Saturday, March 06, 2010

"Aristotelian Liberals"

A FB group:

Aristotelian Liberalism is a burgeoning tradition in political philosophy, an Aristotelian form of classical liberalism or libertarianism.

Aristotelian Liberalism synthesizes the best features of Aristotelian ethical and political thought and liberal political and economic thought. Aristotelian Liberals argue that a neo-Aristotelian philosophy not only provides liberalism with a sounder foundation, it also provides liberalism with the resources to answer traditional left-liberal, communitarian, and conservative challenges by avoiding some Enlightenment pitfalls that have plagued it since its inception: atomism, an a-historical and a-contextual view of human nature, license, excessive normative neutrality, the impoverishment of ethics and the trivialization of rights.

Aristotelian Liberalism attempts to transcend the liberal/communitarian debate by embracing liberalism's commitment to pluralism, diversity, and the free market while grounding politics in a eudaimonistic theory of virtue ethics and natural rights. Aristotelian Liberalism avoids the specters that continue to plague communitarianism – paternalism and totalitarianism – and the traditional communitarian and conservative criticisms of liberalism – atomism and license – while promoting freedom in community and human flourishing.

Aristotelian Liberalism holds that man's natural end is a life of eudaimonia (flourishing); that virtue is constitutive of one's own flourishing but must be freely chosen to count as such; that man is a profoundly social being, but nevertheless that individuals are ends-in-themselves and not means to the ends of others; that the right to liberty is a metanormative ethical principle necessary for protecting the possibility of all forms of human flourishing and an interpersonal ethical principle such that rights-respecting behavior is constitutive of one's own eudaimonia. Thus, unlike most Enlightenment versions of liberalism, Aristotelian Liberalism is not solely concerned with rights or political justice narrowly conceived. It is also important to identify ethical and cultural institutions and principles necessary for bringing about and maintaining a free and flourishing society.

Hence, Aristotelian Liberalism embraces free markets and free enterprise but not statist capitalism; it is severely critical of the state. There is still an excessive focus on the State and what it can and should do for us. Our focus, rather, needs to return to a notion of politics as discourse and deliberation between equals in joint pursuit of eudaimonia and to what we as members of society can and should do for ourselves and each other. True immanent politics presupposes liberty. Thus, Aristotelian Liberalism seeks to shift the locus of politics from the state to civil society. The market is not the whole of society, however; nor is politics - rather, both are aspects of society while the state is an antisocial institution.

Some prominent Aristotelian liberals are:
Douglas Rasmussen (

Douglas Den Uyl, VP of Educational Programs at Liberty Fund (

Roderick Long (

Chris Matthew Sciabarra (

Fred D. Miller, Jr. (

Ayn Rand (

Fellow Travelers:
Murray Rothbard (

For your convenience, edification and reading/viewing pleasure, I have created an Aristotelian Liberal Store (, which includes books on this burgeoning political philosophy, on market anarchism and the Austrian school of economics, and liberty-themed fiction - especially fantasy and science fiction (books and dvds).

Edward Feser on Fr. Pinckaers

From the comments to his latest:

Hello all,

Bwall and Anon 1, I agree that Pinckaers intends to be fair-minded and doesn't indulge in the knee-jerk Neo-Scholastic bashing others do. But I still think he's just wrong to pit the manualists' understanding of obligation against the other themes mentioned -- as if what existed was an incompatibility, as opposed to a mere difference of emphasis -- and gravely wrong to insinuate that the manualists' position somehow presupposes Ockhamism (especially given that he concedes, as of course he must, that they were not nominalists). In general, I am utterly opposed to the mentality that holds that Catholic thought -- here or elsewhere -- somehow got way off track between Trent and Vatican II, a mentality which you find in writers like Pinckaers no less than in dissenters like Curran and Co. And this sort of mindset has, unfortunately, contributed to a contemporary tendency of even some conservative Catholic thinkers to want to distance themselves somewhat from the manualists. This nonsense has got to stop.

