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.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Be Reasonable

PRACTICAL REASONABLENESS, ITSELF A BASIC GOOD, may be distinguished from the other basic goods--life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability, and religion--because of its structural or ordering role in man's life, its role in ushering him into the moral life, and its role in guiding him toward happiness or authentic human flourishing. Participation in the basic values presents a virtually infinite set of possibilities. In our short, ephemeral span of life, we cannot participate in the fullness of these values, in their myriad possibilities and combinations. Vita breve. Bona multa. We are free to do any good; we are not free to do every good. We have to choose among values, among basic goods, we have to make some commitments which prevent us from making others--we have to decide what must be done, and what, alas, must of necessity be left undone. Our freedom, our (relative) autonomy allows us choice. But our (relatively brief) temporal existence limits our choice. What is it that is to guide that choice? Our participation in one value in particular: the basic value of practical reasonableness.

For amongst the basic forms of good that we have no good reason to leave out of account is the good of practical reasonableness, which is participated in precisely by shaping one's participation in the other basic goods, by guiding one's commitments, one's selection of projects, and what one does in carrying them out.

NLNR, 100. It is at this juncture--in a person's selection of commitment, projects, acts--that he steps from the pre-moral realm into the realm of morality. It is the use of practical reasonableness that leads man into the field of ethics. "'Ethics', as classically conceived, is simply a recollectively and/or prospectively reflective expression of this problem and of the general lines of solutions which have been thought reasonable." NLNR, 101. It is practical reasonablenss applied to the basic values either looking forward or looking backward. It is practical reason promethean and epimethean that leads to the moral life.

But this is all rather vague and wanting of precision. And so philosophers have identified a number of mandatory requirements of practical reason that provide some guidance as to the proper exercise of this basic value. These are the requirements that the phronimos of Aristotle, the homo prudens, will follow.* He who follows these requirements is mature, a spoudaois,** a man or woman who lives well and who generally may be regarded as "happy," that is, participating in happiness, in human flourishing, in well-being. To participate in the basic values under the guidance of the value of practical reasonableness is to participate in being in our unique way, in accordance with our physis, with our natura. Therefore, these requirements are not only those of practical reasonableness, but are requirements "(by entailment) of (human) nature." NLNR, 103. The basic value of practical reasonableness may be said to be or express "the 'natural law method' of working out the (moral) 'natural law' from the first (pre-moral) 'principles of natural law'". NLNR, 103.

Finnis (NLNR, 103-127) identifies the following requirements of practical reasonableness:
  1. The person must adopt a coherent plan of life;
  2. The person must not arbitrarily prefer any basic value above any other basic value;
  3. The person must not arbitrarily prefer any person above any other person;
  4. The person must exercise a certain detachment and a certain commitment;
  5. The person must consider the (limited) relevant of consequences, i.e., he must consider efficiency within reason;
  6. The person must respect every basic value in every act;
  7. The person must consider the common good; and
  8. The person must follow his or her conscience.
Applying these requirements of practical reasonableness upon the raw data of the pre-moral basic values is how man is introduced into the world of morality.

These requirements shall be the focus of our next several postings.
*Phronimos (φρόνιμος) is Greek for someone who is practically sensible, wise, virtuous, a prudent man, a homo prudens, or prud'homme.
Spoudaios (σπουδαῖος) is a mature man or woman, an earnest, morally sedulous man or woman who is living diligently well.

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