Saturday, August 13, 2011

Benedict Ashley, O.P. on Natural Law

Mark Latkovic has this essay (pdf) comparing Fr. Ashley and the NNL theorists on natural law.

Reminder: Fr. Ashley's essay, "What is the End of the Human Person? The Vision of God and Integral Human Fulfillment," Moral Truth and Moral Tradition, ed. Luke Gormally. (A response)

Fr. Benedict Ashley on Science and the Fall

"The Biblical Basis of Grisez's Revision of Moral Theology," in Robert P, George, ed., Natural Law and Moral Inquiry: Ethics, Metaphysics, and Politics in the Work of Germain Grisez (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1998).

"The Loss of Theological Unity: Pluralism, Thomism, and Catholic Morality," in Mary Jo Weaver and R. Scott Appleby , Being Right: Conservative Catholics in America (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), pp. 63-87.

Fr. Koterski's review of some books by Robert George.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Godzdogz: Pilgrimage Patron: St. Vincent Ferrer
Peter Kwasniewski, Dignitatis Humanae: The Interpretive Principles (via Once I Was a Clever Boy)

I may have posted a link to this before...

King's College Choir, Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis


For a minute-and-a-half video, MTV-style editing should be expected...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Archbishop Di Noia's talk on Aquinas and Thomas Jefferson has been published in First Things. (via the Dominican Province of St. Joseph)

Catholic Theological Society of America


A related post at "Catholic Moral Theology."

Still waiting for the economic crunch to take its toll on academia.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ite ad Thomam: Fr. Busa, Architect of Hypertext and Index Thomisticus, Passes Away

Kozinski responds to Snell

Turning to an Empty Subject: A Reponse to R.J. Snell's God, Religion, and the New Natural Law (via FPR)

Some questions for me to keep in mind when I revisit MacIntyre--

(1) The first point of controversy is on the relation between practical reason and speculative reason. I'll ignore this for now.

(2) The subjectivity-shaping role of social practices:
"For MacIntyre individual men qua individuals can neither know nor possess the goods that practical reason recognizes in and through the natural law."

It is not clear to me that this is so for all goods -- unless one is making a broader point about how our exercise of rationality is dependent upon language. Otherwise, feral humans who somehow manage to survive in the wild without human contact -- they may desire and obtain certain goods, but are morally and intellectual stunted because they were not initiated into a language.
Although one can enter into one’s subjectivity to discover the natural law and the goods and ends perfective of oneself, the self and the goods one finds in subjective introspection are not entirely one’s own, as it were. They are present to the soul’s internal purview only as a result of a dynamical interplay between an intrinsic and necessary human nature and set of inclinations, and an extrinsic and contingent experience of social formation and active participation in this formation.

If one is capable of self-reflection, then one can recognize human goods in part by the sadness one feels in their absence. This makes dialectical defenses of such goods possible. We all have histories, and our understanding of our selves is shaped through the influence of others.

Moreover, the criteria for moral evaluation and judgment (and the goods evaluated and judged), which can certainly be discovered subjectively, are not acquired and possessed subjectively. They are socially participated. Individual judgments and actions can only be judged as good or bad, virtuous or vicious according to the moral criteria intrinsic to social practices, not the subjective self. And, to add to the supra-subjective character of the natural-law, actions and the practices in which they occur can only be made intelligible as part of a social narrative: “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what stories do I find myself a part?’”

The link between practice and human actions and narrative. Is MacIntyre overstating the case for narrative? Does a liberal or a radical individualist not have a story of his own? It may be false, in so far as he exaggerates his independence. By what criteria can the narrative one embraces be judged to be incomplete or false? I think it would be more useful to talk about our roles and the duties that we owe others. Only then can such a social narrative be complete. (Or, how can a social narrative not have moral considerations as an integral part of its understanding?) How does MacIntyre deal with someone whose narrative is tied to an intentional community? On what basis, if any, would he say that an intentional community (for lay people) is problematic?

(3) The tradition-constituted-and-constitutive character of practical rationality:
I have an earlier post about MacIntyre's definition of tradition. I need to find it.
Just as individual participants in practices have historical life narratives that characterize their identities, practices have life histories, and these are embedded in the grand narrative of a tradition, including the particular culture(s) in which it developed. To recognize the natural law is to recognize the goods internal to a practice, so we must have participated in that practice for recognition to take place. The turn to the subject is only possible via the good-recognizing power actualized by participation in practices. Moreover, to understand the practice itself, we must participate in the tradition that transmits and shapes that practice.
I think I need some concrete examples for me to grasp this. It's a bit too abstract. (Or I'll have to reread MacIntyre on justice.)

