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, May 19, 2010

By Nature Equal: How Are Men Created Equal? Identifying the Host Property, Part 1

IN THEIR EXPLORATION OF THE CONCEPT OF EQUALITY Coons and Brennan first begin with an exploration of the Western conventional belief in "human equality." The underlying assumption in the process that Coons and Brennan engage in is that the conventional belief provides clues of the underlying reality of human equality. In other words, the deeply-held conventional belief is evidentiary of reality. "As we have stressed, convention generally is a probe in the direction of reality." (p. 46) Before they hunt down their prey, which is a workable notion of "human equality" derived from conventional belief and, by proxy, reality, however, Coons and Brennan "clarify the quarry." That is, they set forth certain boundaries or guide posts which they suppose the concept of human equality will have. These they gather from a sort of amalgam of empirical observation, common sense, and critical thinking on of the matter.

As discussed in our prior posting, Coons and Brennan maintain that human equality is a relation, and it connects two persons who share a unique, and important, characteristic. The equality must be double, so that what is shared is both equal in possession and in degree. This characteristic shared by two or human beings is what Coons and Brennan call the host property. It anchors the relation that is human equality at both ends. "The host is the foundation, which, in combination with another host, generates relation." (p. 43) It is, furthermore, the "generative property" of that relation. (p. 43). This is depicted schematically below.

Relationship between Host Properties and Relation

In their efforts to identify what that host property might be, Coons and Brennan suppose that this human equality, whatever it is, is viewed as important, and nothing trivial. This immediately excludes any single equalities, any sorts of properties that Rawls describes as "range properties," that is, properties that men share in over a certain "range," i.e., do not enjoy in the same degree, but over a range. Thus rationality, which is an important possible candidate, is immediately excluded. Men are not equal in reason to the same degree, but enjoy reason over a certain range: between the fool and the sage there is a large expanse. Excluded from possible candidates are those qualities that men have that are similar or those that on the average men have. Men have to have uniformly such host property. Also excluded are double equalities that pertain to limited groups. "What the convention requires is a double equality that holds for the mass of mankind." (p. 42) These requirements exclude any empirically-measured property. That is, the "host property" for equality will not be "detectable by scientific observation." (p. 43).

Coons and Brennan spend some time in clarifying the relationship between the host property and the relation it generates. This they feel they have to do because relations are viewed as less "real" than the host property. There is a tendency to view relations (e.g., fatherhood, ownership, marriage) as not having the same reality as characteristics or properties (e.g., reason, the ability to laugh).
How can we simultaneously maintain both the independent status of the relation and its importance? The answer seems plain enough. Any intelligible interpretation of "human equality" will need to implicate both the relation and the property that generates it.
(p. 44) Moreover, the relation may be causative of a host property. That is, once two subjects enter into a relation a host property may arise that did not previously exist. "Insofar as a particular relation has this generative effect, we call it a 'source relation.'" (p. 44) The source relation awakens a host property. It makes active what was, before the relation, merely potential. Therefore, Coons and Brennan are on the lookout for both source relations and that particular form of relation they wish to identify as being that of human equality.
In our search for the host property, we will therefore be dealing with two interacting but distinctive forms of relation: (1) those relations that help to generate the host property for human equality; and (2) the specific relations that is human equality
(p. 45) Coons and Brennan then propose five criteria "plainly interrelated and overlapping in content" that they identify in custom and usage: (1) Importance, (2) Goodness, (3) Laterality, (4) Singularity, and (5) Uniformity.
1. Importance. Human equality is a significant relation generated by the sharing of some important property.
2. Goodness. Human equality is a positive relation arising from the capacity of each rational self to work its own moral perfection through free submission to the real good.
3. Laterality. This order of the good embraced or rejected by the self consists of correct behaviors regarding other rational persons (and reflexively the self).
4. Singularity. The relation that is human equality is distinct from any relation of equality among humans that might be based upon a capacity to accept moral obligation toward other beings such as God or animals.
5. Uniformity. The capacity of rational humans to accept or reject lateral obligations is uniform both in possession and degree.
(p. 46) Coons and Brennan point out that whatever human equality is by convention, it appears to be a moral quality, one related to both will and reason, and one related to an approach to the good, though obviously not will and reason itself, since these vary among human beings. Yet both will and reason are "elements of the self that are necessary (though insufficient) for the host property." (p. 52-53) The presupposition that the "host property" will contain the element of reason raises a problem since it appears to exclude those who, from illness, accident, or age "never have, and never will, think and choose; and those who will have the opportunity to do so only if they are allowed to be born." (p. 53) But the convention would appear to encompass these human beings that, for whatever reason, are bereft of the possession of reason and will.

In terms of laterality, Coons and Brennan define that criterion thus:
Human equality presupposes a moral order that the self can freely embrace or reject as an ideal and thereby determine the degree of its own moral perfection; this order precedes positive law and consists of correct treatments of other rational persons (and reflexively of the self).

This or a similar conception is necessary to the intelligibility of conventional human equality.
(p. 54) What Coons and Brennan suggest here is that the convention of human equality is predicated upon a belief of a natural moral law. Without an objective moral order that exists before man passed his first law or founded first custom (i.e., the natural law), there is no grounds for human equality. This would further suggest (though Coons and Brennan do not suggest it in this part of the text), that rejection of the existence of the notion of the natural moral law will lead to the rejection of the convention of human equality. Without an objective moral order independent of human will and reason, there is no such thing as human equality. Our concept of human equality is born from this objective moral order. Thus moral relativism contradicts and threatens the very convention we have of human equality.

We will discuss at greater depth the criterion of laterality in our next posting.

1 comment:

  1. "Coons and Brennan engage in is that the conventional belief provides clues of the underlying reality of human equality. In other words, the deeply-held conventional belief is evidentiary of reality. "As we have stressed, convention generally is a probe in the direction of reality." (p. 46)"

    Conventional belief is not the basis of philosophy. Jacques Maritain, the famous Catholic philosopher, in his book Introduction to Philosophy states that "Philosophy is based on the DATA OF EXPERIENCE". Relying on convention is NOT the Scientific Spirit! Science, which philosophy is, is based on Observation of reality. Coons and Brennan are engaging in Metaphysics but still Metaphysics is based on Nature! Not on Convention. These two professors are standing Western Culture on its head. They are NOT engaging in Western Thought!

    This is Philosophy 101! In Plato's Republic, Socrates says, "Opinion differs from Knowledge because the one errs and the other is unerring". The whole of Socratic/Platonic thought, the basis of Western Thought is moving away from Opinion and basing our reasoning on Knowledge. Knowledge comes from data of experience, of the real world. "Conventional belief" is just another word for "opinion"!

    These two Catholics are not even engaging in Philosophy! They have not a clue! This whole book is based on a first premise of "opinion"! What foolishness. And no "Conventional belief" does not point in the direction of reality. When does Science ever base itself on "conventional belief"? These two Catholics are engaging in propaganda, ideology, but not science.