside human convention or independent of human will and which obligates every man without exception. Coons and Brennan agree that the natural law theories seem to satisfy a number of the criteria they have set forth as essential for the convention of human equality. In addressing whether natural law theories can support the convention of human equality, Coons and Brennan divide up the various natural law theories into four categories: (1) the "Common Sense" theories (those loosely based upon Aristotle, and espoused by, for example Henry Veatch or Mortimer Adler), (2) the "Classic" theories (choosing the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Suarez's version as an exemplar of this group), (3) the more contemporary "Integration" theories (e.g., the theories of Germain Grisez, John Finnis, and Robert P. George), and (4) the "Authenticity" theories (principally based on the insights of the Canadian Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan).

At the outset, they state their conclusion: the "Common Sense" theories and the "Classic" theories do not support the convention of human equality that they espouse. "In short," in their view, "these two traditional versions of natural law are forms of moral gnosticism . . . ." (p. 124). Thus, they appear to accuse the two traditional forms of the natural law as moral heresies.

Since these two theories require more than mere striving, but require both correct moral judgments and corresponding human action in time, it virtually assures inequality among humans, at least in the manner human equality is advanced by Coons and Brennan, impinging therefore on Coons and Brennan's dear theory. They would rather toss out tradition, and perhaps even truth (that we, in this life, both know and act in time), than part with their convention of human equality. Here Coons and Brennan appear to act like Tolkien's Gollum, focusing unreasonably on their "precious" ring of Kantian equality.

Tolkien's Smeagol or Gollum and his "Precious"

Indeed, they admit that they are in the business to "disparage" the "Common Sense" theory of natural law, presumably for the reason that it does not fit well with their thesis or with the convention regarding human equality they promote. (Their bias is already revealed when they describe the "Common Sense" theory as the "stuff of cocktail parties and Senate hearings," and held by the "uneducated," (p. 124, 125) as if only those drunk on wine or drunk on power, or those steeped in ignorance could entertain such a theory.) Human nature, as understood by the "Common Sense" and "Classic" theories, will not support the convention of human equality, they say, no less than Hobbesian individualism. What this suggests, of course, is that the "Common Sense" and "Classic" theories of the natural law are as equally erroneous as Hobbes's theories. (This is vicious: when Kant is more supportive of your theory of human equality than Cicero or Suarez, or any one in between, it may be time to change your theory of human equality. But Coons and Brennan, like Gollum, see only one thing--a convention--as reality.)

The "Common Sense" theory is Aristotelian in the sense that it is teleological in its view of nature. (Another Coon and Brennan slight to the "Common Sense" theory is to brand these theories as reliant upon the biology and physics of Aristotle, something which is untrue, and which serves to taint these theories as "unscientific" or dated. We have addressed the issue of an end or telos in previous postings. See, e.g., Natural Law: Ectasis and Telos.) The "Common Sense" theory relies on the practical reason and is realistic, at least in part, in its epistemology and teleological in its ontology. (See The Four Requirements of a Natural Law Theory.) The "Common Sense"(and "Classic") theories also presuppose that nature has a purpose, and man's practical reason has the capacity to understand that purpose. With respect to his own purposeful nature, man is under a moral obligation to listen to it, and to live in accordance with it. In a way man's nature (his is) determines what he should do (his ought). As Jacques Maritain put it in his Moral Philosophy:
In Aristotle's dynamic conception all essence is the assignment of an end, a telos--which beings endowed with reason pursue freely, not be necessity. Become in your action what you are in your essence--here is the primordial rule of ethics.
Jacques Maritain, Moral Philosophy (London: Bles, 1964), 58 (quoted in Coons and Brennan, 296 n. 17.) In assessing the rule among various competing natures, the "Common Sense" theory also looks at relations. Coons and Brennan quote Vernon Bourke:
Prior to ethical rules expressive of types of right actions are those objective and real relations between persons, between things, and between various interpersonal dealings. These relations are understandable "ratios" (in a wider sense than in arithmetic) which provide an objective basis for reasoning to moral judgments. Some of these practical judgments are general in form, for example, that children should respect their parents, or that parents should take care of their children. In other words, there is a right ration between parent and child, not simply because I think so, but because of a universal relationship.
(p. 126-27) "The order of nature is a vast complexus of such intelligible relations." (Bourke, History of Ethics, 90.) This way of thinking is what is behind John Paul II's famous utterance: "Family, become what you are!" (Familiaris Consortio, No. 17).

Of course, such manner of thinking raises the typical objection against these theories, the Humean or Moorean naturalistic fallacy. "How does knowing what a thing is show what anyone ought to do?" Coons and Brennan query, obviously having ceded to the generally-prevailing Humean skepticism (p. 125-26) among the Western intelligentsia and scientists. (See Universal Ethic-Theoretical Foundations 3-Nature, Man, God and Ectasis and Telos: David Hume and "Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings . . . ".)

In trying to distill the right action based upon information gleaned from nature and from the complexus of relations within it, man is limited by both his innate abilities and his cultural or educational, and perhaps even genetically informed prejudices. He is also limited by fortune, by the accidental coalition of so many variables which either impede him or facilitate him in his moral life. This implies that men differ, either by talent or by circumstance (or even by God's Grace), in regard to their ability to comprehend the natural moral law. This is bane to Coons and Brennan's conventional human equality. More than that, man is limited by time in the acquisition and incorporation of this law. Become what you are implies becoming which is a process. But Coons and Brennan do not want process, they want instantaneousness. For Coons and Brennan, in the natural order, one does not become good, one must be good (even if one is bad), or there is no human equality.
To be begin, there are no children to be found among the moral heroes of Common Sense and Aristotle. In an ethics formed around finality, perfection is apt to be understood as what is attached "at the end of a long term, after long exercise, at a ripe age when the hair is beginning to turn silver."
(p. 128) (quoting Maritain) "This picture of moral gradualism, of a perfection realizable by survivors, is just what equality forbids." (p. 128)

