Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sheer Hart attack


In a widely discussed piece in the March issue of First Things, theologian David Bentley Hart was highly critical of natural law theory.  I was in turn highly critical of his article in a response posted at First Things (and cross-posted here).  Hart replied to my criticisms in a follow-up article in the May issue of First Things.  I reply to Hart’s latest in an article just posted over at Public Discourse.

For related recent posts, see my responses to Hart’s defenders Rod Dreher and Thaddeus Kozinski.

136 comments:

MarcAnthony said...

Wow, Dr. Feser. That was one heck of a response. Great work.

I just don't get the issue. Supposedly Hart is religious, right? What exactly does he think, then? That ONLY divine revelation is good evidence to believe in good.

Honestly that strikes me as tenuous ground to stand on, and it basically eliminates any opinion a religious person or even a true social conservative wants to make known to the public.

His position just seems really odd to me.

MarcAnthony said...

Sorry, it should be, "That ONLY divine revelation is good evidence to believe in God, or morality in general?"

Anonymous said...

Marc- when and where did this presumed divine revelation occur?

Were you or any of the present time big-talkers of big-time-religion there to witness it and participate in it?

Both the conventionaal exoteric religion such as that promoted by Edward and scientism/materialism eliminate the paradox from Reality. They both make Reality seem to be rather "pat" and under control. As philosophy both conventional exoteric religion and materialism are merely adolescent arguments.

What IS matter?
Where IS matter?
When IS matter?
When IS you?
Where IS you?
WhatIS you?
What you?

The presumption of "you" is not inspected by the materialist or the conventional exoteric religionist. "You" is as much a paradox as "water", "atom", "sky, "big bang". No one has ever actually investigated the matter and found a concrete "you" or "me".
"You" or "I" is merely a particle of common speech. To speak it suggests that you know what you are talking about. But there is no such something - independent, discrete, like a particle. There is nothing to it but a fear-based ball of thought that would not be penetrated by the Paradox of Reality. Indeed all of ones philosophy and so called theology strategically prevents such a penetration/dissolution from occurring.

Ultimately, everything is out of your/our control.

We are fundamentally uncomprehending. This is always so. We are in a perpetual state - a beginningless, endless state - of Divine Ignorance. You do not know what even a single thing IS. You keep thinking, talking, acting the Mummery of life as if everything were comprehended. In Reality, nothing whatsoever is comprehended.

Not only is there and always spontaneously arising flow of appearances, a Matrix of Paradox, but even you yourself are not the same, from one moment to the next. You are not a separate "thing" or "one". You are identifiable only in a state of Inherent Indivisible Oneness with Paradox, or Non-comprehension, or the Mystery of Fullness Itself.

How big is light?
How far is up?

Debilis said...

About two months ago, I began to wonder how compatible Feser's view was with Hart's (as I am a fan of them both).

I never thought I'd be treated to this kind of interchange, however. I'm going to have to read these through a few times.

Matthew said...

Anonymous@12:30AM,

I think most of us reading this outgrew your juvenile philosophy and metaphysical/epistemic nihilism ages ago.

rank sophist said...

Glad to see this debate is still going. I have one comment for now.

First, since morality is grounded in human nature, we can draw a number of moral conclusions from human nature itself without citing God as the ultimate source of human nature—just as we can do chemistry without having to make reference to the fact that God, as cause of the world, is the ultimate source of all chemical phenomena.

I've seen Prof. Feser make this claim before, but it seems to me to be covert secularization--and a red herring, in the context of this debate. What makes an action good is not human nature. What makes it good is its end, and, more specifically, its last end: God. The reason that all final causes are good-directed is that they are an attempt to imitate God, who draws them to himself. This background is necessary before we make any claims whatsoever about goodness or badness relative to human nature.

Unless the good (God) is the last end of all action, we have no way of measuring the goodness or badness of any action. Consider: if I think of natural law in separation from humanity striving toward God, then I'm not obligated to believe its first premise, viz. "all things act toward the good". This means that my actions cannot be scaled as better or worse attempts at imitating God in accordance with my nature, which natural law needs if it is to prove universally convincing. Without a necessary pre-direction toward the good, I'm free to choose good-as-good, evil-as-good or even evil-as-evil as I please; and no one can explain to me why I should do one rather than the other, since I am not merely pursuing the good in inferior or superior ways. This means that human nature becomes simply an abstract set of facts. Certainly you could squeeze an ethical naturalism out of this--one with all of the unconvincing formulations that Hart criticized in his first article: "if one wants to live a fully human life, one ought to do X".

So, it remains absolutely true that we cannot have morality without a pre-existent belief in God. Not only that, but we must believe in a certain kind of God: the one that draws all things to himself via final causality, as Aristotle, the Neo-Platonists and the early Christians believed. Without this basis, there can be no natural law--at best, you get "natural suggestion".

Debilis said...

Anon,

"when and where did this presumed divine revelation occur?"
As far as the internet goes, it can't be said often enough that we need to stick to the topic–or at least not attack others as if not addressing off-topic points deflates their statements.

This question is not relevant to the debate between Hard and Feser.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the only reason you seem to give for rejecting both Classical Theism and Materialism is that they don't contain paradoxes.

While it may sound sophisticated to talk about reality being fundamentally unknowable, the job of philosophy (and all inquiry, really) is to find out as much as we can.

So, in addition to other things, eliminating paradoxes is exactly what a philosophical position is supposed to do.

We don't know everything, or understand anything fully, but it is definitely "pat" to speak as if this is the whole truth.

Anonymous said...

Upon reading the two pieces in question, I was left with two central impressions.

Firstly, that a working, if not complete, reconciliation would be quite easily reachable. There will remain those perennial differences in content and especially attitude that separate the Thomist from the Eastern Christian, but a lot of agreement in most areas seem eminently possible.

Secondly, a lot of the confusion and disagreement seems due to Hart's slightly strange over-emphasis on issues either questionable or less fundamentally divisive as he appears them to be. For example, the whole point about not being able to convince all through rational arguments is a silly point. I think Frithjof Schuon explains this well:

In the spiritual order a proof is of assistance only to the man who wishes to understand and who, because of this wish, has in some measure understood already; it is of no practical use to one who, deep in his heart, does not want to change his position and whose philosophy merely expresses this desire. Some people suppose that it is up to religion to prove itself in the face of the utmost ill will—that “religion is made for man”,[2] that it must therefore adapt itself to his needs, and that through its failure to do so it has become “bankrupt”; one might as well say that the alpha­bet has become bankrupt in a class where the pupils are deter­mined not to learn it; with this kind of “infralogic” one could declare that the law is made for honest people who are pleased to conform to it and that a new law is required for others, a law “adapted” to the needs of their maliciousness and “rejuvenated” in conformity with their propensity for crime.

It is a silly point, that is, UNLESS Hart is trying to suggest the limits of discursive reason in illuminating human consciousness. He hints at this, but does not really pursue the point. Still, I don't see that such a point need necessitate that discursive reason cannot be used in support of natural law, not unless Hart is taking an unusually narrow view of the limits of deductive reason and dialectic for an Eastern Christian.

Much of Hart's argument seems to boil down to that great Eastern Orthodox critique of Scholasticism: that it is too much given to rationalism, to the over reliance on discursive reason and rigid, deductive precepts. I just don't see why he had to carry on such a discussion in the way he did to make this time-honoured, not entirely unjustified, point.

Hart's article is full of implied points that need to explored, mixed up priorities and emphasises, and a lack of proportion in dealing with the issues at stake and the positions from which they derive.

monk68 said...

RS,

You wrote:

“The reason that all final causes are good-directed is that they are an attempt to imitate God, who draws them to himself”

I would put it a bit differently saying, rather, that final causes are understood as good-directed since the practice of following their lead (taking discernable final causes as pointers for behavior) leads to a broader participation (not merely imitation) in being, of which God is the ultimate ground.

With that alteration in mind, I think the following claim is perhaps too strong:

“So, it remains absolutely true that we cannot have morality without a pre-existent belief in God”

Human beings – even modern human beings – can understand the notion of greater participation in being through intentional activities which accord with human ends (even if folks typically avoid use of specialized philosophical terms such as “being”, “ends”, “participation”, “final cause”, etc). Eat moderately, exercise, and practice good sleeping habits (physical virtues). Why? because such activities generally lead to a healthy bodily state which, in turn, enables or enhances our ability to act in a multitude of ways. If we are healthy we can better provide for our children, better enjoy sex, we can retain or enhance our mobility such that we can explore nature, play sports, or develop personal talents (like playing the piano, or sculpting). Physical health contributes to intellectual keenness, which in turn opens up wider and more profound spheres for contemplation and human intercommunion (intellectual virtues). We still today speak of “intellectual formation”. And the enjoyment of human intercommunion or friendship at both the physical and intellectual level, gives reason for acting justly so as to foster a culture in which such communion is as widespread and rich as possible, etc (broadly moral virtues). All of this can be recognized (and is re-cognized) without any explicit reference to God, life after death, etc.

In fact, there are colloquial terms within modern culture which capture this basic sense, such as the motto “be all you can be”, or the admonition to be a “well-rounded” person, or to avoid being “small-minded”. There is talk of one’s “quality of life” and “being fulfilled” or reaching “maturity”. No one wants to be pitied as a simpleton or an addict, as ignorant or illiterate or incapable (literally lacking capacities).

What I am suggesting is that the basic notion of human flourishing as involving a broader participation in being through capacity actualization in accord with discernable finality in human nature, is nascent to human beings - even if they generally fail to go on philosophically to think more deeply about “capacities and potentials” which point to “ends”, which in turn shed light on “being” per se as a precursor to metaphysical ruminations which might ultimately lead to A-T type theism wherein God is Actus Purus or Ipsum Esse Subsistens.

Perhaps you mean to agree with that much when you say:

“Certainly you could squeeze an ethical naturalism out of this--one with all of the unconvincing formulations that Hart criticized in his first article: ‘if one wants to live a fully human life, one ought to do X’. . . at best, you get ‘natural suggestion’.”

But isn’t that essentially what natural law theorists like Dr. Feser are saying in making the claim that:

“. . . we can draw a number of moral conclusions from human nature itself without citing God as the ultimate source of human nature.”? [Even though it is true that, with sufficient philosophical reflection, it becomes apparent that God must be the source of human nature and the natural law discernable therein.]

The point seems essentially pedagogical and non-controversial to me.

Matthew said...

That's a good reply to RS, Monk. I think NL's sort of ethical imperative is quite different to what RS calls "natural suggestion," i.e.,

"‘if one wants to live a fully human life, one ought to do X’. . . at best, you get ‘natural suggestion’"

Rather, the NL theorist would claim something like,

1. As a human being, you ought to want to be fully human (since that's the essential final end of the human will).

2)As a human being, you ought act so as to be as fully-human as you can be.

There's no real "suggestion," here, since the ought is "baked into" what it is to be human. If they didn't want to be fully-human, they would be in some sense bad, qua human being.

monk68 said...

Anon (5:30am)

"I just don't see why he had to carry on such a discussion in the way he did to make this time-honoured, not entirely unjustified, point. . . . Hart's article is full of implied points that need to explored, mixed up priorities and emphasises, and a lack of proportion in dealing with the issues at stake and the positions from which they derive."

That has been my essential criticism of Hart from the beginning.

BeingItself said...

Thank you for calling out Hart for his sophistical obscurantism. It seems to me his career is built on that nonsense. He reminds me of the kind of intellectual impostor more commonly found among postmodern academics.

MarcAnthony said...

"Marc- when and where did this presumed divine revelation occur?"

I have to give you credit. You've done a wonderful job of missing the point of my post, in which I tried to raise serious, legitimate questions. Congratulations.

Josh said...

I have to say, this

"At some crucial point, natural law argument, pressed to disclose its principles, dissolves into sheer assertion"

plus

"Feser asserts that “purely philosophical arguments” can establish “objectively true moral conclusions.” And yet, curiously enough, they never, ever have. That is a bedtime story told to conjure away the night’s goblins, like the Leibnizian fable of the best possible world or the philosophe’s fairy tale about the plain dictates of reason"

have effectively destroyed any interest I had in reading DBH's works, no matter what their value. If Philosophy is to be the handmaiden to Theology, then he's treating his servants very poorly.

dd said...

I liked the response, good Doc.

what I really find frustrating in all this is Hart's philosophical imprecision and the rhetorical flourish which he substitutes in its stead. but i suppose this sort of thing is bound to happen when one is reared in the Continental tradition.

Glenn said...

I dunno...

Well, okay, I guess I do:

1. After reading each of Hart's two articles, several reviews of both, as well as Dr. Feser's responses (not to mention numerous lucid comments by several readers here), I can't help but be reminded of Hart having opined that, "There's no way that somebody who's sat down and taken the time to learn to reason philosophically, and gone to the trouble of learning the concepts... is going to pick up Richard Dawkins and say, 'Ah, there's a good argument'. In fact, it is embarrassing what he does. Because he's just not interested in knowing what he's talking about, and at the same time thinks he does know what he's talking about."

2. And notwithstanding his having taken new atheists to task, I think it obvious that Hart sometimes shares their resentments. Assuming my thought on this matter to be correct--and taking it as a given that it is not uncommon for one to find offensive that regarding which he has resentment--I also think it a safe bet to say that Hart quite likely sometimes experiences a kind of thrill or excitement when the new atheists poke or jab at the those aspects of the tradition which he finds not merely offensive, but especially offensive. This being so, i.e., taking this to be so, I have to wonder to what extent Hart is capable of refraining from occasionally being seditious.

Anonymous said...

True story:

In early 2012 I went into a bookstore here in the UK to look for the Last Superstition, it wasn't there so, dissapointedly, I went home with Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions. It was quite good.

So what's the deal? Is he some kind of fideist?

Jon Hizmi said...

I still get the sense Hart and Feser are just talking past each other.

I don't see why Dr. Feser felt the need to walk through the ABC's of classical natural law, as if Hart doesn't understand what it is.

If I read Hart correctly, he *does* adhere to the classical natural law (he does vouch for the existence of final causes, etc.) and he *is* a natural lawyer in the sense that he agrees with the philosophical deductions of Aquinas and the great classical philosopher's of Christian tradition.

What I think Hart disputes is the intelligibility of natural law within a "secular" context, because for him the very notion of a secular *anything* is mistaken. The transcendence of God, the world as essentially being, makes it such that *nothing* can be said to be truly secular, and therefore any attempt to espouse natural law within this context is simply misguided.

In essence, I think Hart's point is not that natural law is wrong per se, but rather that natural law theorists concede too much, or "give away the store" if they try to engage non-believers on supposedly secular turf.

That's my take on all this anyway.

*disclaimer* I am a huge fan of Hart.

Jon Hizmi said...

and I have no idea why I put an apostrophe after philosopher...

Lee said...

I think I would agree with Jon Hizmi, that it seems both Feser and Hart are missing each other on some points. When I read Hart's pieces, it seems to echo Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue. Of course, I am relatively certain Feser has read MacIntyre in the past, so he would obviously be aware of those arguments.

And @BeingItself, Professor Feser is not asserting that Hart is an intellectual impostor--he said he was a fan of Hart's work, other than these two articles on natural law. And I know for a fact that other highly regarded theologians and scholars, such as Geoffrey Wainwright and Stanley Hauerwas, regard him highly.

Josh said...

Lee,

When I read Hart's pieces, it seems to echo Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue. Of course, I am relatively certain Feser has read MacIntyre in the past, so he would obviously be aware of those arguments.

I think you're right. The problem seems to be that Hart is exemplifying the position that MacIntyre was arguing against, but perhaps that's what you meant.

"From our rival conclusions we can argue back to our rival premises; but when we do arrive at our premises argument ceases and the invocation of one premise against another becomes a matter of pure assertion and counter-assertion. Hence perhaps the slightly shrill tone of so much moral debate"

--A. MacIntyre, After Virtue

Of course, what MacIntyre is careful to note as an appearance (the interminable nature of moral argument), Hart seems to accept as the reality.

BeingItself said...

Lee writes:

"And @BeingItself, Professor Feser is not asserting that Hart is an intellectual impostor--he said he was a fan of Hart's work, other than these two articles on natural law. And I know for a fact that other highly regarded theologians and scholars, such as Geoffrey Wainwright and Stanley Hauerwas, regard him highly."

What does that have to do with what I wrote? I did not say Feser said he was an impostor. I said it.

BeingItself said...

And one theologian regarding another highly is like one astrologer complimenting another.

Untenured said...

I have a lot of respect for Hart's prodigious learning, but his philosophical acumen impresses me not one whit.

He is the type of intellectual who thinks that "doing philosophy" consists in reading a whole lot, and then making erudite comments about what he has read, peppered with copious references to the many canonical texts he has mastered.

There is a place for this kind of scholarship, but it isn't "philosophy" and it isn't rigorous.

When it comes time to actually produce a serious *argument* for a philosophical conclusion, Hart almost always fires blanks. He does this even when he is going after soft targets like the "new" atheists. His book "atheist delusions" would not convince me in the least if I were not already committed to Theism.

Hart is a connoisseur of ideas, and he is man of tremendous learning, but a philosopher he is not.

Anonymous said...

BeingItself,

Would you mind going back to the Philosophy on radio post and checking out my comment at April 17, 2013 at 6:46 AM?

Eduardo said...

Nooo BI just go hang yourself hahahahahahah. No need to answer any question anymore lol!

rank sophist said...

monk,

Thanks for the response.

I would put it a bit differently saying, rather, that final causes are understood as good-directed since the practice of following their lead (taking discernable final causes as pointers for behavior) leads to a broader participation (not merely imitation) in being, of which God is the ultimate ground.

I do find this switch to an existential key interesting, but I don't think it can be justified by an appeal to Aristotle's or Aquinas's actual texts. The argument that all things seek the good is prior to our first-personal observation that following nature brings us into closer communion with the good. Why? Because "all things seek the good" is the conclusion of the First Way, as the first premise of motion as such. Aristotle and Aquinas believe that all things seek the good because God is what draws them to motion in the first place, as the final cause of all of finite actions. The desire for the Unmoved Mover's perfection pulls us to imitate him (and participate in him) as best we can in accordance with our nature, which is what gives natural law categorical weight. Thus, in traditional metaphysics, natural law is inseparable from the First Way.

All of this can be recognized (and is re-cognized) without any explicit reference to God, life after death, etc.

I didn't want to quote your entire paragraph, since it was so long, but I must say that it was great. I agree with you that all of these things have an appeal even to modern people, and that we don't need to reference God to discuss them. I've used similar language (though not as well as you just did) in moral debates with non-believers. It has a certain aesthetic pull that makes it nearly irresistible. However, as appealing as all of this is, it remains a set of hypothetical rather than categorical imperatives: if I want all of the goods you listed; if I care to achieve natural happiness; if I believe in your set of ends rather than another. They simply do not have the categorical force that contemporary natural lawyers argue that they have; and so they aren't going to provide an "objective" foundation for secular policy or for debates between believers and non-believers. Someone unconvinced by natural law could reject everything you said without contradiction, since, if you don't believe that God is the lure of all actions, you aren't drawn by necessity to accept that even the abandonment of the good is an attempt to follow the good.

rank sophist said...

