Sunday, February 17, 2013

Back from Blackfriars


Back from Oxford, and exhausted.  I thank Bill Carroll and the Dominicans at Blackfriars for their warm hospitality.  (And thanks to Brother James of Blackfriars for taking the photo, elsewhere in Oxford.)  Regular blogging will resume ASAP.

62 comments:

Anonymous said...

Was nice to meet you in person, Ed. Thanks for a very interesting talk. Nick.

Roger Wasson said...

Logic Lane, eh. I'll have to link to this post on facebook just because of the picture.

Well, regardless of location and jet lag, it's not easy getting up every morning and attacking your own convictions. But somebody's gotta do it, and it might as well be you.

I need to catch you at a time like that and buy you a couple of martinis. Especially now that I've finished with Boyle's dissertation. Works like yours and Boyle's are similar to a philosophical version of NZT from the film Limitless.

Actually, that pic might just as easily be how you look after reading one of your 200+ comment threads on the blog.

I've looked at quite a few philosophy blogs lately. Aside from your blog, with regard to posts and discussions combined, for the most part I have to say: what a freakin wasteland from hell. And that's doing my best to put a positive spin on it.

By the way, did you know that The Last Superstition is the top-selling book by a theist in Amazon's Atheism category? For weeks now it's been like #8-#10.

Keep up the great work.

Cheers

Anonymous said...

When you have a chance, please address the absurd jeremiad of David B. Hart against natural law and Thomism in the latest issue of First Things

Anonymous said...

Wait...is he attacking natural law theory in general, or just a particular form of it?

John Burford said...

Basically, Hart attacks the idea that natural law is really any kind of intellectual common ground between a theist and someone who doesn't already accept the idea of an ultimate, transcendent final Good (aka God). Since natural law is supposed to be accessible purely by neutral reason, I think you could fairly call his essay an attack on natural law.

I couldn't tell if he was saying that natural law was flat-out inherently sectarian, or just that in practical terms the only people who will accept natural law (regardless of its objective validity) are theists.

Christian said...

Hello Dr. Feser,

I was wondering if you or any readers of this blog might point me in the direction of a good Thomistic critique of Kantian epistemology. The issue has come up in one of my classes and I have some objections I would raise, but I was wondering what a seasoned Thomist would say in response to Kant.

CJ Wolfe said...

@Christian-

I can't speak for Dr. Feser, but for my money a good Thomistic critique of Kantian epistemology is W. J Wood's book, "Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous."

Now technically Wood is not coming at the question of epistemology solely from a Thomistic point of view (there's also Aristotle and Christians besides Aquinas in there), but if you read his book I think you'll see that a Thomist would come to similar conclusions. Wood points out objections to strong Foundationalists like Kant and DesCartes, and points toward the possibilities of either a much weaker Foundationalism or a Reliabilism (which is what I think is Aquinas' view on epistemology at the end of the day).

rank sophist said...

I've noticed Hart's antagonism toward certain interpretations of natural law in the past, but, as far as I know, he's never written about it at length. I wish that article wasn't behind a paywall--I'd be really, really interested to see what he said.

Anonymous said...

Would it be a crime to post it (or parts of it) here for rank sophist's edification?

BLS said...

Anon, I'd be careful, but if you want to show it to rank, I think it would be a better idea to email it instead of copy and pasting here.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's a better idea. I just didn't want to seem like a lurking creepazoid who yearned to know RS' email address.

rank sophist said...

I managed to find a summary with excerpts here, which isn't enough to satisfy my curiosity. It is, though, enough to tell me what Hart's argument is.

In all honesty, he has a point. Natural law is a solid and coherent system, but, from the position of a moderate historicist like Hart, it can't be justified by an appeal to neutral reason. Logic is always partly infused with cultural biases, and so there's no such thing as a completely neutral deduction. One only needs to look at the large differences between Aristotle's version of natural law and Aquinas's to see that a change in cultural values leads to a change in logic. It isn't merely that Aquinas was "more right" than Aristotle was: Aquinas warped natural law in ways that would be incoherent outside of Christian tradition. Consider also Aristotle's argument for act and potency against Parmenides, which is based on the cultural notion that common sense is to be trusted. If we don't accept this premise first (and without argument), then there is no reason to posit act or potency. A difference in values, once again, leads to a difference in logic.

Thomism itself is built on a moderately historicist view (even though most Thomists do not acknowledge this) because its epistemology is largely of an externalist bent. Phantasms (historically contingent singulars) are always involved in reasoning--it is impossible to use logic without relying on the phantasms from which it has been abstracted--, and so our conclusions will be influenced by the external, singular events that are illuminated by infallible intelligible species. This is the source of error in syllogistic reasoning, but it also gives historicism a foothold. The phantasms of one person are different than those of another, particularly when there is a gap between cultural eras; and so it is perfectly possible that two people will reach different conclusions that are both considered "right" in their own times and places. The Third Way, for example, was never raised by the ancient Greeks because the ancient Greeks had no need to prove that God created everything from nothing: they believed in an eternal, dialectical universe. The idea of creation from nothing, in fact, would have been laughed off as an absurdity. As a result, the Third Way only gains power and relevance within the context of Christian tradition.

(I'm sure that Roger will be tempted at this point to talk about self-exempting universal statements, and many versions of historicism do indeed fall victim to this problem. What I wrote above, though, is merely the conclusion of Thomist epistemology. I don't think that Thomism is self-refuting.)

All of this leads us to the conclusion that natural law is not a neutral ground on which Thomists and non-Thomists can meet. One must enter into the tradition of ancient metaphysics for natural law to be coherent, and, by the time you've done that, natural law follows anyway. In post-modern terms, natural law is a "narrative" but not a "meta-narrative": it is part of one tradition, rather than the foundation of all traditions. As a result, it can't be common, neutral ground accessible through "disinterested reason" (Hart's term) alone. As Thomism affirms, reason is always a combination of infallible universals and contingent, historical particulars; and so it can't ever be "disinterested", with no stake in its own time and place.

rank sophist said...

I'd like to add that I'm not going to hijack this topic with follow-ups to that last post; so, apologies in advance to anyone who feels the need to respond. As for Anon up there, I'd be really grateful if you could send that article to me. If you have time, fire it off to tgapnds at gmail.

Anonymous said...

RS,

Judging by your comments here and in your most recent long exchange with dguller, I've gotta say that you've become rather muddleheaded as a result of reading too much of these Continental thinkers and the people influenced by them.

rank sophist said...

I do want to make one last clarification, before I go. The above was not an endorsement of relativism, and Thomism obviously is not relativistic. For Aquinas, logic (including the first principles) is based on the perception of esse, which is not itself understood by logic or known through phantasms. It is the objective condition that all logic and phantasms always already presuppose, and so it is not possible to subject it to doubt or to a historicist critique. Unlike post-modernism, Thomism does argue for a "meta-narrative" against which all claims are measured: being, which every person in every tradition perceives even if they don't realize it. Hence, everyone knows certain logical principles (particularly the law of non-contradiction) regardless of their understanding of these things.