Barn Swallow by Audubon

Coons and Brennan are aghast at the notion that man must act out his moral choice in time. They view this as tragic, and they disdain tragedy. The Aristotelian commonplace is bothersome to them: "One swallow does not make a summer . . and . . . a short time . . . does not make a man blessed and happy." γὰρ χελιδὼν ἔαρ οὐ ποιεῖ, οὐδὲ μία ἡμέρα: οὕτω δὲ οὐδὲ μακάριον καὶ εὐδαίμονα μία ἡμέρα οὐδ᾽ ὀλίγος χρόνος. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1098a16) This reality they cannot entertain. They demand an instantaneous ethic, an eternal ethic, an angelic ethic, a chelidonic or chelidomorphic ethic [swallow-like; from Greek, χελιδὼν, chelidon, meaning a swallow. If Coons and Brennan are going to coin the neologism "obtend," then I will coin the neologism "chelidonic" to describe their ethic]. But this is no human ethic at all, it is one which, paradoxically, is outside time and so not natural to mankind, at least not while in via, on pilgrimage. Yet Coons and Brennan insist:
Equality requires plenary moral power for every rational being, including those who are new at the game. It somehow must swallow even the hard case of the child who dies (or who loses rationality) having experienced only the "faint flicker of choice" and only the promising beginnings of natural excellence.
We must swallow the case of the swallow, so that even a brief life has all the equality to it that a long life does. This is Coons and Brennan's chelidonic natural ethic, a natural ethic that is required for them to maintain their "precious," their convention of human equality. It is an ethic of instantaneousness, of a series of short swallow-like choices, where virtue is an unheard of thing, and likens man's moral choice as that of an angel outside of time.

Thus, Coons and Brennan want to take us out of tragedy and time, into beatitude and eternity, at least beatitude and eternity as they see it. But it seems that in doing so we have already traveled out of the natural into supernatural. We may hope in the God whose quality is always to have mercy, who informs us that the last shall be first, and the first shall be last, who forgave a penitent thief at the threshold of death and promised him paradise, who watches the swallows with every bit as much solicitude as he does the hawk, who assures us that no human life, even the briefest, is wasted if it obtends even implicite to God, though by all appearance it is so. When we do so, when we hope in such a God and such a realm, we no longer walk on the road of reason, we walk on the road of faith. And by then, we are outside the natural law. We have ventured into the land of the Gospel. Indeed, we have gone beyond even that to the point that we are outside of time and in the Eschaton, outside the realm of natural law and into the realm of Eternal Law. There will be a time for that. There will be a time when the natural law will say:
That is I, oh, that is I!
By me what sprung, by me shall die:
Back to God’s stretched hand I fly,
To perch there for eternity.
(See "Laus Legis" and Reflections on Thompson's "Laus Legis")

But the time is not now. Now we walk in a valley of tears, in hac lacrimarum valle, where under God's Providence we suffer unequal burdens. And in their zeal, Coons and Brennan have forgotten that. Their equality has become prescriptive or normative, no longer descriptive, without them even knowing it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

By Nature Equal: How Are Men Created Equal? Kant Can't But Cant About Natural Law

KANT IS QUITE AN IMPOSING FELLOW, and he has had remarkable influence in the annals of the Academe around the globe, though he virtually never left his beloved Königsberg. How such a parochial little man, a bachelor with impeccable chronological habits (people set their watches by his daily afternoon walks, so regular was he), became such a universal thinker and ushered in a revolution in thought is a remarkable thing. (We have treated some elements of Kantian thought in prior posts. See Ecstasis and Telos: Immanuel Kant and Selflaw and Golden Rule in Immanuel Kant: The Golden Rule But a Trivial Footnote.) Kant's contribution to the modern notions of equality are significant. As Coons and Brennan summarize it: "The modern literature on human equality--such as it is--is saturated with Kantian concepts." (p. 116) Indeed, one comes to the conclusion after reviewing this part of their work that Coons and Brennan are more Kantian than they are advocates of a traditional natural law.

Kant lived in a time when man was viewed as a machine in a mechanistic universe, a sort of tin man in a tin house with a tin heart. That should have bothered anyone with a heart of flesh, or even anyone with a mind. It's hard to tell whether this mechanistic philosophy bothered Kant's heart, but it certainly troubled this man's impressive mind. A mechanistic cog in a mechanistic cosmos means no morality, as it means everything is determined. A human with a Hobbesian "spring" or coil for a heart is more a robot that a man. This was something that did not settle well with Kant. And he put his mind to do something about it.

Easter Island Moai

Rather than seeing that man's heart was flesh and blood, with pinch of spiritual soul (a theology of the body!), Kant conceded to his contemporaries the mechanistic view of man, but he limited the mechanistic paradigm to the material, the phenomenal world. Then he posited a wholly ideal world, a world insulated from the empiricism of science, a noumenal world. Man was sort of like an Eastern Island statute, a moai, with his body hidden in the phenomenal world, but his mind in the world of the noumena. Man was both determined and free, determined in the phenomenal world, but free in the noumenal world. Man knew one world, the noumenal, but not the other, the phenomenal, since one could never know any thing as it really was (the ding an sich was unknowable), one only knew what one thought the thing really was. Kant therefore advanced a notion that there were, in the phrase of Professor Roger J. Sullivan, "two viewpoints," a material and an ideal, and never would the twain meet. Indeed, we did not really know reality, either moral or speculative, but we should act as if (als ob) we did.
Kant uses these same two viewpoints in his moral writings. On the one hand, he regards the natural world as amoral and any effort to base morality on empirical, contingent grounds as futile. Nature is just what free moral agents must transcend. Yet, on the other hand, he uses what he calls the principle of "physicoteleology" to interpret nature as purposive, with an essential role in helping us make moral judgments about human behavior. "In distributing her aptitudes, Nature has everywhere one to work in a purposive manner." "By a natural purpose [Naturzweck]," Kant explains, "I mean such a connection of the cause with an effect that, without attributing intelligence to the cause, we must yet conceive it by analogy with an intelligent cause and so as if it produced the effect purposefully."
Roger J. Sullivan, Immanuel Kant's Moral Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 182. "Making sense of Kant's moral metaphysics, then, requires keeping clear this strange idea that man must regard himself as a pure other-worldly intelligence and, exactly thus, capable of autonomy." (p. 117). Though there is no proof of it in the world about him, he can find the basis for morality in the mind that is within him, which is what gives him his autonomy.

