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.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Natural Law, Ontologically Speaking

MARITAIN DOES NOT MINCE HIS WORDS. The so-called "father of natural law," the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), was not its father,* much less its worthy exponent or faithful son. Grotius was, in fact, a great deformer of natural law, a bastard son of the natural law if there ever was one. Maritain reaches back, behind the Jesuit Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), beyond the Dominican Francisco de Vitoria (ca. 1492-1546), to the Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who, "alone among these great authors grasped the matter of the natural law and made it into a wholly consistent doctrine." Maritain, 26. St. Thomas may be called the great synthesizer of the natural law doctrine. If anyone is natural law's "father," it is St. Thomas. But St. Thomas built upon the work of his predecessors, and so at best he was a midwife. The theory of natural law that flowed from his pen did not come out of his mind fully formed like Athena from the head of Jove. He stood on others' shoulders; he relied on human intellectual patrimony, and simply put it together in a marvelous synthetic symphony.

Therefore, to grasp the "true origin of the idea of natural law," we have to accept the historical fact that its authentic manifestation, in all of its fullness, is an inheritance of both Greek and Christian thought. Thus we reach even further back from St. Thomas Aquinas to his great predecessors, to St. Augustine, to the Church Fathers, to Saint Paul, and, leaving the children of the Church, back to the pagan antiquity, to Cicero, to the Stoics, "to the great moralists of antiquity and its great poets, particularly Sophocles."** Maritain, 26. In many prior postings we have looked at the contributions of these men or these philosophical schools.

In haling back to its ancient Graeco-Roman and Christian sources, Maritain divides his analysis of natural law into two elements: an ontological (or metaphysical) element and a gnoseological (or epistemological) element. The first element attempts to answer the question: what is the natural law? The second element attempts to answer the question: how is it we know what the natural law is?

In this blog posting we will address Maritain's treatment of the metaphysical or ontological element of natural law. In the next posting, we will treat of the gnoseological or epistemological element.

In his discussion, Maritain assumes--he takes for granted--that there is such a thing as human nature, that it is the same for all men, and that man possesses intelligence, is cognizant of his acts and their purpose, and so is aware and moved by the ends he seeks. Maritain--moderate realist Thomist that he is--assumes that human nature--a universal--exhibits itself in an individual man. Nevertheless, this human nature carries with it a "ontological structure," that is, it possesses a structure that is attached to, that is part and parcel of, being human. This "ontological structure" is the "locus of intelligible necessities," which is to say it can be known and it is needed. This "ontological structure" is the center, the navel as it were, of an order that can be grasped by human intellect. It is the moral omphalos of man. It informs man that he "possesses ends which necessarily correspond to his essential constitution and which are the same for all." Maritain, 27. All things have a "ontological structure," which is universal though it may be expressed in a particular individual, but which informs us of the end that this nature-in-individual shares with all other individuals that are part of that nature. Thus, pianos regardless of their variety--from spinets to grands--have as their end the production of musical sounds. Analogously, man regardless of his individual characteristics has an end that is intimately tied to his nature and so shares with all men. Yet man, having both intellect and free will, is in a position vastly different from the piano:

[S]ince man is endowed with intelligence and determines his own ends, it is up to him to put himself in tune with the ends necessarily demanded by his nature. This means that there is, by the very virtue of human nature, an order or a disposition which human reason can discover and according to which the human will must act in order to attune itself to the essential and necessary ends of the human being. The unwritten law, or natural law, considered in its ontological aspect, is nothing more than that ...

Maritain, 27. Maritain acknowledges that comparing man to a piano is "crude and provocative," but that he adopted such an invention of human workmanship to compare man to in the spirit of Plato. The point is to show that anything that exists has its own purpose, and to that extent it may be said to have its own natural law, its "normal way of functioning," that is ontologically part of its nature. We don't use a piano to hammer a nail: that is not its purpose and violates the natural law, as it were, of the piano as well as the nail. A hammer, on the other hand, has its own purpose--a natural law, if you will--that makes it ideal for hammering a nail. Every day, many times a day, we accept the natural law that inheres in individual existent things, particularly things such as tools that have been designed and manufactured by men. We recognize the natural law in things when, for example, we shave with a razor, and not a hair dryer, or when we open up our bottle of Refosco from Friuli with a corkscrew instead of a shotgun.

The same notion of purpose or natural law inheres in things not designed or manufactured by man, that is, in natural objects. We are aware of the normal functioning of creatures, of plants--what a palm should look like, that a coconut palm yields coconuts, not dates--, of animals--that a dog is not a cat, and that our dog will shake her tail when we come home after a long day's work. Some people have either an inherent sensitivity to the natural working of things--such as Washington Carver with his plants--or as a result of training and education--such as our local Veterinarian has with our pets--or as a result of both--Mozart with respect to his harpsichord.

