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.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Inclination and Law, Part 2

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES of the notion that the fundamental moral experience is gained, not through rational, conceptual, discursive knowledge, but through intellectual knowledge gained by means of inclination, connaturality, or congeniality? What does it mean that moral knowledge is, at its heart, gained through"intellectual feltness"*?

Maritain identifies three consequences that result from this fundamental feature of the classical natural law theory. First, there is a marked restriction upon the borders of what natural law encompasses and what is outside of it. Second, in the area of knowledge by inclination we enter into an area of the self-evident, that is, indemonstrable, pre-philosophical knowledge, givens, as it were. Third, this givenness suggests that the fundamental principle of natural law is given and is discovered or found or encountered--indeed it is divine and must be confronted as Moses did the burning bush--and not something man creates out of whole cloth as if conventional.

Since the natural law is founded upon inclination or what we have called intellectual feltness, it follows that, strictly speaking, the positive law--which is founded upon human reasoning--is not part of the natural law, though is some cases, clearly, positive law is an expression of this fundamental law or at least its determinations. Analogously, those tenets of moral law known through the exercise of practical reason, that is, through the "spontaneous or philosophical exercise of conceptional and rational knowledge," are not, strictly speaking, part of natural law, though they may be so intimately tied to it that to reject them is to reject the very natural law itself. Natural law, however, in its most strict in rigorous sense, applies only to the knowledge that is gained by connatural means, by inclination, by this intellectual feltness. Once conceptual and rational knowledge is applied to these inclinations, this intellectual feltness, one travels beyond the strict border of natural law into moral philosophy, a form of knowledge which Maritain calls a "reflective knowledge, a sort of after-knowledge." Maritain, 22.

Natural Law, dealing only with regulations known through inclination, deals only with principles immediately known (that is known through inclination, without any conceptual and rational medium) of human morality.

Maritain, 21. The discipline of natural law, defined in its most restrictive sense, is therefore extremely narrow since it addresses only this non-discursive knowledge gained by inclination. In practice, however, the moral knowledge gained through the application of discursive, conceptual knowledge upon these inclinations or connatural knowledge is also called "natural law," though it is not, in fact, the natural law in sensu stricto, in the strict sense, but only by loose analogy based on the fact that these conclusions, reached through discursive and conceptual knowledge, are based or predicated upon the inclinations or intellectual feltness which precedes it.

The consequence of the fact that moral knowledge is, at its heart, one based upon intellectual feltness or inclination is that the fundamental precepts gained thereby are indemonstrably true. In other words, their truth is simply beyond the ken of philosophy because the truth gained by inclination or intellectual feltness is pre-philosophical. At best, philosophy can show that denial of this intellectual feltness, of these inclinations leads to absurdity, to relativism, to no morality at all and to denial of any possible grounds for it. But it remains fundamentally true that the basis of morality is simply philosophical unprovable. It is a given, like all creation:
Thus it is that men . . . are unable to give account of and rationally to justify their most fundamental moral beliefs: and this very fact is a token, not of the irrationality and intrinsic invalidity of these beliefs, but on the contrary, of their essential naturality, and therefore of their greater validity, and of their more than human rationality.
Maritain, 21. Si comprehenderis, is the upshot of Maritain's thesis, non est lex naturalis. If you comprehend it using human concepts and human discursive knowledge, if you are able to prove it, it is not the natural law, strictly so called. In the area of intellectual feltness, or inclinations, we are in the area where God, not man, has writ the script. Man will never comprehend, much less govern or rule, this intimate area where God the Creator has writ his law in the heart of every man and in the hearts of all men. It is here, in the area of intellectual feltness, the knowledge gained by inclination or connaturality, that man must bow down, venerate, listen, learn, and obey. This is the most natural, the greatest, the most noble and divine source of human moral knowledge. It is, at heart, unutterable, like the very name of God himself. It is, in a manner of speaking, the I am who am, the אהיה אשר אהיה‎, the ehyeh asher ehyeh, of morality. It is God with us in us. It is Emmanuel, צמנוּאל, in us. That is why this knowledge will recognize, if uncorrupted by convention or other moral flaw, Christ and his body the Church, which are likewise God with us. The natural law is Christ, and Christ is the natural law. This is the meaning behind Tertullian's claim: Anima naturaliter Christiana. The word of God in us should recognize, in theory if not always in practice, the word of God in Jesus, and will recognize the word of God in the Church Jesus founded.

