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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Laborem Solis Sive Eclipsis Moralis: Affectiones, Nihil Plus Quam Affectiones

“FEELINGS,NOTHING MORE than feelings," goes the song by Morris Albert, and similarly does modern society sing. It is modern society's cult of feelings--feelings over reason--what Budziszewski calls the "bondage to the emotions," that is the "last great reason for the eclipse of the natural law." (The others identified by Budziszewski in his fine book What We Can't Not Know, the reader may recall were treated in prior postings: the atrophy of tradition, the cult of the expert, the return of the sophist, the infantile regression of public reflection, the disabling of shock and shame, the prolongation of adolescence). As examples of the modern cult of feelings, Budziszewski invokes such characters as the poet John Keats and the fictional Ben (Obi-Wan Kenobi) of Star Wars Fame :
O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts!

"Luke! Trust your feelings!"*
Modernity finds itself in thrall to feelings, and this enslavement to emotion comes to us from every direction, and from a variety of different sources. It is as if feelings is trying to vanquish reason and battles it from what Budziszewski sees as seven fronts: (1) Romanticism, (2) Transgressivism, (3) Determinism, (4) the Cult of Pleasant Feelings, (5) Aestheticism, (6) Spiritualism, and (7) Moralism. Each of these varieties has one consistent dogma: the adoration of emotion over and against reason.

The Moral Life is More Than Feelings
The Aristotelian "Happiness" is more than a "Happy Face"

The first varietal of feelings cult is Romanticism. Romanticism, of course, was a broad reaction against the over-emphasis of reason of the Enlightenment and the rationalization of the world in the Industrial Revolution. It is a movement with which one can emphasize. The cold, calculating, steely reason of the Enlightenment thinkers--Kant's Blossen Vernunft ("Reason alone") and Reinen Vernunft ("Pure Reason")--leaves one rather wanting. But like most things, the evil lies in the extremes, and not in the means. We ought to find that golden mean so that we live within the boundaries of Reason and Emotions, not Emotions alone or Reason alone. The error of the Romanticists was to overemphasize Emotion at the expense of Reason. The error of the Enlightenment thinkers was to overemphasize Reason at the expense of Emotion. Indeed, so extreme was the Romantic reaction, that one of its more extreme advocates Percy Bysshe Shelley would lionize madness as a virtue, would make poets legislators of the world, so that law would be based upon the sheer arbitrariness of emotional whim. In his famous essay, "A Defence of Poetry," Shelley distinguishes between Reason and emotional Imagination:
Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance. Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be “the expression of the imagination”: and poetry is connate with the origin of man.

But to place Reason and Emotion in separate, discrete compartments, and to overemphasize one at the expense of the other is quite poisonous to the moral quest which is a combination of human reasonable inclinations and the inclinations of reason.

It is a quality of feelings that their cult forebodes dissipation. Feelings are jealous gods, and, if they are worshipped, like all idolatry, they lead us invariably the futile thinking and the darkened and foolish hearts which St. Paul referred to in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. So from simple Romanticism, man steps off into the "cult of forbidden feelings" or Transgressivism. There will be an "inversion of values," and it is "where all romantics will arrive if they follow the romantic path to the end." Budziszewski (2003), 177. Transgressivism is Romanticism on steroids, and it entraps one not unlike hashish traps the smokers in their dark, dreary opium dens, prisons of their own making. So weird, unnatural preoccupation with death, with darkness, with sexual perversions of all sorts. Black lipstick, black leather, chains, piercings, witchcraft and seances, where foul is fair and fair foul.

Another variety of the feelings cult comes from Determinism. Here, feeling are not only the source of decision-making, but feelings are irresistible. It is the view that we are "merely catspaws of genes, or hormones, or neural circuitry, and declare in an unintended parody of Martin Luther, 'So I feel; I can do no other.'" Budziszewski (2003), 178. We hear this determinism all the time implied in the words we hear ad nauseum: "I can't help how I feel," and "I feel I have no choice." In Sixwire's song, "I Can't Help How I Feel," we have the perfect popular example of the determinism of feelings:
I can't help how I feel
It's out of my hands
This time it's for real
. . .
I can't help how I feel
Just like you can't help how you don't.
It is apparent that if feelings are the basis for moral discussion, then there will never be any discussion, because feelings are entirely subjective, and do not provide any common, much less transcendent norm which would provide common ground for reason's purchase.

