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, July 21, 2010

Something More Than Pure Reason

HOW IS THE NATURAL LAW KNOWN? This question Yves Simon questions "formidable," and perhaps it is. It is certainly formidable, in fact impossible to answer, if scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge that is demanded. The knowledge of the natural law and its content is scientifically unknowable. For one, there is no experiment that could be envisioned to prove whether a proposition is part of the corpus of the natural law or not. Moreover, if we were to engage in a rigorously scientific social study across peoples and cultures to try to establish content of the natural law (if that were even possible), presumably on the basis of a majority or perhaps supermajority view, it's foreseeable without even taking such a study that we would confront disappointment. But which advocate of natural law ever suggested that the the natural law is to be learned through materialistic means, or that a majority opinion among men is equivalent to natural law? To the questions of natural law, like many deeper human questions questions (Does God exist? What is man's end? and so forth), science and "social statics" yield no answer. Natural law is not an empirical matter. It is not a matter of statistics. It is a matter of deep thought.

That the natural law is a matter of deep thought does not mean it is a matter of pure reason. In striving to know the natural law, we are not called to practice a discipline of pure reason, abstracted from all human inclination. Man does not become moral by physical disembowelment. There are natural inclinations that are part of the recipe of man, and that inform him of right and wrong. Natural inclinations are a form of knowing right and wrong. The natural inclinations ought not be ignored.

Thus, Yves Simon talks about the two "modes" or two "ways" of determining judgments of right and wrong, the "way of cognition" and the "way of inclination." Cognition is knowledge that is obtained "by antecedent cognitions up to axioms or experience." In other words, with respect to a certain proposition or judgment (say, doing "x" is wrong), knowledge of whether that proposition or judgment is true is gained by working "backwards" from that proposition or judgment until one reaches, through a certain chain of reasoning, back to an axiom or an irrefutable datum of experience. Once the entire chain of reasoning or cognition backwards to an axiom or a datum of experience is obtained and anchored back to an axiom or to an irrefutable datum of experience, we have what we could call rational knowledge. This is the "way of cognition." Outside of this pure chain of intellectual title (a work which Simon states in some cases may take "centuries"), as it were, we work within the realm of probable and not certain propositions and opinions. Simon, 127-28.

The "way of cognition" is not the only form of knowledge of right and wrong. Where the "way of cognition" is available, it takes a certain precedence and serves as a sort of load star. Yet, in a wide variety of matters and circumstances the "way of cognition" is not available to us. In such circumstances, the "way of inclination" is an alternative means of forming judgment on the veracity of certain propositions of what is right or wrong. However, not every human inclination is to be followed willy nilly. Only sound human inclinations are worthy guides. There are unsound or disordered inclinations which ought not to be followed at all, but shunned as unreliable guides. To follow unsound or disordered inclinations is like the blind following the blind. In post-lapsarian man, in man after the Fall, not all inclinations are planted in human nature by God.
Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit.
Matt. 15:13-14.

The Blind Leading the Blind by Pieter Breugel the Elder

In the way of inclination, one walks outside or parallel to (and certainly never contrary to) the way of cognition. "One way is not necessarily exclusive of the other." Simon, 130. Sometimes judgments or propositions are known by cognition and inclination ("cheating on a contract is wrong"). Simon, 135. Yet the "way of inclination" is antecedent to the "way of cognition." Simon, 135. Decisions based upon the "way of inclination" are largely intuitive, based upon "moral sign" and "moral symbol," in the extreme we are in the area of the mantic, of divination, and so may be difficult to explain and to justify. Simon, 128, 132. There is a certain groping in the dark, perhaps, in the "way of inclination," and so we ought to be open to the guidance of the prudent, the wise, the sage.

(Indeed, as Christians, we have a yet more reliable guide regardless of whether we act in the "way of cognition" or the "way of inclination": the Magisterium of the Church, which, guided by the Holy Spirit of God ceded her by the Son of God, is a competent, reliable, even infallible guide of right and wrong. We ought to be inclined to follow the Church in matters moral without--certainly external, but also internal--dissent, even in those matters that do not clearly involve infallible teachings. Sound inclination on the part of Christians would require religious submission of will and mind (obsequium religiosum) to the Church's guidance even where not clearly infallible. In the case of infallibly-taught teachings, whether ordinarily or extraordinarily expressed, more than religious submission is required: they are to be accepted de fide, as moral dogma.)

The rejection of inclinations, and reliance on reason alone, dehumanizes us. That is what makes Kant so unattractive. Similarly, it is what makes Bertrand Russell such an unattractive guide in the area of marriage and sexual mores, for example. (Bertrand Russell had the temerity to write a book Marriage and Morals, when his own multiple marriages were failures, and his affairs and infidelities notorious. He was a cad, a very clever cad, perhaps, but a cad. Only a fool would take him as a guide of marital life and its morals.) These men, and those of their ilk, disemboweled of all inclination, seem to relish in a way of cognition alone, as if the natural inclinations, prejudices, repugnance of men even when sound ought to be ignored as if they were voices of sirens.

Indeed, sound inclinations are not the voices of sirens.

They are the voice of God.

They are part of the way of the natural law.

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