Moses Before Burning Bush, Mosaic from Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

It is for this reason that Maritain distinguishes a third feature of this law accessed by inclination. Since it is pre-philosophical, pre-conceptual, pre-discursive in nature, the natural law is based, not upon created, that is human, reason, but upon uncreated Reason. It participates, then, in the very Reason of God, the eternal law. In entering this inner sanctum within us, where the natural law dwells, we enter, as it were, the inner sanctum of our temple. We confront, like the high priest of the Jews in the Holy of Holies, the Kodesh Hakodashim, the Ark of the Covenant, wherein lies the very presence, the Shekinah (שכינה), of God. We encounter by this intellectual feltness the light of the Lord which travels ahead of us, like it did the Jews wandering in the desert, in a pillar of cloud to guide us by day, and in a pillar of light to guide us by night, so that we may walk in both light and darkness under the guidance of the Lord God. (Cf. Exodus 13:21) Is it any wonder that human reason, in its conceptual and discursive or created form, must remain mute when confronted by this knowledge gained by inclination?
[U]ncreated Reason, the Reason of the Principle of Nature, is the only reason at play not only in establishing Natural Law (by the very fact that it creates human nature), but in making Natural Law known, through the inclinations of that very nature, to which human reason listens when it knows Natural Law. And it is precisely because Natural Law depends only upon Divine Reason that it is possessed of a character naturally sacred, and binds man in conscience, and is the prime foundation of human law, which is a free and contingent determination of what Natural Law leaves undetermined, and which obliges by virtue of Natural Law.
Maritain, 22.

As humans, we, of course, cannot encounter God and sit idly by. We are commanded to love God with all our heart, minds, soul, and strength. (Mark 12:30; Deut. 6:4, 5) Similarly, we are commanded to love this moral inclination in us with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We are called to exercise discursive, conceptual reason to understand this moral encounter with God by inclination. We are called to practice, to the exercise of virtue, by asceticism to habituate ourselves to life in accordance with this inclination, and to shun vice, that is any habitual or even singular act that may insult this inclination.

In applying human reason to the moral truths gained by inclination, however, we travel outside the realm of natural law strictly speaking and into the threshold of moral philosophy. "Philosophers and philosophical theories supervene," as it were, "in order to explain and justify, through concepts and reasoning, what, from the time of the cave-man, men have progressively known through inclination and connaturality." Maritain, 22. This is moral philosophy. But "[t]he moral law was discovered by men before the existence of any moral philosophy." The moral law existed before Thales of Miletus.** The moral law existed in Adam. Where man has been, it has always been, and will always be.

And yet, moral philosophy ought not to be shunned, though it be a servant, and not master, to the law learned by inclination:

Moral philosophy has critically to analyze and rationally to elucidate moral standards and rules of conduct whose validity was previously discovered in an undemonstrable manner, and in a non-conceptual, non-rational way; it has also to clear them, as far as possible, from the adventitious outgrowths or deviations which may have developed by reason of the coarseness of our nature and the accidents of social evolution.

Maritain, 22. Moral philosophy since the Enlightenment has apparently forgotten its subservient role, its reflective role. Man's reason has usurped the role of inclinations, and thereby supplanted the eternal, divine, and uncreated source of moral knowledge and replaced it with temporal, human, created knowledge. So human reason, and not divine reason, has become the source of modern, post-Enlightenment theories of natural law.
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. No wonder that finally 'eight or more new systems of natural law made their appearance at every Leipzig booksellers' fair' at the end of the eighteenth Century, and that Jean-Paul Richter might observe that "every fair and every war brings forth a new natural law."
Maritain, 23 (quoting Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law).

This notion that moral knowledge is, at its fundament, gained by an intellectual feltness, by inclination, and not by discursive and conceptual knowledge consequently takes the classical theories of natural law completely outside the Kantian critique of moral knowledge. The Kantian critique of knowledge is part of metaphysics, and thus enters human thought as part of its discursive, conceptual aspect. It does not, indeed cannot, address that human knowledge which is non-discursive, which is gained by pre-philosophical, pre-metaphysical knowledge. The knowledge it critiques is that knowledge gained a priori through intuition or a posteriori following sense experience. But knowledge gained by inclination is outside the categories of a priori or a posteriori knowledge. "[N]either in this intellectual intuition nor in sense-perception is there the smallest element of knowledge through inclination." Maritain, 23. Applying metaphysical concepts to knowledge gained by inclination is a fool's errand since it "confuses the planes and orders of things." Maritain, 23. When metaphysics ventures into the land of inclination, and inclination into the land of metaphysics, it is as if they are foreigners who venture into a land of unknown tongue. So "everyone loses his head, [and] knowledge through inclination and metaphysics are simultaneously spoiled." Maritain, 24.

For a philosopher, Kantian or otherwise, to enter into the realm of knowledge by inclination or intellectual feltness with his blunt metaphysical tools, and claim to rule as if he were king in that realm, is a manifest absurdity. It is as foolish a proposition as if a son were to suggest that he had sired his father. It is perhaps this foolish proposition, which is at the heart of the Enlightenment Project, that has thrown mankind into the intellectual infinite, absurd loop of a son who insists he has engendered the one who has engendered him. This is the absurdity of modern man, who insists that he is father to his own morality, that he is the sire of who he is.

*For an explanation of the term "intellectual feltness," see the footnote in the earlier posting in this series, Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Inclination and Morality, Part 1.
**Thales of Miletus (ca. 624-546 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Miletus in Asia Minor. Considered one of the Seven Sages of Greece, he is generally regarded as the first philosopher in the Greek, and hence Western, tradition.

No comments:

Post a Comment