Now, in terms of morality, Aquinas says that all people have "synderesis"--an innate knowledge of certain universal principles of morality. I don't know if Hart would buy this, but considering that principles like the Golden Rule exist in every tradition, I think synderesis is beyond historicist doubt. The problem arises when one goes to interpret the dictates of synderesis. As Aquinas says, conscience ("the application of knowledge to some special [moral] act") usually relies on the particular and the accidental. This means that conscience, unlike synderesis, is subject to historical/traditional determination. The minor premise in a moral syllogism is filled out by the particular. Here's an example:

1. I should do to others as I want them to do to me. (synderesis)
2. I do not want to be killed. (particular)
3. Therefore, I should not kill.

But 2 is subject to historical determination. There have been traditions that positively glorify death. Hence, the moral intuition above is not universal to human nature. At another time, the syllogism might have read:

1. I should do to others as I want them to do to me.
2. I want to be killed.
3. Therefore, I should kill others.

Similarly, a synderesis tenet like "good should be done and evil avoided", which is the foundation of natural law, can contain a minor premise with different notions of "good" and "evil" depending on the era. In their respective traditions, these minor premises may be entirely correct, even though they contradict Christianity. It is impossible to criticize them from a meta-vantage, though: the interpretation of Christianity must compete against other claims. Once again, natural law is useless for arriving at completely neutral conclusions through reason alone.

That really is the last post. I won't waste any more thread space with this. Apologies for the hijack.

Roger Wasson said...

" Logic is always partly infused with cultural biases, and so there's no such thing as a completely neutral deduction. One only needs to look at the large differences between Aristotle's version of natural law and Aquinas's to see that a change in cultural values leads to a change in logic."

The problem with this is that bias claims always get treated as themselves unbiased. If it's really universal, then the bias claim reduces to "I'm biased about my view of bias." But the problem recurs in that statement too. If I'm really biased at the very core of my thinking, how could I ever become aware of that supposed fact itself? What set of biases could ever establish or even confidently claim something to be true about bias itself generally, much less exceptionlessly negate neutrality and objectivity?

Unless you assume SOME kind of core backdrop of neutrality from which to assess the situation, any negative assessment of neutrality and objectivity is going to be ITSELF equally biased and beg the exact same question about its OWN neutrality and objectivity.

I also don't see why differences between Aristotle and Aquinas would be seen to imply a difference in logic. Moreover, the logical primitive of difference itself is used in that sense as itself a neutral notion in order to distinguish and compare views.

Anonymous said...

RS, sorry for the delay; check your e-mail.

DNW said...

Blogger Roger Wasson said...

" Logic is always partly infused with cultural biases, and so there's no such thing as a completely neutral deduction. One only needs to look at the large differences between Aristotle's version of natural law and Aquinas's to see that a change in cultural values leads to a change in logic."

The problem with this is that bias claims always get treated as themselves unbiased. If it's really universal, then the bias claim reduces to "I'm biased about my view of bias." But the problem recurs in that statement too. If I'm really biased at the very core of my thinking, how could I ever become aware of that supposed fact itself? What set of biases could ever establish or even confidently claim something to be true about bias itself generally, much less exceptionlessly negate neutrality and objectivity?

Unless you assume SOME kind of core backdrop of neutrality from which to assess the situation, any negative assessment of neutrality and objectivity is going to be ITSELF equally biased and beg the exact same question about its OWN neutrality and objectivity.

I also don't see why differences between Aristotle and Aquinas would be seen to imply a difference in logic. Moreover, the logical primitive of difference itself is used in that sense as itself a neutral notion in order to distinguish and compare views.

February 20, 2013 at 8:53 AM"


It's possible that a more considered formulation would have been something along the lines of "Arguments are always partly infused with cultural biases and references ".

And of course they would have to be since the substantive objects as well as many predications would naturally be culturally or locally conditioned.

I don't see that as particularly problematical unless you are going to try and argue that Melanesians have a natural law duty to participate in auricular confession.

The reflexivity issue however is going to be a continuing problem for many.

I think that we all have a sense that there might be some situation wherein the statement "We cannot know" makes conditional sense. But to argue to the intended effect that you know of a subject that you cannot in principle know or reason your way to, does seem to be prima facie self-refuting; and more modest and carefully stipulated formulations would always seem to tend to the hypothetical rather than the categorical in order to be considered sound.

Aloysius said...

@Christian:

If you're looking for a specifically Thomist critique of Kantian epistemology, you can find some in Etienne Gilson's books "Methodical Realism" and "Thomist Realism", particularly the latter. For more in-depth accounts, you might look at "Epistemology" by Peter Coffey. I haven't read this book yet, but I believe it covers Kant's theory of knowledge from a Thomist point of view. The books, however - it's a two-volume set - are presently out of print, but you can obtain them from Amazon via Forgotten Books, which supplies decent reprints:

Vol. 1: http://www.amazon.com/Epistemology-Theory-Knowledge-Introduction-Metaphysics/dp/1440075190

Vol. 2: http://www.amazon.com/Epistemology-Theory-Knowledge-Introduction-Metaphysics/dp/1440075204

Having ordered and received both recently myself, I can vouch for the readability of the scanned reprints, though there are some minor imperfections, like some markings on pages and the like. They're worth the cost, however.

I hope this helped!

grodrigues said...

@Aloysius:

Those two volumes are available online:

Epistemology; or, The theory of knowledge : an introduction to general metaphysics (1917), vol. I

Epistemology; or, The theory of knowledge : an introduction to general metaphysics (1917), vol. II

note: because of the info on pages, I am assuming there are no copyright problems; read the Terms of Use page if in doubt.

Aloysius said...

@grodriguez:

I knew they were online (I actually found out about them via Dr. Feser's "Scholastic's Bookshelf" series of posts, which directed me to archive.org) but I've always found physical books to be easier to read and peruse, particularly with regard to this subject matter; a bit of bibliophile bias on my part, I'm afraid. At any rate, many thanks for posting up those links, as they will likely make Christian's search more manageable. What I ended up doing was flip around on archive.org's link and then decide to buy the physical copy for more convenient use - the PDFs are agonizingly slow to load for me even on my beefy desktop, and particularly so on my tablet. The online site is faster, but I certainly don't have internet all the time.

rank sophist said...

Anon,

Huge thanks. I've already gone through it twice--interesting stuff from Hart, as usual.

DNW,

On the topic of non-neutral deductions, that is essentially what I was trying to say. Any deduction that includes particulars is going to invite interpretations that vary from the Christian one, thanks to cultural differences and so forth. Sorry for the confusion.

Christian said...

Thanks CJ Wolfe, Aloysius and grodriguez I'll take a look at your suggestions.

Joe K. said...

With all due respect, Rank, I think you have some problems here. I don't want to go into the Hart article too much (which I discussed briefly in a combox comment on my blog), but I want to address some of the things you said.

I feel like your use of the word "logic" or "reason" here is a little suspect (a court might say it's both underinclusive and overinclusive). That is, I'm not actually sure what you mean by "logic." After you mention it, you move on to Aristotle's versus Aquinas' views of natural law. Without going too much into whether or not this claim is even valid (and I think you're really overstating the differences here; see someone like Philippa Foot who relies heavily on Thomas and who is, by all account, Not a Thomist but an Aristotelian), I don't think the conclusions of each schools have anything to do with a difference in Logic, cultural or otherwise.

The premises (whether they purely factual (like God created the world) or metaphysical (like change exists) by which people derive conclusions may absolutely be different, but How the conclusions are derived, at least in most cases, isn't really what's at issue. You can certainly make arguments like, "well, something counting as fallacious is culturally constructed," but I think you're usually just spinning your wheels then. As you've pointed out, it's sort of self-refuting.

