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.

Monday, April 5, 2010

St. Albert the Great: Natural Law as Habitus

ONE OF ST. ALBERT THE GREAT'S CONTRIBUTIONS to the doctrine of the natural law involves his concept of the natural law (ius) as an innate habitus that was concreated with, and impressed upon, the rational human soul, a habitus in which one could find the fundamental principles of good and right which were the source of knowledge of particular goods and the right, and our moral decisions with respect to them. This part of St. Albert's teaching represents a progressive innovation from that of his predecessors. An important adjunct to this notion of the natural law (ius naturale) as habitus was St. Albert's teaching on practical reasoning. In this blog entry, we will focus upon St. Albert's notion of the natural law (ius naturale) as habitus. In the next blog entry, we will review the innovative teaching of St. Albert the Great on the syllogism of practical reasoning as applied to the habitus of the natural law.

Albertus Magnus by Fra Angelico

The De bono of St. Albert is divided into five tracts. Tract I deals with a metaphysics of the good, and from that perspective examines the causes of vitue and the definition of virtue. Tracts II through through IV address the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, and fortitude. Tract V deals with the cardinal virtue of justice, and is divided into two questions. St. Albert contemplated a second part to the De bono which was to address the supernatural aspects of virtue and good; however, it was never completed. Stanley B. Cunningham, "Albertus Magnus on Natural Law," 28 Journal of the History of Ideas 4 (Oct-Dec 1967), 480, 485. So as De bono has come down to us, it addresses purely the issue of naturally-based morality, natural law and natural right. In Question 1 of Tract V of his De bono, Albert handles the issue of right (ius naturale). In Question 2 of Tract V, St. Albert addresses the issue of law (lex naturalis). Law and right are placed under the virtue of justice because "the notions of ius and lex serve as determinations" in justice's definition. Cunningham, 485. In this blog entry, we shall focus on Question 1 of Tract V, dealing with natural right (ius).

In his discussion of natural right (ius) in Tract V of De bono, Albert invokes the definition of right or law (ius) in Cicero's De inventione:
The law (ius) of nature is that which is not born from opinion, but a power implanted in us by nature.

Naturae [natura] ius est, quod non opinio genuit, sed quaedam in natura [innata] vis insevit [inseruit].
Cic., De inv., II.161 (Cicero's text is open to various readings, as shown in the brackets). Other definitions of law (ius) are also invoked by Albert, including those of Isidore of Seville, Gratian, St. Augustine, and William of Auxerre; however, Albert decides to focus on Cicero's definition of natural law (ius) and the Aristotelian notion of habitus (hexis). In addressing the issue of the natural law (ius naturale) in this article, Albert exposits a notion of natural law (ius naturale) as habitus. "Natural right, he points out, is a habitus concreated with, and innately impressed upon, the human rational soul." Cunningham, 486. (citing De bono, V, 1, 1). Albert describes this habitus in various ways: (i) as universal guide that directs us in our actions, universalia iuris illa dirigentia nos in opere; (ii) as a universal usage or rule, universalia morum; (iii) as a first principle of right, prima principia iuris; (iv) as the first seeds of morals and the moral life, prima semina and seminaria boni pertinentis ad vitam. Cunningham, 487 (citing De bono, V, 1, 1-3).

The notion of an innate character associated with the natural law (ius naturale) was common enough teaching at the time St. Albert wrote his De bono (Cunningham states there was "complete unanimity" in the belief in the innate character of natural right). This unanimity arose from both the testimony of Pagan sources (e.g., Cicero) and the teachings of St. Paul (Rom. 2:14-15). But the notion of the natural law (ius naturale) as a habitus coupled with the collateral notion that some of our knowledge of the right and good was also acquired, were innovations. Cunningham, 488. This notion of natural law (ius naturale) as habitus was extremely significant in the development of the doctrine of natural law, especially when tied to the notion of practical reasoning that St. Albert was also to develop (and which we will discuss in our next blog entry).
It was . . . Albert the Great, in the thirteenth century, who posited this habit [habitus] of first principles in the practical intellect, thereby making an important innovation for the theory of the natural law.
Crowe, 26. As Crowe explains it:
Albert passes in review the current authorities (who made synderesis a faculty, or a faculty endowed with a habitus, or the practical reason, or the sum of the faculties, or a remnant of original justice), before, himself, defining it as a faculty endowed with the habitus of the principles of natural law. Then, developing the parallel between the speculative and the practical reason, Albert identifies these principles of the natural law as the unlearned, innate source of our knowledge of the distinction between good and evil, together with the most general applications of that distinction.
Crowe, 133 (citing Summa de creaturis, II, q. 71, a. 1).