Marble Bust of an Aging Immanuel Kant

To his credit, Kant did not view this autonomy as completely lawless. For Kant, there was a law, but it was law as the mind understood it, not law per se. And Kant's law was no longer natural, because it made no reference to man's hylomorphic or dual nature. (Indeed, it did not give reference even to God.) Kant wholly ignored the material in man's nature (there was no end, no purpose; the Humean dogma under which he slumbered told him there was no "ought" to be found in an "is"), and based his law entirely on pure reason alone. Kant's law was noumenal, not phenomenal.
Man is capable of morality exactly because his "true self" is not only free but also under a law. That law is pure reason--reason functioning on its own terms, without the influences of man's phenomenal side.
(p. 117) In a way, this all is a bit deceptive, because Kant did not advocate that we were under a law, but that we were under an idea of law. This is because ultimately, in Kant's view, this law is not the law itself, as man cannot know the law as it is. This is only law as man understands that law to be. As Kant wrote in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals:
A law has to carry with it absolute necessity if it is to be valid morally--valid, that is, as a ground of obligation .. . . the ground of obligation must be looked for, not in the nature of man nor in the circumstances of the world in which he is placed, but solely a prior in the concept of pure reason.
. . . .
Everything in nature works in accordance with laws. Only a rational being has the power to act in accordance with his ideas of laws--that is, in accordance with principles--and only so has he a will . . . the will is noting but practical reason.
(quoted in Coons and Brannon, 290 nn. 31, 32) So whatever this law is, it is not natural, and it is not law; it is our idea of the law. In other words, we are following a figmentive law, based upon reason alone, and we ought to act as if it exists, though we have no proof for it. The law that this reason imposes upon us, and under whose discipline we must live to live moral lives, is the categorical imperative.

Coons and Brennan construe Kant's philosophy as a philosophy that meets with the criteria they have established as necessary for building their notion of human equality (indeed they seem to admit later that the convention of human equality they tout stems from Kant). Kant believes that rational human beings have the capacity to choose freely to pursue or reject the details of correct behavior, that there exists a preinstitutional order of morality, that moral self-perfection is obtained through the diligent pursuit of seeking it, and that rational persons possess that capacity to make that effort, and possess that capacity uniformly. Though Kant's emphasis on reason in the moral life of man suggests a lack of uniformity in degree, Coons and Brennan believe that "at curtain time Kant seems to settle on conditions of morality that make virtue possible for every rational person." (p. 118)

Coons and Brennan therefore believe that Kant is preeminently a moral philosopher that advances a morality of good intentions that has a good fit with their notion of human equality. They quote Kant's comment in his Metaphysics of Morals in this regard:
It is a human being's duty to strive for [moral] perfection, but not to reach it (in this life), and his compliance with this duty can, accordingly, consist only in continual progress.
(p. 119) For Coons and Brennan, then, Kant is sufficiently emphatic on the centrality of intention, yet sufficiently attentive to a notion of pre-institutional morality [the categorical imperative] so as to fit with their analysis of what is required by the convention of human equality. Their ultimate conclusion is that Kant meets the criteria for identifying the host property of human equality, importance, goodness, laterality, singularity, and uniformity.

They admit that the only reason there is a fit between Kant and their notion of the convention of human equality is that "Kant broke decidedly with the tradition." (p. 119) It was Kant's emphasis on good will, and good will alone, that constitute this break. They quote extensively from Kant's Groundwork of Morals:
The good will is not good because of what it effects or accomplishes or because of its adequacy to achieve some proposed end; it is good only because of its willing, i.e., it is good of itself. . . . Even if it should happen that, by a particularly unfortunate fate or by the niggardly provision of a stepmotherly nature, this will should be wholly lacking in power to accomplish its purpose, and if even the greatest effort should not avail it to achieve anything of its end, and if there remained only the good will . . . , it would sparkle like a jewel in its own right, as something that had its full worth in itself.
(p. 119) And now begin the Kantian encomia and the colors of Coons and Brennan are revealed. Thus Coons and Brennan conclude: "Kant satisfies the criterion of uniformity by making morality pivot on an act of which everyone is equally capable: committing to duty and then pursuing its terms as best as one can." (p. 119) "Kant's ethics is a thoroughgoing morality of equals, supported by a tailor-made metaphysics." (p. 120) "The Kantian capacity for a 'good will' is believable as a host property for a relation of equality . . . ." (p. 120) "Kant does what no earlier philosopher had managed: he separates the highest form of human achievement, moral goodness or the 'good will,' from every other form of human good. That separation is absolutely critical to human equality. . . . The belief in factual human equality requires a belief in some nonempirical human capacity for a nonempirical form of human goodness. . . This belief is not at all exotic; indeed, this is the element of Kantianism that, we think, has passed into the common mind (or vice versa)." (p. 121) (emphasis added)

This disappoints. One is left with the sinking feeling that Coons and Brennan are more Kantian than traditionalist, and this will become even more apparent when they themselves compare the convention of human equality they have touted with the traditional notions of the natural law. We will explore these in our next few blog postings.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