What I am suggesting is that the basic notion of human flourishing as involving a broader participation in being through capacity actualization in accord with discernable finality in human nature, is nascent to human beings - even if they generally fail to go on philosophically to think more deeply about “capacities and potentials” which point to “ends”, which in turn shed light on “being” per se as a precursor to metaphysical ruminations which might ultimately lead to A-T type theism wherein God is Actus Purus or Ipsum Esse Subsistens.

So, you're saying that eudaimonia is still a live concept in the contemporary world? I agree, to a large extent. However, I don't think that this can be used as a logical club in the way that Prof. Feser wants. Most of us today have very confused beliefs, and, even when eudaimonistic ends seem interesting, we have a fundamentally voluntaristic understanding of freedom that ultimately precludes eudaimonia as a categorical imperative. When someone pulls themselves together in line with their beliefs, we are impressed because they are turning into self-made individuals: they willed to accept a certain set of beliefs, and then they willed to conform themselves to those beliefs. This is why radical feminists defend the hijab and even the burqa, for example, as long as the person in question wants to wear them. It's why thoughtful atheists can be impressed by celibacy or dedicated spirituality. The will is the main principle of moral behavior, and any number of beliefs is acceptable as long as they are first reduced to choice. (Hart has an important chapter on this near the end of The Beauty of the Infinite.) As a result, the elements of eudaimonia that you described can be seen as appealing, but only once they've been reduced from Absolute Truth to relative decision.

Also, again, the first premise of natural law is not a first-personal observation. It can't be understood implicitly and then elaborated philosophically. It is a belief that rests on Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic and Christian theological presuppositions, and it can't be separated from them without losing its logical force. You cannot use natural law to adjudicate a debate between people like ourselves and the modern world, because natural law rests on premises that the two sides don't share.

[Even though it is true that, with sufficient philosophical reflection, it becomes apparent that God must be the source of human nature and the natural law discernable therein.]

I appreciate your argument, but it just doesn't work. The first premise of natural law cannot be inferred from nature in the way you need it to be. Certainly we do infer it, but we do so from the perception of change; not from human nature. The first premise of natural law derives from the First Way, which means that natural law cannot be considered in separation from God. And, again, not just any God will do. Simply creating the world is not enough: God must draw all things, via final causality, to himself as their necessary last end. Anyone of any culture or religion who disagrees with this conception has already rejected natural law.

Anonymous said...

Thats rather extreme eduardo. But yeah, from what Ive seen, BI's posts aren't really substantial.

Eduardo said...

U_U that is extreme... Extreme is give BI any credit lol.

Seriously, the longer you ignore him, the closest you are of helping him xD

rank sophist said...

A few more points about Prof. Feser's response.

What we denied was that natural law theory needs to appeal to any special revelation, not that it (like everything else) presupposes some truths of general revelation. Hart’s objection has force only insofar as it equivocates on the words “revelation” and “supernatural.”

Hart's objection is based on the fact that natural law is inseparable from a belief in the Unmoved Mover. This is, indeed, contained under "general revelation" as Thomists understand it; but it remains a theological belief. As a result, natural law is useless as a debating tool against unbelievers. You can only invoke it once you've converted your opponent to a belief in the Unmoved Mover.

So why emphasize that final causality is controversial? Who, exactly, are the natural law theorists who deny that?

Hart accepts the existence of final causality. He is listing this as the first hurdle that any natural law must overcome before it can convince a modernist.

Hart also tries to make hay out of the suggestion that nature, being red in tooth and claw, the arena of mass extinctions, diseases, and the like, is for most modern people an implausible standard of goodness. But this too is directed at a straw man, for no natural law theorist claims that nature is a standard of goodness in the sense that this objection requires if it is to have any force.

Hart is objecting to more Hegelian notions of teleology, in which processes like mass extinction are ultimately justified as good. It's impossible to get a compelling natural law out of Hegelian teleology. Hart's point is that, even if we accept teleology, we must make further arguments to establish that teleology (as we understand it) is a worthwhile moral ground. He considers this the second hurdle that natural law must overcome in the modern world.

That any number of trees and squirrels might be wiped out by forest fires, diseases, and mass extinctions doesn’t change this at all—it doesn’t for a moment call into question that what is good for trees and squirrels is in the relevant sense determined by their natures. Even “deracinated moderns” (as Hart calls them) can see that much.

Actually, this is more controversial than Prof. Feser imagines. Even if we accept a teleological view of nature, we can still fit Darwinism into this framework, and so consider the mass extinction of the squirrels (say) to be ultimately good. This problem also stands in the way of theistic evolution. It's an ends-justify-the-means kind of mass-teleology, which only the morally disturbed would be willing to accept. (Not that I think evolution is incompatible with theism, by the way--I just don't believe that most theistic accounts of evolution are acceptable.)

Consistent [theological] cases can be made for or against slavery, for example, or for or against capital punishment, depending on which values one has privileged at a level too elementary for [theology] to adjudicate.

This is, unfortunately, not an equivalent example. Philosophy (metaphysics) is much lower on the food chain than theology, as Hart has argued before. Our metaphysical beliefs are in many ways determined by theological and cultural beliefs. Theological beliefs, on the other hand, originated from (as Hart put it in his first article) "uncanny voices that seemed to emanate from outside the totality of the perceptible natural order". Whether one wants to call these voices God or the devil, depending on the context, is irrelevant. I mean, the early Christians considered the pagan gods to be real demons that had seduced the gentiles into worshipping them. On the other hand, the modern church generally accepts that most major religions are based on perceptions of God, albeit in a confused and sometimes sinful way thanks to original sin and the devil's influence. The point is that Prof. Feser's word-switch is fallacious.

rank sophist said...

For natural law theorists would, of course, deny that their disagreements are not amenable to philosophical adjudication. They have, after all, given arguments for their positions on capital punishment, slavery, and every other moral issue they address.

The two greatest theorists of ergon morality were Aristotle and Aquinas, and yet their accounts differed radically. Aristotle, as a pagan, argued for wealth, power, slavery and pride; Aquinas, as a Christian, argued for roughly the opposite. Can the two positions be adjudicated? I really, really doubt it--they're based on totally different, pre-metaphysical premises.

Is Hart really suggesting that there is not a single good philosophical argument even for any of these innocuous claims?

He's arguing that there are no "purely philosophical arguments" capable of rendering any of these conclusions "objectively true", since they're based on cultural and/or theological beliefs prior to ethics. And I'd have to agree with him, there. Utilitarianism, ethical naturalism, Kantian ethics and the other "purely philosophical" positions can all be bent to make those conclusions desirable, if one is depraved enough. Even natural law, divorced from its theological moorings, cannot prove that these things are Absolutely Wrong.

MarcAnthony said...

So here's a question: What DOES Hart suggest to conservatives trying to make arguments in the public square?

No, really. It seems pretty much like he's just telling conservatives to shut up when trying to argue with liberals, because the arguments won't work anyway.

I don't get it.

Shane said...

I still think this is missing the mark of what Hart is getting at. He does not dispute the existence of natural law, or even the use of natural law theory per se; he just highly doubts it is even useful in the current cultural context, and that the grounding assumptions that are necessary for it to be utilized are simply not intelligible for the wider culture.

I would also heartily dispute the idea that the new natural law theorists don't rely upon a metaphysics; they do. The idea that you can have an ethics absent a metaphysics is absurd.

It also needs to be said that Hart is an extreme pessimist when it comes to our culture. No doubt that is coloring his outlook here, and that is important to note. At this point, I think he just believes things are too far gone to be remedied with the use of natural law theory. In this I agree with Hart; spiritual warfare is what's needed.

rank sophist said...

Marc,

First, Hart isn't what you'd typically call a conservative. He's hardly a big fan of capitalism or democracy. As a result, you can't expect him present a political agenda for the conservative party. Second, like Shane said, Hart's an "extreme pessimist" about society. It's his view that cultural forces beyond our control are in the process of ending Western civilization, more or less. He has no interest in the public square: he just wants to convert people to Christianity. His belief about our religion's future is summed up nicely in the last paragraph of his book Atheist Delusions:

I am not speaking, of course, of some great new monastic movement. I mean only that, in the lands where the old Christendom has mostly faded away, the life of those ancient men and women who devoted themselves to the science of charity, in willing exile from the world of social prestige and power, may perhaps again become the model that Christians will find themselves compelled to emulate. Christian conscience once sought out the desert as a shelter from the empire, where those who believed could strive to cultivate the pure eye (that could see all things as gifts of God) and the pure heart (that could receive all persons with a generous love); now a very great deal of Western culture threatens to become something of a desert for believers. In other parts of the world, perhaps, a new Christendom may be in the process of being born--in Africa and Asia, and in another way in Latin America--but what will come of that is impossible to say. We live in an age of such cultural, demographic, ideological, and economic fluidity that what seems like a great movement now may surprise us in only a very few years by its transience. Innumerable forces are vying for the future, and Christianity may prove considerably weaker than its rivals. This should certainly be no cause of despair for Christians, however, since they must believe their faith to be not only a cultural logic but a cosmic truth, which can never finally be defeated. Even so, it may be the case that Christians who live amid the ruins of the old Christendom--perhaps dwelling on the far-flung frontiers of a Christian civilization taking shape in other lands--will have to learn to continue the mission of their ancient revolution in the desert, to which faith has often found it necessary, at various times, to retreat.

Tony said...

First of all, Feser really gets going on his polemics here:

“All that he had written seemed like straw”

It is hard to see what the argument here is supposed to be unless it is directed at a straw man.

Hart also tries to make hay out of the suggestion ...


That's pretty fun.

Let’s Not Argue

As I’ve said, Hart’s article is populated by non-arguments as well as fallacious arguments.

Calling the kettle black, Hart writes: ...

Worried, it seems, that his preceding claims haven’t been sufficiently sweeping or overstated, Hart decides near the end of his piece to throw caution into the wood chipper...


Ya gotta admit, that's not lightweight stuff! Fortunately, we know the Prof likes Hart deep down, so he didn't want to get the sharp knives out.

Anonymous said...

Seems like a classic case of two people talking past each other. I think Hart was going for thought-provoking commentary rather than full-blown argument, whereas Doc Feser was going for the latter, and interpreted Hart as doing the same.

Let me say, though, that I think it's quite foolish to swear off reading Hart just because he is pessimistic about the power of the natural law aspect of classical metaphysics. In all other respects, he is a classicist in terms of his metaphysics, and his criticisms of modernity, culture, and history are astonishingly wide-reaching and deep.


And BI, do get lost. You are wrong about Feser, and you are wrong about Hart. Everybody here views you as a joke.

Tony said...

What makes an action good is not human nature. What makes it good is its end, and, more specifically, its last end: God.

Rank I agree that God is our last end and thus defines the direction of goodness, but I don't think that determines the issue at hand. Or if it does, I am still confused.

I thought what was at issue was whether man can know that certain things as "good" before knowing them as "good because and insofar as they approach toward God." And that's where, it seems to me, natural law proponents assert affirmatively, YES. A child of 5 knows that candy as good without understanding that the good the candy has it has on account of a similitude between candy and God. A child of 4 can recognize a good song from a bad song, and desire the good song as good without any conscious awareness of how the rightness of the song reflects Godliness. A child of 7 can know that obedience to his father is good without being taught that such obedience pertains to the father's reception of authority from the Author of authority, and so such obedience approaches toward God himself.

In fact, Aristotle's study of mobile being (The Physics) and natural being, with its fundamental distinctions of form and matter, potency and act, agent and end; and his study of man's psyche (De Anima) can be undertaken without any direct advertence whatsoever to there being a God that makes all of those things gel. Yes, it is true that it is in fact God that makes those truths, and ALL truths, work together, but in our order of knowing we don't start with God but with the things more known to us: our senses and the things (and their natures) we come to grasp through our senses, and our interior experiences of wanting and liking and imagining and knowing.

Thus, according to the classical natural law theorist, there is a study of man in relation to his end that can be known with respect to the simple, basic knowledge we have of man through those very direct, very immediate, very common things we observe: a baby picking up things and putting them in his mouth, a 4 year old asking questions, an 8 year old's eyes lighting up in delight when he gets that AHA! moment of understanding: all these lead to the clear understanding that knowledge is one of the things that is fulfilling to man as man. Simple observation of children and reflection for 2 minutes is sufficient to prove: for man, knowledge is a good. And it doesn't take any "tradition, history, philosophical premises," or the rest of Hart's nonsense. EVERYONE knows that knowledge is good.

Just as we understand natures, and thus grasp that man is different from animals, long before we know that man's rationality is a reflection of God, so also an understanding of man's end, what is fulfilling to him.

Later, when we ponder more and more deeply, we can come to a more complete picture that relates all these things to God, and then back to man understood in relation to God explicitly. THAT's when we realize that man's good is good because it approaches toward God. But we already knew man's good as good before that.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, we know the Prof likes Hart deep down, so he didn't want to get the sharp knives out.


Good for Dr. Feser that he didn't. As much as I like both, Dr. Hart is the one person I'd never want to get into a polemical exchange with. He is a merciless magician when it comes to language.

MarcAnthony said...

"First, Hart isn't what you'd typically call a conservative. He's hardly a big fan of capitalism or democracy. As a result, you can't expect him present a political agenda for the conservative party. Second, like Shane said, Hart's an "extreme pessimist" about society. It's his view that cultural forces beyond our control are in the process of ending Western civilization, more or less. He has no interest in the public square: he just wants to convert people to Christianity"

Thanks RS.

Wow...he really is an extreme pessimist. I refuse to accept that the best Christians can do is convert people and retreat. That's almost nihilistically Christian, if that makes sense.

MarcAnthony said...

"Dr. Hart is the one person I'd never want to get into a polemical exchange with. He is a merciless magician when it comes to language."

Dr. Feser ain't no slouch either, though.

Anonymous said...

"That's almost nihilistically Christian, if that makes sense."

As much sense as "atheistically Christian." lol

Tony said...

Second, like Shane said, Hart's an "extreme pessimist" about society.

Yes, that does appear to be the case. And I agree with MarcAnthony that this amounts to a kind of quietism: if our society and its public form is irrelevant to "converting people to Christianity", then the Popes for the last 1500 years have been barking up the wrong tree in trying to tell us all some of the rights and wrongs about how to organize society.

If God wants to turn this society around, and re-establish western civilization with its own proper ethos, He can. Giving up because it looks bad right now is...pusillanimous?

rank sophist said...

Tony,

I thought what was at issue was whether man can know that certain things as "good" before knowing them as "good because and insofar as they approach toward God." And that's where, it seems to me, natural law proponents assert affirmatively, YES.

But the problem is that nothing is absolutely good or evil without God. The reason is fairly simple. Natural law defines "good actions" as those which make us more fully human, and "bad actions" as those which make us less human. The issue is that it isn't self-evident that we should choose to be more human. Why should I choose to be more human? Why not choose to be less human instead? There is no answer. This is the same problem that bedevils ethical naturalism: it can never get beyond hypothetical imperatives ("if I want X, then do Y") to categorical imperatives ("do Y"). Without categorical imperatives of some kind, nothing is absolutely right or wrong, because there is no unquestionable standard that we can reach or fail to reach.

And this is why the basis of natural law is not human nature; it's "good is that which all things seek after" (ST IIa q94 a2). From this, we get the categorical imperative "good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided". This is a categorical rather than a hypothetical imperative because, for Aquinas and Aristotle, it is impossible to pursue evil. They both hold that motion is only possible because all things strive to imitate the goodness of the Unmoved Mover. Therefore, the idea of pursuing evil-as-evil is a contradiction: we can only be motivated by the good. Once we realize that "evil" is just an inferior good, and that any attempt to reject goodness is just another attempt to seek it, our actions can be scaled as absolutely better or worse--they have an unquestionable standard to be measured against. This standard, though, comes from our knowledge of the Unmoved Mover. Unless we already know that all action is toward the good by necessity (i.e. the conclusion of the First Way), then natural law is not a law at all. Basically, unless we have the Unmoved Mover as the ultimate standard of all goodness that every being seeks, we don't have morality.

In fact, Aristotle's study of mobile being (The Physics) and natural being, with its fundamental distinctions of form and matter, potency and act, agent and end; and his study of man's psyche (De Anima) can be undertaken without any direct advertence whatsoever to there being a God that makes all of those things gel.

This is, as I said with regard to Prof. Feser's similar argument, covert secularization. It's a modern prejudice smuggled ahistorically into classical metaphysics. Aristotle did not make this distinction. In fact, the desire for the Unmoved Mover was a critical part of his scientific theory.

Also, it is not possible to consider motion without bringing in the Unmoved Mover. It's the desire for the Unmoved Mover that motivates the action of each individual agent. This is ultimately the cause of every action. To say that we can separate motion from the Unmoved Mover is a bit absurd, to say the least.

And it doesn't take any "tradition, history, philosophical premises," or the rest of Hart's nonsense. EVERYONE knows that knowledge is good.

Your examples are not binding in the way that Prof. Feser claims that natural law is binding. I could still reject knowledge without contradiction, and there would be nothing that you could say to convince me otherwise, on a logical level.

MarcAnthony said...

"As much sense as 'atheistically Christian.' lol"

You'd be surprised with some of the liberal churches that call themselves Christian.

Of course, I don't think they're Christian, but they do.

In any case,what I mean is that his hopelessness is so extreme that it's comparable to the hopelessness of the nihilists-of course, I did say ALMOST.

Eduardo said...

I remember something about churcch going people ... that didn't believe in any deity or God-like anything XD.

Religion is so filled with faces we can't catalog it XD, is just like .... philosophy I think ... and political parties...

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Feser writes: “Natural law theory makes a very limited, but very important claim—that there is common ground between all human beings, and particularly between religious believers and non-believers, on which moral disagreements can be rationally adjudicated.

This is ambiguous. Is one to understand “in which moral disagreements” as “in which some moral disagreements”? If so, then it’s trivially true, or at least unquestionably true.

On the other hand if one is to understand this claim as referring to “in which all moral disagreements” then it becomes very problematic, since (as Hart notices) consistent natural law cases can be made for or against, say, capital punishment. Indeed Feser’s defence in the current article by analogy to theology is invalid, for nobody claims that theology is about “rational adjudication”.

Now it would seem that Feser has the first interpretation in mind, since he accepts that some moral truths can only be known by revelation or through grace. But then the force of natural law theory is rather diminished, since it reduces to one mode of moral reasoning. Which mode I think every theist will agree with. For surely it is morally wrong to make choices against the end of creation. Which end is sometimes revealed to our rational reflection about the nature of things.