The debate is usually only over the premises or whether the logic, which is inevitably agreed to, leads to the conclusions from those premises. Logic, unless I'm debating some serious serious relativist (which always seems comically worthless), is never in question. Accordingly, I don't think Thomas being warped back in time (via Delorean preferably) to Aristotle's school would be accused of being "illogical" in the strictest sense of the word. In other words, a difference in values may lead to a difference in Conclusions (and I would hardly disagree with this; see notions of "equality," the highest modern Western value), but I would seriously disagree that it leads to a difference in Logic (in fact, when I argue with someone over political conclusions (where there's is concerned with equality beyond all else), I point out where they went wrong in the logic; there's assumed, always, that the logic is constant.)

Joe K. said...

I think that culture absolutely has a large effect on how we view the world and the conclusions we come to. But I think it's a broad overstatement to say that Thomas "warped" natural law into something that would be "incoherent" to someone not from the Christian tradition. Similarly, I don't think Aristotle's argument against Parmenides was based Solely on a "cultural" appeal to "common sense" (as if there are cultures that appeal to Not common sense or something).

I also don't really know what you mean by "Christian tradition." It would be unfair to parry these objections by saying, "Well, everything in the West after 30 AD counts as the Christian tradition." And what do you do with a person in a culture who has no connection to the Christian tradition who is absolutely convinced by Thomist reasoning, who says, "oh, that makes sense." Is he an anomaly? And one need not "enter into a world of ancient metaphysics" as if you're like deciding to take the blue pill or something. That metaphysics is appealing to logic, and that is why it convinces people across all cultural and generational borders.

Finally, I'm not sure when someone counts as "entering" into a culture so as to be influenced by that culture. That is, if I'm convinced by something like natural law (especially as it concerns Christian), one would say, "well, that's just because you were part of the Christian West." If I then say, "Well, no, I wasn't raised in Christianity at all; in fact, for most of my life I thought homosexuality was completely Fine," you would then have to strongly assert that "well, that's because the Christian West's Logic made it so you reached those conclusions." This is pretty unconvincing to me.

rank sophist said...

Joe,

If it was anyone but you, I'd keep my word and keep my mouth shut. However, since it is you, I'd like to clear up a few points.

First, I absolutely believe in natural law and am not a relativist. When I was referring to differences in logic, I wasn't making the radical claim (which the New Historicists do make) that each era literally has a different logical framework. That is obviously a self-refuting notion. When I was referring to different logic, I was referring to particular-based premises and the consequent conclusions. These are subject to cultural determination, as when Aquinas removed the natural law requirement for moderate wealth, for example. Logic itself, taken as a framework, is not culturally determined: only our uses of it fall into this category. Even ancient Indian and Chinese thinkers do not stray from logic as a framework, despite the bizarre conclusions that they reach with it. Even the ancient Buddhists who deny logic in favor of contradiction accept that logic (such as the law of non-contradiction) exists as a framework: they merely believe that it is an illusion.

However, if Aquinas was transported back in time, I do believe that he would be accused of being illogical. Much of his work, while logically sound, is incoherent outside of Christian tradition. You could not tell a Greek that a friar's contemplative life was higher than that of the Aristotelian man of the world. Aristotle would have found total chastity, extreme fasting, poverty, vows of silence and so forth to be complete violations of natural law. He also would have been appalled by Aquinas's argument that an efficient cause (or something like one) created the universe, which is nonsense unless one has already accepted (culturally) certain ideas about divine transcendence and the total contingency of the universe. Aristotle's endorsements of slavery, the objective inferiority of women and so forth also deserve a mention. (And, on the topic of accepting common sense, one only needs to look at certain Asian traditions or at modern thought to find examples of people who believe that common sense is an illusion.)

In any case, when I said that one had to enter the tradition of ancient metaphysics, I was talking about the event in which one can see the split between ancient and modern thought, and then chooses the former. This choice does not have to be made, and logic alone does not do the job. Each side will throw barbs at one another, trying to sink the other, but there is always more to be said for each position. A modern thinker convinced of the impossibility of materialism (and he would have to be if he read and understood Prof. Feser's work) can resort to panpsychism or to something even more bizarre--he is never obligated by pure, disinterested logic alone to abandon modernism. As Hart would say, one is drawn by an aesthetic vision first, and by the coherence of logic second. The Kantian illusion that any "right-thinking" person will choose the "correct" course of action is not part of Thomism. In the case of morality, Aquinas in his discussion of conscience makes it clear that all sorts of particular-based moral conclusions (all "correct" in that they are logically sound) can be reached despite contradicting the truth preached by the church. He goes so far as to say that it is always a sin to rebel against conscience, even when it is false by the church's standard. One can have their false conscience fixed, but, as Hart says in his essay, this would require a total spiritual transformation in the case of the ancient/modern split on morality.

[CONTINUED]

DNW said...

Joe K. said...

" With all due respect, Rank, I think you have some problems here. I don't want to go into the Hart article too much (which I discussed briefly in a combox comment on my blog), but I want to address some of the things you said. ..."


I think if you look, you will see that he has subsequently acknowledged that he was intending to refer to the substantive and usually contextual content of arguments rather than the rules of valid inference per se.


I had myself earlier intended to observe that whoever these Thomist natural law theorists were who were being indicted (but left unnamed), they had obviously overreached in their claims regarding natural law. And, I intended to say, that it was much easier to - paralleling constitutional constructions - establish persuasive and valid deductions of the negative liberty sort, than the positive. My prejudice obviously being that as probable Catholics these overreachers had likely tried to squeeze some social justice mileage out of the nat law program.

Then I realized, that I had absolutely no idea who these people in question even were, or exactly what claims it was that they were supposedly making; my own academic coverage dating back to the eighties and classroom reviews of the Fuller/Hart (Herbert [legal positivist]) debates, and the logical positivist program of rendering value statements nonsensical in principle.

Rereading the linked material gave it a somewhat different sense than I originally drew from it: Potemra's characterizations of the Natural Law project ostensibly being envisioned by those whom Hart is criticizing, looking rather hyperbolic and artificial.

And Hart's framing of the problem, as Poterma reports it, looks self-defeating from the git go

"In abstraction from religious or metaphysical traditions, there really is very little that natural-law theory can meaningfully say about the relative worthiness of the employments of the will."

No, I suppose that if you agree beforehand to jettison or suspend any defense of teleology and development at all - and why not the convertibility of the notions of good and being while you are at it - there would indeed be very little from which to deduce propositions regarding the worthiness of the employments of the will. What could they be and how could you?

Expressing skepticism that you could is like complaining that you are having difficulty inferring that the preservation of life is a derivative good, after you've agreed to stipulate that life itself is not a good in the first place.

No wonder so much progressive ethical argument is little more than the equivalent of a squealing pup's happy writhing in the dirt.

But of course, given the conditioning assumptions, you can't argue that even that is really a good either.

Doesn't stop the type from trying to get away with incoherently insinuating it though. Cite: Boyden's recent editorial sniffing at what he seems to posit as a bit Feserian snark concerning the comic aspects of two eliminative materialists meaningfully nuzzling each other as if someone is actually taken to be at home in the next head.

