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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Be Coherent

A COHERENT PLAN OF LIFE IS THE FIRST requirement of practical reasonableness identified by Finnis in his book Natural Law and Natural Rights. We are not free, if we are to be reasonable (and being unreasonable is not being free, but being arbitrary and chained to whim), unless we have a rationally coherent plan of life. The inclinations, urges, desires that we have must somehow be reined and disciplined into some sort of rational ordering or coherent plan of life. This means that it must be externally and internally coherent and rational. This coherent plan must be rational with respect to basic values, and in ordering them it must not be internally inconsistent so that a person is not at cross purposes with himself. It must, moreover, be concerned with more than here-and-now. It must extend out over time. Indeed it must not only extend out over time, it must even consider that which is beyond time, the novissima.

Implicitly or explicitly one must have a harmonious set of purposes and orientations, not as the 'plans' or 'blueprints' of a pipe-dream, but as effective commitments. . . . It is unreasonable to life merely from moment to moment, following immediate cravings, or just drifting.

NLNR, 104.

Finis Gloriae Mundi by Juan de Valdés Leal

Two things ought to be stressed with respect to the adoption of a coherent plan of life. First, it is not to be confused with adopting or inventing values. The basic values are not ours to mold or create. The choice is not adopting a coherent set of values of our own making (and it is questionable that values of our own making would be coherent) since we have no basis for ignoring the self-evident human values--life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability, practical reasonableness, religion--and participating in those of our own manufacture. There is no rational basis in creating basic values that do not exist, and we lack the power to fashion them out of whole cloth as if ex nihilo. There is no rational basis for ignoring the self-evident basic values that do exist and not participating in them. It is in fact a refusal to participate in being if one ignores the basic values. One is not acting in accordance with practical reasonableness in deciding to choose death, or ugliness, or misanthropy, or impiety, or ignorance, or power, as a basic value. One is only acting in accordance with practical reasonableness when--confronted with the basic values of life, play, knowledge, aesthetic experience, sociability, practical reasonableness, religion--we adopt a coherent plant of life that attempts to participate in them in a rational way.

Second, the coherent plan of life must go beyond the immediate. It is a long-range, lasting, staying, sort of habitual thing. It is not a short-term ordering, hinc et nunc, but a long-term ordering. As Finnis puts it: "It is also irrational to devote one's attention exclusively to specific projects which can be carried out completely by simply deploying defined means to defined objectives." NLNR, 104 (emphasis added).

To be goal driven is not necessarily having a coherent plan of life. One can have myriad particular goals and never have an overall goal, and so be only marginally better than the man who acts by whim and urge. There are many fools: μωροὶ or morons, there are many who are ἄφρων or imprudent. Those who build on a foundation of sand, those who put the less important over the more important, those who bring lamps but forget the oil, those who say in their heart there is no God, and those whom Finnis is referring to here, the men and women full of temporal thoughts, men and women who work their myriad goals and have never thought beyond their immediate goal of amassing assets--be they fame, celebrity, wealth, love, assets that moth and rust destroy, assets that thieves can break in and steal, assets that are are time-and-place-bound. There is warrant for thinking about things that are not time-and-place-bound. (Cf. Matt. 6:19-20).

What is meant by coherent plan of life is something overarching, something Finnis defines as "the redirection of inclinations, the reformation of habits, the abandonment of old and adoption of new projects, as circumstances require, and, overall, the harmonization of all one's deep commitments." NLNR, 104. It is in fashioning one's coherent plan of life and the commitments therein entailed that one is exercising authentic autonomy. One acts freely within the law of the real, within the constraints of the self-evident reality of the pre-moral goods. The possibilities are virtually endless, but the possibilities for any one man must be coherently engaged in, and engagement requires a plan. It is through such a plan that one participates in these basic goods.

The image is not one of a gyrovague, a wanderer with no set finality, but of a pilgrim with a definite goal, a pilgrim with a certain bourne. And though contingencies, foreseen and unforeseen, we shall forever confront, we should be committed to this general plan of life which coherently orders our everyday activity and choices. This plan looks ahead as well as in the moment. It even considers the novissima, that last days, the days that may be beyond.
In omnibus operibus tuis memorare novissima tua . . .

In all your works, remember your last days . . . .
Ecclus. 7:40.

It is unreasonable to think that one's time on earth is forever, and a human person's coherent plan of life must consider the beyond: In fashioning a coherent plan of life, he or she must not forget:
Hic breve vivitur,
Hic breve plangitur,
Hic breve fletur;
Non breve vivere,
Non breve plangere,

We do not want to be like the rich man whose plan it was to heap up riches, who never considered the beyond, and who ended up leaving his entire life's work to another and working for naught. It was he, who full of goals and full of success and full of temporary gain, failed to consider for the novissima. He failed to adopt a coherent plan of life that ignored the beyond. He it was that heard the words of God that every man must fear: Stulte! "You fool! (Luke 12:20).

Who can survive being called fool by God?

*Here life is quickly gone, / Here grief is ended soon, / Here tears are flowing; / Life ever fresh is there, / Life free from anxious care, / God's hand bestowing. See Horatio Parker, Hora Novissima (trans., Isabella Parker).

No comments:

Post a Comment