If I am right in the above then Hart and Feser agree on the fundamentals and the debate reduces to a storm in a teacup. Perhaps their disagreement consists only in the emphasis – Feser holding that the deliverances of natural law theory are potentially momentous, and Hart holding that the religious life is far more effective for seeing and living moral truth. Or perhaps, given the difficulty of applying natural law theory in some cases, Hart warns us to be careful of the sin of pride and consider the practical limitations of the method.

Anonymous said...

First, Hart isn't what you'd typically call a conservative. He's hardly a big fan of capitalism or democracy.

I know it isn't the central aspect of the discussion, but, as a conservative scholar, can I point out that more traditionalist conservatives have always been critical of both capitalism (more from a distributist-style position than from a socialist one, though, of course) and democracy.

It is rather unfortunate that Manchesterism and 19th century liberalism have so often been mistaken for conservatism.

Anonymous said...

Tony, presumably Hart, as an Eastern Orthodox theologian, would agree that the Roman Church has made some wrong moves in the last thousand years.

I don't think Hart is giving up. He wouldn't write books on New Atheist idiocy if he had. Rather, I think he just takes a pessimistic view of the immediate possibility of success for Western Christians, and he seems to believe one of the best ways to affect public morality is through bringing more people to Christianity. He has a point, at least about conversions: one of the best ways to improve public morality and the place of Christianity in society is to start winning converts to the faith again and to improve enthusiasm and zeal amongst those already professing to believe.

Anonymous said...

Rank:

"But the problem is that nothing is absolutely good or evil without God. The reason is fairly simple. Natural law defines "good actions" as those which make us more fully human, and "bad actions" as those which make us less human. The issue is that it isn't self-evident that we should choose to be more human. Why should I choose to be more human? Why not choose to be less human instead? There is no answer. This is the same problem that bedevils ethical naturalism: it can never get beyond hypothetical imperatives ("if I want X, then do Y") to categorical imperatives ("do Y"). Without categorical imperatives of some kind, nothing is absolutely right or wrong, because there is no unquestionable standard that we can reach or fail to reach."

Thanks, that helps distinguish Sam Harris's apparent rejection of the fact-value distinction within his utilitarian 'natural law without God' position.

Although I don't think his appeals to common sense are going to be any less convincing than an appeal to having the correct theological interpretation of categorical imperatives.

Anonymous said...

How does bringing God into the picture help with obligation, though? Isn't this hypothetical person who says, "I want to be less human" simply crazy, and would the existence of God change that craziness. Couldn't they just say, "I want to suffer the eternal consequences of my actions"? Maybe I'm missing something, RS, but it seems like the problem with the sort of Natural Law approach that Feser is taking is that it won't convince really stubborn people? Argument, in any case, has to be given to understand why the imperatives in question are categorical, and even if we add God some other premise in the case of a good many moral disagreements may be adjusted to give us the conclusion we prefer.

Also, any sort of argument made in public is going to have to start out hypothetical anyway. A Natural Law apologist has to defend the idea that we should act to better 'fill out' our being and not act in ways that diminish our being. The number of people who accept it as delivering some categorical conclusion will be the number of people who find the hypothetical part convincing, but that again seems to be the case with any ethical theory.

That said, I think Hart is right to be pessimistic. I was reading a bit of Oscar Wilde's De Profundis earlier today and was struck by his acknowledgement of the importance of repentance. He recognized his own life as a decadent one that could be transformed by identifying with Christ (of course, this was all heavily salted with his own romanticism). Nowadays the idea of transformation is strange to most folks or they are at least highly skeptical of their needing to be any such thing in their life. That and who knows what an essence or an accident or anything like that is any more? I recently had a conversation in which I was trying to explain why, given Natural Law, certain sexual acts would be immoral. I couldn't for the life of me get my interlocutor to understand that the 'end' of a thing was not the same as it having to result in its 'end' in every case. The retort was always, "do you seriously think sex is all about procreation?" This argument happened to be with another Christian.

Anonymous said...

Awesome article, Dr. Feser. Sheer Hart Attack: Morality, Rationality, and Theology ought to go down in history as one of the best introductions and defense of natural law. Thank you! ~ Mark

monk68 said...

RS,

I have been thinking about our recent interaction as well as our previous exchange a few threads ago (both of which I have enjoyed BTW). The trouble I have with your approach comes down to one foundational issue. It involves ambiguity concerning the predicate terms “good” and “evil”. Upon reflection, clearing up that ambiguity involves diving in some deep waters. I use here a comment which Tony made as a launching point. He wrote:

“I thought what was at issue was whether man can know that certain things as "good" before knowing them as "good because and insofar as they approach toward God." And that's where, it seems to me, natural law proponents assert affirmatively, YES.”

To that you replied: “But the problem is that nothing is absolutely good or evil without God”

And that is just where confusion arises in my mind about your basic stance. What basis do you have for making this claim? Certainly, Traditional Natural Law theory (TNL) has its own way of saying something *somewhat* similar on this point – see below? But from your POV, what is it about God’s existence or nature that suddenly converts actions which were morally ambiguous when understood in the absence of some view of God’s existence or nature, into “absolutely good or evil” actions, once the existence or nature of God are brought on the scene? You need to give a coherent account of that transition since you seem to be maintaining that *without* God, human actions are morally ambiguous, but that human actions *can* be absolutely good or evil *if* some understanding of God is added to the picture. Only then do we get something like a “categorical imperative” or an “objectively true” moral framework. Further, and as I understand it, you presumably think it requires the addition of theological-cum-cultural postulates, beyond the scope of philosophy proper, to effectively bring God within the ethical landscape - right?

The primordial issue here is the question as to where the meaning of the predicate terms “good” and “evil” are to be drawn from. Hart’s critique, and your comments, concerning natural law are peppered with use of these ethical predicates (as is to be expected), but without clarity as to their meaning. And this I think unintentionally camouflages an equivocation which makes alleged natural law deficiencies seem more apparent than they really are. Or to put it another way, if you or Hart were to drill deep into the meaning of these terms, and specifically reflect upon the soil out of which these terms are to be harvested, I think you would find yourself facing a more basic philosophical issue which the scholastics long ago wrestled with. And having done so, you might not think TNL is as insufficient as you currently hold it to be. The very meaning of “good” and “evil”, are not just obvious without reflection. Those very predicates call for some explanation or justification concerning their meaning and use. Its true that the first premise of TNL is “do good, avoid evil”, but that premise does not arise from philosophical thin air. The fact that it is the first principle of *synderesis*, does *not* entail that nothing more fundamental can be said about that premise in terms of epistemology or ontology. The use of the terms “good” and “evil” – even within that premise - need to be fleshed out. But TNL already *has* rigorously worked that question out. And the specific way that TNL has fleshed out the meaning of those predicates has profound implications. To wit:

Cntd . . .

monk68 said...

Assuming (as I do) that the epistemic and ontic principles of Aristotelian natural science are intelligibly undeniable, and that these same can be deployed, when properly understood, to establish the conclusion of the First Way; what one ends up with is this. Whatever else God is, God is pure act; that is, He has no potencies which are unactualized. Since the First Way shows that God is “in act” in a penultimate way, God is then described, not as “a being”, but “being itself”, or else He is said to be the “fullness of being”, the “ground of all being”, etc. Accordingly, one valid way to describe what it means “to be” or “to exist” is to say that “to be” is characterized by “actuality”. Moreover, the First Way establishes that God as “pure act” is the *ultimate* cause of all potency-to-act reductions throughout the cosmos.

What follows from all this is that, insofar as any given thing is said to exist or participate in “being”, it is said to be in act in some way. Specifically, this breaks down along two lines. First, the more and diverse ways that a thing can be (or in fact is) “in act”, the closer it approximates God who is pure act. Hence, all things being equal, a man participates in being and more approximates God than a dog, a dog more than a plant, a plant more than a single cell organism, a single cell organism more than a rock, and so forth. The reason is that men have a much wider range of capacities which can be actualized relative to a dog, a dog relative to a plant, a plant to a cell, etc. Or to put it another way, if a man, dog, plant, cell, and rock were to have all of their essential capacities maximally actualized, it would be the case that participation in being or approximation to God’s mode of existence would be exhibited from greater to less by man, dog, plant, cell, and rock respectively.

Secondly, with respect to a specific thing taken in itself, rather than in relation to a hierarchy of other things; that thing will be said to more participate being or approximate God insofar as its essential capacities are in fact maximally actualized, rather than remaining dormant or partially actualized. Since growth, reproduction, locomotion, sentience, understanding, language, humor, etc. are all essential human capacities (an essential human capacity being determined by observation of acts always and everywhere found among men), it follows that some man who actualizes a greater number of these capacities, or more often, or more fully, can be said to be “in act”, or participate in being more than a man where such capacities are actualized in less, or less often, or less extensive ways. Something similar could be said about *all* things of our experience according to their own capacity sets, but what seems unique about man is that he appears to have some say with respect to *some* of his capacities, as to whether he *will* reduce them to act or not, and also as to whether he will reduce certain capacities to act *in such a way as not to jeopardize the actualization of other capacities*.

This last is crucial, since man can know through philosophical reflection that his capacities are interrelated in a dependent order wherein utilizing one capacity in a certain way or time, or with respect to a certain object, may either inhibit or foster the actualization of some other capacity(s). He can know through reflection that there is a certain balancing act entailed in maximizing his own essential capacity actualization, and thereby participating in being and approximating God to the fullest degree possible.

Cntd . . .

monk68 said...

But what of ethics? Notice that I have not said a single word so far about whether capacities *should* be actualized. Whether fuller participation in existence or being *should* be pursued. Whether greater approximation to God understood as “pure act” *should* be a relevant goal. For the vast majority of things in our universe, and for substantial aspects even of human nature, there is simply no choice about the matter. Things (including aspects of man such as biological growth) *cannot* do otherwise than actualize their capacities in repetitive ways within a range of variation through either transuent or immanent causation. The only outliers to such determinism within the cosmos, that we know of through strictly philosophical reflection, are those limited range of human capacities, whose actualization humans *do* seem to have some choice about, concerning (1)if, (2)how, (3)when, or (4)toward what object, we shall (or shall not) actualize them.

So then, prior to any prejudicial use of “good” or “evil” predicates, someone who thinks that the epistemic and ontic foundations of A-T philosophy are rock solid, will maintain that the above account, at the very least, accurately describes “the nature of things” from a broad metaphysical perspective. Of course, most people, including many philosophers, would reject (or at least be unfamiliar with) the picture drawn so far, but that is neither here nor there. I would simply maintain that such persons have not exercised sufficient care and patience in reflecting upon epistemic and ontic fundaments.

Be that as it may, the point is that the question of ethics arises through individual and communal questions about (1)if, (2)how, (3)when, or (4)toward what object, those limited capacities which do fall within the ambit of human “choice” are to be actualized. That’s the limited scope of ethical reflection. So human beings have a limited range of capacities which fall under their control with respect to (1)if, (2)how, (3)when, or (4)toward what object these capacities will be actualized. But zoom in closer within this tightened landscape of ethical inquiry. Notice that the last three questions of (2)“how”, (3)“when”, and (4)“toward what object” with respect to capacity actualization, are all just riffs on the first and primordial questions as to (1)*IF* capacities which we have any choice about *should* be actualized *at all*.

Why is that? Well, given that those limited human capacities which we have choice about are related to one another in a network such that actualization of any one capacity in a certain way either helps, hampers, or is neutral with respect to the actualization of other capacities. And given that the fullest participation in “act”, or “being”, or “existence” involves *maximizing* our network of capacities (i.e. being in act to the fullest degree possible). It follows that any choice about (2)“how”, (3)“when”, or (4)“toward which object” we actualize a capacity, implicitly or explicitly involves a choice about whether or not we are purposively seeking maximal capacity actualization. Which is just a form of indirect choice concerning (1)if capacity actualization is a goal to be sought. This fact is implicitly recognized every time someone says “I know I am going to regret this [insert action] later”. It may even be the case that a person who has deeply reflected on all of these things has misjudged whether or not a specific way of actualizing a capacity will tend to help or harm his overall ability to achieve maximal capacity actualization. But, even in making a mistake with respect to the particular case, he nonetheless recognizes the universal principle that in deciding how, when, or toward what object to actualize a capacity, he is necessarily making a choice for or against capacity actualization *in the aggregate*.

monk68 said...

Cntd from above

The upshot of all of this is that the essential and primordial question – the big Kahuna – is whether or not actualization of those capacities over which humans have a choice *should* be pursued, in an effort to maximize one’s participation in existence or being. There it is, the bottom line. And there are only two choices. *Should* and *good* are intimately related terms. Hence, we either invest or associate the very meaning of the predicate term “good” with the affirmative choice to seek maximal capacity actualization, or we do not. There is no other non-arbitrary, non-subjective, ground in which to root the predicate “good”. Either the term “good” will be set up as definitionally associated with participation in being, existence, and the seeking of maximal capacity actualization; or else ethics reduces to will-to-power - full stop.

However, if the meaning of the predicate term “good” *is* fashioned through association with actuality, then to seek the good, is to seek maximal actualization, fullness of being, the widest participation in existence – to seek imitation of God understood as pure act, etc. Moreover, taking “evil” as the contrary predicate to “good”, “evil” in terms of behavior, will involve choices for diminishment, for nothingness, for non-being. That – I say – is the essence of original sin: to refuse to take one’s behavioral cue from the nature of things: to reject existence as it is: the choice to give reality the finger – as it were - because one is hell-bent on making the attempt to forge an alternate reality. But the inevitable result of rejecting capacity actualization as the guide to morality, and as the soil from which the very notions of “good” and “evil” are harvested, is that one ends up failing to maximally actualize one’s own capacities, which amounts to nothing less than a literal ontological tendency toward non-being. That’s flows from the nature of things, whatever we may say about ethics. All of this is just a long way of explaining why the scholastics understood “Being” and “Good” to be convertible.

You will surely respond that, despite all this, humans *can* still, as a mater of fact, exercise their ultimate voluntaristic option and “choose” to *refuse* to associate the ethical “good” with maximal actualization of their capacities. They *can* choose non-being over existence you will say. Well, yes they can - and they do! And if there is an original sin of the human race, that is its deepest reality. But that is not news. The philosophical situation with respect to the genesis of ethics, then, is this:

1. Actualization of human capacities increases one’s participation in being and approximation to God understood as (at least) pure actuality.

2. To seek maximal capacity actualization is to seek a greater participation in being or existence. To avoid capacity actualization is to tend toward non-being.

3.) Ethically speaking, individuals or a culture can either (a) make the primordial choice to associate “good” behavior with pursuit of greater participation in being through maximal capacity actualization, or (2) individuals or a culture can give up seeking any non-arbitrary “objectively true”, “categorically imperative” ground for ethics altogether.

Cntd . . .

monk68 said...

That outline can be brought to the public square, and it suffices to plumb the depths of our fundamental ethical options as both individuals and as a culture. You write:

“The issue is that it isn't self-evident that we should choose to be more human. Why should I choose to be more human? Why not choose to be less human instead? There is no answer.”

But it is self evident. “To be” is better than “not to be”. The fact that people *say* it is not self evident does not prove that it is not self-evident (after all, they insist on “being” here to say it). And if the problem is navigating within the public square among people who *say* (implicitly or explicitly) that nothingness is better than existence; then I can produce the above 3 step outline to defend the following basic notion proposition:

“It is *objectively true* that the denial of the self-evidence of the convertibility of “good” with “being” renders ethics literally impossible.”

And that is a perfectly good philosophically defensible proposition that I would be happy to take my chances with before an on-looking public which I might hope to persuade. Moreover, I can go on to show that the fundamental choice to *affirm* the self-evidence of the good-ness of being is the primordial root of all traditional natural law theory and, as such, carries in its train all the general principles of the natural law. It’s a macroscopic – philosophical - if/then. *If* we refuse to associate good and being, *then* no objective ethics – period. But *if* we affirm the association of good and being, *then* we’ve got the natural law. Who will listen – I don’t know. But that does not alter the facts. We have a choice, just as all cultures before us have had a choice, and that fundamental choice *can* be cashed out in entirely philosophical terms, independent of trans-cultural differences or specifically theological premises. So when you write:

“Without categorical imperatives of some kind, nothing is absolutely right or wrong, because there is no unquestionable standard that we can reach or fail to reach.”

I would simply say this. If someone, in reflecting deeply upon the objective grounds of ethics, and having done their due diligence in the areas of epistemology and ontology is willing to embrace non-being rather than acknowledge the convertibility of good and being; nothing else you might want to add by way of cultural or theological supplement is going to tip the scales and yield any better ground for “objective truths” or “categorical imperatives” in ethics. Though it is bold to say; ultimately, if there are no natural law ethics, there simply are no ethics – objectively speaking.

-Pax

Anonymous said...

I think the main point is simply that arguments are effective in only an extremely small number of cases. The vast majority of people have never paid any attention to arguments: in the olden days because they were too busy farming or hunting to do so, more recently because they are swamped by, and at bottom they prefer, pop culture diversions. (We who comment here are exceptions and GEEKS, for those who haven't faced that fact!) Large-scale societal features like technology, entertainment, and economics influence people to a greater extent than academics preaching from the rooftops (c.f. Damon Linker's article "How gay marriage's fate was sealed more than 50 years ago," which shows, I believe, that the technological innovation of the pill led inexorably to the public's favoring gay marriage). The pieces in First Things are written by academics for other academics. Ironically this whole debate, which sets our intellectualist hearts aflutter, is completely unknown to 99.99999999% of human beings. Moral trends, religious trends, and the like are way bigger than any brainiac and will flow as they will regardless of what we do or say. This is not to say that some stragglers don't benefit from academic output.

monk68 said...

Anon 10:01am,

I agree with a lot of that, but don't you think that quite a few big ideas, that sensible folk would never dream up, like mechanism, scientism, Marxism, skepticism, etc.; while certainly not known by those names among 99.9999% of the populace, do in fact have a way of first arising among the GEEKS and then spreading pervasively through a sort of cultural osmosis (becoming embedded in all the sorts of social activities and structures you list)? Why movers and shakers in all kinds of fields have the habit of looking to the GEEKS to validate their own real-world activities, I can’t say. But it seems they often do. The university is the one institution that vast numbers of the influential pass through. And to the degree that some destructive ideology dominates those corridors for a generation or so, it seems the whole culture eventually laps up the cool-aide without even being able name it as such or put their finger on its precise origin. So don’t you think there is something to be said for attempting to head off errors at the GEEK water-cooler?

Pax

Brandon said...

It needs to be pointed out again that while what rank sophist describes is a natural law theory, it is a version of natural law theory that is not accepted by any major natural law theorist. The majority of natural law theorists accept the following propositions and their corollary, which are inconsistent with RS's explication of what natural law theory requires. I've thrown together a few references for context, but they were just what I had immediately on hand:

(1) The fundamental precepts of natural law are per se nota (self-evident).