Yeah, life is meaningless, and meaning is an illusion, so there! Just don't be so rude as to put a personal name to any particularly meaningless manifestation of it please. That would be, well, gauche!

rank sophist said...

Finally, on the subject of entering a culture, I'm not saying that your entire identity and all of your choices are determined by your culture. It is completely possible to abandon one's own culture, as you did. The thing is that, as you yourself have argued persuasively on Beatus Homo (still a regular reader, by the way), one always needs a motivation to take a course of action. Why should someone introduced to natural law or Thomism accept their claims? Obviously, strength of logic is part of this decision: the is-ought problem cripples several prominent moral alternatives to natural law; Thomism is not self-refuting, unlike materialism. But there are more options for the anti-Thomist than those. As Hart says in his essay, one could believe in Nietzsche's "morality" instead.

The is-ought problem vanishes as soon as one posits goal-directed behavior ("if one wants to do X, then Y is a good course of action"), but, as Hart says, there's more than one way to take this conclusion. A follower of Nietzsche could very well say:

1. I want to perpetrate the Holocaust.
2. Death camps are good for perpetrating the Holocaust.
3. Therefore, I should use death camps to perpetrate the Holocaust.

This is a logically sound conclusion, by all accounts. Even if one accepted some variety of essentialism, it is not enough to place limits on the above syllogism. It is only when one accepts the ancient, eudaimonistic tradition that is preached so effectively by Prof. Feser that it all adds up. This is why you, on Beatus Homo, have had to lay so much groundwork. You're arguing for a specific kind of essentialism, a specific interpretation of causality, a specific notion of human happiness and so forth. Those who come across this argumentation may be compelled by its coherence, but this is not enough for them to accept it. They could, again, choose something completely different--some rival narrative that is not obviously self-refuting, but which draws them for aesthetic reasons. It takes more than pure logic to make a decision like this one: it takes aesthetic pull, a "ring of truth", an intuitive feeling or something like that.

As Aquinas says, people are enticed by what they believe to be good in some way--and the recognition of good is an intuitive process, aided by logic. Natural law has a draw that is more than just logical, and this is what pulls people in. Once one understands the full context of natural law and human flourishing in the ancient tradition, it is hard to deny its beauty. It is this, combined with logic, that makes natural law strong. Again, though, this means that you have to essentially convert someone to an entirely different kind of thinking before you can use natural law to tell them what to do. As Hart says, this makes attempts to align natural law with modern secular politics absolutely hopeless. Even conservatism is, at its core, a modern movement incompatible with natural law. (I've argued this point before on this blog, in the context of capitalism.)

I hope this clears up what I was trying to say. I don't want you to think that I'm trying to devalue natural law--I'm just trying to explain the case that Hart was making.

Crude said...

A modern thinker convinced of the impossibility of materialism (and he would have to be if he read and understood Prof. Feser's work) can resort to panpsychism or to something even more bizarre--he is never obligated by pure, disinterested logic alone to abandon modernism.

They don't even need to resort to a system, really. They can just shrug their shoulders and go 'I don't know the answer, sure, but maybe one will come to me. In the meantime, I embrace X.'

I think a claim which amounts to 'many/most people are never totally compelled by logic - they have other factors at work in their views, from intuitions to unspoken commitments to otherwise' is some reasonable cynicism. But I don't think it's at all helpful to speculate about how, say... Aquinas would have been received by Aristotle, at least with regards to things like the Third Way. That's way too abstract of a thought experiment and runs on too many assumptions about the intuitions and (lack of) open-mindedness of people.

As Hart says, this makes attempts to align natural law with modern secular politics absolutely hopeless.

Modern secular politics is too morphous and misshapen an entity to coherently talk about. I'm not even sure what it would mean to 'align' natural law with secular politics.

I don't expect a response here given what you said, but hey, throwing in my input.

Joe K. said...

First off, I appreciate you responding (and I really appreciate how kind people are to me around here (and on my blog, for the record)). Second off, I apologize if I misunderstood what you were trying to say. I was (and still am not) comfortable with your use of "logic" and "incoherence," but I'll leave that. Though, I'm not really convinced that having to provide a substantial background (whether metaphysical or otherwise) is really unique or detrimental to any moral system. (I mean, utilitarianism is sort of the de facto standard today, but if you pushed someone on utilitarian principles, they'd have to step back and spend a lot of time with their premises.) A lot of modern moral systems take advantage of the fact that they are shallow or appeal almost solely to unexamined emotion, but I don't consider that as something to their credit; I consider it more of a problem with the modern world. But again, I'll leave that.

But I would like to point out something. On the blog (and elsewhere) I did not claim that humans need Motivation to act. I said that they need Reasons to act. These are very different things, at least in the context of this conversation. My argument is that the human, in making decisions, makes those decisions on reasons. "Motivation" probably overlaps with this, but how you're using it here is not what I meant. I am not convinced by the argument (if I understand what Hart is saying, and I've not read anything by him) that there is a special motivation thing that people need to act. People choose their goods, whatever they are, because they think they're right, at least in some sense of the word. Whether they're actually right or wrong is a separate question.

I'm also a little skeptical of a real difference between "is logical" and "rings true." I know what you mean, but this just seems like a prudential matter of how to convince people who are unwilling to look at complex philosophical argument. If a person can see that his system doesn't add up, it's only a matter of time before he abandons or modifies it, no matter how right it felt previous to that point. I think this is often just the nature of growing up. But this is probably getting way too much into psychology.

But I absolutely agree with the argument that people are going to make their moral choices based on cultural influence. You can look at birth control over the last couple hundred years as an example of this. But this seems to only apply to surface analysis of philosophical argument, where people have spent little time examining who or what they are. What I'm stopping at is what this means once the arguments are really examined. I'm fine with someone saying that cultural biases affect the decisions the everyman makes when he goes to the store; I'm less fine with someone saying that because of those cultural biases, he can't be convinced to act if you appeal to an objective and absolute truth.

But again, thank you for the response! I always like your style, Rank, and I hope I didn't misrepresent you. This is a big topic, after all, way outside the scope of a Logic Lane (Lois Lane's annoying nerdy sister) picture.

EDIT: Changed an annoying verb. Also, sorry, Ed!

Aloysius said...

I hope this isn't too impertinent, Mr. Feser, but that photo of you at Logic Lane keeps making me think of a porcupine: prickly and tough to kill. It just pops into my head whenever I see it.

I think you should make it your profile picture.

rank sophist said...

Joe,

Let me fire off one last quick response, since I think we talked past each other a bit.

But I would like to point out something. On the blog (and elsewhere) I did not claim that humans need Motivation to act. I said that they need Reasons to act. These are very different things, at least in the context of this conversation.

I was using "reason" and "motivation" interchangeably. There is no extra "motivation" category in Hart's thought, to my knowledge--and I do not endorse one, either. A reason, though, can take all kinds of shapes. It can be logical, emotional, intuitive or what have you. My point as well as Hart's is that there is no such thing as a purely logical reason, once one enters the realm of particulars. You can't access a totally disinterested use of reason that will infallibly lead "right-thinking" people to the same conclusions, as Kant believed. That is, even though logical principles are objective and universal, there can exist different logical traditions that are simultaneously coherent and different. There isn't just one possible logical truth, which one tradition reaches and others do not. The idea that there is such a truth is not itself a logical deduction--it's a cultural bias descended from the Greeks.

if I understand what Hart is saying, and I've not read anything by him

I've actually tried twice now to recommend his book Atheist Delusions to you in your blog's comments, since it talks a lot about the Christian source of modern cultural intuitions like equality--a topic that you yourself have mentioned in brief once or twice. Unfortunately, I ran into errors (on my end; not the blog's) both times and lost my comments. Might as well take this opportunity to recommend it.

