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 30, 2010

By Nature Equal: Human Equality and the Natural Law, Lapse into Subjectivism

IN MUSHY LONERGANIANISM COONS AND BRENNAN finally find an ally in their quest for a philosophical support of the convention of human equality, a relation that they have defined as the self's capacity to make a commitment to moral self perfection by treating his neighbor in a manner that appears to him correct, keeping in mind the general requirement to seek for the objective lateral order. What frightens one as one proceeds through Coons and Brennan's work is that their supposed "fail safe" reference to the objective lateral moral order may, in fact, not be a reference to the objective lateral moral order at all, at least as traditional understood. In their Gollum-like effort to preserve their "precious" convention of human equality, they are willing to jettison any real objectivism in the objective, so that their insistence on an objective lateral moral order (which would seem to be a nod to traditionalists) is not really a nod to traditionalists at all, but a surreptitious wink to subjectivism, which is what they really seem to court. In the climax of their work By Nature Equal, it appears as if a true objective lateral moral order has been led blindfold to the Guillotine under the cries of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité." It turns out that Coons and Brennan are Kantians (or worse) in objective clothing. They are, in fact, philosophical Jacobins. In good Jacobin form, they avoid any real confrontation with an objective moral reality by lopping off its objective head, and fitting it with a subjective noggin, and then parading out the monstrous result as if they had achieved something revolutionary and unique. But all that's been achieved is a veritable monster. The "natural law" that Coons and Brennan rely upon is like Washington Irving's Headless Horseman, a subjective headless Hessian cavalryman with but an objective pumpkin as its head. This monster terrifies us as much as it terrified Ichabod Crane.

Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horsemen by William J. Wilgus (1819-53)

The incompatibility of the natural moral law to the convention of human equality is avoided "if moral achievement comes not to those whose free choices actually correspond to the external order of correct behaviors, but to those who try to achieve such correspondence," Coons and Brennan remind us. (p. 136) What "trying" really means is anyone's guess, because any effort at achieving it appears to be one fraught with despair, since, as it turns out, Coons and Brennan do not believe in such an objective lateral moral order at all! "The apparent antagonism to human equality might be eliminable, however, given a reinterpretation of the "objectivity" necessary to natural morality."

And how is this to be done? By jettisoning the "correspondence" notion of truth, that is, by getting rid of the objective lateral moral order altogether, and replacing it with a subjectivist moral order, all the while calling it objective. It all appears to be a not-so-clever ruse. Coons and Brennan plan to "re-conceive" objectivity so that is "no longer a 'correspondence' to the external world, but instead as the product of fidelity to an internally given moral order." (p. 137).

Their radical reinterpretation of the tradition is not of their own breeding, but comes from their devotion to the theological method of Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984), whose system must be viewed with suspicion as it led him to dissent the Church's teaching on artificial contraception as contained in Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, implying that somewhere, somehow Lonergan got it badly wrong. Lonergan despaired of any ability of the human mind to comprehend objective being or objective good (as traditionally understood as the correspondence of the mind to the external reality, veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus). So he escaped like any good Kantian would from the effort. He withdrew, much like a tortoise into its shell, or perhaps better, imploded, sort of like gravity and light into a black hole, into a subjective objectivity, or objective subjectivity, clearly confusing both dimensions of reality. The objective retracts into or collapses into the subjective, and, in all but name, objectivity becomes subjectivity.

(Criticism of the Lonerganian subjectivity is not to deny the deeply internal nature of the natural law. We have discussed this aspect of it repeatedly in our postings. It is perhaps most beautifully expressed in the Augustinian notion of the internus aeternus. See St. Augustine of Hippos: Confessions and the Eternal Law as the Internus Aeternus and following postings on that subject. But, like everything else, an emphasis of one truth at the exclusion of another is what's at hand here. The natural law, being really nothing but a participation in the Eternal Law, which is God Himself, is both extrinsic and intrinsic, both objective and subjective, transcendent and immanent. The natural law is our participation in the God above us, and the God within us. Lonergan, as apparently his disciples Coons and Brennan, seem to have emphasized the second dimension of reality, and in the process lost track of the first dimension of reality.)

In a feat reminiscent of Descartes, Lonergan tries to find a foundation for thought that is not, as we would traditionally view it, objective. He locks himself up within himself, distrusts the senses, and tries to find some sort of foundation, a "rock" upon which to build." "The rock . . . is the subject." To his credit, perhaps, Lonergan is a bit more gregarious that Descartes. Descartes found only one friend within himself: thought: cogito ergo sum. Lonergan finds more friends within himself. Lonergan found an experiencing friend, an understanding friend, a judging friend, and a deciding friend. Descartes was father of modern rationalism, and rationalism has but one friend to talk to, reason. Lonergan is father of modern feelingism, and feelingism has many friends. According to Lonergan, these four operations--experiencing, understanding, judging, and deciding--find their unity. They are, in fact, "the unfolding of a single thrust, the eros of the human spirit." (p. 138, quoting Lonergan's Method in Theology). This unifying desire, this eros, asks questions, so experience asks: "What do I feel?" And understanding asks "What is it?" And judging asks, "Is it so?" And deciding asks "Ought I to do it?" This is a "self-assertive spontaneity that demands sufficient reason for all else but offers not justification for its demanding." (p. 183, quoting Lonergan's Insight.) According to Coons and Brennan: "It is rock." (p. 138)

Really? If this is the rock of human thought, then it sounds more like the rock of the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-8), which soon as it received the divine seed that had sprung up, the divine seed withered away, because the rock lacked any moisture. The Lonerganian rock lacks soil. It is sterile. It is an intellectual desert. No objective plant can or ever will grow on it.

