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, November 28, 2010

Being and the Natural Law: Inclinations

INCLINATIONS PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN THOMISTIC understanding of the natural law. In St. Thomas's responsio in q. 94, art. 2 in the IaIIae of his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas speaks of a sort of tripartite natural inclination in man and of an "order of natural inclinations" which informs the "order of the precepts of the natural law." Secundum igitur ordinem inclinationum naturalium, est ordo praeceptorum legis naturae. (Iª-IIae q. 94 a. 2 co.)

There is some controversy on what exactly these inclinations are, and whether they incline before or after "contact" with human nature. Are these inclinations something only formal, do they have to do only with the ratio boni in its most abstract form, in the order of the transcendental? And do they become "enfleshed" only upon contact with human nature? Or are these inclinations already informed by human nature when they come to us? Are the inclinations already "enfleshed" as it were and particularized in a manner so that they are something more than mere formal inclinations? Dr. Knasas believes the latter. In his view, by the time we encounter the natural moral law in the form of its first inclinations we have already encountered ourselves and our fellow man as "intellectors of being as the good." The ratio boni then has already been through the process of enfleshment, of humanization. "A consideration of human nature has been going on extensively already" before we get to the order of inclinations.

[T]he natural inclinations correspond to further confrontations of practical reason with humans as heightened presentations of the ratio boni. Human experience involves various epiphanies of this object. Around these epiphanies form injunctions of practical reason. These injunctions incline us. Hence, when Aquinas remarks that 'those things to which man has natural inclination are naturally apprehended by reason as being good and so as objects of pursuit,' he does not mean that the natural inclinations invest these things with the appearance of being good.

What, then does St. Thomas mean? Do inclinations inform us what is good? Or does the good inform the inclinations? Which is first, the inclination or the good? Does the inclination incline to the good? Or is it the good which draws the inclination toward it? For Dr. Knasas the answer is obvious: the good precedes the inclinations:
[I]t is because things are first apprehended as good that one has natural inclinations to them. In other words, the inclinations form in the wake of the apprehension of good; the apprehension of goods does not form in the wake of the natural inclinations.
This is not, Dr. Knasas, notes the view of most Thomists. Most contemporary Thomists or neo-Thomists appear to start the moral life of man with a very "formalistic or empty, hence uninspiring" notion of the good of the first principle. The strain of music that hits our inner ear, our synderesis, in the fundamental chant that "good ought to be done" is insipid, ethereal, formal, not yet sung by human voices. Dr. Knasas disagrees with this view. He suggests the strain of music that hits our inner ear of synderesis with the fundamental moral chant that "good ought to be done" is already sung with human voices. It is not the voice of God we hear. It is the voice of God in man we hear. So the good is already touched by human nature by the time we are inclined to it. We are already aware of ourselves and our fellows as "intellectors of being" and "willers of good" by the time the inclinations come around to draw us to them as the begining of the moral life. The inclinations we have for self-preservation, for procreation, for social and political life, for God himself are already aware of our fellow man as an "intellector of being" and "willer of good." In distinction with the brute animals who have inclinations toward self-preservation and procreation, man's inclinations have already been stamped with the uniqueness that comes from being human. That is why, for example, the act of sexual union is for man already fully informed by the dignity that comes with being an intellector of being and willer of the good. Casual sex, or sex without commitment, is already abusive of the special dignity we have and the special dignity our coupling partner has. We assault the fundamental ratio entis and ratio boni, which is in us in a much more splendid way than in the rest of creation, when we treat the encounter between to intellectors of being and willers of good in such a casual way. We abuse being, we abuse good by treating sexual congress so flippantly.

Here, alas, we ran out of time, and we were unfortunately deprived of Dr. Knasas's insights with respect to the inclinations of man to the social life and to belief in God. We were also unable to get into the role of secondary and tertiary precepts of the natural law, and notions of intrinsic and extrinsic variability in the precepts of natural law. Perhaps he can be re-invited?

It is manifest that Dr. Knasas is hounded by the beauty of being and its rich meaning in both our intellectual life and our moral life. His insights were valuable, and his enthusiasm catching. Our prayer is that we may all be as "slain by being" as Dr. Knasas.

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