As Bruce says, though, the mentality is to be found in surprising places, and I think you're right, Bruce, to see a tendency toward Platonism as part of the problem, at least among conservatives who evince hostility to Aristotelianism, Thomism, Neo-Scholasticism, etc. In conservative Catholic circles, this "Platonic" mentality manifests itself in a tendency to pit Augustinianism and the Church Fathers in general against the period between Trent and Vatican II. This is standard nouvelle theologie shtick, for example, which one finds in de Lubac, Balthasar, et al.

Part of the motivation here is ecumenical -- a desire to minimize Catholic-Protestant differences. Part of it is a tendency toward mysticism and a temperamental dislike of the rigor and systematic quality of Scholastic thinking. And part of it reflects, I think, a moral rigorism of its own -- a dislike of the realistic and down-to-earth quality of the manualists' approach to ethics, and an insistence on something more high-falutin' and touchy-feely.

This is why in sexual morality, for example, these folks often fling around the same sorts of caricaures of Neo-Scholasticism that theological liberals do -- "All those horrible manualists cared about is what body part goes where" blah blah blah -- and prefer to talk instead about a communion of persons, "one flesh union" etc. That's all fine as far as it goes, but sure enough, the moment they have to explain why exactly this rules out homosexual acts, marital sodomy, and the like, they are themselves back to talking about... why this body part is supposed to go here rather than there etc. But they do so in a way that is totally unconvincing to those who don't already agree with them, because they've chucked out the A-T metaphysics that makes the appeal to natural function intelligible. The whole thing is farcical.

In other ways too I think the decision of many Catholic conservatives after Vatican II to abandon the Neo-Scholastic tradition has been rather obviously a disaster. The disappearance of general apologetics is only one example: In response to the militant secularism that has only increased since Vatican II (all the "dialogue" with "modern man" notwithstanding), too many conservative Catholics have nothing to say except that Christianity is a better way of upholding "the digity of the human person" -- which, of course, secularists don't buy for a moment, because they disagree in the first place about what counts as upholding the dignity of the human person. To settle that question requires getting into the metaphysics of human nature, the metaphysics of the good, and all the other stuff the Neo-Scholastics did so well and their successors do so badly when they do it at all. There is also the collapse of catechesis and the disappearance of a general understanding among the faithful of what Catholic theology teaches and how it all fits together into a rational system -- something R. R. Reno lamented in a recent First Things piece, and traced to the abandonment of Neo-Scholasticism.

Is it merely a difference in emphasis? Or is obligation/law taken to be the foundational principle for the science, around which everything else is "organized"? Which offers a better moral theology, the Summa Theologiae or the manuals?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Zenit: On St. Bonaventure
"Proposing This Theme I Feel a Certain Nostalgia"

St. Thomas Aquinas must be coming up soon; perhaps next week?

Francesco Sisci, A new battle for Confucius

A new battle for Confucius By Francesco Sisci (via the Western Confucian)

A new translation of Mozi's corpus has been made available by the Chinese University Press:
The Mozi: A Complete Translation by Ian Johnston (Translator). The Chinese University Press (December 15, 2009). ISBN-10: 9629962705. Price US$85, 1,032 pages.

It looks like the same translation is being published by Columbia University Press here in the States. Too bad it's not bilingual.

Mr. Sisci writes:
Furthermore, Mozi's doctrine of "universal love" sounded like the idea of Christian love propagated in the 17th century, as well as like the drive to egalitarianism by the communists in the 20th century.

The Confucianis criticized the Mohists for obliterating social relations -- if this charge is accurate (I haven't read the complete Mohist corpus, only selections), then Mozi and his followers are more like liberals than Christians. The Christian tradition has a doctrine of universal love (which is not identical with Confucian ren, given that the object of charity is primarily God), but it also recognizes that there is an order in charity. Moreover, we have different duties to people, according to their relation to us, or what they have done for us. Hence, the allied virtues to justice. I do not recall what the Mohist account of justice is, and whether they recognize these duties. It's something I'll have to research, if I obtain a copy of the complete corpus.

He also contrasts Mozi with Sunzi:

Importantly, the book provides a basis to reconsider an important aspect of Chinese traditional thinking - military strategy. Johnston is the first person to provide both a credible Chinese textual reconstruction and a translation of Mozi's military chapters. Mozi theorized about defensive wars and his followers, the Mohists, were renowned tacticians who helped organize the defense of small states being attacked by larger ones.

