Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Christian Hart, a Humean head


Note: The following article is cross-posted over at First Things.

In a piece in the March issue of First Things, David Bentley Hart suggests that the arguments of natural law theorists are bound to be ineffectual in the public square.  The reason is that such arguments mistakenly presuppose that there is sufficient conceptual common ground between natural law theorists and their opponents for fruitful moral debate to be possible.  In particular, they presuppose that “the moral meaning of nature should be perfectly evident to any properly reasoning mind, regardless of religious belief or cultural formation.”  In fact, Hart claims, there is no such common ground, insofar as “our concept of nature, in any age, is entirely dependent upon supernatural (or at least metaphysical) convictions.”  For Hart, it is only when we look at nature from a very specific religious and cultural perspective that we will see it the way natural law theorists need us to see it in order for their arguments to be compelling.  And since such a perspective on nature “must be received as an apocalyptic interruption of our ordinary explanations,” as a deliverance of special divine revelation rather than secular reason, it is inevitably one that not all parties to public debate are going to share.

Now I have nothing but respect for Prof. Hart and his work.  But this latest article is not his finest hour.  Not to put too fine a point on it, by my count he commits no less than five logical fallacies -- equivocation, straw man, begging the question, non sequitur, and special pleading.  He equivocates insofar as he fails to distinguish two very different theories that go under the “natural law” label.  He also uses terms like “supernatural” and “metaphysical” as if they were interchangeable, or at least as if the differences between them were irrelevant to his argument.  These ambiguities are essential to his case.  When they are resolved, it becomes clear that with respect to both versions of natural law theory, Hart is attacking straw men and simply begging the question against them.  It also becomes evident that his conclusion -- that it is “hopeless” to bring forth natural law arguments in the public square -- doesn’t follow from his premises, and that even if it did, if he were consistent he would have to apply it to his own position no less than to natural law theory.

Let’s consider these problems with Hart’s argument in order.  Who, specifically, are the “natural law theorists” that Hart is criticizing?  Hart assures us that “names are not important.”  In fact names are crucial, because it is only by running together the two main contemporary approaches to natural law that Hart can seem to have struck a blow against either. 

So let’s name names.  What we might call the classical (or “old”) natural law theory is the sort grounded in a specifically Aristotelian metaphysics of formal and final causes -- that is to say, in the idea that things have immanent natures or substantial forms and that in virtue of those natures they are inherently directed toward certain natural ends, the realization of which constitutes the good for them.  Accordingly, this approach firmly rejects the so-called “fact/value dichotomy” associated with modern philosophers like Hume.  Its most prominent historical defender is Aquinas, and it was standard in Neo-Scholastic manuals of ethics and moral theology in the pre-Vatican II period.  In more recent decades it has been defended by writers like Ralph McInerny, Henry Veatch, Russell Hittinger, David Oderberg, and Anthony Lisska.  (In the interests of full disclosure -- of which, regrettably, self-promotion is a foreseen but unintended byproduct, justifiable under the principle of double effect -- I suppose I should mention that I have also defended classical natural law theory in several places, such as my book Aquinas.) 

What has come to be called the “new natural law theory” eschews any specifically Aristotelian metaphysical foundation, and in particular any appeal to formal and final causes and thus any appeal to human nature (at least as “old natural law” theorists would understand it).  It is a very recent development -- going back only to the 1960s, when it was invented by Germain Grisez -- and its aim is to reconstruct natural law in terms that could be accepted by someone who affirms the Humean fact/value dichotomy.  In addition to Grisez, it is associated with writers like John Finnis, Joseph Boyle, William May, Robert P. George, and Christopher Tollefsen.  (Once again in the interests of full disclosure, I should note that like other classical natural law theorists, I have been very critical of the so-called “new natural lawyers.”  But it is also only fair to point out that Hart’s argument has no more force against the “new” natural law theory than it does against the “old” or classical version.)

What the two approaches have in common is the view that objectively true moral conclusions can be derived from premises that in no way presuppose any purported divine revelation, any body of scriptural writings, or any particular religious tradition.  Rather, they can in principle be known via purely philosophical arguments.  Where the two approaches differ is in their view of which philosophical claims, specifically, the natural law theorist must defend in order to develop a system of natural law ethics.  The “old” natural law theorist would hold that a broadly classical, and specifically Aristotelian, metaphysical picture of the world must be part of a complete defense of natural law.  The “new” natural law theorist would hold that natural law theory can be developed with a much more modest set of metaphysical claims -- about the reality of free will, say, and a certain theory of practical reason -- without having to challenge modern post-Humean, post-Kantian philosophy in as radical and wholesale a way as the “old” natural law theorist would.  Both sides agree, however, that some body of metaphysical claims must be a part of a complete natural law theory, and (again) that these claims can be defended without appeal to divine revelation, scripture, etc.

Now Hart characterizes natural law theory in general as committed to the reality of final causes, indicates that he affirms their reality himself, but then (bizarrely) appeals to Hume’s fact/value dichotomy as if it were obviously consistent with affirming final causes, uses it as a basis for criticizing natural law theorists for supposing conceptual common ground with their opponents, and concludes that it is only by reference to controversial “supernatural (or at least metaphysical) convictions” that natural law theory could be defended.  This is a tangle of confusions. 

For one thing, if there were a version of natural law theory that both appealed to final causes in nature and at the same time could allow for Hume’s fact/value dichotomy, then Hart’s argument might at least get off the ground.  But there is no such version of natural law theory, and it seems that Hart is conflating the “new” and the “old” versions, thereby directing his attack at a phantom position that no one actually holds.  The “new natural lawyers” agree with Hume and Hart that one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is,” but precisely for that reason do not ground their position in a metaphysics of final causes.  The “old” or classical natural law theory, meanwhile, certainly does affirm final causes, but precisely for that reason rejects Hume’s fact/value dichotomy, and in pressing it against them Hart simply begs the question.

It seems Hart thinks otherwise because he supposes that even if our nature directs us to certain ends that constitute the good for us, reason could still intelligibly wonder why it ought to respect those natural ends or the good they define.  But this implicitly supposes that reason itself, unlike everything else, somehow lacks a natural end definitive of its proper function, or at least a natural end that we can know through pure philosophical inquiry.  And that is precisely what classical natural law theory denies.  In the view of the “old” natural law theorist, when the metaphysics of intellect and volition are properly understood, it turns out that it cannot in principle be rational to will anything other than the good.  The fusion of “facts” and “values” goes all the way down, without a gap into which the Humean might fit the wedge with which he’d like to sever practical reason from any particular end.  Hart simply assumes that this is false, or at least unknowable; he doesn’t give any argument to show that it is.  And thus he has offered no non-circular criticism of the classical natural law theorist.

Of course such a non-Humean view of practical reason is controversial -- though I defend it in Aquinas, and other classical natural law theorists have defended it as well -- but the fact that it is controversial is completely irrelevant to the dispute between Hart and natural law theory.  For no natural law theorist denies that some controversial metaphysical conclusions have to be defended in order to defend natural law theory.  That is true of any moral theory, including secular theories, and including whatever approach it is that Hart favors.  Certainly it is true of the Humean thesis about “facts” and “values,” which is just one controversial metaphysical claim among others.  Having to appeal to controversial metaphysical assumptions is in no way whatsoever a special problem for natural law theorists. 

It also has nothing whatsoever to do with claims about the supernatural order. Sloppy popular usage aside, “supernatural” is not a synonym for “metaphysical” -- as Hart himself implicitly acknowledges with the phrase “supernatural (or at least metaphysical),” quoted above.  What is supernatural is what is beyond the natural order altogether, and thus cannot be known via purely philosophical argument but only via divine revelation.  Metaphysics, by contrast, is an enterprise that Platonists, Aristotelians, materialists, idealists, philosophical theists, atheists, and others have for millennia been engaged in without any reference to divine revelation.  So for Hart to insinuate that its dependence on metaphysical premises entails that natural law rests on divine revelation, “supernatural” foundations, or “an apocalyptic interruption of our ordinary explanations” is simply a non sequitur

On the other hand, if all Hart means to assert is that natural law theorists suppose that the metaphysical commitments crucial to their position are uncontroversial, then he is attacking a straw man.  No natural law theorist claims any such thing.  What they claim is merely that, however controversial, their position can be defended via purely philosophical arguments and without resort to divine revelation.   And if its being controversial makes it “hopeless” qua contribution to the public square, then every controversial position is hopeless.

Including Hart’s.  Which brings us to special pleading.  For what exactly is Hart’s alternative approach to moral debate in the public square, and how is it supposed to be any better?  Is a theological position like his -- with its appeal to the supernatural, to “apocalyptic interruptions,” and the like -- less controversial than natural law theory?    Is it more likely to win the day in the public square?  To ask these question is to answer them. 

Nor could Hart plausibly retreat into a quietist position that refuses to engage with those who do not already share his fundamental commitments.  For one thing, there is nothing quiet about his book Atheist Delusions, which was presumably intended as a contribution to the public debate over the New Atheism, not a mere sermon to the circle of his fellow believers.  That presupposes enough conceptual common ground with those who disagree with him for them to understand his position, controversial though it is, and in principle come to be swayed by his arguments.  If Hart can do this, why can’t natural law theorists?

Here we see one of several ways in which Hart’s position is ultimately incoherent, insofar as if he applied his criticisms consistently he would find that they undermine his own view no less than the natural law theorist’s.  Hence, suppose Hume’s stricture against deriving an “ought” from an “is” really were well-founded.  It would follow that the purely theological ethics to which Hart seems committed, no less than natural law theory, cannot get off the ground.  For statements about what has been divinely revealed, or what God has commanded, would be mere statements of “fact” (as Hume understands facts), statements about what “is” the case.  And how (given Hume’s account of practical reason) does that tell us anything about “value,” about what we “ought” to do?  The most we can have are the merely hypothetical imperatives Hart rightly (if inconsistently) derides as insufficient for morality.  If we happen to care about what God has said, then we’ll do such-and-such.  But that tells us nothing about why we ought to care.  Hart, like so many other Christian philosophers and theologians eager to accommodate themselves to Hume and other moderns, fails to see that he has drunk, not a tonic that will restore youthfulness to the Faith, but a poison that will kill the modernizer no less than the traditionalist.

Notice also the rich irony of a thinker who urges us to trust in divine revelation rather than natural reason, and who appeals to a secularist philosophical argument in order to make his case!  Here Hart recapitulates a muddle which one finds again and again in those who would absorb nature into grace, or otherwise do dirt on mere natural theology and natural law in favor of revelation alone.  They inevitably appeal to premises that cannot be found in revelation itself, because there is no way in principle to avoid doing so.  For what is it in the first place for something to be revealed?  How can we know it really has been?  Why accept this purported revelation rather than that one?  If the answers are supposed to be found in some purported revelation itself, how do we know that that was really revealed, or that its meta-level answers are better than those of some other purported revelation?  And why wouldn’t such a patently circular procedure -- appealing to a purported revelation in order to defend it -- justify any point of view?  It is only from a point of view outside the revelation -- the point of view of our rational nature, which grace can only build on and never replace -- that these questions can possibly be answered.

And then there is the question of why anyone else should accept the revelation -- of the missionary activity that, as I’m sure Hart would agree, the Christian is called to.  If you are going to teach an Englishman Goethe in the original, you’re going to have to teach him German first.  If you’re going to teach him algebra, you’d better make sure he already knows basic arithmetic.  And if you’re going to preach the Gospel to him, you’re going to have to convince him first that what you’re saying really did come from God, and isn’t just something the people you got it from made up or hallucinated.  That’s why apologetics -- the praeambula fidei, the study of what natural reason can and must know before it can know the truths of faith -- precedes dogmatics in the order of knowledge, and always will.  The theologian who thinks otherwise is like the Goethe scholar who screams in German at his English-speaking students, telling them what idiots they are -- and deriding those who would teach them German as engaged in a “hopeless” task. 

215 comments:

1 – 200 of 215   Newer›   Newest»
Kiel said...

On behalf of all those who asked for your thoughts on David's article and from myself: thank you. You generously provide thoughtful and interesting reading.

Bedarz Iliaci said...

Prof Feser says that
"What is supernatural is what is beyond the natural order altogether, and thus cannot be known via purely philosophical argument but only via divine revelation."

But how do we define "natural". How do I know if something is natural or supernatural?

Can philosophy demarcate for me natural from supernatural?

The content of supernatural may be known from divine revelation only, though generally supernatural is also used for spooky phenomena that has nothing apparently to do with revelation.

Bedarz Iliaci said...

"objectively true moral conclusions can be derived from premises that in no way presuppose any purported divine revelation, any body of scriptural writings, or any particular religious tradition"

This claim can be judged--how many non-Christians can be found among those philosophers that espouse Natural Law?

Anonymous said...

I very much appreciated this one. I, too, respect Hart and loved seeing some engagement with him.

For those who are interested, I highly recommend the essay "Christ and Nothing" by Hart.

Jan said...

Superb title dr Feser.

Roy IV said...

That is irrelevant. First of all, plenty of non-Christians accept Aristotelian metaphysics. Others accept the implications the acceptance of Aristotelian metaphysics has for religion and convert to Christianity or Islam. But popularity does not prove or disprove anything.

Roy IV said...

"Can philosophy demarcate for me natural from supernatural?"

Yes.

rank sophist said...

A great response to a great article. Given what I know about Hart's views from his beefier works, though, I think Prof. Feser has in some places engaged in what he accused Nagel's critics of doing: attacking the allusory sketch rather than the entire case. This is completely understandable, given the circumstances, but it also makes certain of Prof. Feser's points shakier under examination. Other problems arise from the impossibility of a smooth interface between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy.

First, I do not believe that Hart equivocates between views or attacks any straw men. Note his point early in the article:

Classical natural law theory, after all, begins from the recognition that the movement of the human will is never purely spontaneous, and that all volition is evoked by and directed toward an object beyond itself. It presupposes, moreover, that beyond the immediate objects of desire lies the ultimate end of all willing, the Good as such, which in its absolute priority makes it possible for any finite object to appear to the will as desirable. It asserts that nature is governed by final causes.

The views he lists here are, in order, intellectualism, the Platonist notion of the good and teleology. He then concludes:

So far, so good. But insuperable problems arise when [...] the natural law theorist insists that the moral meaning of nature should be perfectly evident to any properly reasoning mind, regardless of religious belief or cultural formation.

Here, Hart is asserting that natural law is impossible outside of the aforementioned framework: intellectualism, Platonic good and teleology. He alludes to this framework when he discusses "religious belief or cultural formation". As you will notice, Hart earlier calls traditional natural law "according to the presuppositions of the intellectual world in which it was gestated [...] perfectly coherent"--so it would make no sense for him to then deny that natural law is coherent within any framework. Clearly, he is saying that natural law is in perfect working condition as long as one remains in the triadic structure mentioned before.

But, if natural law is going to be considered a neutral tool, it can't rely on that triadic structure. Otherwise, one can only apply natural law coherently with others who share the same premises--which is in no way an impartial, secular affair. When he says that "nature" does not give us moral information, he means to say that there is no "nature" that has not already been invaded by our "supernatural (or at least metaphysical) convictions" about nature. Nature considered in itself gives us no moral information, because we must first believe in the triadic structure mentioned before.

It is clear, then, that he is not equivocating or strawmanning. Any version of natural law that claims to be a neutral bridge between the pre-modern triadic structure he discussed and the modern one ("a mechanistic understanding of the physical world, a neo-Darwinian view of life, and a voluntarist understanding of the self") is doomed. Nature must be infused with pre-modern metaphysics and theology before any moral information can be read off from it.

rank sophist said...

Second, Hart does not beg the question. I'm sorry to say this, but it's actually Prof. Feser who commits a fallacy this time: handwaving. He writes:

In the view of the “old” natural law theorist, when the metaphysics of intellect and volition are properly understood, it turns out that it cannot in principle be rational to will anything other than the good.

This is all well and good--Hart accepts as much in the article. But it does not tell us at all why intellectualism (the view espoused here) is true and voluntarism (the view which modern thinkers espouse) is false. Of course ancient thinkers argue that intellectualism is true. Without it, their entire system crumbles. But modern thinkers follow Scotus and the nominalists in voluntarism. Why is this view false? Prof. Feser does not--and in principle, as I see it, cannot--tell us.

That Hart does not beg the question is clear when one is acquainted with his longer-form writing. What he is doing here is sketching out what he assumes people will know from his other work. That is, he holds the historicist view that axiomatic ideas like intellectualism and voluntarism are not logically deducible but are rather the products of different historical (metaphysical, supernatural) traditions. In a somewhat Wittgensteinian manner, he holds that it is impossible for such traditions to communicate profitably, since there is no common ground between them. Under voluntarism, the question of why we should follow the terms of natural law most definitely exists--and so any version of natural law that proposes to cross into voluntarist territory will inherit that question. We see this in Scotus's own malformed combination of divine command theory and eudaimonism. Without intellectualism, natural law has no obligatory power over the will. Once again, natural law is shown to be sectarian rather than neutral: it cannot cross the border between pre-modern and modern thought.

Third, Hart does not engage in a non sequitur. When Hart uses the terms supernatural and metaphysical, he applies them loosely because his point is based on historicism. (Again, this is apparent only because of my knowledge of his other writing.) For Hart, every historical tradition is built on supernatural (such as the "apocalyptic interruption" of Easter) or metaphysical (such as intellectualism) concepts or beliefs that are shared by the other members of that tradition. Hart portrays Christianity as a tradition intent on converting every member of every other tradition into itself. In the section to which Prof. Feser is referring, Hart is saying that natural law, once again, cannot be understood outside of the specific metaphysical and/or supernatural tradition(s) in which it was created. This is merely a recapitulation of his earlier points, and so is clearly not a non sequitur.

Fourthly, Hart does not engage in special pleading. He is not encouraging us, as Prof. Feser claims, to "trust in divine revelation rather than natural reason". Hart is making a historicist argument: unless we have already entered the tradition in which natural law was created--unless we have already absorbed the metaphysical axioms or supernatural claims by which natural law is coherent--then it is impossible for natural law to convince us of anything. And this much should be evident to anyone, given what has already been written. Hart does not make the self-refuting, fideistic argument that only revelation is true, and so cannot be accused of special pleading.

rank sophist said...

Great stuff all around, though.

And I'd like to second Anon's recommendation of Christ and Nothing. It's an incredibly important essay that I think every modern person should read, particularly if they can't get through the longer, denser treatment of the topic in The Beauty of the Infinite.

FrH said...

Another thanks from someone who requested a response.

JD said...

How many years have you been blogging, Prof Feser? And from what I can see (I may be wrong) this is the first engagement with David Bentley Hart. More please!!!

And I third (or is it fourth)the recommendation of Christ and Nothing. Without doubt one of the most thought-provoking essays I have ever read.

Brandon said...

Hart is making a historicist argument: unless we have already entered the tradition in which natural law was created--unless we have already absorbed the metaphysical axioms or supernatural claims by which natural law is coherent--then it is impossible for natural law to convince us of anything.

This is not a historicist argument; it's either trivially true or question-begging, or obviously false, depending on precisely how it is interpreted. If all it means is that one can only be persuaded by natural law theory if one accepts principles that make it seem very likely to be true, this is trivial, because this is just restating what it is to be persuaded by an argument or theory. If this were a problem, Hart would be special pleading.

On the other hand, if it is the claim that there is no natural law unless people accept natural law theory, this conflates natural law and natural law theory is just the assumption that natural law theory is false, and begs the question. This is precisely one of the dangers of continually talking about persuasion in this context: persuasion is irrelevant unless natural law theory's correctness is taken to depend on persuading people, which would be inconsistent with natural law theory itself. If this is the interpretation, Hart is begging the question.

And if it is interpreted as saying that (for instance) you can't be a natural law theorist unless you accept philosophical Greco-Roman paganism, the metaphysical/religious context in which it first takes form, this is historically false: it is an ahistorical argument to suggest that explanations, accounts, and theories are stuck with their originating context, because it is the claim that they cannot adapt to new contexts while still preserving type (one of the preconditions for having a genuinely historicist argument is recognizing the facts of adaptation under contextual change and family resemblance due to influence); and it is, moreover, false to the historical facts. You mention Scotus and Ockham, but both Scotus and Ockham are natural law theorists -- Scotus undeniably (he is not a divine command theorist), and Ockham with great probability (this is admittedly still very controversial, but it is increasingly coming to be recognized that his actual writings on ethics and politics are less baffling if you see him as a natural law theorist proposing a nominalist explanation for why we have natural law). One can argue about whether their versions of the theory are any good, but this is an in-house argument. This is the third danger that comes from talking about persuasion in this context: this purportedly historicist argument requires a non-historicist account of persuasion to make any sense; but what persuades clearly depends on historical context. This has been recognized since Aristotle at least. Thus any 'impossibility to convince' is relativized to specific groups of people in specific historical contexts, and we have to be very careful about generalization. And in this case if we take Hart's argument to be for a generalization about what is required to persuade people of natural law theory, it requires unsustainable interpretations of historical facts.

monk68 said...

Rank Sophist,

“But, if natural law is going to be considered a neutral tool, it can't rely on that triadic structure.”

Traditional (as opposed to the new) natural law theory arises from a very precise metaphysic driven from the ground up. Beginning from first principles of knowledge, such as sensation (a first principle of knowledge according to source) and being - “being as first know” - whereby the every human being, irrespective of culture or historical moment, is presented with a field of distinguishable wholes outside himself (as opposed to an amorphous “one-ness”. This most fundamental experience gives rise to other first principles such as the law of identity, and its associate, the law of non-contradiction, followed closely by the law of excluded middle, etc. But a natural world populated by items which are “this’ and not “that”, where “A” is not “B”, nor is “A” ever “non-A” in the same way at the same time, requires the postulation of the metaphysical principle of “form” to account for the unict distinction of “this” whole from “that” whole, the “laws of logic”, themselves, depending upon and arising from being as experienced.

The further universal and non-culturally dependent experience of change among formally unict wholes, gives rise to the Heraclitiean and Parmenidiean paradoxes: paradoxes which, if left unresolved, would leave changeable reality unintelligible. Aristotle’s solution of act and potency drives the principles of form and matter. And his solution is not merely one culturally dependent metaphysical option among others (argues the traditional natural law theorist); rather, it is a necessary solution for preserving the very intelligibility (and hence explanatory communicability) of the universal experience of change in nature. But affirmation of the doctrines of act and potency as the only intelligible solution to the problem of evident change among a population of formally unicit wholes, forces both the distinction between substance and accident as well as the recognition of finality; since formally unict wholes are everywhere experienced to change in observable directions.

Here is the key point. For the traditional natural law theorist, the denial of any step in the chain of epistemological-cum-metaphysical principles I have here roughly sketched, renders nature quite unintelligible and communicatively inexplicable: everywhere, at all times, and in all cultures. Since I am not sure exactly what epistemic and metaphysical first principles you think underwrite “intellectualism, platonic Good and teleology”, I cannot say exactly how your “triad” comports with the sketch I have just given. But whether you agree or disagree with the sketch (which I admit is only a rough sketch); the thing to see (which Hart does not see), is that the traditional natural law theorist, takes his metaphysical account to be the very essence of neutrality with respect to human knowledge of nature, since he takes denial of any portion, whatsoever, of the argumentative chain to render the natural order ultimately unintelligible – in any place, at any time - since denial of any of the principles upon which it is built, reach all the way backwards into the very bedrock of first principles of knowing and being. And such principles provide the very conditions and possibility of human communication about something called “reality”.

Cntd . . .

monk68 said...

“As you will notice, Hart earlier calls traditional natural law "according to the presuppositions of the intellectual world in which it was gestated [...] perfectly coherent"

But notice that Hart is using the term “coherent” as if “coherence” were a valid test which holds in and out of any particular culturally-dependent metaphysical framework. Obviously, to claim that “coherence” itself is merely a culturally-relative stipulation would be self-defeating. And if someone were to say that the standard of avoiding the “self-defeating” were also culturally relative, then he would be effectively denying the law of non-contradiction. But that would render thought and communication unintelligible. But, as I have just explained, the traditional natural law theorist argues that denial of any of the metaphysical principles which underwrite natural law theory renders nature per se incoherent. If he is right about that, and coherence is the one test which defies the criticism of cultural relativity; then his metaphysical picture is necessary and culturally-historically neutral in the widest possible sense.

