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, October 4, 2011

Duns Scotus: Moral Goodness

WITHOUT NEGLECTING THE ROLE OF INTELLECT, SCOTUS emphasizes the act of the free will as the principal essence of the moral act: it is what lies in the center of praxis, of moral action. Nothing: no end, no compulsion, no "nature" forces itself necessarily on the will to rob it of its fundamental freedom. Man always free is always responsible, therefore, for the manner in which he wills.

It is important to note, however, that Scotus does not by any means advocate any sort of antinomianism or irrationality in ethics. Free will does not result in autonomy without law, unguided by reason. He believes in an objective moral order, one willed by God, and insists on reason's importance in discovering that order. His view of this differs from that of Aristotle or St. Thomas because of his emphasis on the will and his rejection of natural teleology, of a eudaemonistic ethic with a focus upon happiness, of an impersonal eternal law in which we participate, of a necessary determination to generic good, with freedom only choosing particular goods. Scotus views the phenomenon of morality from an entirely different vantage point.

Because will is at the heart of his ethic, and will's greatest imperative is to love God, the natural-law ethic of Scotus is intensely personal. It also tends to be expressive, as a personal, creative response to the impulsion toward beauty, toward harmony. In a way, the Scotist view, which emphasizes harmony, is more akin to the Eastern concept of dharma than the Aristotelian/Thomistic synthesis which is more Western and emphasizes conformity with a rational order, with law. It is this subtle shift in emphasis which, as Ingham has pointed out, results in Scotus relying far less on the Aristotelian image of a physician/medicine analogy to ethics, and instead tends to emphasize the image of an artisan, an artist, a musician even in emphasizing the harmonious beauty of the good.

One could say that just as beauty is not some absolute quality in a beautiful body, but a combination of all that is in harmony with such body (such as size, figure, and color), and a combination of all aspects (that pertain to all that is agreeable to such a body and are in harmony with one another), so the moral goodness of an act is a kind of decor it has, including a combination of due proportion to all to which it should be proportioned (such as the potency, the object, the end, the time, the place, and the manner), and this especially as right reason dictates should pertain to the act, so that we could say of all these things that it is their conformity to right reason that is essential.

Ordinatio I, dist. 17, nn. 62-67 (Wolter, 167). A well-ordered, moral life, then, is a beautiful life.

Again, it cannot be overstated. For Scotus, at the heart of the definition of goodness, however, is right reason, not impulse: "The moral goodness of the act," Scotus insists, "consists mainly in its conformity with right reason--dictating fully just how all the circumstances should that surround the act." Id. By emphasizing free will and self-determination, Scotus does not fall into the trap of moderns who become relativists, emotivists, or consequentialists. Scotus is well-within the Catholic tradition, even though he traipses through the moral realm using entirely different paths than the Thomists. His insight is different because he travels to the moral good in a different way. But both Scotus and Thomas are reason-based natural ethics, the former with emphasis on the will, the latter with emphasis on the intellect.

In Scotus's view, the apprehension of good requires the exercise of judgment, of rational intellect. It has both an objective component and reality outside the intellectual subject. Ultimately, the good is referable back to the judgment of the divine intellect. Quodlibet, q. 18 (Wolter, 169-70). In the case of that part of creation that is not rational, it is a natural inclination (whether it be, for example gravity, a plant's intrinsic response to its environment, or an animal's instinct and movement) that determines action, and the divine ordering may be seen behind the natural inclinations of this part of creation.

However, rational creation has been given the ability to exercise judgment beyond mere natural impulse, and the norm for the exercise of this judgment, the affectio justitiae, is right reason. It is because of this intellectual capacity, this ability to make judgments based upon right reason, that we have the moral life. Without the prior act of the intellect, one might recall, one cannot exercise free will, and one cannot have praxis. However, the moral life also requires the ability to elicit acts freely: it requires free will. The moral goodness of an act, then, involves its suitability judged in accordance with the agent's rational knowledge, and his election: his will's choosing an action in conformity therewith.

At the heart of this judgment is the notion of object: the object of an act is the first and principal component of determining conformity with good. "This delimitation introduced by the object first brings the act under the generic heading of moral." Quodlibet, q. 18 (Wolter, 171). From then it progresses into specificity. Therefore, the moral goodness of an act has three components: (1) generic goodness, (2) specific, circumstantial, or virtuous goodness, and (3) meritorious or gratuitous goodness.