"To recognize the natural law..."  What about human activities that involve very little cooperation with other human beings? Given our social nature, we cannot live well without others, but what is MacIntyre's model for understanding practices? Is there a danger of techne being used to understand hexis?

(4) The indispensability of divine revelation in ethical inquiry and practice.
As he is represented here, I mostly agree with Maritain. But I will have to re-read what he writes about Christian [moral] philosophy.
Because in a practical science ends serve as principles, any practical science that does not know the ends of its subject matter does not possess its own principles. Since man’s ultimate end is unknowable by the light of human reason alone, and since man’s end is the first principle of both moral theology and moral philosophy, then moral philosophy, without the light of divine revelation, does not possess its first principle; therefore, moral philosophy must be subalternated to theology. In this subalternation, moral philosophy makes the data offered to it by moral theology its own, shines the light of human reason on this data, and thus arrives at first principles and conclusions of a philosophical character. In this way, moral philosophy is “superelevated” and perfected so that it can become “adequate to its object,” namely, man’s end.

I don't think subalternation can explain what is going on here -- it seems to me that this new moral philosophy is just theology under another name. The data may be offered to it by moral theology, but moral theology is mediating what is believed through the virtue of faith.

(5) Natural Law and Politics:
Beginning with the natural law is rightly the standard operating procedure for Catholics and other theists discoursing in our relativistic world and deeply pluralistic culture, but this does not mean we should always end with the natural law. Nor does it mean that we cannot or should not offer a compelling, beautiful, reasonable, and coherent supra-rational foundation for the existence, universality, force, and intelligibility of the natural law, the natural law that we indeed discover first by turning within, where, as St. Augustine came to know, God waits for us.

I'll have to read his book, because I don't see what the practical import of this is. Should Christians aim for the conversion of non-Christians, and in doing so transform a polity into a Christian one? Sure. But it is not clear to me that "dialogue" will be such an important tool for bringing this about, exxcept for a certain few.

(6) Turning to an empty subject:
I wonder if the reason for the contemporary popularity of NNL is analogous to the reason for the great, ancient rise and plausibility of Stoicism, another inexorably partial ethics that tended to consider itself the whole. Stoicism became plausible and popular when the ancient Greek polis disappeared, and in the cultural anomie that followed, millions of tradition-and-community starved people felt they could only depend upon themselves for knowledge of their good and to attain virtue. If anything, in our milieu of deeply pluralistic cyber “communities” suffused with zombie-like consumers,[20] we feel even more bereft of the communities and traditions upon which we can depend intellectually and spiritually to shape our subjectivity and communicate truth, goodness, and beauty, and within which we can know and obey the natural and divine laws.

I think it is the claim by NNL theorists for a natural law ethic which can be used in dialogue with non-believers, based on what St. Paul says about the law engraved in men's hearts (Romans 2:14-16). There is also the influence of certain modern philosophers, along with willingness by some theorists to embrace liberalism in their formulation of the NNLT.

Related: A different perspective on St. Paul--St. Paul and Natural Law

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Monday, August 08, 2011

James Chastek has something somewhat relevant to my latest post: Objections to the possibility of Thomistic metaphysics.
Some abstracts for papers for the 31st Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies, "The Metaphysics of Aquinas and its Modern Interpreters: Theological and Philosophical Perspectives," are available.

Is John Knasas still the most prominent proponent of existential Thomism?

It is not clear to me that the existential Thomists are so apart from the neo-Thomists (including the Aristotelian Thomists) with regards to their understanding of St. Thomas's metaphysics. But since I am barely a student of metaphysics, this is only a guess. I do not know if Ralph McInerny wrote anything about Maritain on this point of controversy. I do know the existential Thomists and Aristotelian Thomists differ as to whether metaphysics needs physics as a preparation in the order of learning. (Fr. Ashley's paper.) It has been a while since I took that undergraduate course in metaphysics, which was with an existential Thomist. It seems to me that for the class, we were simply taking it for granted that God existed because we were all believing Catholics. The act of faith replaced proof of God's existence. I'll have to look again at how Gilson, Maritain, and Knasas deal with this point.

Being and Some Twentieth-Century Thomists

John Knasas on Thomist Metaphysics: Past, Present and Future

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Alasdair MacIntyre: On Having Survived Academic Moral Philosophy

Parts 2, 3, 4

Back to Arkes

Kant the Bogey Man: "I would simply claim, in a comparable way, that I’m drawing upon parts of Kant’s teaching that explain better than anything else the properties of our moral judgments."
Mr. Arkes uses Kant to explain moral judgments about racial discrimination and racial preferences.

