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, October 6, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Inclination and Law, Part 1

IT IS THE COMMON EXPERIENCE OF MEN to encounter knowledge of morality through connatural means or as a result of inclination. For Maritain, the moral experience is par excellence knowledge gained by connaturality or, what is the same thing, by inclination. Many men throughout history have not experienced the grace of contemplation, that is, mysticism natural or supernatural. Similarly, most men do not have the natural grace of poetic knowledge. These are graces, gifts--talents--either natural or supernatural that God dispenses, for reasons we do not know, as he, the Lord, sees fit. Recipients of these gifts, we are not to bury them, but to use them ad majorem Dei gloriam. On the other hand, the moral experience, and the connatural knowledge or inclinations that are part of it, is one that is given all men barring some sort of mental, or perhaps even moral, defect such as psychopathy. Morality is first of all experienced, lived, coming from the heart. It is not known conceptually as if some sort of Athena sprouting forth from the mind of man fully formed. Morality is first felt, though it be an intellectual feltness.* Moral philosophy, which is conceptual, discursive knowledge, follows this intellectual feltness.

It is through connaturality that moral consciousness attains a kind of knowing--inexpressible in words and notions--of the deepest dispositions--longings, fears, hopes or despairs, primeval loves and options--involved in the night of the subjectivity.

Maritain, 19. There is in man and intellectual feltness, that is "secret elements of evaluation which depend upon what he is, and which are known to him through inclination, through his own actual propensities and his own virtue, if he has any." Maritain, 19-20. It is, Maritain acknowledges, at least modernly, a "most controversial tenet" in the moral philosophy known as the classical natural law theory, and yet one absolutely essential to it, that moral knowledge is natural in the sense that it is naturally known, that is it is first and most fundamentally known through inclination or by connatural means, by an intellectual feltness, and not through conceptual knowledge or by way of reasoning.
The genuine concept of Natural Law is the concept of a law which is natural not only insofar as it expresses the normality of functioning of human nature, but also insofar as it is naturally known, not through conceptual knowledge and by way of reasoning.
Maritain, 20. This notion--that the natural law is principally one that is known through connaturality or inclination--was largely jettisoned by the Enlightenment theories of natural law and their progeny. In Maritain's view, it is on account of the rejection of moral knowledge by connaturality or inclination that these post-Enlightenment theories of "natural law" are not natural law theories at all, but cheap imitations, disguises, even falsifications of the classical natural law theory.

Eighteenth-century rationalism assumed that Natural Law was either discovered in Nature or a priori deduced by conceptual and rational knowledge, and from there imposed upon human life by philosophers and by legislators in the manner of a code of geometrical propositions. . . . I submit that all the theories of Natural Law which have been offered since Grotius (and including Grotius himself) were spoiled in disregard of the fact that Natural Law is known through inclination or connaturality, and not through conceptual and rational knowledge.

Maritain, 22-23. Against the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment theories of natural law, Maritain insists that any viable theory of natural law must incorporate an understanding of the moral experience as being fundamentally one known by inclination, by connatural means, or what he also calls congenial means. The moral experience is not one first gained through conceptual knowledge or by some knowledge imposed from on high through revelation. It is a deeply internal, "felt" notion, arising out of subjective experience, yet intellectual in origin and objective all the same because it involves a form of objective knowledge, albeit one not conceptual. This knowledge by inclination or connaturality may be later studied or analyzed using conceptual analysis--hence we have moral philosophy--and yet at its center the moral experience is fundamentally inside each individual man and is intellectually known in another form before the practical reason is exercised:
My contention is that the judgments in which Natural Law is made manifest to practical Reason do not proceed from any conceptual, discursive, rational exercise of reason; they proceed from that connaturality or congeniality through which that what is consonant with the essential inclinations of human nature is grasped by the intellect as good; what is dissonant, as bad.
Maritain, 20. Some of these inclinations are, we might point out, intimately tied to our animal nature. They are, for all that, no less human. The inclinations, Maritain points out, "even if they deal with animal instincts, are essentially human, and therefore, reason-permeated inclinations." Maritain, 20. Thus, the urge to procreate, the yearning to live and to survive against threats to our survival, to live in common with others of our kind, and so on, while tied to our animal nature, are not somehow inhuman or ignoble desires. Though in some respects shared with the brutes, they are, in man, wrapped up in reason and are no less noble than any purely intellectual yearning.** These inclinations, however "earthy" or "base" they may seem to a Platonic philosopher or a Jansenist theologian, are "inclinations refracted through the crystal of reason in its unconscious or preconscious life." Maritain, 20. It is this understanding of these basic drives that allows the advocate of a natural law theory to skirt the accusation that natural law advocates advance some sort of primitive biologism. The accusation is nonsense. It is this deep understanding of the body/soul union in man that allowed John Paul II to advance his theology of the body, which is as far from biologism as any theory can be. Without neglecting the soul, the body, and its inclinations--those things connatural to it or congenial to it--inform us of God's pattern for us, it is part of God's creation of us and so within it can be found his norms, his pattern, his law.

