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.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jacques Maritain and Natural Law: Natural Law, Onto-Gnoseologically Speaking

IN THE LAST POSTING WE LEFT OFF with the Maritainian concept of the development of the natural law. Maritain advances the notion that there has been a progressive development of the natural law, or perhaps more accurately, a progressive development in the knowledge of the natural law, prodded by the knowledge obtained through inclinations or connaturality. It is this internal, amorphous yearning, feeling, or impulse, what we have referred to in previous posts as intellectual feltness or perhaps even better expressed as an intellectual tedentiousness, that is later looked at with conceptual, discursive reasoning and which has led to a greater understanding of the content of natural law over history from ancient times into modernity. What was implicit, or rather what is known through inclination, has become explicit, which is to say, stated through conceptual and discursive terms. What was there ab initio, but not known or not fully grasped by philosophy or word, has in tempore been brought to the surface and is known and made fully intelligible in the way of philosophical concepts and words.

[H]uman knowledge of natural law has been progressively shaped and molded by the inclinations of human nature, starting from the most basic ones. We should not expect philosophy [L.C. since it is based upon conceptual, discursive knowledge and not knowledge by inclination] to offer us an a priori picture of those genuine inclinations [which are rooted in man's being as vitally permeated with the preconscious life of the mind, and]* which either developed or were released as humanity advanced. They are evinced by he very history of human consciousness.

Maritain, 35.

How can we tell authentic inclinations from spurious ones? Knowing which inclinations are legitimate and which are not would seem fundamental to distinguish between authentic knowledge and inauthentic knowledge, that is, whether something is natural law or not. Maritain's test, which is not particularly precise, but highly amorphous, is as follows:
Those inclinations were really genuine which, in the immensity of the human past, have guided reason in becoming aware, little by little, of the regulations that have been most definitely and most generally recognized by the human race, starting from the most ancient social communities. For the knowledge of the primordial aspects of natural law was first expressed in social patterns rather than personal judgments. This knowledge was developed from inside, within the double protecting tissue of human inclinations and human society.
Maritain, 35-36. Maritain seems to advocate a sort of vox populi vox legis naturalis, a very challenging form of distillate law.

Gnoseologically speaking, then, natural law is that law which is "naturally known, or, more exactly, . . . the knowledge of which is embodied in the most general and most ancient heritage of humanity." Maritain, 36 (emphasis Maritain's). These constitute, in Maritain's view, the "first principles" known through inclination starting from the "most common" to the "more and more specific ones." Maritain, 36.

Not particularly convincingly, or at least not particularly clearly, Maritain suggests that he has thus "put together two perspectives [of natural law] which, at first glance appear contradictory," namely the ontological and the gnoseological.**

Maritain identifies areas where a knowledge by inclination, "spontaneous knowledge," Maritain, 37, before they are specifically determined, would take us. They would take us to certain "dynamic schemes" or "tendential frameworks" recognized by the data of anthropology:
  • to take a man's life is not like taking another animal's life
  • the family group has to comply with some fixed pattern
  • sexual intercourse has to be contained within given limitations
  • we are bound to look at the Invisible
  • we are bound to live together under certain rules and prohibitions
Maritain, 36-37. This is the sort of knowledge, universally known, that is gained by inclination. It is subsequent to these "tendential frameworks" or "dynamic schemes," when they are fleshed out by individual tribes and cultures that the "immense amount of relativity and variability is to be found in the particular rules, customs, and standards . . . among all peoples of the earth." Maritain, 37. It is within these "tendential frameworks" or "dynamic schemes" that "many various, still defective contents can occur,--not to speak of the warped, deviated, or perverted inclinations which can mingle with the basic ones." In other words, Maritain seems to advocate that knowledge by inclination by connaturality comes up with these "tendential frameworks" or "dynamic schemes," the bones, as it were, of what is natural law. It is when conceptual or discursive reasoning steps in and fleshes out these bones that we get human variability and, inevitably, along with some good, also some corruption and perversion.

The rotten flesh on the clean bones of natural law can be progressively identified and healed in Maritain's view. The identification and healing is performed "in a double manner," both through inclination and discursive reason. Over the course of history, reason "has become aware in a less and less crepuscular, rough, and confused manner, of the primordial regulations of the natural law." On the other hand, man's inclinations have made man more "aware . . . of its further, higher regulations." Maritain, 37. It is therefore why "natural law essentially involves a dynamic development," and why "moral conscience, or the knowledge of natural law, has progressed" from cave man to modern man. Maritain, 37. Indeed, for Maritain that progress is, apparently by natural means alone and not by any supernatural help,**** ineluctable, undeniable, infallible, assured:

[S]uch knowledge is still progressing, it will progress as long as human history endures. That progress of moral conscience is indeed the most unquestionable instance of progress in humanity.

