Saturday, June 11, 2011

Who’s Afraid of Metaphysics? by Matthew O'Brien and Robert C. Koons (the third of their 3-part series on natural law - parts one and two) [via ML]

US Episcopal Churches gaining momentum to form Ordinariate

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sandro Magister, Bishops Or Mandarins? The Dilemma of the Chinese Church

I hadn't seen this connection made between the legitimacy of the Patriotic Association and support of its autonomy before:

On the support given by American and European theologians to the "autonomy" of the Chinese Church

HON: Unfortunately, there is a theology in America and Europe that is also penetrating into the Chinese Church. This theology claims precisely autonomy in the selection of bishops, and independence from the Holy See. And so there are persons in America and Europe who are pushing the Chinese bishops to behave this way. "If you succeed," they say, "we will follow you."

Until a short time ago, these problems of independence and autonomy were only at the level of governance. Now they are also at the theological level.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Once I Was a Clever Boy: Thomist education

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Social Practices

Matthew O'Brien and Robert C. Koons, June 06, 2011
A notion of “social practice” should guide the way we think about morality and politics. The first in a three-part series.

In the contemporary American context, too often political and moral debates are cast as winner-take-all contests between the false alternatives of organic collectivism and atomistic individualism. Thus ‘conservatives’ are supposed to be individualists who assert the claims of the individual against society and ‘liberals’ are organicists who want to promote social goods by limiting individual freedom. But the rhetoric of either individualism or organicism renders the full range of human concerns inexpressible. We can see this when individualist conservatives suddenly backtrack towards organicism when, say, they defend the social importance of marriage against assertions of personal autonomy; so, too, when organicist liberals defend an extreme individual right to self-expression that conflicts with their professed concern for social welfare.

The puzzle’s solution lies in the conception of a ‘social practice,’ a conception that has played a central role in much of twentieth-century philosophy. Philosophers as diverse as Tyler Burge, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alasdair MacIntyre, Joseph Raz, John Searle, and others have shown how social practices are a significant feature of philosophical anthropology. In order to understand what social practices are, and to see their relevance to our problem, we need to shift the focus from human individuals to the acts performed by human individuals. We will also need to draw a technical distinction between what we’ll call social institutions and social practices, although these terms are interchangeable in everyday use.

In brief, the solution to the problem is this: social institutions, like a state or a university, are aggregates of the human individuals who compose them, and so the goods of human individuals are prior to the goods of the social institutions of which they are parts. Social institutions ‘host’ social practices like politics and education. Social practices, however, are comprised not of human individuals themselves, but of the acts of human individuals. Human acts are the parts that compose social practices, and human acts are determined by the social practices they compose. In other words, social practices are not mere aggregates, and the relation between individual acts and social practices is analogous to the relation between cells and the whole organism of which the cells are parts.

Thus both organic collectivism and atomic individualism have their kernels of truth, which the natural law account of social practices and social institutions preserves. The collectivist goes wrong in supposing that all social forms are, like social practices, organic wholes. The individualist goes wrong in supposing that all social forms are, like social institutions, aggregative. But the social world is populated both by aggregative social institutions (the NFL, the American Bar Association, the New York Philharmonic) and by the holistic social practices (football, law, classical music) that the corresponding social institutions promote and sustain.

On the natural law account, then, each individual human act has a dual dependency, both on the individual subject (the human agent) who performs it and on the particular practice (or practices) to which it belongs. The individual act draws its nature and its individuality from both sources: it wouldn’t be the very act it is if it had either a different subject or belonged to a different practice. For instance, consider your pulling of the voting lever in the booth on November 4, 2008; that action was what it was because of the social practices in which you were a participant. It was an act of voting, an exercise in justice of your civic duty, a parent’s teaching his child by example, and so on. You intended to pull the lever, and pulling the lever was part of the aforementioned social practices.

The human nature of each individual human being is the ground both for the capacity of the human being to enter into social practices and for the need to do so. It is in this sense that we are social or political animals. When an individual human being participates in a social practice, he allows himself to become an agent of the practice by taking into his intention the intrinsic end (telos) of the practice itself. For instance, in order to play baseball, I must act as a baseball player, which involves making the intrinsic end of the game (victory of my team in accordance with the rules) the end of my baseball-related acts. The nature or essence of the act does not depend solely on the agent’s internal psychology: it depends also on the essence of the social practice to which the act belongs.

Taking a page or two from MacIntyre's After Virtue, no?

Our actions can and should have a bearing on others and our associations, including that perfect association or community of the polis... the goods of individuals and goods of groups - same or different? I wonder if what is being expressed here through the use of "social practices" could be done more simply. Man is a social nature, and part of his good is living with others. There is o such thing as a "social" life without reference to other people; and that cannot come to be without those people existing first. When we look at groups or associations, we consider primarily the good of the friendship itself, and the good that is the foundation of the friendship, what unites the friends in the first place. We can think of social practices as those actions that are particular to the members of a group, qua members of that group -- either those that bring about the good(s) upon which the friendship is based, or the actions that belong to friendship itself.

