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

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

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

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

Friday, January 7, 2011

Man, Like the World, Has an End: Existential Readiness in Yves Simon's Thought

ALTHOUGH ARISTOTLE USED THE NOTION OF HEXIS or habitus to encompass both intellectual and practical realms of human activity, he distinguished between a hexis or habitus related to scientific knowledge and a hexis or habitus that related to the moral realm. Virtue, at least in the manner that we modernly use it, pertains only to the moral habitus. The scientific habitus (or for that matter the artistic habitus) is value neutral. Both art and science can be used for both good or evil. "With science, as with art, one can do as one pleases." Simon, 69. These hexeis or habitus do not have necessarily the disposition to goodness, to reliability, to imperativeness, to oughtness that the moral hexis or habitus displays.

Aristotle points to this distinction in an interesting way. The rational part of man is divided into to, one containing the rational principle proper (τὸ μὲν κυρίως καὶ ἐν αὑτῷ), and the other rational part being "obedient to its as a child to its father" (τὸ δ᾽ ὥσπερ τοῦ πατρὸς ἀκουστικόν τι). The moral habitus is, as it were, imperative. It has the voice of command of a father to his child. Nic. Eth., 1103a.

We seem to have become aware that science and art are value-free. They do not provide the means for their own governance, and are utterly incompetent to self-govern. Both science and art can be used for good or evil, and, though they can define what is good or evil from a purely technical or particular way, they cannot define what is good and evil from a largely, human use.* Unfortunately, our recognition that science and art are value-free has led many to think that as a consequence they ought not to be governed by any other standards except their particular standards. Thus scientists enter into realms like in vitro fertilization and experimentation on human embryos with reckless abandon, thinking they must do something because they can, and never pose the question of whether they ought to do something irrespective of the fact that they can. Similarly, we have artists that demand absolutely freedom from any restrictions, including moral restrictions, and so put out works that are offensive, immoral, and morally corrosive. There is a moral enormity in Pablo Picasso's view that "Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. . . . Where it is chaste, it is not art."** Far better, more artistic, and more authentically human is Pieter Breugel's message in his wood print "Following the Vice Unchastity." Breugel understood that vice darkens the mind, and hence also darkens art. LVXVRIA ENERVAT VIRES, EFFOEMINAT ARTVS. Lust enervates the strength, and weakens the arts. Luxurÿe stinckt. Sÿ is vol onsuuerheden. Sÿ breeckt die Crachten, en Sÿ swackt die leden. Unchastity stinks, it is full of dirt. It breaks one's might, and weakens limbs. All this is as graphically represented by Breugel as boldly as anything Picasso ever painted:


Pieter Breugel's Following the Vice Unchastity (Luxuria)

Simon contrasts the scientific habitus with the moral habitus, the former which relates to science, the latter which relates to moral virtue. To do so he uses the notion of "readiness," and distinguishes two kinds: qualitative and existential. Simon, 71. Science and virtue both contain a "qualitative readiness," and this is why Aristotle finds hexeis or habitus as encompassing both science and morals. However, virtue involves a sort of readiness which science does not, an "existential readiness," which Simon equates with "finality" or to the teleological question. Simon, 72. "Whenever we think of finality," we confront teleological questions which ask us what the purpose, end (telos), or meaning of an act or thing is, and so "we inevitably think of the good." Simon, 72. Therefore, the distinction between scientific or artistic habitus and moral habitus is that the latter inevitably is linked to the good, whereas for the two former, it is not.

Finality (or existential readiness in Simon's words) is found in all things, animate or animate. It is thus found in the affinity between Silver (Ag) and Chlorine (Cl), in the purpose or function of kidneys, of the pancreas, or of the gall bladder, or in man, or even the entirety of the cosmos, as a whole. There is, however, a sort of veil between us and the finality of things that are inanimate. We are somehow shielded from knowing, in any adequate way, the finality between Silver and Chlorine's combination, or any chemical process or affinity for that matter, or in the finality or purpose behind natural disasters such as earthquake, or a plague, or the eighteen men who died at the falling of the Tower of Siloam (Luke 13:4).

