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.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 3: The Summum Bonum and Finis Ultimus

WE ENDED OUR LAST BLOG POSTING with a question: Is there a summum bonum, a good of all goods or a finis ultimus, an end of all ends? Hobbes temerariously (and foolishly) answered no. Hobbes thus entered the house of vice and there prostituted his mind. Cardinal Mercier, in line with the perennial philosophy, answered yes, and thus into the gates of the house of virtue and kept his sanity.

Mercier's acceptance of a final end, of a greatest good, is not irrational. It is not a matter of mere faith (though it certainly does not oppose faith). It is reasonable. "[W]e shall show that man has one natural end and only one; next we shall determine what that end is."

He shows. He determines. This is not a matter of taste, where de gustibus non est disputandum. It is not a matter of what that Hobbesian monster, the American Nietzsche, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called "Can't helps." (For Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of "I hate justice" fame, see The Natural Law's Devil: Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.) It is a matter of reason or determination, where there is a right and a wrong answer, where argument inclines us one way, and not another. Oh, sure, we can be fools, but we should recall that "fools die for lack of judgment," qui autem indocti sunt in cordis egestate morientur. Prov. 10:21b.

Mercier handles his discussion as to the existence and identification of the ultimate good and final end in six theses. He also includes some corollaries, and handles some difficulties.

The first thesis: "Man has subjectively and really a last natural end." In other words, a last end is both within us and without us. All acts, Cardinal Mercier observes, are performed with the view of an end. Once that end is achieved, the will is at rest (until, of course, something else is desired as an end).

If A is what is desired, and what is achieved, and there is nothing further wanted, then A is the ultimate end. The thesis is proved.

If A is not what is finally desired, but is a means to something further, say B, then the question is "simply put further back," for we merely have to ask as to B what we would have asked as to A. And so on, for a speculative C, D, E ad infinitum. Or can there be an ad infinitum? Can we go on in a series of ends for infinity?

Mercier answers that it is impossible to have an infinite series of ends. We must come at rest somewhere.
[B]ut it is impossible that there should be no limit to this subordination of ends to a higher end. In a series of ends subordinated to one another [A, B, C, D . . .], so that one does not act as an end except under the influence of another, the suppression of a last end, desirable in itself and capable of evoking the others, involves the abolition of every intermediate tendency and consequently the impossibility of any moral action.
[214(8)] In other words, deny a last, ultimate end (like Hobbes), and the whole pack of cards comes falling down, making moral action impossible. So the conclusion is, from a logical standpoint, certain:
Hence there must exist a supreme end which possesses in itself the power of moving the will through the medium of the subordinated ends.
[214(8)] This accords with St. Thomas's conclusions in his Summa Theologiae (S.T., Ia-IIae, q. 1, a. 4)

There is, Mercier acknowledges, a variety of faculties in man, all of which express themselves differently. Yet we are not a package of faculties as if we are a bundle of cells. All these faculties exist in a "single substantial being," one man, "one nature, one person." These faculties are therefore ordered under this primary principle. "Now, every principle of action tends by its activity towards an end." [215(8)] So every man, that is, every "single substantial being," every "person," every "nature" has an end, and it overrides all the other subordinate ends of our various faculties. "This primary end is the natural end of man, his natural good, the cause (ratio) of all his progress towards perfection." [215(8)]

Man has to have a natural end. The entirety of those substances beneath us, whether animals, plants, stones, have natural ends. Why would man, the most noble of these substances since he is self-directed, not have a natural end? What on heaven or on earth could support the proposition that the entirety of the cosmos has an end except for man? Nothing would explain this discrepancy. It follows that man, like the rest of the individual beings in the entirety of the universe, has an end. With respect to natural ends, we ought not assume the mantle of hubris of exceptionalism. We ought not to fall into the irrational supposition that the entirety of the cosmos operates within the ordering of ends, but that only man operates within chaos, a creature with no nature, no end.
[W]ere we to suppose human nature capable of being without an end, we should have to admit a disorder against which would have to be set the perfect order of the universe, especially the pre-eminent dignity of man, who is the crowning work of nature.

It is, moreover, impossible to suppose that an infinitely wise Being, the Creator of our nature, should have put us in a natural tendency which could never find its fulfillment [for lack of a final or ultimate natural end].

Where do we get any rational support for the suggestion that man is end-less? That man has no ultimate good or final end? There is rational support for that. It is to land ourselves in absurdity.

Hobbes is absurd. It is the absurdity of absurdity to follow Hobbes. Yet moderns do. Is our modern world, to the extent it is built upon Hobbes, built upon absurdity?

Having answered the first thesis, Mercier travels to the next. "Man has only one natural end." [215(9)] Quoting St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae (Ia-IIae, q. 1, ad. 5), Mercier then asks rhetorical questions which make it obvious that man (his nature) can only have one end and not various natural ends.
The last end, St. Thomas tells us, must so fulfill all our desires that outside of it there is nothing left as an object of further desire. Hence it follows that we cannot have two or more last ends. If one good satisfies our desires to the full, how could the will seek anything beyond? And what purpose would a second good or second end serve?
[216(9)] Obviously the answer to both questions is "none." The conclusion is certain: Man has but one natural end.

What is it?

We come to Mercier's third thesis: "The end of human nature, regarded indeterminately and in the abstract, is the happiness of man." [216(10)] This is a very broad thesis. In fact, this is really not a thesis requiring proof; it is a conclusion from the prior theses. The end of man satisfies his natural tendency (his nature) necessarily since that is precisely to which it tends; it is thus its good, entirely and complete, which excludes any form of evil, and fulfills the aspirations of human nature. This is the definition of happiness according to St. Thomas: Beatitudo, cum sit perfectum bonum, omne malum excludit et omne desiderium implet. Happiness is the satisfaction of one's good, without admixture of evil.

Admittedly, this thesis is abstract, not concrete. It is indeterminate, not taking into account the myriad contingencies and situations that confront an individual man. We speak here in broad generalities. We are talking whole cloth, here. We haven't yet begun to make our clothes.

So the ultimate end, the final good of man is happiness? What is it then that gives man happiness?

It is God.* This is Mercier's fourth thesis: "Regarded in the concrete, the objective end is in no created good; it is in God." [216(11)]

Yes. yes. What reason demands, the heart does to. The heart does have reasons of its own, Pascal tells us. The reasons of the heart are the same as those of the mind. Love beckons the entirety of us.
Nos fecisti ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
St. Augustine, Confessions, I.1. God is our final good. God is the source of our perfection. God is our happiness. God is our summum bonum, the Good of all our goods. God is our finis ultimus, the End of all ends.

Our nature, that is, the natural law, inclines us to God. So we are restless, unsettled, unfulfilled, imperfect, and unhappy if we look for our final end anywhere else.


*That is why Hobbes rejected a summum bonum, a finis ultimus. He had to, because, as we have explained before, a good above all goods, an end above all ends--which reason demands--reasonably means God. And Hobbes did not want to believe in God. So he had to reject the natural law. He continued to use the words "God" and "nature," as they were too entrenched in the people's habit of thinking and speaking of the time. But to Hobbes these terms did not mean the same thing that they had meant before. He had already cut them off from their foundation. Just like a plant looks green for a time after it is cut, but it eventually withers, dries, and crumbles. Hobbes is frequently referred to as the "founding father" of modern political philosophy. Is modern political philosophy, at least that which relies upon Hobbes, built upon a fundamental mistake? It would seem unquestionably so.

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