Thursday, September 16, 2010

On a recent episode of Top Chef,  one of the contestants said while the judges were deciding who would be eliminated, "Things are so close, it's subjectivity at this point." One of the judges admitted that all of the dishes were good, and so they were "splitting hairs." In this case it is literally a question of taste, but is it merely subjective? We could say that judgment is subjective, but the object of the knowledge -- is that the same for all? But what is being judged -- how appealing the dish is to an individual, not whether it has certain flavors, textures, and so on. The ordering of flavors and other sensory data, and how the various criteria combine and integrate into an overall impression, leading to some feeling of like or dislike -- this is up to the individual judge.

Is it possible for someone to go beyond simple like and dislike and over-analyze a dish? Is a judge merely reporting their reactions and preferences (like Anthony Bourdain), or is his judgment affected by the analysis that he applies to the food (as it seems to be the case with some of the other judges).

Hugh Walters on Vincent McNabb, O.P.

The Thomist Inheritance and the Household Economy of Father Vincent McNabb

When St Thomas analyses property in the Commentary on the Sentences, the Summa Contra Gentiles, his lectures on Aristotle and the Summa Theologiae, he is not talking of the early communal apostolic life of the early church which could still be found in religious life. He is talking of ordinary ownership, and borrows his main line of thought from Aristotle’s Politics. The key texts in the Summa Theologiae are contained in 11-11 q.66, where he is discussing theft and robbery. Property is essentially about things (res), not, as later for Locke, ourselves, our life and our liberty as well as our possessions. Property involves ownership or control (dominium). This can be divided up into managing or taking care of them and distributing them (potestas procurandi et dispensandi) on the one hand, but also the use of things. Thomas does not in fact discuss quite how property is acquired—a lacuna leading to much diversion in later thought. The basic reason why this ownership is appropriate is argued from Genesis 1: the dominion given over the creation.

The main problem, though, is that of private property (propriam possidere): with what justification can someone come to appropriate for themselves what is common to all, or at least open to be appropriated by all? Thomas argues that private property is both permitted and necessary. The reasons for this are common sense ones, given human nature as it is: that everyone is more concerned to acquire their own things rather than what is common; common tasks will belong to everyone and no one; that it is simply more efficient and better organised to run one’s own affairs, and finally that there is less to quarrel about. He claims that it is what is jointly owned that is the basis of the most frequent disputes. Here he was running up against the radical tradition of the Church Fathers, who by and large saw private property as the basis of disputes. To incorporate this tradition, Thomas in his next paragraph seems to take back what he said, in discussing the use of things as opposed to their management.’ In this regard things are not held as private property but ut communes—as common, for the common good, the whole community. In need each should readily share with others. He quotes I Timothy, that the rich should give easily and communicate their wealth to others. Private property for Thomas is an extension of the natural law, part of human law, made by agreement, a device of human reason. It has been claimed, not without some justification, that the history of natural law (particularly that to do with property) is ‘an attempt to rearrange the elements of the puzzle left by Aquinas.’ The reason for this is the difficulty of reconciling the very idea of private property (with its concomitant idea of developing the resources of the earth) with the ability of those in need to have prior claim to it. What in fact does private property amount to?

The limits of property rights clarify the rhetorical flourishes of those who wanted to abolish the distinction of mine and thine. Here Thomas relies on the discussion of almsgiving or charity eleemosyna) to declare what became traditional teaching: some resources are essential for the survival of oneself and one’s household; some are necessary to one’s state of life and business affairs, or paying debts. These can be called absolute and relative necessity. Finally there are superflua, or luxuries. What should be done in justice with each of these elements of one’s own belongings?

In times of extreme need, ‘for anyone in that condition, all resources become common resources’. There is no theft morally: people in this condition are simply taking from the common stock. They are entitled to do so. Likewise those who have what is necessary for one’s state in life or superflua under a duty in strict justice to help those whose need they are aware of where there is dire need all around, the individual must judge what is best under the guidance of good sense. When there is no famine the rich ought by natural right to sustain the poor who do not have enough for a decent life out of their superflua: these are also held in common. Quite what is relatively necessary and what is superfluous is left up to individual judgement, a true judgement unswayed by consumerism, as we would say today. Yet, as Finnis says, for the distribution of superflua legislation is appropriate.

