Friday, December 15, 2006

Duties Before Rights

Duties Before Rights

Interview With Director of Van Thuan Observatory

VERONA, Italy, DEC. 15, 2006 ( By promoting a culture of rights without first promoting a culture of duties, society creates a "babel" of rights in which the strong prevail over the weak, says the director the Van Thuan Observatory.

Stefano Fontana, who heads the institute that promotes the social doctrine of the Church, is also the author of "Per una politica dei doveri dopo il fallimento della stagione dei diritti" (For a Politics of Duties After the Failure of the Season of Rights), published in Italian by Cantagalli of Siena.

In this interview, which also appears on the Web page of the observatory, the author explains why it is necessary for a society to not only promote duties, but to make them a priority.

Q: Two questions immediately come to mind when reading the title of your book. The first is: Has the season of rights failed already? Are we still far from the complete fulfillment of human rights?

Fontanta: It is true that many people in the world do not enjoy even the most basic human rights. But I wonder: Isn't this because other people in the world have sped up the race for the state of the art rights to the point that they have transformed all their desires into rights?

Q: But the Church, and especially Pope John Paul II, has been a leading advocate for human rights for a very long time.

Fontana: The question is not to deny rights, in fact the opposite is true. The point is that we have to understand that without duties rights spiral upon themselves, they annul each other. In the end, the babel of rights leads to the triumph of the right of the strongest. The rights themselves, in order to be truly such, must accept the priority of duty over them. This is the right way to protect rights and the Church has always done that.

Q: Why talk about the priority of duty? Isn't it enough to reaffirm the complementarity between duties and rights?

Fontana: Any right has a corresponding duty and vice versa, this is absolutely true but it is not sufficient. It is easy, in fact, to artificially fabricate a duty that can be used as a justification for a new right. In Italy, the right to abortion is recognized by a law that starts from the duty to nurture life. The right to euthanasia is based on the duty to relieve suffering. The complementarity between rights and duties is true but is susceptible to ideological manipulation. We really have to go back to the priority of duty.

Q: And this priority of duties would be grounded on what?

Fontana: On the priority of receiving and accepting over producing. We do not produce ourselves but we receive and accept ourselves. We do not produce nature but we receive and accept it, we do not produce culture but we receive and accept it. Of course, we also do produce, but on the basis of an original receiving and accepting.

Q: Receiving and accepting implies a duty?

Fontana: Duty is "being available" while a right is "to have the availability of" something. This is why duty does not come from within us but from the outside. Now we have to decide if we are our own masters and the masters of our own being or if we, ourselves, and our own being are entrusted to us as a task. Modern thought holds the first belief and therefore absolutizes rights, I hold the second belief and thus I start from the duties, i.e., from a call, from a task that has been entrusted to us.

Q: It seems to me that the "I" is a rather risky concept: Isn't the "I," i.e., the subject, the place of free creativity? After all, we are who we want to be. We are the architects of our lives.

Fontana: According to the modern notion of consciousness, this is true: the "I" is a pure consciousness that shapes itself as it wishes. However, according to Christian philosophy, from Augustine to Wojtyla, the "I" is not pure consciousness, but is consciousness of being, i.e., it is a subject that becomes aware that it is something that is given to itself. I am first and foremost also a task for myself, I am a duty to myself, I cannot even dispose of myself, as well as of others, as I wish.

Q: In other words, the priority of duty over rights is the response to a call that comes from outside, from transcendence that is?

Fontana: Rights refer to the right to do something. Thus, they refer to having the availability of something. Instead, duty is to be available. Thus, it refers to a dimension that is unavailable to me, which I cannot use but which I must serve. Since it refers to the unavailable, duty always refers to the transcendent. As Dostoevsky said, without God there is nothing a man is bound not do; i.e., there are only rights and not duties.

Q: In the title we see the word "politics." What does politics have to do with duties?

Fontana: Our society is dying from rights. The right to produce man in laboratories and, in general, the right of doing any action is absolutizing technology, and technology alone is deadly. Rights will never put a limit on themselves. Rights are the right to do something; there will always be new things to do and therefore new rights, without any limits. Limits stem from duties. A politics of duties is a politics of sense and of limit.

Q: A politics of duties, where do we start?

Fontana: A politics of duties concerns all social spheres. However, if I were to suggest a starting point, I would say it is the theme of life. It is the first duty we are entrusted with, the first duty that is placed in our hands. When life is denied, all the subsequent duties are weakened and at the end only the rights prevail.

Q: Could you suggest other realms where a politics of duties might be urgent?

Fontana: I think about the fact that we have many universal declarations of rights but none of duties. I think about the fact that no community identity can be created without duties and therefore the dialogue between cultures is extremely difficult. I think about the crisis of citizenship if it does not become an ethical citizenship, i.e., one that is grounded on sharing duties. I think about the many subjects of civil society that would be ready to take on new responsibilities, i.e., duties.

Devopment of Doctrine East and West

Scott Carson's post

Again, thanks to Dr. Liccione.

Ancestral sin and original sin

Ephrem Hugh Bensusan on original sin and ancestral sin

See also his Original Sin in the Eastern Orthodox Confessions and Catechisms and Fr. George Mastrantonis on Ancestral Sin.

Thanks to Dr. Liccione.

Plus, he writes:
An excellent example of the traditional schema for rejecting the Immaculate Conception can be found in the book The Orthodox Veneration of Mary the Birthgiver of God, by St. John Maximovitch, the relevant chapter of which can be found here.

If one aspect of original sin is inheritable corruption of the body, why should the Blessed Mother not be preserved from it? After all, she contributes 1/2 the matter at conception; if God were to purify the matter miraculously, one could make the case that the Blessed Mother is not really a mother at all, just a womb or incubator.