Not all feelings are dark, such as those sought by Transgressivism or those justified by Determinism. Some seem innocuous, even benign. But this is just apparent. Budziszewski identifies this variety as the "cult of pleasant feelings." It is a modern atavism of hedonism. In some ways, this cult is perhaps the most insidious. One would think that emphasizing "good feelings" is an unquestionable good. But as Budziszewski warns, the "morality of pleasant feelings" is not a safe moral code. There are many goods that are obtained only by going through the valley of bad feelings: that is what is at the heart of the entirety of virtue that relates to the irascible: fortitude or courage. The "morality of pleasant feelings" ignores that virtue relating to the concupiscible appetite: temperance. After all, temperance is a limitation on "good feelings." The "cult of good feelings" results in us being cowardly and dissipated.

To overcome the errors apparent in the hedonistic "cult of good feelings," some would try to refine the dross. We have those like the utilitarian J. S. Mill, who distinguishes between the pleasure of a pig wallowing in the mud versus the pleasure of Socrates's pursuit of the truth. "It is," Mill famously said, "better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." "And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion," J. S. Mill continues, "it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides." And it is these latter words that bear the ominous implication: who is the "other party . . . who knows both sides"? What happens if that person is Peter Singer (who justifies infanticide on the grounds that the "feelings" of the infant is not to be given much, if any, value: the infant's feelings are those of a pig) or a Hannibal Lecter (who justifies his moral enormities on the ground that his feelings are refined relative to those of his victims)? It does not take a rocket science to answer those questions.

Feelings are ubiquitous, and we find them leaving the world of sense and aspiring to metaphysical, even spiritual status. But here the error is grosser than the other varieties. To equate spiritual truths with emotional states is a disaster to both reason and faith. It is a short haul from emphasizing religious feelings to the altar of worshiping the feelings themselves which is nothing less that a worship of self.

One form is the naive exaltation of religious feelings as the voice of God--but [from] exalting religious feelings, to exalting feelings a religious, is a shorter step than we realize. . . . [to] [w]hatever you feel, that is holy, because you are God, and God lives in what He feels."

Budzidzwewski (2003), 179-80. It is, of course, hard to argue morality with a man who thinks he or his feelings is God.

Another variety of feelings that is equally insidious is what Budziszewski calls the "cult of moral feelings, or moralism." Budziszewski (2003), 180. "Head and shoulders," this cult is "above the other feeling cults, yet it too is fatally flawed." It uses feelings are a cover for reason (as Budziszewski suggests James Q. Wilson does) in which case it is nothing less than confusing. Or, worse, it seeks to build an entire construct of ethics on the most fickle foundation imaginable. As George Allen Pegram puts it well enough:
[M]oral feelings are fluctuating, as well as are other kinds of feelings. One day it would be one thing, and the next day it would be something else. Emotions are moved, and moved more or less by environment. Then if moral action were based upon feelings only, that would put the moving and molding influence and the springs of moral action over and around us, instead of within us. And so in that case, we would be entirely at the mercy of our environment. Furthermore, under the influence of the world and the devil, the major portion of our impulses would be very liable to be on the wrong side of moral questions. It takes something more than fitful fickle feelings to direct and sustain the moral conduct of mankind.**
Morality, it would seem, ought to be based on something more than emoticons.

Budziszewski concludes:

Our emotions give charm and energy to our lives, andeven the inconvenient ones give information. The problem is that their char is not self-evaluating, and their information is not self-interpreting. Virtue certainly includes feeling the right desires and emotions, but at the right times, toward the right people, and for the right reasons. . . . We should not be like the Stoics, sad men who took counsel with each other to rid their souls of feelings. But neither should we bow to our feelings as masters.

Budziszewski (2003), 181.

In short: neither Reason alone or Emotion alone, but Emotion within the bounds of Reason and Reason buttressed by Emotion. We don't want to be thinking, unfeeling moral cads. Nor do we want to be unthinking, feeling moral cads. Nor, lastly, do we want to be unthinking, unfeeling moral cads. We want to be thinking and feeling, and feeling and thinking, which means we don't want to be moral cads at all.

*The quotation of John Keats comes from a letter to Benjamin Bailey dated November 22, 1817. "I am more zealous in this affair because I have never yet been able to perceive how anything can be known for truth by consecutive reasoning - and yet it must be. Can it be that even the greatest philosopher ever arrived at his goal without putting aside numerous objections? However it may be, O for a life of sensation rather than of thoughts!"
**George Allen Pegram, The Moral Adjustments of a Christian Life (Mount Morris: Kable Brothers, 1915), 110.

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