Two very important points arise out of this discussion of property. Distributive justice, what is owed to the poor in strict justice, is a matter for every owner, every householder. It is not primarily a matter for the state, contrary to our modern assumptions. Ownership is a good thing, limiting the power of the state and giving the rich the opportunity to give of their abundance both in justice and in charity. The second point is that Thomas says quite clearly that a man cannot have more than enough without another having less than enough (II-II 118 a.1 and 2). Finnis emphasises that even though economics is not a zero sum game, Thomas is still right to say this: ‘For if we set aside the possible world in which everyone everywhere has enough to meet all their needs, superflua truly belong to others; anyone who keeps them is depriving, and indeed stealing from those to whom they should by one means or another have been made available.’ The thoughts of St Thomas are taken up with clarity by McNabb who wrote ‘Study not merely to give God his due by worship but to give man his due by justice. What is superfluous to your poor estate distribute. This is distributive charity; a virtue so sacred that crimes against it are the forerunners of inevitable doom’.
Hrm... Distributive justice is to be executed by the owner, rather than the ruler? Who has charge over common goods has charge over their distribution -- so how is that which is owned by an individual "common"? If it is common, then how is it owned or property? But the point St. Thomas is making is that that which is superfluous reverts to being "common" in times of urgent need. But who should be handling the distribution -- those who have ownership of common goods, or those who had original ownership?

If it is the community as a whole that has ownership over what is common to all, then either it is the community as a whole, or those who are appointed to rule, who have the responsibility for distributing those goods, rather than the original owner?

Hence, an additional solution might be to argue that owners have some share in ruling and therefore this is part of their discharge of their duty as a ruler, but I do not think this is what the author is claiming. This solution may not be sustainable, even if it may be in accord with certain republican sympathies.

Is it more an act of charity than of distributive justice? (And should not one's effort in producing those goods play some role not only in determining ownership/property claims, but also merit?)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pope's Address to German Envoy

Pope's Address to German Envoy

"Marriage Is ... Between a Man and a Woman"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 13, 2010 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today upon receiving the letters of credence of Walter Jürgen Schmid, the new German ambassador to the Holy See.

* * *

Mr. Ambassador,

I am pleased to take advantage of the occasion of the solemn handing of the Letters of Credence that accredit you as ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Holy See, to welcome you and to express my best wishes for your high mission. My heartfelt thanks for the kind words you addressed to me, also in the name of the federal president, Mr. Christian Wulff, and of the federal government. I am pleased to extend the greeting of blessing to the head of state, to the members of the government and to all the citizens of Germany, with the hope that the good relations between the Holy See and the Federal Republic of Germany will continue in the future and develop further.

Many Christians in Germany are looking forward with great attention to the imminent celebrations of the beatifications of several martyr priests of the time of the Nazi regime. This Sunday, Sept. 19, Gerhard Hirschfelder will be beatified in Munster. During the coming year ceremonies will follow for Georg Hafner in Wurzburg, in addition to those for Johannes Prassek, Hermann Lange and Eduard Muller in Lubeck. Commemorated also with the chaplains of Lubeck will be Evangelical pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink. The attested friendship of the four ecclesiastics is an impressive testimony of the ecumenism of prayer and suffering, flowering in several places during the dark period of the Nazi terror. We can see these testimonies as luminous indications for a common ecumenical path.

Contemplating the figures of these martyrs, it seems ever clearer and exemplary how certain men are willing, given their Christian conviction, to give their own life for the faith, for the right to exercise freely their own creed and liberty of speech, for peace and human dignity. Today, fortunately, we live in a free and democratic society.

At the same time, however, we observe how among our contemporaries, there is no strong attachment to religion, as in the case of these witnesses of the faith. One might ask if there are today Christians that, without compromises, make themselves guarantors of their own faith. On the contrary, many show a general inclination toward permissive religious conceptions also for themselves. Instead of the Christian's personal God, who reveals himself in the Bible, they posit a supreme, mysterious and indeterminate being, who has only a vague relationship with the human being's personal life.

