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.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ignorance of the Wrong-Kinds of Ignorance

IGNORANCE, WHICH ST. THOMAS DEFINES as a privation of knowledge by one capable of knowing,* plays a role in the assessment of a moral act, and it does so in various ways depending upon how it affects that moral act. Ignorance may have an effect in four ways:
  1. it may be the cause (causa per accidens or the causa removens prohibens) of it;
  2. it may constitute the basis of an excuse from guilt;
  3. it may constitute the basis of an increase of guilt; or
  4. it may be sin itself.
Traditionally in Catholic moral theology, ignorance has been categorized with reference to diligence and capability of overcoming it, thus ignorance may be divided into two categories:
  1. vincible ignorance is ignorance which could be overcome with reasonable moral diligence, and so exists in the subject as a result of failure to use such diligence.
  2. invincible ignorance is ignorance which exists or would exist despite the use of reasonable moral diligence (assuming that the subject is aware of such a duty) or that which exists when the subject is not even aware of the possibility of error or the obligation or inquiring further (i.e., when the subject is not even aware he is under a duty of inquiry).
Vincible ignorance--assuming the subject is under a moral duty to know the truth--is for that reason morally imputable to the subject and hence morally culpable.

Ignorance may also be viewed from the perspective of the relationship between the will of the subject and the act which that subject performs. From this perspective, ignorance may be said to be antecedent, concomitant, or consequent.
  1. antecedent ignorance is the cause (causa per accidens or causa removens prohibens) of an act when, if such knowledge were present in the subject, the act would not have taken place;
  2. concomitant ignorance is one which accompanies the act, but which has no causal effect upon the act: it is collateral to and immaterial to the act in terms of its cause, as the actor would have performed the act whether he was ignorant or not. Thus the presence of concomitant ignorance, though not causal, renders the act non-voluntary.
  3. consequent ignorance is a result of an act of will, consequently it always follows the act of will, but not the sinful act of which it is cause (i.e., it precedes the sinful act which it causes).
The will is the efficient cause, that is the agent, of an act, and if the act is sinful it the cause per se of the act itself (the act qua act), and it is the cause per accidens of the sin as deordination, that is as a deflection or departing of the guiding influence of law. But the will must have an object which it seeks to attain, that is its intellect must have some sort of "picture" of what the will desires. If the intellect is in a state of privation or lack, then what is it that moves the will? How can nothing (a privation) influence the will to act?

Nothing comes from nothing, so the lack of knowledge or ignorance can never be the per se causa or direct cause of an action; rather, ignorance is something which, if it had been possessed, would prevent the action.** Ignorance is therefore a causa removens prohibens of an act.

Can ignorance be sin? The answer to this question depends upon whether there is a duty to know. St. Thomas insists that all persons have an obligation to know those things which make man man, that is, a rational animal with a created nature. He has an obligation to know, for example, the universal principles of the natural moral law and of his particular duties in life. The failure to know these universal principles or one's particular duties if he has the ability to do so (i.e., if he is in a state of vincible ignorance) is a sin of omission.

Generally, since ignorance is not the direct cause of an objective moral infraction, but is rather the causa per accidens or removens prohibens of the moral infraction, the moral wrong is not imputed to the subject. (In the moral order, as distinguished from the legal order, ignorance of the law is generally an excuse.) Two kinds of ignorance, however, are imputable to the subject: (1) where the ignorance itself is voluntary (when the ignorance is consequent to an act of will); or (2) where there is only partial excuse because the ignorance relates to the object sought.

As to (1): Obviously, one cannot will oneself to be ignorant and escape moral fault. "Ignorance, as an excuse, then will lose validity in proportion as the will is inclined toward it." Bertke, 51. If ignorance is directly sought, then it is called affected ignorance, and any sin arising from it is directly imputable to the actor, and, in fact, increases the guilt involved in the act. When the ignorance is not directly sought, but is the indirect result of the difficulty involved in, or repugnance to, learning the truth, then the acts which result from that indirect ignorance are more or less imputable to the actor, and though the actor's guilt is more or less diminished, it is not entirely diminished to the point of exoneration or complete excuse.

As to (2): The ignorance here concerns the object. Since St. Thomas excludes concomitant ignorance from his assessment, ignorance must be such so that had one known of the truth, one would not have acted in the manner he did. However, one can consider circumstances where, if the actor was not ignorant, he would not engage in the particular sin, and yet, he would engage in another sin, and so he is not blameless. For example, a man may be ignorant that the woman with whom he is having sexual relations is married and, had he known she was married he would not have engaged in sexual relations. However, had she not been married he would not have had similar scruple. In such a case, the actor would be partially excused (of adultery), but not excused as to his act of impurity (fornication).
*S. T. IaIIae, q. 76, art. 2, c. (Ignorantia vero importat scientiae privationem, dum scilicet alicui deest scientia eorum quae aptus natus est scire. Ignorant implies a privation of knowledge, when someone lacks something which he is naturally capable of knowing.)
**It follows that St. Thomas excludes the notion of concomitant ignorance from his analysis since it has no relevance to the moral assessment of an act, since the act would have occurred whether ignorance was present or was not present. S.T. IaIIae, q. 76, art. 1, c.

No comments:

Post a Comment