People choose their goods, whatever they are, because they think they're right, at least in some sense of the word. Whether they're actually right or wrong is a separate question.

Exactly. But people have all kinds of reasons for thinking that something is right, whether these are emotional, logical or whatever. And, from a strictly logical standpoint, multiple coherent interpretations can exist of the same basic information. See my example earlier of the Golden Rule being used in cultures that fear death and in those that glorify it. Cultural or emotional or what-have-you elements sneak into logic, no matter how hard you try to avoid them. Even Kant never found pure, unbiased "reason". As a result, natural law and morality like Nietzsche's can be created by logic, and logic alone will not help us decide between them. That's Hart's point in his essay, essentially.

rank sophist said...

If a person can see that his system doesn't add up, it's only a matter of time before he abandons or modifies it, no matter how right it felt previous to that point.

This is true, but, again, there isn't just one coherent conclusion reachable by logic. Different traditions have used logic to reach different conclusions, each of which is coherent in itself. (Obviously, some traditions are just logically false. Materialism is a good example, and one that Hart himself cites sometimes.)

I'm fine with someone saying that cultural biases color the decisions the everyman makes when he goes to the store; I'm less fine with someone saying that because of those cultural biases, he can't be convinced to act if you appeal to an objective and absolute truth.

The idea is that logic does not inexorably lead to one truth, even though logic is objective and absolute. It's a tool with multiple uses. If that everyman believes something contradictory, then, clearly, you can use logic to show him the error of his ways. If he just believes something different, though, then you're in a situation where logic is not enough of a reason for him to change.

rank sophist said...

But again, thank you for the response! I always like your style, Rank, and I hope I didn't misrepresent you.

Oh, and thanks for this. I really appreciate it. I worry sometimes that my more radical convictions alienate the many people I respect on this blog, so it's a relief when I find out that at least some of you guys don't view me as a rambling nut.

Glenn said...

Not to horse around, but all the talk about Logic Lane, background influences impacting on different lines of thought, and people finding the reasoning of others unconvincing (if not also seemingly incoherent) brings to mind the following puzle:

- - - - -
Three friends nicknamed Lefty, Righty and Shorty were horseback riding one day when the trail they were following branched off in three different directions. The friends coaxed their horses to a halt and sat upon their mounts three abreast discussing which path to follow. There was considerable discussion, and no two could agree upon which way to go. In the end, each took the path he had tried to persuade the other two to follow. Can you determine where each friend was positioned while the discussion was being held (either left, middle, or right) and the path each finally took (again, either left, middle, or right)?

1. Shorty (who didn't take the path leading right) either had been in the right position during the discussion or took the middle path, but not both.

2. Lefty either had been in the middle position or took the left path, but not both.

3. The man in the left position was either Righty or the one who took the right path, but not both.
- - - - -

'Pure' reason here will indeed find its way to the proper end (i.e., the correct solution).


Something a bit less light-hearted follows...

Glenn said...

Rank,

[Logic is] a tool with multiple uses. If that everyman believes something contradictory, then, clearly, you can use logic to show him the error of his ways. If he just believes something different, though, then you're in a situation where logic is not enough of a reason for him to change.

I happen to be in agreement with this. And I find the truth of it expressed via sayings such as, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still", "Where there's a will, there's a way", and "The heart has reasons reason knows nothing of".

When given due consideration, it is not all that difficult to see that it is a person's intentions, aims, ends or goals which drives his reasoning.

A person's reason, on the other hand, simply hasn't the power drive his intentions, aims, ends or goals. It may at times seem that it does, as, e.g., when a person repeatedly employs his reason in an attempt overcome (or bring or restore order to) a disorder affective appetite.

On closer examination, however, it can always be found that there is some intention, aim, end or goal driving that person's employment of his reason; in the example just given, the person's constant use of reason in his attempt to right the disorder appetite is driven by a desire that that disorder appetite should be properly ordered.

This is not in any way to suggest that because reason is driven that it ought to take a back seat to that which drives it; oh no, not at all, and most certainly not. At least not before that which drives it is properly ordered. Yet, paradoxically, what drives reason isn't going to come to be properly ordered without the aid of reason** which itself is properly ordered. So, reason (and its helpful cohort logic) is quite valuable and very much needed. Thus, while reason itself cannot drive (sans itself being driven by some underlying something in the way of intentions, aims, ends or goals), it can guide, influence and instruct; and the guidance, influence and instruction of reason are indispensable.

- - - - -
** Let it be noted that the suggestion is not "because of reason" or "due to reason", but, rather, "with the aid of reason".

Tim Lambert said...

Dr. Feser,
you look like an a$$ kicker in that photo.

Anonymous said...

Glenn,

"A person's reason, on the other hand, simply hasn't the power drive his intentions, aims, ends or goals. It may at times seem that it does, as, e.g., when a person repeatedly employs his reason in an attempt overcome (or bring or restore order to) a disorder affective appetite.

On closer examination, however, it can always be found that there is some intention, aim, end or goal driving that person's employment of his reason; in the example just given, the person's constant use of reason in his attempt to right the disorder appetite is driven by a desire that that disorder appetite should be properly ordered."

I think that you're wrong about this. Reason, actually, is always in the 'front seat'; the 'desire' that the disordered appetite be properly ordered is because of the belief that that is a good, which is necessarily grounded in (some) reason.

DavidM said...

@Rank:
"if Aquinas was transported back in time, I do believe that he would be accused of being illogical. Much of his work, while logically sound, is incoherent outside of Christian tradition." - That is obviously false.

"You could not tell a Greek that a friar's contemplative life was higher than that of the Aristotelian man of the world." - Of course you could.

"Aristotle would have found total chastity, extreme fasting, poverty, vows of silence and so forth to be complete violations of natural law." - Really? The same Aristotle who wrote Metaphysics XII?

"He also would have been [interested in] Aquinas's argument that an efficient cause (or something like one) created the universe, which [depends upon] certain ideas about divine transcendence and the total contingency of the universe." - Why not emend <> as suggested []?

"Aristotle's endorsements of slavery, the objective inferiority of women and so forth also deserve a mention." - Right, because it's absolutely unthinkable that a closed-minded fundie like Aristotle could ever have been swayed from these crucial suppositions undergirding his whole system of thought...

"you have to essentially convert someone to an entirely different kind of thinking before you can use natural law to tell them what to do" - No you obviously don't. Counter-example: me telling my kids what to do. Of course it might be very difficult to get someone with very different ideas to *listen* to you - but surely that would come as no surprise to Saint Thomas, as if his thought was based on this not being the case?

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

I think that you're wrong about this. Reason, actually, is always in the 'front seat'; the 'desire' that the disordered appetite be properly ordered is because of the belief that that is a good, which is necessarily grounded in (some) reason.

It may well be that I am wrong about it; I certainly won't disallow the possibility that I am. And I haven't any disagreement with a belief that something is good being necessarily grounded in, as you very nicely put it, (some) reason.