“When he says that "nature" does not give us moral information, he means to say that there is no "nature" that has not already been invaded by our "supernatural (or at least metaphysical) convictions" about nature.”

But if the Aristotelian metaphysical picture is necessary to preserve the very intelligibility of something called “nature”, then there is no question of invasion, there is only one logically coherent picture. And whatever the word “information” can possibly mean, it will depend for its meaning on that natural picture.

“Nature considered in itself gives us no moral information, because we must first believe in the triadic structure mentioned before.”

If what you say here were true, there could never be any meaningful referent for the phrase “Nature considered in itself”. But if the traditional law theorist’s metaphysical picture is the only one which preserves coherence and intelligibility, then to “first believe” in that metaphysic is no sin against knowing nature in itself.

“Any version of natural law that claims to be a neutral bridge between the pre-modern triadic structure he discussed and the modern one ("a mechanistic understanding of the physical world, a neo-Darwinian view of life, and a voluntarist understanding of the self") is doomed.”

If the traditional natural law theorist’s arguments for the necessity of his metaphysic (on pain of universal unintelligibility) go through, then this claim is false. It would be neutral, not as a bridge or any other thing, but neutral simpliciter.

“Nature must be infused with pre-modern metaphysics and theology before any moral information can be read off from it.

Which is entirely compatible with those pre-modern metaphysics being universally necessary to the preservation of the very intelligibility and communicability of nature, and therefore “neutral” in the broadest possible sense.

-Pax

DNW said...


If no reference framework is to be accorded a privileged status, in the sense of assuring us that the deductions derived from its interpretive premises are anything more than valid as opposed to valid and sound, then ...

I wonder how Hart knows, or why he believes, that there is such a thing as an objectively existing human, and by implication moral, species - outside of his tradition or his will to say that there is.


Perhaps he doesn't.

Scott W. said...

"names are not important"

That's usually a cue to stop reading, but thanks for sticking it out.

dguller said...

It seems that Hart’s historicism has landed him in the same dilemmas that plagued Kuhn’s account of scientific revolutions. Without paradigm-independent criteria to decide between better and worse paradigms, the entire process becomes reduced to sheer relativism. Similarly, if there are different possible traditions (i.e. paradigms, i.e. interpretive frameworks) that can be consistent with the barest foundation in logical consistency, and if there is nothing else that can be used to decide between which traditions are better than the others, then you have relativism, pure and simple. And since the principle of relativism itself is not a principle of pure logic, it also gets devoured by relativism as yet another competing tradition without any rational warrant or justification, and you are left with aesthetic and emotional appeals to decide between competing traditions.

Thursday said...

Even assuming they are correct, natural law is dependant on extremely complicated arguments with which people, even, perhaps especially, educated people, no longer have any intuitive sympathy for. That mean's natural law arguments are going to be losers in the public sphere.

Hart is right that for natural law arguments to have any purchase in the public debate people need to aquire new intuitions and sympathies. Trying to argue them into these is a fool's errand.

monk68 said...

Thursday,

In that case, he should not be writing about what kinds of ethical *arguments* ought (irony intended) to be used in the public square; but, rather, what kinds of techniques or other means should be deployed to drive intuitions and sympathies.

But in his article he is discussing the *argumentative* value of natural law theory.

DNW said...

I figured that in case I was missing some glaring point, that rather than go home and drag out my old historiography texts, I'd refresh my mental definitions by Googling "Dilthey and historicism."

This link came up, which is in my opinion useful as an understandable, basic, and straightforward recapitulation of the concept from the perspective of say, a student of history, as opposed to philosophy, which is what the Wiki recap offers.

The fact that it is found on the site of a crank cult, you will have to take with a grain of salt.

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Historicism

John Burford said...

@ Rank Sophist

I'm going to have to call you out on this bit:

"But, if natural law is going to be considered a neutral tool, it can't rely on that triadic structure. Otherwise, one can only apply natural law coherently with others who share the same premises--which is in no way an impartial, secular affair. "

NO ethical theory can be shared with someone who doesn't accept the same underlying premises. That isn't unique to natural law. What Feser is saying is that those underlying metaphysical premises can be established by reason, while Hart is saying that they must be accepted on faith.

Gene Callahan said...

"Without paradigm-independent criteria to decide between better and worse paradigms, the entire process becomes reduced to sheer relativism."

False. Kuhn pretty decisively refuted this himself in work subsequent to Structure.

Thursday said...

Monk:

True, but Dr. Feser has often seemed to imply, here and elsewhere, that, if only people were to pay attention to them, natural law arguments _are_ capable of changing the public debate. That seems naive in the extreme.

See this quote:

Is a theological position like his -- with its appeal to the supernatural, to “apocalyptic interruptions,” and the like -- less controversial than natural law theory? Is it more likely to win the day in the public square?

Thomism is totally incapable of reviving the spiritual (or at least supernatural) intuitions of people, and, for almost everyone, intuition trumps reason and always has. So, I would bet on a mysterious spiritual revival before I would bet on Thomism convincing people through the intellect. I don't even think it can change how intellectuals view the world.

Gene Callahan said...

Of course, what I mean is that it is false that Kuhn (or Hart) are in the position you describe.

Susan said...

I don't think Hart is saying metaphysical premises must be accepted on faith, John B. I read him as saying that they result from our convictions. Convictions can develop through many things: faith, divine revelation (for Hart), the zeitgeist, reason (for Thomists), even naivete. But although Thomism discounts convictions that were formed from any other way than through reason, most of the populace does not.

So, while the populace is saying "yes, but ..." to what it hears from Thomists, the Thomists want to end discussion after showing how reason came to conclusions that then came to convictions for Thomists. It's too abrupt of an end to thinking things through for most people. I think Hart's point is - "hey, just sayin'"

Glenn said...

In light of what Brandon pointed out yesterday (that the 'natural' in 'natural law' doesn't refer to any interpretation of nature but simply to the law's being natural to human reason (March 5, 2013 5:18 AM here)), for David Bentley Hart [to suggest] that the arguments of natural law theorists are bound to be ineffectual in the public square [for the reason] that such arguments mistakenly presuppose that there is sufficient conceptual common ground between natural law theorists and their opponents, is for him to suggest that natural law theorists are opposed by people whose conceptual maturity insufficiently enables them to cope with what is natural to human reason. If Hart is 'attacking' anything, the, perhaps it actually is the deplorable state of what today are mistaken for developed and mature minds.

DNW said...



To Rank Sophist,

You say in part,

"It is clear, then, that he [Hart] is not equivocating or strawmanning. Any version of natural law that claims to be a neutral bridge between the pre-modern triadic structure he discussed and the modern one ("a mechanistic understanding of the physical world, a neo-Darwinian view of life, and a voluntarist understanding of the self") is doomed. Nature must be infused with pre-modern metaphysics and theology before any moral information can be read off from it.

March 6, 2013 at 4:09 AM"

Is it your understanding of Hart's own views that, say, the "voluntarist view of the self" would be at least in principle, susceptible to refutation?

Thanks ...

Scott said...

Just wanted to mention that the title of this post made me laugh out loud. Brilliant.

Yoni said...

Hart and Feser are easily the two Christian philosophers I read the most, so I was quite excited to see an exchange between the two. Keeping in mind that I am a total nOOb, here is my take:

Hart might be wrong with his argument (I am not sure yet), but having read the "Beauty of the Infinite" I have a very hard time believing he is equivocating or committing basic errors in logic with regard to classical natural law theory. To put it eloquently, dude knows his stuff.

Then again, maybe Hart's strength is in the scope of his philosophical knowledge, rather than the depth, and here he is encroaching upon Feser's special expertise in natural law.

I can't wait for Hart's response, and I suspect it will be something along the lines of "Thanks Dr. Feser, but I have a perfectly fine understanding of classical natural law theory, Aristotelian and Humean metaphysics, and the distinction between supernatural and metaphysical. Here's the bigger picture that you're missing..."

In terms of specifics, Rank Sophist might be on the right track.

Thursday said...

Is a theological position like his -- with its appeal to the supernatural, to “apocalyptic interruptions,” and the like -- less controversial than natural law theory? Is it more likely to win the day in the public square?

Or perhaps both are totally useless in the public square. In which case, quietism may be the right response.

DavidM said...

rank sophist (indeed): "Hart is saying that natural law, once again, cannot be understood outside of the specific metaphysical and/or supernatural tradition(s) in which it was created." - This begs the question (natural law is supposed to be discovered, not created) and is demonstrably false (have you never read Feser's autobiographical stuff??).

Also, what Brandon said.

DavidM said...

@Thursday: What is it about 'quietism' that would make it the 'right' response? (to what exactly? - to the general crassness of the public?)

John Burford said...

@ Susan

Look at the following passage from Hart's article:

"To put the matter very simply, belief in natural law is inseparable from the idea of nature as a realm shaped by final causes, oriented in their totality toward a single transcendent moral Good: one whose dictates cannot simply be deduced from our experience of the natural order, but must be received as an apocalyptic interruption of our ordinary explanations that nevertheless, miraculously, makes the natural order intelligible to us as a reality that opens up to what is more than natural.

"There is no logically coherent way to translate that form of cosmic moral vision into the language of modern 'practical reason' or of public policy debate in a secular society. Our concept of nature, in any age, is entirely dependent upon supernatural (or at least metaphysical) convictions. And, in an age that has been shaped by a mechanistic understanding of the physical world, a neo-Darwinian view of life, and a voluntarist understanding of the self, nature’s 'laws' must appear to be anything but moral."

Hart keeps going back and forth. First he says that natural law rests on supernatural convictions that can't be deduced from the natural order itself. Someone like Feser would deny that this is true.

Then Hart says that natural law doesn't necessarily rest upon supernatural revelation, but the Aristotelian metaphysics that natural law DOES rest upon are not shared by most of modern society, and thus natural law is not a neutral intellectual ground.

It's true that natural law rests upon Aristotelian metaphysics, and that you can't defend natural law without defending the underlying metaphysics that most of modern society doesn't agree with. But this is true of any ethical philosophy: you can't defend the theory without defending the premises.

Someone like Feser would say that you can defend these metaphysics using only reason, and because of this, natural law is perfectly suitable for secular discourse.

Thursday said...

is for him to suggest that natural law theorists are opposed by people whose conceptual maturity insufficiently enables them to cope with what is natural to human reason.

Most people _are_ incapable of the kind of abstraction required. This isn't necessarily a bad reflection on them. The arguments are extremely intricate.

monk68 said...

Thursday,

I generally agree with your train of thought. Although, with respect to altering the ethical outlook of a culture, I do not think it is an either/or situation. For most folks, it is true that metaphysical arguments will not do the trick, and other (or at least additional) means will normally have to be employed to bring about cultural change with respect to ethics.

However, that is a view taken from the perspective of aggregate population only, and not so much according to relative influence. When it comes to influence within the culture, most of the "movers & shakers" are college educated; very often formed by the ideas currently prevailing within the academy through which they have all passed like so many outputs of an idea factory. When they become politicians and lawyers, or whatever (and certainly if they remain teachers), the influence of ideas within the modern academy through which they were formed often become embedded in culturally-structural ways.

As a result, those seeking ethical change must work on at least two fronts: one broad and averse to difficult and sustained argument; the other more narrow, and often in the field of public policy "debate". And this latter is what I take to be roughly entailed by the notion of a "public square" (in places like magazine articles, op-eds, congressional debates, etc). And it is here that tough, sound argumentation, and the need for good philosophy comes in. I think part of the problem with Hart's article is that he seems to be equivocating between these two spheres vis-a-vis his criticisms of natural law theory.

dguller said...

Gene:

False. Kuhn pretty decisively refuted this himself in work subsequent to Structure.

What exactly did Kuhn refute? He denied the possibility of an “Archimedean platform outside of history, outside of time and space”, and said that “comparative evaluation is all there is”. That means that all evaluation involves comparing different theories relative to a paradigm, which has nothing to do with any “correspondence to reality”, according to Kuhn. That would fit my definition of “relativism”.

Brandon said...

Thursday said:

Even assuming they are correct, natural law is dependant on extremely complicated arguments with which people, even, perhaps especially, educated people, no longer have any intuitive sympathy for. That mean's natural law arguments are going to be losers in the public sphere.

Again, we need to distinguish between natural law theory (which is a theory of human practical reason) and natural law (which is the fundamental structure of practical reason as natural law theory understands it). To claim that natural law itself "is dependant on extremely complicated arguments with which people, even, perhaps especially, educated people, no longer have any intuitive sympathy for" would confuse the principles of natural law with specific conclusions natural law theorists come to. These are very different things.

On the other hand, if we say that natural law theory "is dependant on extremely complicated arguments with which people, even, perhaps especially, educated people, no longer have any intuitive sympathy for," presumably in how it handles particular topics, this may well be so, but it seems irrelevant. Take any account of anything requiring extensive inquiry and we get the same result: evolutionary theory, climate science, etc. People even get bored with arguments in mathematics and physics, which undeniably can get very complicated. And no one denies that some ethical topics are just hard to reason about correctly. (Aquinas spends nearly half his discussion of natural law making precisely this point.) But this is not relevant to the status of natural law theory as an account of practical reason -- unless we are simply reducing the whole question to what will persuade the most people. But, as I've noted before, to reduce the matter to what persuades best is to claim that in ethics might makes right: the most effective means of persuading people is never showing them how to reason about a subject but manipulating them by pandering.

If on the other hand this just meant that natural law theory needs better popularizers to mediate the arguments, this might well be true; but this is a fairly minor issue. Natural law theorists have never implied that everything has to be reasoned through rigorously (again, Aquinas explicitly denies it and discusses how in practice we often have to estimate due to the difficulty or complexity of actual deduction). But precisely the point of natural law theory is that everyone who can distinguish between bad decisions and good decisions (even on so primitive level as "This plan will kill us all; therefore, bad plan") is in fact reasoning on the basis of natural law principles, however crude the reasoning.

rank sophist said...

Lots of interesting responses. I'll just address a few of the shorter ones for the moment.

John Burford,

NO ethical theory can be shared with someone who doesn't accept the same underlying premises. That isn't unique to natural law. What Feser is saying is that those underlying metaphysical premises can be established by reason, while Hart is saying that they must be accepted on faith.

Actually, what you just said about underlying premises is exactly what Hart believes. He's argued that very point in countless works. It's the basis of his argument here.

As for establishing the premises of natural law through reason alone, that is impossible in principle. Natural law is built on reflexive, axiomatic notions like intellectualism and parts of synderesis, which cannot themselves be deduced but must be accepted as-is. If someone rejects intellectualism and the relevant elements of synderesis, then they have no reason to accept natural law. It's that simple.

Brandon,

If all it means is that one can only be persuaded by natural law theory if one accepts principles that make it seem very likely to be true, this is trivial, because this is just restating what it is to be persuaded by an argument or theory.

If this is trivial, then everyone is already a historicist.

You mention Scotus and Ockham, but both Scotus and Ockham are natural law theorists -- Scotus undeniably (he is not a divine command theorist), and Ockham with great probability (this is admittedly still very controversial, but it is increasingly coming to be recognized that his actual writings on ethics and politics are less baffling if you see him as a natural law theorist proposing a nominalist explanation for why we have natural law).

Scotus is most definitely a divine command theorist, although he made a ridiculous and contradictory attempt to shoehorn theological voluntarism into the natural law framework. Ockham kind of gave up on faking it.

dguller,

Similarly, if there are different possible traditions (i.e. paradigms, i.e. interpretive frameworks) that can be consistent with the barest foundation in logical consistency, and if there is nothing else that can be used to decide between which traditions are better than the others, then you have relativism, pure and simple. And since the principle of relativism itself is not a principle of pure logic, it also gets devoured by relativism as yet another competing tradition without any rational warrant or justification, and you are left with aesthetic and emotional appeals to decide between competing traditions.

Relativism is the view that no claim is true. To be a relativist, you can't pass judgment on anyone else. That's not Hart's position. He argues very clearly that Christianity is superior to all other traditions. He merely acknowledges that most traditions are self-coherent from a purely logical point of view, which should be obvious to anyone.

Joe K. said...

"He argues very clearly that Christianity is superior to all other traditions."

I don't understand; why, and how?

C.J. Caswell said...

As an agnostic who is quite convinced that there is no objectively superior value system (if there is a God, he would be more recognizable to Spinoza than to the vast majority of theists), I have to say that your reasoning here is excellent. Keep up the good work; I've learned to have greater respect this type of thought over the last couple of years, since understanding the full weight of my own perspective and the implications for a society I've become somewhat attached to.

I am an economist, and at the end of the day, there is good reason why that field is called the "dismal science." I can deal with the consequences of my own subjectivity, but I wonder if others are prepared to accept theirs, and the dearth of legitimate meaning that comes from there being no metaphysical perfection to strive towards.

We shall see.

Thursday said...

I do not think it is an either/or situation.

Thank you for your courteous reply, but I think you're trying to save something that can't be saved. Philosophical arguments about morality have only the most minimal effect on society at large, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just fooling themselves. Note that I didn't say no effect, just _extremely_ minimal, even on intellectuals. My own thoughts are that modern philosophy is largely the result of (and an attempt to justify) a change in intuitions and sentiments, not the other way round.

Brandon said...

rank sophist,

If this is trivial, then everyone is already a historicist.

If the historicism in question is so cheap a position that it just means 'People generally have to be in a position that makes them persuadable before they can actually be persuaded', you're exactly right: it's just common sense, and is also not something any natural law theorist rejects or has ever rejected. It would follow that any virtue ethicist (many of whom have been natural law theorists) is automatically a historicist, since it follows directly from any kind of virtue ethics. It would also follow that anyone who thinks that persuasion is not purely a matter of brute reasoning but also a matter temperament and prior education is a historicist, and practically everyone accepts some version of this. This is not what 'historicism' means, though.

Scotus is most definitely a divine command theorist, although he made a ridiculous and contradictory attempt to shoehorn theological voluntarism into the natural law framework. Ockham kind of gave up on faking it.

There's room for debate on Ockham; but Scotus is, again, most definitely not a divine command theorist, but a straightforward natural law theorist, and an acute one. There are certainly areas of his natural law theory that can be regarded as "theological voluntarism" (like his theory of dispensation), but (1) this does not make him a divine command theorist and (2) does not disqualify him as one of the major exponents of natural law theory.

John Burford said...

@ rank sophist

I keep re-reading Hart's piece and still can't figure out what he's arguing.

His equivocation of the supernatural and metaphysics makes his argument nonsensical. If he is arguing that natural law rests on supernatural revelation, then I would disagree. If he is arguing that natural law rests on more fundamental metaphysics and makes no sense apart from those metaphysics, then I would agree. But that 2nd point is something that any classical law defender would accept.

Aristotelian metaphysics does rest on certain faith-based axioms: that our reason is at least somewhat reliable, that our senses generally give us true knowledge about reality, etc. But these axioms are already accepted by pretty much everyone, and could be fairly regarded as secular.

What Aristotelian metaphysics does is make clearer what people already know. People already intuitively understand that a block of wood is actually 80 degrees but could potentially be on fire. Aristotelian metaphysics simply clarifies this intuitive understanding into act and potency, and uses it to reason toward God's existence through the Argument from Change.

Similarly, people already unconsciously affirm the existence of final causes when they say that iron is attracted to magnets, that water freezes at 32 degrees, that sperm fertilizes eggs, etc. Aristotelian metaphysics simply clarifies this into the notion of a final cause, and then natural law builds upon this foundation to construct a fleshed-out ethical system.

You can only say that Aristotelian metaphysics is faith-based to the extent that you can say statements like "My reason is generally reliable" or "My senses are generally reliable" are faith-based. From there, everything is just reasoning out the implications of our sensory knowledge.

If Hart is arguing that we can never really know anything except through some sort of faith, then I might agree with him. But if he's saying that someone can grant the axioms about reason and sensory knowledge that secularists already grant and not be logically bound to natural law theory, then I think he's wrong.

rank sophist said...

monk,

Your response is very interesting.

Traditional (as opposed to the new) natural law theory arises from a very precise metaphysic driven from the ground up. Beginning from first principles of knowledge, such as sensation (a first principle of knowledge according to source) and being - “being as first know” - whereby the every human being, irrespective of culture or historical moment, is presented with a field of distinguishable wholes outside himself (as opposed to an amorphous “one-ness”.

But this is based on presupposed axioms. First, why should we accept that the mind learns from the real world? Why not accept Plato's system, in which the soul merely remembers? Certainly Aquinas argues against this position (ST 1a q84 a3), but counter-arguments could easily be presented.

Second, why should we accept the senses as true? This is a common sense notion, to be sure, but it is also rejected by a large portion of Eastern and ancient Greek philosophy. Why not instead believe that the senses lie to us, and that this world is merely a Samsara from which we must escape? Logic does not tell us one way or the other to accept the senses.

Third, in a slight expansion of the second, why should we believe that there are distinct singulars rather than "amorphous one-ness"? Why not believe that one-ness is the true form of being, and that singularity must be escaped?

Fourth, why should we accept the results of logic? Voluntarists certainly don't have to. Much Eastern philosophy doesn't, either. You have to accept intellectualism first, and that's beyond logical deduction.

This most fundamental experience gives rise to other first principles such as the law of identity, and its associate, the law of non-contradiction, followed closely by the law of excluded middle, etc. But a natural world populated by items which are “this’ and not “that”, where “A” is not “B”, nor is “A” ever “non-A” in the same way at the same time, requires the postulation of the metaphysical principle of “form” to account for the unict distinction of “this” whole from “that” whole, the “laws of logic”, themselves, depending upon and arising from being as experienced.

I have used this argument before against those who denied essentialism, and I find it fairly compelling. However, I've noticed a hole. A is A does not necessarily get us to essentialism, in the Aristotelian sense of quiddities. At best, it guarantees the existence of haecceities, which are in no way enough to give us natural law.

The further universal and non-culturally dependent experience of change among formally unict wholes, gives rise to the Heraclitiean and Parmenidiean paradoxes: paradoxes which, if left unresolved, would leave changeable reality unintelligible. Aristotle’s solution of act and potency drives the principles of form and matter.

I have used this argument in the past as well. It's a solid one, particularly against those who accept change. But, again, it comes down to its axioms, which we may accept or reject. Are the senses true, or are they illusory? Common sense says they are true, but not everyone accepts common sense. Are the results of logical deduction binding? Intellectualism says that they are; other traditions say otherwise.

rank sophist said...

And his solution is not merely one culturally dependent metaphysical option among others (argues the traditional natural law theorist); rather, it is a necessary solution for preserving the very intelligibility (and hence explanatory communicability) of the universal experience of change in nature.

And I would agree with you. But arguably a majority of cultures throughout history have denied that common sense gives us true information. They argue that the distinction between "I" and "not-I" is the foundation of suffering, and that the goal of life is to get beyond this idea. What do we say to these people? Even though they accept that logic gives us such-and-such conclusion, they see no reason to believe that the conclusion is therefore true. Why? Because they have rejected other axioms that are presupposed in our tradition. They reject common sense; they reject the senses; they reject the idea that logic is the driving force of all thought. We can say nothing to these people. We are rendered incapable of converting Eastern thinkers, modern voluntarists and many others.

Since I am not sure exactly what epistemic and metaphysical first principles you think underwrite “intellectualism, platonic Good and teleology”, I cannot say exactly how your “triad” comports with the sketch I have just given.

For the purposes of your sketch--and it was more than a sketch: it was very rigorous--, only intellectualism is relevant. Intellectualism is the view that the actions of the will are determined by the dictates of logic. It is the view that logic inherently contains obligation. Voluntarists reject this idea, as do many Eastern thinkers. And they reject it without contradiction: intellectualism is replaced as an axiom by voluntarism or some Eastern equivalent. It isn't a matter of logical deduction, because we must accept intellectualism or one of its counterparts before any deduction takes place. How, then, do we pick between them? Logic alone can't tell us: intellectualism and voluntarism are "always already" operative in our logic, depending on which one we accept. We can only grasp them reflexively.