Aquinas (ST 1-2.94.2); Scotus (Ord III suppl dist 37, and many, many other places besides); Rickaby (Moral Philosophy ch. 8, sect. 1); Grisez (The Way of the Lord Jesus ch. 7 q. D); Finnis, Boyle, and Grisez "Practical Principles, Moral Truth, and Ultimate Ends" in Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism, pp. 106, 119-120); Feser (Aquinas p. 184; cf. The Last Superstition p. 137)

(2) The most fundamental precepts of natural law are the first principles of practical reason.

Aquinas (ST 1-2.94.2); Scotus (Ord III suppl dist 37); Rickaby (Moral Philosophy ch. 8, sect. 1)

Corollary: Therefore the most fundamental precepts of natural law are at least implicitly known to all.

Aquinas (ST 1-2.93.2; 1-2.94.4); Scotus (Ord IV dist 26 n. 9 and elsewhere); Suarez (Quaest. de legibus 3.3); Rickaby (Moral Philosophy ch. 8, sect. 2); McInerny (Ethica Thomistica p. 40); Grisez (The Way of the Lord Jesus ch. 7 q. D); Boyle ("Natural Law and Global Ethics" in Mark Cherry, ed., Natural Law and the Possibility of a Global Ethics, p. 2). Cf. Pope Leo XIII (Libertas sect. 8).

The corollary follows from (2) given the fact that everyone reasons about practical matters at least sometimes, and it follows from (1) with similarly minimal assumptions (e.g., that the most fundamental practical principles are very general); it follows from (1) and (2) together without any additional assumptions. Because of this, the fundamental precepts of natural law do not presuppose any Aristotelian metaphysics, or the Five Ways, or anything of the kind in order to be known, although these can provide further explanation of them. Ed makes this point in Aquinas, p. 184 ("Acceptance of Aquinas's general metaphysics is not necessary in order to see that this first principle is correct; it is supposed to be self-evident. But that metaphysics is meant to help us understand why it is correct"). Nor is he at all going out on a limb in saying this; it's the standard view. The parallel with the principle of noncontradiction holds: you don't need to know the metaphysics of being in order to recognize the principle of noncontradiction and the stupidity of rejecting it -- you just have to think through what the principle means. The principle does have a deeper explanation in the metaphysics of being, which relates it to other things, gives it a broader context, etc. But as a first principle of speculative reason, you don't need the metaphysics to get to the principle; you are already using it whenever you reason, whether you acknowledge it or not, whether you explicitly formulate it or not. It is a constitutive condition for reasoning. The most fundamental precepts of natural law work exactly the same way.

Glenn said...

Tanks, Brandon.

Glenn said...

s/b Thank you, Brandon.

Anonymous said...

Monk and Brandon,

Thank you for your posts above.

You both speak of the self evident principles of the natural law, that to some degree are known by all men who have attained the use of reason, and that natural law arguments therefore can and should be used to convey the truth concerning the objective good for man (leading ultimately to God). Others here seem to contest that natural law arguments ultimately will fail to persuade in the public square for various reasons.

Since much of this discussion concerning natural law is an intramural one between Christians of different traditions, and since
all Christians believe that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error, than does St Paul's epistle to the Romans especially chapters 1 and 2 confirm the self-evident nature of natural law and its binding force
on the consciences of all men, and thus militate toward the use of such arguments as natural law proponents contend?

To elaborate, St Paul indicates of God that "his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.
So they [the wicked and ungodly] are without excuse" and that "though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them." This seems to indicate that there is a law that
the wicked (i.e. evil ones) are not following, and that they have no excuse for doing so (i.e., for not doing the lawful good). IOW, there is a law that has been made known (wicked are "without excuse"), that is, a law that has been properly promulgated by "God’s decree" (which "they know") who is the eternal "deity" and lawgiver responsible for the common good of his creatures. St. Paul writes later of the Gentiles, who had not been given the divine moral law via special revelation, that when they "do by nature what the law requires ... they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.".

I'm neither a scripture scholar nor a natural lawyer, but it seems to me that Scripture here points to the reality of natural
law that is made known by God that is binding even on those who have not been given the divine law. And that it is God, who judges
the secrets of men, who determines the merit or condemnation of men according to what degree they conformed to the law He made known to them, taking into account all the circumstances that might affect their culpability, including their response to his grace to follow the law as they were capable of apprehending it.

With St Paul's words in mind attesting to the reality of natural law, my view then, for what it's worth, is that Christians should use all the weapons in their arsenal to convey God's truth, whether of divine law or natural law, which both reveal God's eternal law. For some people, obstacles to faith may very well be removed by natural law arguments rather than by other ways. If even one person for the rest of history is led to saving union with Christ who is the Truth by the Holy Spirit via the natural law approach, then I believe it would be worth it.

Am I way off base here? Thanks.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

So, you're telling me that we can know that all things seek the good (and, by extension, that the practical reason seeks the good) without first knowing that it is impossible to move without seeking the good (i.e. the First Way)? You're putting the cart before the horse. Also, citing Scotus and others who reject the core principle of ergon ethics--which has been your strategy for two comboxes now--just begs the question.

monk,

I'm really impressed by your response, although I agree with it more fully than you might think. I'm going to try to isolate the core confusion about what I'm saying, since I don't think I did a good enough job clarifying my arguments.

I have been thinking about our recent interaction as well as our previous exchange a few threads ago (both of which I have enjoyed BTW).

In full agreement, there. It's always worthwhile to debate with you.

But from your POV, what is it about God’s existence or nature that suddenly converts actions which were morally ambiguous when understood in the absence of some view of God’s existence or nature, into “absolutely good or evil” actions, once the existence or nature of God are brought on the scene? You need to give a coherent account of that transition since you seem to be maintaining that *without* God, human actions are morally ambiguous, but that human actions *can* be absolutely good or evil *if* some understanding of God is added to the picture.

I've been making two arguments throughout this debate, but I didn't do a great job of separating them. My first argument, which I've used before, is the historicist one about the divide between intellectualism and voluntarism. Let's call this the I-V argument. I use this to cast doubt on the universality of A-T reasoning. Unlike in previous debates, I haven't been relying too heavily on the I-V argument here--I've been making a different one. This is an argument about the necessity of natural law's (theological) first premise being established before any absolute moral principles can be invoked, even among those in the A-T tradition. I'll call this the theological premise or TP argument.

You ask why I claim that God's existence entails absolute morality with a categorical imperative, rather than ambiguous morality without one. I've tried to explain this a few times already, but I haven't done a great job. First, look at human nature. Using Aristotle's ergon (function) argument, we can identify the ends toward which our nature points, which allows us to understand what happens when we actualize this or that end. This gives us what Kant called hypothetical imperatives: if I want to be healthy, I should exercise my body; if I want to be happy, I should do X, Y and Z. Hypothetical imperatives are not absolute, because they rely on the "if" quantifier. This means that we can choose to reject them. (Keep in mind that I am not invoking the I-V argument here; I'm sticking purely to the TP argument.) Ethical naturalism has this same problem: we always have the option to reject the "if". Now, if natural law relied solely on human nature, then it would be a set of hypothetical imperatives without any binding force, which makes morality ambiguous at best.

rank sophist said...

This is why natural law (and Aristotle's proto-natural law) is not ultimately grounded in natural data, which does not contain any binding commands. Anyone is free to respond to an appeal to nature by saying, "So, what?" Instead, the basis of natural law is theological. To put it succinctly: to the extent that something acts, it acts for the good, because the first principle of action is a desire to imitate the Unmoved Mover's goodness. If we do not posit the Unmoved Mover, then we don't even get to the point of admitting the existence of change--let alone to the point of discussing absolute morality. This is what I've been trying to say. Natural lawyers like Prof. Feser regularly attempt to bridge the gap between believers and non-believers by citing nature alone, but their arguments boil down to hypothetical imperatives that do not convince anyone on a strictly logical level. Natural law begins not at the ergon stage but at the argument for the Unmoved Mover. Only once we know that we cannot fail to seek the good, since the only possible actions are those motivated by the goodness of the Unmoved Mover, can we make the further claim that apprehending the ends of our nature provides binding commands. "Do good and avoid evil" is our categorical imperative--a rule that binds all behavior.

It follows from the theologically-derived "do good and avoid evil" that murder is absolutely evil, that adultery is absolutely evil, that charity is absolutely good and so forth. "Do good and avoid evil" imbues previously hypothetical imperatives (derived from ergon arguments) with absolute force. Even if we choose to commit adultery, we cannot choose adultery as evil--we act toward the good in this situation. All of this further ties in to the intellectualist premise that we can only act toward what we have determined to be good.

And having done so, you might not think TNL is as insufficient as you currently hold it to be.

Believe it or not, I'm a proponent of natural law. I don't share Hart's skepticism about its truth.

Its true that the first premise of TNL is “do good, avoid evil”, but that premise does not arise from philosophical thin air. The fact that it is the first principle of *synderesis*, does *not* entail that nothing more fundamental can be said about that premise in terms of epistemology or ontology. The use of the terms “good” and “evil” – even within that premise - need to be fleshed out.

I agree. The principle of synderesis further derives from the pre-direction of all things toward the good of the Unmoved Mover, who, as the final cause of all action, pulls all things toward himself. It's impossible to act without acting toward the good on a fundamental level, because, in this classical framework, acting without acting toward the good is the equivalent of acting without acting.

rank sophist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rank sophist said...

The upshot of all of this is that the essential and primordial question – the big Kahuna – is whether or not actualization of those capacities over which humans have a choice *should* be pursued, in an effort to maximize one’s participation in existence or being. There it is, the bottom line. And there are only two choices. *Should* and *good* are intimately related terms. Hence, we either invest or associate the very meaning of the predicate term “good” with the affirmative choice to seek maximal capacity actualization, or we do not. There is no other non-arbitrary, non-subjective, ground in which to root the predicate “good”. Either the term “good” will be set up as definitionally associated with participation in being, existence, and the seeking of maximal capacity actualization; or else ethics reduces to will-to-power - full stop.

I'm in total agreement. However, I want to be clear that this conclusion, while relevant to my I-V argument, is not really related to the TP argument. The I-V argument gives us the possibility of an existential choice between the two types of morality you mentioned. However, within the TNL (as you call it) framework, it is impossible to fail to choose the good as we perceive it at the time. This is because, as I've been trying to clarify via the TP argument, natural law is built on the premise that motion is toward the good by necessity. For Aquinas, it's a contradiction to say that we could choose evil-as-evil and existentially reject being in favor of non-being.

That – I say – is the essence of original sin: to refuse to take one’s behavioral cue from the nature of things: to reject existence as it is: the choice to give reality the finger – as it were - because one is hell-bent on making the attempt to forge an alternate reality.

I'll admit that this is a very powerful image. I don't think that Aquinas would agree, though. This idea of being able to reject the good and to "give reality the finger" is more familiar to Scotus's line of reasoning, which denied that the will was inherently directed toward the good. (How Scotus explains the will's ability to move without a pre-direction toward the Unmoved Mover remains a mystery to me.) Aquinas would see those who choose non-being as confused; Scotus would see them as willful nihilists.

You will surely respond that, despite all this, humans *can* still, as a mater of fact, exercise their ultimate voluntaristic option and “choose” to *refuse* to associate the ethical “good” with maximal actualization of their capacities. They *can* choose non-being over existence you will say. Well, yes they can - and they do!

I'm actually torn on this subject. I certainly believe, in I-V terms, that one can reject the true ideology in favor of a false one. But I don't think that I can remain an intellectualist while simultaneously believing that those who fail to associate good with being and action are literally giving reality the finger. By definition, intellectualists are required to say that voluntarists are just confused. In terms of the current TP argument, I don't think it's a live option to say that we can choose evil over good.

rank sophist said...

Ethically speaking, individuals or a culture can either (a) make the primordial choice to associate “good” behavior with pursuit of greater participation in being through maximal capacity actualization, or (2) individuals or a culture can give up seeking any non-arbitrary “objectively true”, “categorically imperative” ground for ethics altogether.

That outline can be brought to the public square, and it suffices to plumb the depths of our fundamental ethical options as both individuals and as a culture.


Could not have said it better myself. And I think that this should be the mission of natural lawyers: describing the I-V divide and showing the consequences of each option. Hart himself does this in most of his works.

Hart's objection is directed at the natural lawyers who attempt to use natural data as an "objective" way of adjudicating the I-V divide, in separation from the theological premise of natural law. And I agree with him: this is impossible. Using the data outside of the wider intellectualist scheme (understood as encompassing the will's natural pre-direction toward God, etc.) results merely in hypothetical imperatives. You have to convert your opponent before you can appeal to absolute moral principles.

In conclusion, I think I caused a lot of confusion by not being clearer about the I-V and TP arguments. I firmly believe that absolute morality is real, because I affirm the theological premise that brings it about. My argument has been that it's impossible to use nature as an absolute guide to morality without that premise, which, as Hart says, makes natural law worthless for secular policy debates.

rank sophist said...

One of my posts keeps disappearing. Trying to post it again:

Since the First Way shows that God is “in act” in a penultimate way, God is then described, not as “a being”, but “being itself”, or else He is said to be the “fullness of being”, the “ground of all being”, etc.

I'm going to have to dispute your point, there. The affirmation "being itself" comes from the essence-existence distinction that Aquinas inserted into the Aristotelian framework. Aristotle had no proper ontology: he was concerned with the concept of "act", which comes after the concept of existence in Aquinas's metaphysics. Hence Aristotle did not refer to God as "being itself"--he considered him to be merely the most good thing in existence. Existence was proper to both the Unmoved Mover and to prime matter, which had both existed from eternity in a kind of binary opposition between best and worst, most good and least, most orderly and most chaotic, most intelligible and least intelligible. All the First Way tells us is that motion is ultimately driven by a desire to imitate that which is most actual: it makes no claims about being as such.

Moreover, the First Way establishes that God as “pure act” is the *ultimate* cause of all potency-to-act reductions throughout the cosmos.

Part of our confusion in this debate may result from different understandings of the Unmoved Mover. My reading of the First Way changed radically in the last few weeks after I realized that it was an argument from final rather than efficient causality. The way that the Unmoved Mover moves us is via a desire for his perfection: he does not push us to motion, but rather pulls us to motion. The inherent motive principle in all agents is the draw of the Unmoved Mover, which is the final cause that brings about all efficient causes. If this reading is new to you (it certainly was to me), then you can get more information about it from the large scholarly passages quoted on the relevant Wikipedia page.

This is why I keep saying that the premise of natural law is the conclusion of the First Way. "All things act toward the good" is what the First Way forces us to accept--and we must understand that "the good" ultimately cashes out as the Unmoved Mover.

rank sophist said...

Notice that I have not said a single word so far about whether capacities *should* be actualized. Whether fuller participation in existence or being *should* be pursued. Whether greater approximation to God understood as “pure act” *should* be a relevant goal. For the vast majority of things in our universe, and for substantial aspects even of human nature, there is simply no choice about the matter.

Even our free will has no choice in the matter. The first premise of all motion is a desire for the good, and so all of our decisions are ultimately attempts to imitate God's perfection. To say otherwise is to deny the will's capacity to move in the first place. We cannot fail to choose the good. What gives us free will is the indeterminate desirability of finite ends, which all possess positives and negatives. "Do good and avoid evil" remains a categorical imperative even in the face of extreme skepticism, as long as one accepts the Unmoved Mover argument.

Thursday said...

But it is self evident. “To be” is better than “not to be”. The fact that people *say* it is not self evident does not prove that it is not self-evident (after all, they insist on “being” here to say it).

I think the point though is that if someone denies this premise, there aren't any logical argument that must compel them to agree with it.

In other words, you may be a damned fool for denying the premise, but it doesn't seem like it's something amenable to argument.

Happy to be corrected though.

Anonymous said...

So why doesn't Rank Sophist have a blog? Seriously Rank, I do appreciate reading your comments.

Anonymous said...

rank sophist, start a blog entitled "rank sophistry" or something

i'd read it.

Tony said...

Me: In fact, Aristotle's study of mobile being (The Physics) and natural being, with its fundamental distinctions of form and matter, potency and act, agent and end; and his study of man's psyche (De Anima) can be undertaken without any direct advertence whatsoever to there being a God that makes all of those things gel.

Rank: This is, as I said with regard to Prof. Feser's similar argument, covert secularization. It's a modern prejudice smuggled ahistorically into classical metaphysics. Aristotle did not make this distinction. In fact, the desire for the Unmoved Mover was a critical part of his scientific theory.

Also, it is not possible to consider motion without bringing in the Unmoved Mover.


!!!!

Look, if you go through the first books of Aristotle's Physics, he doesn't discuss God. He does a LOT of discussion of motion, and doesn't touch on the ultimate source of motion at all in early going. Aristotle does A VERY SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT of discussing motion without bringing in the unmoved mover.

It's not "modern prejudice" to read Aristotle's work in the order he wrote it. He discusses motion and studies it in a particular order, and what he starts with is what is known FIRST and BEST to us, by our senses and by our simplest intellectual grasp of natures - things children do, long before they understand God, and of course before they understand God as first mover. That's just how he discusses motion in the early books of the work. Cut with the stupid crap of so-called "modern prejudice" and just read the darn book.

And there is a reason he proceeds in this way: you proceed from the more known to the less known. He is aware that most men don't agree on the first mover issue, but ALL MEN AGREE on the first, most obvious, things: (a) things move, (b) motion implies a from whence as well as a to where, etc. So start there. Which is what HE says:

The natural way of doing this is to start from the things which are more knowable and obvious to us

Which, by the way, is also the way classical natural law starts: all men desire things. And Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; . And in so discussing that good, he absolutely does not ground that discussion in God, not in the least. NOT TO START, he doesn't. That comes much, much later. No, if you want to deny that there is a way to study human nature and human morality that is based on things that are known through basic everyday stuff that everyone is well aware of, universal stuff, common experience, you have to ditch Aristotle and Aquinas altogether, you can't pretend to some "more truly Aristotelian" position that would end up being more Aristotelian than Aristotle and denies exactly what Aristotle and Aquinas themselves said.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

I never said that Aristotle did not infer from the familiar to the abstract. Obviously, you have to explain why the Unmoved Mover is necessary before you can posit his existence. My point was that Aristotle didn't see some sort of magical barrier between the "secular" and "objective" world and what's out there beyond the natural. Certainly it's possible to discuss motion without mentioning the Unmoved Mover every single time. However, it's incorrect to suggest that, because field of study X can be discussed in separation from field of study Y, X is therefore coherent when considered in itself. Act and potency are not coherent in themselves, which is exactly why Aristotle goes from talking about change to talking about the Unmoved Mover: the two concepts are tightly interrelated, and considering the former in separation from the latter is ultimately incoherent. As Hart's said, there is a modern Thomist group that likes to talk about the "natural" world as though this idea was coherent without reference to God. It isn't.