Maritain, 37. It is this notion of progress, a progress without Christ,***** that Maritain uses as his springboard to effect some sort of synthesis with classic natural law and modern natural right. This will be the subject of our next few blog postings. Here, however, we shall end with what might be called the preface of what is to come. First, we have a summary of Maritain's efforts at synthesizing the ontological and gnoseological aspects of the natural law, that is, the natural law as it is, and the natural law insofar as it is known:
I have said that the natural law is unwritten law: it is unwritten law in the deepest sense of that expression, because our knowledge of it is no work of free conceptualization, but results from a conceptualization bound to the essential inclinations of being, of living nature, and of reason, which are at work in man, and because it develops in proportion to the degree of moral experience and self-reflection, and of social experience also, of which man is capable in the various ages of his history.
Maritain, 38. Within certain limits, this would appear unobjectionable, indeed, irrefragable. But as an absolute principle, it would seem untenable. Yet it is from this untenable basis that Maritain leaps into his heart's desire, which is to effect some sort of engrafting of the Enlightenment doctrine of human rights with the classical Thomist doctrine of natural law:

[T]hus it is that in the ancient and medieval times attention was paid, in natural law, to the obligations of man more than to his rights. The proper achievement--a great achievement indeed--of the XVIIIth Century has been to bring out in full light the rights of man as also required by natural law. That discovery was essentially due to a progress in moral and social experience, through which the root inclinations of human nature as regards the rights of the human person were set free, and consequently, knowledge through inclination with regard to them developed.

Maritain, 38. It is true that Maritain tempers his zeal from the advance of human rights caused by the Enlightenment somewhat; he does put one foot on the brake while he has another on the accelerator. He does not wish to swallow the Enlightenment "human rights" and the Enlightenment "ideology" whole. Maritain wants to indulge in Enlightenment fare, but not on a take-all-or-nothing table d'hôte basis; he'd rather order Enlightenment dishes selectively à la carte. To his credit and his Catholic sensibilities, there are some dishes, or combination of dishes, that he simply finds unpalatable.
[A]ccording to a sad law of human knowledge, that great achievement [of the Enlightenment] was paid for by ideological errors, in the theoretical [L.C. and not moral?] field, that I have stressed at the beginning. Attention even shifted from the obligations of man to his rights only. A genuine and comprehensive view would pay attention both to the obligations and the rights involved in the requirements of natural law.
Maritain, 38.

Maritain, it would seem, would enjoy a blended cuisine, a cuisine of both Thomist natural law and of Enlightenment natural right. Can such a blend be done, and, if so, how? If done, can such a blend be digested? Does the effort result in dyspepsia or eupepsia? Will we enjoy the nouvelle cuisine? Or suffer indigestion?

The scholars and theologians are still thinking, writing, debating, arguing, and pontificating. Some burp with satisfaction. Others groan with the pains of acid reflux. And the jury of history is still deliberating without having reached a verdict.

*The part in these brackets was not in the original text when published as Leçon 1- La loi naturelle ou loi non écrite, but was added when re-published as part of Chapter IV in Maritain's Man and the State. See Maritain, 25 n. 5. The part in the preceding brackets was added for clarity by Lex Christianorum.
**I do not see the ontological perspective in Maritain's synthesis, unless it is expressed in the phrase "the knowledge [of natural law] embodied in the most general and most ancient heritage of humanity." But he refers to this as part of the "gnoseological element." His synthesis seems therefore entirely weighted on the gnoseological perspective. Granted, the sentence in which purportedly effects this synthesis is not felicitously written. "With regard to the second basis element, the gnoseological element which natural law implies in order to have force of law, we can say that natural law--that is, natural law naturally known, or, more exactly, natural law the knowledge of which is embodied in the most general and most ancient heritage of humanity--covers only the field of the ethical regulations of which men have become aware by virtue of knowledge through inclination, and which are the basic or first principles of moral life--progressively recognized from the most common principles to the more and more specific ones. This is to put together to perspectives which, at first glance, appear contradictory: the first perspective sees the natural law as coextensive with human nature, so that every ethical regulation that might be discovered may be found to be in agreement with this 'normality of the functioning of human nature': the other perspective does not deal with the entire set of moral regulations, but only with the very first principles (because it focuses not so much on the ontological element as on the gnoseological element, and because it deals only with those regulations that are known by inclination)." Maritain, 36. Unless I'm thick-headed, this sentence is hardly a model of clarity. Perhaps we need to access the original French.
***These "tendential frameworks" or "dynamic schemes" seem horribly without substantive value. If these for the principal part of the natural law gained through the knowledge by inclination, they are disappointingly without substance. The knowledge gained by inclination, under Maritain's theory, would be disappointingly thin.
****This is again troublesome. If progress in our knowledge of the natural law is naturally assured as a result of some sort of ineluctable law of human progress, then what need is there for Christ? What need for His Church? It seems that, in Maritain's view, human progress, by human effort alone, without the need of grace, will take us asymptotically to the limit of Gospel morality. This appears to be a Pelagian-stained doctrine, and not one authentically Thomistic, Augustinian, or, for that matter, Evangelical. Again, I am not a Maritainian scholar, and Maritain's Catholic and Thomistic credentials are far, far superior to any claim I, as a mere autodidact amateur, have to such, but there seems to something in this Maritainian doctrine that rubs against the Tradition and a strict Orthodoxy. This doctrine would seem to be somewhat temerarious, or at least inching towards such temerity. But again, I withhold any kind of final or even preliminary judgment on Maritain's thought. These areas, however, seem to be problematic and require further analysis.
*****In fact, a progress that may have been inspired by anti-Christian, and certainly anti-Catholic, sentiment. The Enlightenment Project, whatever good may be found in it mixed with whatever evil may be found in it, was certainly inspired by a spirit of rebellion from the Church. Its motto and inspiring spirit may have been taken from Voltaire's lips and poisoned heart: "écrasez l'infâme." But all involved, both advocates and enemies, may have been confusing the civil order, and the ecclesiastical interest in maintaining civil order, including its privileged status (and the benefits to the common good gained thereby), and avoiding bloodshed that comes with revolution, with the ecclesiastical order itself. These, like most historical areas, are full of thorny thickets, with very few clearings.

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