The first hurdle in the assessment of moral goodness is generic good which is determined by the object itself. Let us say, the giving of alms is generically good. Blasphemy, on the other hand, is a generic evil. A generic evil can never be the basis of any moral good. Once past that hurdle, we must focus on specific goodness, the "goodness from circumstances," which is determined by assessing the generic good in light of the particular circumstances involved. These make a generic good a specific good, a good under particular circumstances. While a specific good (which is determined by matters other than the object) must always be a generic good (which is defined by the object), a generic good may not be good under specific circumstances. Nor may a specific good ever derive from something which is not generically also good. One cannot take a generic evil and make it good by reason of circumstances. The last component goes beyond moral goodness, generic or specific, and involves the notion of meritorious or gratuitous goodness, which is "goodness as ordered to a reward by reason of the divine acceptance." Ordinatio II, dist. 7, nn.28-39 (Wolter, 173).

Some of the circumstances to be considered in judging whether a generic good is also a specific good are: (i) the end, (ii) the manner in which an action is performed, (iii) the time in which the action is performed, and (iv) the place in which it is performed. Here, Scotus is a traditionalist, and invokes the Dionysian axiom* "[T]o be perfectly good, an act must be faultless on all counts." Quodlibet, q. 18 (Wolter, 172). Not only must the good be generically good, all the circumstances must also be good for us to have a specific good.

Blessed Duns Scotus

Moral badness is found either because an act fails or lacks something (that is, it is morally bad privatively) or because the act is opposed or contrary to a morally good act (that is, the moral act is opposed to a morally good act). Moral badness, then, may be divided into badness as a result or privative badness or badness because it is contrary to good. Somebody may be unjust because an act he performs lacks a necessary aspect of something befitting justice, or he may be unjust because he performs an act that is, in all respect, unjust and so is contrary to justice. As an example of moral badness as a result of privation and moral badness because of contrariness to moral good, Scotus uses the classic example of giving alms. Someone may give alms for a purpose other than the love of God or neighbor say, for example, to make himself feel better or because of custom. In such a case, the act is not, in a full sense, charitable because it lacks a certain component. It is uncharitable due to a privation in terms of motive. However, if the alms giver gives alms, for example, for vainglory or, worse, to hurt someone, the act of giving alms becomes unjust and the opposite of charity.
Briefly, then, just as moral goodness is integral suitability, so moral badness is unsuitability. Privative badness is a lack of suitability, i.e., the absence of what ought to be there, whereas badness as the contrary of goodness is unsuitability as a contrary state, i.e., some condition that is incompatible with suitability.
Quodlibet, q. 18 (Wolter, 173).

Motive, then, is an important circumstance of the moral act. And it is a quality of morally good acts that they can have a variety of motives, and hence a morally good act can have "manifold moral goodness." (Conversely, badness may be multiple depending upon the variety of ill motives one has.) An integrally good act--that is, an act good in all its circumstances--can be virtuous, which is to say good, because the actor may have various ends in view. For example, one may go to Church to fulfill one's obligation in justice to fulfill the commandment of the Church, yet one may also simultaneously go for the love of God, to worship God, to pray for one's neighbor, and so forth. "In short, the more morally good motives there are, the better the act is." Id. (Wolter, 173) This sort of manifold nature of good is true not only for mere moral goodness, but for the "additional goodness" that is called meritorious. The same thing is true mutatis mutandis for moral badness: it likewise may have manifold motives, and consequently different levels of badness.

*In his On Divine Names, Pseudo-Dionysius, stated "evil results from any single defect, but good from the complete cause," τὸ ἀγαθὸν ἐκ μιᾶς καὶ τῆς ὅλης αἰτίας, τὸ δὲ κακὸν ἐκ πολλῶν καὶ μερικῶν ἐλλείψεων, bonum ex una et tota causa, malum ex multis et particularibus defectibus (De Div. Nom., iv.30). Scotus cites to this provision in coming to his statement. The Dionysian apothegm is usually referred to as "bonum ex integra causa malum ex quocumque defectu."

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