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, March 20, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: The Seven Basic Values

TO GET AT OTHER BASIC VALUES beyond knowledge, one has to cut through urges, drives, tendencies which perhaps in some way are aligned with values or contradict them, the material, physical, psychological conditions which may be required for the exercise of values, individual and particular goals that participate in the values, and means used to implement values. One has also to clamber over the myriad expressions of those values in a variety of cultures. But Finnis is confident that careful study yields a relatively non-controversial list of basic values that are incontrovertible and self-evident. What values may be placed in that set that can fit in the blank: "____ is a good in itself"? Finnis identifies seven: life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability (friendship), practical reasonableness, and 'religion.'

There is a particular importance in calling these values basic. In the Finnisian theory of natural law, basic when used with the term value has a technical meaning:

First, each [basic value] is equally self-evidently a form of good. Secondly, none can be analytically reduced to being merely an aspect of any of the others, or to being merely instrumental in the pursuit of the others. Thirdly, each one, when we focus on it, can reasonably be regarded as the most important. Hence there is no objective hierarchy amongst them.

NLNR, 92. The basic values are, in short, equally fundamental. "[T]here is no objective priority of value amongst them," though in our self-determination "[e]ach of us has a subjective order of priority amongst the basic values." NLNR, 93. They are, however, objectively incommensurable.*

Another point that Finnis makes with respect to the basic values is that they are not really pursued as one might goals, and they are certainly not ever fully realized in toto. Rather, the basic values are participated in. "So 'pursuit' and 'realization' are rather misleading in their connotations here, and it is convenient to say that one participates in the basic values." NLNR, 96. Participating in such human values through projects, activities, and choices often leads to pleasure, but it need not. Ultimately, whether pleasure is obtained or not, participating in such human values leads to happiness, not in the trite sense, but in the deeper, fuller, Aristotelian sense of eudaimonia, an authentic human flourishing:
By participating in them [the basic human values] in the way one chooses to, one hopes not only for the pleasure of successfully consummated physical performance and the satisfaction of successfully completed projects, but also for 'happiness' in the deeper, less usual sense of that word in which it signifies, roughly, a fullness of life, a certain development of a person, a meaningfulness of one's existence.
NLNR, 96.

There is, ultimately, some link between these basic human values and the natural law:

[T]he practical principles which enjoin one to participate in those basic forms of good, through the practically intelligent decisions and free actions that constitute one the person one is and is to be, have been called in the Western philosophical tradition the first principles of natural law, because they lay down for us the outlines of everything one could reasonably want to do, to have, and to be.

NLNR, 97. With this understanding of what Finnis understands a basic value to be, we now turn to the basic values he has identified.

Life in its broadest sense is such a self-evident basic value. It includes "every aspect of the vitality (vita, life) which puts a human being in good shape for self-determination." NLNR, 86. It is an obvious value, and a tremendous investment of human resources, both individual and social, are aimed at supporting this value. It is what lies behind the drive for self-preservation, what lies behind the great weight given to the transmission of life by the procreation of children which is nothing other than "life-in-its-transmission," and what lies behind myriad social institutions, including our legal, medical, and charitable institutions. NLNR, 86-87. Though the value is intellectual at root, it shows itself predictably in strong urges of self-preservation and urges to couple. The value of life, however, must be distinguished from the manner in which it is supported by more basic physical, emotional, psychological drives.

Knowledge, another basic value, was treated in our last post.**

Play is "engaging in performances which have no point beyond the performance itself, enjoyed for its own sake." NLNR, 87. Whether solitary (solitaire) or social (bridge), whether intellectual (crossword puzzle) or physical (rock climbing), whether strenuous (jogging) or relaxed (drinking bourbon and smoking a cigar), whether highly structured (playing chess) or relatively informal (charades), conventional (an opera or ballet) or ad hoc (a practical joker), it is expressed in multitudinous ways.

Aesthetic experience, another basic good in Finnis's list, in some ways overlaps with play, but it is nevertheless its own value. Aesthetic experience is broader because it includes both a passive appreciation of beauty (e.g., in nature, appreciating the orange alpenglow on a snow-capped mountain peak, for instance, or in art, e.g., listening to Franz Schubert's Piano Sonatas), although it may also exist in the experiences associated with the creation of beauty (painting) or active appreciation of it (reading poetry, e.g., Gerard Manley Hopkins).

Sociability is the next basic value identified by Finnis. This value's expansive breadth includes the minimum level of social peace and harmony for tolerable society, to stronger, more intimate forms of community and collaboration, to the zenith of its expression in friendship. It would be unreasonable to take the position that one is better off without friends. Self-evidently, friendship is a great value that has everywhere been appreciated.