This is a modern prejudice to the extent that it sections off the world of "objective facts" from everything else. Often, this occurs when we discuss science--such as when Prof. Feser says that chemistry can be considered as a set of natural facts. But Aristotle didn't see this distinction. His scientific theories bleed into his metaphysics and vice versa; and he invokes the desire for the Unmoved Mover directly to justify his theories about the spheres, for example.

Which, by the way, is also the way classical natural law starts: all men desire things. And Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; . And in so discussing that good, he absolutely does not ground that discussion in God, not in the least.

Again, saying that we can discuss something on its own does not entail that it will be coherent on its own. This is a perfect example. Classical natural law starts from the conclusions that Aristotle reaches about motion: all movement is toward the good by necessity, thanks to the draw of the Unmoved Mover. Does he need to mention God in his account of morality, in order for us to understand his implicit presupposition? No. Does this mean that morality is somehow separable from the premises he reached about motion and the Unmoved Mover? Nope. The entire reason that our actions and inquiries are toward the good is that motion is toward the good by necessity.

rank sophist said...

Anons at 4:44-4:56 PM,

I can only say that I'm flattered. I'm glad people find reading these debates entertaining. As for a blogspot of my own, I think I'm too busy for that these days. Plus, I find it a lot harder to write about philosophy when I'm not debating, since I don't have any prompts. (But, if I ever did get my own blogspot, I think "rank sophistry" would be the perfect name.)

Anon at 4:11 AM,

How does bringing God into the picture help with obligation, though? Isn't this hypothetical person who says, "I want to be less human" simply crazy, and would the existence of God change that craziness. Couldn't they just say, "I want to suffer the eternal consequences of my actions"? Maybe I'm missing something, RS, but it seems like the problem with the sort of Natural Law approach that Feser is taking is that it won't convince really stubborn people? Argument, in any case, has to be given to understand why the imperatives in question are categorical, and even if we add God some other premise in the case of a good many moral disagreements may be adjusted to give us the conclusion we prefer.

Hopefully I clarified this in my response to monk. We have to bring God in to explain the will's necessary pre-direction toward the good, which is the basis of all natural law reasoning.

Shane said...

Probably need to develop my comment on Hart being an "extreme pessimist".

He certainly hasn't given up on the Gospel. He certainly believes in the eschatological triumph of God. He just doubts that our current culture represents something that, at this point, can be redeemed.

He has a point. When even the people taken to be our stalwart defenders of Christian morality through the pro-life movement scraps, acquiesce to sexual immorality in all its forms, confuse nationalism with Christianity...the list goes on.

Hart already considers any culture war lost; the side that is ostensibly the Christian one already adopted the presuppositions of their opponents long ago, so of course it has been one steady retreat. Hart just doesn't pull punches; instead of acting like the jury is still out, we should look to cultivating forms of Christian community that can withstand what is coming for us.

I think Hart's view can be best illustrated in his essay "Christ and Nothing". It's on First Things.

Gyan said...

As I see it, Prof Feser thinks an atheist should be able to appreciate Natural Law but Hart does not think so, at least the present generation of atheists in the context of existing Western culture.

We have been told that only the pure in heart would see the face of God. It could mean that a certain purity is required to appreciate eternal truths. Mere reason is not enough. I read Hart as saying that the Natural Law theorists ignore the cultural context. They think that anyone should be able to appreciate Natural Law arguments, be him a Hindu, a Muslim or an atheist.

Tony said...

Certainly it's possible to discuss motion without mentioning the Unmoved Mover every single time. However, it's incorrect to suggest that, because field of study X can be discussed in separation from field of study Y, X is therefore coherent when considered in itself.

Again, saying that we can discuss something on its own does not entail that it will be coherent on its own.

Well, there's coherence and then there's completeness.

Aristotle spends what, 7/8 of the Physics talking about motion without talking about the unmoved mover. I know you can't be saying that he is incoherent for the first 7 books. What you mean is that it isn't complete. Sure. A field of wisdom isn't complete until it runs out to its complete length of what can be known from the principles. And the unmoved mover can be known from the principles of the science.

The study of human morality cannot be complete without running it out to its full length, using the complete field of human experience - which includes our orientation to God. But saying that morality cannot be considered complete without discussing God is not the same as saying that morality cannot be discussed coherently without taking into account God's supernatural grace lifting us out of sin. Or, if you want to say that then you MUST want to say that Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics is incoherent.

And, of course, nothing prevents you from saying Aristotle is incoherent if you want to follow what Hart is doing in these 2 articles. What you CAN'T do, at least without our laughing at your ridiculousness, is claim a mantle of true Aristotelian thought, AND claim that his Ethics is incoherent.

To put it in another light: In order to understand the role of the prophets in God's plan of revealing Himself to us, you have to understand that He used miracles to attest to their validity. But you cannot know that God used miracles without knowing enough about the NATURAL world, how it operates when God is not going outside its natural capacities, to know what WHEN GOD IS INTERVENING, doing something in an extraordinary way. So, the understanding of what's natural has to be possible as a coherent study of the world in order to grant the right scope to God's supernatural mode of operation. You have to be able to say "here's what motion is like when things follow their natures without intervention or assistance from grace and miraculous help." Such a study cannot be complete in the absolute sense, but it MUST be coherent in an incomplete sense to be able to say when a miracle occurs.

The fact that the first part of natural law study doesn't bring in our fundamental orientation to God doesn't mean that natural law study utterly ignores that - it comes later in the study, in its proper place.

Glenn said...

However, it's incorrect to suggest that, because field of study X can be discussed in separation from field of study Y, X is therefore coherent when considered in itself.

Given the context of the discussion, these are weasel words.

One may as well say something like, "It's incorrect to suggest that because single-digit numbers can be discussed in separation from multi-digit numbers, single-digit numbers are therefore meaningful."

No one suggests that the meaningfulness of single-digit numbers themselves derives from the fact that they can be discussed in separation from multi-digit numbers.

However, one might intimate that such a thing is being suggested if one wishes to muddy the waters so as to distract attention from both the ignorant nature of some of his ill-informed comments about single-digit numbers and his having been called on them.

(As an aside, it is interesting to note the proclivity displayed there, i.e., the proclivity to allow defensiveness to motivate that one to coyly seek to maintain face amongst those who don't know enough to know that he actually is diminishing his credibility amongst those who do know enough.)

Glenn said...

Oh... I hadn't seen that it had already been responded to. Had I, I would have remained silent.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ rank sophist:

We have to bring God in to explain the will's necessary pre-direction toward the good, which is the basis of all natural law reasoning.

Perhaps it’s not personal will which is by nature directed towards the good, but rather the will’s interaction with reality, which is by nature directed towards the good. For all reality is God-structured.

As God is one and there is nothing apart from God, the right way to think about anything is in relation to God. Creatures are free but grow in a world in which the nourishing light comes from God. This ontological fact, plus the minimal intelligence creatures are endowed with, create that pull on our will towards goodness. We are not made to be good, we are blessed to be part of a reality in which even the weakest and most dimwitted among us will in the end recognize the beauty of the good and will strive towards it.

Thus, it is not really the case that we have to bring God in to “explain” XYZ, but rather in experiencing XYZ we see God at its center. God is not known in the intellect, but in the good life.

Indeed, as I think is rather apparent from the history of philosophy, God has created the human condition in such way that our intellect is mostly blind to the deepest nature of reality, and recognizes God mainly negatively, i.e. by recognizing the absurdity of non-theistic worldviews. Indeed I venture to say that there is no positive theistic philosophy apart from theology. Or, more specifically, those philosophers who see God describe the coherence and implications of what they see in philosophical terms.

Actually I find it should be obvious that no positive theistic philosophy is possible (I suppose I am using “philosophy” in the analytic sense). For if it were possible it would have to be grounded on something more basic than God. But there is nothing more basic than God. Positive knowledge of God can only be found by looking, or rather, in Christian terms, by partaking in the life of Christ.

Josh said...

Rank,

This is a modern prejudice to the extent that it sections off the world of "objective facts" from everything else.

It's rather odd that you think Feser et al. would endorse this view, given that almost the entirety of his work has been to continually point out syntheses put asunder by moderns. It's even more odd when you consider the amount of time you yourself spent discussing real divisions and abstract divisions in other threads.

One can consider morality and chemistry apart from their theological foundations by acts of abstraction, without destroying the essential ties. What's the intellect for? And then, once a fair skeptic accepts what you have to say, their intellect may be led to acknowledge the theological foundation. I've seen this happen several times in my own life, which is another reason why Hart's criticism falls completely flat to me.

Scott said...

@Tony: "Well, there's coherence and then there's completeness."

Also, there's coherence and there's coherence.

The kind of coherence at issue here is a matter of degree, and it's more than sheer non-contradiction. It's a measure of how well a system of thought hangs together as a system, without loose ends or unsupported foundations, and with each of the parts having some logical relationship with all the other parts.

In that sense someone could certainly say that Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics wasn't fully coherent without saying it was simply incoherent. In fact one way of putting the natural law case is that matters like ethics can be discussed, reasoned about, and understood with a great degree of coherence without reference to the overarching system (God-and-nature) of which they are a part and which alone is fully coherent.

I don't know that that's precisely what rank sophist is saying, but I'd certainly say it myself and I don't think I'd be saying anything risible. To my mind the important question is how coherent any subject can be when considered in splendid isolation, and it seems to me that that's really what you and RS are disagreeing about.

monk68 said...

Thursday,

"I think the point though is that if someone denies this premise, there aren't any logical argument that must compel them to agree with it."

I agree, but nothing I said entails that I rejected that point. What you say here could be said for someone who verbally, or in thought, denies the law of non-contradiction. Their merely denying it does not establish that it is not – existentially - self-evident. And certainly, no "logical" arguments are going to be persuasive for someone who denies the validity of the fundamental law of logic.

Vincent Torley said...

I'd like to congratulate Dr. Feser on his vigorous defense of the Aristotelian-Thomistic view of natural law.

Nevertheless, I think that Hart has a point when he writes: "At some crucial point, natural law argument, pressed to disclose its principles, dissolves into sheer assertion," and when he concludes that appealing to natural law when arguing against secular liberals is useless. I'd like to use a couple of illustrations to explain why.

Suppose I say that drinking poison is bad. It's pretty hard to disagree with the logic here: it will kill you, and if death isn't bad, nothing is.

But now suppose I say that adultery is bad, divorce is bad, and that same-sex marriage is bad. In order to justify such statements I have to appeal to the following background assumptions:

1. Marriage is a good thing in its own right.
2. The raison d'etre of marriage as an institution is child-rearing. That is, regardless of a couple's motives for getting married, society would have no need for marriage if people didn't reproduce.
3. Other things being equal, children thrive best in households headed by a man and a woman who have pledged to remain together "until death do us part."

These are all very reasonable assumptions, and to most of us, they're just plain common sense. But liberals would take issue with each and every one of them.

1'. The only unqualified good, they say, is personal fulfillment, or happiness. Marriage is only good insofar as (and so long as) it contributes to that. You have a duty to yourself to leave an unfulfilling marriage.
2'. The reason why marriage exists, they say, is that most people want a companion with whom they can share the rest of their life.
3'. Children, they say, are adaptable creatures who can get used to just about any alternative lifestyle. Studies purporting to show the superiority of traditional parenting merely demonstrate society's built-in bias against alternative lifestyle arrangements. On top of that, liberals are fond of citing their own (flawed) studies showing that children thrive when raised by lesbian parents, or that divorce doesn't hurt kids.

In the end, though, Hart is right: it does come down to assertions versus counter-assertions. Statements relating to the social sciences (such as #3 or #3' above, which describe the parenting arrangements under which children do best) can never be established beyond all reasonable doubt; the field is too imprecise to formulate conclusions with that level of certainty. What this means is that which set of assertions you accept (1, 2 and 3 or 1', 2' and 3') as "making obvious sense" will depend very much on your own world-view. So I can't see any way of defeating secular liberals with "natural law" arguments - and believe me, I've tried. See here for instance: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/taking-manhattan-out-of-the-apple/ and http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2013/03/28/youre-daily-dose-of-schadenfreude/

Finally, I should point out that most modern liberals are transhumanists, who reject the notion that the natural is normative. Even if it could be rigorously established that children thrive under traditional parenting arrangements, they'd look for ways of psychically "re-engineering" children so that they could flourish under alternative parenting lifestyles. It is hard to know how to argue with people like that.

Josh said...

Nevertheless, I think that Hart has a point when he writes: "At some crucial point, natural law argument, pressed to disclose its principles, dissolves into sheer assertion," and when he concludes that appealing to natural law when arguing against secular liberals is useless.

I guess I'm just not understanding what the issue is with all this. Is convincing someone of a conclusion with a Natural Law argument practically difficult, or necessarily impossible? If the first, then Feser is vindicated and Hart's criticism is uninteresting. If the second, then this would seem to do it in for philosophical argument in general. In which case, we should retire to our monastic retreats and let men talk.

Of course, if a skeptic/liberal won't drop his metaphysical shield, then the arrows have no chance to meet their marks. But while this may say something about society, it obviously says nothing about Natural Law arguments per se.

Where's the beef?

Anonymous said...

Transhumanists are never going to be convinced by natural law arguments.

James said...

No wonder you can find so little common ground with individuals on the political left, Dr Torley; you misconceive them pretty flatly. The following simply isn’t true in my experience (as someone whose family and social environment has been mostly liberal):

“[M]ost modern liberals are transhumanists, who reject the notion that the natural is normative. Even if it could be rigorously established that children thrive under traditional parenting arrangements, they'd look for ways of psychically ‘re-engineering’ children so that they could flourish under alternative parenting lifestyles.”

I’d be willing to grant that their sense of the goodness of the natural is inchoate, or that widely-held principles should lead — on pain of incoherence — to the permissiveness of the biological engineering you describe. But the great majority of people I know would find the idea of genetically engineering children abhorrent. Transhumanism remains very much the pasttime of ultra-geeky armchair futurists.

Most would disagree with this:

“The only unqualified good, they say, is personal fulfillment, or happiness.”

Note that most (American) liberals continue to identify as Christian, with whatever very broad view of good behavior that entails. The most irritatingly socialist person I know is my crazy, take-the-clothes-off-my-back, seminary-going sister.

That said: I agree that such persons tend to view the purpose of marriage as the codification of romantic feelings into a stable, long-term, monagomous commitment. The birth and rearing of children are a natural but incidental result in the common case.

Anonymous said...

I'm somewhat confused here (not an infrequent occurrence here :). Is the issue here that God has promulgated his eternal law through nature (natural law) as well as through special revelation (divine law) but that natural law arguments are ineffective, or is the issue that there is no such a thing as natural law through which God reveals his truth to us and for us?

If the former, than how can one argue against using natural law arguments since it is agreed that God gave us the natural law to convey his truth to us. If it is true, than preach it (not excluding all the other ways that we can convey God's truth to the world). Why make a fetish of success when dealing with those who will not listen to Truth when it is standing right in front of them (cue Pilate).

On the other hand, if the contention is that there is no natural law, than those who are questioning the use of natural law arguments because they don't believe that there is such a thing should make that belief specific and argue accordingly.

Or alternatively, is the argument of the "nature" of natural law (head spinning).

Just looking for some clarity on this thread. If I'm missing something, sorry about that.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, should read:

Or alternatively, is the argument over the "nature" of natural law (head spinning).

Brandon said...

Rank,

As I have already repeatedly pointed out, and as you have already repeatedly ignored "all things seek the good" is not the foundation of natural law theory, and is regarded as such by almost no one except yourself. The usual reading of 1-2.94.2 takes the "all things seek the good remark" in a completely different way than you do. Aquinas starts with the the first principle of speculative reason, which is the principle of noncontradiction, which is given a metaphysical account in terms of the metaphysics of being (discussed at great length in Aquinas's commentary on the Metaphysics) and uses his prior discussion of the good as transcendental to show that bonum est faciendum gets the same metaphysical account, allowing for conversion to talk about the good; and he does this in a context where he is only answering the question of whether natural law is one precept or many. By arguing this route, he is able to show that the same account that would apply to the principle of noncontradiction as first principle of speculative reason can be applied to the first precept of natural law as the first principle of practical reason: noncontradiction is both the principle of speculative reason, structuring all reasoning in theoretical matters, and one principle among many. That is all he is explicitly doing, and it is all that most natural law theorists interpret him as doing. The natural law theory in which the application of the precepts of natural law are only possible when motivated by metaphysics of the good, is entirely cooked up in your own head: it is not the way most natural law theorists understand the matter, and is inconsistent with a strictly Thomistic natural law theory, which holds that 'natural law' is just the name for the first principles of practical reason, the principles without which no one could engage in practical reasoning at all, insofar as they fall under the Thomistic account of law. That's it.

This relates to your repeated attempt to disqualify Scotists and New Natural Law theorists. Nobody is talking about your gerrymandered "ergon-morality". Hart's objection was to natural law theory as actually practiced; and thus what is relevant is natural law theory as actually practiced, not your picture of it in your imagination. By trying to introduce the latter, which by some extraordinary coincidence happens to have all the features Hart criticizes despite the fact that actual classical natural law theorists keep saying that Hart's account is incorrect, it is you who are begging the question. The only thing that is relevant here is what natural law theorists actually are doing and claiming in discussing natural law theory. And classical Thomistic natural law theorists regularly recognize Scotists and New Natural Law theorists as sharing the essential features of natural law, regardless of what other criticisms they may make. Thus your gerrymandering does not capture what actual natural law theorists generally think of as essential to natural law. And we've seen this clearly in this very discussion, since it has been one of Feser's consistent points against Hart.

In any case, if you took the time to think rather than spouting off, you would realize that precisely the point was that your gerrymandering doesn't work anyway: classical Thomistic NL commentators like Rickaby, McInerny, and Feser overlap with Scotist natural law theorists and New Natural Law theorists on exactly the claims with which your account is inconsistent. All major scholastic natural law theories, whether strictly Thomistic (like Feser or Hittinger) or loosely Thomistic (like Finnis, Grisez, Boyle, George) or Scotistic are committed to the claim that the most basic precepts of natural law are implicitly known to all, which you are committed to denying.

(1/2)

Brandon said...

(2/2)

All of your argument about hypothetical and categorical imperatives is irrelevant. There is only one major philosophical position -- Kantianism -- that draws a hard line between them, and even Kant does not draw it as sharply as you do.

(1) There is no sharp logical divide between hypothetical and categorical imperatives; logically speaking, hypothetical and categorical statements of any kind are inter-convertible, and this has been known since the Middle Ages. Kant rejects interconvertibility solely because of his very idiosyncratic theory of logical judgment, which takes categoricals and hypotheticals to be divided not according to their actual form or structure but according to the metaphysical question of whether they involve a series subject to a rule.