In any event, in our efforts to answer these spontaneous questions welling up within us, we have to adhere to "transcendental precepts." "Be attentive, Be intelligent, Be reasonable, Be responsible." (p. 138, quoting Lonergan's Method.) These mantras, apparently, are supposed to take usher us into some objective, normative Nirvana.
With these precepts the dynamic desire of the human spirit "teaches" the subject that the point is not just autonomic experiencing, understanding, judging, and deciding. If the dynamic desire to know is to be satisfied, the subject must (1) experience attentively, (2) understand intelligently, (3) judge reasonably, and (4) decide responsibly.
(p. 138) (Coons and Brennan emphasize the adverbs, supposing that in so doing they add objectivity and philosophical gravitas to the process.) "Normativity thus emerges from within (!?) the subject." (p. 138) (emphasis added).
[It resides] at root in the native spontaneities and inevitabilities of our consciousness which assembles its own constituent parts and units them in a rounded whole in a manner we cannot set aside without, as it were, amputating our won [4] moral personality, [3] our own reasonableness, [2] our own intelligence, [1] our own sensitivity.
(p. 138-39, quoting Lonergan's Method.) "It is by adhering to the transcendental precepts that we achieve objectivity; that is, 'genuine objectivity is the fruit of authentic subjectivity.'" (quoting Lonergan's Method). Weakly, Coons and Brennan suggest that these "transcendental precepts" are the natural law. (p. 140).

Listen to the enormity: Contemplation of one's navel, so long as one contemplates one's navel in a responsibly and diligently navel-like contemplative way (what would be the adverbial form of contemplating one's navel so as to make sure we comply with the transcendental precepts that govern the contemplation of one's navel?) leads us to understand the Universe as it is out there! God in the omphalos? The Lonerganian method, we suppose, also allows us to understand the God who is immanent in the Universe out there and transcends the Universe out there. Oh, but I almost forgot, we also have to be willing always to change, so we can be fickly follow our fickle spontanaeities and inevitabilities, so long as we follow them followinglively, so that we discover the constantly changing "emergent probabilities." (p. 139) And here is finally Coons and Brennan's grand insight: "Emergent probability is the great equalizer of humankind." (p. 140, quoting Ted Dunne, Lonergan and Spirituality (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1985), 62.)
The question of whether people have the equal capacity to achieve objectivity in their moral judgments has been transmuted into the question of whether they have the same capacity to be authentic, and the answer seems to be yes. Moving the basis of ethics in from the external to the internal world dissolves the problem of "equal access." Once objectivity's norms are internal, everyone can know and satisfy them. The principle is not correspondence to the external but fidelity to the internally given transcendental precepts.
(p. 140). Coons and Brennan finally show their Lonerganian credentials:
So we conclude with Lonergan: Yes, there is a genuine order of obligation; yes, we must heeds its commands; no, we never get outside to check whether we have got its terms right. The most we can do is to make the search in the enthusiasm of the dynamic desire for the good that promotes us from one step to the next. Whatever self-perfection is possible lies in making this search; thus, though we cannot be certain, it is plausible that all persons are uniformly prepared to do what is necessary.
(p. 140) "Obtension is man's natural finality. Period." (p. 141). Period? Coons et Brennan locuti sunt, causa finita est?

It is manifest that Coons and Brennan's project to reconcile the natural law with their conventional human equality failed. Having identified the convention of human equality, they were unable to find allies in any recognized theory of the natural law, whether Stoic, Scholastic, neo-Scholastic, or contemporary (or as they called them "Common Sense," "Classic," or "Integration" theories of natural law). Instead, they had recourse to Lonergan's subjective mish mash, which not only shuns, but positively rejects man's ability to perceive the reality, since it defines reality not as correspondence of our minds with what is out there, but the correspondence of our minds with our own minds. This is a recipe for philosophical solipsism, and, ultimately, for sterility (remember the "rock"!)

The Alpenglow on a Real Mountain

It is perhaps this sterility in his intellectual method that led Lonergan to accept sterility in the conjugal act. There is, we may suppose, some relatedness between the two sterilities. In the conjugal act we must correspond to the other that is "out there" in an intimate act of communion. To say that there is no correspondence between self and other in the giving and sharing of each other in in the marital act is to condemn us to Onanism. Analogously, in the intellectual act, we must correspond our mind in an intimate act of communion with the world that exists, and not only the world that is within us, but the world (including persons and Persons) that is without us, that is what is Other than from us. There are, as Gerard Manley Hopkins says, "mountains of the mind," but these are not the only mountains. There are, though Lonergan did not see them, mountains out there. I know. I have climbed them. They have tired me. And I have seen the indescribable Alpenglow.

1 comment:

  1. Good Lord! what a first paragraph! It is amazing that you can make a parallel to Tolkein's Gollum from what Coons and Brennan are doing! You've nailed it exactly!

    "It turns out that Coons and Brennan are Kantians (or worse) in objective clothing. They are, in fact, philosophical Jacobins. In good Jacobin form, they avoid any real confrontation with an objective moral reality by lopping off its objective head, and fitting it with a subjective noggin, and then parading out the monstrous result as if they had achieved something revolutionary and unique. But all that's been achieved is a veritable monster."

    You are right on! This is what is wrong with academics, scholars, idealogues, and our political elite---no touch with reality! Out of touch with reality---they create monsters. The insight that their "convention" has become their "precious" is just --- precious. It is all about an ignorance, an hatred, of reality. Is it not taught "Nothing too much"? Spending one's time, the whole time in a classroom, in a book is dangerous.

    If one is to talk on the Natural Law---one must spend time in nature and see the Objective Order.

    I find it funny that they discombobulate the Objective Order and then, re-introduce subjectivism, as you point out, and call it subjective! Wow! Your analysis was brilliant and Thank you. You made me laugh heartedly in that first paragraph.