Again, it should be clear that natural law is impossible without the intellectualist framework. It is also impossible without the acceptance of common sense, externalism or the senses. But these can all be rejected without contradiction, in favor of other axiomatic beliefs. How, then, is natural law capable of being "neutral"?

But notice that Hart is using the term “coherent” as if “coherence” were a valid test which holds in and out of any particular culturally-dependent metaphysical framework.

And he does believe this, as do I. The fundamentals of logic do not change between cultures, and to suggest that they do is to refute yourself. This is all he means by "coherence": the major premise and minor premise(s) lead to the conclusion. The historicist argument is based on a higher, axiomatic level.

rank sophist said...

But, as I have just explained, the traditional natural law theorist argues that denial of any of the metaphysical principles which underwrite natural law theory renders nature per se incoherent.

What you have not explained is why we should accept that logic contains obligation or that logic is "true". You cannot in principle explain these things, because they originate from intellectualism, which is accepted or rejected before any logical deductions take place.

But if the Aristotelian metaphysical picture is necessary to preserve the very intelligibility of something called “nature”, then there is no question of invasion, there is only one logically coherent picture.

There are numerous logically coherent pictures, based on our axioms. Let's take intellectualism.

1. Intellectualism is true.
2. I reached logical deduction X.
3. Therefore, I must accept the truth of logical deduction X.

Here's voluntarism.

1. Voluntarism is true.
2. I reached logical deduction X.
3. Therefore, I can accept or reject the truth of logical deduction X.

Do you see a fallacy anywhere? I certainly don't.

If what you say here were true, there could never be any meaningful referent for the phrase “Nature considered in itself”.

And Hart would agree with you, most likely.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"What you have not explained is why we should accept that logic contains obligation or that logic is 'true'. You cannot in principle explain these things, because they originate from intellectualism, which is accepted or rejected before any logical deductions take place. . . .

There are numerous logically coherent pictures, based on our axioms. Let's take intellectualism.

1. Intellectualism is true.
2. I reached logical deduction X.
3. Therefore, I must accept the truth of logical deduction X.

Here's voluntarism.

1. Voluntarism is true.
2. I reached logical deduction X.
3. Therefore, I can accept or reject the truth of logical deduction X."

If these two examples are meant to show that we could have a coherent system or outlook in which logic involves no "obligation," then I must say that I don't think they succeed. In neither case does the conclusion involve any relevant sense of obligation. The first says that if intellectualism is true, then the intellect drives the will and I do in fact accept the conclusion of a deductive argument (presumably because I see that it's logically required). The second says that if voluntarism is true, then the will drives the intellect and I may or may not in fact accept the conclusion of that same deductive argument. But the second carries the unspoken coda " . . . even though, logically, I should." In either case the "obligatory force" or logic is itself presumed; it's just that in the second case I have the power to ignore it.

Scott said...

Last sentence: "obligatory force" of logic. Sorry.

Scott said...

And on the positive side of the case, I'm having a hard time imagining what we could possibly mean by a "logic" that didn't involve any sort of epistemic obligation from the very get-go. "All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates may or may not be mortal, so believe whatever you please"? ;-)

In fact, strike "therefore," because a "logic" without epistemic obligation isn't entitled to it. The sort of obligation at issue here is part and parcel of the very meaning of implication and entailment.

You may say that there could be coherent systems according to which logic alone doesn't force me to believe the conclusion of a valid deductive argument with premises whose truth I accept. But if it doesn't give me any reason that I should accept such a conclusion (even if in fact I don't), then it isn't logic but something else.

Scott said...

And if that's the case, then I also don't think it can be right to say that belief in the "obligatoriness" of logic springs from intellectualism. Any system, outlook, worldview, philosophy, or theology whatsoever that involves logic at all also incorporates the sense of "obligatoriness" at issue here, because it's built in to the nature of logic itself and that's the end of it. Belief in the "obligatoriness" of logic springs from understanding what logic is.

(That last statement doesn't presume intellectualism either. It doesn't say that everyone who understands what logic is will therefore in fact believe in its "obligatoriness." It just says that when people do, that's why.)

Anonymous said...

Rank Sophist,

I'm not sure your characterisation of Eastern thought is necessarily correct. I'm no expert, but I would be very weary of attributing notions like the rejection of the senses or common sense or logic to Eastern thought. Shankara, for example, seems to accuse the Buddhists of doing just these things, and yet Shankara is presumably one of the primary examples you had in mind.

At the very least great expertise (preferably not tainted by any sort of new age or modern Western viewpoint) is needed to comment on Eastern thought in depth.

Crude said...

I'll leave the greater discussion about what can ultimately be shown to be true to Feser and Hart. But, I wanted to give some commentary about where I think is a key failure in Hart's piece. It may not be a decisive one for Feser to capitalize on, but still, I think it's big.

Hart's big conclusion: There is no logically coherent way to translate that form of cosmic moral vision into the language of modern “practical reason” or of public policy debate in a secular society. Our concept of nature, in any age, is entirely dependent upon supernatural (or at least metaphysical) convictions. And, in an age that has been shaped by a mechanistic understanding of the physical world, a neo-Darwinian view of life, and a voluntarist understanding of the self, nature’s “laws” must appear to be anything but moral.

Here's the problem I have with Hart on this point: he makes it sound as if the average 'secular' person in 'secular' society has well-formed ideas and beliefs with a deep-down commitment to a variety of metaphysical views and presuppositions. So much so that "Only the total spiritual conversion of his vision of reality could truly change his thinking."

So, hey - attempting to argue from the position of Natural Law or classical theism is pointless, because it requires such and such initial commitments which the secularist is going to reject out of hand. What's more, you're not going to be able to change his mind - he believes what he believes, and he thinks Natural Law and the rest is nonsense from the get-go. Change will have to come from some dramatic shift in his bottom-level view of the world.

I don't believe this. I'm sure it's true for some people - a Richard Dawkins or a Jerry Coyne. But I think for a lot of people, natural law and related arguments - in fact, just plain *learning* about metaphysics and philosophy in general - can go a very long way towards either changing their views, or shuddering the faith they have in their current, secularist views.

Hart of all people should know this - he's reviewed the Cult of Gnu. He found them, if I recall, dismal: largely a bunch of people who couldn't even make very coherent arguments, much less properly understand the arguments of their opposition. I think most people (theist and atheist) fall in these camps, and I think delivering them Natural Law and other arguments - at least to the ones who are prone to at least listening to discussion and debate (and I realize that these are actually a minority of people, most likely) are apt to either find themselves persuaded in another direction, or at least find themselves pretty shaken in their previous beliefs. Especially since those beliefs are often 'theists don't have any arguments for what they believe, religious people just believe what they do totally on faith.'

So I find Hart's argument pretty odd. It sounds like he's picking out the extremely biased person who will cling to their views come hell or highwater and saying 'Well, natural law will not convert them.' If so, or if something similar, I think he just has the wrong target in mind.

Crude said...

To add on to what I just wrote...

Hart again.

And, in an age that has been shaped by a mechanistic understanding of the physical world, a neo-Darwinian view of life, and a voluntarist understanding of the self, nature’s “laws” must appear to be anything but moral.

The problem is, I think most people couldn't explain what a mechanistic understanding of the world even is, their knowledge of neo-Darwinism tends to be thin at best, and most people would probably think a voluntarist understanding of the has something to do with charity work.

dguller said...

Rank:

Relativism is the view that no claim is true.

Relativism is the view that all truth is relative to a particular perspective (or tradition, or framework, or schema, or paradigm, or whatever). It is the rejection that truth exists independent of our particular perspective, i.e. in itself.

To be a relativist, you can't pass judgment on anyone else.

Sure you can, but only from within your particular perspective.

That's not Hart's position. He argues very clearly that Christianity is superior to all other traditions.

According to what standard does Hart make this argument? If he does so within his particular tradition, and says that only logical coherence is a universal standard to apply to all traditions, then his claim becomes completely subjective and relative.

He merely acknowledges that most traditions are self-coherent from a purely logical point of view, which should be obvious to anyone.

That is true.

Scotus is most definitely a divine command theorist

Frederick Copleston:

“While, then, if we look at Scotus’ philosophy by itself, we must allow that his moral doctrine is not that of arbitrary divine authoritarianism, we must also allow, if we look at the historical development of thought, that his moral doctrine helped to prepare the way for Ockham, in whose eyes the moral law, including the whole Decalogue, is the arbitrary creation of the divine will” (A History of Philsophy, Vol. II, p. 550).

Richard Cross:

“In fact, it is easy to show that Scotus does not accept a divine command theory” (Duns Scotus, p. 90).

Armand Maurer:

“We have already noted that there can be no voluntarism in the Scotist conception of God: the divine will is not elevated above the divine intellect, determining the divine Ideas and the eternal truths they contain” (Medieval Philosophy, p. 240)

Joe K. said...

Crude,

For what it's worth, it had everything to do with my change in life. I'm not sure it's vital to Hart's point (or at least Rank's) that there are in fact people who change based on the presentation of the argument, but it's there. I wasn't born into a natural law tradition. In fact, I used to mock it all the time. But, in the end, it was almost entirely convincing to me.

All that said, it's hard to tell if Hart's point is that natural law is philosophically unjustified (as the one, true solution) or if appealing to it is just Imprudent and Ineffective in the modern world. The first argument is clearly more interesting, and the second is just a little silly to me. Especially to me, perhaps; I don't know.

Dguller,

"According to what standard does Hart make this argument? If he does so within his particular tradition, and says that only logical coherence is a universal standard to apply to all traditions, then his claim becomes completely subjective and relative."

Was exactly what I was trying to ask; thank you.

rank sophist said...

Anon at 6:42 PM,

I agree with your skepticism. Non-experts should not claim to understand Eastern philosophy to any large degree. I was merely trying to offer an example besides that of voluntarism.

dguller,

I've done my research on Scotus, too. The topic at hand is not theological voluntarism, but voluntarism of the human will. I realize that Scotus's interpretation was more complex than Ockham's, that he tried to reconcile the idea of natural law with voluntarism, that he managed a somewhat coherent blend of eudaimonism and divine commands--I get it. None of that is relevant to what we're discussing right now.

then his claim becomes completely subjective and relative.

Only if you suppose that there is an alternative of Absolute Reason in comparison with which he is a relativist. That doesn't (can't) exist, though. Hart's positively objectivistic if you put him up side-by-side with a legitimate relativist.

Joe,

As I said about my own conversion to natural law in an earlier combox, I was drawn simultaneously by the logical consistency and the beauty of the whole thing. From what I've read of your adoption of it, you had a somewhat similar experience. Hart's point--in all of his work--is that there is no wholly disinterested way to think: everyone has already taken a side. Converting from one side to another can be in part a matter of logic, but there is always another motivation, whether or not it's obvious to you.

Scott,

But the second carries the unspoken coda " . . . even though, logically, I should." In either case the "obligatory force" or logic is itself presumed; it's just that in the second case I have the power to ignore it.

I don't see how it's presupposed. We have a logical construct and then we have a will that can spontaneously choose to accept or reject that construct. Where does the obligatory force come from? It could be imposed from the outside, of course, but it's no longer inherent to the system itself.

And on the positive side of the case, I'm having a hard time imagining what we could possibly mean by a "logic" that didn't involve any sort of epistemic obligation from the very get-go. "All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates may or may not be mortal, so believe whatever you please"? ;-)

That is a rough idea of how voluntarism ends unless obligation is imposed from the outside. This is what God was for in early voluntarist thought. Once that was done with, only irrationalism was left.

You may say that there could be coherent systems according to which logic alone doesn't force me to believe the conclusion of a valid deductive argument with premises whose truth I accept. But if it doesn't give me any reason that I should accept such a conclusion (even if in fact I don't), then it isn't logic but something else.

Belief and acceptance aren't noticeably different for a voluntarist, when you get right down to it. Anyway, the deranged protagonist of Notes from Underground said it best:

"But, good Lord, what do I care about the laws of nature and arithmetic if I have my reasons for disliking them, including the one about two and two making four! Of course, I won't be able to breach this wall with my head if I'm not strong enough. But I don't have to accept a stone wall just because it's there and I don't have the strength to breach it."

rank sophist said...

Any system, outlook, worldview, philosophy, or theology whatsoever that involves logic at all also incorporates the sense of "obligatoriness" at issue here, because it's built in to the nature of logic itself and that's the end of it.

As I said to machinephilosophy in an earlier combox, voluntarism works because it's axiomatic, just like intellectualism. It isn't based on deductions. Once you accept it, every deduction is questionable--but that doesn't tell us anything about the validity of voluntarism itself.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

I should clarify that I did indeed refer to theological voluntarism in passing--I'd forgotten. The degree to which Scotus embraced that structure is of course debated, and certain modern interpretations hold that he was inconsistent about it. We can all agree that Scotus's version was not the arbitrary tyrant of Ockham or Calvin. The point is that voluntarism (of the human will) divorced obligation and morality from logic: they had to be imposed. Hence, divine command theory. But this is way off-topic, and I have no interest in getting into an argument with you, so let's end it there.

Crude said...

Joe K,

For what it's worth, it had everything to do with my change in life. I'm not sure it's vital to Hart's point (or at least Rank's) that there are in fact people who change based on the presentation of the argument, but it's there. I wasn't born into a natural law tradition. In fact, I used to mock it all the time. But, in the end, it was almost entirely convincing to me.

All that said, it's hard to tell if Hart's point is that natural law is philosophically unjustified (as the one, true solution) or if appealing to it is just Imprudent and Ineffective in the modern world. The first argument is clearly more interesting, and the second is just a little silly to me. Especially to me, perhaps; I don't know.


The impression I get is more the second, but who knows - I could be wrong. And to a certain degree, I think that has traction. I think other methods, even other arguments, are necessary to communicate what has to be communicated to a wider audience.

I actually think what's particularly effective in getting people persuaded by natural law and similar arguments is first and foremost getting them familiar with the fundamentals of philosophy and metaphysics, which TLS was uniquely good at. Being able to tell when a person saying 'Science shows us that...' is BSing (as they're really talking about philosophy or such) is immensely helpful, even liberating. The number of express or implied arguments you can stop cold with that knowledge alone is considerable. From there, actually explaining the merits of natural law, etc, is made so much easier. You won't compel the really determined anti-theist with such arguments, but you won't compel a really determined solipsist either.

If Hart was just talking about those sorts, I'd understand. But the impression I get is he thinks the number of really, thoroughly hardcore Humean secularists is overwhelming. I think most people haven't even heard of Hume, or will confuse him with Brit Hume.

Anonymous said...

I love you Edward Feser

Glenn said...

Rank,

As I said to machinephilosophy in an earlier combox, voluntarism works because it's axiomatic, just like intellectualism. It isn't based on deductions.

Au contraire, both intellectualism and voluntarism--at least the versions you originally pointed to (where intellectualism holds that reason precedes and is higher than will, and voluntarism holds that it is will which precedes and is higher)--are indeed based on deductions.

And while they may be taken to be axiomatic, they are not axiomatic for having been taken to be intuitively self-evident from the get-go without consideration aforethought, but, rather, for having been arrived at through the use of reason, supported by sequentialized chains of logical arguments, and gaining such eventual acceptance that then they were considered to be, so to speak, intuitively self-evident.

Glenn said...

As for,

1. Intellectualism is true.
2. I reached logical deduction X.
3. Therefore, I must accept the truth of logical deduction X.


If this were true strictly speaking, then all intellectualists would necessarily be in unanimous agreement, and no intellectualist would dare give utterance to a statement such as, "I don't necessarily agree with your conclusions."

Joe K. said...

Rank,

"As I said about my own conversion to natural law in an earlier combox, I was drawn simultaneously by the logical consistency and the beauty of the whole thing. From what I've read of your adoption of it, you had a somewhat similar experience. Hart's point--in all of his work--is that there is no wholly disinterested way to think: everyone has already taken a side. Converting from one side to another can be in part a matter of logic, but there is always another motivation, whether or not it's obvious to you."

That's not an answer to dguller's or my question. You wrote that "He argues very clearly that Christianity is superior to all other traditions." To what standard of measurement are we evaluating "Superior" here, especially when, as you argue, the systems in question are all equally logically valid? Because he (or anyone) happens to like something more/thinks it more "beautiful," it is superior? What makes one thing "more beautiful" than the next? Is this some separate standard outside of criticism?

You're basically saying your (somehow separate and valid) gut feeling elevates the object of your feeling Above (or superior to) other things, the rest being semantics. If you want something that doesn't appeal and can't convince the secular public, it's That.

Brian said...

I don't get it. All systems are internally coherent and logically valid now? Since when? I thought that one of the main points of this blog is that many modern notions and systems contain flaws in them that result in incoherencies and absurdities, even if evaluated within the terms of their own paradigm.

Heck, think of Protestantism and the Sola Scriptura and the canon problem.

Brandon said...

rank sophist said to Scott:

The fundamentals of logic do not change between cultures, and to suggest that they do is to refute yourself. This is all he means by "coherence": the major premise and minor premise(s) lead to the conclusion. The historicist argument is based on a higher, axiomatic level.

But this account of coherence already presupposes axioms, and if these fundamentals do not change from culture to culture, these axioms are immune from any historicist analysis. But precisely the point of natural law theory, the very first step of it, is that coherence in practical reason requires axioms, first principles, without which we cannot coherently reason at all in practical matters, and that these are the first precepts of natural law. (In Aquinas's account, in fact, the very first precept of natural law ends up being, given the convertibility of being and good, literally equivalent to the principle of noncontradiction.)

If your account of Hart is right, Hart is simply trying to have his cake and eat it too: he is criticizing natural law theory for proposing a neutral logic, which it doesn't claim to, while explicitly helping himself elsewhere to a neutral logic somehow structuring what is and what isn't 'coherent' independently of any questions of rational value or normative force for reasoning.

DavidM said...

rank's deduction:
Premise: "voluntarism works because it's axiomatic, just like intellectualism. It isn't based on deductions. Once you accept it, every deduction is questionable"

Conclusion: "but that doesn't tell us anything about the validity of voluntarism itself."

Now THAT is a questionable deduction. Also a vague and trivial-sounding one. Anyone can 'question' any deduction, but only crazy people can take seriously the notion that it is possible/justifiable to *cast genuine doubt upon* absolutely any deduction. What a stupid axiom that would be! You can't just pull stupid-sounding claims out of yer arse and call them irrefutable axioms. You need to reflect on what it means to be an axiom.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"I don't see how it's presupposed. We have a logical construct and then we have a will that can spontaneously choose to accept or reject that construct. Where does the obligatory force come from? It could be imposed from the outside, of course, but it's no longer inherent to the system itself."

You may be talking about either of two things here:

(1) An epistemic obligation to accept the conclusion of a valid argument with true premises.

(2) An obligation to accept (for example, and I'll stick with this example) the syllogism as a form of valid reasoning at all.

In your previous comments I've generally taken you to mean (1) (and my replies are based on that understanding), but here you seem to mean (2).

Now, in the case of (1), I simply don't see why there would be any question as to the epistemic obligation at issue. You've been talking, thus far, about systems that do accept or incorporate logic. And if they really do so (and aren't just taking something else and calling it logic), then they accept the usual forms of valid inference as valid, and therefore acknowledge at least implicitly the sort of epistemic obligation at issue in a valid argument.

That, in turn, means that if a believer in such a system "argues" All men are mortal; I am a man; but I don't want to die so I refuse to accept the obvious conclusion, he's not denying but merely evading the sort of epistemic obligation that carries us naturally to that conclusion—exercising his will in order to avoid doing what logic "tells him" to do.

But now, in speaking of "constructs" that lose this obligatory force altogether if we reject them, you seem to be suggesting that a system could refuse to accept the syllogism as a form of valid inference altogether (like the Tortoise in Carroll's famous dialogue). That's quite another issue, and it's hard to see how such a system could be called a "system" at all.

At any rate I certainly don't see that the sort of voluntarism you seem to be discussing here in any way commits us to it; that sort of voluntarism doesn't deny the strictly epistemic "obligatoriness" of logic but just says it's not what binds the will to act. (Or at least if you're talking about a stronger form of voluntarism, it's not obvious to me from the discussion so far.)

So before proceeding I'd better ask you to clarify which of these things you have in mind here.

DavidM said...

emend: That is a questionable 'conclusion,' i.e., claim, about voluntarism.

machinephilosophy said...

" objectively true moral conclusions can be derived from premises that in no way presuppose any purported divine revelation, any body of scriptural writings, or any particular religious tradition. Rather, they can in principle be known via purely philosophical arguments."

Ditto for belief in God, not just morality. Rejection of the above Thomistic position is why almost all theistic and Christian philosophy is doomed to failure, in terms of both theoretic viability and persuasive efficacy. Non-Catholics are resolutely schizoid on this issue.

monk68 said...

Rank Sophist,

I was about to write a detailed reply. However, with respect to the fundamental issue in question, what Brandon has argued in his Mch 7, 6:09am comment, is essentially what I would say as well. I'll watch for your response to that before I further clutter the combox.

Pax

Susan said...

@ Brandon
Thanks for clarifying. I'm pretty sure you are reading Hart better than I am.

@Glenn
I decided your first comment was not just funny but actually true (that Hart is pointing out a flaw in society's maturity of mind). But in that case, shouldn't Thomism be solicitous instead of demanding?

Worst case scenario in the understanding of society is:
1. Intellectualism is true.
2. Thomists reached logical deduction X.
3. Therefore, I must accept the truth of logical deduction X.


Hart is solicitous of society's poignant situation. Being solictous of troubled people is Christ like. Ergo, Hart is Christ like. So, he could at least be listened to without overreaction as to how his article tracks logically. Criticising his logic is sort of ironic, as that's making his point.

BenYachov said...

Susan what is this kneejerk set against Thomists and Feser you seem to have?

I'm curious.

dguller said...

Rank:

Only if you suppose that there is an alternative of Absolute Reason in comparison with which he is a relativist. That doesn't (can't) exist, though. Hart's positively objectivistic if you put him up side-by-side with a legitimate relativist.

If there is no way for the human intellect to reach reality itself independent of our particular perspectives, then relativism is true, because relativism just is the doctrine that all truth is relative to particular perspectives, and does not correspond to reality in itself. It is all just appearance and no reality. So, it would seem that if Hart denies the human intellect’s ability to reach reality itself, then he would have to be a relativist. And if he is a relativist, then – like all relativists – he would have to explain how the doctrine of relativism is justified across perspectives. If he cannot, then his position is just as unjustified as that of more extreme relativists, which would make him a “legitimate relativist”.

Susan said...

@Ben
Well, I'm not sure it is kneejerk. It's more that I am Catholic and after reading Feser's blog I began to actually notice what Thomism comes up with as to conclusions. I often don't like the conclusions. So now I call all those results "Thomism" as shorthand. Ok, I guess I did just prove it IS kneejerk.

I'll give examples:
1.) it is always wrong to lie even if a lie would save someone else.
2.) Sophie in Sophie's choice was totally wrong in what she did under pressure (wrong and hypothetical, poor dear).
3.) artificial birth control is always wrong even if a woman's life and children are at stake.
4.) consequences should not be considered if they deviate from perfect natural law (or natural something - sorry I don't speak "German").
5.)kindness should also not be considered if it deviates from natural law.
6.) well, I could go on and on. If logic leads to cruel results, I think it needs rethinking. I want to tweak it so that it will come to nicer conclusions. Other than that I sort of like natural law and Feser and Thomism and this fascinating discussion.

DavidM said...

"Hart is solicitous of society's poignant situation. Being solictous of troubled people is Christ like. Ergo, Hart is Christ like."

Here's an alternative: If Hart is ignoring logic (logos), he is not being solicitous of truth. Christ (the logos made flesh) said the truth will set you (troubled people) free. Ergo, Hart is being anti-Christ like.