(2) The whole point of the distinction in Kant is to deny that morality has anything to do with anything sensible or anything relevant to human nature specifically. Obviously all natural law theorists reject Kant's account here. Only Kantians can consistently deploy the distinction; anyone who accepts the distinction between hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives, as used in this way, is logically committed to the Kantian claim that morality is a matter of reason alone. This is where your artificial distinction between Absolute Right and Wrong and merely hypothetical right and wrong comes from: it comes from Kant, who is the only major moral philosopher who has ever thought that hypothetical imperatives are not genuinely moral.

(3) Even Kant, however, recognizes that it's impossible to have hypothetical imperatives without a categorical imperative: all hypothetical imperatives presuppose the categorical imperative to have any imperative force at all: they are cases where reason starts with the cat. imp. as background and considers merely contingent or possible information in light of it, leaving the resulting imperative problematic (i.e., in some way intrinsically contingent or possible). Kant's whole point is that anyone who uses hypothetical imperatives is already presupposing his particular categorical imperative. If Kant is wrong about this (i.e., if he is wrong about the actual structure of practical reason), your argument, and Hart's, collapses: either morality consists entirely of hypothetical imperatives in infinite regress, or any theory that can genuinely obtain hypothetical imperatives can establish an imperative that is functionally categorical.

(4) If your use of the distinction worked, on the other hand, it would establish that Kant was right: it is not possible to start independently from any kind of good and derive moral obligation from it; the only good on which moral obligation can be based is moral obligation itself. This would mean that all non-Kantian accounts of morality are simply wrong.

Anonymous said...

Consider that what is good for a tree (say), what a tree requires in order to flourish, is determined by what it is to be a tree—that is to say, by its nature. A tree needs to be able to sink roots deep into the soil so that it can absorb nutrients and hold itself erect; it needs to be able to grow healthy leaves and carry out photosynthesis; it needs to be free of termites, and so forth.

This is an informative example, because it depends on both Feser and his reader agreeing on a particular generalization about the meaning and nature of "tree." It is not universally true that trees need to sink their roots deep into soil so that they can absorb nutrients and hold themselves erect. Some trees need to spread their roots across a hard surface such as a rock. Others need to attach their roots to another tree for at least a part of their life cycle. Many require shallow roots at the level of the leaf litter to absorb nutrients and would be in bad shape if their roots were deeply buried.

It seems to be very, very difficult to craft a natural law argument that doesn't depend on a false generalization. I don't think I've ever seen anyone manage it.

Edward Feser said...

Anonymous,

It isn't difficult at all. I was speaking loosely, and all one needs to do is to make reference to a specific type of tree in order to make the point.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

Aristotle spends what, 7/8 of the Physics talking about motion without talking about the unmoved mover. I know you can't be saying that he is incoherent for the first 7 books. What you mean is that it isn't complete. Sure. A field of wisdom isn't complete until it runs out to its complete length of what can be known from the principles. And the unmoved mover can be known from the principles of the science.

No, I mean they aren't coherent on their own. They have a rather large hole in the middle which makes them fundamentally incoherent until you mention the Unmoved Mover. Scott pretty much got what I was trying to say, here.

The study of human morality cannot be complete without running it out to its full length, using the complete field of human experience - which includes our orientation to God. But saying that morality cannot be considered complete without discussing God is not the same as saying that morality cannot be discussed coherently without taking into account God's supernatural grace lifting us out of sin.

It honestly seems like you guys aren't reading my posts. Have I mentioned sin even once? Have I mentioned grace at all? No. Aquinas:

[T]he first principle of practical reason is one founded on the notion of good, viz. that "good is that which all things seek after." Hence this is the first precept of law, that "good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided." All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this: so that whatever the practical reason naturally apprehends as man's good (or evil) belongs to the precepts of the natural law as something to be done or avoided. (ST IIa q94 a2)

The necessity that every agent--and, more specifically, the free will--acts toward the good is tightly bound to the Unmoved Mover argument. First, consider that every agent moves because of final causality: it desires some end, which draws it to motion. This is what it means to move and to be moved: to be lured from potency to act by desire for something already in act. As a result, it is obvious that something cannot move except insofar as desire pre-exists within it. From this basis, Aquinas uses Aristotle's argument to prove that everything moved is moved by another, and, therefore, that all motion ultimately results from the desire for the Unmoved Mover (SCG ch. 13.1-28). Further, all desirable objects are either good in themselves or good by appearance--i.e. by a "a certain appearance of the good" that makes them desirable, though not in themselves (SCG ch. 37.3). This means that the only absolutely desirable thing is God, who imbues all moving things with a necessary, pre-directed desire for (an internal principle of movement toward) himself (DV q22 a1-2). God is the last end of all things, and is therefore responsible for all movement. Anything that moves must seek the good--or evil under the aspect of good--, because motion derives from an interior principle of desire for God's goodness, which includes the "appearance" of that goodness in finite things.

rank sophist said...

Now, if nothing moves except that which is pulled by desire, then it follows that the movement of the free will presupposes desire. This desire is twofold. First, the will must desire an object presented to it by the intellect as desirable (ST IIa q9 a1). Second, it must desire God as its last end and moving principle (ST IIa q9 a6), through a natural, necessary longing for ultimate beatitude (happiness; eudaimonia) (SCG ch. 80.3). And this second end is prior to the first, since intellect-will counsel cannot go to infinity and must have been started by a motion outside of itself (ST IIa q9 a4). The first principle of natural law--"do good and avoid evil"--is unquestionable only if we have both the first and second types of desire. Let me explain. Unless we necessarily desire the objects presented as desirable (read: happiness-inducing) to us by counsel, then it follows that we do not necessarily seek our own happiness. (It also follows that the will's desire for a finite object is not prior to its efficient motion toward that object: motion is spontaneous, even uncaused.) This means that the will is no longer directed of necessity toward goodness in the capacity of human nature, which allows us to question natural law's founding principle. We no longer "do good and avoid evil"--as we perceive those things at the time--by necessity, but only contingently. As a result, we are free to reject natural law without simultaneously presupposing it.

However, even if we are moved by desire for finite goods, this is irrelevant without the Unmoved Mover. If we do not desire the Unmoved Mover as the last end of our nature, then A) we do not seek the good by necessity; B) we do not seek our own ultimate happiness; and C) we have no interior motive principle. Regarding A, recall that finite goods are only good by "appearance", and so they only draw us insofar as they resemble our last end. If we believe that we can be drawn by objects without simultaneously affirming the existence of the Unmoved Mover, then we admit that what draws us is not the reflected appearance goodness but the (neutral) object itself--which undermines the necessary desire for goodness alone on which "do good and avoid evil" is built. Regarding B, Aquinas states that no finite end can satisfy us (ST IIa q2 a8), for the same reason I just mentioned: only one thing is good in itself, and so only that thing can provide happiness to any finite being. This draws animals, plants and rocks no less than it does humans. If we do not affirm the Unmoved Mover, then we have no last end; and so natural law's basis in eudaimonia is undermined. Regarding C, this should be obvious: without the draw of the Unmoved Mover, we cannot move in the first place.

rank sophist said...

So, again: we must have these two types of desire for natural law to work. If you discuss natural law without affirming them both--including the theological one--, then you get nothing but hypothetical imperatives without "do good and avoid evil". I should add that this is why voluntarism is incompatible with natural law, and why Scotus is able to discuss morality separately from desire for one's own happiness. It is the basis of his distinction between the two types of affectio: love of something for itself and love of something for oneself--"objective value" and subjective appeal, respectively. Beatitude is loving God for himself, free from any necessary, natural inclination to desire him as one's own end. Because our free will is no longer tied to desire for God, we are free even to reject the Beatific Vision--although, to my knowledge, Scotus claims that God prevents this from happening. Further, from my reading, Scotus rejects Aristotle's and Aquinas's position that self-movement (i.e. movement without desire) is impossible, which is where we get the spontaneous willing of voluntarism.

My point here is that "do good and avoid evil" rests on a very specific theological worldview, whose "natural" components are incoherent when considered in separation from their divine end. Further, natural law's premise did not even get a free pass in scholastic times: it's worthless in a voluntaristic setting. All of this means that appealing to nature alone to adjudicate between Thomism and other traditions is doomed.

rank sophist said...

Glenn,

However, one might intimate that such a thing is being suggested if one wishes to muddy the waters so as to distract attention from both the ignorant nature of some of his ill-informed comments about single-digit numbers and his having been called on them.

(As an aside, it is interesting to note the proclivity displayed there, i.e., the proclivity to allow defensiveness to motivate that one to coyly seek to maintain face amongst those who don't know enough to know that he actually is diminishing his credibility amongst those who do know enough.)


I honestly don't care what anyone thinks about what I'm saying. It's what I believe from my reading. If you don't like it, then prove me wrong. I'm here to learn and discuss--not to engage in a popularity contest.

Also, my point about fields of study was that it is a fallacy to automatically assume that our ability to consider something in itself entails its coherence in itself. It's the non sequitur fallacy, to be precise. You have to argue for the independent coherence of a field of study: you can't simply claim that our ability to consider it separately entails independent coherence.

Dianelos,

I agree that there can be no positive philosophical knowledge of God, and that our first-personal experience is of critical importance. However, my claim is not related to these things. I'm saying that the theological mechanics of motion, as Aquinas and Aristotle saw them, are the basis of natural law. And I really don't think that there's an argument against this position.

Josh,

It's rather odd that you think Feser et al. would endorse this view, given that almost the entirety of his work has been to continually point out syntheses put asunder by moderns.

I don't believe I said that Prof. Feser was guilty of this to the extent that Hart claims. He occasionally hints at arguments made by Hart's targets--the Neo-Thomists who don't realize that their interpretation of Aquinas has been colored by modernism--, but he doesn't spend a lot of time on them.

Anon at 9:16 AM,

I'm somewhat confused here (not an infrequent occurrence here :). Is the issue here that God has promulgated his eternal law through nature (natural law) as well as through special revelation (divine law) but that natural law arguments are ineffective, or is the issue that there is no such a thing as natural law through which God reveals his truth to us and for us?

Actually, neither. The contention is that natural law is groundless unless one admits that all motion is directed toward the good of the Unmoved Mover. Thus, you can't appeal to natural law without first establishing the existence of the Unmoved Mover--which makes it impossible to use natural law against those who reject the Unmoved Mover's existence. It isn't an issue of divine legislation.

Vincent Torley said...

In response to Josh's question, "Is convincing someone of a conclusion with a Natural Law argument practically difficult, or necessarily impossible?", my answer is that what worries me is not the difficulty of convincing such a person, but the fact that any demonstration will rest on premises which are (at least partly) drawn from the social sciences, and which therefore cannot be considered incontrovertible, however common-sensical they may appear to us. Unlike arguments for the existence of God, the premises themselves are open to rational doubt. Doubting that things change (the premise of Aquinas' First Way) is absurd, in a way that doubting that children thrive best in traditional family arrangements is not. It seems to me that natural law arguments are therefore far less persuasive than metaphysical arguments. If you want to shatter a secular liberal's world-view

I was somewhat surprised to read James' observation that "most (American) liberals continue to identify as Christian, with whatever very broad view of good behavior that entails." That wouldn't be true in Australia, where I hail from. Most professed "social liberals" in Oz would sooner die than own up to being a Christian of any stripe, in public. I'm reminded here of a remark made by a maths teacher in a school where I was doing my teacher training a dozen years ago, about a friend of hers who'd become a Hindu: "Oh well," she said. "At least it's better than Christianity." No-one in the staff room challenged her.

That said, perhaps I was being a little harsh on liberals when I wrote that for them, the only unqualified good is personal fulfillment. They do of course recognize communal goods as well - hence their great concern for environmental matters, and their willingness to sacrifice some of their wealth, in the interests of saving the earth. But while a liberal might regard such a sacrifice as rational, as the earth is our only home, the notion of one individual's sacrificing their own fulfillment for the sake of other individuals - even family members - would, I think, strike most of them as a waste of a life. "You've only got one life," they'd say. "You may as well enjoy it."

My earlier remark on "psychic re-engineering" wasn't necessarily meant to refer to genetic tinkering, which many liberals would balk at: however, I think that any kind of medical intervention or behavioral control early in a child's development that achieved the desired social outcome would be acceptable to secular liberals.

Anonymous said...

"Thus, you can't appeal to natural law without first establishing the existence of the Unmoved Mover--which makes it impossible to use natural law against those who reject the Unmoved Mover's existence. It isn't an issue of divine legislation."

from Anon at 9:16 AM

Thanks RS for your response, but please help me out a little bit more. If as you admit there is a natural law then I assume the UM (i.e. God) is the lawgiver (i.e. "divine legislator"). If He is lawgiver, and there is a natural law, He must then infallibly make his natural law known. So those who reject God's existence still must know his natural law even if they suppress it, otherwise God fails in his role as lawgiver (i.e., fails in making the law known). If they can't help but know God's law, then do you think it must be at least possible to bring them to knowledge of the lawgiver using the same means (i.e., natural law) that God used to reveal his law to them (as one possible way of removing obstacles to faith)? It just seems backwards to me to have to prove the existence of the lawgiver before natural law arguments can be effectively used, if one of God's reasons for his self revelation through natural law is to bring one to knowledge of the lawgiver (i.e., Himself). I think St. Augustine said "the law was given so that grace might be sought".

Thanks much for any help here.

rank sophist said...

Brandon,

That is all he is explicitly doing, and it is all that most natural law theorists interpret him as doing.

In both the ST and the SCG, Aquinas, in very early chapters, uses the Unmoved Mover argument to establish God's existence. This rests on the further idea of final causality as the motivating force of all action. He clearly expects that the readers of ST IIa will be familiar with this point, considering that he goes on about it non-stop in ST I. Hence is off-hand reference to the fact that all things seek the good in ST IIa q94 a2, which is entailed by his ideas of causality: "'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".

The natural law theory in which the application of the precepts of natural law are only possible when motivated by metaphysics of the good, is entirely cooked up in your own head: it is not the way most natural law theorists understand the matter, and is inconsistent with a strictly Thomistic natural law theory, which holds that 'natural law' is just the name for the first principles of practical reason, the principles without which no one could engage in practical reasoning at all, insofar as they fall under the Thomistic account of law.

The first principles of practical reason are synderesis. But what is synderesis? As monk said earlier:

The fact that it is the first principle of *synderesis*, does *not* entail that nothing more fundamental can be said about that premise in terms of epistemology or ontology. The use of the terms “good” and “evil” – even within that premise - need to be fleshed out.

Synderesis is something that itself needs an explanation. And it is explained by the logical impossibility of seeking evil, according to Aquinas's and Aristotle's metaphysics of motion. Simply asserting the existence of synderesis without an argument to establish its necessity begs the question, because it can be doubted without contradiction.

This relates to your repeated attempt to disqualify Scotists and New Natural Law theorists. Nobody is talking about your gerrymandered "ergon-morality".

And that is most likely why they keep misunderstanding Hart.

Thus your gerrymandering does not capture what actual natural law theorists generally think of as essential to natural law.

Why should I follow what most natural law theorists believe if I have reason to think that they're wrong? Also, for what it's worth, I don't think that the mistake lies with natural law theorists. I think you've subjected them to a dire misreading.

rank sophist said...

In any case, if you took the time to think rather than spouting off, you would realize that precisely the point was that your gerrymandering doesn't work anyway: classical Thomistic NL commentators like Rickaby, McInerny, and Feser overlap with Scotist natural law theorists and New Natural Law theorists on exactly the claims with which your account is inconsistent. All major scholastic natural law theories, whether strictly Thomistic (like Feser or Hittinger) or loosely Thomistic (like Finnis, Grisez, Boyle, George) or Scotistic are committed to the claim that the most basic precepts of natural law are implicitly known to all, which you are committed to denying.

Again, you're wrong. Traditional natural law is based on the analysis of final causes insofar as they are tied to the idea of eudaimonia, as is entailed by the Unmoved Mover argument. (This is what I keep referring to as ergon morality, to make it clear that Aristotle, who didn't use the term "natural law", was on the same page as Aquinas.) Scotistic "natural law" is built on a bizarre account of the will, which separates eudaimonia from morality as such--as I mentioned earlier. NNL essentially removes the eudaimonia component from Scotus's ethics altogether, which leaves us with only Scotus's affectio iustitiae: love for the sake of the object. This is essentially a deontological ethics.

Certainly each version believes that its principles are implicitly available to all. I never denied that. What I denied was that this implicit availability was the most fundamental principle of Aristotle's and Aquinas's ethics.

There is no sharp logical divide between hypothetical and categorical imperatives; logically speaking, hypothetical and categorical statements of any kind are inter-convertible, and this has been known since the Middle Ages.

Which is to say that there are no categorical statements--which further entails that there are no absolute moral truths. Really don't think you're in line with Aquinas on that one.

This is where your artificial distinction between Absolute Right and Wrong and merely hypothetical right and wrong comes from: it comes from Kant, who is the only major moral philosopher who has ever thought that hypothetical imperatives are not genuinely moral.

Are you telling me that Aquinas did not think that certain actions were absolutely right or wrong? That would be a bit strange. Hypothetical imperatives only became a problem when the fact-value distinction inserted itself into modern moral reasoning. A categorical imperative is required to get a moral theory that cannot simply be rejected. That's what "do good and avoid evil" was for: it's a universal principle that's supposed to apply to every possible action.

rank sophist said...

Kant's whole point is that anyone who uses hypothetical imperatives is already presupposing his particular categorical imperative. If Kant is wrong about this (i.e., if he is wrong about the actual structure of practical reason), your argument, and Hart's, collapses

I really, really don't see this. I'm not even a reader of Kant--and Hart has spent no small amount of time mocking him. I'm simply using Kant's terminology to explain why "do good and avoid evil" is the necessary ground of any natural law reasoning, if it is to have absolute force. I'm making the further claim that "do good and avoid evil" is worthless unless we back it up with an argument from motion to the effect that it is impossible to fail to seek good.

rank sophist said...

Anon at 3:33 PM,

Thanks RS for your response, but please help me out a little bit more. If as you admit there is a natural law then I assume the UM (i.e. God) is the lawgiver (i.e. "divine legislator"). If He is lawgiver, and there is a natural law, He must then infallibly make his natural law known.

For Aristotle, the Unmoved Mover didn't make any laws. He merely caused all things to move by drawing them to himself. As Aristotle puts it: "God moves the world as the beloved object moves the lover". Compelled by the Unmoved Mover's perfection, all beings seek to better themselves so that they can participate more fully in him. Therefore, all agents move toward improvement by necessity: every final cause is good. Using this as our ground, we can analyze moral behavior by examining the final causes of human nature, and the combinations thereof which grant us the greatest happiness. That, in a nutshell, is the process of natural law--although Aristotle himself did not use this term.

As you can see, this isn't a matter of legislation. Natural law really is natural. But it rests on a prior commitment to a theologically-rooted theory of motion. That's my point in this debate.

