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

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

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

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

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: No Arbitrary Preference Among Persons

THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE: that there are others of our kind is indisputable. Since it is self-evident that the fundamental or basic human values are basic to us, it would seem to follow that those basic values are fundamental to others of our kind. "Have I any reason to deny that they are really good, or that they are fit matters of interest, concern, and favour by that man and by all those who have to do with him?" NLNR, 106. There is therefore a certain awareness we have that others have a desire to flourishing (happiness) that is other than our desire for flourishing (happiness). How is one to be given preference to the other? Certainly, this must not be done arbitrarily, and practical reasonableness requires that reason come in to govern this relation. This intimates already questions of friendship, of collaboration, of justice; however, these issues are separate from the the basic requirement that arises from the awareness that others have basic values no different from our own. That requirement of practical reasonableness which excludes arbitrary bias is that there must be a "fundamental impartiality among the human subjects who are or may be partakers of those [basic] goods." NLNR, 107.

It is true that we may reasonably interest and concern ourselves with our own well-being. There is a "reasonable scope for self-preference," and we may reasonably expend efforts to advance our well-being. That will also include our family, tribe, and other groups to which we belong. Yet that self-solicitude cannot reasonably be based on the claim that our well-being and flourishing is of more value than the well-being or flourishing of others. "Simply because it is mine" is no reason: "that I am I and am not you" is no justification for evaluating well-being differently between me and you. This distinction of "I" and "Thou" is not one that allows for preference as to persons. Rather, it is more subtle: "the only reason for me to prefer my well-being is that it is through my self-determined and self-realizing participation in the basic goods that I can do what reasonableness suggests and requires." NLNR, 107. In other words, the self-preference is tangential, it arises as a collateral or concomitant to the reasonable pursuit of practical reason as it applies to me.

But that reasonable pursuit for my well-being or happiness and its concomitant self-focus must not go beyond certain bounds: there remains "a pungent critique of selfishness, special pleading, double standards, hypocrisy, indifference to the good of others whom one could easily help, . . . and all the other manifold forms of egoistic and group bias." NLNR, 107. In fine, "one's moral judgments and preferences," to be reasonable, must "be universalizable. NLNR, 107. That is nothing other than to say that one element of practical reasonableness is the Golden Rule.* "Do unto others what you would have them to unto you," which may be amplified thus:

Put yourself in your neighbor's shoes. Do not condemn others for what you are will to do yourself. Do not (without special reason) prevent others getting for themselves what you are trying to get for yourself.

NLNR, 108.

While we may not be arbitrary--that is unreasonable--with self-preference when it comes to the "I-Thou" question, we may have a reasonable self-preference. The same is true when it comes to the "We-You" question. The rule of non-arbitrariness (which is the same as the rule of reason) works not only among the first and second (and third) persons singular, but also among the first and second (and third) persons plural. Therefore we may not have arbitrary self-preferences for those social structures in which we participate relative to those of others. We may not have arbitrary preferences for those families, tribes, cultures, or nations to which we belong. That, however, does not mean that we cannot have reasonable self- or group-preferences. How, then, is one to determine the boundaries of those?

Heuristic devices** have been adopted to answer the question of what self-preferences are reasonable and thereby moral, and there is a considerable difference between the classical notion of an "ideal observer" or a "benevolently divine viewpoint" and the modern notions based upon a "social contract" such as the Rawlsian "veil of ignorance" in a hypothetical "Original Position."

The classical "ideal observer" or "benevolently divine viewpoint" allows for some reasonable self-preference with respect to persons or groups, but does not allow that we be impartial to the aspects of basic human value. In other words, in the classical heuristic, we had to treat basic human values the same, which means that it could not slight one over another nor favor one over another. Indeed, we could not neglect the rule that we treat these equally and favor the advance of those values and shun the opposite of those values.

The modern "social contract" theories such as the Rawlsian "veil of ignorance" in the "Original Position" do not consider human basic values as the same, or perhaps better, they do not guard against them being arbitrarily treated. This is consonant with fundamental relative viewpoint, their rejection of a natural law that identifies (according to Finnis self-evidently) basic human values must be equally treated and any one of which cannot be slighted at the expense of another. These theories therefore ignore the second requirement of practical reasonableness--that each basic value or good be treated as a basic value or good,*** that there cannot be any discounting or exaggeration of any of the basic human values. They consider only impartiality among persons, and neglect the equally necessary requirement of impartiality among basic human goods.

There is therefore a fundamental weakness in these theories: from the fact that a principle chosen in the Rawlsian hypothetical "Original Position" is neutral among persons does not assure that it is neutral among basic human values. More, that a principle cannot be justified under the hypothetical Rawlsian "Original Position" does not mean that that that principle is unfair or unjust or improper in the real world. NLNR, 109. In the real world reason can distinguish between the self-evident human goods and their opposites. In the Rawlsian hypothetical "Original Position," the chooser is behind a "veil of ignorance" that does not allow him to make this distinction. As a matter of reason (definition), by favoring human basic goods and disfavoring their contraries, we cannot be accused of showing improper favor to individuals or to groups. In the social contractarian or Rawlsian heuristic, we might because under their "thin theory" of rights, the basic human values are relegated to the background, since for them, the basic human values are replaced by individual choice, by values of any person's own choosing. The matrix of the fundamental basic human goods which extends into the Original Position, therefore, is not part of the Rawlsian construct. That's why, ultimately, it results in justifications of the horrors of abortion, vicious euthanasia, or practical socialism.

*Lex Christianorum has had multiple postings on the Golden Rule, with its various cultural, historical, and religious expressions.
**A Heuristic device is an intellectual tool to help solve a particular problem b y means of a short cut. Heuristics comes from the the Greek Εὑρίσκω, the Greek word for discover or find, and refers to techniques for solving problems in sort of a quick-and-dirty but sufficiently reliable way.
***See Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: No Arbitrary Plans.

No comments:

Post a Comment