Practical reasonableness is the good of "being able to bring one's own intelligence to bear effectively (in practical reason that issues in action) on the problems of choosing ones actions and lifestyle and shaping one's own character." NLNR, 89. It has both negative and positive, and internal and external components, and so is almost an amalgam complex, one "involving freedom and reason, integrity and authenticity." Obviously, bringing one's intelligence to play in the acts of one's life requires, negatively, freedom from compulsion (internal or external). It also requires something positive, namely the recruitment of reason so as to bring forth "an intelligent and reasonable order," a ratio ordinis, "into one's own actions and habits and practical attitudes." NLNR, 88. It is internal: one's emotions and urges ought to be self-disciplined under reason's rule so as to be in some sort of tranquility of order. It is also external: one's outward actions ought to be consonant with, integrated with, one's internal ordering and so authentic.

'Religion' is the last basic value identified by Finnis. Finnis blames Cicero for the "scare quotes" around the word.*** Essentially, however, at the core of this value is the limited nature of all the other values: they all terminate, at least for any particular individual, with death. How, then, can these other values relate to the greater reality of the cosmos beyond any one of us? What is the source of human freedom, human intelligence, and human self-mastery. What is the value above all human values? Is there "something . . . which is free, intelligent, and sovereign in a way (and over a range) no human being can be?" NLNR, 89. Finnis acknowledges that a materialist, an empiricist, one who "doubt[s] or den[ies] that the universal order-of-things has any origin beyond the 'origins known to the natural sciences," will have "misgivings" with this value. NLNR, 89. But the point is that there is a self-evident value in pursuing the ultimate meaning of life, of human freedom, and of reason even if (arguendo) the answer is that there is no meaning. But really, this is conceding too much. Utrum Deus sit,† one should think, is not a trip to Ultima Thule, an unattainable goal. The "God question" is important, fundamental:

But is it reasonable to deny that it is, at any rate, peculiarly important to have thought reasonably and (where possible) correctly about these questions of the origins of cosmic order and of human freedom and reason . . . And does not that importance in large part consist in this: that if there is a transcendent origin of the universal order-of-things and of human freedom and reason, then one's life and actions are in fundamental disorder if they are not brought, as best one can, into some sort of harmony with whatever can be known or surmised about the transcendent other and its lasting order?

NLNR, 90.

In addition to these basic values, Finnis also identifies ways or modes of pursuing the basic values. Basic values are "aspects of human self-determination and self-realization," but they are not the only aspects. There are also aspects that are modal or vital (and not just instrumental) to the exercise of the aspects of basic values. Finnis gives examples of courage, generosity, moderation, gentleness--what seems to be a list of virtues. They are very close to the basic values and almost enjoy the status of "good for its own sake" that the basic values do. Sometimes these ways or modes become more important that the basic goods, in which event you may have "'peculiar' conventions, norms, institutions, and orders of preference." NLNR, 91. He gives as example the aristocratic code of honor--the pundonor or punto de honor that led to the code duello in contradiction to the very basic value of life, and so led to such events as that between Alexander Hamilton and Raymond Burr, a display of foolishness if there ever was one.

Finnis is clear to distinguish "inclinations and urges of one's nature" from basic values since "there are many inclinations and urges that do not correspond to or support any basic value: for example, the inclination to take more than one's share, or the urge to gratuitous cruelty." NLNR, 91. He insists that his list of basic good is not derived from inclinations and urges--whether these are in support of the basic values or to their detriment. Inclinations and urges, moreover, are in need of justification, whereas the basic human values are not. Indeed, there are times where these inclinations are so destructive of human values that they are "as baffling as persistent illogicality, as opaque and pointless as, say, a demand for a plate of mud for no reason at all." NLNR, 91. Whether they arise as a result of a corruption of the search for a basic value through "exclusiveness or inversion" or just simple "psychosomatic disease," these corrupt inclinations remain separate and distinct from the basic values.

*For the notion of "incomensurability" see the article Inommensurable Values in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
**See Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: To Know is Good.
***For an extensive treatment on the word "religio," see Friedrich Max Müller's Gifford Lecture 2, available on line at Gifford Lectures.
It is well known that Lactantius derived religio from religare, to bind or hold back, and he did so, not simply as a philologist, but as a theologian. ‘We are born,’ he says, ‘under the condition that, when born, we should offer to God our justly due services, should know Him only, and follow Him only. We are tied to God and bound to Him (religati) by the bond of piety, and from this has religion itself received its name, and not, as Cicero has interpreted it, from attention (a relegendo).’

Before we examine this etymology, it will be useful to give the etymology which Lactantius ascribes to Cicero, and which he is bold enough to reject. Cicero says: ‘Those who carefully took in hand all things pertaining to the worship of the gods, were called
religiosi, from relӗgere,—as neat people (elegantes) were so called from elegere, to pick out; likewise diligent people, diligentes, from diligere, to choose, to value, and intelligent people from intelligere, to understand; for in all these words there is the meaning of legere, to gather, to choose, the same as in religiosus.
Müller, Gifford Lectures, Lecture 2 (footnotes omitted) (citing to Lactantius, Institut. Div. iv. 28 and Cicero, De Nat. Deor. ii. 28). In using "scare quotes," then Finnis seems to be leaning toward a Lactantian definition of "religion," rather than a Ciceronian.
†Latin: "Whether God is"

No comments:

Post a Comment