So those who reject God's existence still must know his natural law even if they suppress it, otherwise God fails in his role as lawgiver (i.e., fails in making the law known). If they can't help but know God's law, then do you think it must be at least possible to bring them to knowledge of the lawgiver using the same means (i.e., natural law) that God used to reveal his law to them (as one possible way of removing obstacles to faith)?

Well, Romans 2:14-15 does seem to indicate that there is a "law written in their [the unbelievers'] hearts". Is this natural law? Perhaps, although I'd be cautious of using Paul to support any particular interpretation of natural law. In any case, I don't think it's anything against God to say that philosophy is fallible, considering that Aquinas admits as much himself in the very first article of the Summa Theologica:

Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors.

Human reason is a confused and sin-darkened process, as even the greatest of the Greeks showed us. I personally don't think that you can use natural law to argue against people who have rejected the Unmoved Mover, in large part because they've been thoroughly seduced, knowingly or not, by false idols. They're further from God than the pagans were.

john di said...

"...We deal here, mainly, with the following matters: the first principles
of practical knowledge and of morality, their relationship to other cognition, their specific truth, their relationship to the ultimate ends of human
persons (taking "end" in several different senses), and their relation
ship to religion.
As a theory of some of the principles of human action, what we
offer here presupposes many theses of metaphysics and philosophical
anthropology—for example, that human intelligence is irreducible to
material realities, that doing and making are irreducible to one another,
that human persons and their actions are caused by an uncaused cause,
and so on. We defend many such presuppositions elsewhere..."

"Practical Principles, Moral Truth & Ultimate Ends"
Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle, and John Finnis

http://www.twotlj.org/ppmtue.pdf

Glenn said...

Rank,

I honestly don't care what anyone thinks about what I'm saying. It's what I believe from my reading. If you don't like it, then prove me wrong. I'm here to learn and discuss--not to engage in a popularity contest.

How might one learn from others, and what is the point of his discussing with others, when he doesn't care what they think about what he says?

Also, my point about fields of study was that it is a fallacy to automatically assume that our ability to consider something in itself entails its coherence in itself. It's the non sequitur fallacy, to be precise. You have to argue for the independent coherence of a field of study: you can't simply claim that our ability to consider it separately entails independent coherence.

I am aware that this was your point--as you may well know from reading what I wrote. You lodged an objection against something that wasn't being done; such a doing comes under the heading of 'non sequitur'. I didn't say that your doing was a non sequitur, true; only that no one was doing what you were objecting to.

Anonymous said...

Glenn,

As an observer of this discussion, I have to remake that you are being quite uncharitable to RS. He may be completely mistaken, but to imply he is doing so for illegitimate reasons when you cannot possibly know his motivations is quite unfair.

It also leads you to misconstrue his claims. For instance:

RS: "I honestly don't care what anyone thinks about what I'm saying. It's what I believe from my reading. If you don't like it, then prove me wrong. I'm here to learn and discuss--not to engage in a popularity contest."

Glenn: "How might one learn from others, and what is the point of his discussing with others, when he doesn't care what they think about what he says?"

The charitable and most unconvincing interpretation of his remark above is that he doesn't care if his claims are popular or not with the readers here; however, he does have an interest in their logical integrity. This makes more sense than your interpretation.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

I don't think it necessarily wrong to infer motivation from a pattern of on-going, repetitious behavior. However, the obvious is granted--that there is no guaranty that what is inferred is consonant with the actual reality underlying the observable behavior. But, then, this is why I first established a hypothetical person making ill-founded claims about single-digit numbers, and imputed the inferred motivation to that hypothetical individual. Doing it this way has, or was supposed to have, two benefits: 1) it is better to be wrong about a hypothetical individual than an actual one; and, 2) it leaves an out for the actual individual, who then can simply say something like, "I can see what's being said; but that has to do with the mentioned hypothetical individual, and I'm not he."

The motivation imputed to the hypothetical individual hadn't anything to do with a 'popularity contest', but with trading in credibility with one type of person in order to save face with another type of person. This isn't to insist that the imputed motivation was correct, only to clarify what it was about.

Regarding the question I later posed, it was meant to be, and was structured as, a rhetorical question. And its purpose was to suggest to Rank, albeit subtly, that he ought to: a) give more heed to those whose study has been more extensive; and, b) display a greater concern for, as you have put it, the logical integrity of his remarks.

Now that I'm finished with exhibiting my defensiveness, I would like to say that I do appreciate your comment. In considering it, I have been led back to something I don't seem able to escape from for any great length of time, and that is the realization/awareness that my manner of speaking not infrequently is 'intense'. Regardless of the content of what I say, the intensity with which it is said sometimes itself gives offense. I apologize if this should be the case here.

George R. said...

VJ Torley writes:
“In the end, though, Hart is right: it does come down to assertions versus counter-assertions.”

No, Hart is not right.

The problem with your argument, VJ, is that your examples of natural law “assumptions” are not the principles of the natural law thesis, but rather they are conclusions drawn from principles, as well as from observations and considerations. In other words, the natural law thesis does not depend on their being true, but rather, once natural law is known to be a reality, their inclusion as examples of it becomes pretty clear.

On the other hand, if you start, not with conclusions, but with first principles (which, btw, everybody should get in the habit of doing), you’ll quickly see how pathetically weak the anti-natural-law position really is.

For example, the basis of much of the anti-natural-law position is Hume’s assertion that “ought” does not depend on “is“. This assertion itself is based on two (anti) principles of metaphysics: 1) that “doing” does not following “being,” and 2) that men are not in reality subject to law. The first of these “principles” is a direct contradiction of a self-evident principle of reason. For if “doing” does not depend on “being,” then things can come into being without a cause, a patent absurdity. Therefore, any argument that depends on that absurdity can be dismissed ipso facto as utterly worthless. Moreover, there really is no point in continuing to engage anyone who affirms it; for the acceptance of self-evident principles is the sine qua non of rational discussion. On the other hand, once it is accepted that “doing” must follow “being,” the natural law proponent will find himself in an invincibly strong position to overcome all objections, including the antinomian one.

MarcAnthony said...

"For if “doing” does not depend on “being,” then things can come into being without a cause"

The problem with this statement is that many atheists I've talked to believe just that.

George R. said...

The problem is not with my statement, Marc, but with the atheists: they're liars.

Anonymous said...

(1 of 4)

I'm actually quite puzzled by Feser's approach. He seemed to ignore the thrust of Hart's main criticism -- i.e. that reason cannot be separated from one's Tradition and that reason cannot exist abstracted from the lived experience and condition of the human animal -- and instead opts to recount the basics of Natural Law. It's as if he is attempting to bring Hart down from the lofty perch of a "Continental" approach and bring him down into a line-by-line analysis "Analytic" style. But I don't see either of them compromising in this regard -- at least in writing. (Perhaps if they both sat down and had a beer or two together, it would be all for the best. Then they may reach an informal and ecumenical agreement.)

The problem is that Hart and Feser are communicating through different philosophical idioms. Contrary to an anonymous above, Hart is quite capable of doing logic -- he is not "shooting blanks"; rather, he is working in a Tradition that avoids reducing discourse to formal logic in order to take a larger view, one that accounts for the contingency and particularity of language, as well as the "full range of human capacities and senses." This is why his prose often comes off as obscure, imprecise, and the like.

Now, many of you reared in the Anglo-American world dominated by Analytic approaches may not like this -- that's fine -- but to suggest that this is "not philosophy" betrays the very ahistorical approach to philosophy that Hart is critiquing. Philosophy, after all, cannot be solely equated to a style of formal argumentation local to English speaking countries in the 20th and 21st centuries; nor can it be reduced simply to a scholastic style of disputation. John the Damascene, for instance, an important Eastern Father whom Aquinas references copiously and someone who, you know, was part of the tradition from which the very word philosophy springs, provides six definitions of philosophy:

1) the knowledge of beings as beings;
2) the knowledge of things divine and human;
3) a preparation of death;
4) the assimilation of man to God as far as humanly possibly;
5) the art of arts and the science of sciences
6) the love of wisdom.

Under these definitions, the solitary monk in the Sinai desert in the 3rd century would be more of a philosopher than an analytic -- and indeed, monks at this time were often called philosophers. I would venture so far as to say that going by the above, "philosophers" in the Analytic tradition fail on all accounts: (1) Most tend to dismiss ontology and confine it to the fire, (2) Most of them dismiss the divine, (3) They are more concerned with puzzle-chopping and problem-solving than caring for the soul, (4) They take no heed to the imperative of Theosis, (5) Most of them slavishly attempt to ape the sciences and turn their craft into its handmaiden, and (6) Most of them prize careerism and the accretion of knowledge over understanding. As such, the Monk in his cell (1) who has, through the practice of theoria, grown to see both creation as a ktisis, reflecting and yearning toward God, distinguished from the kosmos of the fallen order, has a better knowledge of beings as beings. (2) Given his vision of God, he has a greater knowledge of things divine and human. (3-4) Given his life of katharsis, he is better prepared for death and has achieved a much greater assimilation of man to God. (5) He also prioritizes the life of prayer and contemplation above other disciplines. (6) And he loves wisdom, not just knowledge. All in all, this monk would be closer to the description of the man given in Plato's cave than an Analytic. For he has "seen" something of the divine, which has given him noetic knowledge – understanding – which is higher than discursive knowledge of the forms (dianoia).

Anonymous said...

(2 of 4)

This is, of course, not to claim that philosophy is equivalent to monasticism; it isn't. Or that philosophy has no need of logic or rigorous analysis -- for it clearly does. Nor does it mean that scholastic approaches are not philosophical. Scholasticism has its origins in the monasteries, after all, and Aquinas himself wrote many lovely hymns. Furthermore, he did in fact achieve a vision of the divine, much like our desert monk above. (But note that he took this vision to be in some sense a revelation that abrogated his prior work.) And finally, this is not an attempt to vindicate Hart's more "Continental" approach over and against an "Analytic" one. But it is to suggest that Analytics, on the average (and please note my continual effort to avoid generalizing about all of them), are notoriously ignorant of the contingency of their ideas, grammars, and conventions. They also tend to fall into the habit of treating arguments without treating the person.

As MacIntyre, Gadamer, and others have argued, Traditions set the possibilities for our discourse. Our age is one in which most people lack the conceptual grammar to discuss metaphysics and theology intelligently. Further, moderns have developed grammars and concepts that allow them eschew such a conversation. So while it is not impossible to cross the divide between traditions – as MacIntyre, Gadamer, and Hart have all acknowledged at one point – it is not practically feasible. One cannot start with the obvious, an account of motion, as Aristotle does and work their way to natural law and the unmoved mover, for the ideology behind modern science and its metaphysics and account of nature allow it a different path -- even if that path is ultimately untenable intellectually. Furthermore, as Hart recounts and many here have been too quick to dismiss, natural law has a checkered history. Aristotle, for instance, famously defended the institution of slavery, finding it perfectly amenable to natural law. It therefore seems to me that natural law can only consult immediate ends, but can only vaguely intimate what these ends are ultimately striving toward. When a Christian uses natural law to argue, for instance, that slavery is against the natural order, he does so under the presumption that humans are created in the image of God and are therefore equal in some sense and not subject to ownership. Now, of course, he may have arguments that reference only "nature" as it appears to us, but this is done alongside and in full view of the revelation operating in the background, shaping the very idea of "nature" and the status of the human person in the background. To put it plainly, the very words we use are subject to historical development. They are amongst the things, to use Plato's distinction, which are always in flux in the sensible world. They can better express our experience of Being and the world of beings, as say scholastic Latin – or not, like the barbarism of modern English – but they are always, in a sense, provisional and delimited.

Anonymous said...

(3 of 4)

So by engaging the modern, captive to a Tradition and a grammar that allows him recourse to explain the world without reference to God, metaphysics, teleology, etc., with an account of natural law requires overcoming many very barriers. The presuppositions, those "bedrock" beliefs, which the modern holds do not allow him to consider it. In fact, he doesn't even accept the classical account of motion. And, of course, this is where many of the protestations here have come in. "Sure," you might say, "it is difficult to convince them, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try." Well, yes, you should try, I suppose. There are people who are willing to consider such things and be convinced by them. However, the vast majority of people hold to these assumptions uncritically, having internalized them through a lengthy process of socialization. And then there is sin. Many of you have referenced the first few chapters of Romans as a justification of Natural Law – and Hart has actually done the same (see below) – but you fail to note that Paul describes sin as inhibiting the ability of many to reason, for they "did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done" (Rom 1:28). This means that people who are caught in sin are less susceptible to the light of reason – a position that has a long pedigree in both the RC and EO Churches (I am of the latter, if you haven't figured it out, but I also have great respect for the former).

Hart's point is not that natural law is impossible. Sure, he finds much of what is done today in the discipline as overconfident, but he elsewhere (see below) even acknowledges scriptural mandates for it. Rather, his claim is that focusing too heavily on advancing the arguments of natural law in the public realm is a myopic misallocation of resources. It won't convince most people and resources are limited. The Church, both Eastern and Western, while it should never stop proclaiming the truth, needs to do work to foster alternative social spaces against the forces of modernity in order to survive – a priority also for MacIntyre and Political Theologians like William Cavanaugh. To do so otherwise is to give up too much to modernity because it severs the natural from the supernatural in order to render classical metaphysics legitimate in the sphere of "public reason," which must be shorn of religious or metaphysical reasoning.

Back to my original point, it is here that Feser and Hart seems to have the most differences, and I was quite disappointed to see Feser largely ignore the main thrust of Hart's critique in this regard – particularly because I'm left wondering whether Feser is actually subject to this critique. From what I've read of his work, it seems too strong and too unequivocal to apply to him. But it also seems to me that Feser responded in the wrong way to Hart's argument. To recount the basics of the natural law position without addressing whether or not he is subject to such a critique is a non-starter. Again, somebody needs to pay the airfare for these two so that they can have a beer together. Anyway, for those interested, see this statement below by Hart on Natural Law. It should enrich the conversation somewhat.

Anonymous said...

(4 of 4)

Similarly, in my haste to dismiss the Enlightenment myth of a “pure reason,” neutrally available to every reflective mind, undetermined by the particularities of language or culture, I seem not to have made it sufficiently clear that I was by no means calling into question the power of natural reason to discern many truths, to clarify its understanding of those truths, and to inform and receive nourishment from reasoned debate and reflection. It is one thing to say that reasoning is always carried out within a tradition of discourse, according to certain prior intentions and prejudices; it is another thing altogether to suggest that reason is impotent to find truths—even ultimate truths—that are objectively real. The former view I hold; the latter I reject.

So, to make my views clear: I believe theology must indeed think and speak out of its own tradition, starting from an ever more perspicuous inner articulation of what that tradition is—but not because theology describes a distinct world of scripture, set over against other worlds, and not because it has no outer frame of reference by which to judge its “saga” or “narrative.” Theology should never surrender worldly reality to philosophies that deny the theocentric frame of the universe, or retreat from the work of metaphysical logic, rational argument, historical interpretation, and so on, into a world where the kerygma simply ceaselessly thunders overhead. I believe one must start from Christian tradition, but do so with the understanding that it is an interpretation of all of reality, directly engaged with a real world of human discourse and experience. Moreover, as one proceeds one should find that one’s articulations of one’s tradition require modification, and that one should be hospitable to the insights and experiences of those outside the tradition, and that the word of God does not disrupt the world of natural reason, but illuminates and redeems it. This, for instance, is why I think it perfectly legitimate (for example) to consider Heidegger’s ontology in terms of its logical coherence, or to argue for the philosophical necessity of elevating the actual over the potential, and so on.

Thus I would never—as Smith clearly would have me do—reject talk of natural law, or even of natural religion. To be perfectly honest, I have not got a “dialectical” bone in my body. I admit that I am skeptical as to how far natural law reasoning can actually go, especially when it is pursued under modern conditions, in which one cannot presume any sort of religio naturalis or habitual pietas of the sort one could presume in reverent pagans. And, certainly, much of the natural law writing done today, by earnest young Thomists especially, is often worse than naive, and ridiculously ambitious in its claims. Still, I believe that God as Creator reveals himself—to use a word to which I am inordinately attached—prodigally. He reveals himself in nature, in human reason, in human culture, in human religions: always now through a veil of sin and death, perhaps, but never unavailingly. When he reveals himself fully in Christ, then, he comes as the light that lighteneth all men, and comes to gather up into himself all the scattered lights—all the primordial intuitions of reason, all of the innate longing for truth, all of the joys and sorrows and true pieties, all of the beauty and grandeur of the world—that the fallen order still comprises. And I take Romans 1 or Wisdom 13 as an adequate (though certainly not the sole) scriptural warrant for such a view.

Anonymous said...

(5 of 4 -- I know, Mea Culpa)

Thus, I must distance myself also from Smith’s rejection of “demonstration” and “persuasion.” As to the former, a survey of my text will show that it is a word I nowhere use opprobriously; wherever I speak of demonstration—the very last sentence of the book, for instance—I do so positively. And as to the latter: While I heartily concur that the attempt to use the modern rhetoric of “universal rationality” to coerce assent to anything, especially to a particular political or social agenda, is in some sense “violent,” I do not believe that this applies to many very honorable traditions of theological apologetics. The actual argument I make in my book on this issue, in fact, is not that universal claims are inherently violent; rather it is that such claims are not necessarily violent, for the simple reason that a rhetoric of truth is not necessarily violent. I am not rejecting universal claims; I am rejecting an ontology that would condemn all universal claims, simply on the grounds that they dare to be universal or dare to employ a rhetoric of persuasion. More importantly, I reject the Enlightenment understanding of universality in part because it dissembles its own rhetorical basis, and feigns disinterest, and even pretends that “enlightened” rationality is the very opposite of rhetorical persuasion; it is in this way that it lays the ideological groundwork for a certain very modern sort of coercion.

Even then, I do not condemn the Enlightenment ideology for seeking to win an argument, but only for trying to end the argument by a false account of how reason functions and of what therefore may legitimately be said. When Smith writes, then, that “Martyrs aren’t out to win arguments,” I simply must disagree. They do most definitely wish to win: by “demonstrating” the power of Christ to inform their lives, but also by marshalling every resource of reason and argument that they can employ with a clear conscience. St Justin may have earned the honorific “Martyr” by dying for the faith, but his entire theological career—metaphysical debate, moral persuasion, even the philosopher’s mantle—was in the most proper sense a martyr’s labor.


David Bentley Hart. “Response to James K. A. Smith, Lois Malcolm and Gerard Loughlin.” New Blackfriars 88, no. 1017 (2007): 611–2.

rank sophist said...

Incredible post, Anon. Hopefully that will settle things.

Tony said...

As MacIntyre, Gadamer, and others have argued, Traditions set the possibilities for our discourse. Our age is one in which most people lack the conceptual grammar to discuss metaphysics and theology intelligently. Further, moderns have developed grammars and concepts that allow them eschew such a conversation.

And as many others have argued, this "most people lack" complaint is pointless, or worse than pointless.

