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.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

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

HUMAN EQUALITY, IF IT IS TO BE FOUND AT ALL, is to be found in the subjective moral faculty of man, and not in the moral faculty as a whole. That is, the source relation that gives rise to the host property in men for human equality cannot be the joint objective and subjective components of morality in its entirety, since men are not equal in their abilities to discover, and therefore know and understand, the natural moral law in its complex determinations. Moreover, the weakness of the flesh presses upon us in varying and sundry ways, inequivalently. We are told (though we do not necessarily accept) that the disposition toward homosexuality is genetically founded. (The question is, in any event, irrelevant to whether or not homosexual acts, viewed objectively, are intrinsically vicious, which they are irrespective of the genetic makeup of the moral subject.) Even if arguendo the disposition toward homosexuality is genetically determined, in whole or in part, then all that means is that the unfortunate person disposed toward homosexuality has a burden to overcome, a weakness of the flesh pressing on him hard, that perhaps his brother who is heterosexually disposed does not suffer. The homosexual is no different than the one who suffers from a genetic disposition to drink or a disposition towards excess drinking arising from the complex disease-like symptoms of alcoholism as a result of prior abuse. The alcoholic is unequal to the non-alcoholic with respect to the tendency to drink superfluously. If there are predisposition to certain vices, there are predispositions to certain virtues. The predisposition to a certain vice is not warrant or license to entertain that vice. Nor is the predisposition against a certain virtue warrant or license to ignore that virtue.

In any event, it is at once apparent that human equality cannot be based upon any human capacity to know, to will, or to conform one's behavior to, the objective orders of lateral morality. It is manifest that ignorance of both fact and law and strength of will vary among men. Such an equality, therefore, would not be a double equality. There is "arrayed" among men "disparate degrees of moral power." (p. 67) In the complex business of living, men simply vary in abilities to assess the objective good. Neither knowledge of the objective moral norms, nor strength of will can be a source of human equality.

The only possible remaining candidate is intent. Coons and Brennan therefore focus on the intentional prong of the moral equation. The question ultimately comes down to the significance of the human subject in intending the good, as that good is defined to him by the certain judgment of his conscience. All men have a conscience, and all men are bound to obey a certain conscience, and this obligation persists even though that conscience may be erroneous. Subjectively, the human subject sins if he disobeys the certain judgment of his conscience, and this whether his conscience is, in the external forum, objectively right or wrong. The good that is pointed out to him by his conscience may, in the objective order, be only an apparent and not a real or authentic good. But so long as a man is directed to that apparent (though not actual or authentic) good as a certain judgment of his conscience, he must pursue it or be guilty of sin. This is orthodoxy. This is orthopraxis.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts the absolute principle of conscience in this way:
1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

1800 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience.
Coons and Brennan then posit an interesting question, and one that goes to the heart of their thesis. Assume a moral actor X with a certain judgment of his conscience that commands him to do act A. Let us suppose that the judgment of his conscience to do act A is erroneous. To engage in act A contradicts the natural moral law in a determinate matter, and X is invincibly ignorant of his error. X has the obligation to obey his erroneous conscience, and to him, subjectively, it is no sin. The question then confronts us: is X's doing A an act of virtue to X? In doing act A does X advance in (his own) moral perfection? Coons and Brennan say yes, though they acknowledge that it may "raise eyebrows" to say so, but they insist that it is the "silent premise of conventional human equality." (p. 68)
[T]his enduring subject or self works his own moral perfection by committing to treat his neighbor in the manner that appears correct, even if he is innocently mistaken about which treatment is truly the right one. The self's capacity to make this commitment is what we have nominated as the host property of the relation of human equality. . . . In any case . . . if we are to advance in moral perfection, we must intend--that is, commit diligently to--the real good.
(p. 68-69) Thus all men can uniformly intend to commit to treat his neighbor in a manner that he judges to be right. There is no inequality among men on this issue, all can equally so intend, or freely not so intend. There is no variance in degree in this capacity, and so this provides the source relation that gives rise to a host property upon which human equality can be predicated. That this is so is not something that is self-evident, much less philosophically obvious or scientifically provable. It is, at the end, a matter of faith. And Coons and Brennan believe it to be a part of Western convention (if it still survives):
[I]f in fact [this capacity] should be the same [among all men], what we behold is the most democratic of all moralities; the means of moral self-perfection would be fully available to anyone who can make a choice, however feeble one's grasp of the specific good in the particular case. The test of a person's moral excellence is not his or her grasp of correct solutions but the diligent pursuit of them. One must want to know the right way and must act upon the understanding of it that one's intellect can manage. The capacity of human actors to commit to this search might be uniform in degree, and we will say what we can on that issue.
(p. 69) This intention has both a general and a specific component to it. The actor must have a "general intention toward the real good and a specific intention toward the apparent good." (p. 68) The intent therefore requires an acknowledgment of the lateral order, and the acknowledgment that it is objective and binding. This is the focus of the general intention. Additionally, the content of the lateral order must be sought out with diligence, and it must be applied in the particular decisions one confronts, an activity which gives rise to a specific and apparent or seeming good. If the actor got the specific judgment right, then the apparent good is also an actual or real good. If he got the specific judgment wrong, then the apparent good is just apparent, and is no actual or real good. It, in fact, may be objectively, that is, really or actually, evil, though to the one in error it appears as a good.

In proposing this capacity to intend generally the lateral moral good and specifically the particular apparent good as the source relation that gives rise to the host property of human equality, Coons and Brennan seem to be making the distinction between the "law of gradualism" (lex gradualitatis) and the "gradualism of the law" (gradualitas legis). [See Familiaris Consortio, No. 34; see also John Paul II, Homily of October 25, 1980 at the Close of the Sixth Synod of Bishops, No. 8.] Under the principle of the law of gradualism, the moral norms are understood to be unchanging. However, unless we be the recipient of an extraordinary grace, our understanding of them and ability to obey them is typically gradual, a mixed effort of success and of failure, with a hoped for gyral tendency upwards toward greater and greater knowledge of these norms, and greater and greater success in our ability to obey them. Concomitantly, we might expect less and less error with regard to these norms, and less and less and failure in our ability to obey them as we advance in our Christian or human pilgrimage. We are poor pilgrims, we stumble and fall, and sometimes we inadvertently take a wrong path, but our focus is on our bourne, and we get stronger and closer to our goal each day of our walk with the Lord. Thus, the law of gradualism recognizes the step-by-step process of moral perfection, both as a part of natural virtue and spiritual virtue, as we clamber up the hillside of the moral life that strives toward perfection. But the law of gradualism does not encompass consent to the gradualism of the law. We must adapt to the natural moral law; the natural law does not adapt to us. The mountain does not come down to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain. That, in essence, is the distinction between an acceptable law of gradualism and an unacceptable gradualism of the law.

Coons and Brennan take stock of the fact that there are competing theories on what constitutes the moral fulfillment of an individual person, theories that would reject the notion that the subjective, general intent to do what is objectively right, along with a particular intent to do the apparent good as commanded by a certain conscience leads to individual perfection. Coons and Brennan divide the competing theories into three general classifications: theories that posit that knowledge of specific correct behaviors is irrelevant to individual moral self-perfection; theories that posit that knowledge of specific correct behaviors is empowering of the individual to achieve self-perfection; and theories that posit that knowledge of specific correct behaviors is necessary to moral self-perfection.

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