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.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ignorance of the Wrong-Intellectus Movet Voluntatem

MODERN MORALITY IS ALMOST ALWAYS a matter of feeling, and not a matter of reason. The only real exception to subjectivism and emotivism in modern morality is Kant, and he is clinically intellectual. Kant's morality is sort of like an archaeologist pointing to a human skeleton with bleached bones and maintaining that this citizen of an ossuary is a living, breathing, thriving man. But it is clear that the skeleton lacks a heart, not to mention other organs of passion. No wonder when faced with Kant's pure reason, people run to the feelings and passions of the flesh and its impulses as if they have seen a ghost. Either that, or they turn to the simple and simplistic practical logic of utilitarianism, as the only pragmatic and realistic option. The only problem is that the modern avenues--a Kantian pure reason, pure emotivism, or pure utilitarianism or consequentialism--are dead ends, moral cul-de-sacs.

As we have seen, the classical theories of natural law, although reason-based, do not for all that neglect the natural inclinations of man, man as body and soul. These inclinations are those deeply felt, though nevertheless rational impulses (since they arise from the plan designed in that nature by the God who created it) that arise from man's nature-seeking-to-be-fulfilled, that is man's very entelechy, a nature which seeks readmission, as it were, into the very God who made it. The classical theories of natural law recognize also the disorder in the passions, customs, and conventions of men (though they do not necessarily know their source--revelation will tell them of that), but are confident and optimistic that man's reason is able, at least in theory and in its wise and virtuous exemplars, to overcome these disordered passions, conventions, and customs, and point out what is objectively right and consonant with nature and right reason, and what is wrong and opposed to nature and is unreasonable.

St. Thomas Aquinas

In this life, that is on this side of eternity, man is nothing but a bundle of potentialities seeking to actualize themselves: becoming is an important part of his being. He has being, is not being itself; this being who has being, lives in the flux of time and outside of eternity. He is therefore not at his end, but he seeks his end, must act toward that end, which means that he must exercise his will toward that end. Man is in pursuit of happiness. That pursuit requires the exercise of the will. That will is ultimately moved by man's intellect, for in the created being, the will follows the intellect, which is the storehouse of knowledge: Intellectus movet voluntatem.*

But the intellect does not move the will necessarily: "The good perceived" by the intellect, St. Thomas says, "moves the will in the same way as a man who counsels or persuades, that is to say, by pointing out the goodness of an object." Bertke, 46-47.

The intellect's role in moving the will, however, is not one-way or unilateral. The will likewise affects the intellect:

This reciprocal causality by which the intellect proposes various goods to the will as capable of attainment, and the will freely chooses between the goods proposed, while retaining within itself the power to direct the intellect tot he consideration of particular goods, helps us to understand that statement[s] of St. Thomas that the "judgment which decides that a certain action is to be placed can never be out of harmony with appetite," and "evil desire is always linked up with some error of practical knowledge."

Bertke, 47.***

In further exploring the role of the intellect in the classical natural law theory, we must distinguish between particular knowledge and universal or general knowledge. The former is more important in our moral life because it is more proximate to the day-to-day moral decisions that we make. It is a particularization of the universal or general principles that governs us in the concrete. Indeed, the universal knowledge that we have "has no value whatever unless particularized for the action itself, which, as concerned with concrete things, is always the result of a particular judgment acting as the dispositive cause." Bertke, 47. The moral life is lived in the particular and concrete, and practical judgment is concerned with the practical and concrete. It moves and lives and thrives in the rough-and-tumble and dizzying world of contingency, a world of virtue and vice, of habit and one-of-a-kind acts, of detail and flux, of impulse and counter-impulse, of sense and passion, in both light and fog and darkness, and in heat and in cold. It does not find itself in some Kantian intellectual ivory tower, withdrawn from the real world into an idealistic dream world of pure reason or in some Nor does it find itself in some utilitarian accounting office with a moral abacus which counts all evil results and all good results of any one act from here to eternity to calculate with precision what is right and what is wrong.

Knowledge of the good is thus essential for right moral action, even though the will is not necessarily moved by knowledge of the good. Yet, it is messy in the real world where decisions are made. And it is a fact of life that we may lack that knowledge of the good. We may, in fact, labor in ignorance. Our intellect may suffer from some privation.

Considering that knowledge and its influence over the will is so essential to the moral life, what happens when that knowledge is lacking?
*Contra gentiles, III.88.2 (So, no created substance can move the will except by means of a good which is understood. Nulla igitur substantia creata potest movere voluntatem nisi mediante bono intellecto.) See also S. T. Ia, q. 82 art. 4 co. (A thing is said to move in two ways: First, as an end; for instance, when we say that the end moves the agent. In this way the intellect moves the will, because the good understood is the object of the will, and moves it as an end. Et hoc modo intellectus movet voluntatem, quia bonum intellectum est obiectum voluntatis, et movet ipsam ut finis.)
**De malo, q. 3, art. 3, c. (For we say that the apprehended object moves the will, and we say that one who commends or persuades moves the will in this way, namely, inasmuch as such a one makes something seem good (Regan's translation). [N]am bonum apprehensum movere dicitur voluntatem; et per hunc modum dicitur movere consilians vel suadens, in quantum scilicet facit apparere aliquod esse bonum). Bertke translates rather freely it thus: "The good perceived moves the will in the same way that a man who counsels and persuades, that is to say, by pointing out the goodness of an object." Bertke, 46-47.
***The quotes are to
De veritate, q. 24, art. 2, c. (Sed iudicium de hoc particulari operabili, ut nunc, nunquam potest esse contrarium appetitui) and De malo, q. 16, art. 6, ad. 11 (perversitas appetitus non possit esse sine falsitate cognitionis).

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