Such conceptions increasingly animate discussion within the society, especially in regard to the realm of justice and legislation. However, if one abandons faith in a personal God, the alternative arises of a "god" who does not know, does not listen and does not speak. And, more than ever before, does not have a will. If God does not have his own will, in the end good and evil are not distinguished, good and evil are no longer in contradiction to one another, but are in an opposition in which one is complementary of the other. Thus man loses his moral and spiritual strength, necessary for the complete development of the person. Social action is dominated increasingly by private interest or by the calculation of power, at the expense of society.

Instead, if God is a Person -- and the order of creation as well as the presence of Christians of conviction in society is a sign of this -- it follows that an order of values is legitimized. There are signs, which can also be found in recent times, that give proof of the development of new relations between the state and religion, also beyond the great Christian Churches which up to now were determinant. Hence, in this situation Christians have the task of following this development positively and critically, in addition to refining the senses for the fundamental and permanent importance of Christianity, in laying the bases and forming the structures of our culture.

However, the Church sees with concern the growing attempt to eliminate the Christian concept of marriage and the family from the conscience of society. Marriage is manifested as a lasting union of love between a man and a woman, which is also directed to the transmission of human life. One of its conditions is the willingness of the spouses to relate one to the other forever. Necessary, because of this, is a certain maturity of the person and a fundamental existential and social attitude: a "culture of the person" as my predecessor John Paul II once said. The existence of this culture of the person depends also on social developments.

It can be seen that in a society the culture of the person is lowered; often it is derived, paradoxically, from the growth of the standard of life. In the preparation and support of the spouses, it is necessary to create the basic conditions to build-up and develop this culture. At the same time we must be aware that the success of marriages depends on all of us, on the personal culture of each citizen. In this connection, the Church cannot approve legislative initiatives that imply a reappraisal of alternative models of the life of a couple and of the family. These contribute to the weakening of the principles of the Natural Law and thus to relativizing the whole of legislation and also to confusion on the values in society.

It is a principle of the Christian faith, anchored in Natural Law, that the human person be protected precisely in a situation of weakness. The human being always has priority in regard to other objectives. The new possibilities of biotechnology and medicine often put us in difficult situations that seem to walk on the razor's edge. We have the duty to study diligently to what point these methods can be of help to man and where, instead, it is a question of the manipulation of man, of violation of his integrity and dignity. We cannot reject this progress, but we must be very diligent. Once one begins to distinguish -- and this now happens often in the maternal womb -- between a worthy life and a life unworthy of living, no other phase of life will be safe, and even less so old age and infirmity.

The construction of a human society requires fidelity to truth. In this context, lately, certain phenomena that are operating in the realm of the public media make one reflect: being in an ever greater competition, the media feel driven to arouse the greatest possible attention. In addition, there is the contrast made by the news in general, even if it goes against the veracity of the report. The subject becomes particularly problematic when authoritative persons take a public position in this respect, without being able to confirm the aspects adequately. The attempt of the federal government to be involved in these cases, in so far as possible, in a pondered and pacifying way, is received favorably.

Mr. Ambassador, you have my best wishes for your work and for the contacts you will have with representatives of the Roman Curia, with the diplomatic corps and also with priests, religious and lay faithful involved in ecclesial activities who live here in Rome. I implore from my heart for you, for your distinguished consort, for your men and women collaborators in the embassy an abundant divine blessing.

[Translation by ZENIT]
James Chastek, ramble on extension and Space as opposed to being

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Vatican analyst: Catholic use of contraception linked to silence of clergy

I think someone had blogged on this before... maybe over at Ignatius Insight. I read only the headline, so I didn't know the original source was from Sandro Magister:

"Ego te absolvo." The Catholic Route to Birth Control
The Church forbids contraceptive methods. But it has always been more indulgent in the confessional, not only today but also in the past. Here is what priests did in the first half of the twentieth century, in one of the most Christianized areas of Italy