Nonetheless, the rationalizing and justifying that some people may do (or that people may sometimes do) in order to further their pursuit of ends they believe and/or know not to be a (genuine) good, surely cannot be said to be grounded in (genuine) 'reason'; however much their rationalizations and justifications are necessarily grounded in 'some reason', that they are rationalizing and justifying serves as a strong indication that they are being driven by intentions, aims, ends and/or goals not grounded in (genuine) 'reason'.

DavidM said...

...and certainly no surprise to Aristotle: if you don't get 'em when they're young, they're likely to be lost causes for life. That's not a refutation of his ethical position; that's precisely what it is supposed to entail.

Glenn said...

Okay...

It may well be that I am wrong about it; I certainly won't disallow the possibility that I am.

Fortunately I did not disallow the possibility; I now see (or think I do) why Anonymous thinks I am wrong about what I said.

As a matter of fact, the perfection of the power of every active principle depends on a higher active principle, since a secondary agent acts through the power of a primary agent. While, therefore, a secondary agent remains in a position of subordination to the first agent, it acts without any defect, but it becomes defective in its action if it happens to turn away from its subordination to the primary agent, as is illustrated in the case of an instrument, when it falls short of the motion of the agent. Now, it has been said that two principles precede the will in the order of moral actions: namely, the apprehensive power, and the object apprehended, which is the end. Since to each movable there corresponds a proper motive power, not merely any apprehensive power is the suitable motive power for any and every appetite; rather, one pertains to this appetite and another to a second appetite. Thus, just as the proper motive power for the sensory appetite is the sensory apprehensive power, so the reason itself is the proper motivator for the will. -- SCG III 10 [15]

If what I said is taken in the combined contexts of 'a secondary agent not being in a position of subordination to the first agent' and 'the reason not being the proper motivator of the will', then what I said isn't necessarily wrong. Still, and more importantly...

I freely, and not glibly, acknowledge the 'general principle' or larger, 'big picture' point of Anonymous' comment. And, in light of that, yes, what I said clearly is wrong.

Whomever you are, Anonymous, thank you.

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

I could not agree more with your first comment. However, I think that you were a bit tripped up by the technical stuff in that most recent one. Strictly speaking, reason is the source of every action, in that every motion of the will is based on syllogistic reasoning in which the will itself is involved. The actual content of these syllogisms is not made up of pure reason, though. Look at it like this:

1. Suspicious sounds can signify that I am in danger.
2. I hear a suspicious sound.
3. Therefore, I may be in danger.

So, it's absolutely true that reason is the foundation of action, but only in a trivial sense given the current discussion. Syllogistic reasoning can reach all sorts of conclusions based on the premises selected, and those premises are determined by a combination of logic, intuition, emotion, cultural bias and so forth. "Suspicious sound", for example, can have all sorts of definitions between cultures. Now, one can choose to rely more on logically deduced premises, like you said, but it is rare to find a premise that can be reached through pure logic alone. (Generally, pure, infallible logic applies only at the most abstract level.) We always have other reasons that drive us, which cannot be reduced to simple logic. Technically, all of them fall under the blanket term "reason", but only insofar as all actions of the will are determined by syllogistic reasoning.

DavidM said...

""Suspicious sound", for example, can have all sorts of definitions between cultures." - Nonsense.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

Just sorta, kinda thinking out loud here (in four sections)...

Me: A person's reason, on the other hand, simply hasn't the power [to] drive his intentions, aims, ends or goals. It may at times seem that it does, as, e.g., when a person repeatedly employs his reason in an attempt overcome (or bring or restore order to) a disorder[ed] affective appetite.

On closer examination, however, it can always be found that there is some intention, aim, end or goal driving that person's employment of his reason; in the example just given, the person's constant use of reason in his attempt to right the disorder appetite is driven by a desire that that disorder appetite should be properly ordered.


You: I think that you're wrong about this. Reason, actually, is always in the 'front seat'; the 'desire' that the disordered appetite be properly ordered is because of the belief that that is a good, which is necessarily grounded in (some) reason.

Aquinas: Whether it belongs to man to act for an end? Objection 1: It would seem that it does not belong to man to act for an end... Therefore an end is not a cause... I answer that... Therefore all human actions must be for an end. Reply to Objection 1: Although the end be last in the order of execution, yet it is first in the order of the agent's intention. And it is this way that it is a cause. ST I-II, Q 1, A1

My question now: Does a person's employment of his reason qualify as a 'human action'?

It would seem that it might, for in his "I answer that..." above, Aquinas includes, "[T]hose actions are properly called human which proceed from a deliberate will."

And if it does, then perhaps there is a way in which, by which or because of which there is some merit after all to this statement:

"On closer examination, however, it can always be found that there is some intention, aim, end or goal driving that person's employment of his reason" (where by "employment of his reason" is not meant his employment of some particular reason that he has latched on and laid claim to, but his employment of the capacity to think, comprehend, infer, etc., i.e., the exercise of the reasoning aspect of his mind).

(cont)

Glenn said...

But let's do this: let's use one circle to represent 'reason' (circle-R), and another circle to represent 'will' (circle-W).

The way I've been thinking about all this is that circle-R and circle-W are, more or less, next to one another other, i.e., I've been separating them in thought and treating them as more or less separate entities, with neither one containing the other (though perhaps there may be some intersecting or overlapping). I won't say that this is the correct way to think about it, that you (or anyone else) should think this way, or even that it is a legitimate way of thinking, but only that it is the way that I've been thinking about it, and that this way of thinking about it has (at least partially) informed the statements that I made.

Also included in Aquinas' "I answer that..." is, "Now man is master of his actions through his reason and will; whence, too, the free-will is defined as 'the faculty and will of reason.'" This being so, I'm guessing that you would see circle-W as being wholly contained within circle-R, so that "reason, actually, is always in the 'front seat'", which would be to say, in effect, that the goings-on in the larger circle-R always drives the goings-on within the wholly contained, smaller circle-W.

My earlier statements notwithstanding, the latter view makes sense to me, i.e., there is no experience of discomfort when I hold this view in mind.

Skipping past several things... I find this in The Cloud of Unknowing (Johnston trans.): "After Reason has determined what is good, the Will moves toward it with love and desire."

To my way of thinking, this clearly confirms your statement that, "[T]he 'desire' that the disordered appetite be properly ordered is because of the belief that that is a good, which is necessarily grounded in (some) reason."

(cont)

Glenn said...

So, I have to wonder how or why I got to the point that the view expressed by "On closer examination..." originally made sense to me.

Well, actually, it still does make some sense to me, and does seem to have some life based on the technicality mentioned above (and further below).

But I also now think the latter view makes even more sense, and has even more life.

So, what happened? How did I get to the view that I had earlier expressed, and regarding which I now would agree is better placed aside in deference to the latter view?

A simple and easy answer suggests itself:

In engaging in a 'closer examination', I didn't examine closely enough.

(cont)

Glenn said...

Still and all...

Although, [T]o the natural law belongs those things to which a man is inclined naturally: and among these it is proper to man to be inclined to act according to reason. (ST I-II, Q 94, A 4), we know that it isn't true that all people at all times always act according to reason.