This notion of habitus is important in the thought of the Scholastic philosophers, and in particular St. Albert. It is not equivalent to the popular notion of "habit," that is, an acquired pattern behavior resulting from repetition. The English word "habit" is not an adequate translation of the notion of habitus. The notion of habitus is much deeper, much more internal, durable, and substantive than the notion of "habit," especially in this context. A habitus, which is the Latin translation of the Greek hexis (ἕξις), is a kind of quality that is durable, one which fortifies and perfects a power of the soul in respect to the right use of freedom or the exercise of practical reasoning required for moral action. Monks wear a habit as a symbol of their monastic habitus, the durable disposition arising from their vows to God which are to last throughout their life and which define their very being. Cunningham defines habitus as used by St. Albert as "a unified ensemble of the first and most ultimate principles of human morals directing us in our human actions." Cunningham, 486-87. That is, the habitus is there, from first to last, from beginning to end of the moral decision. In St. Albert's view, the habitus of the ius naturale was innate, quaedam in natura innata vis. It was implanted in our nature absolutely, per naturam simpliciter. It could not be erased. It was a set of internal clothes, a perpetual habit, as it were, with which we are clothed by our very nature.

St. Albert believed that the content of this habitus included (in an unwritten way) the Golden Rule as found in the Gospel of Matthew (7:12): "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It also included the precepts of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:1-7). While the Golden Rule and the Decalogue are written laws, they were duplicative of the content that is written in the heart in this habitus. "These universal principles, writes Albert, are all included within natural right, and inscribed in man by the very fact that [man] has reason." Cunningham, 487.

Albertus Magnus, Fresco by Tommaso da Modena

The habitus is therefore a foundational, internal, and implanted knowledge of the right and the good (scientia iuris or scientia boni). Though it is an innate knowledge, which is implanted in our nature, per naturam simpliciter, it is a knowledge that is in potency and therefore indeterminate. Outside of this implanted habitus, our practical intellect is a tabula rasa, a blank slate. To exercise this habitus therefore requires use or act on the part of the subject. Here, the subject must go outside the implanted knowledge and enter into the realm of the contingent. To use or act upon the habitus and the indeterminate principles therein contained requires the acquisition of knowledge, knowledge obtained per accidens, knowledge which must be acquired through the application of the senses
and the experiences of life; specifically, one must obtain an understanding of terms (notitia terminorum). Though one may intuitively know through the habitus of the natural law that adultery, theft, murder, or lying are wrong, one must acquire knowledge as to what the terms "adultery," "theft," "murder," and "lying" are. Additionally, part of the use or act of the ius naturale in any particular context requires that we apply the syllogism of practical reason, something which is done by the conscience. [In this regard, since we can err on the part of defining terms, or in our acquired knowledge, or in the application of reasoning upon the basic principles, it is possible that, though the habitus is the same for all men, there will be errors made by men in the concrete moral decisions they confront day to day.] The habitus is therefore an a priori innate and natural base upon which experience and practical reason must build a posteriori through the acquisition of knowledge and the application of syllogistic reasoning. The knowledge of the right and the good is accordingly a combination of a priori and a posteriori knowledge; a combination of a pre-existing habitus and acquired knowledge; a combination of absolute and relative knowledge.
At this point, then, Albert seems to have reached a position midway between the traditional doctrine of radical innatism [found in, e.g., William of Auxerre] and the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, for whom natural law is not essentially an innate "habit" but rather a product of reason (aliquid per rationem constitutum) consisting in judgments.
Cunningham, 488 (citing S.T. I-IIae, q. 94, art. 1).

In or next blog entry we will address St. Albert's further elaboration on the role of the ius naturale in the making of moral decisions, in particular, how the ius naturale is embedded in a power called synderesis, and the role the latter power plays in moral decisions as it informs the human conscience.

No comments:

Post a Comment