With respect to these things made by human artifice and things natural, we recognize how things, if they act within their norm, their "natural law," should act, though they have no free will in the matter:
[N]atural law is but part of the immense network of essential tendencies and regulations involved in the movement of the cosmos.
Maritain, 28.

That is another way of saying that natural law participates in the eternal law. There is, of course, a huge distinction between the "natural law" that governs things without free will and the "natural law" that governs things with free will. Whether a horse acts in accord with its nature or not, there is never a question of the horse being immoral:

The horse who fails in that equine [natural] law only obeys the universal order of nature on which the deficiencies of his individual nature depend. If horses were free, there would be an ethical or moral way of conforming to the specific natural law of horses. But a horsy morality is a dream because horses are not free.

Maritain, 28-29.

Because there is the "ontological structure" in all things, we speak sensibly when we talk about how a thing "should" act. Thus, our veterinarian knows how a healthy dog "should" act. Mozart , with his perfect pitch, knew how his harpsichord "should" play. Washington Carver knew how healthy plants "should" grow, bloom, and seed. This "should" is metaphysical, not yet moral. "The same word should," however, "starts to have a moral meaning, that is, to imply moral obligation, when we pass the threshold of the world of free agents." Maritain, 29. So the natural law that governs things without free will, and the "should" that comes from it, follows into those things that have free will. And yet the "should" changes character as a result of the addition of free will. We enter into another order, not an order without natural law, but an order where natural law is one that is intellectually grasped, and voluntarily obeyed or disobeyed:

For man, the natural law is a moral law because man obeys or disobeys it freely, not necessarily, and because human behaviour pertains to a particular, privileged order which is irreducible to the general order of the cosmos and tends to a final end superior to the immanent common good of the universe.

Maritain, 29. This "normality of functioning" is what Maritain identifies as the "ontological element" of natural law.
Natural law in general . . . is the ideal formula of development of a given being. . . . Let us say, then, that in its ontological aspect, natural law is an ideal order relating to human actions, a divide between the suitable and the unsuitable, between what is proper and what is improper to the ends of human nature or essence. This is an ideal order or divide which rests on human nature or essence and the unchangeable necessities rooted in it. . . . [N]atural law is something both ontological and ideal. It is something ideal, because it is grounded on the human essence, on its unchangeable structure and the intelligible necessities it involves. On the other hand, natural law is something ontological, because the human essence is an ontological reality, which moreover does not exist separately, but in every human being, so that by the same token natural law dwells as an ideal order in the very being of every existing man.
Maritain, 29-30, 31.

Natural law is not contained in us like movie film, a whole set of pictures that ineluctably are unrolled and that govern our lives, either individually or as a species. And so there is a progressive awareness of, a development of the demands of the essence of being human. Moral progress comes from "ask[ing] questions of that essence," Maritain, 30, whether that question is posed as to my essence, or as to my neighbor's essence, or as a result of a relation between those two essences in which we equally share. Man cannot know all the answers all at once. He learns, both individually and across the span of history. He is not an angel, but lives in time, and works within the confines of a mind limited by a material brain, or a society limited by its material aspect:

An angel who knew the human essence in his angelic manner and all the possible existential situations of man, would know natural law in the infinity of its extension. But we do not, though the Eighteenth Century theoreticians [L.C. in their hubris, or in their extreme dualism] believed they did.

Maritain, 31.

The next aspect of the natural law that Maritain addresses in the book Natural Law: Reflections on Theory and Practice is how that natural law is known, that is, is the natural law from its gnoseological or epistemological aspects. We shall address that aspect in our next posting.

*So was Hugo Grotius called by, for example, Luigi Miralia (1912), Hamilton Vreeland (1917), and Johann Eduard Erdmann (1893). The title is entirely undeserved. Grotius is also frequently called the Father of International Law, a title perhaps more better earned, but which probably should go to his predecessor Francisco de Vittoria. That is hasn't may be probably be ascribed to prejudice against Spanish thinkers arising from the Black Legend, or the Leyenda Negra, the intense Hispanophobia and anti-Spanish prejudice in the early modern period, seen especially in the English-speaking and Protestant nations.
**Sophocles's Antigone, is a classic treatment of the tension between law as convention, specifically in tyrannical form, and the natural law. "Antigone is the heroine of natural law; she was aware of the fact that in transgressing the human law and being crushed by it, she was obeying a higher commandment--that she was obeying laws that were unwritten, and that had their origin neither today nor yesterday, but which live always and forever, and no one knows where they have come from." Maritain, 26.

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