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, March 16, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: You Gotta Hand it to Hume

JOHN FINNIS ADDRESSES THE STANDARD objection against natural law theories, Humean in origin at least in ascription, that natural law bases itself on an illogical jump from fact to value, from description to prescription, from "is" to "ought." This criticism is called the "naturalistic fallacy," and opponents of the natural law consider it the conclusive death knell against natural-law-based morality and jurisprudential theories. At the heart of such doctrine, however, is an empirically-based view of nature, a rejection of any teleological importance to nature, and a rejection of any notion of God's providence and reasonable ordering in nature, including the nature of man. For Hume perhaps, and for most moderns certainly, nature, even human nature, simply is not theonomic and has no internal ratio, actuality, or entelechy* which yearns forwards or upwards persistently to the the end intended for it by the God who created it to be what it is and what it is supposed to become. Nature for Hume and his philosophical ilk does not have any prescriptive value whatsoever. (It may be, as explained below, Hume had a little bit of classical nature left in him, at least to the degree of the "moral sense" school.)

John Finnis, however, sidesteps the entire issue, but with a massive concession, perhaps even a capitulation. He agrees with the Humean critique, and then argues that a theory of natural law does not require any reference to nature in a descriptive or any other sense in order to arrive at any of its prescriptions. What is curious, and quite imprecise or at least not sufficiently nuanced, is his declaration that natural law jurists "have not, nor do they need to, nor did the classical exponents of the theory dream of attempting any such derivation."** NLNR, 33. In a manner of speaking this is true, since none of the classical exponents of natural law ever dreamed of a nature with no meaning, no order, no entelechy, no beginning in God and no end in God. The classical exponents of the natural law saw nature in fact having its origin in God's creative act, participating in God's lasting providence, and, at least for rational creatures, finding its end or fulfillment in God. Nature had a teleology, an entelechy, that gave it prescriptive qualities. Hume's conception of nature, on the other hand, is largely if not completely bereft of such a notion. In other words, the "nature" of the classical natural law advocate is not the "nature" of Hume. If we accept the definition of Humean "nature" (which is a very discrete, narrow, empirical and even atheistic or at least deistic or agnostic view), Hume is right. But then should we be allowing the atheist Hume to define our terms?

Hume's Fork (Wie kommt die Moral in die Welt?)
by Ulrich Plessner

But Finnis allows Hume to define terms, to establish the ground rules, and to formulate the agenda. And perhaps as an apologetic accommodation to the academic world that rejects natural law almost reflexively, tendentiously, there may be some justification to the strategy. (Finnis, however, would seem to view this concession as more than just strategic; Finnis appears to believe that Hume is, in fact, sound and that nature--in any sense--has no role in the fashioning of morality.)

Finnis also rejects the notion that natural law is predicated upon metaphysics. "Nor is it true that for Aquinas 'good and evil are concepts analysed and fixed in metaphysics before they are applied in morals.'" NLNR, 33 (quoting D. J. O'Connor) Traditionally, classical natural law theorists believed that the good precedes the right, that that nature had a certain end or telos, and that ontology preceded morality.*** Natural law was considered an ontological (being) ethic, as distinguished from a deontological (duty) ethic or a teleological (consequential) ethic. But Finnis insists that no metaphysical presuppositions are required or demanded from anyone by the theory of natural law, even an authentically Thomistic one. St. Thomas, Finnis avers, based his moral theory on self-evident principles, principles per se nota, though he curiously failed to identify very well what those were. In Finnis's reading of St. Thomas, St. Thomas's moral bases "are not inferred from speculative [metaphysical] principles." They equally "are not inferred from facts." Likewise, they "are not inferred from metaphysical propositions about human nature, or about the nature of good and evil, or about 'the function of a human being.'" NLNR, 33 (quoting Margaret McDonald). Nor are they "inferred from a teleological conception of nature or any other conception of nature." In Finnis's view, the foundational principles of natural law--including the theory of St. Thomas Aquinas--are based upon "underived (though not innate)" principles. "They are not inferred or derived from anything." NLNR, 34. The bases for natural law (Finnis insists even under the theory of St. Thomas) are these self-evident, inarguable and yet unprovable, "pre-moral principals of practical reasonableness." NLNR, 34.

Finnis, moreover, seems to suggest that one can yank Thomist natural law from the greater synthesis of his work, and that we ought not to take seriously, or at least intellectually compelling, St. Thomas's "analogies running through the whole order of being" which is what makes him tie in morality to the cosmos and to the eternal law. It is this desire to "fit" morality into his great chain of analogy of being that makes St. Thomas say things like human virtue is in accordance with nature and human vice is contra naturam, or against nature. But, in Finnis's elaboration, St. Thomas does not really mean it: he is just being a poetic theologian waxing grandiloquently. When he uses the word "nature," we ought to consider it sort of like an appendix, a useless artifact, "a speculative appendage." NLNR, 36. What St. Thomas really has in mind in terms of morality is not conformity with nature, but "conformity with or contrariety to . . . reasonableness."