By Nature Equal: How Are Men Created Equal? Hobbes's Hobbling Equality

THOMAS HOBBES WAS A TERATOPHILE, a lover of monsters, perhaps even a teratodule, a worshiper of them. And his creed advanced a monstrous philosophy, a monstrous jurisprudence, and a monstrous government. He loved the creatures Leviathan and Behemoth, far above either God or Man. He was the harbinger, the morning star, of modern liberalism, and advanced a notion of man and his nature that was radically at odds with Western tradition up to that time. He was father to an "insurrection in the Western conception of the moral self." (p. 101). (For other postings relating to Thomas Hobbes, see Ectasis and Telos: Thomas Hobbes and His Monsters and Golden Rule in Thomas Hobbes) In their book By Nature Equal: The Anatomy of a Western Insight, Professors Coon and Brennan analyze whether Hobbes's individualistic moral and political philosophy is reconcilable with their notion of human equality. Their notion of human equality requires a belief in four propositions: (1) rational human beings have the capacity to choose freely to pursue or reject the details of correct behavior; (2) there exists a "preinstitutional order of such correct behaviors" that is extrinsic to the will of each human and that he owes to every other human; (3) moral self-perfection is obtained through the diligent pursuit of seeking that objective content; and (4) rational persons possess that capacity to make that effort, and possess that capacity uniformly.

Although Hobbes's philosophy fails on numerous of these requirements, we will develop the most obvious failure, that being a belief in a "preinstitutional" lateral order of objective (that is moral) norms that define how man should treat his fellow man. For Hobbes there is no such preinstitutional lateral order. In Hobbes's view, before the social contract man has no such moral obligations to his fellows. Hobbes plainly states in his Leviathan that there is "no obligation on any man, which ariseth not from some act of his own; for all men equally, are by Nature free." [chp. 21] For Hobbes, however, freedom is not defined as freedom under law, but freedom from law. There are no constraints upon many prior to the institution of government: "For where no covenant hath preceded, there hath no right been transferred, and every man has right to everything and consequently, no action can be unjust." [chp. 15] It is a remarkable lawless freedom that Hobbes envisions, where "every man has a right to every thing, even to another's body." [chp. 14] Every man has a right to every thing? What sort of monstrous natural law is that?

Thomas Hobbes, Teratophile

In Hobbes's view, therefore, before man instituted government through a social contract, there was no law except self-preservation, and in exercising self-preservation man was "morally unbounded." Fundamentally, therefore, Hobbes advances a "radical autonomy." (p. 103) Hobbes's view of natural law is exceedingly thin: "[A]side from sheer survival, nature tells us nothing in particular concerning the good life." (p. 104) Manifestly, Hobbes advances something untraditional here. Hobbes has performed a "moral lobotomy" upon man, and "reintroduced the ancient possibility of nihilism." (p. 106)

Although Hobbes gives some sort of lip service to human equality, it is not the sort of human equality as conventionally understood in the inherited Western tradition. Recall that Coons and Brennan proposed five criteria to identify the host property for human equality: importance, goodness, laterality, singularity, and uniformity. It is rather apparent that Hobbes's view of human equality is lacking in a number of these. For Hobbes, man is not morally bounded prior to the institution of government, and so he fails most plainly the laterality requirement:
Hobbes's radical autonomy is so different as to be virtually the opposite of that required by the convention; for the latter asserts not that the will of man legislates what is good, but that the good has already been legislated for man whether he chooses or rejects it. . . . The more precise term for this human condition is "bounded autonomy," and we will use that label to distinguish our view from that of Hobbes and company. . . .

The gulf that separates "radical" from "bounded" autonomy is wide. Bounded autonomy, which represents the stronger tradition in the West, claims to be the exclusive form of moral liberty. It rejects the Hobbesian idea of an autonomy that is empty of duty and declares it is a contradiction; for law itself is a condition of freedom . . . .

Hobbes defines freedom negatively, as the absence of constraint. Once can give this a positive form by saying that the individual will is the sole author of whatever rules it chooses to recognize; in any case, Hobbes represents a strong form of "moral subjectivism," but we must pause to clarify this usage. The subjective/objective distinction does not capture the crucial difference between radical and bounded autonomy; the bounded version, too, is subjective insofar as the recognition of and submission to the lateral moral imperative also occur within the self. In bounded autonomy reason interprets its own experience, string to present to the self the specific behavior that would fulfill the lateral imperative regarding fellow humans. But the self's consciousness of its own subordination, its search for correct answers, and the act of choice itself produce no empirical trace. To this extent bounded autonomy is indeed subjective.

It is definitely not subjective, however, in the Hobbesian sense that choices are made in isolation from all authority but the choosing self. In Hobbes's version of natural man . . . there is no external moral order to be sought. Indeed, order exists neither inside nor outside until the self decrees it.
(p. 105) There is simply no laterality recognized in a moral philosophy which "would offer as the host property for human equality . . . the individual capacity for caprice." (p. 106) As Coons and Brennan also point out, Hobbes fails in the area of singularity, importance, and goodness criteria. (pp. 106-07, 288 n. 12)

In fact, that Hobbes failed to meet the requisite terms of the inherited Western convention of human equality with its basis in the natural moral law is by design. As Coons and Brennan observe:
Hobbes had strategic reasons for slaughtering preinstitutional obligation. Principally, he wanted to clear the way for an order of public sovereignty that would be insulated both from ecclesiastical claims and from the constraints of the law of nature, as those claims and constraints had been understood by prior generations.
In short, Hobbes wanted to act as midwife in the birth of the monster of secular government. And he did so by founding obligations on contract, and not on law.