Since these inclinations are intimately tied to our nature, they are also intimately tied to the fact that man, by nature, is social and therefore historical. We ought therefore not be surprised--indeed we must understand--that these inclinations, this knowledge by congenial or connatural means, is affected by where man is in history. Sometimes our intellectual feltness is wrong, is missteered by convention or historical circumstances, and requires correction.***

There is therefore a complex relationship between the connatural knowledge that man, both individual and in the aggregate, has of the moral experience and where he happens to have been placed in society and history. We ought not be surprised, therefore, that social man, that historical man has both experienced times where these inclinations, this knowledge of moral right and wrong, develops and corrupts, ebbs and flows. We ought not be surprised that there are cultures, social structures, that are conducive to the flowering of these inclinations, that promote the connatural knowledge of the moral experience. Equally, we ought not be surprised that there are cultures, social structures and conventions, that inhibit the flowering of the bloom, sometimes even squelch the germination of the seed entirely, of this form of moral knowledge. Man is too tied to his time and place in history for any moral philosopher to pull him out of his conventional, historical state, place him in a "state of nature," and then claim that the "state of nature" where he has place man defines man truly. And yet though man travels through history, and always find himself placed in convention, there is a kernel, a golden thread, even a patrimony that may be recognized, gained, and seized:

[M]an being an historical animal, these inclinations of human nature either developed or were released in the course of time: as a result, man's knowledge of Natural Law progressively developed, and continues to develop. And the very history of moral conscience has divided the truly essential inclinations of human nature from the accidental, warped or perverted ones. I would say that these genuinely essential inclinations have been responsible for the regulations which, recognized in the form of dynamic schemes from the time of the oldest social communities, have remained permanent in the human race, while taking forms more definite and more clearly determined.

Maritain, 21. The development which Maritain points to is not monolithic. And Maritain may be criticized for his naive, if well-meaning, historical optimism. There is an ebb and flow in the human moral patrimony. There is both development and corruption, and development may be found in one portion of mankind in both time and place, and corruption and brutality in another in both time and place. So we have such advances as a near unanimous rejection of human chattel slavery, which in times past has been tolerated if not promoted.
"I submit that all the theories of Natural Law which have been offered since Grotius (and including Grotius himself) were spoiled in disregard of the fact that Natural Law is known through inclination or connaturality, and not through conceptual and rational knowledge."
--Jacques Maritain
Yet, accompanying such development, we have also such moral retrogression, indeed moral blindness, such as a near universal acceptance of artificial contraception as a "good," and abortion as a "right." Not so long ago, we might remember, a sophisticated people denied humanity to a good part of their fellow men. And before that, a sophisticated king performed enormities on his African brothers in the Congo. Modernly, there is a good part of Islam--it is impossible to measure the proportion--that apparently finds it good to kill innocent civilians in the name of their bloodthirsty Allah, when who they actually worship is Moloch or Huitzilopochtli by another name. Modernly, we are utterly blind to fundamental sexual sins, that is, fundamental misuse, abuse of the sexual faculty. Indeed, so perverse have we become that we call access to contraception, to abortion, to homosexual sex "rights." These corruptions show that not all progress is upward. So long as man travels through history, there will be patches of light, and splotches of darkness. At the same time, we would hope that man may have learned from historical mistakes, and may, as he travels through time, become a little wiser.

There are, Maritain notes, important consequences that the natural law is known through inclination or connaturality, and not through discursive, conceptual knowledge. Maritain identifies three, and we will discuss them in our next blog posting in this series.

*In struggling with this concept of knowledge by inclination or by connaturality, I have coined the term "intellectual feltness." The term is intended to express the inclinatory, connatural, or congenial aspect of this intellectual knowledge. At the same time, it is meant to distinguish this experience from mere "feelings" or "urges" that are corrupt or have no basis in reason. It is this deep, unutterable reason, which is what the concept of knowledge by inclination, connaturality, or congeniality is intended to express, that I hope to encompass by this word.
**And yet, they are not absolute values. They may be yielded or abandoned, not because they are evil, but from some greater good. Hence the desire to procreate may be given up in a vow of celibacy for the glory of God, in the manner of Catholic religious. A man, imitating the Son of God, may give up his life for another such as St. Maximilian Kolbe. Similarly, a hermit gives up the natural inclination to live in common so as to achieve a closer union with God. Exceptional, these exceptions prove the general rule.
***Hence the practical need for Revelation and the Magisterial teaching of the Church.

1 comment:

  1. nice blog.. have a view of my blog when free.. .. do leave me some comment / guide if can.. if interested can follow my blog...