And, as Aquinas himself points out, it sometimes does happen that,

o [T]the will, in a way, moves the reason also, and uses it[.] ST I-II, Q 16, A 4

Glenn said...

I think it would be a good idea to:

a) reiterate what I said at the beginning, that I was just kind of thinking out loud;

b) add that the concluding quotation ("[T]the will, in a way, moves the reason also, and uses it") is meant only as support for a subordinate view; and,

c) make clear that none of what was said in the four sections above is meant to elevate the subordinate view into a position of ascendancy over, say, "After Reason has determined what is good, the Will moves toward it with love and desire."

Glenn said...

To encapsulate both views:

1. Aquinas is clear: The will moves the reason in one way; the reason moves the will in another[.] ST I-II Q19 A3

2a. In what context does the reason move the will? The reason moves the will as to the determination of an act. ST I-II, Q9 A1

2b. In what context does the will move the reason? The will moves the reason in to the exercise of the act. ibid

3a. Aquinas points out that, [G]ood in general, which has the nature of an end, is the object of the will. Consequently, in this respect, the will moves the other powers of the soul to their acts, for we make use of the other powers when we will ibid

3b. But he also notes that, Hilary says (De Trin. x): "It is an unruly will that persists in its desires in opposition to reason." But the goodness of the will consists in not being unruly. Therefore the goodness of the will depends on its being subject to reason. ST I-II Q19 A3

- - - - -

And to summarize the encapsulation:

Reason ······> Will (d)
Will ······> Reason (e)

(d) - The reason moves the will as the determination of an act.

(e) - The will moves the reason in to the exercise of the act. (Also, "The will moves the other powers of the soul to their acts, for we make use of the other powers when we will.")

- - - - -

All subject to revision, of course. ☺

Glenn said...

Aha... Doesn't look like much revision is needed (leastways as far as the gist is concerned); though this, quite clearly, is to be preferred:

o Because in practical matters the end comes first, the act begins with a universal proposition that takes the form of the end. Now this end may be the last end (happiness), or it may be an intermediate end ordained to the last end. In either case a universal proposition (law) is formed and judged to be a true good by the practical intellect[.] Once the end has been judged to be a true good, the will can tend to this end. This act of the will is called intention. Once an end is intended, the reason is moved by the will to determine the appropriate means to this end.

-- Rziha, John Michael, Perfecting Human Actions: St. Thomas Aquinas on Human Participation in Eternal Law, p. 208

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, I have recently finished reading Mortimer Adler's Ten Philosophical Mistakes and I found it great reading. It reminded me of your books Philosophy of Mind, Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide, and TLS, only you write so much clearer than Adler. I hope you could come up with another book in the future along the lines of 10 Philosophical Mistakes, as I know from reading your books that you use a much easier style of language than Adler, and that you do a much better work explaining the issues and philosophical mistakes many people make. Anyway, I hope you consider this project. God bless you and your work! - Mark

Susan said...

I enjoyed the discussion about reason driving vs. will driving because, as a regular Catholic, I find Thomism (as I understand it) to be attempting to corner me into believing certain things because of reason. Perhaps because of Aquinas' reason: something is right because Aquinas/Feser/et al figured out that it is right and therefore I am remiss to not follow them along Logic Lane.

But, the Catholic Church I visit and love does not do that. It showers me with affection and talks to my will. My will wants what is there and so drives my reason to agree.

We (Thomists and I) often arrive at the same address on Logic Lane, but boy does it make me bristle when they insist I give the wheel to reason. Bad advice.

Anonymous said...

Shocking news: Kripke resigns as report alleges he faked results of thought experiments

Glenn said...

Sue,

1. I find Thomism (as I understand it) to be attempting to corner me into believing certain things because of reason.

The point is less that certain things are to be believed because of reason, and more that in properly following reason one arrives at certain things.

If, for whatever reason, one is not prepared to accept the certain things that are arrived at, it is not unlikely that one will not believe them and/or will simply continue on his merry way.

In either case, a choice is made.

And behind the choice--supporting, sustaining and justifying the choice--is a rationale.

2. Perhaps because of Aquinas' reason: something is right because Aquinas/Feser/et al figured out that it is right and therefore I am remiss to not follow them along Logic Lane.

Nothing is right because Aquinas/Feser/et al figured it out; only if something is indeed right, might anyone correctly figured out that it is. This is to say, somewhat controversially perhaps, that the rightness of a thing which indeed is right exists prior to someone seeing that it is.

3. But, the Catholic Church I visit and love does not do that. It showers me with affection and talks to my will. My will wants what is there and so drives my reason to agree.

If your will is wanting what is there, and going on to drive your reason to agree, then your will is making a choice in favor of what is there. In no way is this in conflict with, or contrary to what Aquinas has to say.

At the same time, behind the choice--supporting, sustaining and justifying the choice--is a rationale. And in no way is this in conflict with or contrary to what Aquinas has to say.

o The will does not of necessity follow reason. Choice is nevertheless not an act of the will taken absolutely but in its relation to reason, because there appears in choice what is proper to reason: the comparing of one with the other or the putting of one before the other. This is, of course, found in the act of the will from the influence of reason: reason proposes something to the will, not as useful simply, but as the more useful to an end. (See here.)

But if the choice made by your will was influenced by your reason--e.g., "Yes, having what is available by way of the Catholic Church I visit constitutes something good, and, therefore, is better and more preferable than either being deprived of it or languishing in its absence."--then why does your will have to drive your reason to agree?

Well, this is a reasonable question; a very reasonable question.

And since it isn't fair that Aquinas/Feser/et al should get to have all the fun, I will leave it to you to figure out the answer.

Susan said...

Glenn,
My answer to your question: then why does your will have to drive your reason to agree?
is this: Reason has to deal with so much - the clamor of the world and all its myraid things and ideas - and the will does not have to deal with very much - it deals with black and white (and slight shades of grey).
Once the will makes a decision - which becomes easy after many years - then it needs to force reason to think backwards from that decision. There is usually no use in continuing to beat all the dead horses.

And the reason I delight in being snotty toward Thomism (not that anyone asked) is that I think, while it is helpful to Catholicism, it needs reins. How can it be reined in as long as it speaks in huge words and concepts? Its best defense IMO is that no one understands the verbage. It sounds ever so intelligent that the common person defers to it. It gets to teach in colleges; that gives it even more honor.

Someone needs to say that giving reason too much power is dangerous. Someone needs to add some kindness to Thomism's conclusions (such as the blame-the-victim conclusion in the Sophie's Choice dilemma discussed on another blog).

The will should rule. The will probably wants what God wants anyway (in a normal person). Any system of reasoning that has power in my Church and yet cannot deign to explain itself in common language and decrease its insulting tone is suspect to me.

Glenn said...

Susan,

1. After looking at your blogger bio, and noticing the list of your favorite books, I found this in one of them: [P]roper order requires all people to use their reason when they do what they do, and also to act in freedom.

2. The Thomistic system of reasoning does have 'power' in the Catholic Church, and earlier you had said that the Catholic Church you visit showers you with affection and talks to your will.

3. Read this review of Robert Pasnau's Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature: A Philosophical Study of Summa Theologiae 1a 75-89, starting about halfway down with "For the remainder of this review I shall focus especially on..."