[T]hose who believe that finality is not totally irrelevant to our efforts to know the world invariably support their arguments with examples from the world of the living. Yet finality may not be the exclusive property of living things, and I rather think that there is finality wherever there is movement or process. The only trouble is that we do not know and may never know what most movements and processes in nature are good for. . . . [t]he good, or goodness, or a process--which is its finality--is most easily perceived in an among living things. . . . Thus while I remain convinced that wherever there is movement or process there is finality by metaphysical necessity, I also believe that in our common efforts to understand inanimate nature, we can do better with existential readiness [as a concept]. Because even the most stubborn mechanists cannot help recognizing this readings whenever they turn in nature . . . .

Simon, 72-74. There is therefore an analogous relationship between the finality of the movements and processes of inanimate nature (which we have difficulty knowing) and the movements and processes related to animate nature (which we have less difficulty knowing). The ancients (that is those before the 17th century and the Enlightenment, or die Aufklärung, or la Lumière when mechanistic notions of reality began their prevalence) recognized this overlap, and so they used the term "virtues" to refer both to the natural existential readiness (or finality) of both animate and inanimate movements or processes. Simon points to such a use of the term virtue in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (act II, sc. ii):
The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb;
What is her burying grave, that is her womb;
And from her womb children of divers kind
We sucking on her natural bosom find,
Many for many virtues excellent,
None but for some, yet all different.
O, mickle [great] is the powerful grace that lies
In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities;
For naught so vile that on the earth doth live,
But to the earth some special good doth give;
Nor aught so good, but, strain'd from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,
And vice sometimes by action dignified. . . .
Thus virtues broadly understood are found in rocks, in herbs and plants, as well as in man. All the world, and each part of it, even the most rude, then, tended toward an end. And all life had meaning, purpose, an end given to it under the design and watch of the Providential God, the Creator and Father of all. The world, of course, was then "enchanted," or perhaps more accurately not yet "disenchanted" by intellectually clumsy men whose intellectual hands were all thumbs, and the natural law (understood in its most generic, broad sense) encompassed both inanimate objects and animate objects, including that rational animal, man. "In fact, seeing natural as well as human virtues grounded in 'natural laws' is a usage that stretches all the way back to classical antiquity." Simon, 74. Post-Enlightenment moderns divide the "laws of nature" from the "natural moral law," and there is cause for these two to be distinct, and in this regard they are not different than classical man. Yet the division that modern man has made between the "laws of nature" and the "natural [moral] law" has gone too far, the cut has been made too deep, so that nature has nothing to teach man, and man is separated from nature as a whole. Kant, it would appear, seemed to have nailed the last nail on the coffin of classical and traditional thought:
In the classical view, there are enlightening communications and similarities between these two worlds. In Kant, the emphasis is almost exclusively on their contrasts, on what sets them apart. I do not say that you cannot find in Kant some qualified recognition that morality may have something to do with nature. He is after all a profound thinker, and such people never get locked in absolutely untenable dogmatic positions. But there is little doubt that when Kant speaks of the starry skies above and the moral law within, he wants to bring out not what they might have in common but what sets them apart. By contrast, in Shakespeare no less than in Aristotle, there is continuity between the laws of nature and the laws of morality, and the 'virtue' of a physical thing is so called because of perceived resemblance to moral virtue. They are both seen as instances of existential readiness, which makes for trust, confidence, dependability, reliability, and indeed predictability.
Simon, 74-75.

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*For the distinction between the particular and human use of something, see the blog posting A Good Man is Hard to Find: Nature and Use.
**Pablo Picasso, quoted in Antonina Vallentin, Pablo Picasso (ch. 11, p. 268) (1957).

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