Brandon said...

I think the point Susan is making needs to be taken seriously. If Hart's argument were merely that in practical matters we cannot all deduce everything all the time, and that getting the right conclusions requires having the right background, he would be exactly right. In practice we work backwards as well as forwards, proposing hypotheses about what a good or bad plan/decision/action is and seeing how well these hypotheses fit against the fundamental principles. One can't only work this direction, because it never gives you certainty; but as a practical matter, we do end up having to work backwards (proposing moral or practical conclusions, and then keeping them as long as they're not proven wrong) most of the time.

Because of this, it ends up being important to distinguish natural law theory as a general account of practical reason from applied natural law theory, and the applied natural law theory in turn needs to be divided into natural law theory as a general framework and natural law theory as a body of specific conclusions. And in the latter we need to keep very clear Aquinas's warning that while at a very general level we can be deductively certain, specific conclusions about contingent matters will often be only approximate, either because there are conditions that we have not yet explicitly identified, or because we're not being as clear and reasonable as we think we are. Just as with logic, if you get that something that seems wrong for other reasons there are two possibilities: it really is right and your other sources happen to be wrong in this case, however unlikely it may be; and your other sources are right, and you've made a mistake somewhere. Both possibilities need to be checked, all the time.

Glenn said...

Susan,

...he could at least be listened to without overreaction as to how his article tracks logically. Criticising his logic is sort of ironic, as that's making his point.

In which paragraph of his article does Hart take to task--or show how wrong or counter-productive is--the act criticizing an argument's logic?

Glenn said...

And in light of Brandon's conclusion above (that Both possibilities need to be checked, all the time"), does not it make sense to subject claims to, let us say, the stress test of relevant, valid and sound criticism?

(When I speak of 'criticism', I'm speaking of, e.g, analyzing, considering, weighing, etc., rather than, say, carping, dismissing out of annoyance, etc.)

DavidM said...

"In which paragraph of his article does Hart take to task--or show how wrong or counter-productive is--the act criticizing an argument's logic?" -- I'm guessing... in no paragraph? What Brandon seems to be ignoring is that when Susan says "If logic leads to cruel results, I think it needs rethinking", she really seems to mean "If logic leads to results I'm not comfortable with, I think it needs rethinking, this time *without logic*." In short, "abandon logic."

Susan said...

@ David M
Susan:If logic leads to results I'm not comfortable with, I think it needs rethinking, this time *without logic*." In short, "abandon logic."

Logic never needs to be abandoned. It just needs to be worked out differently. If I see that a lie will save someone's life, I can go back and find a logical path to that conclusion. It's probably a part of natural law and logic to be flexible in thinking logically. Why would anyone abandon flexibility? It's a logical strength.

DavidM said...

Susan: "If I see that a lie will save someone's life, I can go back and find a logical path to that conclusion." -- In other words, it is always possible to rationalize. "It is better that one man should die for the sake of the people."

"It's probably a part of natural law and logic to be flexible in thinking logically." -- It is a necessary pre-condition of natural law theorizing (in general, of thinking) and of logic that one means something with one's words. When you say stuff like, "Why would anyone abandon flexibility? It's a logical strength." - it seems to me that your words don't actually mean anything. You could just as well say, "I don't like your point of view; I prefer mine." No more and no less intelligible content would be communicated either way.

Susan said...

@Glenn
Which paragraph? The first one:
There is a long, rich, varied, and subtle tradition of natural law theory, almost none of which I find especially convincing, but most of which I acknowledge to be—according to the presuppositions of the intellectual world in which it was gestated—perfectly coherent. My skepticism, moreover, has nothing to do with any metaphysical disagreement. I certainly believe in a harmony between cosmic and moral order, sustained by the divine goodness in which both participate. I simply do not believe that the terms of that harmony are as precisely discernible as natural law thinkers imagine.

... which I read as recommending a little thought outside of natural law theory. I'll paraphrase what I hear:
'I'm familiar with natural law theory's message. Bless their hearts, they are great at coherency and intellectual gestation. However, many of us think that cosmic harmony is difficult to nail down perfectly. Let's chat about why it's so difficult and work out the logical technicalities later if we discover any promising results. Let's brainstorm first and worry about avoiding question begging later...'

Which was great for me because I needed to Wikipedia 'question begging' yet again before I read any comments.

Glenn said...

Susan,

@ David M
Susan:If logic leads to results I'm not comfortable with, I think it needs rethinking, this time *without logic*." In short, "abandon logic."

Logic never needs to be abandoned. It just needs to be worked out differently. If I see that a lie will save someone's life, I can go back and find a logical path to that conclusion. It's probably a part of natural law and logic to be flexible in thinking logically. Why would anyone abandon flexibility? It's a logical strength.


Gadzooks.

Okay, so I don't get a resentment, let's quote from the knicker-twistin', resentment inspirin' post The murderer at the door, shall we? I'm not waiting for a response, so if the answer is "no", yer outta luck:

A murderer comes to your door demanding to know where he can find his intended victim, who happens to be hiding in your home. Would it be wrong to lie to him?...

First, let me clear away some misunderstandings that are no doubt at least part of the reason some people find the view in question counterintuitive. The natural law theorist is NOT saying that you are obliged to tell the murderer where his intended victim is. In fact you are obliged not to tell him. The claim is rather that it is wrong to resort to lying, specifically, as a way of avoiding telling him. You could instead say nothing, or try to distract him, or say something that is vague or ambiguous or subtly off-topic but not untrue.


Let some things be repeated (and since I'm the one writing this up, I get to do the cherry-pickin'):

1. "The natural law theorist is NOT saying that you are obliged to tell the murderer where his intended victim is." (Author's emphasis.)

2. "...you are obliged not to tell him." (My emphasis.)

3. "You could instead say nothing, or try to distract him, or say something that is vague or ambiguous or subtly off-topic but not untrue."

If all you can (still) see are two choices--a) tell truth, person dies; and, b) tell lie, person lives--then it is only fair to inquire about the present location of that vaunted flexibility you seem to feel David M is in need of being reminded of.

DNW said...

Let me stipulate by way of limitation that my own academically formed understanding of historicism was grounded on the study of historiographical principles, rather than philosophy.

Nonetheless, and at the risk of seeming to flog a dead horse in order to achieve a clarity held to be irrelevant anyway ...

The most obvious questions we might continue to ask, and which several including myself have already asked, is: "Is philosophical historicism held by its proponents to be true?" and if so, "In what sense is it true?"

Is it anything more than a useful to remember descriptive tautology?

Is philosophical historicism a description without possible exception?, a principle of development?, a metaphysical principle?

Is historicism - as a philosophical doctrine rather than historiographical principle - something more than the phenomenon of cultural embeddedness as viewed from a temporally rearward perspective?

Does historicism, as a doctrine, or do its proponents, admit that any judgement can be rendered as to its validity, or any evidential case made for or against it?

If historicism is an insight, rather than a perspective, and the product of a certain epoch and intellectual tool kit, does its own soundness depend on the particular assumptions of the generating epoch?


If it is true that historicism is philosophically true, is it true, as many have also asked, in some relatively trivial or commonsense sense which at base merely reminds us that local attitudes and presuppositions are bound to condition, somewhat at least, the assumptions, surmises, and behaviors of those persons inhabiting the environment?

Or does historicism as a dogma imply something much more existentially radical? That is to say, does its acceptance entail something akin to an epistemological limiting feature to any life lived within a particular social environment. And by extension then, are we provided grounds for empirically concluding (on the basis of comparatively observing the blinded or conditioned products of these cultures expressing antithetical ideals or axiomatic assumptions to ours) that all human expression is so fully conditioned that all individual human encounters with reality are completely mediated through this cultural lens, and all meaning is only to be discovered through the locally (Geographically or temporally) conditioning lens?

Now, if historicism as a doctrine is in fact an empirically derived anthropological observation, should the validity of the premise, and its scope and limits if any, be susceptible to empirical confirmation, disconfirmation, and evaluation?

In the case of so-called historical epochs, this might not be so easy to do, but would the appearance of (or later documentary discovery of there having been) a radically different and competing "axiomatic" within a particular historical setting or culture do anything to strengthen or weaken the basic historicist premise?


It seems to me that if these questions can be kept separate from the issue of what we might call the 'option for emotion driven nihilism', and if we can get answers to them, then we will have a clearer notion of just how the principle of philosophical historicism is imagined to relate to "human nature" and bear on presumably universal human faculties.

DNW said...

Oops.

I had composed a catalog of questions and considerations already found here, or implied, which I thought deserved specific examination, but which I upon reflection realized Rank Sophist would continue to view as beside or missing the point.

I wanted to read them before probably deleting, but I accidentally posted them and don't know how to take them down.

Well, so be it. The balloon has left for Kansas ...

DavidM said...

I rather doubt that Susan is prepared to be convinced even by the plainest truth, but to Glenn I must at least insist that *avoiding obvious false dichotomies* cannot be appropriately characterized as 'being logically flexible.' Nor does *ignoring obvious false dichotomies* qualify as 'logical inflexibility.' Such equivalences are pure nonsense.

Similarly, failing to engage in any real dialogue with actual (as opposed to straw man) arguments is *not* an indication that someone thus failing in fact has a deeper insight into some bigger picture. Those who have suggested otherwise, it seems to me, are just not interested in the actual *truth* (or otherwise) of Feser's critique.

Susan said...

@Glenn,
Blast from the past that still gives me shivers. (You accidently left out the part where the author says clearly that, yes lying is wrong in that case). Or was that cherry picked?

The alternative ideas the author has are ... (well, the first time I read it I thought he was joking; that's how new to this blog I was.) ... the alternative ideas are hilarious. Saying nothing or something ambiguous or distracting is likely to end badly - most of us would flub that charade. And why a charade if we are morally required not to tell on him? Why would the proper Thomist not just cut that tiny corner and go straight to the strong lie?

If I remember correctly, the reason was because even in this life-and-death horror for the hiding man, the REAL story and concern has to be for the dear Thomist whose natural selfhood is at stake. "Sir, I would love to hide you and save you, but you see - do you clearly SEE what it would do to my perfect moral stance? Why I could never hold my head up again as a Thomist. I would have LIED. Gadzoooks, I would be toast in the afterlife. So, now stop your shivering and crying, (no, we don't have time to take you to a normal person's basement, sorry) - I have a plan. I will act out a lie instead of telling one! Did I ever tell you the story of how I drank whiskey and then was able to distract two old men by tying their shoelaces together under the table? We almost pulled that one off! Hey - are you listening or just shiffling? Sheesh, sit still, will ya? You don't seem as concerned about my natural perfectly logical morality as I thought you would be. Have you no heart, Sir?"

I still say a simple lie would be much better. Acting out a lie instead of speaking one is like lying about whether you were lying.

1. Common sense is true.
2. Common sense says lie like a rug in this case.
3. Therefore, I must accept the truth of logical deduction X.
4. Therefore all the people involved (even the bad guys) end up with a more God-approved outcome.


Glenn said...

DavidM,

to Glenn I must at least insist that *avoiding obvious false dichotomies* cannot be appropriately characterized as 'being logically flexible.' Nor does *ignoring obvious false dichotomies* qualify as 'logical inflexibility.' Such equivalences are pure nonsense.

Insistence noted. Thanks.

jmhenry said...

@Susan:

I think what Feser is saying the post Glenn linked to goes back to the idea that whether or not an action is right is wrong must be judged independently rather than in an "ends justifies the means" manner.

So, if lying is morally wrong, it does not matter for what purpose it was done (for example, to save a life) that action was still wrong in itself.

But if evil is a privation of good, then there may be circumstances in which a privations of good are the only options available, in which case Natural Law would, I suppose, say that you are are to choose the least evil option -- which might be to lie.

But if there are other, less evil options available to you, then you have a moral obligation to try those first.

The Natural Law proponent, I think, is simply warning against too freely assenting to the idea that "ends can justify means." Whether an action is right or wrong must be judged independently. It's this line of reasoning that is often used against torture proponents, for example, who say that "torture works" or what have you. (Even if "torture works," the response goes, the ends cannot justify the means.)

Glenn said...

(Insistence noted. Thanks.

Poorly stated; sorry. 'tis what was insisted upon which is noted.

Anonymous said...

Whilst Susan's comments about ignoring Thomistic Natural Law conclusions when they seem cruel would seem to be question begging (where do get other conclusions from? She doesn't tell us, let alone give a detailed explanation), I think that the role of discursive deductions in Natural Law is of great interest.

Hart is an Eastern Orthodox Theologian. Eaatern Orthodoxy shares many of the basic assumptions and perspectives of Thomistic Natural Law. Where it differs is that, like all more Platonic (as opposed to Aristotelian) schools of thought, Eastern Orthodoxy is has a more limited role for discursive deductions in its understandings of human nature. After all, classical Natural Law is based, ultimately, on understanding the essence and Good for human nature. There are questions of how much these can be understood through discursive description and deduction, as opposed to Nous/Intellectus, intuition, imagination, symbolism,tradition, habit, instinct, and sentiment. We are, also, faced with a myriad of complex and ever changing circumstances in our lives that require not just abstract, discursive precepts, but a dynamic and intuitive practical reason, although the degree to which discursive versus practical reason serve our everyday needs is disputable. Edmund Burke represents a basically Natural Law perspective with an extreme emphasis on practical reason and circumstance.

I know that the Eastern Orthodox criticise the heavily deductive approach of Thomistic moral philosophy that leads to the sort of hypothetical that Susan brought up.

An interesting conception in this regard is the Moral Imagination, spoken of by Burke, Irving Babbitt, and Russell Kirk. I would not marginalise discursive reason to the degree they sometimes do, but I do wonder whether the best way to understand human nature and its right ends requires something closer to the Moral Imagination (akin to Cardinal Newman's Illative Sense) than Thomism sometimes seems to allow.

The problem with Susan's approach, as mentioned, is the last of any argument for her alternative, kinder conclusions. In this day and age such an approach can easily be used for all sorts of modernist conclusions. It is just one step away from "well I respect natural law, but God couldn't have wished for homosexuals to not express their love, that is cruel".

Crude said...

Personally, I'm worried about any method of logical reasoning that sounds like, "Logical conclusions are grand, unless I dislike them. In which case, I'll find any possible way to get a result I prefer instead."

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

Au contraire, both intellectualism and voluntarism--at least the versions you originally pointed to (where intellectualism holds that reason precedes and is higher than will, and voluntarism holds that it is will which precedes and is higher)--are indeed based on deductions.

This would be impossible in principle. Intellectualism or voluntarism are presupposed by every deduction. Any deduction that proposed to demonstrate intellectualism or voluntarism could only be of the reflexive variety, as with the law of non-contradiction. In other words, our syllogism could merely confirm a belief that was always already believed.

The two positions were arrived at via syllogistic arguments--this is true. But, as when one argues for the existence of the passive intellect (say), all that's happening is that we are affirming something that must have been true prior to any deduction. This means that intellectualism or voluntarism are ultimately presupposed in every argument that we make to establish them.

Joe,

That's not an answer to dguller's or my question. You wrote that "He argues very clearly that Christianity is superior to all other traditions." To what standard of measurement are we evaluating "Superior" here, especially when, as you argue, the systems in question are all equally logically valid? Because he (or anyone) happens to like something more/thinks it more "beautiful," it is superior? What makes one thing "more beautiful" than the next? Is this some separate standard outside of criticism?

You're basically saying your (somehow separate and valid) gut feeling elevates the object of your feeling Above (or superior to) other things, the rest being semantics. If you want something that doesn't appeal and can't convince the secular public, it's That.


Hart makes quite a few arguments that Christianity is the best tradition throughout his work, but it would be a crime to take them out of their proper contexts. I don't feel confident that I could translate nearly 500 pages of The Beauty of the Infinite into a couple of paragraphs. In large part he uses Heidegger's tactic of combining historicism with an analysis of being, which every tradition must either address or presuppose to remain coherent. (To deny being is to deny your own existence.) I'm not prepared to go into more detail than that, though.

Brandon,

But this account of coherence already presupposes axioms, and if these fundamentals do not change from culture to culture, these axioms are immune from any historicist analysis. But precisely the point of natural law theory, the very first step of it, is that coherence in practical reason requires axioms, first principles, without which we cannot coherently reason at all in practical matters, and that these are the first precepts of natural law. (In Aquinas's account, in fact, the very first precept of natural law ends up being, given the convertibility of being and good, literally equivalent to the principle of noncontradiction.)

There are more axioms than the principle of identity, the law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle. You have intellectualism, for instance, and the moral principles of synderesis. You have the decision to accept or reject common sense.

Also, you seem to suggest that no ontology other than Aquinas's can be coherent, which begs the question.

rank sophist said...

If your account of Hart is right, Hart is simply trying to have his cake and eat it too: he is criticizing natural law theory for proposing a neutral logic, which it doesn't claim to, while explicitly helping himself elsewhere to a neutral logic somehow structuring what is and what isn't 'coherent' independently of any questions of rational value or normative force for reasoning.

Hart does not deny that the law of non-contradiction is valid. It's an axiom that has to be presupposed by anyone who makes any argument in any culture. But natural law requires a lot more than the law of non-contradiction (and identity and the excluded middle) to get off the ground: it requires further axioms that only certain cultures and traditions will share.

Scott,

You may be talking about either of two things here:

(1) An epistemic obligation to accept the conclusion of a valid argument with true premises.

(2) An obligation to accept (for example, and I'll stick with this example) the syllogism as a form of valid reasoning at all.

In your previous comments I've generally taken you to mean (1) (and my replies are based on that understanding), but here you seem to mean (2).


No one can argue that the syllogism is a valid form of reasoning without presupposing it. That is not at all what I'm trying to say.

That, in turn, means that if a believer in such a system "argues" All men are mortal; I am a man; but I don't want to die so I refuse to accept the obvious conclusion, he's not denying but merely evading the sort of epistemic obligation that carries us naturally to that conclusion—exercising his will in order to avoid doing what logic "tells him" to do.

Indeed. But if we can reject our logical deductions without presupposing more deductions (which is exactly what voluntarism entails), then we must ask: why should we bother listening to deductions at all? If our will can spontaneously choose to follow or reject our deductions without contradiction, then what obligates us to do one thing rather than another? If voluntarism is true, then Nietzsche was right: everything is an arbitrary exercise of the will to power, including the things that are supposedly "neutral deductions". One only accepts these deductions because of a prior exercise of their will.

This is why I said that deductions lose their obligatory force under voluntarism. Sure, the deductions can be seen to say, "Look at me! I'm true!" But, in the words of Pontius Pilate that Hart often uses to illustrate the views of modernity: "What is truth?" Hart is quick to remind us that Nietzsche saw this phrase as the only commendable statement in the New Testament. If voluntarism is our axiom, then truth is irrelevant.

At any rate I certainly don't see that the sort of voluntarism you seem to be discussing here in any way commits us to it; that sort of voluntarism doesn't deny the strictly epistemic "obligatoriness" of logic but just says it's not what binds the will to act. (Or at least if you're talking about a stronger form of voluntarism, it's not obvious to me from the discussion so far.)

I'm not talking about a stronger form of voluntarism: I'm just illustrating what must happen in the end if we accept voluntarism.

rank sophist said...

DNW,

The most obvious questions we might continue to ask, and which several including myself have already asked, is: "Is philosophical historicism held by its proponents to be true?" and if so, "In what sense is it true?"

This argument against historicism seems valid until we realize that historicism is reflexive--not posited. No one would make the absurd statement, "Historicism is true!" Rather, historicism is just what happens when we look at the history of culture and logic. When one sees and accepts that both voluntarism and intellectualism are self-referentially coherent, for example, then one is automatically a historicist. When one says that cultures have different sets of values, then one is a historicist. Even to acknowledge, as Prof. Feser has in the past, that certain cultures find certain foods "obviously" disgusting while others do not is to be a historicist, albeit to a very minor degree. To accept cultural relativism of any sort is to engage in historicism of one kind or another.

But your questions in this post are all very good. I'm still pretty new to historicism, and there are different varieties of it, so I can't answer you aside from the sketch I just provided above.

Susan said...

Since I had to look up the definition of discoursive reasoning, I came across this:

13. Non-Discursive Reasoning
The distinction Aristotle draws between discursive knowledge (that is, knowledge through argument) and non-discursive knowledge (that is, knowledge through nous) is akin to the medieval distinction between ratio (argument) and intellectus (direct intellection). In Aristotelian logic, non-discursive knowledge comes first and provides the starting points upon which discursive or argumentative knowledge depends. It is hard to know what to call the mental power that gives rise to this type of knowledge in English. The traditional term “intuition” invites misunderstanding. When Aristotle claims that there is an immediate sort of knowledge that comes directly from the mind (nous) without discursive argument, he is not suggesting that knowledge can be accessed through vague feelings or hunches. He is referring to a capacity for intelligent appraisal that might be better described as discernment, comprehension, or insight. Like his later medieval followers, he views “intuition” as a species of reason; it is not prior to reason or outside of reason, it is—in the highest degree—the activity of reason itself. (Cf. Posterior Analytics, II. 19; Nicomachean Ethics, IV.6.)


Discernment is exactly the word I would use to describe what I think is needed. Discernment helps logical thinking provide good fruits. Discernment is reason's activity. I want to take the straightjacket off of reason and let it have an active outing once in a while. It is gettin pasty.

NoshPartitas said...

Susan,
Your comments on natural law expose a lack of understanding about the intricacies of traditional morality, and moral theory in general.

Firstly, whether you realize it or not, you're assuming consequentialism in your critique of natural law theory. Consequentialism states that there are no wrong acts regardless of the consequences. In other words, there are no intrinsically wrong actions. The moral content of the act is derived entirely from the maximization of X in the "X is to be maximized" utilitarian formula. What X is varies drastically from consequentialist to consequentialist. The key here is that consequentialism denies that a person’s intentions or motivations have anything to do with their moral calculus of maximizing X, and therefore that an act is morally justifiable by its X maximization (X could be pleasure, or preference, or some other "utility").

Here's where you really misunderstand natural law and traditional morality (this is only a rough sketch; there are more detailed arguments, obviously). The natural law theorist posits that a person's intentions and motivations necessarily factor into a practical evaluation of the morality of an act. Indeed, our actions derive their moral content from the will (read intent) of the agent. So, not only are there good and bad intentions, but acts are good and bad in their relation to the will. In addition to this, by virtue of these actions, there exists objectively good and bad states of affairs (which can be assessed as such independent of the agent), and are informed by a set of moral circumstances which must always be considered. This can be seen by the existence of natural disasters – these are objectively bad states of affairs which no person is accountable for. A quick example: if I'm climbing a mountain, and cause an avalanche which kills many people in a village below, this outcome is objectively evil, regardless of my actions. Something BAD has obviously occurred. If I purposefully caused the avalanche, then I intend evil, and my actions are wrong. If I do not intend, but perhaps foresee the avalanche by climbing in a region known to be unstable, then I have been morally negligent and am indeed blame-worthy. If I did not foresee or intend to cause the avalanche, then it is arguable that my actions are a result of ignorance, and that my moral blame is diminished. If the above is true, then actions can be intrinsically wrong, contra the Consequentialist. So regardless of the outcome, my intentions will inform the moral content of an act. To intend evil is ALWAYS WRONG. This is the first tenant (of four) in the Doctrine of Double Effect.

Continued...

NoshPartitas said...

The "Nazi at the door" scenario is now resolvable if you understand the summary outlined above. Since the purpose of our speech faculties (under natural law) is for communicating truth, then to lie is intrinsically wrong, for you would intend evil (even if there is some other good foreseeable or intended in the outcome). Now, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that (as Feser has discussed), you do not attempt some sort of distraction (which would be perfectly permissible) and did indeed tell the truth to the man at the door; further, let's say, as a result of this, he barges in and shoots the person you're hiding, killing him instantly. Have you intended evil? No, you did not intend the victim’s death; even though in this case it is foreseeable (a doctor performing life-saving surgery may foresee his patient’s death, but INTENDS to save him). Also, no action of yours directly causes the man's death. Don't misunderstand though: the man's death is an objectively evil outcome in this scenario, but the moral blame properly rests with the killer at the door.