4. Then read from Robert Pasnau's Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature: A Philosophical Study of Summa Theologiae 1a 75-89, starting here, and continuing on for a few pages until, "This initial impulse comes from God, who not only creates the human soul but somehow puts the soul into motion[.]"

Susan said...

Thanks, Glenn,
I am in the process of reading those (several times, if I want to follow them, which I do).

In the meantime, it occurred to me that the perfect example of will leading reason is the Pope's Humanae Vitae from the 1960s (can be googled and a nice read). It is lovely whether one agrees or not. It is all about reason being taken into account seriously and then overridden because of a higher good.

He outlines the problem (reason), talks about the committees' conclusions (reason), then openly decides that Good requires the 'no artificial birth control' position must prevail (will), sweetens it so we readers agree (with reason), puts lots of lipstick on the pig (reason), and gives unspoken winking 'outs' by including the importance of self forgiveness and the importance of priests (who can absolve in those inevitable hard heartwrenching cases) (unspoken, perhaps a figement of my imagination, but that's how I read it) (reason and the kindness of will).

And in conclusion ... he convinced me. Because he showed where his will and goodness were trumping his reason. He didn't ignore reason or badmouth it - he used it and then let will trump it. Awesome.

Susan said...

Glenn, I did read those. Hmmm ...

Aquinas introduced the idea that the will played give and take with the intellectual reason. And said that will is all about higher order decisions (which come about partly thanks to reason). And the higher order decisions mean that we humans can have volition of our volitions. (something like that - google books is on to me and won't let me look at those pages now).

Evidently, Aristotle did not see a need for the will really. It sounds like he thought very literally about reason - reason leads to an obvious choice which man then makes.

Aquinas had more imaginative thoughts. The will moves because of the will and God.

Personally, I think the point should be that the will can work backwards through reason. Reason is like a big ocean. It is all 'true' but not all leading to good. The will can look it over, make a decison with its higher level considerations and then work a path backward through that ocean to prove - ta!da! - that its decision is located along Logic Lane and so all is well. (Even though what the will does not mention is that it could have worked backwards in that same way even if it had chosen the opposite thing.)

Will is not in the ocean of reason. But it likes the ocean of reason because it is so useful. And the ocean of reason would be hopelessly lost if there were nothing outside of it to make a decision. It would slosh.

Susan said...

The useful thing about will having that position is that then there is no need for cruel conclusions a la Thomism. If the will is able to think backwards in that way, then it is able to a.) make a kind decision, while b.) keeping the conservative position in place.

The will does not need to freak out and be so judgemental and precise. It does not need to proclaim, "I cannot tell a lie - he is in my basement behind the washer" when the torturer rings his doorbell.

Here is an example from my diocese newspaper: A woman asks if she may use artificial birth control. She has a medical condition that will cause her to die if she gets pregnant (don't ask - she is theoretical). She has two small children. (It's a dear Abby type of column, giving the priest writer a chance to insist on the 'correct' Vatican answer. "Of course, you may not use that birth control. Blah, blah, blah ...."

And in a way he is correct. But the answer is cruel. I am thinking, 'Ok, what if she has an abusive husband who will not take no for an answer and will hurt her children if she dies?' Surely, there are situations where she should just use it. Can't we say it's preservation of her children's lives perhaps and give her a break?

Not by Thomism. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. If you do not agree you will fry ...

Messed up! All the author would have to add in his column to please me would be along the lines of: "Now in cases of life and death such as this, of course, a woman should talk it over with her parish priest." An out.

I have no problem with the writer using his column to explain the Church's regulations. I do have a problem with giving absolutely no out. People are possibly being influenced by this - sheesh. Be kind. And I would say this to the writer priest: "I doubt you would take your own advice. Are you sure you would not find an out if it were you? Of course you would."

That is what happens when the will is not listened to. Reason goes nuts. The will can calmly say, "The use of artificial birth control is wrong, but in a case like this, we can say ... hmmmm ... because we don't want her to die ... that ... ah, yes. This is a case of self-defense, and I can go back and show you how logical this is ..."

Mr. Green said...

Susan: Not by Thomism. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. If you do not agree you will fry ... Messed up!

Well, something's messed up...

1) If you think Feser uses too many big words, you haven't much familiarity with philosophy.... Of course, it's unreasonable to expect everything to be exaplained simply: some thing cannot be explained in simple terms because they are not simple; other things, because they are too simple.

2) It seems you do not understand what we mean by "reason" and "will". For example, you refer to "talking to the will" and "listening to the will", but speech is an act of reason (certainly understanding it). And indeed, you naturally tried to defend your points by providing reasons to back up your position. Reason cannot "go nuts", because "going nuts" by definition means going against reason. So we are not really disagreeing about "reasoning" after all — only about particular reasons, and whether they actually are good reasons or bad ones.

3) Calling something "cruel" is not a good reason against it. The right thing to do is not determined by what "seems nice"; it is determined by doing God's will. And we know what God's will is by reasoning, not by willing, because reasoning, not willing, is how we arrive at knowledge. Doing the right thing may sometimes "feel cruel", but making excuses to do the wrong thing will end up even crueler.

Glenn said...

Susan,

I enjoyed your comments, and appreciate the time, effort and thought that went into them. They also gave me pause. And now that the pause is over...

1. Someone once pointed out to me that 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class. True!

But if one doctor isn't as good as another doctor, are we then to conclude that medicine is bad? I hope not.

My guess is that the real problem with the column-answer mentioned above hasn't anything to do with reason, Thomism or 'correct' Vatican answers per se, but that the column is a 'dear Abby' type, rather than a 'dear Ann Landers' type.

Comparatively speaking (according to yours truly, anyway), Ann was to Abby as the New York Yankees are to the Toledo Mud Hens. And as it is not reasonable to blame 'baseball' for minor league players on the whole not playing as well as major league players, so (speaking generally (so as not to imply an offense to the column's author)):

a) it is not reasonable to blame reason for someone reasoning poorly;

b) it is not reasonable to blame Thomism (or, say, Virtue Ethics) for someone's misuse (or immature or exiguous** understanding (or inadequate application)) of it; and,

c) it is not reasonable to blame principles, or conclusions properly derived from principles, for their having been presented in a manner deemed to be (and perhaps even actually) cold-hearted and/or unfeeling.

Now, if one is going to reason shallowly that medicine is bad because one doctor isn't as good as another, then one might just as well shallowly reason that medicine is good because one doctor is better than another.

Still, perhaps it is best not to base one's evaluation of the merits of medicine on the relative skills of some of its practitioners.

2. I can honestly say that I have never thought of reason as sloshing around. A rather novel way of looking at the matter, if I may say.

OTOH, if it can be said that one's head is swimming or brimming with ideas, I suppose there's little reason to disallow that amongst ideas swimming or brimming reason might be found to be sloshing.

3. If we take your implied definitions of Reason and Will, then perhaps we may paraphrase a famous statement attributed to Einstein in the following manner: Reason without Will is lame; Will without Reason is blind.

4. Further to the question of who's in the driver seat, or 'ought' to be, how about we do this: let Monday = "reason moves the will", and Wednesday = "will moves the reason". Now we may posit that:

a) Acknowledging that Monday is the first of the week does not entail denying that Wednesday is the first day of the rest of the week; and,

b) Saying that Wednesday is the first day of the rest of the week does not constitute a denial of Monday being the first day of the week.

- - - - -

** Just had to do it. :-)