This was at a time when small states were being gobbled up by large ones competing for dominance in the Chinese central plain. The aggressive theories of famous strategist Sunzi helped conceive those and many other future wars of attack, whereas Mozi argued against aggressive wars.

It is very likely that, as popularly described in the unsuccessful 2006 Chinese-Japanese movie production Mo Gong, in the Third century BC Mohist militants aided small states to withstand attacks and then tried to apply radical political and social reforms that went against the interests of the local elites.

Johnston's translation of Mozi could cast new light on Sunzi's theories and Chinese strategic thinking. It's possible that gong, a word commonly understood as aggressive war, at the time meant more precisely war by a large force against a small one, as Lu Xiang, a modern student of Sunzi argues in a forthcoming essay. This kind of war is what Sunzi preferred and Mozi opposed.
Sunzi does not appear to be in favor of unjust wars of aggression, as he does discuss the moral component of victory. Teachers of maneuver warfare and 3GW claim Sunzi as one of their own; numbers may be important if one is one the attack, so it is not clear to me that this is a justification of conquest of smaller polities by larger polities. Did Mozi advocate a purely reactive form of warfare? If so, he would seem to be a bit too idealistic, to the point of causing defeat for anyone who followed his teachings. I remember reading one issue of Lone Wolf and Cub in which the protagonist tells a dying samurai who was disgraced because he did not stay with his lord's palaquin but chose instead to go on the offensive against assassins that attack and defense are the same, since they have the same object.

(How deep is Mr. Sisci's understanding of contemporary Chinese society and classical Chinese culture? He seems to be an apologist for the present government and the Patriotic Associations.)

I'd like to read up on Mohist logic. (Indian logic too.)

Related links:
Mozi - Chinese Text Project
Mozi and Confucianism

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Meaning of Life

At the reception for xiao Jimmy's wedding one of his high school friends asked for an update on my life, and remembered I had been studying philosophy. He jokingly asked, "What's the meaning of life." That is the question Americans associate with philosophy, I suppose. This question can be understood in two ways: an existential question that aims at knowing what the purpose or end of human living is, and thus it relates to ethics. Or a more "general" question that pertains to metaphysics -- why do things exist. (Of course, this is a question which does have import for how we live.) The short and simple answer for both questions is God. It might have been a good opportunity to talk about God being our ultimate end. But would this have been well-received, even if I were to approach as a philosopher rather than as a Christian? Would it have been prudent to talk about our Lord then? I regret not taking the conversation to a more serious level.
The FSSP is running a series of articles originally written by Dr. Dennis McInerny for their letter.

Qui non est mecum, contra me est; et, qui non congregat mecum, spargit.

Matthew 12:30

Yesterday at school I was struck by the absence of God during the school day -- that is, He is not mentioned at all. It is what you would expect at an American public school, but how can this be acceptable to any right-thinking person of good will? The other day a student said, "Oh my God," and I told him not to say that. Unfortunately I didn't have a chance to explain to him way, that we should not take His name in vain; we should instead reverence it. (I wouldn't want to give him the impression that being a secularist or anti-theist is the norm.)

At any rate, man can come to know that he has a duty to pay due homage to God as Creator of the universe, to perform the acts proper to the virtue of religio. This is a precept of the Natural Law, even if it cannot be fulfilled perfectly without from grace and charity. Our public schools, in ignoring God and refusing to discuss Him (as opposed to teaching about "religions"), thereby belittle His importance and foster the lack of proper respect. God has no place in the daily life of our public schools, and students are habituated accordingly -- much potential spiritual growth for beginners is hampered with God is effectively excluded for half of the day (7 or 8 hours out of the 16 during which we are awake). If we are already living as if God is not important to us, then how can we take His commandments seriously when we are confronted with severe temptation?

False religions, those which teach polytheism or atheism or monism, may be tolerated, but they should never have been granted equal status with Christianity. The reaction against Christianity entails a rejection of God (or right monotheism). One cannot preserve the latter in a formerly Christian society.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Discussion of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware's lecture at CUA at Eirenikon.