Coons and Brennan wrap up their treatment of Hobbes by suggesting why it might be that the liberal and Western infatuation with "equality" has been difficult for intellectuals modernly to uphold. The very basis for equality was undermined by Hobbesian assumptions of unbounded autonomy and the rejection of a bounded autonomy defined by a reference to preinstitutional and objective order of natural law. "It may be," they conclude, "that the idea of equality became popular in Western history as intellectuals began to abandon the only commitments that could have sustained it." (p. 114)

A Procrustean "Equality" [ΙΣΟΤΗΣ] by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn

That suggestion seems probable. If it is so, it would explain why much of the modern cri de coeur for equality sounds so vacuous, so banal, and so lawless. Modernly, the cry for equality may be nothing but another way to say non serviam. Indeed, the discrepancy between the cry for equality and the lack of law may explain why, in some cases, the cry for equality departs from mere banality and libertinism into the realms of positive evil itself. Those that cry for equality sometimes have bloody hands that have sacrificed their fellow men to the devil who has donned the name of Isotes or Aequalitas, and shows himself as an angel of light. When these folks came on the scene, they did not speak Latin or Greek, but a vulgar French and they wore funny red hats (though now they speak in all the tongues of Babel and wear all sorts of regalia, such as ugly pantsuits, bottomless pants, or even nothing at all). If we listen well, we can hear the non serviam in the revolutionary cry for égalité, a cry positively demonic, for the devil keeps no law.

Monday, May 24, 2010

By Nature Equal: How Are Men Created Equal? Uniformity of the Host Property, Part 3

THE NATURAL LAW IS NOT A LAW OF STRICT OR ABSOLUTE LIABILITY. This follows from the fact that the natural moral law, though objective and sure and unchanging, is applied through the internal workings of individual men, and the subjective component of it, most singularly the voice of certain conscience, is a fundamental part of it. The natural law is not writ on stone, extrinsic, positively imposed without regard to man's nature. Nor is it easy to read and interpret. The natural law is writ in the heart of man; it is intrinsic, imposed upon man in conjunction with the very act of his having been created, and having a design and an end. His nature is his law. It is, as St. Augustine and St. Paul called it, a law in man's mind, a lex mentis, a law in man's heart, a lex cordibus inscripta. How can we disregard the mind and the heart in assessing a law of the mind and of the heart?

A law of strict or absolute liability does not regard the mental state of the actor or any extenuating circumstances that are found entirely within the actor's heart. Mens rea or bona fides is immaterial to the issue of the law's breach. The strict liability law regards only externals. Manifestly, then, the natural moral law is not a law of this kind. It is intensely preoccupied with the inner life of man, just as much as it is with the outer life of man and his external behaviors. It is both an internal and external law. And this internal aspect of it is what gives rise to human equality, since all fall under its jurisdiction without exception. The objective and subjective combination is itself suggestive of the existence of a divine Law and Lawgiver and Judge.

Since the natural moral law has an internal, subjective component, it follows us wherever we go; we are always under the jurisdiction, of this hound of heaven, and under the compulsion of making a choice sub lege, under law. Daily we are confronted with choices to be made sub lege, and these choices help determine who we are.

There is thus some truth to the existentialist's credo that we define who we are by our choices, and such a notion is found among the Stoics and Christian moral teachers who believed that one's choices defined who one was, and in fact were the fodder by which one was judged. But to the Stoic and to the Christian, these choices were willy nilly sub lege, under law. We either chose to act in conformity with the natural law, or to flout it. In the traditional view, the choices confronting man were not choices sine lege, without law. They were not choices that made law. Man was not a self-legislator. He had no authority to promulgate selflaw; an absolute αὐτό νομος was an oxymoron. Any autonomy was bounded by the pre-existing order imposed upon man by the design of his Creator. And man's choices, and whether they did or they did not conform to the rule that appeared to him to be demanded by the natural law through the judgments of certain conscience, were important, indeed central, to his moral development. These choices were those of everyman.

Traditional moral teaching, therefore, advances the notion that there is no rational human being who is outside the pale of the necessity to chose or who is hampered by lack of capacity and so unable to chose to do right as he sees it. "Circumstances do not alter our capacity to make choices that determine our individual moral state." (p. 71) It is a central, absolutely non-delegable aspect of our humanity to chose to follow (or disobey) judgments of conscience, and to inform that conscience with the content of the objective law. In so doing we determine who we are or what we want to become. This feature of the law Coons and Brennan denominate "intentionalism." (p. 72)

Since the Enlightenment, intentionalism has taken two markedly different paths. One interpretation has remained moored to the tradition and insists that there is a moral order outside self, unaffected by choice. The other interpretation, grounded on an extreme notion of moral autonomy and individualism, strayed and very soon rejected any notion of a moral order independent of an individual's choice. The Enlightenment "did not invent intentionalism," but it "radically redefined and expanded the moral autonomy of the individual, thereby giving intention a wholly new significance." (p. 72)
[S]ince the beginning of the eighteenth century, the idea of exercising moral autonomy through subjective action of the self has borne two contradictory interpretations. The pre-Enlightenment outlook . . . holds that every individual is free to embrace (or reject) a preinstitutional moral regime that is objective and authoritative . . . . [I]t understands autonomy as the capacity of the person to flout the authority of this authentic canon of good behaviors and to accept the consequences of that choice for his or her own moral identity. . . .

In contrast with tradition stands a certain version of the Enlightenment . . . that flourishes among our secular elites. Broadly speaking, it too makes each person autonomous, but now in the very different and radical sense of appointing him creator of his own moral order. The individual is born unburdened by obligation; any duties he might choose either to honor or to flout could never arise at all exception by his own consent. His subject choices create the only law to which he is answerable.
(p. 73) Coons and Brennan stand by the traditional view. While they do so, they also point to a tendency among advocates of the traditional view to use intentionality in a unilateral or a sort of diodic way in that it generally has been applied in one direction. It is regularly invoked as a necessary requirement to make an act good: it requires that the actor's intent also be good. However, the intentionality is not generally applied equally to justify an actor with good intent. Thus, intent is used to impeach a good act, and though it may be used to justify a bad act and excuse the actor from sin, it is not typically used to justify the actor who has performed an objectively bad act but with a good will.