You my say that this "feels" wrong or that "common sense" tells us to lie. Firstly, if we determine what is moral solely by what we feel, then this is sheer Emotivism, which leads to either rampant moral skepticism or moral nihilism full stop. Secondly, and simply, what is "common sense?" Explain it to me. If common sense is merely what we find to be self-evident (in the sense of just “obvious”), then this is ad-hoc, as some may just have different intuitions about what is self-evident (some Rationalists make this mistake in their arguments for the existence of the external world, assuming the very thing they must prove). If common sense is just identical with our logical faculties, then it cannot be distinguished from our rational powers of inference, and in this case, "common sense" just refers to the self-evident principles of reason applied in a prima-facie way.

So, only by assuming Consequentialism will your argument actually work. And if you do this, believe me, far more repugnant things than the "man at the door" scenario become morally REQUIRED.

Finally, this can all be summarized like this: Provided our intent and actions are not themselves evil, we cannot be held morally responsible for the evil actions of others, as it is they who will the evil in question. This doesn’t necessarily mean that If I fail to act to save a life when it is in my power to do so (my child is in danger, say), that I will not have done evil (for failure to act can indeed be morally blamed - the Good Samaritan principle. But in the above case, I must directly intend evil to save the man's life. In the case of the Good Samaritan, my acts are typically not intrinsically wrong, where in the above case, the lie unavoidable is.
I realize this is off-topic. My apologies. Back to Hart!

Anonymous said...

If I were a Jew, I would have felt much safer in Susan's house than in one of a Thomist.

Susan said...

@Nosh
You are correct because that is exactly the way this was explained to me before. That is what Thomism evidently sees in the scenario. One is not morally responsible for the evil actions of others. Not using speech for truth telling is an evil that one is responsible for.

Well, in that case ... I am willing to use my own mind to figure out that dilemma if it should happen (things close to that do sometimes happen). I will lie, save the person, and take my lumps in the afterlife. I love the Lord enough that I'm in favor of what I see as His best interests. Yes, I decide those best interests based on my discernment. He knows how it works. He knows my discernment is not perfect. He knows I will lie if I think it will be a better outcome for Him. He can snicker and kick me in the rear end. Whatever. It will have been so worth it to be me instead of a cardboard cutout of myself. My discernment skills were hard earned.

@ Glenn,
I'm reading a book you recommended indirectly: Aquinas by Pasnau. But right now I'm thinking of chucking it for the delicious "How To Live A Devout Life" by St.Francis deSales, who is very kind and nice and thinks just fine and has a way of scolding me into wanting to be a better person, just like the Gospel of James.

Ooops. Am I off the subject? Back to Hart! And reason! And being ever so sure about what is right! And staying clear of any slippery slopes!

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"If our will can spontaneously choose to follow or reject our deductions without contradiction, then what obligates us to do one thing rather than another?"

If our will can spontaneously choose to follow or reject our deduction that 2+2=4 without contradiction, then what obligates us to accept the truths of arithmetic?

I'm not being facetious here. I honestly don't see what relevance you're suggesting my ability to "choose to follow or reject" a proposition has to do with whether or not I have any genuine obligation to accept its truth. Never mind logic; surely on on account whatsoever, there's a basic sense in which I "should" believe what is true and nothing else. If can "choose" to do otherwise—so what? What implications are you saying that has for the fundamental epistemic "shouldity" of believing what is true?

Scott said...

Correction: "on on account" = "on any account."

Brandon said...

There are more axioms than the principle of identity, the law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle. You have intellectualism, for instance, and the moral principles of synderesis. You have the decision to accept or reject common sense.

No, precisely my point is that this is simply wrong, and can only be consistently accepted if one has rejected natural law theory already. Natural law theory does not depend on intellectualism, although there are obvious reasons why a natural law theorist would tend to be an intellectualist and vice versa. Synderesis is just intelligentia for practical purposes -- that is, it just does for practical reason what intelligentia does for speculative reason, and what intelligentia does for speculative reason is discern principles, which is just a different way of talking about what is at issue and not some additional separate thing.

All natural law theory needs to get off the ground is a practical principle that is for practical reasoning what the principle of noncontradiction is in speculative reasoning. This is exactly what Aquinas establishes in ST 2-1.92.4: a practical principle that it would be contradictory to reject in any reasoning about ends and means. Indeed, as I said before, the principle is literally equivalent to the principle of noncontradiction if one were to assume the convertibility of good and being; although the necessity of the principle depends not on the convertibility thesis but simply on the structure of practical reasoning itself as governing 'trying to do something'. Given that one precept, natural law theory is off the ground, and the only question is: what other natural laws are there? To deny that natural law theory can start out this way is simply to deny that there is any such thing as natural law.

Brandon said...

I missed this part:

Also, you seem to suggest that no ontology other than Aquinas's can be coherent, which begs the question.

No: the whole point is that natural law theory is not based on Thomistic ontology, which is why, for instance, Cicero, not a Thomist, is a natural law theorist, and why Scotus, not a Thomist, is a natural law theorist, &c., &c., &c. It is an account of practical reason, based on the structure of human practical reasoning.

I should point out, though, that the assumption that Aquinas's ontology is the only coherent ontology (which I don't accept at all) would not beg the question in this context, because Aquinas's ontology is not his natural law theory. As monk68 already pointed out, Hart can't make his case by merely stipulating that anything contrary to it is ruled out, which would be equivalent absolute stupidity; if some position other than natural law theory were demonstrable, but it could be established to imply natural law theory, Hart's position would be refuted just as surely as he would be if intrinsic necessity for natural law theory itself were established. This would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis, and given that Hart only has 'coherence' as a test (if that -- you still haven't established that he can help himself to this, you just keep stating it without giving reasons, despite the fact that the whole point of natural law theory is just that it does the same with practical reasoning), he couldn't rule out this being possibility. That is, it doesn't beg the question in this context -- even if it is wrong -- to argue that Aquinas's ontology is the only coherent one, because Hart has no means to rule out that possibility -- the principle of noncontradiction is only enough to establish that something is coherent when its contradictory is incoherent.

MarcAnthony said...

I'm missing something here, apparently. I thought the whole reason that natural law theory could be used to argue for things in the public square is because it was derived from virtually undeniable principles about the world, and denying those basic principles would be obviously absurd?

It seems fairly simple to me. Unless you're denying that the underlying principles aren't virtually undeniable?

I mean, people make efforts (some very good) to try and deny some of the basic principles, but when examined the contrary views end up seeming pretty radical.

rank sophist said...

Scott,

If our will can spontaneously choose to follow or reject our deduction that 2+2=4 without contradiction, then what obligates us to accept the truths of arithmetic?

Nothing. Under voluntarism, we have absolutely no reason to accept them.

Never mind logic; surely on on account whatsoever, there's a basic sense in which I "should" believe what is true and nothing else. If can "choose" to do otherwise—so what? What implications are you saying that has for the fundamental epistemic "shouldity" of believing what is true?

Again: "What is truth?" What makes a logical deduction more "true" than spontaneous willing? Who makes those rules? You've presupposed intellectualism. If we accept voluntarism, then truth is defined however we want it to be defined. Or, more bluntly, truth is defined by the person with the strongest will.

Brandon,

Natural law theory does not depend on intellectualism

This is patently false, even in the link you provided:

"Now as 'being' is the first thing that falls under the apprehension simply, so "good" is the first thing that falls under the apprehension of the practical reason, which is directed to action: since every agent acts for an end under the aspect of good."

Do you see what's wrong with this picture? "Every agent acts for an end"--this is intellectualism. You mention intellectualism yourself when you say "the structure of practical reasoning itself [is] governing 'trying to do something'". Voluntarism is the view that agents can spontaneously accept or reject things without an end. The will has no goal, no purpose.

Brandon said...

"Every agent acts for an end"--this is intellectualism.

Obvious nonsense; this is not what intellectualism is, in any rational account of intellectualism, for the obvious reason that "Every agent acts for an end," applied to non-intelligent agents, clearly can be seen to imply, in itself, nothing at all about intellect. (Your later claim about voluntarism is likewise complete nonsense; if this is "voluntarism", none of the people you have mentioned as voluntarists are voluntarists.) Nonetheless, this principle is not part of the derivation of the precept; the precept follows from the claim that good is to practical reasoning as being is theoretical reasoning. The principle 'Every agent acts of an end' is just the further explanation of this fact. This is quite clear both from the structure of the argument and other things Aquinas says. Your argument is analogous to saying that, because Aquinas thinks the existence of human beings is expliciable by the fact that they are created by God, his view that human beings exist can only be accepted by people who believe in the doctrine of creation. Practical reason is known by practical reasoning; we know that we reason about means to ends because we actually experience ourselves reasoning about means to ends, not because we have abstract commitments to universal teleology. It's an objection that is absurd to the point of being obviously ridiculous.

Since the existence of any practical reasoning about means and ends would suffice to make the argument work, your argument would entail that only "intellectualists" can believe that there is any such thing as practical reasoning about means and ends at all. But that, besides being obviously contrary to experience, would commit you to the claim that the only possible alternative to natural law theory (and perhaps some rival accounts of practical reasoning like Kantianism) is to believe that we don't engage in practical reasoning. Since both putting together an argument and using language require practical reasoning, any such position would be incoherent.

dover_beach said...

1065If I were a Jew, I would have felt much safer in Susan's house than in one of a Thomist.

The thing you have to keep in mind is why would a 'sensible' person be secreting Jews in their house? Surely the 'sensible' person would be acting in ways that would never put themselves and their family in such a dilemma; where potentially saving one person potentially threatens the lives of more than one. Thus, the problem only presents itself as a dilemma for the Thomist and their like, and never for the consequentialist.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

Obvious nonsense; this is not what intellectualism is, in any rational account of intellectualism, for the obvious reason that "Every agent acts for an end," applied to non-intelligent agents, clearly can be seen to imply, in itself, nothing at all about intellect.

You don't really seem to understand the topic under debate. As Hart says:

"Classical natural law theory, after all, begins from the recognition that the movement of the human will is never purely spontaneous, and that all volition is evoked by and directed toward an object beyond itself."

This is intellectualism. First, intellectualism states that the human will cannot act without the intellect presenting a good to it. It is incapable of spontaneous action. And this relies on the deeper idea that the intellect has a necessary telos--a pre-direction toward the good: a goal that it cannot help but fulfill. The very first thing that voluntarism denies--the thing that Scotus himself attacked--is the notion that the will is pre-directed toward anything. Under voluntarism, the will has no necessary goal.

Thus, the will can spontaneously (which is to say, without being "evoked by and directed toward an object") choose to do as it pleases. That is what voluntarism means.

rank sophist said...

Correction: "that the will has a necessary telos". Apologies.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: If I were a Jew, I would have felt much safer in Susan's house than in one of a Thomist.

You might *feel* safer, but that just goes to show how untrustworthy feelings are. Susan thinks the ends justify the means, which may work out fine for you when a Nazi is at the door, but you won't feel so fine and dandy when you're the only thing Susan has available to throw in front of a train to stop it before it hits a busload of schoolkids. Oh well, as long as we don't have to go to all the effort of actually thinking about stuff!

Anonymous said...

Susan: He can snicker and kick me in the rear end. Whatever. It will have been so worth it to be me instead of a cardboard cutout of myself. My discernment skills were hard earned.

Yeah! God doesn't want you to be some sort of logic-robot that automatically goes around doing what is true and right. He wants you to think for yourself, stand on your own two feet, make your life worth it to yourself! It's like the guy says... who was it now, I don't know if you're familiar with what he said, but it sounds a lot similar. Very persuasive too, he may be the most motivational person ever... what's his name, it's on the tip of my tongue -- oh yeah, Lucifer.

Brandon said...

"Classical natural law theory, after all, begins from the recognition that the movement of the human will is never purely spontaneous, and that all volition is evoked by and directed toward an object beyond itself."

Again, this is wrong, and not only wrong but obviously so. Classical natural law theory does not begin from any such claim. For one thing, Scotus is a classical natural law theorist; only Aquinas and Cicero have more obvious claims to being counted as such. But more than that nothing Aquinas says is equivalent to this; the principle "every agent acts for an end" is not equivalent to this; the principle that practical reason directs to action is not equivalent to this; the principle that the concept good falls under the apprehension of practical reason is not equivalent to this; the principle that good is the first thing to do so is not equivalent to this; nothing in the discussion of the first precepts of natural law is equivalent to this.

All you are doing is engaging in obvious sleight of hand with labels. You have given no coherent account of intellectualism or voluntarism -- you will claim one thing about it in one comment and then say something that is logically distinguishable from that, as you've just done here. Not a single thing you've said about intellectualism has done anything more in this discussion than cast up dust because no one else has been able to figure out what in the world you mean by it.

rank sophist said...

And just to make my case more plain, here is a quote from the book The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus by Thomas Williams:

"The intellect acts naturally: that is, it necessarily cognizes those objects to which its attention is directed, and this necessity applies both to the exercise of its act and to the content of its cognition. The will, by contrast, acts contingently, so that it is free with respect to both the exercise of its act and the object of its willing. The intellect cognizes a possible object of action that need not stand in any particular relation to the appetite of the agent. The intellect cognizes objects, not ends, since an object of action (objectum) is not of itself an end of action (finis). An object becomes an end only when it is sought after by the will."

This is to say that the will spontaneously chooses to will one object or another, and the object becomes an end only after the fact. The will is undirected and ungrounded, and it does not need a sufficient reason to do this or that. In a way it is tautological: the will wills an object because it wills that object. The implications were only teased out by later thinkers (particularly Ockham and Nietzsche), but you can see the core already in Scotus's thought.

Brandon said...

rank sophist,

And, again, this is not the foundation of classical natural law theory, although if someone accepted it they would have good reason to be a natural law theorist.

Brandon said...

Sorry, that should be 'the opposite of this'

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

I'm not even sure what you're talking about at this point. Could you offer definitions of voluntarism and intellectualism in contrast to the ones I provided, and then explain how you see them relating to natural law? Otherwise, we aren't going to get anywhere.

Tap said...

Do y'all mind sticking to the topic, and please take the "Lie/Jew at the door" topic to the relevant thread? Thanks.

Tap said...

Sorry my last post was directed at Susan and anonymous, not Brandon, Rank and their interlocutors

Brandon said...

Easy enough:

(1) I don't use the labels; they are crude and get used in slippery ways. But the standard understanding of intellectualism is simply that the intellect has priority in action over the will, and the standard understanding of voluntarism is that the will has priority in action over the intellect. This is the sense in which Scott and Glenn have both explicitly mentioned already in the comments. What counts as intellectualist or voluntarist varies depending on context -- it will not be exactly the same in the context of free choice as in that of the Beatific Vision or in that of dispensation. This is because the labels usually indicate not positions but tendencies. When they do pin down positions, one can't jump around from topic to topic with them the way you've done.

(2) They don't have anything to do with natural law theory, at least in any direct way. As far as I can tell you are the only person in this comments thread who has been claiming that they have anything to do with each other at all; only Scott, Glenn, and I have specifically addressed any of your arguments about intellectualism and voluntarism, and as far as I can see all three of us have argued in different ways that the dispute between intellectualists and voluntarists doesn't affect anything of importance.

Natural law theory, as such, has no particular commitment on the priority of intellect or will, because it is only concerned with practical reason, not with free choice, not with our ultimate end, not with the precise relation between the intellect and the will and their ends. You can be a voluntarist and have a natural law theory. You can be an intellectualist and have a natural law theory. Either can be added to natural law theory, and this addition will indeed affect some of the remote conclusions that can be drawn, as will anything that can have any kind of bearing on practical reasoning. Nothing in the issue is relevant to the foundations of natural law theory


What makes a natural law theory a natural law theory is what it says about practical reason, not what it says about free will, not what it says about suspension of judgment, not what it says about teleology in general, nothing except what is said about practical reasoning involving ends and means is relevant to whether something is a natural law theory or not. And why? Because natural law theory is an account of the principles structuring practical reasoning about means and ends.

NoshPartitas said...

Susan,

"Well, in that case ... I am willing to use my own mind to figure out that dilemma if it should happen (things close to that do sometimes happen). I will lie, save the person, and take my lumps in the afterlife. I love the Lord enough that I'm in favor of what I see as His best interests. Yes, I decide those best interests based on my discernment. He knows how it works. He knows my discernment is not perfect. He knows I will lie if I think it will be a better outcome for Him. He can snicker and kick me in the rear end. Whatever. It will have been so worth it to be me instead of a cardboard cutout of myself. My discernment skills were hard earned."

But you may not save the person. This is again a glaring problem with consequentialism. You cannot even pretend to have knowledge of what will happen in a case like this. At best, you can perform the consequentialist calculus on the best available information (how you go about this, consequentialists aren't even really sure about), hoping for the best (X maximizing) outcome. It's like the modern preference utilitarians who claim that if the Nazis had only followed their (Singer's) moral calculus, the mass genocide of Jews and other "undesirables" would never have happened: pure, utter speculation. I can easily posit a case where the killer discovers your lie, becomes enraged at your deceit, and proceeds to murder your entire family along with the person(s) you're hiding; in this case, your lie has resulted in the death of a greater number of innocents. Is your lie still justified? Are you beginning to see the problem with basing our moral action only on the ends, or the desired consequences?

Respectfully, the rest of your post lacks any principled argument; you merely make another appeal to some vague notion of your own personal "discernment."

This is it from me. You have my word, lest I derail things any further.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

But the standard understanding of intellectualism is simply that the intellect has priority in action over the will, and the standard understanding of voluntarism is that the will has priority in action over the intellect.

There is no "simply" about this. Let me explain what each position entails. For intellectualism, the will is the appetite of the intellect that is directed toward the good. In order to will something, the intellect must A) know it and B) recognize it as an end by locating some kind of good in it. For something to be good, it has to contribute to human flourishing. Therefore, we can will only what we A) know and B) recognize as being good for our nature in some way. This means that the intellect (which does the knowing and recognizing) is always ahead of the will.

As you can see, this has everything to do with natural law. In order for classical natural law to convince anyone, it must be impossible to fail to act toward a good of some kind. This is where we get the axiom "do good and avoid evil", which everyone already follows even if they don't realize it. If the will can act toward something that the intellect does not present to it as good, then why accept that axiom? If someone can spontaneously choose to do something because they choose to do it, rather than because they were trying to attain a good, then we are free to ask of the natural law theorist: "So what?"

And this is exactly what voluntarism means. To requote Williams:

"The intellect acts naturally: that is, it necessarily cognizes those objects to which its attention is directed, and this necessity applies both to the exercise of its act and to the content of its cognition. The will, by contrast, acts contingently, so that it is free with respect to both the exercise of its act and the object of its willing. The intellect cognizes a possible object of action that need not stand in any particular relation to the appetite of the agent. The intellect cognizes objects, not ends, since an object of action (objectum) is not of itself an end of action (finis). An object becomes an end only when it is sought after by the will."

For Scotus, the intellect merely obtains a collection of neutral objects that may be pursued or ignored by the will. If the will does something, it is not necessarily because it is trying to seek a good: it is purely spontaneous, and whether it seeks a good or not is its choice. So, where do we get the axiom "do good and avoid evil", then? It appears to have no grounding whatsoever. Sure, we could say that human nature requires such-and-such in order to obtain eudaimonia, but we are free to completely ignore eudaimonia. In fact, eudaimonia may now be an irrelevant concept. Scotus insinuates as much when he says that Christians must love God for his own sake--love God because we love God, and not because we recognize him as the ultimate good.

It seems, then, that "do good and avoid evil" is just an arbitrary rule for the voluntarists. Did Scotus attempt to engage in natural law theorizing? Sure. Was it the same natural law theory that we know from Aquinas? You've got to be kidding me. Without "do good and avoid evil" being undeniable, whatever you're calling "natural law" is a hollow shell--one susceptible to every criticism Hart makes in his article.

Glenn said...

Rank,

This is where we get the axiom "do good and avoid evil", which everyone already follows even if they don't realize it. (My emphasis.)

I see.

For you then to say, as you subsequently do, that "do good and avoid evil" is just an arbitrary rule for the voluntarists, is to say that (so-called) voluntarists not only always, unfailingly and without exception follow the rule, but that they always, unfailingly and without exception follow the exact same rule that (so-called) intellectualists do.

Now, what do you think can be made of the fact that everyone is following the same rule, even if it should happen to be the case they some of them don't realize that they are?

Think ye it might be within the bounds of reason to say that, based on the fact that everyone follows the same rule, that following that rule is part of what it means to be human;, and, therefore, that it is natural for humans to follow that rule?

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

My point was that, for the intellectualist, everyone already follows the rule even when they don't realize it. For the voluntarist, it's just an arbitrary rule. But we have to pick intellectualism or voluntarism before we can make any decision at all about "do good and avoid evil".

Anonymous said...

NoshPartitas, is it moral for an undercover cop to lie when asked if he is a cop? Is it moral for soldiers to wear camouflage on the battlefield to gain the upper hand over their opponents? Are these not two types of deception? Thanks.

dover_beach said...

is it moral for an undercover cop to lie when asked if he is a cop? Is it moral for soldiers to wear camouflage on the battlefield to gain the upper hand over their opponents? Are these not two types of deception?

Re first: Probably not. Is it moral for a undercover cop to assault or murder another man in order to maintain cover? Re second: Aquinas dealt with this in ST II-II, Q 40, Art. 3; ambushes, camouflage, feigned retreats, etc. are not deceptions in the relevant sense. See http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3040.htm

Glenn said...

Rank,

My point was that, for the intellectualist, everyone already follows the rule even when they don't realize it. For the voluntarist, it's just an arbitrary rule. But we have to pick intellectualism or voluntarism before we can make any decision at all about "do good and avoid evil".

Since you had previously identified yourself as voluntarist (i.e., as one who sees "do good and avoid evil" as an arbitrary rule to be followed or not at one's discretion), I took your usage of the word "we" in This is where we get the axiom "do good and avoid evil", which everyone already follows even if they don't realize it", as indicating that voluntarists were meant to be included in "everyone".

I mention this only to explain the source of my misunderstanding (which you have subsequently cleared up (by pointing out that only intellectualists were meant to be included when you said "everyone".))

Now, a question if I may: If intellectualists can "go good and avoid evil" without realizing it, why can't a person "do good and avoid evil" without first picking intellectualism or voluntarism?

Glenn said...

(s/b ...If intellectualists can "do good...)

dguller said...

Rank:

This means that the intellect (which does the knowing and recognizing) is always ahead of the will.

Except that things are more complicated than this, even for Aquinas, who would be an exemplar of intellectualism. For him, the will is also an efficient cause of the intellect (ST I.82.4), and thus can have an impact upon the intellect’s ability to properly perceive the true and the good. So, the intellect moves the will by identifying and discerning the good that will serve as the will’s final cause, and the will moves the intellect as an efficient cause by directing its powers in particular directions, and thus skewing its operations. And if that is true, then perhaps the roots of voluntarism should not be placed at the feet of Scotus, but rather at the feet of Aquinas. After all, he planted the seeds of voluntarism by allowing the will to act somewhat independently of the intellect as the latter’s efficient cause.

If the will can act toward something that the intellect does not present to it as good, then why accept that axiom? If someone can spontaneously choose to do something because they choose to do it, rather than because they were trying to attain a good, then we are free to ask of the natural law theorist: "So what?"

I think that the voluntarist presupposes natural law, at least insofar as it must apply to the will itself. Under voluntarism, the will is construed as the capacity to spontaneously decide between various possible options, including whether to accept or reject axioms and deductions of arguments, for example. If that is true, then the will must have a nature and an end that is consistent with the above description of the powers and operations of the will, even if that nature and end is different in voluntarism than intellectualism, and thus a voluntarist could not choose to reject the very account of the will’s nature that his voluntarism presupposes. And that means that the argument is not over whether natural law theory is true or false, but about what kind of natural theory is true or false.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"Nothing. Under voluntarism, we have absolutely no reason to accept [the truths of arithmetic]. . . . What makes a logical deduction more 'true' than spontaneous willing? Who makes those rules?"