In other words, for Aquinas, the way to discovery what is morally right (virtue) and wrong (vice) is to ask, not what is in accordance with human nature, but what is reasonable.

NLNR, 36. All of a sudden nature and reason are rifted, when in St. Thomas they would, especially in man, appear in haec verba to have been joined. Nature is no longer reason: reason is reason and nature is nature, and, apparently, never the twain need meet. In short, Finnis seems to make St. Thomas Kantian avant la lettre. Aquinas was Kantian, before Kantian was cool.

*Entelechy is a marvelous word, and it ought to be in the lips and in the mind of any natural law advocate. It comes originally from the Greek word, ἐντελέχεια (entelecheia), of which it is an obvious transliteration. The word is Aristotelian in origin, an Aristotelian neologism in fact, a word that Joe Sachs in his work on Aristotle's Physics, calls "a three-ring circus of a word, at the heart of everything in Aristotle's thinking." The whole Aristotelian show revolves around the notion of entelechy. In his glossary, Sachs defines entelecheia as "being-at-work-staying-itself," but he explains further thus:
[Entelecheia is] a fusion of the idea of completeness with that of continuity or persistence. Aristotle invents the word by combining enteles (complete, full grown) with echein (=hexis, to be a certain way by the continuing effort of holding on in that condition), while at the same time punning on endelecheia (persistence) by inserting telos (completion). This is a three-ring circus of a word, at the heart of everything in Aristotle's thinking, including the definition of motion. Its power to carry meaning depends on the working together of all the things Aristotle has packed into it. Some commentators explain it as meaning being-at-an-end, which misses the point entirely, and it is usually translated as "actuality," a word that refers to anything, however trivial, incidental, transient, or static, that happens to be the case, so that everything is lost in translation, just at the spot where understanding could begin.
Despite the long quotation, it merits also to look at the discussion of the word entelecheia (entelechy) in the context of Aristotle's greater teaching on nature.
The primary fact about the world we experience is that it consists of independent things (ousiai), each of which is a this (tode ti), an enduring whole, and separate (choriston), or intact. Since thinghood is characterized by wholeness (to telos), or that for the sake of which (hou heneka) it does all that it does. This doing is therefore the being-at-work that makes it what it is, since it is what it keeps on being in order to be at all (to ti ēn einai). Thus thinghood and being-at-work merge into the single ides of being-at-work-staying-itself (entelecheia).

It follows that nature (phusis) is not just a sum of bodies but is an activity, seen in the birth, growth, and self-maintenance of independent things and in the equilibrium of the parts of the cosmos. The cluster of central ideas in Aristotle's thinking is built on a few word roots that overlaps in meaning: the phu of phusis, meaning birth and growth; the erg of energeia, meaning work; the ech of entelecheia (entelēs echein), meaning holding-on in some condition (in this case completeness); and in the ēn of to ti ēn einai, meaning being in the progressive aspect of that verb. This active, dynamic character is present in the very material (hulē) of each thing, as a potency (dunamis) spilling over into the activity that gives the thing its form (eidos or morphē).
Joe Sachs, Aristotle's Physics: A Guided Study (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004), 31, 295. One thing is for certain: Hume did not have this concept of nature in mind when he fashioned his "naturalistic fallacy" argument.
**Finnis predicts dissatisfaction on the part of the opponents since the concession robs them of a popular punching dummy. What he may not have predicted is the dissatisfaction by many of classical natural law philosophers, who found the concession as ill-advised.
***This subject has treated multiple times in Lex Christianorum. One may refer to our review of Professor Cortest's book The Disfigured Face. The matter is treated from John Courtney Murray's perception briefly in the posting The Four Requirements of a Classical Natural Law Theory, who clearly believed that one must subscribe to (1) a "realist" philosophical (epistemological) view, (2) a "metaphysic of nature," that is,an ontology that is teleological, (3) a natural theology that allows one to conclude through reason in a God as First Cause and Providential Creator, and finally, (4) human freedom. After treating Finnis's work, we hope to review the insightful criticism of it by Professor Hittinger in his book A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory. Finnis, however, does not see these requirements as Thomistic; rather, he sees them as part and parcel of the Stoic view of natural law and as a result of corruptions arising via "some Renaissance theories [of natural law], including some that claimed the patronage of Thomas Aquinas and have been influential almost to the present day." NLNR, 35.

No comments:

Post a Comment