Plato, The Laws

The Internet Classics Archive Laws by Plato
Alfred Edward Taylor's translation
Banjamin Jowett's translation
unknown translation
Perseus: English, Greek

OUP: The Laws of Plato

Other links:
Plato's Laws in the Hands of Aristotle (pdf)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate

Evolutionary psychology vs... Aristotelian physics. Two alternate explanations of how something is what it is? Is Aristotelian physics committed to a view of efficient causality that precludes neo-Darwinism? I have written on that elsewhere... just some comments.

If the matter is proportioned to form and function, then should we not expect that the body and its tools, including the brain, are hard-wired in a certain way, and differently for the sexes, if being of a certain sex entails a certain role and function within Creation?

book website; Amazon
Biology vs. the Blank Slate
Edge; interview
Tanner lecture
MIT world

Q&A with Steve Sailer; Pinker's Progress
The Great Debate
Observer review

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Used to translate dominus or kurios (and a synonym of lord in this sense).

But also used to translate magister (but not exactly a synonym of teacher).

Which sense is being used to refer to one's teacher? I would think the second. I believe master in the second second is what translates the degree and title conferred upon those who received the appropriate university education in the middle ages and thus had a license to teach.
One is a teacher of some science or skill or art, having 'mastered' it.

It is not the same as being called a master because one is the master of some person. Today in our egalitarian age this meaning of master is unpleasant. I should look up the meaning of si, as in si fu.

Ckhnat has a post on the use of master or lord to refer to one's husband (after the example of Sarah in the OT. This would make me a bit uncomfortable, and seems to me to be an example of illegitimate or sinful patriarchy. A wife is not a slave or maid of the husband. Still, the Church teaches that is a rightful exercise of authority by the husband over the family (as a social unit).

John Finnis critiques Aquinas' account of the husband-wife relationship in his Aquinas, Moral , Political, and Legal Theory, pages 171-5. What would Finnis make of Fr. Check's The Authority of the Husband According to the Magisteruim?

From Christian Order, Karol Wojtyla and the Patriarchal Hierarchy of the Family by G.C. DILSAVER

Edited, 5 April 2007:
Holy Thursday at St. Columkille was a mixed English-Spanish Mass. During the Mass I was thinking of master again, and was look at the Spanish maestro, which seems to be derived from magister. Though the etymology of master is not as obvious to me, I came home to check and see what info was available online. This is what I found at Online Etymology Dictionary:

master (n.)
O.E. mægester "one having control or authority," from L. magister "chief, head, director, teacher" (cf. O.Fr. maistre, Fr. maître, It. maestro, Ger. Meister), infl. in M.E. by O.Fr. maistre, from L. magister, contrastive adj. from magis (adv.) "more," itself a comp. of magnus "great." Meaning "original of a recording" is from 1904. In academic senses (from M.L. magister) it is attested from 1380s, originally a degree conveying authority to teach in the universities. The verb is attested from c.1225.
I don't think Master should be used as a synonym for Lord (Kurios, Dominus), but if the etymology dictionary is correct, it gained the sense of "one having control or authority" rather early.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Access from BC?

The following work when accessed from BC.

An article by Fr. Cessario:

A review of Fr. Sherwin's book By Knowledge and by Love by Daniel Westberg.

an article about autonomy

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Solomon's prayer

Liber Sapientiae, IX

1 “ Deus patrum meorum et Domine misericordiae,
qui fecisti omnia verbo tuo
2 et sapientia tua constituisti hominem,
ut dominaretur creaturis, quae a te factae sunt,
3 et disponeret orbem terrarum in sanctitate et iustitia
et in directione cordis iudicium iudicaret,
4 da mihi sedium tuarum assistricem sapientiam
et noli me reprobare a pueris tuis,
5 quoniam servus tuus sum ego et filius ancillae tuae,
homo infirmus et exigui temporis
et minor ad intellectum iudicii et legum.
6 Nam, et si quis erit consummatus inter filios hominum,
si ab illo abfuerit sapientia tua, in nihilum computabitur.
7 Tu elegisti me regem populo tuo
et iudicem filiorum tuorum et filiarum;
8 dixisti me aedificare templum in monte sancto tuo
et in civitate habitationis tuae altare,
similitudinem tabernaculi sancti,
quod praeparasti ab initio.
9 Et tecum sapientia, quae novit opera tua,
quae et affuit tunc, cum orbem terrarum faceres,
et sciebat quid esset placitum in oculis tuis
et quid directum in praeceptis tuis.
10 Emitte illam de caelis sanctis tuis
et a sede magnitudinis tuae mitte illam,
ut mecum sit et mecum laboret,
ut sciam quid acceptum sit apud te.
11 Scit enim illa omnia et intellegit
et deducet me in operibus meis sobrie
et custodiet me in sua gloria.
12 Et erunt accepta opera mea,
et diiudicabo populum tuum iuste
et ero dignus sedium patris mei.
13 Quis enim hominum poterit scire consilium Dei?
Aut quis poterit cogitare quid velit Dominus?
14 Cogitationes enim mortalium timidae,
et incertae providentiae nostrae:
15 corpus enim, quod corrumpitur, aggravat animam,
et terrena inhabitatio deprimit sensum multa cogitantem.
16 Et difficile conicimus, quae in terra sunt,
et, quae in prospectu sunt, invenimus cum labore;
quae autem in caelis sunt, quis investigabit?
17 Consilium autem tuum quis sciet,
nisi tu dederis sapientiam
et miseris spiritum sanctum tuum de altissimis?
18 Et sic correctae sunt semitae eorum, qui sunt in terris;
et, quae tibi placent, didicerunt homines
et salvati per sapientiam sunt ”.