This is not entirely consistent, and Coons and Brennan suggest that this imbalance arises from the conflation of the two meanings of the term "good." Specifically, there is a tendency to conflate the notion of good with reference to an act or behavior and the notion of good with reference to the actor or agent. The term "good" therefore is sometimes confusedly objective and subjective, when distinctions should be made between subjective good and objective good. One can have a good act performed by a good actor, a good act performed by a bad actor, a bad act performed by a bad actor, and a bad act performed by a good actor. The last placed actor (objectively bad act performed by a good actor) is in a decidedly different position from the middle two actors. If the term good is not conflated to include both act and actor, both subjective and objective components, one can see that "[i]f intention cannot transfer an evil act into a good one, it might, nevertheless, convert the actor into a good person." (p. 74) What Coons and Brennan are suggesting is that a human who follows a certain though invincibly erroneous conscience is, from a subjective perspective, a good actor, irrespective of whether the act is objectively good. "It is, then, plainly plausible that while humans have a primary obligation to seek [objectively] correct treatment of others (and self), their honest pursuit of that ideal effects whatever moral perfection is possible to the individual." (p. 75). They call this a "good intention/diligence model of moral self-perfection." (p. 76) Here is the capacity that Coons and Brenna believe to be the host property of human equality.
[I]f we judge a person's moral state by his or her commitment to seek and honor the lateral good and not by success in finding or achieving it, we have found a host property that satisfies the final criterion of the relation of human equality. The host emerges as the individual's capacity to giver internal assent (or dissent) to whatever picture of the correctness of behavior he or she is able in good faith to recognize. This means that every rational person could be fully capable of the only act that produces moral self-perfection; all could in theory, enjoy in the same degree the capacity diligently to seek this real good. . . . Here is the essence of the convention. . . .

Again, assent to this proposition does not dispense with the need for correct answers . . . A good intention requires a truth for which the actor can aspire, even when its terms elude him. The reality of a lateral order of correct behaviors is the very condition of free morality, providing the will its crucial opportunity to reject or embrace the good. . . .
(p. 75-76) The view that there exists an objective order, and that a person's subjective efforts in trying to learn of that order and to follow it as he, in the exercise of diligence and good faith, has been able to see it with his best lights, is suggestive of both a lawgiver (and a judge) as well as a law. The view of objective and subjective orders in moral matters does not sit well with a materialist, evolutionary view of the world, or in a world of pure fate. Coons and Brennan concede that belief in God may be an practical, if not necessary, adjunct or corollary to an objective/subjective view of morality which is necessary for a belief in human equality. "Belief in a cosmic rewarder of good intention may be necessary to make belief in human equality coherent." Without a belief in God, "human equality may be hard to swallow." (p. 76)

Put into simple terms, Coons and Brennan state that human equality is impossible if choice is not guided by an objective standard of wrong and right. Human equality is impossible without the existence of a natural moral law. That is why those who have rejected a natural law find themselves ultimately unable to justify a belief in human equality. Relativistic liberalism finds itself in a philosophical quandary. It cannot justify its basis for believing in human equality, and to believe in human equality it would have to jettison its relativism.

Coons and Brennan are sensitive to the misapprehension that may exist as a result of their emphasis of intention. They understand the concern against advocating a form of morality where one is "morally perfected simply by his warm heart." They ought not to be understood in advancing such a notion. They do not advocate a merely subjective intention, and insist that an actor, to be subjectively good though in error, must accept the existence of an objective moral order. "To commit diligently to the independent lateral order of correct behaviors is our definition of a good intention." (p. 88) To erase any confusion, they sponsor the use of a word that incorporates the intentionalism they advocate, one that fits within a general scheme of an objective moral order, yet recognizes the subjective component of the moral decision. They offer the word "obtension."
There should, in short, be an English verb "to obtend," which would encompass both the subjective (tend) and the objective (ob). It would identify a specific subjective act--namely, the choice to seek practical outcomes that are good according to a standard not controlled by human consent. To obtend would mean to commit to the search for the content of the real order of the behavioral good and to its realization. This mental act of the individual would be labeled an "obtension," which would make the adjective "obtensional" or "obtensive." "Obtensionalism" would be the formal term for this conception of the moral life.
(p. 88) Obtension is therefore a dual intention, an intention of two valances, a bivalent intention. Obtension is an intention both to follow the subjective promptings of a certain conscience, coupled with an intention to diligently learn the requirements of an objective moral order.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

By Nature Equal: How Are Men Created Equal? Uniformity of the Host Property, Part 2

HUMAN EQUALITY, IF IT IS TO BE FOUND AT ALL, is to be found in the subjective moral faculty of man, and not in the moral faculty as a whole. That is, the source relation that gives rise to the host property in men for human equality cannot be the joint objective and subjective components of morality in its entirety, since men are not equal in their abilities to discover, and therefore know and understand, the natural moral law in its complex determinations. Moreover, the weakness of the flesh presses upon us in varying and sundry ways, inequivalently. We are told (though we do not necessarily accept) that the disposition toward homosexuality is genetically founded. (The question is, in any event, irrelevant to whether or not homosexual acts, viewed objectively, are intrinsically vicious, which they are irrespective of the genetic makeup of the moral subject.) Even if arguendo the disposition toward homosexuality is genetically determined, in whole or in part, then all that means is that the unfortunate person disposed toward homosexuality has a burden to overcome, a weakness of the flesh pressing on him hard, that perhaps his brother who is heterosexually disposed does not suffer. The homosexual is no different than the one who suffers from a genetic disposition to drink or a disposition towards excess drinking arising from the complex disease-like symptoms of alcoholism as a result of prior abuse. The alcoholic is unequal to the non-alcoholic with respect to the tendency to drink superfluously. If there are predisposition to certain vices, there are predispositions to certain virtues. The predisposition to a certain vice is not warrant or license to entertain that vice. Nor is the predisposition against a certain virtue warrant or license to ignore that virtue.

