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 23, 2011

Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: No Arbitrary Plans

ARBITRARINESS IS THE NEMESIS of practical reason and of law. That is why arbitrariness in one's choices is not tolerable under a regime of practical reasonableness, and why, as we discussed in our prior posting, practical reasonableness requires that a person adopt a coherent, that is, not arbitrary, plan of life. Arbitrariness is also shunned in the decision of what values ought to be accommodated with any person's plan of life. Specifically, "there must be no leaving out of account, or arbitrary discounting or exaggeration, of any of the basic human values" in the formulation of one's life plan.

As we noted in the prior posting. One is free to do anything that is not inconsistent with the basic human values, but one cannot do everything that is consistent with the basic values for the very simple reason that we are creatures with limits and are temporarily bound. As a matter of sheer living and one's limited creaturehood, concentration or focus on some basic human values will either temporarily or even permanently be part of one's coherent life plan. This necessarily affects the other basic human values. In greeting a man, one necessarily, even if temporarily, shuns another. This emphasizing of some values over others must not be arbitrary, but must itself be based upon practical reason, considering such things as "one's capacities, circumstances, and even of one's tastes." NLNR, 105. The emphasis of one value, however, can become unreasonable if it the result of a devaluation of another basic value. Similarly, the emphasis on one basic value can be unreasonable if it is the result of overemphasizing a subordinate, derivative, supporting, or instrumental good, or, a fortiori, overemphasizing an even more distant secondary and conditionally value good, one that is not a basic value itself.

Examples may be given. A naturally gregarious person may relish the good of friendship and may emphasize such a value as part of fashioning his comprehensive plan of life. It would be consonant with practical reason to emphasize such a basic value since it is not arbitrarily that it is selected, but rather because of the person's predispositions, likes, and capacity for friendship. However, if the gregarious persons were to disdain knowledge and deprecate its value, and cut it largely out of his comprehensive plan altogether, it would be an unreasonable plan taken as a whole. There is a difference between recognizing that one may not have an aptitude, talent, or liking for knowledge, one the one hand, and thinking and acting as if the basic good of knowledge is not a real form of good.

Finnis therefore rejects the Rawlsian concept of "thin theory of the good."* Instead, he advocates a "thick theory of the good," one that includes all of the basic human goods and requires a person to select without arbitrariness a plan of life that incorporates them all or at least does not consider any of of them of no account. That person must also allow that others may have a plan of life that incorporates the basic values in a manner different than his, and he must allow for the others to do so, but he may also prevent others, especially those under his care, from incorporating into his plan of life the opposite of human values or goods. Under Rawlsian theory such could never be done.

Under a concept of justice built by a thin theory, the libertine thrives and the virtuous suffer. Under a concept of justice built by a natural law thick theory, the virtuous thrives, and the libertine suffers.

Which makes more sense?

*In his Theory of Justice, John Rawls used the heuristic device of "original position" as a means for arriving at "fairness." Rawls puts us back to an "original position" and requires two assumptions. First, he demands a "veil of ignorance," so that in the "original position" we are unaware of any information that would distinguish us from any other person, so that we are not aware of the person who we would be. We do not know what our place will be in society. We shall not know our personal endowments: race, sex, intelligence, abilities, and other natural assets. We shall not know our external endowments: wealth, education, fortune, class, and so forth. We shall not even know our conceptions of the good: what our values are, what our aims, our purposes, our believes shall be. We know only that we shall have some endowments and that we shall some conceptions that we hold dear. But it is behind this "veil of ignorance" that we must chose the principles of justice, as if, als ob, we are ignorant. The "veil of ignorance" is aimed and preventing prejudice or bias in the choosing of the principles of justice, thereby removing it from the influence of convention. But there is one sort of knowledge we do know in the "original position," and that shall knowledge of the "primary goods." Primary goods for Rawls are those "things which it is supposed a rational man wants whatever else he wants," and Rawls numbers among them rights, liberties, opportunities, powers, wealth, and self-respect.
So while the veil of ignorance provides that the parties deliberate in conditions of fairness and unanimity, the account of primary goods generates the minimal motivations necessary to get a problem of rational choice going, and to make possible a determinate solution. Together, the two assumptions assure that the parties act only to those interests that are common interests, that is, common to all rational persons, the foremost of which turns out to be an interest in establishing terms of social co-operation such that each person will have the fullest liberty to realize his aims and purposes compatible with and equal liberty for others.
Michael J. Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 25.

This list of limited, primary goods is what Rawls calls the "thin theory of the good." It is "thin" because it is starkly minimalistic: by decreasing the controversy of goods, Rawls increases the breadth of their practical universality. A "thin theory of the good" cannot choose between particular values or goods except minimally
because it has insufficient substance, and is insipid in guidance, and therefore allows for many more conceptions of what is a "good life" than a "thick" theory of the good, such as the natural law which would have a broader view of goods other than the "primary goods" of Rawls. It, of course, is prejudicial against anyone who hold a "thick" theory, which means it is naturally affinitive toward liberalism (how convenient for the liberal Rawls!). Rawls would reject giving any intrinsic value to basic goods such as truth, play, art or friendship. As Finnis observes, "Rawls gives no satisfactory reason for this radical emaciation of human good, and no satisfactory reason is available: the 'thin theory' is arbitrary." Ergo, Rawls is unreasonable. QED.

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