Then we are in the case I identified as (2) above, and the "obligatory force" you're asking about is the obligation to accept valid forms of reasoning as valid at all.

"Again: 'What is truth?'"

Well, at least your deliberate quotation of Pilate recognizes that it is the λόγοσ that's at stake here.

"You've presupposed intellectualism."

I've done no such thing, but Brandon has already dealt effectively with that point so I'll let it pass here.

"If we accept voluntarism, then truth is defined however we want it to be defined. Or, more bluntly, truth is defined by the person with the strongest will."

That conclusion doesn't follow from even your own definition(s) of voluntarism; to borrow an illustration from Abraham Lincoln, "if we accept that a dog's tail is a leg," that doesn't make a dog really have five legs. But then again, if you're taking voluntarism to deny that any argument can be "valid" independently of our will, then surely no "conclusion" whatsoever should "follow from" it anyway. In drawing any, according to you, you've "presupposed intellectualism." (Under your version—at least this one—of voluntarism, any of us would be at liberty to refuse to accept the validity your logical deduction that truth was defined however we wanted it to be defined, and that would be sufficient to show/render it actually invalid.)

Now, if that's not what you (think you) mean, then I suggest you clarify your definitions and premises. As I've already said (and I'm not going to say again; this horse is dead), if you genuinely acknowledge (as you seemed to do earlier) that voluntarism accepts valid forms of argument as valid (even while adding that we're free to be illogical if we like), then "voluntarists" are just as epistemically obligated as "intellectualists" to accept the conclusions of valid deductions from true premises, and the issue you think you're raising simply disappears. But once you switch to your stronger form of voluntarism that doesn't presuppose logic (such a presupposition would constitute "intellectualism"), you lose the right to say meaningfully that anything follows from it.

And that ultimately seems to me to be the problem here. The issue you want to raise is a real one only if you take voluntarism to involve a rejection of the view that logical deduction by nature involves or entails any sort of epistemic obligation. But you can't stick to that view long enough even to state the issue, let alone deal with questions about it. What you mean seems to change from post to post.

So it seems to me that the fundamental question here is still whether you really do or don't think that "voluntarism" (your version or anyone else's) really does or doesn't involve or entail accepting logical arguments as "valid" (even if our will also has the power to disbelieve in the conclusions logic correctly tells us are true). You've been asked this question several times, both by me and by others, both explicitly and implicitly, and as far as I can tell, none of us can tell what your answer is. I know I can't.

BenYachov said...

Article 4. Whether the will moves the intellect?

Objection 1. It would seem that the will does not move the intellect. For what moves excels and precedes what is moved, because what moves is an agent, and "the agent is nobler than the patient," as Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii, 16), and the Philosopher (De Anima iii, 5). But the intellect excels and precedes the will, as we have said above (Article 3). Therefore the will does not move the intellect.

Objection 2. Further, what moves is not moved by what is moved, except perhaps accidentally. But the intellect moves the will, because the good apprehended by the intellect moves without being moved; whereas the appetite moves and is moved. Therefore the intellect is not moved by the will.

Objection 3. Further, we can will nothing but what we understand. If, therefore, in order to understand, the will moves by willing to understand, that act of the will must be preceded by another act of the intellect, and this act of the intellect by another act of the will, and so on indefinitely, which is impossible. Therefore the will does not move the intellect.

On the contrary, Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii, 26): "It is in our power to learn an art or not, as we list." But a thing is in our power by the will, and we learn art by the intellect. Therefore the will moves the intellect.

I answer that, A thing is said to move in two ways:

BenYachov said...

First, as an end; for instance, when we say that the end moves the agent. In this way the intellect moves the will, because the good understood is the object of the will, and moves it as an end.

Secondly, a thing is said to move as an agent, as what alters moves what is altered, and what impels moves what is impelled. In this way the will moves the intellect and all the powers of the soul, as Anselm says (Eadmer, De Similitudinibus). The reason is, because wherever we have order among a number of active powers, that power which regards the universal end moves the powers which regard particular ends. And we may observe this both in nature and in things politic. For the heaven, which aims at the universal preservation of things subject to generation and corruption, moves all inferior bodies, each of which aims at the preservation of its own species or of the individual. The king also, who aims at the common good of the whole kingdom, by his rule moves all the governors of cities, each of whom rules over his own particular city. Now the object of the will is good and the end in general, and each power is directed to some suitable good proper to it, as sight is directed to the perception of color, and the intellect to the knowledge of truth. Therefore the will as agent moves all the powers of the soul to their respective acts, except the natural powers of the vegetative part, which are not subject to our will.

Reply to Objection 1. The intellect may be considered in two ways: as apprehensive of universal being and truth, and as a thing and a particular power having a determinate act. In like manner also the will may be considered in two ways: according to the common nature of its object--that is to say, as appetitive of universal good--and as a determinate power of the soul having a determinate act. If, therefore, the intellect and the will be compared with one another according to the universality of their respective objects, then, as we have said above (Article 3), the intellect is simply higher and nobler than the will. If, however, we take the intellect as regards the common nature of its object and the will as a determinate power, then again the intellect is higher and nobler than the will, because under the notion of being and truth is contained both the will itself, and its act, and its object. Wherefore the intellect understands the will, and its act, and its object, just as it understands other species of things, as stone or wood, which are contained in the common notion of being and truth. But if we consider the will as regards the common nature of its object, which is good, and the intellect as a thing and a special power; then the intellect itself, and its act, and its object, which is truth, each of which is some species of good, are contained under the common notion of good. And in this way the will is higher than the intellect, and can move it. From this we can easily understand why these powers include one another in their acts, because the intellect understands that the will wills, and the will wills the intellect to understand. In the same way good is contained in truth, inasmuch as it is an understood truth, and truth in good, inasmuch as it is a desired good.

Reply to Objection 2. The intellect moves the will in one sense, and the will moves the intellect in another, as we have said above.

Reply to Objection 3. There is no need to go on indefinitely, but we must stop at the intellect as preceding all the rest. For every movement of the will must be preceded by apprehension, whereas every apprehension is not preceded by an act of the will; but the principle of counselling and understanding is an intellectual principle higher than our intellect --namely, God--as also Aristotle says (Eth. Eudemic. vii, 14), and in this way he explains that there is no need to proceed indefinitely.

Currentphilosophy said...

The humean system leaves us without the capacity of reason - therefor, if objective morals do not exist we would never know it.

Anonymous said...

Whether the "will moves the intellect" is strictly a question for neuroscience to discover. Organic things like will and motivation cannot be fully explicated by abstract, sterile philosophy that doesn't dip into the raw human brain.

Anonymous said...

Whether the "will moves the intellect" is strictly a question for neuroscience to discover.

LOL. No. Neuroscience can barely begin to comment on either, and insofar as it can, it does so only by assuming philosophy and metaphysics to begin with.

Scott said...

@Anon (one of them):

"Whether the 'will moves the intellect' is strictly a question for neuroscience to discover. Organic things like will and motivation cannot be fully explicated by abstract, sterile philosophy that doesn't dip into the raw human brain."

Oh. Well, when you work out a way to recognize will and intellect in a "raw human brain" without in any way relying on philosophy, you let us know.

Mr. Green said...

Like many others, I'm not sure exactly what Hart was trying to get at in his article, which makes it hard to evaluate. (That is, without understanding its nature, i.e. what it's for, it's not possible to tell whether it is good or not.)

Now Rank Sophist said... 1. Voluntarism is true.
2. I reached logical deduction X.
3. Therefore, I can accept or reject the truth of logical deduction X.
Do you see a fallacy anywhere?


Yes: the part about accepting a rational conclusion (2) contradicts rejecting it (3). (Given, of course, that by "reaching a logical deduction", we mean correct reasoning, as opposed to rejecting the deduction because it contains a logical error.) Now, I suppose we might want to consider the position of refusing logic per se (i.e. rejecting not intellectualism, but the intellect, rejecting reason itself), but we have a word for that, and it's not "voluntarism", it's "insanity".

But if I follow RS correctly, that's not what he means by "rejecting the truth"; rather, in a voluntaristic sense, the will is not "bound" to follow a truth even if the intellect sees it. It's a matter of "not accepting it as a course of action" rather than "not accepting that it's rational". You cannot use a helium balloon as a paperweight, because by its nature, it just won't work. That's all it means to say "you shouldn't use a helium balloon for a paperweight" — it's a matter of reason, because that's what the "shouldn't" means. Maybe the voluntarist would say you can try to use it that way, regardless of what you know or understand, but that's a separate issue.

In other words, natural law is not merely one possibility among others; it follows immediately from having natures, which itself cannot be coherently denied, at least at a fundamental level. As soon as you have things with natures, rational obligations follow insofar as logic requires certain things to follow from those natures and certain things not to, regardless of whether you can or do choose to act in accordance with those reasons. There's no further reason to act rationally: either you act rationally or you don't. (The voluntarist may have divine commands in addition to natural reasons, but even then, "why" should you do something just because God commands it? The reason still has to be something that follows rationally, such as because God is the Supreme Being and you're a creature, i.e. because of natures.) If it's possible to choose to act irrationally, that is no argument against natural law theory.

In fact, the only actual alternative to natural law is moral eliminativism. Moral goodness is like any other goodness (e.g. the goodness of a helium balloon for weighing down papers, or lack thereof); the only difference is that we call it "moral" goodness when the agent is a moral agent, i.e. has free will. You can come up with substitutes for morality (as the materialist is wont to do, such as redefining it to mean "doing stuff so society won't gang up on you"), but that is not what we actually mean by morality. That's why I say everyone believes in natural law, whether he knows it or not (or almost everyone, in case there really are a few genuine moral eliminativists out there). A moral system by definition = nature [natural law] + moral agents [free will]. It doesn't matter how the free-will side of the equation works, the natural-law part is unavoidable. And that brings us back to Hart's point: if he's saying that natural law is avoidable, then I think he's just wrong. If he means it's right, but we'll never convince everyone, then sure, people have different backgrounds and intellectual capabilities, but that's a question of guidance and instruction.

Scott said...

Mr. Green:

"Now, I suppose we might want to consider the position of refusing logic per se (i.e. rejecting not intellectualism, but the intellect, rejecting reason itself), but we have a word for that, and it's not 'voluntarism', it's 'insanity'.

But if I follow RS correctly, that's not what he means by 'rejecting the truth'; rather, in a voluntaristic sense, the will is not 'bound' to follow a truth even if the intellect sees it."

That's what I thought at first too, but when I and one or two others have given replies along lines similar to yours, RS has responded with points that sound an awful lot like the first alternative.

He's said, for example, that under voluntarism, we literally have no reason to believe that 2+2=4 even if we see that that conclusion is validly derived from premises wee see or believe to be true.

I've specifically asked him to commit himself clearly on this point, so I'm going to wait and see how (or whether) he replies before making up my mind. But so far it seems to me that he's equivocated between the two.

Brian said...

Hey, dguller, its pretty weird to see you citing the Summa, lol

dguller said...

Brian:

It's pretty weird to see me reading the Summa! But it's actually interesting reading, once the framework is understood. Also, I find it interesting to read when you see it as a spiritual exercise in which the objections are possible ways for a sinner seeking to intellectually control God or drive a wedge between God and himself in order to escape into his own desires, and Aquinas is trying to answer those objections to further the spiritual development of his readers by virtue of a correct understanding of God and creation.

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rank sophist said...

Glenn,

I'm not actually a voluntarist--I'm a strong supporter of intellectualism, which I think is the only commonsensical and moral view of the will. I agree with Hart that voluntarism is nihilism. (I think Hart is something of an intellectualist as well, for what it's worth.) Anyway,

Now, a question if I may: If intellectualists can "go good and avoid evil" without realizing it, why can't a person "do good and avoid evil" without first picking intellectualism or voluntarism?

I was trying to say that, depending on whether you're a voluntarist or intellectualist, your view of "do good and avoid evil" will be different. For the intellectualist, because of the way he sees the will, "do good and avoid evil" is always already going to be true. It isn't possible to do something other than that rule according to the intellectualist. The voluntarist, on the other hand, denies that the will is directed toward good by its nature. At least for post-Scotist thinkers, this means that the will can literally choose evil if it wants. So "do good and avoid evil" is no longer something that everyone already does: it becomes a rule that we can choose to follow or not. That opens natural law up to Hart's criticisms.

dguller,

For him, the will is also an efficient cause of the intellect (ST I.82.4), and thus can have an impact upon the intellect’s ability to properly perceive the true and the good.

I know. I just didn't want to go into the extremely complex notions of "counsel" and so forth that Aquinas uses to make free will coherent under an intellectualist view. I didn't think that they were that important to the discussion at hand.

After all, he planted the seeds of voluntarism by allowing the will to act somewhat independently of the intellect as the latter’s efficient cause.

I think Aristotle held a similar view, but I'm not sure. Anyway, I really don't agree that there's a comparison between Aquinas's "the will can make the intellect focus on one good rather than another" and Scotus's "the will is completely spontaneous, undirected and ungrounded".

If that is true, then the will must have a nature and an end that is consistent with the above description of the powers and operations of the will, even if that nature and end is different in voluntarism than intellectualism, and thus a voluntarist could not choose to reject the very account of the will’s nature that his voluntarism presupposes. And that means that the argument is not over whether natural law theory is true or false, but about what kind of natural theory is true or false.

You are, in my opinion, completely right on this count. It's impossible for the voluntarist to accept that there is a voluntaristic will and then deny that there is a voluntaristic will, which is bundled with the idea that the "voluntaristic will" is a kind of thing--it has a nature, in some sense. That nature, as it happens, is totally undirected freedom. The natural law of the voluntaristic will is to will whatever it wants without being confined by deductions, "slave morality" or what-have-you. As you might have guessed, this is where Nietzsche's "ethics" came from.

rank sophist said...

Scott,

then again, if you're taking voluntarism to deny that any argument can be "valid" independently of our will, then surely no "conclusion" whatsoever should "follow from" it anyway.

I never said that arguments were not valid independently of the will. As Mr. Green explained, I'm saying that we have no obligation to accept their conclusions under voluntarism. We can "know" that 2 + 2 = 4, certainly. We can say that this is only logical: there are no other possible deductions. But we can ask why the will should be constrained by this conclusion. Again, "I don't have to accept a stone wall just because it's there and I don't have the strength to breach it." We may not be able to break through 2 + 2 = 4, but our wills don't have to accept it. It's just another arbitrary "rule", albeit an impossible one to escape, for the voluntarist. That doesn't make it "true".

(Under your version—at least this one—of voluntarism, any of us would be at liberty to refuse to accept the validity your logical deduction that truth was defined however we wanted it to be defined, and that would be sufficient to show/render it actually invalid.)

For the voluntarist, the idea that the will can reject logic is not itself a deduction, except of the reflexive variety. We find that the voluntaristic will's ability to reject deductions has always already been there, before we even deduced it. Also, voluntarism calls into question the very notion of "actually invalid". What does this term mean? If it means that the logical pieces all fit together, then voluntarism cannot reject that. Deductions are deductions, and they play by certain rules. However, if it means that the deductions will no longer be "true", then one must ask again what truth is supposed to be for a voluntarist. If we can reject deductions without contradiction, then where is truth located, if anywhere?

Now, if that's not what you (think you) mean, then I suggest you clarify your definitions and premises. As I've already said (and I'm not going to say again; this horse is dead), if you genuinely acknowledge (as you seemed to do earlier) that voluntarism accepts valid forms of argument as valid (even while adding that we're free to be illogical if we like), then "voluntarists" are just as epistemically obligated as "intellectualists" to accept the conclusions of valid deductions from true premises, and the issue you think you're raising simply disappears.

Why are voluntarists obligated to accept anything, if they can reject it? All logic can claim is that its deductions are valid within the strictures of logic. But the voluntaristic will is not bound to accept or reject deductions: it creates its own values. So, as Hart says, the voluntarist can just laugh off any claims by natural law theorists if he so desires, and no one can tell him why he shouldn't. Normally, the natural law theorist could claim that the person who rejects natural law is still presupposing it, since everyone (for the intellectualist) can only will a better or worse good. But this just begs the question against a voluntarist, because he rejects the idea that anything is presupposed by the will. The voluntaristic will is, again, undirected and ungrounded: it can act toward anything it wants. The only barrier that it cannot reject is itself.

rank sophist said...

So it seems to me that the fundamental question here is still whether you really do or don't think that "voluntarism" (your version or anyone else's) really does or doesn't involve or entail accepting logical arguments as "valid" (even if our will also has the power to disbelieve in the conclusions logic correctly tells us are true).

Let me try to summarize what I'm saying as concisely as possible.

If we can disbelieve the deductions of logic without thereby presupposing more deductions, then truth and logical consistency are no longer inseparable. If logical deductions are truth, then it should be impossible for something to reject them without presupposing them: otherwise, one could do something that is false, which is self-referentially incoherent. But if logical deductions are not necessarily truth--which is what voluntarism ultimately means--, then where is our obligation to believe them? The only "truth" becomes the will's own existence and power, and so our only guiding principle will be the maximal freedom of the will.

DavidM said...

Mr. Green: "If it's possible to choose to act irrationally, that is no argument against natural law theory." Yes, I believe I made this obvious point earlier in more colorful language. Further to Scott's analysis, it seems that Rank might want to say that *it is not irrational to choose to act irrationally* - why? - because he claims it is possible to adopt this choice as a first principle. (So yeah: 'insane' is the word - in a fun pseudo-intellectual kind of way.)

DavidM said...

So to conclude: what rank has been trying to prove is that you can't reason with insane people (at least in relation to their particular exercises of insanity). Or better: don't try to convert the damned. Now does anybody disagree with that?

DNW said...

After repeatedly reading the original article through to make sure that I got the overall sense right and didn't miss any back referrals, I spent about an hour copying and pasting - line by line or paragraph by paragraph - the original First Things article into a notepad style application.

I then excised unnecessary connective tissue, and asides, and various stylistic flourishes, in order to bring to the forefront as many simple and condensed subject predicate assertions and supposed statements of "plain fact" as possible.

I hoped clear arguments would emerge from the nested and layered assertions.

I also took certain complex sentences wherein multiple objects received the action of the same verb or modifier and broke them into independent sentences.

I'd post it, so the product could be appreciated, but I'd probably be charged with a copyright violation. And you, if motivated enough, can do the same for yourself anyway.

The upshot is that rendered skeletal, the reasoning in the article is an unconvincing mess.

What's even worse, is the insight one gets into the author's pathetic and emotionalistic representation of what would characterize natural law deductions 'if only', as in:

"There are, of course, generally observable facts about the characteristics of our humanity ... and about the things that usually conduce to the fulfillment of innate human needs ... [including] aesthetic bliss, a sense of spiritual mystery, leisure, and so forth ... and if we all lived in a Platonic or Aristotelian or Christian intellectual world, in which everyone presumed some necessary moral analogy between the teleology of nature and the proper objects of the will, it would be fairly easy to connect these facts to moral prescriptions ..."

Yeah, the deduction that you don't eat your own kids would of course share a conceptual basis - and a burden of proof equal to - a social justice injunction that the magical mystery tour impulse of souls yearning to be fancied, be accommodated.


Rank Sophist's references to historicism, and the doctrine's relation to epistemological questions present interesting and discussion worthy matters. Anyone familiar with the writings of Marx, especially the EPM, or the German historical school, will be familiar with the importance of these considerations. And will remember and how these conceptual frameworks functioned so as to "disallow" metaphysical speculations as futile attempts to escape the cosmic egg, or the conditioning forces of the mode of production in order to reach an illusory Archimedean mountain top.



But, after having very conscientiously (I believe I can fairly claim) pulled apart Hart's First Things article, I cannot say the same for anything Hart had to say there.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"I never said that arguments were not valid independently of the will."

But you have said, and you go on from here to say yet again, that if (since) we can decide whether or not to accept the conclusion of such an argument (from premises that we accept) even once we've seen that it's "valid," the conclusion of such an argument may not be "true." (And you don't seem to intend this as a reductio ad absurdum of your version of voluntarism.)

"Also, voluntarism calls into question the very notion of 'actually invalid'. What does this term mean? . . . [I]f it means that the deductions will no longer be 'true', then one must ask again what truth is supposed to be for a voluntarist."

A valid argument is one in which, if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true as well. There's nothing remotely controversial about this understanding of validity.

Your account of voluntarism (well, one of your accounts of it) most definitely implies that a deduction from true premises need not reach a true conclusion. If that doesn't mean the argument is "invalid," then it's anybody's guess what you mean by "validity."

You seem to have in mind something like "following the rules of the game," as though the law of non-contradiction or the validity of a syllogism in Barbara were like the infield fly rule in baseball: an artificial and to some extent arbitrary rule to which alternatives are conceivable. But if that's your view, then it's no wonder we're all of us experiencing such a communication gap here.

From what you've said so far, it seems that you think a "voluntarist" could say, "Okay, I accept that all men are mortal, I accept that Socrates is a man, and I accept that the proposition 'Socrates is mortal' 'follows from' those two premises according to a certain set of rules, but I can still exercise my will and decide to disbelieve that Socrates is mortal." Your conclusion appears to be that this shows that logic involves no epistemic obligation. But it's beyond me why you think it shows anything more than that this hypothetical voluntarist doesn't understand logic.

dguller said...

Rank:

Anyway, I really don't agree that there's a comparison between Aquinas's "the will can make the intellect focus on one good rather than another" and Scotus's "the will is completely spontaneous, undirected and ungrounded".

But Scotus never endorsed such a conception of the will.

Copleston writes:

“Knowledge certainly precedes every elicited act of the will, since the will cannot exercise choice in regard to an entirely unknown object (Scotus was no ‘irrationalist’) … Scotus does not mean, of course, that the will can command the intellect to assent to propositions which are seen to be false” (A History of Philosophy, Vol. II, p. 540)

and

“how foolish are accusations of irrationalism and of unmitigated voluntarism (Vol. II, p. 541).

And here’s Cross:

“Scotus argues that if the reason alone were sufficient, then the will would be purely passive; and that if the will alone were sufficient, the will could will without any reason at all – both of which are false. But the self-determining component in the decision to perform a in Scotus’ account derives solely from the will” (Duns Scotus, p. 89).

The bottom line is that Scotus did not endorse a notion of volition in which the will could choose an option for no reason whatsoever, but rather that the will is the ultimately determining factor between different choices of different goods as determined by the intellect.

Scott said...

[Slightly edited from an earlier version which I've now deleted.]

@rank sophist:

"If logical deductions are truth, then it should be impossible for something to reject them without presupposing them[.]"

What do you mean by "logical deductions are truth"? Logical deductions, I would assume, are arguments; they're valid or invalid, not true or untrue.

Propositions can be true or untrue. Perhaps you're thinking of propositions like "If (or since) A and B are true, then since C follows from them by a valid deductive argument, C must be true as well."

In that case you mean (or should mean), "If it's the case that conclusions validly deduced from true premises are themselves true, then it should be impossible for someone to reject this principle without presupposing it." And you'd be right—and it is.

Anonymous said...

This is off topic but Aquinas' notion of Participation has come up. Gilson has an interesting footnote on pg 164, # 17 in The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas." 'to participate ' does not mean to be a thing, but NOT to be it; ' to participate in God ' means not be God. " Based on S.T. 1,q 75,5 ad 1 (m)and 4 (m).

And in Elements of Christian Philosophy by Gilson, ref. Scriptum Super Sententiis, ed Pierre Mandonnet & M.F.Moss,distinction 37,q.1, a.1.
http://www4.desales.edu/~philtheo/lo...ntd37q1a1.html

Also " Participation & Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas by Rudi A. Te Velde and " The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas " by John F. Wipple. Both available for review on Google.

Linus

rank sophist said...

Scott,

A valid argument is one in which, if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true as well. There's nothing remotely controversial about this understanding of validity.