Friendships in associations can become participations in the political common good (communal life), or forms of civic friendship. They are ordered to that, but they can also become "exclusive" and thus detrimental to the community.(E.g. the group desires its good at the expense of that of the community and acts unjustly, etc.)  We are more familiar with abstract/institutionalized forms of associations, or we may  not be aware that these are associations ordered towards friendship because of our mobility and lack of social cohesion/community. We treat such associations as merely friendships of utility and cease our participation once they are no longer useful to us.

Not all associations are potentially political? It may be easy of us to think of associations that do not involve Aristotle's "friendship of virtue" but is this because we conceive of those associations incorrectly, living the atomized lifestyles we do? What I mean is that many do associate with others for the sake of utility or pleasure, and there is no enduring basis for their association, but should we not be aiming at permanence in our relationships? Isn't that the "ideal"?

Perhaps it is time for me to re-read After Virtue.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Michael Morland on John Finnis

Spurred by the release of the 5-volume collected essays of John Finnis, Michael Moreland praises Finnis:
Even those who disagree with him must acknowledge that Finnis's work--preeminently Natural Law and Natural Rights but also his other books and these essays--is among the towering achievements in Catholic intellectual life over the past 50 years.

World-wide? Even if one were to limit the area of influence to the United States, it might still be an exaggeration to claim this about the work of John Finnis. Finnis may have had disciples in the Anglophone world, but has he really persuaded non-Catholics of his version of the Natural Law? Aren't there some Catholic intellectuals who might rank a bit higher? Yves Congar? Louis Bouyer? Perhaps they belong too much to the first half of the twentieth century. How about Joseph Ratzinger, then? Or another contemporary theologian. I'm naming people who aren't Dominicans or Thomists, just to emphasize the point-why Finnis? Is he receiving credit (by a disciple) for creating a novel account of natural law and natural law morality? He doesn't present himself as a exponent of the Thomistic tradition in moral theology/philosophy. If this world continues for another 500 years, I'd be surprised if the work of Finnis (or the NNLT) continues to find readers...



Kevin Lee, A Sample of John Finnis


Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Archdruid's latest, In the World After Abundance, called to mind some of the comments for this thread at The Spearhead, Still They Serve, which advocated nuclear energy. We all like our American way of life, the convenience and its easiness. Some would perpetuate it at all costs, dismissing the risks involved as negligible. Some men(?) have even criticized Angela Merkel's decision to move Germany away from nuclear energy as the typical decision-making of a woman, valuing security/safety more than anything else. I haven't done the risk analysis and I question the use of statistics in arguments, but even if safety/health is not the highest good for human beings, can we say that a life of convenience is worth the risk of something really bad happening?

How does the argument from safety against nuclear energy differ from the corresponding argument for gun control/prohibition? Does it follow from whether the fear is reasonable or not? Is inaction therefore justified? (We would then have to deal with the question of risk assessments. Oh, and the commensurability of goods.) Or is it because a gun is not always in use while a nuclear power plant is? The negative effects of nuclear power are always being contained while the plant is in operation. What can the nuclear power plant be protected against, and how many different things could happen to threaten it? Only one bad thing could happen with a gun, its being misused, so in comparison the number of safeguards that are needed for a gun are fewer.

Women are typically more cautious, while men are more willing to take risks.
Each "attitude" or inclination has its place, but one must consider the reasonableness of the inclination by the goods involved. It may be foolhardy to risk death for $50. But for $200 million, if it could help one's family and village?

I haven't really focused on this aspect of moral reasoning before...

(cross-posted at The New Beginning)

The limits of human law

The Western Confucian juxtaposes the view of the state (and law) given by Nicholas Hosford in The Role of the State with John Finnis's interpretation of Aquinas in his SEP article. According to the latter, "coercive jurisdiction extends to defending persons and property both by force and by the credible threat of punishment for criminal or other unjust appropriation or damage[, b]ut it does not extend to enforcing any part of morality other than the requirements of justice insofar as they can be violated by acts external to the choosing and acting person's will."

In his article dealing with the limits of law, Aquinas writes that law prohibits "only the more grievous vices," chiefly grave forms of injustice. But it is not necessarily limited to prohibiting injustice, as Finnis (and liberals) would maintain. Because of the unity of the virtues, one could argue that law can prohibit those "private" vices which could potentially undermine justice and living up to one's obligations to the community. (Is it not the case that disordered desires can lead to the performing of unjust acts for the sake of fulfilling those desires?) Injustice is a direct threat to communal living, but it seems to me that law can be used to protect all that is ordered to virtuous life with others.


One way to counter this is deny this thesis of the unity of the virtues (as Finnis does, I believe - I will have to double-check). One can separate the acquisition of justice from the acquisition of the other virtues. Finnis does this by weakening the notion of virtue to the point that it is simply habitual rule-following. One of his disciples, Robert George, allows for the extent of law to be greater (so that it encompasses the banning of pornography, for example). I will have to see if he diverges from Finnis in his premises. (Making Men Moral and In Defense of Natural Law.)
David Werling, Why Not the Univocal?
A Response to Fr. Cavalcoli in the Ongoing Debate
Regarding Vatican II and the Traditionalist Critique

(Fr. Giovanni Cavalcoli, Why Not Univocal Indeed!)

Does God command genocide?

Two by Kyle Cupp: Genocide and Divine Command Theory and Authoritarian Ethics. See the comments to the first by Dominic Holtz, O.P. and A Sinner.