For one thing, most people in St. Thomas's day, or Plato's day, or St. John Damascene's day, also lacked the conceptual grammar to discuss these things, and that didn't stop great thinkers from thinking well and writing well and to some extent, molding the future of discourse by their crafting thoughts well.

For another, the written word well studied is capable of transforming the mind so that it DOES have the conceptual grammar to discuss these things. If you take a college student, and allow them to delve into Plato and Aristotle and Augustine, slowly but deeply, you can effect a change in their grammar. This so called "modern" mind is just as potentially capable of being taught to expand the field of his thoughts as Plato's students were drawn forward from being semi-literate youths to deep thinkers. I have seen it happen, repeatedly. Human nature hasn't changed.

To put it plainly, the very words we use are subject to historical development. They are amongst the things, to use Plato's distinction, which are always in flux in the sensible world. They can better express our experience of Being and the world of beings, as say scholastic Latin – or not, like the barbarism of modern English – but they are always, in a sense, provisional and delimited.

And yet, the Divine Author, the one who used men to srite Scripture, saw fit to write it in specific languages of specific times. Indeed, the Word himself saw fit to become a specific male human being at a specific time in history, and to give us a very specific prayer as "The Lord's Prayer". The specificity of concrete human expressions somehow seem adequate to God's purpose in leading us to heaven.

Tony said...

my answer is that what worries me is not the difficulty of convincing such a person, but the fact that any demonstration will rest on premises which are (at least partly) drawn from the social sciences, and which therefore cannot be considered incontrovertible, however common-sensical they may appear to us. Unlike arguments for the existence of God, the premises themselves are open to rational doubt. Doubting that things change (the premise of Aquinas' First Way) is absurd, in a way that doubting that children thrive best in traditional family arrangements is not.

No, no, Vincent, you have put later, much later conclusions as if they were early premises. They aren't. Practical reason, and natural law, is indeed based on truths that are just as true and just as evident as the premise "things change." Indeed, before you even start the practical reasoning, you first have the sheer observation "actors desire goods". You don't even need to formulate it as a universal for it to be the ground of the discussion, but is absolutely evident and universally understood and accepted. Doubting such desire is equally absurd as doubting that things change.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

Your response is set against a straw man. If you read the rest of what I had posted, including that quotation by Hart, it will become clear that the position you ascribe to me and him is not what either of us are arguing.

My point wasn't that there is barrier that cannot be crossed between traditions and grammars -- in fact, I state quite plainly, "So while it is not impossible to cross the divide between traditions – as MacIntyre, Gadamer, and Hart have all acknowledged at one point – it is not practically feasible" as a tactic to rely on this.

No, my point -- and Hart's, if I'm reading him correctly -- is that such a barrier is difficult to cross and that the way many try to cross it today ignores the full lived experience of the human person, to "the full range of their capacities and senses, physical and spiritual," as Hart puts it.

Yes, we have God's law on our Heart -- and Hart makes this very point in his last article -- but we do not have unmitigated access to universal reason a la the Enlightenment. We are creatures that are either moving toward Being or back to Non-Being, toward God or toward sin, oriented toward the Truth or mired in a verisimilitude.

And no one is denying that arguments are useless -- for they covert some who are adept in reason and have an open heart -- and no one is suggesting that natural lawyers should stop talking; rather, Hart is critiquing their assumptions and tactics. Hart, if you read his remark that I posted, even goes so far to claim there are scriptural warrants for natural law.

As a side note, I'm not entirely clear why everyone here finds this point so objectionable. Both the RC and EO Church historically have made the claim that sin can blind us, and that this can make conversion difficult.

Tony said...

as MacIntyre, Gadamer, and Hart have all acknowledged at one point – it is not practically feasible" as a tactic to rely on this.

Nor is it practically feasible to rely on ANY method - all methods are doomed to failure without grace, and with grace ANY method based on truth can work. Anyway, all of nature and the world will fail in the long run, it will all be swallowed up in the great doom of the END. Nothing we can do will enable humankind to avoid that, so it is pointless to try.

Or not. Plato's efforts against sophistry were a tea cup against the ocean. Christ died with 1 man and 3 or 4 women still with him - an obvious failure. I just don't grant the seriousness of Hart's complaint about what is "practically feasible". We are in it for the long haul here, not just this one specific issue. If a natural lawyer were to position himself as saying that we should make only NL arguments, and that we shouldn't also be relying on prayer, sacrifice, good works, evangelization, and an upright life to work their way, well sure that would be foolish. But how many NL proponents say that? I haven't come across that. And I think Hart is exaggerating it if he is suggesting that's what's happening. OK, so maybe his calling is a different part of the overall effort. Fine - some are called to be monks or hermits, some are called to be businessmen, and some are called to be natural lawyers. All are members of the one Body.

Anonymous said...

Tony,

I don't think that Hart would disagree with you; I certainly wouldn't. But his critique is that the appeal to natural law, which has been one of the RC Church's primary means to appeal to secular governments and people in the public sphere, is being leveraged incorrectly. He thinks that because (1) Moderns inhabit a different tradition and speak a different grammar, (2) sin blinds people to natural reason, especially in an age of outright nihilism, and (3) most people will not respond to arguments of pure reason in the public square, current efforts are wasted and misguided. Worse, they compromise the Christian message by acceding to the secular demand that all legitimate public discourse be shorn of "Religious Rhetoric," which involves the internalization of an account of reason that splits the natural and the supernatural. (But recall that I was uncertain about this critique in my long post.)

This critique is roughly similar to what one finds in MacIntyre, Cavanaugh, and others: modern secular reason operates by subordinating the "religious" to the private sphere. Efforts by Christians to engage the public on these terms legitimates secular reason and the autonomy of the nation state and the market. This can only end in a bad way for Christians as they accept a process and structures that by their very design act to displace Christianity.

Rather than resist modernity by focusing exclusively on political activity that accepts such things as legitimate, Christians are better served by what they did in the Roman Empire: build communities in alternate social spaces and accept martyrdom. For Hart, the rhetoric of Christians are not to be found in the ballot box or by persuading politicians (for to pursue such can only be a Nietzschean Will to Power in a society that has no shared vision of the common good), but a rhetoric of martyrdom and of love.

Anonymous said...

Hart's position, as anonymous states it owes a lot to a Platonising impulse, yet I cannot help but think it owes just as much to modern continental philosophy. This seems to be proved if one compares Hart's position, as anonymous relates it, to other modern Platonist writers of Tradition and Metaphysics, such as William Blake, Coleridge, Henry Corbin, and the Perennialists.

For example, the Platonist considers all human language and concepts to be grasping at a truth that is formless. Even those traditions or forms closest to the Truth have their limitations as they are in themselves. The modern grammars of thinking described, being more or less an obstacle to finding Truth and God, are so because they are much further away from the Truth than more beneficial and divine modes of thought. To this degree they are empty and lack coherence and meaning. To the Platonist, therefore, there is not an equivalence between modern and the great traditions of the past - the modern ways of thinking prove themselves hollow and muddled.

Also, for the Platonist, it is true, the spiritual openness and preparation of a man for Truth determines his ability to grasp Truth; or, to put it another way, the Platonist links knowledge of Truth to Being. The Platonist sees man's intelligence as, in a sense, graded - it is Nous that is a light of all his knowledge, as it is Nous that is connected to the pinnacle of man's Being, and to properly and consistently partake in Nous takes spiritual effort and enlightenment. However, it may be asked whether, even in this day and age, the normal man is so degraded that he is beyond the grasp of discursive reason - whether in principle, if not in practice, he, his Being, has slipped below the reach of discursive reason (ratio) and argument and therefore totally cut off from the sort of arguments given by Natural Law thinkers. I don't think the Platonist would grant that this is so; he has a great respect for dialectic, as long as it is kept in its place, and it is far more the tendency of modern continental philosophy to suggest radical limitations, even in principle, to dialectic or discursive reason.

Syphax said...

@Anonymous

After reading as much as I could on both sides of this debate, I find your points refreshing and very much needed in this discussion. You have really helped me understand Hart better. Though I feel like you've explained him much more clearly than he explained himself - but perhaps I am just having problems with his writing style. I do think (maybe hope) that there is more common ground between Hart and Feser than has been acknowledged to this point.

Another Anon said...

rank,

"This problem also stands in the way of theistic evolution. It's an ends-justify-the-means kind of mass-teleology, which only the morally disturbed would be willing to accept. (Not that I think evolution is incompatible with theism, by the way--I just don't believe that most theistic accounts of evolution are acceptable.)"

Is your reading of evolution and theism something you developed on your own, or is it one that I can read about somewhere else? I'm still having difficultly reconciling the two in a way that doesn't make God look like some ridiculous "tinkerer."

DavidM said...

@Glenn: I, for one, appreciate your intensity - perhaps because I also feel intensely about RS's 'methods' of argumentation, which, in my view, you have aptly characterized.

Brandon wrote: "This is where your artificial distinction between Absolute Right and Wrong and merely hypothetical right and wrong comes from: it comes from Kant, who is the only major moral philosopher who has ever thought that hypothetical imperatives are not genuinely moral."

To which RS replied: "Are you telling me that Aquinas did not think that certain actions were absolutely right or wrong? That would be a bit strange. Hypothetical imperatives only became a problem when the fact-value distinction inserted itself into modern moral reasoning. A categorical imperative is required to get a moral theory that cannot simply be rejected."

And this was after Brandon had just written: "Even Kant, however, recognizes that it's impossible to have hypothetical imperatives without a categorical imperative: all hypothetical imperatives presuppose the categorical imperative to have any imperative force at all."

So what gives? What is RS talking about in his reply to Brandon? (Maybe part of the problem is that he has never read Kant, only Hart-attacks on Kant?)

[RS: "I honestly don't care what anyone thinks about what I'm saying. It's what I believe from my reading." Might we add: "...my *not-so-careful* reading, and subsequent rush to judgment"?]

DavidM said...

Anonymous wrote: "and no one is suggesting that natural lawyers should stop talking; rather, Hart is critiquing their assumptions and tactics."

WHOSE assumptions and tactics??

Listen up, Anonymous: if you have read Feser's frickin' critique of Hart's position, then you should know that central to Feser's critique is the claim that Hart is critiquing nameless (i.e., *anonymous*) opponents, using lousy arguments, which appear not to hit any REAL targets. You ignore that. So, you see, you're just begging the question and producing more of the same worthless hollow rhetoric. Maybe Hart and his defenders are right, but if they can't comprehend criticisms well enough to actually respond to them, I must continue to think it far more likely that Feser is the one who knows what he's talking about.

rank sophist said...

Anon at April 30, 10:45 AM,

Is your reading of evolution and theism something you developed on your own, or is it one that I can read about somewhere else? I'm still having difficultly reconciling the two in a way that doesn't make God look like some ridiculous "tinkerer."

I was referring to versions of theistic evolution that understand it as a directed process by which God's will is fulfilled. Evolution is a process of death, disease, famine, chance, mass predation and all sorts of stuff like that. Making evolution God's will entails that God must rely on death and the rest. This is a problem even if we reject "tinker" versions like Intelligent Design and just stick with the idea that God made evolution and intended it to play out in the way that it did--see BioLogos.

I personally don't believe that Christianity and evolution can be reconciled unless evolution is, in some way, made a result of the Fall. How could that be done? I've dedicated quite a bit of time to thinking about it, without much success. We know for a fact that humans evolved, so how could the Fall be prior to the evolution of humans? I'm sure there's a way, but I haven't found it yet.

Eduardo said...

Well actually... evolution relies heavily of genetic changes in the local genetic pool, the rest is outcomes of a creatures life, it is the genetic information that builds the creature and hence it is the heaviest factor in evolutionary History, the rest is just the dynamics of the environment and simply dictates those creatures that prosper in that same environment.

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: Making evolution God's will entails that God must rely on death and the rest. This is a problem even if we reject "tinker" versions like Intelligent Design and just stick with the idea that God made evolution and intended it to play out in the way that it did

I don't think we can say Intelligent Design entails "tinkering" if that means God has to continually intervene with miracles to keep things on track. I'm not even sure that would be a predominant view among ID folks. (Nor, contra Anon., do I see the problem with tinkering; I quite enjoy it myself.) Anyway, so special evolution involves lots of death... so what? Aquinas believed in death before the Fall (for animals). I'm sympathetic to arguments against any death before the Fall, but I don't see how it's impossible.

I personally don't believe that Christianity and evolution can be reconciled unless evolution is, in some way, made a result of the Fall. [...] We know for a fact that humans evolved, so how could the Fall be prior to the evolution of humans?

Well, first we could notice that we do not at all know for a fact that humans "evolved" (which in context presumably means "developed biologically from a long line of non-human predecessors"). What we have is a load of circumstantial evidence that can be plausibly interpreted by positing a long line of pre-human creatures. And we don't have a plausible alternative (scientific) explanation for that evidence. There's nothing wrong with that; that is the correct and reasonable way to apply scientific knowledge to historical events... but such conclusions can be probable at best, never certain. So if you could establish with certainty (or at least with greater certainty than the historical extrapolations) that, say, special evolution could not have occurred before the Fall, then you would have a good argument that there must be some other explanation for the evidence, even if we don't yet know what that is.

Of course, there is a very simple — though irksomely vague — possibility: that some sort of miracle(s) occurred that throw a monkey wrench in the evidential chain. Alexander Pruss has just posted an amusing (though unabashedly far-fetched) variation on that theme which accommodates a literal reading of Genesis 1 with long-term evolution. I guess since you don't believe that Christianity and special evolution are compatible, then you presumably go for some option along those lines... although perhaps you remain strictly agnostic about the whole thing.

rank sophist said...

Mr. Green,

Anyway, so special evolution involves lots of death... so what? Aquinas believed in death before the Fall (for animals). I'm sympathetic to arguments against any death before the Fall, but I don't see how it's impossible.

I'm not saying that it's impossible, from a logical standpoint. I just don't believe that death before the Fall can be reconciled with the Christian message. I made an argument about this a couple of months ago in an old combox, so I'll just copy and paste what I said then:

The core distinction, here, is pre-fall and post-fall. Gen 1:29-30 make it fairly clear that animals were not meant to be eaten by man or by one another pre-fall, even though Aquinas denies this with a bald assertion and an argument from authority in ST Ia q96 a1. God later lifted this ban in Gen 9:3 following the introduction of death--permission contrary to his intentions for creation. That humans are allowed to eat animals without sin says nothing about God's will, because the natural evil of death was not supposed to exist in the first place. Isaiah 11:6-9 and Romans 8:18-23 plainly state that decay, violence and hostility, even in the case of creation generally, are contrary to God's plans. The issue of consuming plants pre-fall is a bit tricky, but less so when it is realized that eating from a plant does not necessarily result in its death, particularly in a pre-fall state. Seeing as plants had, at least at that time, the final cause of "being food" (again, see Gen 1:29-30), I don't see how this constitutes a natural evil. Plants would not be dying and would be fulfilling their teleological end (as it was then)--so where is the natural evil?

I'm a firm believer that death before the Fall contradicts Christianity to the core. Remember that God "did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living" (Wis 1:13-15). I think that any conception of God that makes him complicit in death and suffering falls victim to Ivan's argument in The Brothers Karamazov, during the chapter "Rebellion". Why should anyone accept a harmony built on the back of incalculable suffering and death? Even if God exists, there's no reason to desire that harmony.

Well, first we could notice that we do not at all know for a fact that humans "evolved" (which in context presumably means "developed biologically from a long line of non-human predecessors"). [...] So if you could establish with certainty (or at least with greater certainty than the historical extrapolations) that, say, special evolution could not have occurred before the Fall, then you would have a good argument that there must be some other explanation for the evidence, even if we don't yet know what that is.

I simply meant that evolution is the standard belief now, and we have very little reason to doubt it. I agree that we have no reason to accept evolution before the Fall simply because of the historical record, though. Consistency with Christianity comes first.

Alexander Pruss has just posted an amusing (though unabashedly far-fetched) variation on that theme which accommodates a literal reading of Genesis 1 with long-term evolution. I guess since you don't believe that Christianity and special evolution are compatible, then you presumably go for some option along those lines... although perhaps you remain strictly agnostic about the whole thing.

Strictly agnostic would probably be the best label for my position. I have no solution. I believe in Christianity and I believe that evolution occurred, but, like the physicists studying that pesky gap between relativity and quantum mechanics, I make no claim as to how they intersect. I've heard arguments about the supernatural unreliability of the historical record before--and I find them entertaining. But there's just got to be a more cohesive position than outright skepticism out there somewhere. Who knows, though?

Anonymous said...

Rank, the problem you're describing used to bother me too, until I remembered that the Fall of Man was not the first Fall. I believe traditional Christian teaching is that Satan and the other rebel angels fell very soon after the initial creation. Presumably they were not doing nothing in the billions of years between the Big Bang and the appearance of man.

Anonymous said...

Rank,

Perhaps the weak link is the theory of evolution, then. I'm have far from the real expertise needed to comment, but one need not accept creationism to reject evolution. It does seem to me that evolution is not as obviously beyond doubt as its proponents, and most culture, seems to believe.

Another alternative to evolution and I.D is a Platonic explanation of the origins of species: that they descend down the hierarchy of being until they emerge in our corporeal realm.

It is certainly the case that allegations that God has faked geological evidence should be held in contempt. But there are arguments, ironically closely connected to those being made in the discussion about Hart, that our ability to perceive some forms of evidence, especially that more connected to psychic or subtle realms of being (those directly above our corporeal realm) is due to how attuned our consciousnesses are, individually and collectively, to extra-corporeal reality. This is one reason why, despite the fact the corporeal realm can never be completely closed off from the rest of reality (even now miracles and paranormal events abound)our normal experience of the world, again individually and collectively, has a smaller place for the miraculous and the paranormal than in ages past.

A homely illustration of this last point could come from an article I once read by the irreplaceable John Michell. Michell recalled how he had once went to the Isle of Mann and while there how he conversed with an old Manx farmer. This farm told him how he had not seen the "Fairie Folk" (no sure if this was the exact term he used) for many years, not since the Manx language had died out on the island. Such talk will be scoffed at, of course, by naturalists, but I find it an interesting illustration of the point, which is essentially Blake's that the wise man and the fool see not the same tree.

Whatever the case, I think the issues surrounding the origin and development of life and species is far less settled and obvious as some would have us believe. Though really, it is a topic that takes great expertise, philosophically and scientifically, to navigate.

BenYachov said...

My anger at this point at this point is crossing the line from "sin not" to rather dark territory.

But unfortunately like Bruce Banner from the Avengers I am always angry. So what can I do?

BenYachov said...

@daniel smith

QUOTE from your blog"I am also a non-Darwinist ID opponent; a Protestant Thomist and a heavy metal lover (Black Sabbath rules!)."

So are you like Norman Geisler sans the love of Metal and opposition to ID?


PS. Iron Maiden can't be fought! Iron Maiden can't be sought!