A valid argument, for the mature voluntarist, is an argument in which the premises lead to the conclusion. Truth, in the end, is disconnected from this process. For the Thomist intellectualist, truth is inseparable from reason (intellect) and thus inseparable from action. If we recognize a truth with our intellect, then we must simultaneously see that truth (now converted into a good) as an end for our will. But if you sever action from reason, then you sever action from the intellectualist idea of truth. The will is no longer grounded in truth but, as Hart says in Christ and Nothing, in nothingness. And this nothingness then takes precedence over any "truth" that reason can provide, which leads us to ask what exactly logical truth was supposed to be worth in the first place. At best, the truth of reason becomes a game that plays out overtop a more original "abyss", as Hart likes to say. We could certainly accept the game of reason, but why not use our wills to play a different one?

I understand that most of the posters on this blog are part of the analytic tradition, and so all of this is seems counter-intuitive (and possibly a bit insane). The ontological issues like presupposition, axiom, reflexivity and suchlike that continental thinkers like Hart address are, by comparison, hardly taken into consideration by analytic philosophers. That doesn't make them irrelevant or contradictory, though.

You seem to have in mind something like "following the rules of the game," as though the law of non-contradiction or the validity of a syllogism in Barbara were like the infield fly rule in baseball: an artificial and to some extent arbitrary rule to which alternatives are conceivable. But if that's your view, then it's no wonder we're all of us experiencing such a communication gap here.

I don't personally hold that view, because I'm not a voluntarist. But voluntarists most certainly believe something along those lines. Even the law of non-contradiction is just another rule, even though their wills can't escape it. It's a construct built over the "abyss" of the will--it's just a particularly intractable one, which can't be denied. It is not more original than the will itself.

Your conclusion appears to be that this shows that logic involves no epistemic obligation. But it's beyond me why you think it shows anything more than that this hypothetical voluntarist doesn't understand logic.

Voluntarism, again, is the view that the will is ungrounded. Truth and logic are not before the will: they come later. They are games over an abyss, most of which could at least theoretically be undermined or replaced. To the voluntarist, the intellectualist is just playing a game.

Intellectualism, again, grounds the will in truth and logic. Any idea of an ungrounded "abyss" is contradictory from the start, because it presupposes a more original truth and determinacy to get it off the ground. To the intellectualist, the voluntarist is just nuts.

rank sophist said...

But, as I have attempted time and time again to show, the intellectualist can't attack the voluntarist without begging the question. And likewise for the voluntarist: if any voluntarist claimed that intellectualism was just a game, he would be making a circular argument that presupposed voluntarism. Hart's point, once again, is that a voluntarist world has no obligation to listen to intellectualist logic. The same would be true if an intellectualist world was invaded by voluntarist logic. They are both hermetic traditions incapable of any coherent communication with each other.

I agree with everyone who thinks that Hart's point is difficult to understand: his argument in this latest article is a little on the lazy side. Only someone who's already read 2-3 of his books and many of his articles is going to be able to infer his point from the vague generalizations he uses here. But that doesn't make his point any less valid once it is properly understood.

rank sophist said...

dguller,

The bottom line is that Scotus did not endorse a notion of volition in which the will could choose an option for no reason whatsoever, but rather that the will is the ultimately determining factor between different choices of different goods as determined by the intellect.

I am not saying that Scotus endorsed all of the positions I have attributed to voluntarism during this argument. But he definitely believed that the will was not grounded in the intellect. It spontaneously chooses objects that are placed before it. He tried to salvage reason, of course, but the damage was already done. The difference between Scotus and Nietzsche is in degree rather than in kind.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"A valid argument, for the mature voluntarist, is an argument in which the premises lead to the conclusion. Truth, in the end, is disconnected from this process."

So much the worse for voluntarism, then. Again, there's nothing remotely controversial about the understanding of validity that I gave. A "validity" unconnected with truth is not logical validity but something else.

What you're proposing here is, as I suggested earlier, an unusually "strong" version of voluntarism—and as other posters have already pointed out, the major proponents of what has historically been called "voluntarism" would not have accepted it.

"At best, the truth of reason becomes a game that plays out overtop a more original 'abyss', as Hart likes to say. We could certainly accept the game of reason, but why not use our wills to play a different one?"

I don't think anyone needs to be any sort of Thomist or "intellectualist" to recognize this sort of irrationality as a disorder. And again, I think you'll find that even this hypothetical voluntarist employs reason in all the usual senses while superficially rejecting something else of the same name as a "game."

"I understand that most of the posters on this blog are part of the analytic tradition . . "

You think the posters disagreeing with you are doing so because they're "part of the analytic tradition"? I think I'm just going to sit back and watch the replies to that statement roll in.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"Voluntarism, again, is the view that the will is ungrounded. Truth and logic are not before the will: they come later."

"Before" and "later" in what sense, and according to what voluntarists? And if the adoption of this view is a decision that comes before "truth and logic," on what basis do you suppose anyone ever adopts it? Congeniality?

rank sophist said...

Scott,

I don't think anyone needs to be any sort of Thomist or "intellectualist" to recognize this sort of irrationality as a disorder.

If that's really the only argument you've got left, then you've proven me right. The best anyone can do is to beg the question against the opposition.

"Before" and "later" in what sense, and according to what voluntarists?

I mean "before" as a priori; always already; axiomatic; original ground; knowable only through reflexivity.

And if the adoption of this view is a decision that comes before "truth and logic," on what basis do you suppose anyone ever adopts it? Congeniality?

Cultural bias, emotional pull, aesthetic appeal, rhetoric and so on. According to Hart, at least.

Anonymous said...

Quick question a bit off topic...

I'm looking for books that provide a philosophical link between rationality, theology and science. More specifically books that unveil the interconnectedness of these disciplines contra to the modern, false narrative of science vs theology.

I wanted to see if any of you have any book to recommend on this topic.

Thanks in advance!

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"If that's really the only argument you've got left, then you've proven me right."

With all respect, you haven't given anything like adequate replies to the arguments (or even the questions) that I and others have already posted. My previous arguments are still right where I left them; I don't need, and wasn't offering, new ones.

"Cultural bias, emotional pull, aesthetic appeal, rhetoric and so on. According to Hart, at least."

And if that's the best you can do by way of explaining why (according to Hart, at least) someone would commit himself to voluntarism, then you've proven several of us right. While the existence of such pre-rational commitment of the will must surely be recognized for practical reasons, there's nothing about it that deserves to be taken with the sort of rational seriousness you seem to want to accord it. If that's really what Hart has in mind, then he's giving it a lot more weight than I think it merits.

monk68 said...

Rank Sophist,

“Voluntarism, again, is the view that the will is ungrounded. Truth and logic are not before the will: they come later. They are games over an abyss, most of which could at least theoretically be undermined or replaced. To the voluntarist, the intellectualist is just playing a game.”

Maybe the horse has been beat to death already, still . . .

In part, I think I understand what you are saying, but I wonder if – in a way – you are not pushing your argument far enough, and maybe I can push the outer limits of the discussion a bit more; perhaps even in a way which will approach some agreement on the foundational issues.

You say voluntarism is the “view” that the will is ungrounded. But what is a “view” other than some sort of argument, or at least, an assertion? Moreover, your statement that:

“Voluntarism, again, is the view that . . .”

is an assertion which seems to be presented as something you think is “true” (I mean you are not trying to deceive anyone about the rubrics of voluntarism – right?). Next you say that:

“Truth and logic are not before the will . . .”

But again that statement is presumably meant to be understood as “true” by the reader, as is also the entirety of the quote I have pasted above.

In order for you to meaningfully communicate with someone about voluntarism, and especially in order to *argue* or assert that both voluntarism and intellectualism . . .

“. . . are both hermetic traditions incapable of any *coherent* communication with each other.” [asterisks mine]

you have to present your statements as “true”, and also presuppose the primordial dominance of “coherence” over hermetic traditions. The point is that “truth”, “logic” and “coherence” are all supra-historical, supra-cultural, notions which must supervene upon all *discussions* about the mutual incommensurability of hermetic traditions. That is because *discussions* are human communication, and notions of “truth”, “logic” and “coherence” are the very conditions of meaningful human communication. There cannot be a useful blog discussion about the relative merits of intellectualism and voluntarism without all parties recognizing the communicative dominance of truth, logic, and coherence as irreducible principles of human communication. To deny that point is to prove it in the only sense that “prove” has any meaning.

cntd . . .

monk68 said...

Of course one can, in thought or in communication, *express* denial of an axiomatic principle necessary to meaningful human communication - such as the law-of-non contradiction (LNC). But to do so is to render human communication unintelligible. If I say that I would like to hold a conversation with you about the merits of intellectualism and voluntarism; but as a precondition, I explicitly make you aware that, with reference to all the terms of discussion, I see no reason why A can’t be non-A in the same way at the same time, you might rightly reply: “hey lets skip the philosophy and go drink beer together”. That conversation would be pointless unless we just happen to enjoy the sound of each other’s vocalizations.

So at the level of interpersonal dialogue, the axioms of logic must, as an existential-cum- conversational matter, be mutually recognized – as conditions of truth. In other words, the *ultimate* driver behind our mutual recognition of an axiom like the LNC is the existential problem of interpersonal human communication arising from its denial. That is why, every Thomist I have ever read, tends to recognize that when one is dealing with a person who explicitly denies an axiom like the LNC, argument in the strict sense is over. What remains (assuming the interlocutor wishes to carry on a conversation at all) is to attempt a dialectical conversation wherein ones brings the denier to recognize that his position renders all human communication unintelligible. If that does not work, the best option is to spend one’s time working for the common good with those who at least embrace those axioms which are necessary conditions of meaningful human communication; for instance where the LNC is recognized as a negative test for truth, and its denial as an existential reductio.

I have noted above that the case can be made that the laws of logic and the whole notion of “coherence” arise from only one set of crucial epistemological and ontological fundaments, where denying any fundament in that constellation poisons the wellspring from which the human understanding of the term “coherence” arises. It also happens that the very same ontology drives the notion of natural law, wherein human substantial nature is known to point to some cognitively identifiable ends. Now at this juncture, someone can surely express, in thought or in communication, the following: “so what, just because my commitment to coherence forces me to acknowledge the objective reality of teleological pointers, why should that mean that I must adopt them as my own set of behavioral guidelines?” Why conform to the given-ness of nature? Why affirm that truth and good are convertible? Why affirm the fundamental axiom of synderesis when its dictum “do good, avoid evil” already rigs the predicates “good” and “evil” according to a meaning arbitrarily imposed by the deliverances of substantial finality?

cntd . . .

monk68 said...

From my perspective, that is the ethical equivalent of denying the law of non-contradiction with respect to the conditions of meaningful human communication. Of course, a person *can* refuse to affirm all of those things. But in doing so, they divorce themselves from any possible non-subjective foundation upon which to ground the meaning of words like “good” and ‘evil” or ethics in general (I leave aside for now the prospect of rationally defending some claim of divine revelation with attending moral injunctions). The existential effect of an explicit denial of natural law, casts one back upon some or another subjective foundation which can be shown, through a series of rudimentary arguments, to ultimately ground ethics in a will-to-power.

Where one expresses denial of the LNC, human communication is rendered unintelligible. Where one refuses to associate “the good” with the deliverances of natural law, then social or public dialogue concerning ethics is rendered superfluous. If I already know that you reject any non-subjective basis for grounding good and evil predicates or moral injunctions, then I already know that discussion about ethical *foundations* is pointless. If your subjectively derived moral stances happen to coincide with mine, we may coexist in relative peace with one another. However, if they begin to conflict, the solution – as we both will know – cannot be a conversation – but must only be a rush to power. Just as affirmation of the LNC is *ultimately* driven by the need to avoid an existential reductio; here too, affirmation of synderesis is *ultimately* driven by the existential necessity to locate an objective, mutually agreeable ground for moral behavior. Denial of the axiom is a sort of reductio according to power or anarchy.

Pax

Scott said...

In closing out my own contribution to this thread, I'll just add one final comment:

RS seems to see (his own versions of) intellectualism and voluntarism as enjoying some sort of parity, simply because it's possible (so he says, or at least says Hart says) for someone to make a pre-rational commitment to either one.

Now, aside from any questions about whether his accounts of intellectualism and voluntarism are historically correct or not, I don't see anything special about the conflict. The modern claims of unreason to parity with reason, of which this appears to be a species, are not new and have been addressed many times by philosophers as diverse as Hugo Meynell and Brand Blanshard (just to name two of my own favorites).

The key point, to my mind, is that—as several of us have repeatedly pointed out, with no adequate reply—there simply isn't any way for the side that doesn't regard reason as binding to avoid employing reason itself as though it were binding in just the way they reject.

That being so, it's a mistake to argue (as Hart may be arguing, and as RS is most definitely arguing) that there's just no common ground on which the two points of view can meet, or that there's no basis for choosing between them. If RS (or Hart-according-to-RS) is right that people who commit to (RS's version of) voluntarism do so on the sole basis of "[c]ultural bias, emotional pull, aesthetic appeal, rhetoric and so on" (or at least can't give any other account of their commitment that is consistent with the commitment itself), then, having done so, they can be asked whether those are really an adequate basis for such a sweeping commitment, and indeed whether those were really their reasons at all.

More often than not, I think, we'll find that they really committed to it because they thought they had good reason to believe it to be true. And in that case they can be shown to be mistaken, on precisely the grounds that their position itself denies that there can be any such grounds. Whether they can be convinced is of course another question.

And now I'm done here, although I'll be following any further discussion with interest.

Sobieski said...

As I understand it on the voluntarist account, everything is arbitrary since will comes before intellect, the former being non-rational by nature. If on the voluntarist account the PNC, for example, could as equally be true as false, then how is rational discourse possible on such an account? If the PNC could be false, then rational discourse is not possible for said proponent as Aristotle shows in Metaphysics IV. So voluntarism it would seem destroys rationality and places us in an arbitrary universe created by the inscrutable whims of an utterly unknowable God. To say that God *could* create a state of affairs in which the PNC is actually false, is an appeal to ignorance and no argument at all because there is no way we could conceive of it. Maybe I'm missing something as I've not read much of Hart and skimmed this thread. But I've always thought voluntarism is a nonsensical and dangerous doctrine.

monk68 said...

Scott,

"The key point, to my mind, is that—as several of us have repeatedly pointed out, with no adequate reply—there simply isn't any way for the side that doesn't regard reason as binding to avoid employing reason itself as though it were binding in just the way they reject."

I agree, that is the crux.

Pax

Scott said...

In my penultimate paragraph I should probably have said "their position itself denies that there can be any such thing as 'good reasons' for their commitment."

Scott said...

@monk68:

"I agree, that is the crux."

Thank you.

Scott said...

Despite having closed out my own participation in this thread, I think I can legitimately add a post to elaborate on my previous remark that "[i]f that's really what Hart has in mind, then he's giving [voluntarism] a lot more weight than I think it merits."

The sort of voluntarism at issue here is not unrelated to various sorts of "postmodernism," and indeed RS himself has suggested that there's a path straight from voluntarism to Nietzsche.

So I may as well mention that I think Hugo Meynell gives at least postmodernism a weight it does deserve (and no more) in his Postmodernism and the New Enlightenment.

My recommendation could also be taken as a partial reply to the question from one of the Anons: "I'm looking for books that provide a philosophical link between rationality, theology and science. More specifically books that unveil the interconnectedness of these disciplines contra to the modern, false narrative of science vs theology." The book doesn't quite fit the bill, but it's at least in the ballpark.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Scott,

More suggestions about books linking rationality, theology and science are more than welcome.

So far I've run into:

-The Science before Science
-Modern Science Ancient Faith
-The Modeling of Nature


Looking for more!

monk68 said...

Anon

"From Big Bang to Big Mystery"
-Brendan Purcell

Simply superb

rank sophist said...

Wow, lots of responses. Let me just address one from Scott first.

And if that's the best you can do by way of explaining why (according to Hart, at least) someone would commit himself to voluntarism, then you've proven several of us right. While the existence of such pre-rational commitment of the will must surely be recognized for practical reasons, there's nothing about it that deserves to be taken with the sort of rational seriousness you seem to want to accord it. If that's really what Hart has in mind, then he's giving it a lot more weight than I think it merits.

No, my point was that intellectualism and voluntarism are accepted on the grounds of cultural bias, faith, emotional pull and so forth. Think about it: how could you rationally justify the position that you need rational justifications? That's essentially what you would have to do to explain intellectualism. In other words, intellectualism has no rational basis. It's accepted ahead of time, pre-rationally, before any actual logic takes place. This is why I say that voluntarism and intellectualism are equally valid from a logical standpoint: both are non-deductive axioms that we come to accept without logical justifications. In many ways, it's like a phrase of Anselm's (taking from Augustine) that I just learned about: "I believe so that I may understand", or "credo ut intelligam". Belief is the foundation of reason.

Also, in response to Scott's newest post, I have indeed been talking about post-modernism. Hart is a post-modernist of a sort, although he rejects voluntarism and many other claims of the post-modernists.

monk68 said...

Anon

"From Big Bang to Big Mystery"
-Brendan Purcell

Simply superb

Sobieski said...

@rank

Think about it: how could you rationally justify the position that you need rational justifications? That's essentially what you would have to do to explain intellectualism. In other words, intellectualism has no rational basis. It's accepted ahead of time, pre-rationally, before any actual logic takes place. This is why I say that voluntarism and intellectualism are equally valid from a logical standpoint: both are non-deductive axioms that we come to accept without logical justifications.

On the A-T account, there are three acts of the intellect. The first is simple apprehension, the second judgment and the third reason. "Rationality" is taken from the intellect's third act. First principles, like the PNC, are arrived at via the first act of the intellect, which works on the data of the senses. Since first principles like the PNC cannot be proven and are actually *more* certainly known than the result of a demonstration, they cannot be proven by means of the third act of the intellect (i.e., reasoning). They are self-evident, but not accepted without justification. Instead of being secured via demonstration, they are defended through the use of dialectics. Aristotle in determining the principles of his sciences (e.g., philosophy of nature) first surveys the common opinions (doxa) of the wise who had gone before him and then through a dialectical process arrives at the principles of the science under consideration. Defense of the PNC, for example, would entail showing that it is absurd to deny it, which is what Aristotle does in Metaphysics IV.

So principles like the PNC are justified and to a greater degree than via proof because they are ultimately the ground of all proof. The voluntarist has to go through a great deal of reasoning to arrive at his notion that will is above intellect. Regardless, a voluntarist (it seems to me) would have to hold that a principle like the PNC is entirely arbitrary and could just as well be false. But to hold this is absurd as everything would be both true and not true at the same time and in the same respect. So the will drives the intellect and it doesn't. Voluntarism is true, and it isn't, etc. As Aristotle explains, the interlocutor of such a thesis can be driven to take on the part of a vegetable inasmuch as the opposite of anything he says can be asserted when he opens his mouth. So much the better for the proponent of a dangerous doctrine like voluntarism.

Glenn said...

1. Rank (March 8, 2013 at 9:20 PM): ...I say that voluntarism and intellectualism are equally valid from a logical standpoint: both are non-deductive axioms that we come to accept without logical justifications.

2. Rank (March 8, 2013 at 2:55 PM): I'm not actually a voluntarist--I'm a strong supporter of intellectualism, which I think is the only commonsensical and moral view of the will.

3. Joe K (March 3, 2013 at 6:43 PM): ...why do you happen to pick natural law conclusions over other modern, mechanistic ones? It just feels right? Or, both arguments got you to a point where you had to take a leap at one? Why that one though? Is it even possible to give a Reason for this that could ever be convincing to another human being?

Rank (March 3, 2013 at 8:19 PM): It's perfectly okay for you to ask.... At the time, despite being a nominal Christian, I had bought in to mechanism, scientism and the rest, and I'd realized that nihilism was the only possible result. I didn't even know that mechanism had a name--I thought it was just the way things were. I came across this blog around that time, which is where I was introduced to essentialism, the four causes, the Five Ways and natural law. When on put on those "glasses", so to speak, my view of the world totally changed. I realized that the same objective data--the natural world, etc.--could seem completely different depending on how you looked at it.

When I saw the world before, it was hostile, pointless, depressing and Godless. It made me feel empty. The new way changed everything. I was freer and happier than I'd felt in years. And natural law morality (at best, I'd subscribed to divine command theory in the past) had a beauty to it that really appealed to me. The notions of virtue, moderation and self-control had an aesthetic pull--and they made me feel better than I had in a long, long time.

Obviously, logic had a big role as well.

Glenn said...

4. Rank (March 8, 2013 at 9:21 PM): Also, in response to Scott's newest post, I have indeed been talking about post-modernism.

- - - - -

Postmodernism: That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.

Glenn said...

Rank,

...intellectualism has no rational basis. It's accepted ahead of time, pre-rationally, before any actual logic takes place.

I not infrequently encounter instances of someone having accepted something "pre-rationally", so I won't deny that such a thing is possible or that it indeed does happen.

I will, however, deny that an acceptance of something is "pre-rational" by virtue of the fact that it has been accepted. This is to say that I deny that an acceptance of something is necessarily "pre-rational".

In the case of intellectualism, one may inquire as to what it is, consider what one finds and/or is told, see that there is a sound basis for accepting it, and then actually accept it for that reason.

An acceptance of intellectualism occurring in such a manner would not be "pre-rational."

Sobieski said...

@rank

In other words, intellectualism has no rational basis. It's accepted ahead of time, pre-rationally, before any actual logic takes place. This is why I say that voluntarism and intellectualism are equally valid from a logical standpoint: both are non-deductive axioms that we come to accept without logical justifications.

Just to follow up, if this were true on A-T grounds, then all science would at most be opinion as logic and metaphysics consider all three acts of the intellect and not reasoning (i.e., the third act) alone. Obviously neither Aristotle nor St. Thomas held this view. Such an account destroys science and knowledge. It is true that the first principles of any science are not derived through reasoning (i.e., the third act), at least in the same science; otherwise we would involve ourselves in an infinite regress of demonstrations, which would also destroy knowledge. On the other hand, they are not merely posited, accepted on blind faith or non-intellectual.

I gave a more in-depth account of the grounding of scientific knowledge and first principles in a series of posts a number of months ago in a futile discussion with Touchstone starting here. You might find them more useful than he. The work I cited from was Fr. Weisheipl's Methodology, which was probably derived from lecture notes for one of his classes at PIMS. If you can get your hands on a copy, I would highly recommend it.

Sobieski said...

FYI - I found a copy of Fr. Weisheipl's Methodology online. I was wrong, it was written when he was at the Dominican House of Studies in River Forest, IL.

Anonymous said...

Ah, you've had the "pleasure" of conversing with Touchstone I see. Nice little fella, not much going on between his ears though.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I am missing something, but it seems to me that Hart and Feser are simply speaking past one another. That is, Feser is arguing about philosophical merit (which Hart on balance concedes), and Hart is arguing about rhetorical effectiveness (which Feser on balance concedes).

In Hart's defense (not that he needs it), manifestations of divine power (e.g. miracles), personal witness (e.g. martyrdom), signs of contradiction (e.g. asceticism), works of mercy (e.g. penitential suffering), etc. are usually far more effective than discursive argument.

In Feser's defense (not that he needs it), the fact that contemporary culture might reject first principles does not detract from their truth or from the obligation to defend them and their implications.

Sobieski said...

@rank

Belief is the foundation of reason.

On a related note, you might find St. Thomas's explanation of the relation between faith and reason in the beginning of the Summa contra Gentiles chs. 3-8 helpful. I haven't read Sts. Augustine or Anselm on "faith seeking understanding" recently, but regardless, for St. Thomas, faith, whether natural or supernatural, can never underwrite reason. Truth, indeed, is one and comes from the same source, but epistemologically speaking only certain truths are available to the natural light of reason.

If natural faith is the foundation of reason and thus science, then science is at most opinion. If supernatural faith is the foundation of science, then all science is theology. Faith cannot enter into the subject-matter of philosophical science if we desire to preserve the possibilty of attaining scientific (i.e., universal and necessary) knowledge. Rather, the infused virtue of supernatural faith can serve as a guide for reason. Thus the relationship between faith and philosophy must be per accidens instead of essential. One can accept the truth of the Catholic faith, for example, which in turn serves as a guide for reason by proposing certain truths that are open to discovery by the natural light of reason (e.g., the existence of God and the Divine attributes, immortality of the soul, natural law, etc.).

