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, April 24, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Voluntarism and Law

VOLUNTARISM IS THE NOTION THAT law and perhaps even all reality is, at its kernel, an act of will, and not an act of reason. The debate is perennial, though the answer, while fraught with difficulty, is plain enough. While frequently categorized as a dilemma (e.g., the Euthyphro dilemma)* or a fight among equals--Avicebron v. Averroes, Duns Scotus and William of Ockham v. St. Thomas Aquinas--the sound opinion, and certainly the Thomist solution, appears to be on the side of reason. The Thomist will say that the intellect recognizes being and being as good, and the will is then naturally attracted to the good recognized by reason. For a man, reason, then is the ultimate source of action, of value, of reality. Those opposed to St. Thomas will say that it is the will which determines what is good, and the will determines itself, as it is not determined by reason. Do we love something, desire it, because it is good? The Thomist will answer yes, the Ockhamite no. Is something good because we love it, desire it? The Thomist will answer no, the Ockhamite yes. Some, like perhaps Suarez, try to straddle both sides of the issue.

Is Moses holding God's Will or God's Reason?

The question of whether reality or law is principally will or reason extends out to the very basis of reality and of law--to the eternal truth to the eternal law, and the participation of eternal law we called the natural law. Is moral obligation ultimately predicated upon God's will or God's reason? For Finnis, the answer is plain:

The grounding of ethical obligations in God's will becomes a prize specimen amongst conceptual fallacies collected for exhibition in elementary philosophy books.

NLNR, 343.

But the question persists, and moderns still ask the question and align themselves on either side of the watershed, with all positivists--Bentham, Austin, and Kelsen among them--on the wrong side.

*Plato, Euthyphro, 10a (ἆρα τὸ ὅσιον ὅτι ὅσιόν ἐστιν φιλεῖται ὑπὸ τῶν θεῶν, ἢ ὅτι φιλεῖται ὅσιόν ἐστιν: Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?)

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