In any event, it is at once apparent that human equality cannot be based upon any human capacity to know, to will, or to conform one's behavior to, the objective orders of lateral morality. It is manifest that ignorance of both fact and law and strength of will vary among men. Such an equality, therefore, would not be a double equality. There is "arrayed" among men "disparate degrees of moral power." (p. 67) In the complex business of living, men simply vary in abilities to assess the objective good. Neither knowledge of the objective moral norms, nor strength of will can be a source of human equality.

The only possible remaining candidate is intent. Coons and Brennan therefore focus on the intentional prong of the moral equation. The question ultimately comes down to the significance of the human subject in intending the good, as that good is defined to him by the certain judgment of his conscience. All men have a conscience, and all men are bound to obey a certain conscience, and this obligation persists even though that conscience may be erroneous. Subjectively, the human subject sins if he disobeys the certain judgment of his conscience, and this whether his conscience is, in the external forum, objectively right or wrong. The good that is pointed out to him by his conscience may, in the objective order, be only an apparent and not a real or authentic good. But so long as a man is directed to that apparent (though not actual or authentic) good as a certain judgment of his conscience, he must pursue it or be guilty of sin. This is orthodoxy. This is orthopraxis.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts the absolute principle of conscience in this way:
1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

1800 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.
Coons and Brennan then posit an interesting question, and one that goes to the heart of their thesis. Assume a moral actor X with a certain judgment of his conscience that commands him to do act A. Let us suppose that the judgment of his conscience to do act A is erroneous. To engage in act A contradicts the natural moral law in a determinate matter, and X is invincibly ignorant of his error. X has the obligation to obey his erroneous conscience, and to him, subjectively, it is no sin. The question then confronts us: is X's doing A an act of virtue to X? In doing act A does X advance in (his own) moral perfection? Coons and Brennan say yes, though they acknowledge that it may "raise eyebrows" to say so, but they insist that it is the "silent premise of conventional human equality." (p. 68)
[T]his enduring subject or self works his own moral perfection by committing to treat his neighbor in the manner that appears correct, even if he is innocently mistaken about which treatment is truly the right one. The self's capacity to make this commitment is what we have nominated as the host property of the relation of human equality. . . . In any case . . . if we are to advance in moral perfection, we must intend--that is, commit diligently to--the real good.
(p. 68-69) Thus all men can uniformly intend to commit to treat his neighbor in a manner that he judges to be right. There is no inequality among men on this issue, all can equally so intend, or freely not so intend. There is no variance in degree in this capacity, and so this provides the source relation that gives rise to a host property upon which human equality can be predicated. That this is so is not something that is self-evident, much less philosophically obvious or scientifically provable. It is, at the end, a matter of faith. And Coons and Brennan believe it to be a part of Western convention (if it still survives):
[I]f in fact [this capacity] should be the same [among all men], what we behold is the most democratic of all moralities; the means of moral self-perfection would be fully available to anyone who can make a choice, however feeble one's grasp of the specific good in the particular case. The test of a person's moral excellence is not his or her grasp of correct solutions but the diligent pursuit of them. One must want to know the right way and must act upon the understanding of it that one's intellect can manage. The capacity of human actors to commit to this search might be uniform in degree, and we will say what we can on that issue.
(p. 69) This intention has both a general and a specific component to it. The actor must have a "general intention toward the real good and a specific intention toward the apparent good." (p. 68) The intent therefore requires an acknowledgment of the lateral order, and the acknowledgment that it is objective and binding. This is the focus of the general intention. Additionally, the content of the lateral order must be sought out with diligence, and it must be applied in the particular decisions one confronts, an activity which gives rise to a specific and apparent or seeming good. If the actor got the specific judgment right, then the apparent good is also an actual or real good. If he got the specific judgment wrong, then the apparent good is just apparent, and is no actual or real good. It, in fact, may be objectively, that is, really or actually, evil, though to the one in error it appears as a good.

In proposing this capacity to intend generally the lateral moral good and specifically the particular apparent good as the source relation that gives rise to the host property of human equality, Coons and Brennan seem to be making the distinction between the "law of gradualism" (lex gradualitatis) and the "gradualism of the law" (gradualitas legis). [See Familiaris Consortio, No. 34; see also John Paul II, Homily of October 25, 1980 at the Close of the Sixth Synod of Bishops, No. 8.] Under the principle of the law of gradualism, the moral norms are understood to be unchanging. However, unless we be the recipient of an extraordinary grace, our understanding of them and ability to obey them is typically gradual, a mixed effort of success and of failure, with a hoped for gyral tendency upwards toward greater and greater knowledge of these norms, and greater and greater success in our ability to obey them. Concomitantly, we might expect less and less error with regard to these norms, and less and less and failure in our ability to obey them as we advance in our Christian or human pilgrimage. We are poor pilgrims, we stumble and fall, and sometimes we inadvertently take a wrong path, but our focus is on our bourne, and we get stronger and closer to our goal each day of our walk with the Lord. Thus, the law of gradualism recognizes the step-by-step process of moral perfection, both as a part of natural virtue and spiritual virtue, as we clamber up the hillside of the moral life that strives toward perfection. But the law of gradualism does not encompass consent to the gradualism of the law. We must adapt to the natural moral law; the natural law does not adapt to us. The mountain does not come down to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain. That, in essence, is the distinction between an acceptable law of gradualism and an unacceptable gradualism of the law.

Coons and Brennan take stock of the fact that there are competing theories on what constitutes the moral fulfillment of an individual person, theories that would reject the notion that the subjective, general intent to do what is objectively right, along with a particular intent to do the apparent good as commanded by a certain conscience leads to individual perfection. Coons and Brennan divide the competing theories into three general classifications: theories that posit that knowledge of specific correct behaviors is irrelevant to individual moral self-perfection; theories that posit that knowledge of specific correct behaviors is empowering of the individual to achieve self-perfection; and theories that posit that knowledge of specific correct behaviors is necessary to moral self-perfection.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lex Christianorum's New Header

THE IMAGE IN LEX CHRISTIANORUM'S NEW HEADER is a detail from "Crucifixion on Decayed Wall," specifically a closeup of the wood of the Cross and the arms of the Man-God stretched forth, in a gesture mimicked by Bernini's dual colonnade at St. Peter's Square in the heart of Rome, as if to encompass all of humanity within His embrace. It is graffito, graffito painted on a wall in the city of Barcelona in Spain. The image was taken from a blog entitled Barcelona Photoblog and posted on Christmas Day 2009. I do not know the intent of the street artist who painted this image of Christ on the Cross, and it is difficult to tell whether he or she intended something pious or something blasphemous.