The reason God revealed certain truths, some of which are accessible to unaided reason, to the human race was precisely because the majority of said race are either incapable because of ability, unable because of circumstances or unwilling because of laziness or other character flaws to do the work necessary to achieve such truths through philosophical endeavor. Even for those who are able to successfully attain such truth, the work entails a lifetime of effort and is prone to error. So God revealed Himself and gave (gives) motives of credibility for belief in the true religion so that a greater part of humanity would not be left in darkness. Christianity is not an esoteric religion for philosopher kings; it is for the common man.

In relation to the Hart article, when then has philosophy ever been a matter for the common man? Regardless, the fact of the difficulty of philosophical endeavor does not invalidate its importance or value. We see Socrates discussing the same problems in his day in the Republic. I don't see theoretically how natural law theory is false or valueless because a majority of people or thinkers cannot or will not understand it. I can understand the practical problem with respect policy purposes, but as Dr. Feser explains this isn't a problem only for natural law theory or Thomism in general in a pluralistic society. That is precisely the problem one will encounter in such circumstances due to a practical if not theoretical relativism. The same critique can be leveled against Christianity itself because it is both fractured and situated in a mostly post-, if not anti-,Christian civilization. At least it seems this way to me. I doubt, however, that Dr. Hart would agree that Christianity is false because of such circumstances.

Finally, with respect to dialogue, I would like to note the valuable work that Dr. Bryan Cross, another great Thomist, and others over at Called to Communion are doing to bring about reconciliation and reunion among Christians.

rank sophist said...

monk,

You say voluntarism is the “view” that the will is ungrounded. But what is a “view” other than some sort of argument, or at least, an assertion?

[...]

But again that statement is presumably meant to be understood as “true” by the reader, as is also the entirety of the quote I have pasted above.


I'm trying to describe voluntarism from a historicist perspective, to avoid confusion. I'm trying to refer to the tenets of voluntarism as objectively as possible. A real voluntarist, just like a real intellectualist, must claim that their ideologies are prior to truth conditions. They aren't seen as "views": they are seen as the very possibility of views, or the very possibility of truth conditions. Most (if not all) of us here are intellectualists, and so it seems to be obvious to us that intellectualism has no alternative. But if you brought a legitimate voluntarist in here to debate with us, they would be baffled. (Legitimate voluntarists, I might add, are generally in the post-modernist, feminist, libertarian and/or extreme liberal groups of today.) They would attempt to pick apart our logical games and show that everything we believe to be "true" rests on a more original act of arbitrary willpower. This is how modern voluntarists operate, following in the footsteps of people like Foucault and Derrida.

So, voluntarism and intellectualism aren't really views in the proper sense. I'm only calling them that for the sake of clarity.

you have to present your statements as “true”, and also presuppose the primordial dominance of “coherence” over hermetic traditions. The point is that “truth”, “logic” and “coherence” are all supra-historical, supra-cultural, notions which must supervene upon all *discussions* about the mutual incommensurability of hermetic traditions. That is because *discussions* are human communication, and notions of “truth”, “logic” and “coherence” are the very conditions of meaningful human communication.

A modern voluntarist like Derrida would agree with you. There's no way to escape the ideas of truth, logic or coherence without presupposing them to at least some degree. For example, one can't say, "The law of non-contradiction is false." The question is not whether we can escape these things, but whether we should therefore accept them as the original ground of our existence. In the plainest terms I can think of: the intellectualist believes that being, truth and logic are the foundation of existence; the voluntarist believes that being, truth and logic are shackles placed on a more original non-rational, non-existent, non-determinate, non-coherent and non-historical "freedom" that cannot be discussed or conceptualized. They acknowledge that they cannot get beyond logic--they can't describe this non-existent state, because describing it places it within the confines of sense--, but they refuse to accept that logic is therefore the ground of existence.

And, again, they don't refute themselves by making this claim. If you accept voluntarism, then this is where you end up. Remember that they don't see themselves as "accepting" anything, just as intellectualists don't see themselves as "accepting" anything. They see it as being a condition prior to acceptance, belief or any such thing. Sobieski, who I will be responding to shortly, shows the intellectualist side of the equation. He says that the will is grounded in the intuitive recognition of being--which I personally agree with--, and so it's impossible for anything but intellectualism to be the case. But this once again begs the question against the voluntarist, who considers the idea of "being" to be a shackle placed on the "non-being" that is the origin of all notions of "being". That this non-being cannot be discussed no more refutes the voluntarist than the statement that God is above all notions of existence refutes Christianity.

rank sophist said...

So at the level of interpersonal dialogue, the axioms of logic must, as an existential-cum- conversational matter, be mutually recognized – as conditions of truth. In other words, the *ultimate* driver behind our mutual recognition of an axiom like the LNC is the existential problem of interpersonal human communication arising from its denial.

I think that you have a very strong point here, and I think that, if any of the original post-modernists were still alive, they would high-five you right about now. The question is whether we then accept the law of non-contradiction to be the ground of existence, or if we see it as a shackle that hides a more original sublimity.

It also happens that the very same ontology drives the notion of natural law, wherein human substantial nature is known to point to some cognitively identifiable ends.

The problem is that, even if we accept that the law of non-contradiction is inescapable if we want to communicate, we are not led inexorably to the conclusion that the law of non-contradiction is the original condition of existence. If you're a voluntarist, then the indeterminate abyss is your ground; if you're an intellectualist, then being (and thus the LNC) is your ground. Depending on which you accept, the law of non-contradiction is either a necessary evil enacted on an original indeterminacy or a participation in the infinite divine determinacy. I should mention that this is merely my rough paraphrase of a point that Hart makes again and again throughout The Beauty of the Infinite.

Why conform to the given-ness of nature? Why affirm that truth and good are convertible? Why affirm the fundamental axiom of synderesis when its dictum “do good, avoid evil” already rigs the predicates “good” and “evil” according to a meaning arbitrarily imposed by the deliverances of substantial finality?

I just wanted to say that this was a very beautiful passage in your post. Bravo.

Of course, a person *can* refuse to affirm all of those things. But in doing so, they divorce themselves from any possible non-subjective foundation upon which to ground the meaning of words like “good” and ‘evil” or ethics in general (I leave aside for now the prospect of rationally defending some claim of divine revelation with attending moral injunctions). The existential effect of an explicit denial of natural law, casts one back upon some or another subjective foundation which can be shown, through a series of rudimentary arguments, to ultimately ground ethics in a will-to-power.

I can say only one thing: YES! This is exactly the case. You just managed to explain in 3 posts what I've apparently failed to get across in 40+. You are absolutely and completely correct. Hart argues for this very same conclusion (which he persuasively claims is indiscernible from the traditional notion of hell) in The Beauty of the Infinite. It is also the reason that he wrote in his most recent article:

To his mind, after all, the good may not be contentment [eudaimonia] or even justice, but the extension of the pathos of the will, as Nietzsche would put it: the poetic labor of the will to power, the overcoming of the limits of the merely human, the justification of the purely fortuitous phenomenon of the world through its transformation into a supreme aesthetic event.

This is the alternative to natural law. It's, in a word, evil. But this is the conclusion that a voluntarist must reach, if he is given enough time to think it over.

rank sophist said...

By the way, as an aside, the reason Hart personally rejects natural law has nothing to do with voluntarism. In fact, he argues for many conclusions that natural law gives us. A few years back he said that JPII's Theology of the Body was "perfectly consonant with the Orthodox understanding of the origins and ends of human nature". He rejects natural law in favor of patristic ethics, because he argues that the Christian narrative (with its cores of grace, charity and resurrection) is fundamentally subversive of any law derived entirely from nature prior to grace.

However, if they begin to conflict, the solution – as we both will know – cannot be a conversation – but must only be a rush to power. Just as affirmation of the LNC is *ultimately* driven by the need to avoid an existential reductio; here too, affirmation of synderesis is *ultimately* driven by the existential necessity to locate an objective, mutually agreeable ground for moral behavior.

Once again, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think that you're completely right. But neither of these things will convince a voluntarist on purely logical grounds, because they have already bought in to every evil conclusion that voluntarism leads to: power-against-power, nihilism, longing for oblivion, ontological violence, total subjectivism and the rest. To be a voluntarist just is to accept these conclusions, as Hart argues in Christ and Nothing and elsewhere.

However, I think that your comment about the existential need to communicate and behave morally is exactly the kind of argument that Hart has in mind when he says that pure, disinterested logic does not defeat voluntarism. By placing the issue in terms of the interested individual, as you have here, you take it out of the realm of "pure logic" and into the real world, in which real people have real needs. This does not conclusively "refute" voluntarism, of course, because refutation is a matter of logic. It does show people why they have no good reason to accept voluntarism, though. In my book, that is good enough.

Honestly, monk, I think that we are on the same page. Don't take what I've written in this response as an argument against you: I'm in full agreement with basically everything you said. My only concern is to clarify that voluntarism has not been and cannot be refuted at the purely logical level, in contrast to the views of Prof. Feser and other modern Thomists. We cannot use natural law to cross the intellectualist-voluntarist divide: we have to convince the voluntarist on an existential level to "come to the dark side", so to speak. This was Hart's point in his article, which he highlights with the line, "Only the total spiritual conversion of his vision of reality could truly change his [the voluntarist's] thinking."

In any case, I'm glad we had this debate. I'll respond to the others soon.

Susan said...

I'm learning a lot in following this. Enough to think that many of the anti-voluntarism sentiments are aimed at straw dogs as far as Hart's article goes.

Hart, I think, is talking about the age itself: "And, in an age that has been shaped by a mechanistic understanding of the physical world ..." He is saying that no matter what individual people now think, we can assume it was shaped by a materialist culture. The indidviduals are not at fault. The individuals are not voluntarists. They are not the enemy to natural law.

Natural law theorists could shape their message to be sweeter and be the ones to give a little. Natural law theorists are not at war with the public; the public is not their (your) enemy.

Hart is saying (and I realize you don't agree exactly) that natural law theory is not as obvious to a regular good mind as you think it is. You can't just set it out as a whole dish and expect the public to know how to eat it. The public does not even know what the fork is for yet.

The public is full of regular good minds - you come across as mean when you insult them as if they were all the arch-enemy. Hart is saying they are prisoners. You are insulting them rather than making a plan to free them.

If you keep busy laughing because they hold their forks backwards, it is you that looks silly.

monk68 said...

Rank Sophist,

"In any case, I'm glad we had this debate."

Likewise.

Pax

rank sophist said...

I was going to respond to the others, but then I realized that everything I was going to say had already been said between me and monk. I think I'll just call it a day. Good debating, everyone.

DavidM said...

First she insults 'the public': "Hart is saying (and I realize you don't agree exactly) that natural law theory is not as obvious to a regular good mind as you think it is. You can't just set it out as a whole dish and expect the public to know how to eat it. The public does not even know what the fork is for yet."

Then she praises them and chastises those who think 'the public' is in fact capable of understanding natural law theory (if only they are exposed to it): "The public is full of regular good minds - you come across as mean when you insult them as if they were all the arch-enemy. Hart is saying they are prisoners. You are insulting them rather than making a plan to free them."

In the words of Homer Simpson: "DoH!"

Glenn said...

Rank,

I was going to respond to the others, but then I realized that everything I was going to say had already been said between me and monk. I think I'll just call it a day. Good debating, everyone.

Hold on a second here; not so fast.

If you were going to respond to others, and have decided not to because you have already said what you wanted to say, and that to monk, then it follows that what you said to monk constitutes your response to others. And since, presumably, I'm one of the others to whom you have said certain things via your reply to monk, there a couple of points I would like to make or respond to.

1. If voluntarism leads to: power-against-power, nihilism, longing for oblivion, ontological violence, total subjectivism and the rest, and to cross the intellectualist-voluntarist divide: we have to convince the voluntarist on an existential level to "come to the dark side", then it would seem to follow that your view of intellectualism is even more dismal than your view of voluntarism.

But perhaps you have misspoken in suggesting that the voluntarist who becomes an intellectualist vacates the side of 'light' and joins the side of 'darkness'. And since you say that "come to the dark side" is (part of) Hart's point in the article, and as there is little reason to believe that Hart believes that leaving voluntarism behind entails entering 'darkness', one can well imagine that, if he knew how you were representing his view, Mr. Hart might hope that you have indeed misspoken.

If you have misspoken on this point, it may be prudent to say so--lest others be left with the mistaken impression that (you believe) Mr. Hart holds to a view there is good reason to believe that he does not.

(cont)

Glenn said...

2. Setting aside the question of whether in crossing the "intellectualist-voluntarist divide" a voluntarist is leaving or entering the "dark side", I'm sure it can be agreed that Mr. Hart in his article seems to make clear that he is considerably less than fond of reason, natural law, and/or Thomists serving in the capacity of guides re that crossing.

But in his Natural Law, Public Policy, and the Uncanny Voice of Conscience: An Orthodox Response to David Bentley Hart, Dylan Pahman, an Orthodox Christian as is Hart, makes a case for when and how reason, natural law and/or Thomists may serve in the capacity of adequate guides--which case relies in part on the following of analogy of vision:

There are many reasons why I may be incapable of seeing something accurately in the physical world. For example: I may be nearsighted; I may be colorblind; or I may be entirely blind. In fact, I actually have firsthand experience with the first two. In the case of my nearsightedness, the deficiency could be remedied with corrective lenses or, perhaps, with Lasik eye surgery. (I am content with my glasses.) In the case of my colorblindness, barring a miracle I must rely upon the judgment of others to gain accurate knowledge of the world I observe in its chromatic element--my wife helps me match my clothes, for example. Lastly, if I were totally blind, it would, indeed, take supernatural intervention alone for me to see anything at all.

Pahman goes on to say that,

Like corrective lenses for deficient vision, reason can help guide some people to see the truth of the moral order more clearly. This is precisely what Hart's "self-described Thomists" seek to do, to guide people with the aid of reason to see how the dictates of conscience apply in some specific area of public policy. Whether or not they take the time to focus on the role of conscience at all does not negate their tacit reliance on it, consciously or not. They are, thus, justified in doing so, so far as deficient moral vision is a problem of insufficient understanding.

I would agree with Pahman's intimation, and thus disagree with your and Hart's contrary intimation, that 'deficient moral vision' isn't necessarily always due to 'total blindness', but sometimes may be due to mere 'nearsightedness' or 'color blindness'; and, therefore, that when 'deficient moral vision' is due to 'nearsightedness' or 'color blindness', reason, natural law, and/or Thomists are not at all without significant relevance.

Glenn said...

the following of analogy of vision:

Well now. I'm not sure if this was supposed to be:

a) "the following analogy of vision"; or,

b) "a following of the analogy of vision".

Take yer pick.

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

But perhaps you have misspoken in suggesting that the voluntarist who becomes an intellectualist vacates the side of 'light' and joins the side of 'darkness'.

"Come to the dark side" was meant as a joke. Nothing to take seriously, there. Sorry for the confusion. Both Hart and I, to my knowledge, find intellectualism to be a great system.

I'm sure it can be agreed that Mr. Hart in his article seems to make clear that he is considerably less than fond of reason, natural law, and/or Thomists serving in the capacity of guides re that crossing.

I think it's more that he doesn't believe that reason or natural law are capable of facilitating that crossing, at least in the strongest sense of discovering "disinterested truths" that any "properly-reasoning mind" will deduce--an Enlightenment myth. I'm inclined to agree with him on that point. Conversion is a far more subtle act of persuasion by example--or by aesthetics, or by appealing to existential needs. Here's a relevant passage from The Beauty of the Infinite:

Wittgenstein, who understood extremely well the shifting fluidity and instability of linguistic "foundations", and the limitations placed upon communicable meaning by the "rules" of usage belonging to particular linguistic practices, understood also the immense difficulties that arise in the encounter between two "language games" whose schemes of reference and meaning are not only incompatible with, but even incomprehensible to, one another. In On Certainty, he reflects upon the possibility that one might find oneself confronted by beliefs and practices grounded in a view of reality so thoroughly alien to one's own that it would be impossible even to identify the "reasons" for the disagreement: if for instance we met a people who prefer to consult oracles rather than physicists, we might denominate their belief as "wrong," but in doing so we would merely be "using our language-game as a base from which to combat theirs." "I said I would 'combat' the other man,--but wouldn't I give him reasons? Certainly; but how far do they go? At the end of reasons comes persuasion. (Think what happens when missionaries convert natives.)" Wittgenstein perhaps fails adequately to address whether upon persuasion there might follow a cultivation of vision and reflection that, in its integrity and fullness, could supply reasons unavailable to the uncoverted heart, but finally compelling in their "rightness"; but the dynamics of the counter between two worldviews he describes with crystalline clarity: "Where two principles really do meet which cannot be reconciled with one another, then each man declares the other a fool and a heretic."

I would agree with Pahman's intimation, and thus disagree with your and Hart's contrary intimation, that 'deficient moral vision' isn't necessarily always due to 'total blindness', but sometimes may be due to mere 'nearsightedness' or 'color blindness'; and, therefore, that when 'deficient moral vision' is due to 'nearsightedness' or 'color blindness', reason, natural law, and/or Thomists are not at all without significant relevance.

I can agree that certain types of people are far more receptive of natural law than others. Conservatives in general seem to like it better than liberals (even though both groups engage in many practices that violate it). In the cases of those people, reason works. But the principles of those people are not so "thoroughly alien" to our own that discussion is nearly impossible, which is the case with the liberals who natural law theorists seek to combat.

rank sophist said...

Apologies: in the Hart quote "uncoverted" should be "unconverted", and "counter between" should be "encounter between".

Sobieski said...

Re-reading Hart's article, it seems to me he is advocating both fideism and relativism, based in nominalism and voluntarism. Fideism destroys faith. Though he doesn't specify in this article, he would presumably employ a question-begging presuppositional approach to public policy similar to that employed by certain Protestants with respect to apologetics. Besides being false, I am skeptical that such approaches are any more effective in a post- or anti-Christian cultural context, than making Aristotelian-based arguments rooted in the nature, reason and experience common to mankind.

Nevertheless, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If there is no way to mediate the differences between cultural and historical circumstances, then human discourse is ultimately pointless, whether it be discussion from the natural law point of view or that of Eastern Orthodoxy. Such a view implicitly denies any commonality in nature and intellectual capacity/operation among human beings or groups in different contexts. Why read books, study history or engage in dialogue, then, as all views are perspectives ala Nietzsche? If all "knowledge" starts from the basis of blind faith or mere assertion, is pre-intellectually conditioned, then it is not knowledge at all. Further, if we make the claim that the apprehensive faculty (intellect), which knows reality and truth, is directed first by the non-apprehensive, appetitive faculty (will), then all things must be arbitrary. Everything is manipulation as MacIntyre explains, and we would be as well served by tricking or forcing people to comply with our non-rational preferences than engaging in rational discourse (i.e., "might makes right").

From a Christian perspective, I can understand why voluntarism arose among certain Christians because Plato elevates the Good above both being and truth (cf. The Republic 6). But that is a metaphysical as opposed to pre-intellectual claim that can be disputed in metaphysics. St. Thomas holds, for example, that because the Platonists made no distinction between potential and actual being, they gave the good priority over being (cf. ST 1.5.2). Both Eastern Christianity and the Franciscan school tend to be more Platonic than Aristotelian in their orientation, so it is not surprising that voluntarism arose to varying degrees in those camps.

Though I am no expert in modern philosophy, my understanding is that another type of voluntarism arose in the modern period. The problem started with Descartes who said that ideas are *that which* we know and not primarily *that by which* we know (material beings, the external world or reality). Following him, the British Empiricists made the same mistake, though they didn't discount sense experience, which is comprised of the impressions we know. In both views, we are unbridgeably disconnected from the physical world. The problem is further compounded by the empiricists conflating the intellect and will with the sense faculties. As the intellect is what knows the universal and necessary, its elimination lead to skepticism. Kant attempted to overcome Humean skepticism, but failed, and because Enlightenment rationalism was a failure, later thinkers despaired of reason and placed greater emphasis on the will. While that explanation is very cursory, A-T philosophy does not make such fundamental mistakes, mistakes which, like those found in Christian voluntarism, can be disputed in metaphysics and, pace Hart, are not the result of some unassailable pre-rational commitment(s).

Sobieski said...

Continued...

Knowledge and science are neither grounded in mere assertion or faith nor the result of rational proof, but ultimately grounded in sense experience and the intellect's operation. A defense of the first principles of knowledge, as well as the veracity of sense experience, which are the bases for our knowledge of natural law, are the domain of metaphysics. As such, natural law arguments can be reasonably made in the public square. Granting that philosophy is normally not the purview of the average person and that such arguments might thus be more easily understood and readily received in a Catholic society per St. Thomas, they aren't going to be any less effective than an erroneous, fidestic approach in a post-Christian society.

Glenn said...

Rank,

"Come to the dark side" was meant as a joke. Nothing to take seriously, there. Sorry for the confusion.

I've yet to become fully acclimated to your dry sense of humor, so I'll accept responsibility for the misreading.

Conversion is a far more subtle act of persuasion by example--or by aesthetics, or by appealing to existential needs.

How will aesthetics help in conversion? You have previously said that (at least according to Hart) aesthetic appeal is one of the reasons voluntarism is adopted in the first place.

rank sophist said...

Sobieski,

I have no interest in extending this debate any longer, so we'll just leave it. Suffice it to say that you need to read more of Hart's work before you can claim to understand his position. I recommend his articles Christ and Nothing and No Shadow of Turning, as well as his books Atheist Delusions and The Beauty of the Infinite.

Glenn,

Hart considers aesthetics to be one of the methods of persuasion used by every tradition, if I read him correctly. He just happens to believe that Christian aesthetics are superior, thanks to their infinite and analogical nature. (It probably goes without saying that this is the main thesis of The Beauty of the Infinite.) He also leverages the Christian narrative of peace, in contrast to the narratives of "original violence" propagated by the modern and post-modern thinkers.

Sobieski said...

@rank

That's fine. Re-reading the comments, I repeated much of what monk68 said and am in agreement with him. The comments I made apply to Hart based on his article. There I read him as basically taking a presuppositionalist stance, and presuppositionalism is ultimately self-refuting (fideism built on skepticism as Bryan Cross explains). Maybe he takes a different tack in other works, so you are right I should read more of his stuff before making a final judgment.

Best wishes.

Mr. Green said...

I think we need to distinguish "intellectualism-of-the-will" and "voluntarism-of-the-will" (questions of what leads the will) from "intellectualism" wholesale, i.e. the idea that we have a faculty for understanding truth. The opposite would be "anti-intellectualism", the claim that we have no such faculty. It's not a matter of whether the intellect deals with truth or whether the will does, say — any more than it makes sense to claim, "I don't see colours with the faculty of sight because I see colours with my ears." Well, if your ears did see colours, then that just means that your ears have the power of sight, not that there is some other faculty of seeing besides sight. That's what sight means; to argue around that is just playing with words. So maybe someone might claim that "intellect" is part of the will or whatever — but if man has any power to perceive or evaluate truth at all, then that's what is meant by "intellect". Hence why I call the "anti-intellectual" position madness; it is a denial that there is any truth, or that we have access to it, not a dispute about how we come to know it or under what mode, etc.

Obviously Scotus, whatever he thought about the will, was not anti-intellectual in this sense. I'm still not entirely sure where Hart is going — to argue against madmen is indeed futile, but outside of asylums and philosophy departments, there are precious few to be found — but as for aesthetics, that too is a matter of intellect! It is not (or may not be) a matter of mathematical equations, or even entirely of syllogisms, but judging something to be beautiful or not still falls under the purview of the intellect. Since human beings have intellects and natures, natural law follows inevitably; the only question is how to approach it. (And sure, one has to take into account the background, education, culture, etc., as well as whether to take a technical metaphysical angle vs. an aesthetic one, and so on.)

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