When we make laws, we sweep away the private preferences of people, and impose a public rule made binding on everyone. Hence the connection between the logic of morals and the logic of law: when we legislate for other people, we need to say something more than, “most of us here think this is desirable,” or “most of us have strong ‘feelings’ that this is the just thing to do.” We would need rather to establish that we are acting on the basis of propositions that would hold their validity for everyone, even if not everyone recognizes why they happen to be true. And that is what we do when we seek to trace our judgments back to anchoring “first principles” as Thomas Reid understood them: propositions that were true of necessity. John Marshall and Alexander Hamilton referred in this way to the “axioms” of our judgment, meaning essentially the same thing. And yet O’Brien writes as though it were odd or eccentric—or on the face of things implausible—to say that our judgments find their firmest ground when they are anchored in propositions of that kind, which cannot be denied without falling into contradiction.

Comments: Arkes is trying to using Kantian (or liberal) reasons to justify a position on racial discrmination/racial preferences? I had forgotten if he is considered a proponent of the NNLT. Is he a liberal in his presuppositions, like John Finnis?

From an Aristotelian pov - moral science is helpful for lawmakers in understanding how human laws are derived from first principles. It is the task of the philosopher (or theologian) to supply the argumentation. (See William Wallace's The Role of Demonstration in Moral Theology.) The acquisition of moral science is a perfection for those who are to rule, since it is better than relying upon opinions about customs and laws. (This suffices for those who only need to obey in order to act rightly.) Moral science provides the answer to those seeking the ratio for particular precepts or laws.

The NNL theorists attempt to reason out rationale for moral precepts, but from different starting points. I don't know if anyone has ever examined the logic of their arguments to determine if they are valid. I suspect that the arguments are valid, just not sound.

On to Kozinski's piece

The Good, the Right, and Theology by Thaddeus J. Kozinski

I did find this difficult to read -- if his book is like this I may have to reconsider purchasing it. Typical of postmodern American English theological discourse? Does it share something in common with analytic philosophy in this respect? Is it merely style and diction or something more? I had to concentrate in my reading.

The inseparability of faith and reason, in both theory and practice, is one of the main points of Benedict XVI’s encyclical teachings. We can debate the political and philosophical ramifications of the affirmation that we are made in the image of God, that God loves us, and that He commands us to “be perfect as His father in heaven is perfect”; however, in the end, we either affirm these truths or we do not, based upon whether we have or have not encountered the living Christ, caritas in veritate, or perhaps just encountered those Christians who have. So, if human acts are a matter of experience, choice, and grace—not just logic, evidence, and demonstration, whether Aristotelian-eudaimonistic or Kantian-deontological in mode—then any debate about the metaphysical, epistemic, and rhetorical aspects of ethics must invite theology as an interlocutor. And this neglect of theology is the reason that the debate between Arkes and O’Brien is, as it stands, irresolvable.

Would an Aristotelian ethics deny that human acts involve experience (which builds up prudence) or choice? (Aristotle may not talk about voluntas but he does talk about rational appetite and choice.) The key here is grace. If we are oriented to a good that we cannot attain on our own but need of God's grace, then it is not theology that we need first of all, but Divine Revelation and the sacraments. (The witness of the Church in her life in this world.)

The problem is that they are both right. O’Brien is correct that arguments about and declarations of principled moral prescriptions and proscriptions, even rigorous and true ones, cannot ensure a public commitment to and embodiment of Christian or even humanistic values in our post-Enlightenment, neo-pagan, pluralistic political culture. Moral principles are experiential, cultural, and historical in their genealogy and in the subjective apparatus of human recognition. But Arkes is right that we can and must transcend these contingencies to see and act on principles in an absolute, universal, and eternal way. In other words, although reason is tradition-dependent (pace Kant), it is also tradition-transcendent (cum Kant). Somehow we must hold these together, and I don’t think we can outside of a theological narrative and discourse.

In other words, paideia is not accomplished through [academic] discussions of moral questions. One generation forms the next, both within the family and the community as a whole.

"But Arkes is right that we can and must transcend these contingencies to see and act on principles in an absolute, universal, and eternal way." What does this mean? Arkes explains that positive law cannot be based on emotion or ingrained preference, but must be anchored to first principles.

After reading the rest, I find that I don't have much about which to quibble. (Dangling prepositions?) Or do I? I still have to reconsider what MacIntyre says about the relationship between tradition and rationality.