Crucifixion on Decayed Wall
(Modern Graffito in Barcelona, Spain, 21st Century A.D.)

Why did I select this image? For multiple reasons.

First, the image of Christ on the Cross has been part of Lex Christianorum since its inception. Georges Rouault's "Crucifix and Judges" has greeted each visitor to this blog since its inception. "Crucifix on Decayed Wall" thus complements this image. Indeed, it has a Rouaultesque feel to it, having the decided quality of a stained glass window so typical of Rouault.

Second, the image fits in with the pseudo-Cyprian reminder that the Law of Christians is the Law of the Cross. Lex Christianorum crux est sancta Christi, filii Dei vivi. "The law of the Christians is the holy cross of Christ." This likewise has been with Lex Christianorum since its inception.

But why graffito on a decayed wall of a modern European city? There are many excellent images of the Crucifixion that may have been chosen. Why scrape the bottom of the barrel of Crucifixion art? This brings us to our third reason. Graffito from the wall of a modern European city was chosen as thematic of the plaint of Angilbert, "Fracta est lex christianorum . . . ," a plaint which has also greeted each visitor to this blog, and the historical context of which is the subject of a blog post of May 7, 2009, entitled Battle of Fontenay-en-Puisaye. Christianity's influence on the law and public life of the West has become much like the crucifix on the decayed wall of Barcelona. It is on the wane, it has become a superficial painting on an already rotten wall. What remains is misunderstood, like a caricature of the real thing. What remains seems to be corrupted, perhaps an impure and inconsistent admixture of Christianity combined with secular, liberal, individualistic, or relativistic beliefs. Our "Crucifixion on Decayed Wall" shows Christ as a pirate, with a patch over his right eye, a bizarre, even perhaps blasphemous, misinterpretation of Christ. Yet Christ also sports the traditional halo, the symbol of sanctity, and in other respects seems to be treated traditionally enough. Thus, like the graffito, the Christianity of most of us is mixed with things modern it should not be mixed with, just like in the past in might have been inappropriately mixed with things ancient it should not have been mixed with (e.g., chattel slavery, colonialism, war). We have noted the obligation of Christians, in the memorable phrasing of the philosopher Gabriel Marcel, to try to discover and root out the unbeliever that is within them, just like we should try to discover and root out the unbelieving that is in society. See Lex Aeterna in Church, Scripture, and the Pagan. We have tried to do that. Whether we have been successful or not is another story, and we beg God's mercy and the mercy of our readership. In a way, each one of our lives makes a mockery of Christ's Crucifixion. We are like the penitent thief, living our lawless lives, some more lawless than others, and we turn to Christ at the last moment on crosses of our own making. Yet it is in recognizing our own failures that our crosses introduce us to Christ, and when confronting the Crucified our prayer should be as the penitent thief's prayer: Lord, Remember me when you come into your kingdom. Domine memento mei cum veneris in regnum tuum. (Luke 23:42). We hope to hear Christ's invitation and promise: Amen dico tibi: hodie mecum eris in paradiso, Amen I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23:43) That is the reason behind the motto at the bottommost of this blog, as well as the motive behind the modified Augustinian prayer also found at the bottom of the blog, Domine Deus une, Deus trinitas, quaecumque dixi in his "blogum" de tuo agnoscant et tui, si qua de meo, et tu ignosce et tui. Amen. That is an adaptation of St. Augustine's prayer in his De Trinitate (15.28.51): Domine deus une, deus trinitas, quaecumque dixi in his libris de tuo agnoscant et tui; si qua de meo, et tu ignosce et tui. Amen. Translated, my prayer is "O Lord, one God, God the Trinity, whatever I have said in this blog that is of yours, may they acknowledge who are yours; if anything of my own, may it be pardoned both by you and by those who are yours. Amen."

Another reason, the fourth, why this particular image was chosen is that it has the autumnal orange/yellow theme that is emblematic of life at the end of its stages, life drying out. This graffito is un petit pan de mur jaune! a little patch of yellow wall! The symbolism of yellow was described in our posting of July 5, 2002, "Petit pan de mur jaune"--Proust, Vermeer, the Color Yellow, and the Natural Law. (Note, however, that the sad, yellow/orange color is lifted up by the hopeful color of Marian blue! Not foolish optimism, but Hope is also a part of this blog.)

Alexamenos Graffito
(Ancient Rome, 1st Century A.D.)

There is yet a fifth reason why graffito was chosen. Graffito greeted the first Christians when they began their inroads into pagan Roman society, eventually to overturn it and mold it. The famous Alexamenos graffito (also known as the graffito blasfemo) is also graffito from a European city, but not a modern one. It comes from the ancient European city of Rome. This graffito, perhaps dated as early as the 1st century A.D., was discovered in 1857 when a building called the domus Gelotiana, a house acquired by the Emperor Caligula that later became a Paedagogium or boarding school for boys, was uncovered during the course of excavations on the Palatine Hill of Rome. The graffito can be found today preserved in the Palatine antiquarium in Rome. It bears the Greek text Αλεξαμενος σεβετε θεον, Alexander worships God, clearly a lampooning of Christians and Christian beliefs, perhaps the result of a pagan Roman boy making fun of a Christian fellow pupil. So as graffito greeted the Christians on their way into the mainstream, it appears to greet them as the mainstream becomes increasingly neo-Pagan, and they become sidelined in the definition of culture, of political institutions, of laws.