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.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

By Nature Equal: How Are Men Created Equal? Identifying the Host Property, Part 2

LATERALITY IS A SIGNIFICANT CRITERION of human equality. To repeat with what we ended with in our previous blog posting, Coons and Brennan insist that the convention of 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." In addition, this order "precedes positive law and consists of correct treatments of other rational persons (and reflexively of the self)." (p. 54).

Coons and Brennan identify three orders in which man participates: a descendent moral order, a lateral moral order, and an ascendant moral order. The descendent moral order involves man's relationship with the order of creation beneath him (self/beast). The lateral moral order involves man's relationship with another of his kind (self/other). The ascendant moral order involves man's relationship with the Creator (self/God). (Coons and Brennan ignore the moral order of men with creatures above him, i.e., angels.)

Three Moral Orders: Ascendant, Descendent, and Lateral

For the purposes of identifying human equality, Coons and Brennan focus on the lateral moral order. There is no human equality between God and man, nor is there human equality between man and beast. "The relation of human equality can be ascribed only to human choosers who live in conscious interdependence with other human choosers." (p. 55)

Coons and Brennan turn to Chapter 1 of the book of Genesis to explain this laterality criterion. Before the creation of Eve, the only duties Adam had were ascendant and descendent. Adam had a duty to God, and he had his limited duties to animals associated with his dominion over them. He had not duty to any fellow human for the simple reason that there was no such other. In the lateral order, man was alone. But there existed in man--there had been created in man by God--a potential for accepting the duties to the lateral order. This quality remained dormant, as it were; it needed to be awakened, roused.
[S]o long as this one man stood "alone," his moral relationships, both ascendant and descendent, remained purely unilateral. Adam's moral capacity was dressed up for some other affair to which as yet he had received no invitation.
(p. 56) The creation of Eve, and even more specifically, the encounter of Adam with Eve after her creation by God, his recognition of her, rouses Adam's latent potency with respect to this lateral order. More, this arousal is reciprocal, since Eve's potency is likewise awakened by this mutual encounter and recognition.
Each awakens the other's latent potential for a lateral and reciprocal morality. . . . The ascendant and descendent duties to God and the lower orders remain, but, ever after the more immediate issue is what to do about her--and about him. And eventual about them.
(p. 57) In a manner of speaking, all of us share in this reciprocal encounter. It is more than a historical event: "It is a metaphor for the universal experience of the other."

Adam and Eve from the Escorial Beatus (ca. 950)
All who reach rationality bear the mark of engagement with other moral beings. The encounter becomes what we have called a "source relation" for "recognition," which is the second important aspect of the tale; it is the specific effect of the encounter as it generates the self's consciousness of a new form of moral relation. . . . Recognition is the grasp of the reality of lateral obligation.
(p. 57) Coons and Brennan call the lateral obligation reciprocity, that is to say, it engenders the Golden Rule. "The encounter triggers the recognition of [the lateral morality] of reciprocity." (p. 57) In understanding the moral obligation of reciprocity, one must reject any notion of a bargain-morality. The lateral moral obligation, the obligation of reciprocity, arises independent of any promise or bargain (it is in fact the source of the binding nature of of any promise made to the other, and so it pre-exists any compact or covenant between men). One must also not understand this in terms of "rights." This lateral morality is preeminently one of "duty."
It is not in rights but in our awakened capacity for moral self-perfection that we hope and expect to find the host property of the relation of human equality. Hence we speak of the capacity for reciprocity only as the power to accept or reject and order of duties we owe to one another.
(p. 58) It is a fact we modern ignore as we seem to have been more-and-more rejecting our inherited conventions: we shall never become perfect by demanding our right against others. Quite the opposite, we shall become perfect by demanding that we abide by our duty to others. Accepting this duty to the other, engaging in the duty of reciprocity, abiding and in pursuing this responsibility that the encounter with others engenders, living the life of within the strictures of the lateral order is an important component of self-perfection. It is, indeed, the root of the second of Christ's two great commandments, and is like unto the first commandment which relates to the ascendant order: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:36) No one can say he loves God, and yet hate his brother. (1 John 4:20) The lateral order is thus inextricably intertwined with the ascendant order.

This capacity of the self to accept or reject the lateral moral order, to shoulder the duties attendant to reciprocity is what Coons and Brennan, by exploring the clues provided by convention, tentatively identify as the host property of human equality. The capacity of whether or not we accept the obligations stemming from the Golden Rule, that is to say the natural moral law, then, is what may be the basis of our human equality.

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